The dusk is reflecting off Douglas Lake. I am nestled in the French Broad River valley, seated on the porch of a log cabin, watching the Great Smoky Mountains continue to be Great.

I am playing the mandolin with some friends. There is an upright bass, a flat top guitar, and a Deering banjo. I have known these fellas since I was a kid. They are bluegrass musicians, passing through Tennessee on the way to a gig. We are playing a few old tunes.

We are all outside. On the deck of my rental cabin. The distant blue mountains are laced with wisps of low-hanging fog. The trees are leafless and stoic. God was showing off when he made Appalachia.

The tune we play is called “Old Joe Clark.” We sound about as good as a dump truck driving through a Steinway factory. But that’s not the point. The point is, we’re having fun. And that’s what this New Year is all about.

Today is the first day of 2023, and the keyword of this current year is “fun.”

This past year, I didn’t have nearly enough fun. The reasons don’t matter, but this upcoming year is going to be different for me. This year, I am making a fresh start. This year, the F-word is going to be my go-to experience.


Last April, I wrote a column about a 100-year-old woman in a nursing home located in rural Virginia. I traveled to interview her in a rundown elderly care facility that looked like a condemned shack. Her name was Miss Lorena. She was in bad shape. She received two insulin shots during our interview.

She passed away before the column ever ran in the local papers. She never read what I wrote about her. Still, her parting words have been lodged in my brain.

“In all my years,” she said, “I’ve finally discovered the meaning of life.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“The secret to life is F-U-N. Do things that make you smile. That’s your only job here on earth. Never regret anything that makes you smile.”

“Fun? Is it that simple?”

“Oh, no, sweetie. It’s not simple. It’ll be the hardest thing you’ll ever did.”

I’ve been thinking about that old woman ever since. And here I am, playing a mandolin in the Smoky Mountains, on New Year’s Day, with old friends. Having fun.

Oddly, my earliest memories are of the mandolin. My grandfather, Sam, played a Gibson F-4 mandolin when he was a boy. He bought it for $20 from the back of a “Popular Mechanics” magazine in 1924. The ad’s headline read, “Five Cents A Day Buys a Gibson!”

I once asked why he chose mandolin. He said he chose the instrument because it was the cheapest one.

The most infantile memory I have of Granddaddy is on the porch of his single-wide, playing “The Swallowtail Jig.”

“Wow,” I said, watching him pick faster than a babysitter’s boyfriend.

“I got good at the mandolin during the War,” he said solemnly as he picked.

My grandfather was shot in the armpit while fighting in France. They sent him to rehab in Italy. One day, he saw an old man on the streets of Anzio playing a mandolin. The man was playing “O Sole Mio.”

Granddaddy was so inspired that he bought a cheap mandolin while in rehab, and started practicing. By the time he got back to the U.S., he was a white-hot virtuoso.

I am not the musical talent my grandfather was. But I got my first mandolin when I was 4 years old. It was my first instrument. Granddaddy showed me three cords on the mandolin. I played backup while he picked “Angeline the Baker” on the old Gibson. He kept stopping the song to adjust my little fingers.

I gave up the instrument when I turned 16 because the mandolin wasn’t “cool.” I was interested in the opposite gender. And girls wanted a guy with long hair who could play guitar and sing like the lead guy from Journey.

But here I am today, middle-aged schmuck, doing something my grandfather once did. I’m here in the Smokys, playing the music of my people. And I can truly say I’m having fun.

My aim this year is to have 365 days of pure fun. No matter how I accomplish this, no matter how hard it is, Fun will be my goal. F-U-N. No more, no less. I will fail along the way, of course. I will have a lot of mishaps. I will fall on my face. Some days will be anything BUT fun.

Even so, if I try really hard, I know I can make Miss Lorena proud.


  1. Melanie - January 2, 2023 6:22 am

    Go for it! 😀👍🏻👏🏻

    • Nancy Trucks - January 3, 2023 8:27 pm

      May be my favorite read of the year so far! Thank you! I too, am aiming for Fun this year!!! Happy New Year

  2. Ginny Nevins - January 2, 2023 6:48 am

    Sounds like a wonderful aspiration, Sean. Happy New Year to you and Jamie!

  3. Ceil - January 2, 2023 7:06 am

    Keep having 364 more days of FUN!

  4. Jo Siebert - January 2, 2023 7:28 am

    Every success to you in your pursuit of F-U-N! More people should listen to their elders!

  5. Debbie - January 2, 2023 11:14 am

    God is a good! F U N ! Just the message I needed. Thank you Sean for passing this on. I will make it my mission, pray for me.

