Life is Short

The man tells us that his daughter rode her bike through the mud. “She just learned to ride last week,” the man adds. “She’s growing so fast.”

A small town. Early evening. My cousin and I are taking a walk through an older neighborhood. It’s sunset, children are outside for the final hours of dusk.

It’s funny. It only seems like yesterday that my cousin and I would attend summer Vacation Bible School as children. We’d play games. Smashing balloons, balancing eggs on spoons, running three-legged races.

When we got older, we volunteered as VBS leaders, too. It was a lot of hard work, I remember that much.

But I also remember when six-year-old Mattie Nielsen hugged me so hard she almost choked me.

Little Mattie said, “I LOVE YOU MISTER SEAN!”

I was too stunned to even answer her. I asked why Mattie loved me.

“BECAUSE,” Mattie shouted. “THEY HIRED YOU TO TEACH VBS!”

That poor, misinformed child. Nobody “hires” you to teach VBS. You sort of get “sentenced” into it.

On our walk, we pass neighbors. A man is washing a small, pink bicycle with a hose.

We wave.

He waves.

The man tells us that his daughter rode her bike through the mud. “She just learned to ride last week,” the man adds. “She’s growing so fast.”

We keep strolling.

We pass an old man on a porch. He’s smoking a pipe. I can smell it. You don’t see tobacco pipes much anymore. His grandson is with him.

“Ready for football season?” my cousin shouts to them.

“War Eagle!” man and grandson holler.

“War Eagle!” my cousin answers, elbowing me.

I am silent. I was born during the third quarter of Bear Bryant’s farewell Liberty Bowl. I don’t War Eagle.

We walk past kids and adults who are in their yard, playing—tossing Frisbees toward metal baskets.

“What game is that?” my cousin asks them.

“Frisbee golf,” says a man. “It’s kids versus adults, the kids are beating us silly.”

Soon we are long past the residential area, on a dirt road. We pass barns and fields. A stray dog follows us for a few minutes. The old boy has white on his snout.

And the sun sets.

My cousin and I watch brilliant colors over a field. Beneath a live oak are several parked cars. My cousin tells me that teenagers park in this field sometimes, for fun.

Their vehicle doors are open, they’re listening to loud music. Youth is a powerful drug.

On the way back, we pass a married couple, pushing a stroller. My cousin and I recognize the young mother—wouldn’t you know it?—from Vacation Bible School.

Long ago, we taught her P.E. class. She was a bubbly girl with so much energy she shouted her sentences.

She’s a grown woman now. Two daughters. One husband. She hugs me and calls me, “Mister Sean.”

And I feel like Granddaddy Zebulon Walton.

We wander back toward the neighborhood. We pass the same family playing Frisbee. They’re tuckered out.

“Who won?” we ask.

“Don’t ask,” says one man, cracking open a Miller Lite.

We pass houses with porch lights on. We hear crickets. Children are going to bed.

We pass the man who was washing the bike. He is doing something else now. He’s swinging a girl in circles, making airplane noises. She’s flying through the dark, laughing.

“She’s almost too big for that,” my cousin hollers.

The man sets the girl down. He’s out of breath, he clutches his lower back. “I know,” he says. “It seems like just yesterday she was in diapers.”

Life moves fast. Too fast.

So fast, in fact, that I was going to try and come up with a clever closing line, but I didn’t have enough time. So this will have to do:

Sometimes it seems like the world is in a hurry. Children get taller. Girls become women. Puppies grow into their paws. And boys like me—no matter how thick headed and slow they are—survive their own childhoods.

And one day, they discover that childhood didn’t last nearly long enough. And neither did the other seasons of life. And that only makes it more beautiful, somehow.

I’m not even sure what I just wrote makes any sense. But I guess it really doesn’t matter.

What matters is this:

Wherever you are, Mattie Nielsen, you probably don’t even remember me.

But I love you, too.

20 comments

  1. Darrell Dame - June 30, 2018 11:58 am

    Just saying I enjoy, and am touched by the things you write.

    Reply
  2. Shirley Brown - June 30, 2018 12:00 pm

    Growing up in Hope Hull, AL the best fun ever was attending VBS in Pintlala. The bible games, the friendships developed, memorizing the books of the bible in order that I still find myself remembering even into my 60’s. My mom was always a teacher at VBS and I can so remember her laughter and the love in her eyes as she looked over our small class and gave US the opportunity to choose our next bible game. Failure was never an option. Every child found success in VBS. You bring back memories of my childhood that never fails to bring joy to my heart and tears to my eyes. Thank you Mr. Sean! I love you!

