But you don’t always get what you want in life. Sometimes you get what you need instead.

I met new cousins today. Well, they are new to me. These are cousins I never knew I had. Lots of them. They all looked so much like my father that I smiled until I cracked a tooth.

We spent the afternoon on the porch. Everyone who sat around the patio table was fair-skinned, with buckshot freckles, and reddish hair.

“You look just like we do,” said Andy, my new cousin, who I’ve never met before today.

“I just KNEW you were a Dietrich,” added my new cousin, Pat, who is around my father’s age. “I just knew you were John’s son.”

We talked. And talked. And talked.

You might think it’s hard to converse with people you’ve never met before, but it’s not. Not when they are people with happy personalities. And not when one of you is a writer who is chatty enough to make lifelong friends with a parking meter.

When we met, I couldn’t believe all the freckles.

I never knew any family who looked like me. I take after my father’s side, I have red hair, freckled skin, and unnaturally skinny legs that make me appear to be riding a chicken. People used to say I looked like just like Howdy Doody, minus the charisma.

As a young man I was a charity-case kid without much family. I often got invited to someone else’s Fourth-of-July family celebration out of pity. And I hated this holiday because I always felt like I was crashing someone else’s party.

But, over time you develop thick skin. I learned how to be my own man, I learned how to take care of myself, and I pretended not to care whether I had family or not.

I learned how to make conversation with inanimate objects like fire hydrants, house plants, and most models of U.S. manufactured toilets. But it was an act. I was jealous of big families.

One of my friends, for instance, had a big family from Andalusia. Every Fourth of July, his kin would come out of the woodwork to be together. One of his uncles would fly all the way down from Pennsylvania.

They were the happiest group of beer-drinking Methodists you ever saw. They hugged a lot, and laughed all the time.

One of my friend’s uncles even played guitar and would get everyone singing. It was enough to make you gag.

Even so, I would join them on the Fourth, and I would pretend they were my family. I wished they were my family. Sometimes I prayed that I would wake up without red hair and freckles, and by some miracle, look like them.

But you don’t always get what you want in life. Sometimes you get what you need instead.

I needed to grow up the way I did. I needed to be lonely because my life has made me who I am. And to quote my friend Bart: “If I weren’t me, who knows who I’d be?”

You’d like Bart. He was raised in the Texas Panhandle by good parents—a schoolteacher and a lumber salesman. When Bart turned eleven, his mother told him he was adopted.

Later, when Bart hit his mid-thirties, he went looking for his biological parents. His biological father was in Dallas, and didn’t want anything to do with him. But his biological mother, in Minnesota, heard Bart’s voice on the phone and lost it.

They cried, wailed, and sniffed. They talked for three hours that night.

“I’ve prayed for this day to come,” his mother said. “I’ve always prayed my son would want to find me. Please forgive me.”

You want to talk about gut wrenching? You ought to hear Bart tell this story.

Anyway, before their conversation ended, Bart said to his mother: “I wanna come visit you, would that be okay?”

“Sure,” she said. “Any time, when do you want to visit?”

“I can’t get off work for a few weeks, how about a couple weeks from now?”

“How about tomorrow?” she said.

The very next morning, Bart’s biological mother touched down in Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. Bart was waiting for her at her gate. They held each other in the airport for a long time.

“I just couldn’t get over how much she looked like me,” said Bart. “I never knew anyone who looked like me.”

That’s sort of what today felt like. To be with freckled people. To see that much red hair in one place. To hear names I haven’t heard in a long time.

My father is in Beulah Land, leaning over the Bannister of Heaven. He’s been there for almost three decades. Sometimes, I can’t help but wonder about him.

I wonder what he would look like if he were still alive. I wonder whether he’d like me. I wonder if he would enjoy my company.

There are some things I guess I’ll never know. But for now, it doesn’t matter.

Because this Fourth of July, for the first time, I’ll be hanging around with a lot of freckles.

