One By One

“You march upstairs, mister,” she told me. “You go count your blessings, count every single one you can think of, or you don’t get any meatloaf.”

I was a little boy. I was in a bad mood. My mother sent me to my room before supper.

“You march upstairs, mister,” she told me. “You go count your blessings.”

“But MAMA!” I said.

“Count’em one by one, young man, make a long list, or you don’t get any meatloaf.”

I’m thirty-some-odd years too late, but my wife is making meatloaf tonight.

So:

My wife—because she loved me first.

And boiled peanuts—just because.

And dogs—every dog.

And people who stop four lanes of traffic to save dogs. And people who adopt dogs. And people who like dogs. And people who spend so much time with dogs they start to think like dogs.

And saturated fat. Smoked bacon, cured hams, and runny egg yolks in my fried eggs.

And cotton clothes that just came off a summer clothesline.

And the sound wind makes when it makes its way through trees. And the smells of fall. And rain.

Old radio shows. As a boy, a local station used to play reruns of Superman, the Lone Ranger, Little Orphan Annie, the Jack Benny Show, Abbott and Costello, and the Grand Ole Opry. I lived for these shows.

And the girl I met in Birmingham—she’s lived in fourteen different foster homes.

The child in Nashville—whose feet are too big for her sneakers. She can’t afford new ones.

Every soul at Children’s Hospital, Birmingham. Doctors, nurses, janitors, cooks, staff, and patients.

Every child who will be fortunate enough to see tomorrow morning. Every child who won’t.

And tomatoes. Tomatoes remind me of things deeper than just tomatoes themselves. They remind me of women who garden. Women like my mother, who suffered to raise two children after her husband met an untimely end.

Mama. The woman who made me. The woman whose voice I inherited. Sometimes, I hear myself talking on the phone and I realize I sound just like her.

I am proud of this.

And books. I have a garage full of books. Hundreds of books. No, thousands. Some I have read. Some I haven’t.

I love the smell of old pages, and the feel of paper.

I didn’t attend high school. The week after my father’s suicide, I dropped out of the seventh grade. And even though I’m not proud of that, it’s who I am.

To make up for this, I frequented bookstores and libraries. I read too much. Novels. Biographies. Comedies. Romances. Adventures. Classics. I read every word Lewis Grizzard ever wrote, at least fifty-three times.

My whole life, all I ever wanted to be was a writer of books.

Moving right along. Beer. Biscuits. Cheese. Birds. Fishing when I should be working. Sleeping when I should be fishing.

Mayonnaise based salads. Duke’s. My wife’s pimento cheese—which is illegal in three counties.

The people who hurt me—they know who they are. They were like inflatable bumpers in the gutters of a children’s bowling alley. They bounced this poor bowling ball toward home.

Funny. I thought they were friends. They weren’t. They were constellations that sailors use to guide ships.

Norman Rockwell. Will Rogers. Hank Senior. Kathryn Tucker Windham.

People with white hair, who remember when phone numbers had letters in them. Anyone who can remember what the world was like before mass media swallowed it.

My sister—who became a beautiful woman. And her husband. And her daughter. And the child she carries in her belly.

And my friends.

I don’t know where you are. I don’t know if your life is good or bad. I hope you have shoes that fit, and a forever home. But I don’t know.

I don’t know if you sleep in a hospital bed, or beside someone you love. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to high school. But I want you to know a few things.

I want you to know that I care about you. I want you to know that you can be whatever you decide to be. I want you to know that bad things don’t last forever.

And I want you to know that long ago, a woman once told me that if I counted my blessings, I would get meatloaf. I’m glad she made me do that.

Because her meatloaf was worth it.

41 comments

  1. Julie Peterson - August 1, 2018 6:57 am

    I too have read every word that Lewis Grizzard ever wrote. I see his influence in your writing. That’s a good thing. You are one of my blessings.

