When you pull into town proper you ride past churches, clapboard houses, and people sitting on front porches—even though it’s cold outside.
There are painted murals on the wide brick walls of storefront buildings. There’s a freight train cutting through town, darting past Brewton Iron Works, the T.R. Miller timber mill, and rushing into the woods. The locomotive whistle blows and you can feel this city’s little heart beating.
Brewton is the kind of place where you can dial a wrong number and the person who answers the phone will give you the correct one.
Last night I went to a local prayer meeting. At least that’s what the attendees call it. Though I don’t know why. The meeting was held at a bar inside a Mexican restaurant, nobody was praying, and everyone was cradling Coronas.
The evening’s only prayer was shouted by Miss Connie. It was six words. “Hey, God, thanks for the food!”
Then everyone ordered another round.
I asked why they called it prayer meeting.
“Because,” said Connie. “Let’s say your mom or your husband asks why you were out late on Wednesday night. You can just tell them you were at prayer meeting and the spirits were flowing.”
That’s Brewton. You might think it’s irreverent, but that’s probably because you’re not from here.
This is my wife’s hometown. I fell in love with it from Day One. There was a time when I never thought I’d fit in anywhere, but somehow I managed to fit in here. I don’t know why, but people didn’t seem to mind having me around.
I don’t come from a town like this. I am of the Florida Panhandle, a place that was once rural, but has since been overthrown by Real Estate Developers. The first thing the developers did when they moved in was cut down a million acres of pine and establish an Olive Garden.
Does the world really need another Olive Garden?
Maybe this is why I have a soft spot for Brewton. They don’t have Olive Gardens here. They have David’s Catfish House.
Certainly, Brewton has its critics. It’s a sleepy village and there isn’t much to do here. The complaints are all the same:
There are hardly any restaurants. The only form of cardiovascular exercise is gossip. And a big source of local entertainment is when someone gets ticked off and airs their dirty laundry online.
But if you happen to love imperfect things, like I do, Brewton is your town. From its old vine-covered Universalist church, to the antique Antebellum porches that are still visited by senators, statesman, oil magnates, stray dogs, kids on roller skates, and the occasional Jehovah’s Witness.
Today I went to a funeral that was in the backyard of a Brewton home. The sky threatened rain, and it was colder than a brass brassiere.
People in attendance were from all rungs of the social ladder. In the congregation were fancy trench coats, camouflage jackets, and Carhartts.
When service ended, the people mingled and ate hors d’oeuvres. The back lawn was filled with trickling conversations of the small-town variety.
“How’s your dad’s hip after his fall?”
“Oh, he’s fine. Mama’s waiting on him hand and foot, spoiling him.”
“To the core. How’s your wife?”
“She’s good. She just married her divorce attorney. They’re honeymooning in Belgium.”
I once went to a funeral in metro Atlanta where the people were so stiff and formal it was like attending… Well. A funeral. Hardly anybody spoke to each other. And for some reason people kept giving me their business card.
But people here are chatty. And nobody gives business cards. After all, if you need a phone number, you just text your uncle. If you need a septic tank installed, call your grandmother, she’ll know someone. And if she can’t help, you can always borrow your cousin’s backhoe and install it yourself.
After the funeral, my wife and I went to a restaurant with her cousin. The whole place was filled with locals. In eateries like this everybody talks to everybody and you’re lucky if you even have time to eat.
People stopped by our table to ask how we were doing. Another few asked how our dogs were. And I can’t help but wonder if the small-town spirit is going to become a dying art form.
The statistics are a little sad. Across the U.S., more young people are moving away from their native hamlets. They’re raising families in bigger cities that offer better jobs, faster internet service, and multiple Olive Gardens.
But here in Brewton, things are still the same as they’ve always been. You drive past the high school and you can still see young athletes running drills. You pass the beauty salon and there’s still a poster in the window reading: “GO TIGERS!”
You pop into the supermarket to buy a bottle of ketchup and it still takes you three hours to leave the store because you see sixty people you know.
And even though you’re an outsider, like me, you’re almost hesitant to leave this wonderful timber-mill town that adopted you nearly twenty years ago. No, it’s not your home, you know this. You will never actually belong here. But every now and then, sometimes late at night when you hear a distant train whistle, it certainly is fun to pretend that you do.
Especially after a wild and crazy prayer meeting.
