Counting Them

I’m a kid. I am in bed. Mama is up late. The kettle on the stove is whistling. The sound wakes me. I look at the clock, it is two in the morning.

I walk downstairs to see my mother at our dining table. The tabletop is scattered with paper, envelopes, an empty mug, and a calculator.

She leans over a mess of bills that might as well be a tablecloth. She punches numbers on the calculator and makes a grimace. I know my mother. I know that look.

“What’s wrong?” I say.

She runs her fingers through her hair. “Oh, I’m just robbing Peter to pay Paul, go back to bed.”

“Who’s Paul?”

“Paul Newman, who else? Now go to bed.” She buries herself in her hands.

“Have you been crying, Mama?”

“I’m not crying, now go to sleep.”

“But, I can’t sleep.”

“Upstairs, now!”


She points at me. “I don’t wanna hear about your ‘but.’ I want you to go to bed.”

“I’m not tired.”

“Well,” she says with a sigh. “Then just pretend to sleep, I don’t care what you do. Go upstairs and count your blessings.”

This is what all Baptists do. We do not count sheep, or listen to meditative sleep instructional CDs by Deepak Chopra. That stuff is for Methodists.

“Blessings?” I say to my mother with my trademarked rebellious tone. “WHAT blessings? We’re probably gonna STARVE to death aren’t we?”

I don’t know what has come over me, talking like this. I storm upstairs, slide beneath the covers, I stare at the ceiling. I can’t sleep because life has dealt my family nothing but lemons. And I’m worried. We have limited means, tall debts, and a car that leaks oil like a colander. And now my mother is having to pay this Paul fella.

My mother comes into the bedroom. She sits beside me. She touches my hair and doesn’t say anything.

Finally, she speaks. “Your health. That’s number one.”

I said nothing.

“Your health. You can count that as your first blessing.”

“My health.”

“You can walk, talk, and do all the things boys do, you don’t have pain, and you’re not sick.”

“Big deal.”

“And you’ve got your music, your guitar, and your piano, and you can play them anytime you want and fill this whole house with beautiful songs. That’s a blessing, ain’t it?”

“And don’t forget about my accordion.”


I get no respect.

“And food, sweetie,” she goes on. “We have lots of food. Some people aren’t lucky like us, but downstairs in our fridge we got bacon, and eggs, and sausage…”

“And pancakes,” I point out. “We have ingredients for pancakes.”

“Yes. We can have flapjacks whenever we so choose. We’ve got flour, milk… Oh brother, we got pancakes, lemme tell you, we got plenty’a pancakes.”

“Can we have pancakes tomorrow?”

“I don’t see why not. We can have biscuits too, would you like biscuits?”

“Does a fat baby burp?”

“And we have a car that runs, and Ollie—don’t forget him, he’s a good dog. We have a place to live, and…”

I jumped in. “And I’ve got forty-two dollars in a box in my closet, so if you wanna pay that Paul guy, you can have it.”

Her eyes were bright and shiny. “Wow! And just look at you. You got forty-two bucks. But no, I don’t need it. We’re gonna be fine, we’ll just have to buckle down this month. You keep that for something special.”

“And TV,” I add. “We’ve got TV.”

“Yes! We can watch it every night.”

“And maybe you can watch that Paul guy on TV?”

“Paul Newman. That’s right, Mama can watch some Paul Newman.”

“What’s so great about Paul Newman?”

“Everything is great about Paul Newman.”

“And Mama, I was thinking, you know, we have each other, too.”

She touches my face. “Always,” she says. “We always have each other. Forever and a day. And even longer.” She wipes her face.

“See?” she goes on, “we have a lot to be thankful for, don’t ever forget that. You’re breathing, and that means you’re one of the luckiest people alive.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Now go to sleep, okay?”




“Are you serious about the pancakes?”

“Go to bed.”



“I’ll always love you, too.”


  1. Sharon Brock - April 20, 2021 8:35 am

    Lord God. I remember those days. Hot dogs, mac & cheese, vegetable soup and crackers, biscuits and gravy, beans and cornbread. I was paid weekly and bills came first. My son adding up the bills, generally twice my paycheck. Deciding which was paid first and thanking God for tax refunds which got us caught up. We made it by the grace of God. My hair turned silver very early. The memories sometimes keep me awake at night.

  2. twistedliss - April 20, 2021 8:39 am

    Damn, I said to myself. This boy makes me cry all the time.

  3. Bob Brenner - April 20, 2021 10:18 am

    Thanks Sean for reminding us to be thankful 🥲🙏🏼!

  4. Barbara - April 20, 2021 10:36 am

    What a wise and wonderful mother. Best redirection advice ever. And this sure brings back memories of single motherhood. I’m actually thankful for those tough times. God always provided just exactly when and what was needed. Very precious story Sean. Thanks for the reminder to count your blessings name them one by one. Pancakes!