  6. mikec4193 - January 2, 2023 11:51 am

    I love the F word too….good luck this year…we will all be rooting for you buddy…enjoy every minute of it…

  7. stephenpe - January 2, 2023 12:03 pm

    It occurs to me this morning that after teaching young kids for 40 years that my job was all about FUN. I was the coach. The PE teacher. I did not have one in elem. school so I tried to find all kinds of ways for my students to have fun while learning and being more fit. Along the way I had way more fun than you would think possible. The 100 yr old woman knew what she was talkiing about.

  8. Dianne Parker - January 2, 2023 12:12 pm

    ANOTHER reason I love you, Sean. Bluegrass! I’m going to Jekyll Island this week for their New Year’s Eve bluegrass festival. God bless you with and for your stories.

  9. Susan - January 2, 2023 12:17 pm

    FUN is the word of this year! ❤️

  10. Carole - January 2, 2023 12:32 pm

    I’m going to try to follow your lead, Sean!!

  11. Susie - January 2, 2023 12:32 pm

    Hit the priorities first….then, you’re right…make time for fun!!

  12. Marsha Hamby Savage - January 2, 2023 12:38 pm

    Sean, this is one of the best… I love it. The new F-word …. FUN! I am a professional artist and teach when I can students that come to me because of my long years of knowledge. I talk all the time about playing when we paint … that means having fun. Love this article… and yes, she knew what she was talking about! FUN!

  13. David New - January 2, 2023 1:03 pm

    My day is starting with letting our beagle out for a pee followed by feeding the beagle so she can poop, followed by letting the beagle back in bed with Mrs New so the beagle can sleep. Now for my fun…on my way to play Pickleball…script in hand from Sean that says “have more fun”. Today will be a fun day.

  14. Kay - January 2, 2023 1:46 pm

    I think you are doing a good job at working toward your goal!

  15. Art - January 2, 2023 1:47 pm

    Welcome to East Tennessee Sean

  16. Trudy - January 2, 2023 2:13 pm

    You are such an old soul, Sean. I love that about you.

  17. Anne Arthur - January 2, 2023 2:23 pm

    Lord God, help me to make Ms. Loretta proud of me, too. FUN shall be my lead word this year. It’s a tough call, but I’ll try.

  18. Maggie Priestaf - January 2, 2023 2:34 pm

    Sean, this born and bred northern girl loves Blue Grass. I needed to hear that message about FUN…

  19. Patricia Gibson - January 2, 2023 2:40 pm

    I am with you! Fun!

  20. Lisa Mcnerney - January 2, 2023 2:55 pm

    I just discovered your writing and it moves me deeply. Thank you!

  21. AlaRedClayGirl - January 2, 2023 3:08 pm

    Good advice from Miss Lorena! Reminds me of what Mae West once said, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”

  22. mccutchen52 - January 2, 2023 3:34 pm

    I agree with your friend completely. I am back in rehab twice a week for the next month for my back. I have got to get back to the ocean because, for some reason, things don’t ache on the warm beach.

  23. Peggy M. Windham - January 2, 2023 3:52 pm

    I’m with you! FUN it is!!

  24. Mary yates - January 2, 2023 3:53 pm

    I’m inspired! I needed to hear this. Thx again Sean.

  25. Billy Moore - January 2, 2023 4:12 pm

    Sean, I wish we could get everyone in the U.S. to read your column today. I am going to try to remember it every day. At 77 3/4, I am so fortunate. I want to remember to enjoy that every day is a gift! Thank you! billllly

  26. Steve McCaleb - January 2, 2023 4:42 pm

    Good luck son, I hope you have fun every single day. You deserve it as much as anyone I know….and a a whole lot more than most. But those days that are anything but……savor those too. They’re what make the “Fun Days” so dang special.

  27. DiAn - January 2, 2023 5:10 pm

    Sounds like the ONLY “New Year’s Resolution” any of us should make to me!! – Thank you, Sean, for this apt reminder of what’s really important. – DiAn

  28. David - January 2, 2023 5:16 pm

    Love this!

  29. Scott B Hamil - January 2, 2023 5:43 pm

    Your words are always witty and inspiring! Looking forward to meeting you at the Opelika, Alabama library in a few weeks

    Scott Hamil

  30. virginia westlake - January 2, 2023 7:20 pm

    I like this advice! We should all have more fun! It can be different for everyone. For me, it’s sewing quilts, reading books, travel when possible, being with kids and grandkids, time with friends.