Sharon Brock - January 24, 2020 8:46 am
My hometown in central Kentucky was that kind of place when I was growing up there. It has tripled in size which means some of the younger generation don’t leave. My youngest grandchildren live in a small town in central Missouri which is slowly dying. Jobs and the millennials are leaving and not coming back. It is sad.
St5046 - January 24, 2020 10:59 am
My kind of prayer meeting!
Elizabeth - January 24, 2020 11:23 am
I want to live there!
Jo Ann - January 24, 2020 1:49 pm
Sounds like a lovely place to belong to.
Joe Patterson - January 24, 2020 1:52 pm
Thanks again my Dad was from Fayette and it remains the same
Connie Havard Ryland - January 24, 2020 1:55 pm
Sounds perfect to me. I live in another small town not far from Brewton that you either love or hate, depending on what you’re looking for. But it’s busy. And nobody ever really accepts you unless you’re born there or have money, neither of which applies to me. But I made myself a place anyway. I was very active with the high school band boosters and the people that matter to me accepted me and I like it there. But the slower pace of Brewton sounds appealing.
Angie - January 24, 2020 2:27 pm
You just described Wills Point, Texas! My hometown and the place I love. We moved back to WP on purpose after finishing college to start our family and raise our kids. There’s something special about a small town upbringing. I met my husband in this town in high school and the culture and charm of small towns just can’t be beat. It is about an hour east of Dallas and we do love the big city, but it’s just a nice place to visit for us. We lived there for a few years and never want to move back. I know it’s not for everyone, but for some of us, it’s ideal.
aleathia nicholson - January 24, 2020 2:50 pm
Sean is truly blessed because his mind simply does not function like everybody else’s and the town is not like everybody else’s never mind these 12 or so who swear to Holy Hannah it is.
Small-town Southern Girl - January 24, 2020 2:53 pm
I’m in search of a ‘Mayberry-type’ place to live. Seems as though Brewton fits the bill!
Melanie Monk Morris - January 24, 2020 2:58 pm
You made me go back to laying in my bed with the window fan blowing and hearing the far whistle of the train going through Brewton. I was a teenager and it was the early 60s. Go Tigers!
Melanie Monk Morris
“Always jolly, never blue’
We’re the class of sixty-two!” ( I wrote that then)
Angela Cochran - January 24, 2020 3:11 pm
I live in Ellijay, GA which has grown tremendously since I moved up from Atlanta in 73. When we moved here, we had a DQ and Burger Hof, Piggly Wiggly and Thriftown. Several years ago we got the wonder super Wal Mart, which I never frequent, Longhorns, Ruby Tuesdays, Starbucks, and on and on. I eat at the local Ellijay Restaurant where all the locals meet and eat the meat and 3 vegs. and visit with each other. You can overhear the gossip about politics, college and local sports, and what’s going on with your neighbors. Our little mountain town has been found not only by Floridians, but those from the north. I don’t mind so much because it brings business to my booth in Outback Antiques on main street. We do live in a beautiful place and I enjoy sharing it with others!
Shelton A. - January 24, 2020 3:25 pm
Good story…it’s sad small town America is dwindling away. But you made a good case for staying.
Jennifer - January 24, 2020 3:37 pm
Went to a funeral at the First Presbyterian Church in Brewton last week. There was a vine covered church across the street. Now I know it is the Universalist Church. Was beautiful.
Larry Wall - January 24, 2020 4:09 pm
Sounds like my little town in NE Georgia back in the 50s when I was growing up. Our house was half a mile out of the middle of town so I walked there many, many times. But, because so many of the older people along our street sat on their front porches and were eager to talk to anyone passing by, it would take me nearly an hour just to cover that brief distance. But it was always a pleasant experience to sit with them a few minutes. And the railroad went through the middle of town and blew the warnings for all three of the street crossings, so, it was a familiar and expected sound. Sweet Memories.
Dee Thompson - January 24, 2020 4:29 pm
It sounds like an awesome little town. However, I want to say a word in favor of Olive Garden. I know you were just being funny but Olive Garden is one of the Darden Group’s restaurants and they give all their leftover food to people who are hungry. If you go on the website for Food Donation Connection you will see this. I always urge people to patronize the places that care enough to donate leftover food instead of throwing it away. https://www.foodtodonate.com/ I went to high school with Steve Dietz who is with Food Donation Connection, which is why I know this. Just FYI.
