Your prairies were a blip on the television screen of me. And I’m a stranger here, a foreigner. I have my own family, my own life, and it's a good one. And I haven’t thought of you again, Kansas.

Hello, Kansas. Nice to see you. It’s been a long time. You’re just as lovely as you used to be.

I’m driving through your prairies, the sun is setting over the wheat. The small towns are nothing but grain elevators and high-school baseball fields. And I’m remembering too much.

Namely, I remembering the way my daddy listened to the Grand Ole Opry broadcast on Saturday nights in a Kansas shed. I remember how he loved Minnie Pearl.

Whenever Minnie would say, “I’m jest proud to be here,” he’d slap his knee. Because when her voice came on the air, we knew she was going to say that.

He used that same corny phrase ten times per day. Until I was sick of it. He used it at baseball practice, supper tables, and even when he shook THE ACTUAL Minnie Pearl’s hand.

So yeah, I remember a lot, Kansas. I remember the place where I hit my first in-the-park home run, not far from here.

My father was clapping, and shouting. He was wearing a Little League T-shirt, spitting sunflower seeds.

I ran the bases.

Roy Wallace was catcher. By the time I reached home plate, he had the ball in his mit.

Daddy shouted, “Mow his ass over, boy!”

So I did. I slid into Roy like a windmill in a tornado. My uniform was covered in dirt.

My father screamed, “HOW-DEEEEEEEE!”

I was fifteen feet tall.

Kansas. I hated you for a long time. My father left this world by way of his own gun, and he did it here. After we left this place, we never came back. And never wanted to.

In fact, I almost didn’t come today. I almost cut through Oklahoma on my way home.

I’m glad I didn’t. Because I would’ve missed the painted sunset behind Coolidge. I would’ve missed the golden fields of Syracuse, Deerfield, Lakin, or Garden City. I bought sunflower seeds in Cimarron and chewed through a whole bag until Dodge.

The day of Daddy’s funeral, his Kansan family sat on the opposite end of the chapel. My grandparents said nothing to me. Nothing.

His kin said even less. They couldn’t find words, I guess. Suicide is dirty, nobody knows how to talk about it.

Then, after the funeral, we never saw his family again. Not a single one of them. No phone calls, no Christmas cards.

And that’s why Mama left you so soon. We were glad to get off your soil. No. We were grateful to be with family Down South.

And I grew up in a place that loved me. I tasted beer in a peanut field near Andalusia. I had my first kiss in Georgia.

Your prairies were a blip on the television screen of me. And I’m a stranger here, a foreigner. I have my own family, my own life, and it’s a good one. And I haven’t thought of you again, Kansas.

Until today.

This morning, I was in a hotel in Salina. In the elevator was an older couple. The silver-haired woman kept looking at me, I could see her staring, from the corner of my eye.

Finally, the woman said, “Excuse me, but you look so familiar…” Then she smiled. “Are you ‘Sean of the South?’”

I almost choked.

They were from Pensacola, Florida. They talked just like I do. They pull for the same college football team I do. We got our picture made together, right in the elevator. They hugged me.

The woman said, “We’re so proud of you.”

And my eyes got waterlogged. I sort of made a fool of myself.

Before we parted ways, they said, “What’re you doing all the way out here in Kansas?”

The truth is, I don’t know what I’m doing here. Could be, I just wanted to see where my father came from. Or maybe, I’m just trying to remember a home run I once hit in a wheat field—and the look on Roy’s face when I plowed into him.

Maybe I’m trying to touch the steelworker, son-of-a-dirt-farmer who died too young. My daddy. A Kansan who almost ruined our lives, even though I loved him.

I don’t know, Kansas. I really don’t.

But I’m just proud to be here.