  31. Ginga Smithfield - January 2, 2023 7:23 pm

    That sounds good to me, Sean! I vote for FUN!! I’m sad to say that my sister doesn’t believe in fun! I am 79 and my sister is 75. We live next door to each other. Everytime I say to her, “Let’s do something fun,” She says, ” Like what?” I say, “Let’s go to the beach!” Then my sister always says, “We just need to stay here and do what we are supposed to do!” That’s not fun! Anyway, more power to you in your quest for FUN! I think from now on when my sister asks me who I voted for on voting days, I’m going to say that I voted for FUN!!

  32. Karen - January 2, 2023 7:44 pm

    Ms. Lorena was a very wise woman. The Smoky Mountains are a true blessing from God.

  33. Tracy McLaughlin - January 2, 2023 7:55 pm

    I hope you succeed at having fun all year long! I shall try too.

  34. Gigi - January 2, 2023 8:52 pm

    ❤️❤️❤️ this

  35. Linda Moon - January 2, 2023 9:01 pm

    I’m glad God showed off with His Smoky Mountains, and I’m glad He shows off in many places with His people, too. I’m also glad I first heard “Old Joe Clark” from the Sand Mountain man I married and we still do the F-word a lot. And you know what, Sean? You make me proud and happy and a better person when I read your words and have fun with my mountain man at one of your live events!

  36. pattymack43 - January 2, 2023 9:17 pm

    I rather think that Miss Lorena is already proud as she smiles down on you and Jaime.
    Blessings for 2023!

  37. Richard Matheny - January 2, 2023 9:27 pm

    I lke that as a resolution. It is somethning that has some real meaning to it. I know its the second day of the new year but I am changing my New Year resolutions to Having FUN!

  38. Cathy M - January 2, 2023 9:54 pm

    I think you are fun! You need to make more appearances in B’ham so that we can have fun with you. You have to bring Jaimie and Marigold❤️

  39. Melissa Brown - January 2, 2023 10:41 pm

    I just know you will have FUN all of 2023. How wonderful it would be to be in the Smoky Mountains. That is one of my favorite places to visit but haven’t been the past 5 years due to cancer and near death this year. I too want to just have FUN !!!! Wish you would come down to Dothan, Al. Sometime I would love to see you in person. Have a fabulous and FUN 2023 !!!

  40. Tim - January 2, 2023 11:09 pm

    You Can
    Phone it in (or)
    You Can “Fun it in”

    It takes two too Tango
    But it only takes one “to Fun”.

    it takes One (or two) to decide to have fun.

    Be One with the Universe
    Be Fun with the Universe.

    And a One
    And a two
    And an away we go …

    Queue the man
    Queue the mandolin.

  41. MAM - January 2, 2023 11:25 pm

    FUN sounds like a grand plan. I hope I can insert more fun into my life this year!

  42. Carol Pilmer - January 3, 2023 1:17 am

    To Fun! In 2023! Terrific Idea! Thanks, Sean!

  43. Judy Hyde - January 3, 2023 2:36 am

    Great idea FUN! Do it while you are able!

  44. Debbie g - January 3, 2023 3:30 am

    I agree. Every day is a gift. Enjoy
    Love you Sean and Jamie
    And to us all. And of course. Pass it on

  45. Karen Snyder - January 3, 2023 3:42 am

    Reference my comment on your previous column! The year will be wonderful – mostly – cause you are making that choice! I am certainly looking forward to reading all about it! ❤️

  46. April BRYAN - January 3, 2023 4:40 am

    I think I’m going to follow this adventure and make one of my own. Life can be hard sometimes and always being the strongest person isn’t easy. So I feel a bit of FUN is well deserved and in my future. I’m really glad I came across something of yours and now have these to read daily.
    Thanks for the motivation.

  47. Renee Welton - January 3, 2023 3:18 pm

    I hope you do!

  48. Donnie - January 3, 2023 9:46 pm

    Sean, I just read FUN. And your writing is fun, it’s contagious too! I read my first story a month ago and I catch myself eagarly awaiting the next one. I’m 69 years old and a native from Bessemer. I learned C F and G from my Dad on an old Kay flat top that nearly ruined my fingers! I still play and thoroughly enjoy it because it’s FUN!
    Thanks Man!

  49. Mary D - January 3, 2023 10:03 pm

    Help this Yankee out, plz
    ( in case this is a southern expression kind of like butter my buns and call me a biscuit, etc).what does “.. watching him pick faster than a babysitter’s boyfriend.”
    Ty, in advance.
    All the best☀️🌻🐝🦋

  50. Peggy Sanders - January 4, 2023 6:26 am

    You might enjoy this story. Here’s the link. Gadgetheory

    A Deaf Dog Changed This Child’s Life Forever
    Published on December 26, 2022


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