28 comments

  1. Sandi. - July 3, 2019 7:43 am

    Sean, Happy 4th of July to you, Jamie, and all of your freckle-faced cousins!

    Reply
  2. D B - July 3, 2019 9:15 am

    Hi Sean, I have just recently been introduced to your writings by a fellow Florida panhandle resident. I live on Lake Powell in Bay County and find your writings so relatable, we could’ve been neighbors! I do so enjoy your southern charm! Thank you for sharing your talent. Happy Independence Day, to you & your newly found freckled faced family!

    Reply
  3. Naomi - July 3, 2019 10:45 am

    Sean, without going into detail, I had a very difficult time with my mother for most of my life; she had mental problems and became suicidal when I was in high school. I am so different from my mother, years ago, I asked my uncle if I was adopted. He told me that I wasn’t adopted because he was there when I was born. My mother died in 1984 and I never knew why she was so unhappy. My daughter-in-law and her brother were adopted when they were newborns in a private adoption. She was told all of her life that her birth mother was dead. However, because she had taken a DNA test, she located her birth mother, brother and cousins who lived in Florida and she drove down there to meet them. Her adoptive mother, who was a wonderful mother, died in 2015. My daughter-in-law would never have tried to find her birth mother while her adoptive mother was still alive. Anyway, she bonded immediately with her birth family. Her birth father had died. She found out that her birth mother had gotten pregnant by a man who was very violent and she didn’t want to bring a baby home to that type of environment. My daughter-in-law is a nurse and her birth mother is also a nurse; she is retired and has to use a wheelchair because of some injury she sustained.

    Reply
  4. Cathi Russell - July 3, 2019 10:58 am

    Sean, Happy Fourth of July to you & your new family. I hope the reality is a thousand times better than your imagination!

    Reply
  5. Sue Riddle Cronkite - July 3, 2019 12:12 pm

    Maybe your best one yet. When I was little and hated my freckles, My mama told me that every freckle was where an angel had kissed me.

    Reply
    • Ronnie Thomas - August 2, 2019 2:29 pm

      Sue Riddle Cronkite, I love you and your freckles. I also loved your mother, “Miss Dora,” one of the sweetest ladies I’ve ever known

      Reply
  6. Connie Havard Ryland - July 3, 2019 12:14 pm

    Happy 4th of July. Happy family day. I’m sure your daddy is proud of you. You are a most remarkable young man. Love and hugs.

    Reply
  7. Edna B. - July 3, 2019 12:17 pm

    We have lots of red hair and freckles in our family. I think it’s beautiful. Have a super day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  8. Karen - July 3, 2019 12:27 pm

    My mother always told me that freckles are the places the sun kisses you. My mother had red hair and freckles. I was blonde and suntanned. My father was dark haired with olive skin, like mine. One of my daughters has gorgeous red hair and freckles. She is beautiful. The other has dark hair and olive skin. She is beautiful, too. I have a special place in my heart for redheads.
    There is no doubt that you & your father would be very close. He would love you now as he did when you were a boy. He would attend all of your performances and be your greatest fan. You would attend baseball games together. I believe he is with you, everywhere you go. Love never dies.

    Reply
  9. Shelton A. - July 3, 2019 12:40 pm

    Congratulations….freckles and red hair for everyone!

    Reply
  10. Pat Nichols - July 3, 2019 12:43 pm

    I always hated my “ugly freckles ” until I received my Chatty Cathy doll one Christmas. She had freckles and was beautiful! I never thought of freckles as being ugly ever again.

    Reply
  11. BJean - July 3, 2019 1:31 pm

    WOW! So happy for you, Sean!