40 comments

  1. Theresa Clark - June 7, 2018 9:57 am

    Once again, you make me laugh, make me cry. I grew up in Colorado – my parents still live there. It’s such a breathtaking place, but a memory from there will always haunt me. Even though I was long gone when it happened, I am a Columbine High graduate. And as you speak of Kansas, I think of my sweet sister-in-law, a Kansas native and now Coloradoan, now suffering from an aggressive breast cancer. With the treatment she’s receiving, she should pull through. But she just started chemo last week, so we pray God keeps her here a long time. She’s only 49. After college graduation, my dad and brother moved me to Tennessee, and not long afterward, I met the guy who makes my heart leap, and I’ve been a Kentuckian for 32 years – believe it or not, a dream come true. All that said to tell you, these latest stories about places that stir my memory and my heart, have meant so much. I remember passing through Kansas on the way to my new residence in 1984, staying in dusty Wichita for a horse show I was covering for the horse industry newspaper I wrote for in 1985, for all the times we drove through western Kansas (and stopped at the DQ in a place close to the border to order dipped cones) and that meant I was close to “home.” When we traveled on slippery, ice covered roads one November – we had to stop near the Colorado state line because the roads were impassible. My parents were trying to make a dream come true for their horse crazy daughter to see the American Royal Horse Show in Kansas City (I might still have the marked up show book in a box in my garage). So, Kansas and Colorado I will see you soon….we will see you in October to visit that sweet sister-in-law and celebrate my parents’ 54th anniversary and to see my youngest daughter off to a new adventure in Snowmass, CO. Until then Sean, keep me laughing and crying. I know you will. Southerners can do that in the same breath.

    Reply
  2. Chelle Coffee - June 7, 2018 10:26 am

    Hi Sean,
    I’m so sorry your daddy hurt your heart here in Kansas. You are maybe driving past our town Newton on your way back to the south. I married an Alabama man and we’ll be back and forth. I love both places. Thank you for working hard at appreciating Kansas💜 hugs for your hurt.
    Chelle

    Reply
  3. Doyt J. Richardson - June 7, 2018 10:40 am

    I was stationed in Wichita in the Air Force with Titan II ICMs. It was a horribly flat, windy, boring place. Florida panhandle is much better. Only reason people stayed in Kansas on their way west was that’s where their ox died.

    Reply
  4. Darrell Dame - June 7, 2018 11:20 am

    I would like to know more about your ties to kansas. Enjoy your writing very much.

    Reply
  5. Jackie - June 7, 2018 11:29 am

    Proud for you to call my area your home!

    Reply
  6. Xan Morrow - June 7, 2018 11:34 am

    Powerful!

    Reply
  7. Connie - June 7, 2018 11:58 am

    I’m proud you are from Kansas! I lived here my whole life and love it. If you ever come through Wichita, I’d love to buy you dinner…Bless you and your family (including your fur baby!)

    Reply
  8. Donna - June 7, 2018 12:11 pm

    Thanks for sharing that your Daddy hailed from Kansas. I did too, once upon a time. Then I left it’s harsh beauty behind, finally settling here in the South. Good for you Sean for facing the past by taking this big difficult journey.

    Reply
  9. Keloth Anne Thompson - June 7, 2018 12:13 pm

    What wonderful memories and so filled with pain yet love and fondness❤️❤️
    I feel as though I have journeyed with you, Jamie and Thelma Lou. Praying for you all as you travel home and prayers for your heart🙏❤️

    Reply
  10. MaryBurns - June 7, 2018 12:30 pm

    A holy moment. Being recognized in an elevator, in Kansas! Wow. It wasn’t about your Dad, it was about you. You are being recognized for something you did. On your own. You should be proud! I am.

    Reply
    • Pat - June 7, 2018 7:00 pm

      Well said Mary, well said!

      Reply
  11. Gregg Gleason - June 7, 2018 12:34 pm

    Sean, thanks for your piece about being back in Kansas. I grew up there, but have lived in Tallahassee since 1972. I go back to Kansas each spring to see family and friends and to do some photography. One of my favorite spots is the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve just west of Emporia. This past trip I got acquainted with two small towns (Eskridge and Emporia) whose main streets are quite picturesque.

    Reply
    • outlawman2 - June 8, 2018 5:47 pm

      Born in Emporia, raised in Burlingame and hunted and fished around the Eskridge/Harveyville area.

      Reply
  12. Melanie - June 7, 2018 1:15 pm

    I save stories that particularly touch my heart. They go into a special mail folder. This one’s a keeper. ❤️ (((Hugs)))

    Reply
  13. Carolyn - June 7, 2018 1:16 pm

    Sean, there are many that you’ll never know about that are proud of you. I’m proud of you for facing those giants of the past. It’s not easy, but worthwhile things in this life never are.

    Reply
  14. Heidi - June 7, 2018 1:32 pm

    Sometimes memories are hard……but good. Cleansing. It’s difficult to remember our parents were human, not just our parents. They all have had struggles and done things they wished they hadn’t. You remember the good Sean. It made you what you are today. Happy trails!

    Reply
  15. Jack - June 7, 2018 1:41 pm

    We split our time between the Panhandle and KC. I’ve been to all 105 counties in Kansas, and read you every day. Your stories have universal application. Glad you passed through, and hope to see you down South.