  5. Paige B Hill - April 20, 2021 11:19 am

    I know you count your blessings for the Mama you have every day! She’s the reason why you share your soul through your words – and we are blessed by them every time we read them! It brings back so many vivid memories when my children and I were struggling – I still thank the Lord every day for every provision, every miracle the Lord granted us just to keep a roof over our house, food in our pantry, yes, even pancakes, and clothes on our backs. Don’t you look back sometimes and wonder how in the world you and your sister and Mama made it? My son, daughter and I do all the time! We are close just like your family – FAMILY is everything to us here on earth! WE CERTAINLY ARE BLESSED! Thank you, Sean, for sharing your heart, soul and your memories!

  6. Debbie g - April 20, 2021 11:22 am

    Counting my blessings too and you’re on my list. Love for you and your family

  7. Jo - April 20, 2021 11:53 am

    Always something to be thankful for…your story sounds like my home comin up. My daddy passed like yours did, Sean. Reading your column every morning is healing for me. As soon as us kids (5 of us) were old enough to get jobs and lighten mommas load, we did . Our goal was to get off food stamps. The good Lord carried us through.

    • Jo Henra - April 20, 2021 3:48 pm

      My single mama died at 52 when I was 18. I am thankful everyday for all she did for me and taught me. We had many blessings to count – and we did. It wasn’t always easy but the Good Lord pulled us through. And Sean, your thoughts each morning are counted as a daily blessing!

  8. Jan - April 20, 2021 12:38 pm

    True words spoken by many a Mama. Blessings are there, you just have to open your eyes and look around.
    Thanks for the reminder Mrs. Dietrich!

  9. Phil (Brown Marlin) - April 20, 2021 1:26 pm

    What a wonderful lady your mother is, Sean! I know you don’t need us to tell you to call your mama. In the immortal words of the late, great Bear Bryant, “I sure wish I could call mine.”

  10. Bernadette Wyckoff - April 20, 2021 1:28 pm

    Counting my blessings this beautiful sunny morning here in Summerdale. Thankyou for sharing your life stories. Love you Sean ….forever and a day

  11. Joan Mitchell - April 20, 2021 1:35 pm

    Just what I needed to read this morning. One of your blessings, your writing talent, is doing much good for many. Thank you.

  12. Karen G - April 20, 2021 1:49 pm

    I agree with your Momma, that we all have blessings of one kind or another. And, I agree with her that everything was good with Paul Newman ❣️

  13. Sue - April 20, 2021 3:25 pm

    Very subtle and timely. The blessings of being able to breathe and loving your mother until you take your last breath. A heartrending look at a moment in time in all our lives.

  14. Linda Moon - April 20, 2021 4:21 pm

    I would’ve robbed to pay for a chance to meet Paul Newman. My mother’s life had some lemons in it, but she sure knew how to make lemonade for us kids. She even managed to buy me a used piano from our Baptist church and pay for my music lessons. Oh, and accordion, too. And bacon and eggs, with help from my daddy after I awoke from a coma, very hungry. Mamas. They are forever loved. You did a good job raising your son, Mrs. Dietrich.

  15. Christina - April 20, 2021 6:05 pm

    The strength and nurture of your mama moves me every time I read about her. Bless those hands that made pancakes fill the heart with joy

  16. AlaRedClayGirl - April 20, 2021 6:15 pm

    There will always be those who have more than us, and there are always be those who have less than us. But we are all blessed in so many ways. Sure wish I could’ve been blessed to meet Paul Newman though!

  17. tamrags - April 20, 2021 7:52 pm

    “Counting Them” is a scene played out in my house in the 50s and 60s, too. I imagine the same scene is still being replayed today. Our mothers were good teachers in “adulting.”

  18. elizabethroosje - April 20, 2021 9:20 pm

    Sean, seriously, you are a blessing. I count you as one of my blessings. Bless YOU! 🙂

  19. joan moore - April 20, 2021 10:08 pm

    Sean, that left a huge lump in my throat and makes me feel good to know what insight your Mama instilled in you so we can share it and learn to count our blessings too. You and your family are like family to me.

  20. Dawnie B - April 20, 2021 10:35 pm

    I love your beautiful, gracious, strong, and forever loving southern mama!

  21. MAM - April 20, 2021 11:57 pm

    Thanks, Sean, for being one of my blessings, every day!

  22. Suzi - April 21, 2021 2:50 am

    Feeling the worry of a tired mama and the fear of a little boy and the good Lord carried them through!

  23. Kate - April 21, 2021 1:43 pm

    Being a single parent is so hard, some are more fortunate than others, but most pray a lot, do without, work extra jobs, don’t complain, raise wonderful kids, and count their blessings. I often wondered how long my vehicle would last and was so blessed to have a friends husband that would fix it for me. I have great respect for men who have skills to fix things that break, and always without pay.

  24. Kathy - April 27, 2021 5:52 pm

    I have wet eyes in one paragraph and a laugh in the next. You don’t know me but you write directly to me. Why did it take so long to discover you?
    Thank you. Keep writing.


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