I finished college by age thirty-something. Also I have seen Willie Nelson in concert. And, not to brag, but I hold the regional record for eating the most consecutive slices of blueberry pie at last year’s Fourth of July dinner on the grounds.

I am fishing. Hogtown Bayou couldn’t be any prettier if it tried. The clouds over this bay are nothing short of American poetry

The air is salty. The crickets are out. The water is calmer than a monk on Miller Lite.

The Choctawhatchee Bay is the best part of my youth. When I was sixteen, I took Wendy Benton to the shores of Hogtown Bayou. It was a poor-man’s date.

Hogtown Bayou resembles Beulah Land. Not that long ago, forests still stretched for miles. You could find longleaf pines with catfaces the turpentiners once carved on them, long before the invention of cable television.

And, if you fished the right spots, you had to carry a baseball bat to swat the fish away.

Wendy was from Mountain Brook. She was repulsed by this place.

“Fishing?” she said. “Gross. You brought me FISHING?”

“No,” I said. “I brought you to see a magnificent sunset.”

“But, you have a fishing pole in your hands.”

“I do? Well, would you look at that? How’d that get there?”

I caught a one-pound redfish. Wendy swatted mosquitoes. She never returned my calls. I understand she married an attorney and lives in Toledo.

Years later, I took the would-be Mrs. Dietrich to Hogtown Bayou. Her name was Jamie.

Jamie said, “Do you take all your heifers out here?”

The answer was no.

I told her I wanted to live on Hogtown Bayou one day. I wanted to fish here whenever I felt like it. I told her all about myself. She listened.

She caught a fish bigger than the state of Delaware. I asked her to marry me a few weeks later. We bought a small house a stone’s throw from Hogtown Bayou.

Tonight, I caught jack squat. A miniature pinfish, one stingray, and one Mountain Dew bottle. My father, had he been alive, would’ve cleaned and deep-fried the Mountain Dew bottle. But I don’t care for the flavor.

Music plays on my pocket radio. There is a man in the boat, in the distance. An orange sun. Hank sings about his “Lovesick Blues.”

I am happy.

And if I’m being honest, I haven’t always been happy, I’m sorry to admit. Life didn’t bring my family good fortune during my early years. It’s a long story.

But by the time I was a teenager, I hung drywall, and installed flooring. I played music in all-you-can-eat seafood joints by night. I had no prospects, no money, no high-school education. Girls from Birmingham thought I was a hick.

By my twenties, I was taking high-school equivalency classes on weekends, eating lunch in community college breezeways. I was even more broke than before.

I wasn’t happy. I wanted to be, but I felt like a failure. I suppose I was busy trying to prove something. Maybe I was trying to prove something to my dead father. Or to myself.

Anyway, I wasted a lot of time. But the point is: I’m here, and I don’t know how long happiness lasts, so I don’t want to waste any more time.

I have a lot in my life that makes me smile. Too much.

I finished college by age thirty-something. Also I have seen Willie Nelson in concert. And, not to brag, but I hold the regional record for eating the most consecutive slices of blueberry pie at the Fourth of July dinner on the grounds.

I haven’t touched blueberries since.

And I have been fortunate enough to write about people. Good people. Hundreds of them.

Among them, a ninety-three-year-old woman in North Alabama who claimed to have the gift of healing.

The elderly woman placed her hands on my temples some six years ago. She kissed my forehead and spoke in words that sounded foreign.

“What language is that?” I asked her.

“Ssshhh,” she said. “God’s talkin’ at us.”

Before I left the nursing home, she said, “Always do one thing that makes you happy for a few hours every day. Just one thing.”

You don’t forget things like that.

Maybe she was a healer. Maybe she did something to me. I don’t know. But I feel happiness right now. I have a wife. A dog. And I have you. You mean a lot to me.

And I have these crickets. This bayou of my youth. This fishing pole. And I use them more often than I used to—but still not nearly enough.

I don’t know what I’m trying to say. And it doesn’t matter, anyway. Because I’m happy. I wish the same for you and yours.

And if you’re reading this Wendy Benton, I hope you’re happy, too.


