But, a “hater?” No, sir. I don’t hate anything, nor any establishment, nor any person. And I don’t hate angry readers who tell me to go straight to… Well, you know.

DEAR SEAN:

You are a hater, so I hate you. Seriously, I’m finished with you. I’m disappointed in the negative statement you made yesterday about Chick-fil-A!

You wrote [quote]: “...we played [music] at the grand opening of a Chick-fil-A. I’m not proud of that.”

I was mortified when I read that you actually hate Chick-fil-A... And all I can say to you is... [bleep, bleep, bleepity bleep].

It’s been real,
TIME-TO-QUIT-SEAN-DIETRICH

DEAR TIME-TO-QUIT:

Hi. How’s your day been going? I hope you are well.

Listen, I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but I’m reading your letter while eating a Chicken Biscuit, sitting inside a Chick-fil-A. That’s right, I’m in a booth at THIS VERY MOMENT, writing you.

In fact, I just read your words aloud to the woman sitting next to me. Louisa, is her name. She has an eight-year-old daughter with her.

After I read your words, Louisa’s daughter remarked: “Wow, that person needs a nap.”

Her words, not mine.

Anyway, maybe you don’t know this, but my mama worked at Chick-fil-A when I was young. To make ends meet, Mama made waffle fries, scrubbed kitchens, mopped

the floors, and wore a uniform. My sister worked here, too.

This place was good to my family. And by “good,” I mean: they helped us survive. Hate them?

Do what?

Why, if you ask me you couldn’t find better fried chicken if you looked in Aunt Bee’s skillet.

Admittedly, I don’t know anything about the organization. But I DO know that during my youth, I’d visit Chick-fil-A to see Mama’s smiling face. And those memories are plated in gold.

Oh, but you didn’t want to know that. You wanted to be angry. So okay. Let’s talk about the sentences you didn’t like:

“...we played [music] at the grand opening of a Chick-fil-A. I’m not proud of that.”

Journey through time with me, friend. Let’s travel backward several years.

[Cue…

I am lucky. I’ve spent most of my life as a thick-headed fool. And sometimes, I wish I could go back in time and have a serious talk with Young Me. If I could, I know exactly what I’d tell him.

I’m throwing a barbecue. I invited a few friends over for the holiday celebration. A few turned into a lot. Now I am surrounded.

And I am happy.

I don’t want to get mushy, but I couldn’t be happier if I won the Florida Powerball. There are two kids playing catch in my front yard. People are reaching into coolers full of ice.

One bloodhound is running around—off leash. And one toddler named Grayson is running around—Grayson is wearing a leash.

And I’m standing at a grill. I’m wearing a ten-gallon hat, and an apron my friend bought me.

The apron was a gag gift, it reads: “Never use gasoline to light a grill.”

Friends.

There’s no need for this apron. But aprons help me appear like I actually know what I’m doing. And it’s important to look like you know what you’re doing when cooking raw meat for several innocent bystanders.

The truth is, I am not a good cook. I’m a writer and an accordionist. And writer-accordion-players are only good at bouncing checks, and using-way-too-many-hyphens-in-one-long-sentence.

Case and point: long ago, my wife bought

me a grill when we first got married. And before I tell you the rest of this story, I should also explain that it was one of those K-Mart jobs, with an instruction booklet written in Mandarin.

The grill didn’t cooperate. So, like any responsible American problem solver, to light the grill I resorted to using an acetylene blowtorch and gasoline.

Thus, the apron.

Since then, my friends have never let me forget about those foul tasting hamburgers. Neither will they let me forget about the following day, when I attend my cousin’s baby dedication with hairless forearms and no eyebrows.

But today, I’m not worried about food because I’m here with friends. I’m feeling nostalgic.

I’ve known some of these people for a long, long, long time. And they’ve been good to me.

Take…

He would rub salve on my sunburns every summer—I spent three quarters of my life sunburned. Redheads are like that, of course. Fair-skinned people like me can’t mention the sun without blistering. 

There was a ghost in the car with me. It surprised me that he showed up, it’s been a long, long time. But I am glad to see him.

I ask what the occasion is.

