I was a kid. The “Grand Ole Opry” had recently moved to Opryland. My old man was working in Spring Hill, Tennessee, building the GM plant. We were living nearby. It was a July evening and my father was young. Younger than I am now.

My father came home from work one evening, covered in soot and sweat. His red hair was a mess from wearing a welding helmet all day. He had raccoon eyes and the artificial sunburn that come from wearing goggles and holding an oxyacetylene torch.

He announced that we were going to the Opry. Just me and him. To see Ernest Tubb.

Mama dressed me in red Dennis-the-Menace overalls, a Willie Nelson T-shirt, and teeny Converse Chuck Taylors. Then she combed my hair with one of those black nylon hairbrushes that shredded your scalp and gave you a subdural hematoma.

We piled into my father’s truck. It was an F-100, forest green, with a welding-machine trailer attached to the back.

It was a 40-minute drive into Nashville

proper. We entered the city. It was magnificent. The lights. The people wearing cowboy hats. The scent of French fries and pork fat in the air.

My father took me to get ice cream before the show. We sat outside on the curb and I spilled my vanilla on my Willie shirt. So he took my shirt off. I was bare chested beneath my little red overalls.

We pulled into the Opryland parking lot before showtime. We were walking into the building when a man approached my father. He had white hair. He was dressed in rags. He asked my father for money.

My old man never carried much money, for his own protection. Not protection against thieves, but protection against himself. “If I have money I’ll spend it,” he always said.

So he never carried much more than a few tens. He was a notorious tightwad. He was…

You never expect it’s going to happen to you, but it does happen eventually. It’s inevitable. Life changes quickly.

One minute you’re a normal guy. You’re doing normal things. You have normal friends. The next minute, you’re in your kitchen, drinking “panda dung” tea.

At least that’s what I’m doing right now. My wife and I are staring at a cup of brown, hot water.

“You go first,” my wife says.

“No, you.”

“I’m not drinking that stuff.”

“Is it really made out of panda…?”


“I’m not drinking it.”

“You have to drink it,” she said, “it’s good for you.”

“I don’t care if it’s 40-mule-team Borax, I’m not drinking it.”

This rare and expensive herbal tea was sent to me by a reader named Arlene, from Winchester, Virginia. The unique tea contains innumerable health benefits and costs approximately $300 per cup.

Arlene sent it because my wife is still recovering from cataract surgery, wherein doctors used tiny, microscopic knives on her eyeball to help her see more clearly. The operation worked. The moment my wife got out of surgery she stared at me as if seeing

me for the first time.

“How are you feeling?” I asked.

“Fine,” she said.

“Why are you looking at me like that?”

“I thought you’d be nicer-looking.”

So Arlene firmly believes this expensive tea helped her recover after retinal surgery.

“The reason panda dung tea is so good for you,” Arlene writes, “is because pandas only absorb 30 percent of the nutrients they eat, which means the remaining 70 percent of their dietary nutrients are passed through their excrement!!!”

Arelene used three exclamation points as though she were announcing, say, an upcoming wedding.

Then she added, “Your friends have your back, Sean!!!”

Well, call me old-fashioned, but I was resistant to trying this tea. Namely, because I come from the school of thinking that states: “I don’t care if Chinese pandas are…

It was 7:34 a.m. when I arrived in Alabaster for the annual Shelby County Senior Adults Picnic. The parking lot of Thompson High School was already swarmed with cars.

“Why are all these people here so early?” I asked one of the volunteers at the check-in booth, who was holding back the throngs of senior citizens.

The volunteer looked at me and said flatly, “You know how punctual senior citizens can be.”

It’s true. I don’t mean to generalize here, but the older generations are far more punctual than the younger ones.

Take my mother. Whenever we schedule lunch at a restaurant, I choose a reasonable time. Say, noon. I usually arrive a little early and tell the hostess I’m meeting someone. The hostess will inevitably point to a lone older woman in the corner. My mother will already be sitting there, finishing her lunch alone.

“How long has she been here?” I’ll ask the hostess.

“Since we opened,” she will reply.

So the picnic-going seniors were raring to go. They were ravenously ready for lunch, even

though—technically—it wasn’t yet breakfast.

“We woulda been here earlier,” said one senior woman in line, who was carrying a lawn chair. “But Harold wanted to change the oil in the truck.”

When the gates opened, it was like one of those old Beatles movies. The people flooded the grounds of the high school in a frenzy.

The entertainment was soon underway. Onstage, a local country band named Rose Colored Glasses played classic country from the golden era. Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells, Hank Senior, Don Gibson. The whole place turned into the 1950s. The only thing missing were the “I Like Ike” stickers.

Nearly 1,000 elderly picnic goers meandered to and fro, laughing and carrying on. I mingled among them and made lots of friends.

Sometimes I’m afraid that our younger generations have forgotten our elders. I’m on a mission to change all that…

A side-of-the-road restaurant. Way out in the sticks. The young boy was seated at the table with his mother and father.

His mother had green hair. His father was bald, with tattoos on his face and on his scalp. The little boy was using a wheelchair.

I was eating lunch in Small Town, Alabama, USA. It was a crowded meat-and-three. I had just finished making a morning speech for a convention, and I needed to meet my saturated fat quota for the day.

I found this restaurant by chance. I pulled over because the sign advertised field peas.

I am a field-pea enthusiast. I would crawl across a sewage plant on my lips to eat a good field pea.

I appreciate field peas in much the same way I love, for example, mullet haircuts. I am a big fan of mullets, which were popular during my heyday.