    Reply
  2. Sandi in FL. - August 1, 2018 7:15 am

    Thank you for the reminder that bad things do not last forever. Sometimes I tend to forget that, because when it rains it pours.

    Reply
  3. Jeanne Butler - August 1, 2018 8:38 am

    Thank you. I needed that. One of the things I’m grateful for is my Polynesian daughter-in-law. She just left with my son for the airport for Iowa. She has a store that sells island things out there. She’s been going back and forth for four years. She and my son are getting a divorce after 19 years and two beautiful children. I’m crying. I love her. She will be back but not sure how it will be with her and my son. I want her to always be here. I’m so sad. So grateful for her. My life just changed for the worse. Love you Sean

    Reply
    • Sandi in FL. - August 1, 2018 9:48 am

      Jeanne, I am praying for you and this unhappy situation in your family.

      Reply
    • Connie Havard Ryland - August 4, 2018 3:40 am

      God bless you. I was divorced after 21 years of marriage (not my choice) and I miss his family every single day. His mother was my mom. His family was my family. So I feel your pain from the other side. It sounds like you love your daughter in law. Please let her know that. You may find she loves you just as much.

      Reply
  4. Gary Bass - August 1, 2018 9:30 am

    Sean, I’m an old man who lives in Marion County, Florida. Last weekend I went home for a family reunion in Andalusia, just up the road a ways from where you live. I got lost in memories of my wonderful childhood. We didn’t have much but we were so rich in other things. You know what I’m talking about. What a spread the beautiful white-haired ladies put out for all to enjoy and boy, enjoy we did. The reunion was held in the fellowship hall at Adellum Baptist Church out Brooklyn Road. Aunt Peewee was there. She used to change my diapers on am back pew. I guess what I’m really trying to say is “PLEASE SEND ME THE RECIPE TO YOUR MAMA’S PIMIENTO CHEESE!” I love all of yall… Pawpaw Bass

    Reply
  5. GaryD - August 1, 2018 9:37 am

    Hank #1, old radio shows and the memories of growing up in Mobile and spending weekends with our country relatives in Atmore and Bratt. Those are some of my favorite things. And fishing on the causeway and Dog River. And swimming in Fairhope and Dauphin Island. And going to Lacy’s 5 and dime with a dollar allowance. And everything else that was the good ol’ days.

    Reply
  6. Clay Hildebrand - August 1, 2018 10:32 am

    As a young Marine stationed on the USS Harlan County, I found Lews Grizzard’s books (someone had donated several to the ship’s library).

    Through a surreal turn of events, I now live and teach where he was raised! Next time you’re up near Atlanta you can see one of his three resting places, his mother’s (Miss Christine, the Moreland teacher who raised her boy) gravesite, and eat some of his favorite bbq (we even have the Lewis Grizzard Special).

    Reply
  7. Penn Wells - August 1, 2018 11:20 am

    “…that dawg’ll BITE you…!!!”

    Reply
  8. RuthLI in AL - August 1, 2018 11:25 am

    For each second, each minute, each hour and each day. For sunrises and sunsets and every minute between. For my little min pin, my cat and all the creatures in our woods. After a year with a DVT, pulmonary embolisms, cancer etc. I am so glad to be alive and enjoy my wonderful family and friends. God is so good!

    Reply
  9. paula jones - August 1, 2018 11:44 am

    Shoes that fit, haircuts, my cats, good coffee, seafood, iris and daylilies, libraries, Chilton county peaches, art museums, mountains, and starry nights

    Reply
  10. Rick - August 1, 2018 11:48 am

    That blessed my heart!! Thank you!

    Reply
  11. Dianne - August 1, 2018 11:49 am

    When I wake up in the middle of the night, can’t go back to sleep, I begin mentally thanking God for each of my blessings, which I list. The next thing I know it’s morning, I’m waking up to sunshine, and I always realize that I had fallen asleep thanking God for ALL of my blessings……………so many that I go to sleep counting them. Thank you, Sean, for reminding me this morning of this good habit I’ve had for years. The best sleeping pill there is.