“Oh,” he says. “I just came to say ‘hello.’”

The ghost looks just like me. Or rather, I look like him. We are close in age—he was only forty-one when he died.

I still miss him.

Anyway, he and I drive past prairies and cotton fields. The sky has never been so blue. The music on the radio has never been better. Willie Nelson’s Greatest Hits.

Salve to the ears.

My father used that word a lot. “Salve.” There was no such thing as “ointment,” “balm,” “Mentholatum,” or “Vaseline.” To him, everything was salve.

He would rub salve on my sunburns every summer—I spent three quarters of my life sunburned. Redheads are like that, of course. Fair-skinned people like me can’t mention the sun without blistering.

A lot of redheads are also allergic to poison ivy. In fact, I can’t bear to talk about this subject. I’m sorry I

even brought it up.

My father would rub salve on all my rashes. He was every bit as redheaded as I was. Every bit as fair.

I’m passing Kinston, Opp, Elba, and Brantley.

I pull over at a gas station. I buy black licorice, Coca-Cola, and hot dogs. He loved black licorice. He loved hotdogs.

Funny, I forget most of the things he hated, but I remember what he loved.

On the road again. There’s not a cloud for miles. His arm is dangling out the window. Mine is too. Willie is still singing. I’ve already finished my Coke and dog. He hasn’t touched his.

Luverne, Rutledge, Highland Home.

He’s not telling stories today. So, I’m remembering some of my own.

I remember the time I fell off the tire swing and knocked the wind out…

Anyway, this town has changed. Once upon a time, Destin was a sleepy fishing village. It had one traffic light—two at the most. It wasn’t swallowed by chain restaurants. There were only a few dives, a Shell Station, and the docks on the harbor.

It’s night and I am on a beach in Destin, Florida. I am sitting on the shore, watching the mighty Gulf of Mexico. It never stops moving.

Never.

A few hours ago, I was in a beach bar having dinner with an old friend. He looked good. He’s a family man now, with a good job in Birmingham. Two kids. A nice wife. I haven’t seen him in decades. Not since we were ugly young men, operating nail-guns together.

Long ago, we had things in common. His father left before he was born. Mine died when I was a boy.

Back then, we had the same idea on life. Namely: that life wasn’t fair.

We had fun tonight. There was a band playing top-forty hits. The lead guitarist sang “Brown Eyed Girl” like a donkey with a sinus infection. And people danced.

My friend and his wife ordered fruity drinks and two-stepped until they were sweaty. I said Goodnight Gracie and left early.

On my way home, I stopped here. And the memories came back by the metric

ton.

This used to be my beach. I haven’t been here in years. We lived a few streets over. Our family’s old block house was yellow. And tiny. I slept on a pull-out sofa. My sister slept with my mother.

I would sit on the back porch steps when I couldn’t sleep, and look at the night. And I’d wonder things. Important things.

Things like: why does the Pope wear pointy hats? Who invented drive-thru liquor stores? Is it bad luck to be superstitious? And why does it seem like life is out to get me?

Anyway, this town has changed. Once upon a time, Destin was a sleepy fishing village. It had one traffic light—two at the most. It wasn’t swallowed by chain restaurants. There were only a few dives, a Shell Station, and the docks on the harbor.

But progress…

I love my niece. I love my mother-in-law. I love the World Series. I love autumn. And even though it’s taken a long time to feel this way, I love my old boss, who fired me years ago because he happened to be the greasy Pawn of Satan. No. I’m only kidding.

I was going to write something else, but I changed my mind. And I know this is corny—believe me, I know—but I like you.

No, It’s true. We probably don’t know each other, but I really like you. In fact, I sort of love you to death. I swear it. And I just have a feeling that you need to hear that today.

Anyway, if you do, I’m your guy.

You know what else I love? Minnie Pearl. I love the way she always greeted audiences by saying, “How-DEE!” I would’ve married that woman if she would’ve been, say, seventy years younger.

I also love the cashier in Winn-Dixie. Her name is Linda, she’s from North Alabama, and she talks like it. She and her husband moved here for his job.

