THOMASVILLE—I’m about to make a speech at a local bookstore. I am running late. I speed into town like Dale Earnhardt on a beer run.
I have a soft spot for small towns. In fact, you might say that my entire life has been built by small-town people. Like those in this city.
The streets are lined with shops and markets. The store windows are covered by awnings. There are plants hanging from street lamps. A dog wanders Broad Street. Reddish. Scruffy. He has no collar.
A simple drive around town is worth the price of admission. When you’re here, you’re back in time.
In the historic district you’ll see antebellum homes, Queen Anne architecture, and steep-pitched rooflines. Whitewashed columns on old mansions. Big porches. And people riding lawn mowers, drinking Bud Light, and listening to gospel music on headphones.
But it’s the downtown that everyone comes to see. We’re driving through it at sundown. Every few seconds my wife uses the phrase “Oh, how cute.”
There are cobblestone streets. Two-story buildings with the tall windows.
A crowd of young women in evening wear poses for a picture on the street corner.
Boys in baseball uniforms meander the sidewalk, following their designated team-dad, who looks like he’s about to have a nervous breakdown.
Women stroll together, toting shopping bags. I see one shop owner sweeping the sidewalk with a broom.
I didn’t think anyone swept sidewalks anymore.
And the dog still roams Broad Street. He stops now and then to see if any passers by want to feed him. No dice.
It’s all too pretty to believe. I keep expecting to see Barney Fife pull alongside my vehicle and accuse me of jaywalking. Or perhaps Floyd might approach me and ask if I need a haircut. And the answer would be: Yes, I do. Badly.
I dart into the Bookshelf bookstore. It’s a small independent bookstore with a nice-looking storefront. I am jogging across the street and tucking in my shirt at the same time.
When I get through the front doors, I am greeted with people who are looking at their watches.
“Sorry I’m late,” I say.
“Don’t worry about it,” says the owner, Annie. “It happens.”
They don’t say things like “It happens” in big cities.
An employee leads me into a room where I can gather my thoughts before I make my speech. It’s too bad I don’t have any thoughts worth gathering. My head is like an oil can with three marbles rolling around in it.
But I am a little hungry. So I do some digging around the room. I locate a bag of Chili Cheese Fritos and I almost start dancing.
Chili Cheese Fritos are my thing. You might not know this, but Chili Cheese Fritos are why God created me. Verily did the Lord sayeth unto me on the Seventh Day, “Eat from the Tree of Fritos, my son.”
So I am eating. Trying to figure out what I’m going to talk about.
It’s funny. Years ago, this little bookstore in Thomasville was the first store to carry my very first book.
It seems like a lifetime ago. It was almost a fluke. I wasn’t supposed to be a writer. You’ve probably figured that out if you’ve read this far. Sometimes I have a hard time spellingg wrds coreckly.
But somehow I’ve written eleven books. Nobody is more surprised by this than I am. I am a no-name from nowhere with a crummy past, and a crippling taste for Chili Cheese Fritos.
My literary life started one year, just before Christmastime. I self-published a tiny book. I gave it away to a few friends. I mailed copies to family members. And that was it. That was all I wanted to do with the book. My book was supposed to be a glorified sleep aid.
A few months later, my cousin Ed Lee called to tell me that he was in a bookstore and he saw my book.
“Shut up,” were my first words.
“Yep,” he said. “It was your book.”
“My redneck book?”
“My no-name, ill-conceived, puny, uninspired, barely existent book?”
“That’s the one.”
Next came the road trip. That weekend, my wife and I and our friends, Lanier and Melissa, made the drive to Thomasville.
Our first stop was the bookstore. I walked into the tiny shop and I didn’t even have to look around. There it was. On a table. Front and center. They didn’t put my book in the corner. They didn’t keep me on a shelf. I was RIGHT UP FRONT.
And it was such a bright moment in my life. It wasn’t a monumental moment. It was even better. It was one of the millions of small twinkling moments that string together to make a long chain of cocktail lights.
I finish the Fritos. I wad up the bag. I lick my fingers. Someone knocks on my door.
“It’s showtime,” the woman says.
Then another woman tackles me before I leave the room. She hugs me and says, “I want you to know that Thomasville is so proud of you.”
We hug again.
My whole career—if that’s what you call it—has been built upon small towns and the people therein. And I will go to my grave telling the world how wonderful they are.
Which is what you just read.
Marilyn Ward Vance - September 6, 2019 10:39 am
I think what the lady was trying to say was, ‘You are every small town’s ‘home boy’! We love you, Sean, you, Jamie and the pups!
Deb S - September 6, 2019 10:42 am
Beautiful…you and everything you write. Thank you.
Jean - September 6, 2019 10:46 am
We think you are pretty special too!!
Lloyd - September 6, 2019 11:00 am
Sean, it was great to see you in Thomasville, we all are small town proud of you. Thank you for crossing that state line and coming into Georgia..
sharon - September 6, 2019 11:08 am
With coffee in hand I start my morning by reading your column and what a wonderful one this is. Thank you.
GaryD - September 6, 2019 11:55 am
Your trip to Thomasville wasn’t complete unless you walked a few doors down to the pool hall and bought a chili dog and a Coke in a bottle. They probably sell Chili Cheese Fritos, too.
ginny reed - September 6, 2019 12:09 pm
So, what happened to the dog??