    Reply
  12. Bobbie - July 3, 2019 1:36 pm

    I hadn’t planned on commenting this morning, nor had I planned to get teary. But your story touched me so, I am doing both. I’ve written about half of my memoir..much of what you wrote was identical to things I’ve written about my childhood. Growing up with alcoholics is tough …a drink is the most important thing, not your child, your job, providing a home…nothing but that next drink.
    What you said about visiting friends and wishing they were your family, dreading the holidays…all of them for me were never a time of celebrating, of family gatherings. I always knew at some point alcohol would come into play ruining everything. I married very young to make my own family, one like in the storybooks, but I soon learned those are make believe. Still today I guess I’m wishing for more than my family can give. I’ve been invited to a neighbors for tomorrow. She knows my story. She’s very kind.
    I am so happy for you Sean, I truly am, that you’ve found your new freckled family..those who look like you and are proud of it! I know your dad would be proud. For what it’s worth, I as an online friend, am proud of you. I know from whence you came, and I know the courage it takes to become who you are now. God bless you and your family …have a happy and blessed Fourth of July!🙋🇺🇸🇺🇸❣️

    Reply
  13. Allen Wilhite - July 3, 2019 1:38 pm

    Let me tell you how my new day has gone so far. I woke up next to a beautiful red haired, freckled woman who had cooked me some of the best shrimp of my life the night before. Then she fed me a breakfast of fresh peaches so juicy they ran down my chin and toast spread with a cranberry butter I had never even heard of before. We’ve been for a walk on the beach and got things set up so our grandkids can have a fun day in the sun. Can’t get much better than that. Oh, then again there’s always tomorrow. We’ll see you then, Sean. Your Kansas cousins.

    Reply
  14. Janie F. - July 3, 2019 1:51 pm

    My daddy’s family had a lot of red haired, freckle faced people in it but my brother and I took after our mother’s family. This story reminds me of the summers after my parents divorced when brother & I spent time with our Georgia relatives. They were a softball playing bunch & we had a lot of fun with them. Now, our parents are all gone & we’re the older generation but we have some sweet memories of youthful times.

    Reply
  15. agracefilledhome77 - July 3, 2019 1:53 pm

    The grass usually looks greener on the other side but most times the treasure is right in middle of
    the pasture we are standing in. God doesn’t waste anything. My family isn’t perfect and we definitely have our struggles but if you would have us we would love to make our circle bigger. ❤️❤️❤️

    Reply
  16. Mary - July 3, 2019 2:01 pm

    Enjoy the holiday, Sean. And know without a doubt that your dad would be so, so proud of the man you have become!

    Reply
  17. Linda Moon - July 3, 2019 3:41 pm

    Freckled people with Ginger hair ROCK! It is good for me to be with two of them in life and with you via posts, podcasts and performances. A few years ago I met cousins that I’d never seen before. Pretending not to care about family you’ve missed never works. Keep wondering about your father. I’ve never stopped wondering about mine and another father in our family….and I don’t plan to ever stop, even though they’re gone. And, one more thing….Bart is a very wise friend!

    Reply
  18. Jackie Langlow - July 3, 2019 3:45 pm

    Love that everyday, every freckled face,is a gift to you. The older we get, the wiser we become. Happy 4th!

    Reply
  19. H J Patterson - July 3, 2019 4:00 pm

    A happy 4th to you both Sean and Jaime and to all Americans. May we all celebrate how truly great and exceptional this country is. And please thank all our service men and women and first responders for keeping it safe. May God continue to bless this great land.

    Reply
  20. Ken Dunn - July 3, 2019 4:21 pm

    Sean, my friend, from an early life you had in turmoil I’m glad you have found peace and family. It’s always nice to be accepted and be a part of a family even if they aren’t your real family. I had a stepdad and his family accepted me more than my real families so I was and am really blessed. You and Jamie have a great 4th. Rumor is our president will make it a 4th we won’t soon forget.

