Happy Birthday, Sam

Tomorrow is the birthday of a friend. He looks pretty good for his age. He’ll be turning 187. Which makes him almost as old as Willie Nelson.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri, in 1835. It was late November, and colder than a witch’s underwire. His mother was not expecting him. She wasn’t even close to being ready, so she tried to squeeze him back in. But it didn’t work. So out he came.

During childlabor, Halley’s comet was passing overhead, visible from the sky. The comet was a natural phenomenon that frightened a lot of people, causing many to either pray in tongues or drink whiskey. Sam’s mother did both during childbirth.

No, not really. I’m only kidding. Although, she had reason to drink. Because Sam was a lot of trouble.

For one thing, he was sickly. Nobody thought he would make it past infancy. Three of his siblings died. Being born premature in 1830s was no cakewalk. His body was puny. His complexion made Elmer’s glue look colorful.

“When I first saw him, I could see no promise in him,” his mother recalled.

Even so, he was whip smart. Lightning in a jar. He could memorize things. He and he could talk the paint off a wagon wheel. And lie. Hoo boy.

Sam could lie like it was his profession. The kid was such a good liar, he received annual Christmas cards from Satan.

He got into trouble, of course. The best humans always do. Nobody changes the world by being well-behaved. History doesn’t care if you were president of your chess club or class treasurer. History favors the kids who lived in detention.

Sam was that kid. He started smoking when he was still in elementary school. He could out-cuss a grown man before he was potty trained. He skipped school so often that his teachers sent flowers to his mother and asked when the funeral was.

He did his growing up in Hannibal, Missouri. He spent his idle hours beside the Mississippi, raising cane, catching catfish, and just generally acting like a little hellion. Contrary to popular belief, his highest aspiration was not to be a writer of books. He wanted to be something else.

“When I was a boy, there was but one permanent ambition among my comrades in our village on the west bank of the Mississippi River. That was, to be a steamboatman.”

He apprenticed as a steamboat pilot at age 22. Then he became a captain. He learned every twist and bend of the river. Every submerged log, every snag, every sandbar, and most importantly, where the best liquor could be purchased.

“Too much of anything is bad,” he once said. “But too much good whiskey is barely enough.”

I never met him, of course. But I’ve visited both Hannibal, and Florida, Missouri. I’ve seen his old haunts. I’ve seen the whitewashed fences. I’ve toured the museum. I even bought a $4.99 corncob pipe to wedge between my teeth while I took a $120 riverboat ride.

I leaned over the stanchions of the vessel, looking into the blackwater, thinking about the first introduction I had to my friend Sam.

I was a kid. My father was freshly dead. I was aimless, lost without a cause. I had dropped out of school. I had ugly red hair. Freckles. I had two ears that looked like a truck going down the street with both doors open. I was hideous and chubby.

It was during this period I first opened the book “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” It was maybe the first time I had laughed in almost two years. Something about Sam’s writing moved me.

Throughout my life, I would consult his books over and again. When I finally decided to complete my high-school equivalency as an adult, I would attend night school and read “Innocents Abroad,” between classes.

After I graduated, I would travel to visit Sam’s birthplace and his childhood home. I would pay overpriced fees to be entertained on a riverboat cruise by a Samuel Clemens impersonator in a white wig who totally sucked. But it didn’t matter. I was in Sam’s hometown, and that was enough.

These trips would motivate me to start working on my first novel. I would eventually become a writer. Although not a good one.

And just yesterday, when the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, contacted me and asked me to deliver a speech at the Samuel Clemens’ home, I almost wet my proverbial pants. Because, you see, I owe a lot to this guy. I suppose I just wanted to wish him a happy birthday and tell him:

“I’ll see you soon, Sam.”


  1. Steve Winfield (lifer) - November 30, 2022 6:21 am


  2. Kara - November 30, 2022 8:39 am

    Happy Birthday Samuel! One of my favorite writers. Thanks for the good read this morning.