She showed me cellphone photos of her parents, brothers, and sisters. She wears a strong face when she talks, but I know homesickness when I see it.

“My mother is coming to town,” she told me. “For vacation, on Monday.”

She was so excited that it was blasting through her

green eyes.

I love the boy selling magazine subscriptions at my front door. I didn’t want to buy magazines, but that kid deserved a few bucks for being brave enough to knock on a stranger’s door.

I asked why he was selling them. He told me it was because he wanted to earn enough to buy a cutting-edge smartphone.

For his grandmother.

I love Cracker Barrel. In the early morning. With the triangle-peg game. Coffee. Bacon. And an old friend.

And I love Brigette. You’d like her, too. She’s a four-foot-nine stick of dynamite with silver hair. Her husband had Alzheimer’s. Brigette was his caretaker. She gave everything to him. It’s just who she is. She gave until he flew away. Then she gave some more.

I love the white-haired man I saw today. He sat at the intersection…

I love my niece. I love my mother-in-law. I love the World Series. I love autumn. And even though it’s taken a long time to feel this way, I love my old boss, who fired me years ago because he happened to be the greasy Pawn of Satan. No. I’m only kidding.

I was going to write something else, but I changed my mind. And I know this is corny—believe me, I know—but I like you.

No, It’s true. We probably don’t know each other, but I really like you. In fact, I sort of love you to death. I swear it. And I just have a feeling that you need to hear that today.

Anyway, if you do, I’m your guy.

You know what else I love? Minnie Pearl. I love the way she always greeted audiences by saying, “How-DEE!” I would’ve married that woman if she would’ve been, say, seventy years younger.

I also love the cashier in Winn-Dixie. Her name is Linda, she’s from North Alabama, and she talks like it. She and her husband moved here for his job.

She showed me cellphone photos of her parents, brothers, and sisters. She wears a strong face when she talks, but I know homesickness when I see it.

“My mother is coming to town,” she told me. “For vacation, on Monday.”

She was so excited that it was blasting through her

green eyes.

I love the boy selling magazine subscriptions at my front door. I didn’t want to buy magazines, but that kid deserved a few bucks for being brave enough to knock on a stranger’s door.

I asked why he was selling them. He told me it was because he wanted to earn enough to buy a cutting-edge smartphone.

For his grandmother.

I love Cracker Barrel. In the early morning. With the triangle-peg game. Coffee. Bacon. And an old friend.

And I love Brigette. You’d like her, too. She’s a four-foot-nine stick of dynamite with silver hair. Her husband had Alzheimer’s. Brigette was his caretaker. She gave everything to him. It’s just who she is. She gave until he flew away. Then she gave some more.

I love the white-haired man I saw today. He sat at the intersection…

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…

She tells me that she is still recovering from ankle surgery. Her injury happened a few weeks ago when she was lifting a potted plant on her patio. She tripped over her dog. Her ankle shattered. She fractured a bone in her wrist, too.

The grocery store is packed with tourists. And I mean packed. There are hundreds of them.

And I am stuck in a cluster of middle-aged men who wear neon-colored swim trunks and flip flops.

You could say that I’m here against my will. My wife sent me on a very important shopping mission to buy:

1. salsa
2. Neosporin

And because no household can survive for more than forty-eight hours without salsa or the miraculous properties of Neosporin, here I am.

The middle-aged men in the checkout line are laughing and carrying on. They are wearing Margaritaville T-shirts, and their skin is a deep reddish-tan.

I can spot a Beach-Tourist-Dad tan a mile away. It’s all in the nose region.

Middle-aged male tourists, you see, rarely apply sunscreen to their noses—don’t ask me why. Thus, on a typical beach vacation, a Beach Dad often resembles the captain of Santa’s sled team.

As it happens, it’s a good thing Beach Dad isn’t ACTUALLY steering Santa’s sleigh because Beach Dad also drives like a clinically insane stuntman.

Sometimes, you can see Beach

Dad weaving his minivan through heavy traffic while singing along with a Jimmy Buffet greatest hits album, nearly causing ten-car pile ups.