    Reply
  21. Tim House - July 3, 2019 4:48 pm

    This is blessed. 🙂

    Reply
  22. Janet Mary Lee - July 3, 2019 6:31 pm

    I am so happy for you!! What a wonderful thing to have happened !! Happy 4th to you, Jamie and all your kin! Could not happen to nicer folks!! Your Daddy is smiling down!!
    You also have some great insightful readers!! …… 🙂

    Reply
  23. Joy DeBusk - July 3, 2019 9:12 pm

    Sean
    I read your post this morning with a smile on my face. I too have an adoption story only recently realized at the tender age of 62. Oh, and I too have fair skin and freckles. We must be cousins!
    It is because of meeting my biological father, who is from a small town in Alabama, that I now have a favorite column to read every day. He is a huge fan of yours! He is 85 years young!
    I was raised in the small town of Miami Beach where my adoptive father had a bakery. This town also has miles and miles of beaches where I spent most of my time. Those were the days of NO sunscreen and lots of baby oil. It’s no wonder that my freckles kept multiplying.
    My childhood was a happy one but I always wondered where I came from and what my biological family might look like. My adoptive parents were from the North and were city dwellers. I was drawn more to the outdoors and loved being surrounded by nature. I also love “comfort food” like black-eyed peas and collard greens. I fix them every New Year’s day. I love sweet southern accents and the hospitality that southerners offer. I lived in a “southern” city during college (go ‘noles) and afterwards for awhile in Georgia. I loved the old oak trees, hanging moss and hilly countryside. Most of all though, I loved the gentle greetings from all passersby.
    Fast forward a few years and DNA kits are now available to learn more about your own ancestry. I was excited to know more about myself. I had been told by total strangers that I look Irish. It must be the reddish hair and freckles. I found out that indeed I am part Irish/Scottish/English/Welsh…
    More recently though, a person showed up in my “close family” on this site. Close family includes possible half siblings. Wow, could this lead somewhere? With the help of another member who turned out to be a 2nd or 3rd cousin of mine, my biological father was found. He had been hoping for this reunion for a very long time. He had moved out of the small town but was still living in Alabama. He had told his family early on about fathering a child when he was young and welcomed the news and me with open arms. His grown children were as welcoming and even helped in locating my biological mother! We met in early June at a planned family reunion with his grown children and remaining siblings and spouses. Wow! It was amazing to feel like a family with people you just met! I felt so lucky to have found him and overwhelmed with emotion at the realization that he had been thinking of me all these years too.
    Next was the phone call to my biological mother. It took a little convincing for her to believe I was who I said I was. Her next response to me was “what took you so long?” I had to laugh! I found out that she still lived in that same small town in Alabama. I knew she had moved to Florida for a short while when she found out she was pregnant to work as a nanny. She had told no one in her family about her pregnancy. I guess things were different back then. The job fell through and now she was all alone and trying to figure out what was best for the child. She chose to give me up for adoption. There was an older couple who had already lost 2 daughters to a genetic disease and couldn’t have any more children. They were the ones she chose and who raised me in a loving “northern” home in Miami Beach, FL.
    I feel lucky and blessed to have been raised by my loving northern parents, found my loving southern birth parents, and have freckles.
    Thank you Sean for a thought provoking post 🙂

    Joy DeBusk

    Reply
  24. Teresa - July 4, 2019 4:46 am

    Love this story! Happy 4th from my freckled family to yours!

    Reply
  25. Tom Padgett - July 4, 2019 4:03 pm

    Sean, I loved reading your story! I have been invited to attend the “Shug Bass reunion ” in the Carolina community of Andalusia, AL on the 21th of this month….could it be that this the family reunion that you mentioned in your article? I recently learned that I belong to this group through a dna test and it would be a little awkward explaining how I belong in the group 🙂

    Reply
  26. Patricia D Gibson - July 5, 2019 1:32 am

    So happy you were with family!!

    Reply
  27. Pam Beauchamp - July 5, 2019 7:20 am

    Sean, all those freckles are kisses from angels. I bet ones from your dad. 💙

    Reply

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