  3. Sally Vick - November 30, 2022 10:31 am

    Love all the humor you bring to your stories!!

  4. MissusMux - November 30, 2022 11:00 am

    Wait! What?! Y’all coming to New England!!!! I need to know when. I would be beyond blessed to see you in person. I hope they don’t ask you to wear a hideous white wig.😉

    • Vince - December 5, 2022 5:46 pm

      Just emailed the venue to find out when you’ll be up here in the North. Hope to be able to see you!

  5. stephenpe - November 30, 2022 11:21 am

    You are too young to be seeing Sam anytime soon. Great story today. Very few (or maybe none) could write as well/funny as Clemens.

  6. Dolores - November 30, 2022 11:28 am

    Mr Clemons has influenced some of the best. Val Kilmer was in the middle of his one man show when he was interrupted with voice problems. I’m told Val filmed ‘Cinema Twain’ but I’m unable to find it, only his outstanding clips from his play Citizen Twain. How I wish the play itself had been filmed in entirety. Mr Kilmer has had a long love affair with Sam too. And Marlon Brando. Val being the most underrated performer of our day in my opinion.

    I’ve stumbled across a 2 part documentary by Ken Burns that should be top notch, everything he does is. You have to pay for it on prime video so I haven’t watched. It seems there’s a charge for most of what I wish to watch. I can see that with movies but documentaries, no.

    I had an elementary school teacher, Miss Hager, who was known to lose it over any classroom shenanigans. But she read the classics to us with much enthusiasm, she was a one woman show in some respects. She must have been in the drama club in her school years.

    When she read Tom Sawyer to us she delighted in his antics, the classroom erupting in laughter. A sense of humor made the lady human. Laughter is a love language, right? Sam himself was possibly our first stand up comedian.

    Anymore who ignites the love of written word is a hero. Cheers to Sam and Dixie Hager.

    PS I hope you watch som of Val’s work as Mr Clemons on YouTube.

  7. Carol Reynolds - November 30, 2022 11:34 am

    Another beautiful testimony–this time to what books can mean to a child. Bravo and thank you.

  8. Dell Corley - November 30, 2022 11:35 am

    He is my absolute favorite author. What a man he was, and a wicked sense of humor. I would have loved to meet him just to listen to his stories. I feel lucky that I was able to see Hal Holbrook in my hometown impersonating him. Thanks for the great tribute!

  9. franfluker - November 30, 2022 11:45 am

    my favorite samuel clemmons quote: “Always do right. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”

  10. Steve Scott - November 30, 2022 11:55 am

    I had the joy of seeing Hal Holbrook’s Mark Twain Tonight at the Kennedy Center in DC years ago and then at the Springer Opera House in my town, Columbus, Georgia. I hope you get to see Mark Twain too….. just not too soon. Looking forward to your visit to Columbus in February.

  11. Marsha Hamby Savage - November 30, 2022 11:58 am

    Those of us old enough to remember being read from his books can feel what you mean about this man, Sam. He instilled in me a love of reading, and now writing as well … to go along with my artwork. He would be proud of you. Thank you for your writing. My day starts with your email with it!

  12. Trudy - November 30, 2022 12:32 pm

    Correction: you are a wonderful writer. Don’t cut yourself short.

  13. MermaidGr - November 30, 2022 1:08 pm

    Well, we hope it’s not very soon!

  14. Pondcrane - November 30, 2022 1:17 pm

    Wow, Sean congratulations! I don’t think the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, Connecticut invite “not good” writers to speak:}

  15. DLM - November 30, 2022 1:30 pm

    You are a great writer..you inspire me and others…thank you.