    Reply
  12. Nancy - August 1, 2018 12:05 pm

    You are a blessing to all of us!

    Reply
  13. Jo Ann - August 1, 2018 12:12 pm

    I count you among my blessings, Sean. And congratulations to your sister & brother-in-law on the coming baby.

    Reply
  14. Jackye Thompson - August 1, 2018 12:23 pm

    Thank you for your thoughtful and kind writings.You and a cup of coffee begin my day .
    God Bless.
    Jackye T

    Reply
  15. Edna B. - August 1, 2018 12:28 pm

    I count you as one of my blessings too. I love your outlook on life and people. I shopped at the five and dime, had a phone before they even got numbers on the dial, and played at the block party when the big war ended. Life was good then. How did we let progress and the media mess it all up? And I love meatloaf. You have a wonderful day, Sean. Hugs. Edna B.

    Reply
  16. Donna - August 1, 2018 12:33 pm

    If only everyone could have had a mother who made you count your blessings before meatloaf, maybe this ole world would be a gentler place. Thanks be for your mother and mine…and for good meatloaf (don’t forget the mashed potatoes!).
    Reading your posts are the best way to start my day; keep ’em coming! You are a blessing to SO many of us.

    Reply
  17. Joan Busby - August 1, 2018 12:42 pm

    Thanks for reminding me of lots of good things. I still miss Lewis Grizzard. Besides reading all his books, I used to have all his tapes and laugh out loud listening to him. What fun!

    Reply
  18. Mary Collett - August 1, 2018 12:46 pm

    One of my blessings is to be able to read you ever morning along with my bible. Thank you and God bless you.

    Reply
    • CB - August 1, 2018 1:04 pm

      My favorite Grizzard line – “ all the tv preachers ask you to send your money to Jesus but they give you their address”

      Reply
  19. Jeri Blom - August 1, 2018 2:20 pm

    Like everyone says, you, Sean, are my blessing! Every morning I read your blog to my husband. Then we reminisce. It is a special time for us. I AM a white-haired woman, and I love all my good memories from my childhood in the 40’s and 50’s. It was a special time.

    Reply
  20. LARRY WALL - August 1, 2018 3:41 pm

    Thank you. Sean. I was going to write my list of what I am thankful for but realized that I need to buy a lot more pages of paper, or maybe a terabyte or two memory device.

    Reply
  21. Brenda - August 1, 2018 4:27 pm

    And I am thankful for you.

    Reply
  22. Barbara Jones - August 1, 2018 4:28 pm

    Everyday now I count reading your stories as one of my blessings. I cry through most and laugh through many but each story touches my soul. I love your writing and your insight and your power to observe and your interest in humanity and your heart. I don’t know you but I know you are a great man!

    Meatloaf for me tonight!
    Barbara Jones

    Reply
  23. Jack Darnell - August 1, 2018 4:47 pm

    I just told Sherry we need to make a meatloaf. She remembers EVERYTHING, she responded, “Mama made a meatloaf the day she died. She also cut Mark and daddy’s hair.” Later that day day mama Susie died in my arms as I performed CPR to no avail.

    Reply
  24. Mark Hausman - August 1, 2018 4:50 pm

    Sean, your writing is good but save some for your book. Dave Barry has got nothing on you!!

    Mark Hausman
    armi601@aol.com

    Reply
  25. Alice Cooper - August 1, 2018 6:51 pm

    I bought all the makings for meatloaf yesterday…for dinner tonight…also bought cheese, mayo and a jar of pimentos…

    Reply
  26. Nancy Powell - August 1, 2018 7:56 pm

    Amazing, just amazing! Sean you are blessing to all of us that follow you and many more folks, I am sure! My mama made a meatloaf that I can still smell in the oven! It was delicious! God Bless!