Kathy White - September 6, 2019 10:46 pm
Ginny Reed, I had the same thought.
Grace - September 6, 2019 12:25 pm
Alice - September 6, 2019 12:38 pm
I’m sitting here wishing I could find the right words. How do you say thank you to a writer who stirs your soul daily with the things he notices? How do you say thank you to someone who meets a stranger and actually remembers them a couple of weeks later ? How do you say thank you to a couple that are as kind and genuine as they come? I can’t find the right words so…thank you. I hope you can feel the depth of those two words. Thank you for sharing your incredible talent…it has made a difference to me.
Keloth Anne - September 6, 2019 12:52 pm
You love small towns and small towns love you and Jamie♥️♥️♥️♥️
Can’t wait to have you closer to Ozark—it’s been too long!!!!
Thanks for always beginning my day on a positive note😍😍😍😍😍
Bill - September 6, 2019 1:20 pm
Sean, for all of us who had the privilege of growing up in a small Southern town, you take us back for a sweet idyllic remembrance. Your columns are like soothing ointment for the aches and pains of growing up and away from that time and place. Thank you.
Darrell Crawford - September 6, 2019 2:36 pm
As go small towns, so goes the country. Unfortunately, small towns are dying, replaced by more and bigger cities.
Linda Moon - September 6, 2019 2:56 pm
I’m glad you finally found your purpose in life: Chili Cheese Fries. What an existential moment you shared with your readers. Small towns with sidewalks and bookstores are among the best places on earth for me. Thank you for what I just read!!
Jimpa - September 6, 2019 3:04 pm
And we were there, too. Now to find some Chili Cheese Fritos
Pat - September 6, 2019 3:54 pm
I love living in my small town. We are so convenient to larger cities but we are still a small town! The best of both worlds!
Shelton A. - September 6, 2019 4:07 pm
My small town home town has not changed too much. And for that, I am grateful.
Mary - September 6, 2019 6:16 pm
I was also one of those blessed to meet you in Thomasville! The trip was a birthday present from my daughter. I’m not sure which was better –you singing Amazing Grace or getting a big ‘ol hug! Keep those wonderful insightful words coming!
BJean - September 6, 2019 6:43 pm
Which I had known you were going to be there! I would have loved to have come. I suppose there is a list somewhere of where you will be speaking, so I will look for it and not miss the next one that is near me!😊
H J Patterson - September 6, 2019 9:33 pm
BJean – This wil help – https://seandietrich.com/events/
Edna B - September 6, 2019 10:09 pm
I’m just wondering if anyone finally fed that poor doggie. You have a wonderful evening, hugs, Edna B.
Joe Patterson - September 7, 2019 12:41 am
Linda Burkard - September 7, 2019 12:41 am
OMG, my husband and i lives in Thomasville for two weeks. It was the most surreal experience we had in the 33 years we’ve been married. We went to work at the local slaughter house…. both of us! I was throwing up in the bushes in the morning before work because I was so stressed! My husbands company called him back to work and I was so relieved. It’s a memory neither of us will forget. We had local churches come witness to us in our historic rent house and we didn’t even have a place for them to sit. Small towns are the best. I was raised by one but it was in Texas, not Georgia!
Jenni - September 7, 2019 1:07 pm
Another great read! That is an amazing bookstore and so is the staff and owner.
Lucinda Secrest McDowell - September 7, 2019 4:44 pm
Sorry I couldn’t hear you last night at The Bookshelf. I’m a Thomasville gal who has lived in exile in Connecticut for the last 30 years. I discovered you when I was looking for a good southern novel to read on the plane down to Tville last month — loved “Stars Over Alabama” and now following your blog daily.
Teal Hunt Mitchell - September 7, 2019 7:09 pm
Loved your comments on this great little town. We traveled the world in the military and made it back here. It’s even better than you described!
Libby Smith - September 9, 2019 3:23 pm
I was raised in Thomasville ” a while back” and graduated from high school there. It was a great place to live and the residents have continued to maintain the small town atmosphere ( with Broad Street and the cobblestone streets). They also remembered that new isn’t always better. The buildings and homes have been restored rather than torn down. It’s a wonderful town and I’m so glad that you were able to come and enjoy it!
throughmyeyesusa - September 14, 2019 8:16 pm
My “step family” lives in Thomasville and they are the most wonderful people! Visits to Thomasville always warmed our hearts and fed my love of the real, the honest and for nostalgia in almost any form. Since Maryland is as far south as I’ve lived (as an adult) and my husband is an out and out Yankee, we were especially impressed when my stepmother’s funeral wound its way through Thomasville.
Everything stopped. Everyone paid attention and respect.
No one cut into the funeral procession (as commonly occurs in the North).
Pedestrians stood quietly and faced the procession as we passed.
Store owners stopped washing windows or opening awnings.
Linemen on telephone poles stopped and removed their hard hats!
Children dismounted their bikes.
The respect, the simple courtesy, that Southern folks still show their fellow humans is humbling, hopeful, and an example to the rest of the country.
Please keep reminding us, Sean, that there are such people in America.
Michael - September 16, 2019 6:53 pm
This has to be Thomasville, GA – not Thomasville, AL.