    Reply
  16. Marylin Anderson - June 7, 2018 1:55 pm

    My sister has lived in Colorado since 1955. She was only 17 and her sweetheart was 19. I was only 7. We’ve driven to Colorado, up from El Paso thru New Mexico ever since. Then our daughter moved to Kansas 17 years ago when her preacher husband was assigned to two Lutheran churches there. In 2009 our son livesd in a tiny town in southwestern Kansas and worked on John Deere’s in another tiny town nearby. My husband and his family are from Alabama!

    Years ago a minister friend of ours used to say, “the more we’re different, the more we’re the same” That seems to be true of us, Sean Dietrich.
    Thank you for sharing your stories. Safe travels back home.

    Reply
  17. Annie - June 7, 2018 1:58 pm

    You’re doing good talking about it. I still can’t talk about my daddy either.

    Reply
  18. Laura - June 7, 2018 1:59 pm

    There’s good and sad in our memories. Such a shame your daddy’s kin missed out on the very special person you are. Shame on them all. But for you, I am proud to be here at a time when I can know Sean Dietrich – Sean of the South. I am glad you have made the Florida panhandle your home and that you love my Alabama football team- Roll tide. I will not forget the time I met you and the great influence you have had on me! Thank you. I love you!

    Reply
  19. Jacque White Kochak - June 7, 2018 2:15 pm

    Hey Sean, I hope you’ll forgive me for asking, but I’m giving myself permission because I feel I know you from your columns. Where in Kansas was your daddy from? I live in Alabama now, but I’m at least a fifth-generation Kansan, with links to every wide spot in the road. It wouldn’t be a stretch that we were related…

    Reply
  20. Lylabeth King - June 7, 2018 2:18 pm

    Sean, this story, as many of your stories, made me smile and cry. You’re a master with words. Your heart is good. Maybe someday I’ll see you in an elevator or a country store and I’ll recognize you and have the opportunity to tell you “We’re so proud of you”.

    Reply
  21. Connie Stubblefield Ridgway - June 7, 2018 2:22 pm

    Invitation still stands. I’m a northerner (Philly)living in KS for 48 years. My Daddy was from TN. Now my real home is in heaven. Looking forward to going there. I pray for your pain to leak out all the way home. My we all have it don’t we, the human condition. He saves our tears. That’s caring. Some of us have very big bottles full. I love you Sean though I haven’t seen you for so long. Sorry they didn’t hug you & love you. Perhaps they felt guilty. Forgive everyone and move on. Good advice from Him who loves you.

    Reply
  22. Charlu Kent - June 7, 2018 3:07 pm

    Smiling with you, Sean 💙🐭❤️😎

    Reply
  23. Sandra Smith - June 7, 2018 3:30 pm

    You’re plowing over old dirt, Sean.
    Some might tell you to let it lay, but I say, “Plow into it” …so, it will grow NEW life. ❤

    Reply
    • Debbie Shiflett - August 5, 2018 11:02 pm

      Amen!

      Reply
  24. Edna B. - June 7, 2018 4:02 pm

    Sean, good for you for facing your past. As for your Daddy’s kin, I say shame on them. They don’t even realize how huge their loss is. I am proud of what you have done with your life. I travel to Florida every year. It would be wonderful to actually meet you in person. Who knows? One day it could happen. You have safe travels on your way home. Hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  25. Carolynn Bettis - June 7, 2018 4:03 pm

    Exemplary!! Sincere condolences – Parents are priority in our lives, as are our children!! But, grandkids are really special! You have an innate talent – inherited bd then nurtured and
    polished by you. Your Dad is part of all you are – forever!!

    Reply
  26. Jessi C. - June 7, 2018 4:10 pm

    Very touching, thank you for sharing. I cringed inside at your discomfort and was happy you were able to face those memories and come away with a bit of peace. Enjoy hearing stories of your father–I always feel sad/happy.

    My brother left Western NC for a short-term job in California and died there. So suddenly I hate California, and it’s interesting to know that’s not an unusual response. I have also had many family members who have said nothing to me since his death 3 years ago. Drug overdose also has a dirty stigma.

    Thank you for uplifting us through our mutual pain, looking for the good and helping us see the silver lining always.

    Reply
  27. Charlotte Hollis - June 7, 2018 4:20 pm

    And I hope you know that there is a whole passle of us that are proud of you & love you! Carry on cause I’m so glad your here!