    Reply
  27. Lynda - August 1, 2018 11:00 pm

    a good meatloaf is worth it – especially if accompanied by mashed potatoes!

    Reply
  28. Diane Finley - August 1, 2018 11:31 pm

    Every day I look forward to your next post! When I read that you have thousands of books, I thought “that’s me!!”. I’ve kept just about every book I’ve ever bought or had given to me, going back to my childhood. I too love the smell and feel of the paper, and just how a book feels in my hands. Love your writing!

    Reply
  29. Nellie Strange - August 1, 2018 11:45 pm

    Beautiful as usual.

    Reply
  30. cronkitesue - August 1, 2018 11:54 pm

    Blessings upon you!

    Reply
  31. Pat - August 2, 2018 12:19 am

    You are an amazing human being and your words are like honey to my soul! Bless you child!!!

    Reply
  32. Music City Mark - August 2, 2018 2:39 am

    A friend recommended reading these post before bedtime. Perfect medicine!

    Reply
  33. Jon Dragonfly - August 2, 2018 2:11 pm

    For Gary Bass:

    Great Grandmother Ellison’s
    (Almost) Secret Recipe
    Pimento Cheese

    Ingredients:
    16 oz. Kraft Coon Brand New York Sharp Cheddar Cheese
    4 oz. Diced or sliced pimentos
    32 oz. Kraft Miracle Whip Salad Dressing
    ¼ tsp. Salt

    Procedure:
    Using a meat grinder with a small hole cutting plate, grind cubes of cheese while occasionally adding pimento to the grinder until all is ground together.
    Empty the salad dressing on top of the cheese/pimento mixture, add the salt, and stir, stir, stir. It will be very soupy. (Taste some on a Ritz cracker and ask your helper if it is salty enough.) (Don’t eat all of it now, it gets better.)
    Cover and let stand in the refrigerator for 24 hours. The cheese will absorb the dressing and the mixture will become somewhat stiff. Taste it now and if more salt is needed or more dressing is needed to “loosen” it up, they can be added.
    When ready, bottle it in the salad dressing bottle and the pimento bottles. The big bottle is for your family. The little bottles are for gifts to drive your friends crazy with desire for the Secret Recipe. Any that will not fit in the bottles, you get to eat right away.
    You must keep this refrigerated, it has no preservatives except what was in the original products. Grandma’s Pimento Cheese gets better the more it ages, the hard part is to not eat it up before it reaches its peak.

    This recipe was devised by Wilma Copeland Ellison sometime in the 1950s. She taught it to her son-in-law around 1970 (see, she did love me). She would be delighted to know that her love lives on in this creation.
    Wilma C. Ellison 1913 – 1989

    Reply
    • LARRY WALL - August 2, 2018 5:19 pm

      Jon – thanks for the chuckles at your descriptive directions and, for the recipe. My wife loves PC.

      Reply
  34. Gloria - August 2, 2018 5:06 pm

    Sean, you can turn the rainiest day into liquid sunshine with your beautiful words. Thanks for brightening my day.

    Reply
  35. Kenny Baskins - August 2, 2018 9:47 pm

    Sean thank you for writing whatever is on your heart and in your head each day! A member of the church I pastor shared your writings with me; and I pray God blesses her as much as your thoughts are a blessing to me. May God help you to always see the world with fresh eyes and may He help you to find the words to express those sights so we can be blessed.

    Reply
  36. Connie Havard Ryland - August 4, 2018 3:37 am

    I wish I had words to tell you how much you touch my heart. I’m not a writer-I’m a reader. I read everything. I love books I can hold in my hand and feel the paper. Growing up, I used books to escape the world I lived in, and knew that words can transport you outside of yourself. You have that power-to make people feel-and I thank you for sharing your gift.

    Reply
    • Vera - August 5, 2018 5:13 pm

      Exactly, that is exactly how his stories make me feel.

      Reply

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