But getting back to the grocery store. There’s a small boy standing in the checkout aisle behind me. He’s pushing a wheelchair with a woman in it. The woman is mid-seventies. She has a cast on her ankle.

There is also a teenage girl with her. The three-person clan is a nice-looking one. And because they are only buying sodas and popsicles, I insist they cut in line.

The boy wheels the woman ahead of me. The older woman thanks me.

I ask where they’re from.

“Arkansas,” she says. “These are my grandkids. We’re down here for two weeks.”

She tells me that she is still recovering from ankle surgery. Her injury happened a few weeks ago…

My friend’s daughter came marching through the house with Thel trailing her—well, actually, Thel was dangling from her shirttail.

Thelma Lou ate a Bible.

No, wait. Let me back up. Thelma Lou ate an heirloom Bible. In fact, she ran through a hayfield with a Bible in her mouth.

That’s right. Read that again if you need to.

It bears mentioning: I have seen some big things in my day. I’ve seen a man survive two hundred amps of electric shock. I’ve seen the world’s biggest ball of twine in Cawker City. I’ve shaken the hand of a man who played bass for Hank Williams. And once, in Freeport, Florida, I watched Chubbs Anderson lie down in the center of the main road for forty minutes after midnight without a single car rolling by.

But I have never seen a dog carry the Good Book in her mouth.

It all started at my buddy’s farm. My pal’s place is a secluded spot with a few wooden sheds, pastures, and some cattle.

His place is perfect for dogs who need to stretch their legs, and it’s located a convenient four and a half hours away from my

house.

When we arrived, I opened the door and Thel became a dematerialized black-and-tan streak, moving at the speed of sound. She was running to greet one of her canine friends.

Enter Boobie.

Boobie (a derivative of “Boob”) is an eight-month-old bluetick hound with more energy than a nuclear power facility.

His name was originally “Boo,” but my friend’s two-year-old daughter kept putting a “B” on the end of the name. “Boob” became “Boobie.” And on special occasions: “Bobbie Boobie Boo.”

The day started off good. Together, Boobie and Thelma Lou had a big time. I sipped sweet tea and caught up with a friend, and watched my dog engage in positive, character-building canine activities, including:

Digging, running, chewing on the bare legs of defenseless children, chewing residential siding, chewing tin cans, chewing automobile tires, urinating on flowers, eating the aforementioned flowers, and…

Anyway, not long ago, I was playing accordion at a Cajun music concert. I saw a man in the audience who kept smiling at me. There was something about him. He stood beside the plywood stage, eyes on me.

This is stupid. I can’t believe I’m telling you this. But last night, our band was on stage. Lights were flashing. People were dancing. The tune was “Hey Good Lookin’.” My buddy, Doug, was singing.

And I was squeezing an accordion.

So there. I’ve finally said it. I play accordion.

For years I’ve been pretending to be an average civilian, sometimes even flat-out denying that I own a thirty-two bass Weltmeister, but it’s time to admit the truth:

I play the lamest instrument ever conceived—with the exception of the bassoon.

I started playing as a boy. Before me, my grandfather played. Back in Granddaddy’s day, the accordion was not just “an” instrument, it was “the” American instrument. The accordion caused ladies to swoon, men to fall into jealous rages, and caused international spies to jump through glass ballroom windows.

Once upon a time, the accordion was exotic and elegant. You could watch primetime television and see stately gentlemen like Myron Floren, grinning at the camera, wearing a four-hundred-pound apparatus strapped to his chest.

But times have changed. Most folks don’t even

know who Myron Floren is.

Today, accordion-playing ranks on the “lameness scale” somewhere between identity-theft and dentistry.

Anyway, not long ago, I was playing accordion at a Cajun music concert. I saw a man in the audience who kept smiling at me. There was something about him. He stood beside the plywood stage, eyes on me.

He was white-haired and used a walker. His daughter was beside him. After the show, he approached me.

“I used to play the accordion,” he said.

His whole body was shaking from Parkinson’s.

The man went on, “I played when I was in the Army. Started with piano, but I wanted to be like Myron Floren, so when we were in Germany, I bought one.”

He taught himself to play. He’d stay up until the wee hours, practicing with a radio.

“I was…