The Modest People

I’m staying in a little house with a funky smell. It’s not a “cottage” because that word implies cuteness. It’s not cute. It’s a modest house on East Haymore Street, borderlining on ugly.

Cheap carpet, old wood, vinyl siding, nothing fancy. And for the love of God, what is that funky smell?

In the den is a sofa with faded plaid upholstery. It looks like something my granny would have owned. Like something everyone’s grandmother owned, back when grannies still watched Billy Graham on black-and-white television sets the size of chifforobes.

The ceiling has water spots. The kitchen is dated. The appliances are ancient. Especially the stove. It’s a 1950s Hotpoint electric range.

And just when I don’t think this place could get any more hideous, I see across the street—not fifty feet from my bedroom window—the dang city water tower. Two hundred stories of municipal eyesore towering overhead like a monster.

My wife rented this ugly house for my birthday. You’re probably wondering why. I am too.

Maybe she did it because I’m a low-rent kind of guy. Maybe because I come from modest people and I’m uncomfortable in fancy digs.

When I first started public speaking for a living, I once stayed in a notable hotel that gave new meaning to the word “swanky.” I was there to entertain members of a big organization that required me to sign privacy disclosure agreements beforehand.

The elaborate shindig was held in Alabama. I have no earthly clue why they hired a yahoo like me.

It was pure extravagance. You should have seen it. The event was catered by a barbecue joint from Kansas City. A private pilot had flown the steaming pork 700 miles south while it was still hot. And, by God, they had a party.

Southern dignitaries discussed their golf swings while sipping highballs made from liquor that was worth a working man’s salary.

The organization put me up in a hotel suite with three bedrooms. There was a hot tub shaped like a butterfly. A bottle of bourbon on my pillow.

I was miserable. For one thing, I don’t care for bourbon. For another, what was I going to do with three bedrooms?

But getting back to this dingy house. It’s wonderful. The worn out carpet, the stained kitchen countertops, the microwave looks so old that it could cook food from across the kitchen.

The tiny bathroom requires you to hike your knees when you sit on the john. A musty smell comes from the water heater closet that makes me nauseous. The wingback chairs are pure dust.

The dilapidated neighborhood is even better. The driveways all have high-mileage vehicles that look like my aunt and uncle are going to crawl out at any second and start arguing about how my uncle was grinning their waitress.

I count five rundown trucks parked alongside the curb. They are the kind my father spent entire weekends underneath. He would shout, “You miserable piece of—” then fall silent when he saw me nearby.

There is a church across the street, they’re holding a funeral today. All the cars have headlights blaring. The little church looks like the one I grew up in.

Churches with old ladies who believe in the healing power of lemon chicken casserole. And quilting circles. Women who make sure all God’s children are so terrified of the Rapture that no child’s underpants stand a chance.

My wife paid top dollar to stay in this dump. Funky smell and all. And you’re still probably wondering why we’re here. I’m getting to that.

One time my brother-in-law invited me on an all-expenses-paid cruise to Mexico. The boat was ridiculous. Brass railing, chandeliers, people wearing tuxedos, and a buffet with one purpose: To make me fat.

I ate meals between meals. By the middle of the trip my belt was showing signs of structural damage.

Each evening we attended high-brow concerts on the main deck, featuring Russian and Polish pianists who all had names like Fgieüdnemwoeoej Van Gieiêbsospoihhhh. The music was so sophisticated the audience applauded using only their index fingers.

A wine sommelier asked if we wanted refills, only he didn’t call them “refills,” he used a French word. God forbid anyone offer us a Miller Lite.

Our cabin’s balcony overlooked the Gulf of Mexico. Trailing behind the ship were white waves the size of Houston. After dinner, I would visit the casino and watch men in white ties play blackjack with blue chips that represented condominiums, swimming pools, and Lexuses.

It was the finest place I’ve ever seen. But compared to this funky-smelling bungalow, that cruise ship was a festering dung heap to me.

Because you can’t change who you are or who you come from. And I come from common people. My people believed in simplicity. They wouldn’t dare buy a new stove when they could fix the 1950s Hotpoint for twenty bucks. They changed their own oil. Burned their own trash. They had simple houses just like this one.

Right now, I am lying in a twin bed, staring at a sign which reads: “Andy Griffith’s Homeplace 1935-1966.” That’s because this house was Andy Samuel Griffith’s childhood home. This is his bedroom. His mother probably measured his height on the kitchen doorjamb in pencil.

He was a hero of mine. And after my father died, you could even say Andy helped raise me. One of the reasons I liked him was—at least on TV—he never seemed to care about the finer things. He cared about people like me. Because he was people like me. Somehow, he made me proud to be from simple means.

And here, lying in this bed, with an ugly water tower above me, and this godforsaken funky smell, I understand why.


  1. Sandi. - December 30, 2019 7:01 am

    Happy Birthday, Sean, and God bless you with many more. What specific day in December were you born? Your post doesn’t say, but your readers want to know!

  2. sparkerlpc - December 30, 2019 11:00 am

    You finally did it…’re got to spend the weekend at Andy Griffith’s boyhood home! I’m over here grinning, just so happy for you and Jamie!
    And what the Sam Hill could that funky smell be? All I can think is something in the attic. (Don’t look!!)