The horrendous hairstyle has made a stylistic comeback among America’s youth. These days, I see all sorts of kids wearing “Tennessee Tophats,” “Camaro Cuts,” “Neck Warmers” and

“Achy-Breaky-Big-Mistakys.” And I think it’s wonderful. Why should my generation be the only generation who looked like dorks?

Anyway, field peas. I like them almost as much as I like homegrown tomatoes. Both of which were served at my wedding.

The heirloom tomatoes at my wedding came from my mother-in-law’s garden, and were served on a giant plate. Everyone in the wedding party ate slices. The best man received the highest honor by drinking the tomato water.

When it comes to field peas, I like them all: Crowder peas, purple hulls, lady peas, zipper peas, big red zippers, turkey craws, Hercules peas, Double-Ds, whippoorwills, rattlesnakes, slap-yo-mamas, homewreckers, foot-tappers, and tailshakers.

But getting back to the young boy I saw.

He was using surgical prosthetic implants to help him hear. His mom and dad both ordered the field peas and the fried chicken. So did the boy.

I don’t know why anyone would impersonate me. I’m not worth impersonating. I talk funny. I have horse teeth. I am pale. Redheaded. And I have unnaturally long legs, so that my wife says I look like a man riding a chicken.

Nevertheless, there are Sean Dietrich impersonators on social media. More impersonators than I ever believed. A whole army of them, actually. Can you imagine a whole army of me? I can’t. It would be like a whole bunch of malnourished men riding poultry, shouting, “Charge!”

But the phonies keep coming. These impersonators are pretending to be me, messaging people, even going so far as to share status updates.

These impersonators, however, aren’t exactly nuclear scientists. Case in point: I have been contacted by my OWN impersonator. Which was chilling, inasmuch as the person claiming to be not only used my personal voice, but he also used bad grammar.

“Hi ther,” the message began. “How is you’re day to be going?”

Jesus wept.

So there I was, private messaging someone in Mozambique, claiming to

be me, and I had this weird feeling I was on an episode of “Twilight Zone.”

“Your are such a very handsome women,” the impersonator began.

“Women is plural,” I write back.

“Whoops,” the impersonator replies. “I meant to say you are such a big handsome woman.”

These impersonators were very friendly, at least at first. They were polite. Courteous. And they expressed a strong desire to have an intimate relationship with me wherein we might lean on each other, support one another, and hopefully, exchange financial information.

Which is why I want to state, upfront: I will NEVER ask for your credit card information via private message. I will always do it in person.

I usually report these impersonators to the social-media powers that be, but the fakes just keep coming. Every time I report one phony account, 10 more crop up to take…

I had a video conference call with Mrs. Soto’s fourth-grade class this morning. I wore a tie for old times’ sake. Although I have always looked ridiculous in neckties.

I discussed the art of creative writing. I covered topics like essays, grammar, and how I learned to use a manual typewriter in Mister Edmund’s typing class back in 1807.

Eight-year-old Akin raised his hand and asked, “Wait. What’s a typewriter?”

I found myself smiling, loosening my necktie, because at this moment I felt about as old as the Giza Pyramids.

“You’ve never heard of a typewriter?” I asked the Future of America.

Most kids hadn’t.

I couldn’t believe this. Which got me thinking about all the other things Mrs. Soto’s kids probably never heard of, for instance, Garfunkel.

And what about Rand McNally maps? I’d like to know where those went. You can’t even buy them in gas stations anymore.

I believe maps are superior to GPS systems. Maps never recalculate, never screw up, there are no batteries, no connective errors, no robotic voices that sound like Jacques Cousteau on horse tranquilizers.

Sure with paper maps people often got lost in the wilderness, but only a small percentage of these people actually died.

So it was hard for the fourth-graders to believe that I still use an archaic device like a typewriter, but it’s true. And for anyone in Mrs. Soto’s class who is reading this column (for extra credit), I will tell you why.

For writers, the typewriter serves a sound professional purpose. And I’ll illustrate my point by telling you exactly how I wrote this column:

First, I sat down.

Next, I fired up my laptop, which is connected to the vastness of the internet.

I ate Fritos.

Then I cracked my knuckles. I started typing with greasy fingers.

Before I finished my first paragraph, I already had a problem because I knew I wanted to talk about…

We arrived at the little airport in Ashland, Alabama, at 9 am. Although it didn’t look much like an airport. Actually, it looked like a pole barn in the North Alabama woods. Somewhere nearby, you could hear banjos.

The Butlers arrived with Becca, their daughter. Becca is 11 years old and blind. She is a child with more raw energy output than a small municipal dam. She leapt out of the backseat, brandishing her white cane, vibrating with pure excitement.

“I’m gonna fly today!” she shouted as she began applauding herself. “I’m so STINKING excited!”

I first met Becca by email last September. I did not expect to become such good friends with an 11-year-old. But you can’t plan these things.

Our friendship officially happened when she first hugged me. Becca gives good hugs. At the time, we had just completed our first lunch date, eating at Bama Bucks, a steakhouse and wild game restaurant where they have a cage of wild deer grazing across the street, sort of like lobsters

at a seafood restaurant. Before I left the restaurant Becca hugged me tightly and said, “I really think we should be friends.”

And so it was. We became instant pals. We wear friendship bracelets and everything.

Fast forward. Several months ago, I was on a commercial airplane, about to go make a speech somewhere. I was flying livestock class where you have to ride with a chicken on your lap. My phone lit up while we were still taxiing on the runway. It was a text from Becca.

“What are you doing?” the text read.

I told her I was about to fly to Kansas City. She told me she had never flown before. “Would you like to fly someday?” I asked her. Her text came back as something akin to, “Does the Pope go in the woods?”

One thing led to another. And here we were. At the…