  16. David - November 30, 2022 1:36 pm

    Enjoyed the read today. By the way your red hair looks really good! (I have red hair too)

  17. Lonna Pierce - November 30, 2022 1:52 pm

    Oh, I am so happy for you, Sean! 🙌🏼❤️🫶🏻

  18. sjhl7 - November 30, 2022 2:01 pm


  19. Trent - November 30, 2022 2:24 pm

    Congratulations Sean! Sam is no doubt as proud of you as we readers are. You’re the closest thing I’ve ever read to Mr. Twain’s eloquence. OK to be humble, but for you, not about writing. Your words are honest, reflective and always captivating and forever appreciated.

  20. Mac - November 30, 2022 2:31 pm

    What an honor! And well deserved. Sam would be right proud of you and your writing I’m sure.

  21. Cynthia - November 30, 2022 2:35 pm

    One of my first dates with my husband was in 1966 and we went to see Hal Holbrook’s “Mark Twain Tonight,” which was performed at SMU in Dallas. What a joy! Many years later we saw it on tv, also. I think I will do an internet search to see if we could watch it again.

  22. Melissa Brown - November 30, 2022 2:55 pm

    You are a wonderful writer – l love everything you write. Your email is the first thing l read each morning – it starts my day off right !!!

  23. Roseann Romans - November 30, 2022 3:02 pm

    A Wonderful and humorous tribute to a rascal of a brilliant author. He would have loved it.

  24. chris - November 30, 2022 3:22 pm

    how awesome!! Yes very exciting! I wish I could be there to here your “speech” They picked exactly the best person for this.

  25. Chasity Davis Ritter - November 30, 2022 3:24 pm

    How awesome is that?? You about wet your pants and I cried all over the place. I’m happy for you that’s really cool. You’re awesome Sean. Don’t ever let your past try to make you think different!!

  26. Lyn Brown - November 30, 2022 3:24 pm

    I, too, love Mark Twain! His favorite essay for me is “the cold remedy! “ my mind conceived miracles of meanness, but my hands were too weak to carry them out!” Gold!

  27. Susie - November 30, 2022 3:26 pm

    I loved the man, too, Sean!! Not only did he come steaming in with Haley’s Comet in 1835, but he went out with it years later, in April, 1910, when it came back around!!

  28. Carol Pilmer - November 30, 2022 3:29 pm

    Thanks for the re-introduction…Good Luck with the speech

  29. Julie Ellis - November 30, 2022 3:36 pm

    You would enjoy reading the autobiography of Capt. Absalom Grimes, Confederate mail carrier, and pal of Sam Clemens. Grimes gets my vote as onery-est man ever. He was a boat pilot and captain, and in Co. K 1st MO Cav CSA, Col. Gates Regt. My great grandfather served in Co. K. That’s how I found out about Grimes.

  30. Belinda Bailey - November 30, 2022 3:46 pm

    He’s The Godfather! I’m so proud of you and he would be, too.

  31. Stacey Wallace - November 30, 2022 3:53 pm

    Sean, thanks for entertaining my husband and me this morning. We didn’t get your column yesterday and were worried about you. The other day my friend and favorite professor shared this from Sam or Mark Twain: “Nothing spoils a good story like the arrival of an eye witness.” For real. Sean, you are a great writer, and don’t you forget it. Love to you, Jamie, and Marigold.

  32. Mathew Poehler - November 30, 2022 3:58 pm

    I read you every morning and it’s always a warm welcome to the day.

  33. Marci Welker - November 30, 2022 4:03 pm

    Congratulations, you deserve this honor.

  34. Tommy - November 30, 2022 4:06 pm

    A hilarious modern oudoors writer was Patrick F. McManus. He always had us rolling in the proverbial aisles. He also didn’t mean to be a humor writer. Has been gone only a coupla years or so. Anybody especially who has outdoors interests should check him out.

  35. AlaRedClayGirl - November 30, 2022 5:30 pm

    Kudos to you on the speech at the Samuel Clemens’ home! I remember very vividly reading and falling in love with Tom Sawyer and Mark Twain in 6th grade.