Linda Moon - January 24, 2020 4:31 pm
I’m thinking Brewton folks and other small-town-people might become a friend just because someone dialed their number by mistake. I wouldn’t mind having you around in my not-so-small town. I’ve got the closest thing to an Antebellum porch you’ll find in my neighborhood. Some folks from the old hometown place are coming in today, and you’d be welcome to join us, you Wild and Crazy Guy!!
Diana Rachal - January 24, 2020 5:22 pm
Your post made me feel like I was reading a really good book. I too live in a small community.lWe love the country and all the wildlife. And the comments weren’t half bad too. Took me away for a few minutes! 🙋🏻♀️😍😍😍
Edna Barron - January 24, 2020 6:10 pm
I grew up in a small town-like city. Today it is a big city and has changed oh so much over the years. But I do have awesome memories of my small city living. You have a great day, hugs, Edna B.
Gale Smith - January 24, 2020 6:29 pm
Having moved over 40 times in the same number of years, I have found you carry home in your heart. It is the people you love that are home. Home is wherever they are. It really is not a place.
Sheila in Seattle - January 24, 2020 6:41 pm
Really good to know, Dee. Thanks for the information.
Sheila in Seattle - January 24, 2020 6:44 pm
My reply above was in response to Dee Thompson’s comment about Olive Garden. Somehow it didn’t attach to her comments. Sorry.
Carol - January 24, 2020 7:09 pm
Is there towns still left like this. I guess In SGa. We have them too. But young people are leaving because they go off to collage and there is no big money to be made in these small towns!!
Maybe a doctor or a lawyer !
So sad. !
Love ya !
Kim Douberley - January 25, 2020 12:11 am
I live in a small town like this. Was born there but was gone for 12 years. Such welcoming to come “home” Marty and raise my children there. This touches on so many truths. As a teacher I hear so many kids say that they can’t wait to leave. Many do, but a lot return “home” eventually for all the reasons in this wonderful essay!
Ann Marie Bouchet - January 25, 2020 1:36 am
Small towns are the BEST towns
Larry Hataway - January 25, 2020 3:00 pm
I am from Opp we always considered Brewton that large town 40 miles east. Beating T R Miller every 2 years are so in football made our season
Marilyn J Barnard - January 27, 2020 2:12 pm
Such a sweet reminder! My husband used to attend Thursday night prayer-meetings (aka poker game). This small group of men met every week and took turns over who got to hold the bulk of the money until the next meeting! Whenever I asked him why they called it a prayer meeting, he told me there were two reasons. One of the men had a wife who objected to gambling – however, she was thrilled that her husband was attending prayer meetings. The other reason was because there actually WAS a lot of praying there — “Come on Lord…please… fill this flush/straight/full-house…..”
Wetzel Wood - January 28, 2020 3:14 pm
My sister my best friend was born there
Moved away but still have many friends there
There’s nothing like a sawmill town
Dee Frances Wichman - January 29, 2020 2:50 pm
I love you, Sean! My oldest daughter, Deanna, gave me two of your books for Christmas. I was born in Brewton although my actual home is more in the Damascus/Hoomesville area. I was a Hoomes and my grandparents, father and youngest daughter are buried in our family cemetery in Hoomesville. I enjoy reading your posts because they are positive and meaningful. I have lived in MS for many years and spent 3 years in Omaha, NE and six years in Japan but Damascus will always be home. Keep on keeping on!
Loy - January 29, 2020 5:32 pm
I, among others, was reminded of my childhood in western Kentucky. You could hear the train’s whistle nearly all over town, and we were content to bicycle everywhere.
Interestingly, I read a book by a well-known and highly respected psychologist (Jordan Peterson), who suggested that people who grow up in small towns have greater chances of being well-adjusted adults due to better relationships with family and closer ties throughout the town. And there are good chances for everyone to be known as “the best in the class”—high jump, clarinet, math contest, drama, whatever—when there are only 50 in the class.
I am truly sorry to see all that change.
Ann - March 1, 2020 10:28 am
This gives you time to breathe….we can all use that!
Janice H Spivey - March 1, 2020 11:51 am
“colder than a brass brazieere “…wonderful description… Janice… (like your Mama’s name, Sean)
Karen - March 1, 2020 6:32 pm
I grew up in Brewton. T.R. Miller Class of ’78. On the rare occasion that I have visited in the past, my grown son has refused to go to Walmart with me. When I asked him why, he said it was like old home week because I see everyone I ever knew and it takes half a day to get out of there. “Old Home Week.” That makes me smile. I need to go home to Brewton more often …