    Reply
  3. Debbie - June 30, 2018 12:15 pm

    Sweet, Sean…..We work so hard to record our memories with our nifty iPhone cameras, yet miss recording these memories in our mind. Summertime in the South…sitting outside, watching the lightning bugs rise from the lawn and bushes, catching the breeze, watching the stars come out, and an occasional plane flying way above us.

    Reply
  4. Edna B. - June 30, 2018 12:26 pm

    Such beautiful childhood memories. It’s nice to wander back in time for a while. Alas, the older we get, the quicker the time passes by. Hold on to your memories. You have a wonderful day Sean. Hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  5. William - June 30, 2018 12:51 pm

    Your best by far.

    Reply
  6. Barbara Assell - June 30, 2018 1:10 pm

    Thanks, Sean, for your beautiful stories. And, War Eagle!

    Reply
  7. muthahun - June 30, 2018 2:24 pm

    Memories are made of this… and now, off to march and seize the day.

    Reply
  8. Pat - June 30, 2018 2:58 pm

    I’ll just bet that Mattie Nielsen does remember you!

    Reply
  9. Bonnie Specchio - June 30, 2018 3:49 pm

    Sean, I look forward to your musings each day! My husband and I live on a farm in Central Illinois, but we have a home in Gulf Shores and kids and grandkids in each state, so we are “Illi-bamians” (I made that word up!)
    Anyway, your comment about Bear Bryant’s Liberty Bowl game brought back a memory – I stayed home, but my diehard Illinois fan husband went to that game where we got royally spanked by AL.
    On the way out of the stadium, a big AL fan shouted “Bear Bryant’s ____th victory” (I don’t remember the actual number). And my hothead Italian husband, shouted back “And ____ of them were against girls’ schools!” You can imagine how well that went over!
    Anyhoo, he was pursued by throngs of AL fans through the bowels of the stadium, narrowly escaping with his hide intact.
    Love your words – please don’t stop!

    Bonnie Specchio

    Reply
    • Jon Dragonfly - July 2, 2018 3:10 am

      Bonnie Specchio – Here in L.A. (Lower Alabama), I love your invention of Illi-bamians!

      Reply
  10. Janet Mary Lee - June 30, 2018 3:52 pm

    It is nice to know times like that still exist. There was a peace people do not have anymore. Thanks for bringing it back!!

    Reply
  11. Jan - June 30, 2018 4:27 pm

    You brought back all the memories and sweet times of growing up in the South! Or perhaps those are memories of childhood and growing up anywhere. They are special times wherever they occur. You are so right, they pass by way too fast!

    Reply
  12. John Marvin - June 30, 2018 4:46 pm

    “Maybe time running out is a gift.
    I’ll work hard ’til the end of my shift.
    And give you every second I can find.
    And hope it isn’t me that’s left behind”

    from “If We Were Vampires” by Jason Isbell

    Reply
  13. Judy - June 30, 2018 7:25 pm

    I just finished spending a week with my adult children and their children at the beach. There used to be eleven of us that went each summer, but the oldest is almost an adult and has a job. The others will be ticking off to their respective lives, just as she has, too quickly. I took a lot of pictures – including some beautiful sunsets. Trying to remind myself to slow down, enjoy the moments one by one and take time to enjoy sunsets. You are an inspiration and you are loved by so many that you may never meet. Please keep writing the stories that point us to living well.

    Reply
  14. Gale Smith - June 30, 2018 9:27 pm

    Yesterday is a place that’s not there anymore.
    Thank God for photos and memories and Sean of the South…..

    Reply
  15. Jack Darnell - July 1, 2018 12:03 am

    Gotta love small towns in the south in the evening!

    Reply
  16. C.E. HARBIN - July 1, 2018 11:55 am

    Good story.

    Reply
  17. Jack Quanstrum - July 1, 2018 3:27 pm

    Life flys! Your story is perfect for me. JUST what the doctor ordered. I am at time in my life that I am more grateful every day. As rough as it is, their is nothing like it. Pure joy. Great read!

    Reply
  18. Jon Dragonfly - July 2, 2018 3:12 am

    Waaar EAgle! 😉

    Reply
  19. joyce luker - July 3, 2018 11:47 pm

    Time is flying by now, Roll Tide!!:)

    Reply

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