  36. wfsuga - November 30, 2022 5:38 pm

    Huckleberry Finn is the great American novel. Period. In addition to being funny as hell it is a scathing indictment of racism and the institution of slavery. However, it is banned in some schools because the word “nigger” is in it. How sad that those who criticize it have undoubtedly never read it. Same holds true of To Kill a Mockingbird.

  37. Joyce skinner - November 30, 2022 5:39 pm

    How I look forward to your essay every day

  38. Carol Ethier - November 30, 2022 5:46 pm

    Sean, you are not a good writer. No, you are a gifted, insightful, inspiring and spiritual human able to express your thoughts like few others can. I read, and reread, your essays, and they always leave such an impact. Congratulations on this lovely honour bestowed upon you.

  39. ocasey - November 30, 2022 5:53 pm

    He and I share birthdays! I’m not quite as old as Samuel. I am only 81.

  40. Jackie Lavin - November 30, 2022 6:33 pm

    Thank you Samuel and Sean. Two outstanding authors. Sean congratulations on the invitation to speak. You must be proud. And, well you should be. I think Mr. Clements would have liked you a great deal.

  41. Ben Womack - November 30, 2022 6:33 pm

    Soon? Do you know something I don’t?

  42. Chris Spencer - November 30, 2022 7:14 pm

    Congrats Sean!!! An honor you have well earned and deserve!!!

  43. Judy Hicks (@judyhicks) - November 30, 2022 7:50 pm

    Don’t sell yourself short Sean – I’ve read most of your books and love them all!

  44. Madelyn Edens - November 30, 2022 8:36 pm

    I have a writer friend who follows you much the same you followed Sam. He’s the one who introduced me to you, and I’d just like to say that I hope neither you nor your-follower-my-friend see Sam soon. There’s too much more I want to hear from each of you.

  45. MAM - November 30, 2022 8:39 pm

    Awesome honor, Sean, and very well deserved! As others have said above, I think Sam would have enjoyed you and your writing! You learned well from him.

  46. Shana - November 30, 2022 9:00 pm

    Congratulations! What an honor! And a well deserved one too.

  47. Diane - November 30, 2022 10:22 pm

    Congratulations Sean! You deserve it! You’re a storyteller of the same magnitude!

  48. Jocelyn - November 30, 2022 10:45 pm

    Awesome very cool and kudos
    Make sure you change your pants

  49. Debbie Moser - November 30, 2022 11:07 pm

    Oh how very exciting for you! Cracked up about the water running down your leg😂

  50. Linda Moon - December 1, 2022 12:04 am

    ‘Although not a good one.’ Wrong. I’m glad you took the trip and became the writer that you are. And, yes…as a 30-year educator I KNOW that the best and brightest of young humans can get into trouble. I’m so proud you graduated and got inspired by Mark Twain. You are paying him forward by inspiring me and many, many others.

  51. Lucinda Secrest McDowell - December 1, 2022 12:13 am

    Sean and Jamie, I’m sure you already know that I’m the happiest person alive that yall will be coming to the Mark Twain House! I will be sitting on the front row. With bells on. So proud of you…. Miss Lucinda

  52. Pam - December 1, 2022 2:57 am

    If you’ve never been to Elmira, NY, you might want to come see Mark Twains grave site and his study where it is reported that he wrote Hiuckleberry Finn (I think I remember that correctly) His wife was from Elmira and he lived here for awhile. 😊

  53. Donna Belcher - December 1, 2022 8:13 pm

    Awesome! Congratulations!

  54. George Bailey - December 3, 2022 9:05 pm

    I recall that his book “Tom Sawyer” was in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life”

  55. Paula Ann Loftis - December 4, 2022 6:49 pm

    “Interesting Facts” sent out a post on Sam Clemens/Mark Twain. Copy and paste here in keeping with this wonderful story you wrote Sean.

  56. Rhonda Jones - December 13, 2022 12:16 am

    I have to disagree with you on one point. You did become a writer and a very good one! You bring me much enjoyment with your stories. Thank you!

  57. Jmom - December 14, 2022 4:51 pm

    Not too soon.


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