    Reply
  28. janiesjottings - June 7, 2018 5:11 pm

    This story right here is one of the reasons I love your writing. This was really touching and as my granny used to say I “wouldn’t take a gold guinea” for that lady recognizing you & making your day. If I ever meet you I will be ugly bawling because you are a truth teller and one of my heroes. Truth!

    Reply
  29. Jack Quanstrum - June 7, 2018 5:25 pm

    It is good in my opinion to visit the past it’s who you are, who I am and everybody is. There are answers back their. We all want understanding. It’s human nature.

    Reply
  30. muthahun - June 7, 2018 11:29 pm

    Dear Sean, I’m so glad you’re processing your pain and examining your truths, but don’t for a minute think that suicide is “dirty”. It may be a lot of things… an act of cowardice, an act of bravery, an act of utter desperation, an act of nearly unforgivable selfishness, even a permanent fix to a temporary problem. So true that we don’t know how to talk about it, that the waves of hurt flow from the act and make us all wish we’d done something, said something, been enough to make a crucial difference so it never happened. Bless you for talking about it. Bless you for revisiting that time and space. Let’s all remember, in these troubled times that help really IS out there. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

    Reply
  31. Jack Darnell - June 7, 2018 11:58 pm

    I like the way you wrote it. I don’t think you could have expressed it better.

    Reply
  32. Dianne Correll - June 8, 2018 2:08 am

    You really have a way with words!!!

    Reply
  33. Beth Reed - June 8, 2018 8:18 am

    Sean,
    Sometimes we have to climb a steep hill before we realize that it’s really a mountain.
    There is no time limit on grief and that’s what your doing. Your Grieving. It might have been years ago but it’s still fresh in your heart and soul.
    If you ask anyone about their past I am sure that you would find a lot of people who are not interested in going back to even visit or to talk about certain things and times in their lives. Some are able to move forward and never give their past a second thought.
    Then there are people like you that tried to bury the past and simply can’t let go because the past is still at the core of your soul.
    There is nothing wrong with that. Grief is a hard emotion to work through. You have made a very huge attempt to face your past and reconcile your memories in a healthy way. By climbing this mountain with Jamie and Thelma Lou you have added another layer to your past as you walk into your future. This time when you look back your memories will be bittersweet but you will think of all the people you have met on the way. How many times Jamie and Thelma Lou made you laugh, or gave you a hug just because you were there.
    Your grandparents made their choice. I don’t think it has anything to do with suicide being dirty so much as no one knows what the right words are to say. Or in their case just cold, rude and inconsiderate as well as selfish. They don’t rate a spot in your memories.
    I feel bad that they never reached out to you and your sister and mother, but your not responsible for their actions.
    You were loved by another set of grandparents who loved you a million times over than what you would have gotten from your dads parents and other family members.
    I hope that this trip has been soothing to you and that you will have many more happy times to remember than the sad.
    In the meantime… Hang in there and keep on being you. Your real family is very proud of you. I am so lucky the day I found your blog. When I feel down I reach for my phone and read your blog posts because I can’t find it in my heart to be sad when I read such wonderful stories that are so inspirational.
    I love you and Jamie and Thelma Lou no matter what mountain you may climb next or where….. Beth Reed from Austin Texas.

    Reply
  34. Ron Thomas - June 9, 2018 1:39 am

    This is one if your best, Sean, one that is captivating from start to finish. I didn’t want it to end. Thank you for sharing this with all of us .

    Reply
  35. Zach of the Dog Park - June 9, 2018 4:00 am

    Excellent! I’m just now getting acquainted with your writing, but two columns in, I can tell I’m going to love it. I’ve always believed that the best quality a writer can possess is honesty. You laid it all out there on this one, and it was wonderful.

    It’s been an absolute pleasure getting to know you, Jamie and Thelma Lou these last couple days. I think I can safely speak for both myself and Kirby on that one. Safe travels the rest of your journey, and look me up if you ever make it back around.

    Reply
  36. C.E. HARBIN - June 9, 2018 7:43 pm

    Sniff…sniff. That was a sad piece you wrote, Sean. It must have been a hard time for you and your family. People don’t like to talk about suicide and the way it affects those left behind. I am glad you took the plunge and plowed on through. Sniff…sniff.

    Reply
  37. Sam Seetin - August 6, 2018 7:06 pm

    Closure is not far off and you are inching closer because you are honest with you feelings,

    Reply

Leave a Reply