  3. sparkerlpc - December 30, 2019 11:01 am

    You finally did it… got to spend the weekend at Andy Griffith’s boyhood home! I’m over here grinning, just so happy for you and Jamie!
    And what the Sam Hill could that funky smell be? All I can think is something in the attic. (Don’t look!!)
    I had to correct my grammar. In had changed that sentence. I couldn’t stand to leave it like that, LOL!

  4. Leigh Amiot - December 30, 2019 11:38 am

    I was thinking this was one heckuvan Airbnb review…until the end!
    And all the while I was suspecting the carpet, not the water heater, as the source of the odor.
    When my kids were growing up in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, we’d have Andy Griffith on in the evenings. That show was a better influence on them than others in that era…they should turn it on for their children, come to think of it!
    Happy Birthday, Sean!

  5. Mac - December 30, 2019 12:38 pm


  6. Joanne Reilly - December 30, 2019 12:40 pm

    Happy Birthday Sean! Many blessings and a Happy Healthy New Year to you and Jamie.
    What a wonderful gift from Jamie!
    Thanks for being who you are. You touch the heart, soul and funny bone with your writing gift.

  7. Catherine - December 30, 2019 1:46 pm

    I’m in tears. That’s all. 💓

  8. emjaytexas - December 30, 2019 2:28 pm

    Bless Jamie’s big heart for giving you the perfect gift for you. Happy Birthday, Sean! And thanks, Jamie, for your inspiration that keeps Sean writing to us.

  9. Brenda - December 30, 2019 2:39 pm

    Happy Birthday, Sean

  10. Liz Watkins - December 30, 2019 2:41 pm

    This makes me smile! Happy Birthday Sean🎂🎂🎂

  11. Ginger Smith - December 30, 2019 4:17 pm

    What a wonderful birthday present! I imagine Andy’s boyhood home was in good order when he grew up, but the years have a way of changing things. The funky smell is probably mildew in the carpet and furniture. I expect you’ve had a few motel rooms with that smell, too! It is more common than it should be. Happy New Year!

  12. Linda Moon - December 30, 2019 4:59 pm

    I once had a cute cottage/bungalow that became cuter over time after lots of fixin’ up. There are lots of yahoos like you in Alabama who don’t need any “fixin’ up”. I prefer y’all just the way you are to the Southern dignitaries. I understand why Andy and those people made you proud, and I know your father would be proud, too!!

  13. Lynda Gayle Knight - December 30, 2019 5:40 pm

    A piece like this tells me why I was anxious to meet you after my daughter introduced me to your writings! I did in Boaz, AL. We evidently have a lot in common were my thoughts that night. This confirms it❣️

  14. Janice - December 30, 2019 5:46 pm

    Once again … nail on the head!!!!

  15. Dawn Bratcher - December 30, 2019 6:13 pm

    Jamie is the most thoughtful & caring wife you could ever wish for! She knows you – to your innermost being…what a love! ❤🎁

  16. Shelton A. - December 30, 2019 6:33 pm

    Congrats on seeing Andy’s house. Must have been special. Good on you, mate.

  17. Cindy Kelly - December 30, 2019 10:45 pm

    Happy Birthday Sean..Enjoy your stay in Andy’s house. Thank you for your stories every day..They and you mean a lot to me..I hope someday to get to meet you in person.Have a very Happy New Year.

  18. Margaret Gaston - December 30, 2019 11:32 pm

    That elaborate shindig you attended (in Alabama) that flew the BBQ they served from Kansas City is sad. Did you tell’em about Kendall’s BBQ in Georgiana? Happy BD.

  19. Berryman Mary M - December 30, 2019 11:57 pm

    Happy Birthday, Sean! Enjoy yourself!

  20. that's jack - December 31, 2019 12:12 am

    YOU WERE IN JIM’S HOUSE NEXT DOOR AND DIDN’T TELL ME??? I guess since Jim is in the Rock-a-Billy hall of fame that is how you knowed him. But he did not tell me you wuz coming. I coulda bragged to Sheila and Myra that I met you. Shucks I am disappointed. Bla

    Well HAPPY NEW YEAR ANYWAY, AND HOPE YOU HAVE A GREAT ONE. And come back to Jim’s house.

  21. Annie Walsh - December 31, 2019 1:45 am

    How amazingly wonderful you’re married to someone who knows you so well. You two seem to have a wonderful blessed life together. Thank you for sharing.

  22. Carol - January 1, 2020 8:21 pm

    One Lucky man!!
    Love ya!

  23. Steve Winfield (Gus) - February 6, 2020 3:55 pm

    OK. I’ll forgive you for the bourbon comment. Not a beer guy myself.
    So looking forward to the book signing in B’ham! Another check mark on my bucket list.
    The free TV we get with our $20 roof antenna plays Andy at least 4 times a day. We catch the 2 night time shows most nights. How is it that they never get old?
    “No! Not my Mr. Cookie Bar.”
    Love, Steve.

  24. Mary Hicks - February 8, 2020 9:36 pm

    I was raised very simple, too. We had some wonderful times and great memories. Just fishing from a creek bank, swimming in the same water, sharing a double cola( all 7 of us), and camping on a creek bank where water blisters would bite me!! I feel sorry for kids today. Thanks again Sean. God bless you and Jamie.


Leave a Comment