Country roads, stuck at home

Sarah Sweeney
8 min readAug 23, 2020

I returned from Nashville in time for lockdown — and with a country fever

Sarah Sweeney in Robert’s Western World. Nashville, TN. March 2020
Listening to Sarah Gayle Meech and backing band in Robert’s Western World. Nashville TN. March 2020.

Growing up, I spent reluctant summers in the backwoods of North Carolina while my father was hospitalized for Crohn’s disease and my mother worked full-time. Out in the country, my brother and I became the city outliers who knew nothing of the Judds or Reba or Alabama or Randy Travis, who we were now inundated with, thanks to our new caretaker, Aunt June.

No more than 8 years old, I thought Aunt June—with her bouffant of red hair, a molasses-thick drawl, and false teeth she’d remove on command—was terrifying.

“Redneck,” was the word my mother used when she dropped us off, a word I instinctively knew meant uncultured, and which my mother hadn’t meant so much as an insult, but merely fact. Standing there in Aunt June’s dusty gravel driveway feeling trapped, I decided country music was redneck, too.

I clung to that belief for the bulk of my life until just this past February, before the end of life as we knew it. My friends Jack and Tessa went to Mexico then, and I got to borrow Tessa’s car. The thrill of suddenly having a vehicle in Boston felt like a small miracle, a mini vacation from a life where there was nothing ostensibly wrong, save for the lack of convenience owning a car provided and the feeling of freedom it incited.

It helped that Tessa’s car radio was pre-programmed to one of Boston’s contemporary country stations, a station I never would’ve listened to on my own. But it was unseasonably warm in the city and so I rolled the windows down and cranked it — a sound all at once familiar and yet so foreign to me.

Behind the wheel, the world suddenly seemed filled with possibility. And yet my April trip to Italy seemed unlikelier by the day as coronavirus spread through Europe, eventually making its way to the U.S., where the orders soon came to stay home.

I feared this inevitable retreat into my home because I suffer from chronic wanderlust and a smidge of claustrophobia.

I’m always planning my next escape, and quarantine meant being stuck, indefinitely, like those countless summer days at Aunt June’s: riding shotgun in her windowless truck all the way to the flea market where she pushed counterfeit Avon products.

Sarah Sweeney

Writer, traveler & sometimes journalist. My essay collection “Tell Me If You’re Lying” debuted from Barrelhouse Books in 2016. Visit me at