  1. Sandi in FL. - August 20, 2018 5:40 am

    My paternal grandfather was an avid fisherman, and he often cleaned and fried his catch for the family to enjoy. I hope you and Jamie get to spend many more hours fishing together. And hey Sean, I really like your sketch of the fishing tackle basket which accompanies this post. You definitely possess artistic talent in addition to your top-notch writing!

  2. Connie - August 20, 2018 6:55 am

    You’re awesome Sean. Your writings make my day. Thank you.

  3. Pamela McEachern - August 20, 2018 7:27 am

    Poor Wendy Benton, she had no clue just what she was going to miss out on. But I really think she did you a favor. Jamie leaves Wendy in the dust…

    Peace and Love from Birimgham

    • Susan Kennedy - August 20, 2018 1:53 pm

      Amen to that.

  4. Heidi - August 20, 2018 9:42 am

    Sometimes I think you appreciate happiness more if you haven’t always had it. It’s not just a “given”. There’s hidden blessings all around if you take the time to look and that’s what you do. You look and really see.

  5. Gary Bass - August 20, 2018 9:46 am

    Hogtown Bayou. Boy what memories from many years ago. We’d tie a rope on a galvanized wash tub and let it float along behind us while gigging for flounder. Our folks were hollering “Yall watch out for them stingers! They’ll hook ya!” Those were what we commonly call the “good ole days”. Looking at our society today, they truly were…

  6. Marilyn - August 20, 2018 11:20 am

    Did anyone else see a smiley face on the strap of your tackle basket? Love your artistic drawings along with the daily story. You are definitely multi-talented. Thank you for the daily upbeat, inspirational stories. Keep them coming!

  7. Mertelle - August 20, 2018 12:11 pm

    Absolutely loved todays column..words to live by..thanks.

  8. Michael Guilday - August 20, 2018 12:15 pm

    Sean, we have you. Your post lift me every morning and remind me to kiss my wife, call my kids, hug on my dog and cats and say a prayer thanking our Lord for all the blessings in my life.

  9. Jo Ann - August 20, 2018 12:26 pm

    And we’re all so lucky we have you, Sean. You mean so much to us-your good news to chase away the bad stuff they try to stuff into our brains daily. I read your story first thing in the morning to start the day right. Thanks every day.

  10. Carol - August 20, 2018 12:47 pm

    I’m happy too , cause I have you everyday once or twice a day I find you and listen to you talk to me , I smile sometimes you make me cry , but that’s ok too but I have you to listen to or read and I thank God , your you!
    Love ya!

  11. Jack Darnell - August 20, 2018 12:48 pm

    I just can’t help it, I like it. If I hear of you n Jamie splitting, I’ll be mad!

  12. Joy - August 20, 2018 12:56 pm

    Every day you give me hope and a reason to be thankful! I am thankful for you and the stories you write….Keep the stories coming…and pray you and Jamie have years and years to enjoy life together….and Wendy? Well, I hope she is happy too.

  13. Tamara Seipel - August 20, 2018 1:49 pm

    Thank you, Sean, for sharing your gift of writing with us. Your stories warm my heart, give me hope for humankind and make me happy.

  14. Laura - August 20, 2018 1:51 pm

    You made me smile again today, when I was feeling pretty low. Thank you! I always loved Willie Nelson. I never saw him in concert, but one day while I was getting my boarding pass at DFW, he was there. We chatted a few minutes (I could hardly keep from swooning as my grandma would say) and he autographed the only piece of paper I had with me – a deposit slip from my checkbook. I will never forget how much it felt like talking to an old friend. Thanks for the memory!

  15. Donna Camacho - August 20, 2018 1:53 pm

    When I read your stories, I’m always a little happier. I pay more attention to the simple things in life. Thank you.

  16. perry5360 - August 20, 2018 2:18 pm

    Your like an old friend dropping in to visit. Seeing the extrodinary in the ordinary, the joy in the pain of Living, and the light of god in all living things is a great gift. Your stories are a shining light in a sea of darkness. Thank you for being there?? T

  17. Phyllis Hamilton - August 20, 2018 2:30 pm

    Thank you for all the inspiration you give me each day. Happiness is the ordinary. We have family with wealth. We live in an old renovated tobacco barn with a pond in the back yard. We wouldn’t trade places with anyone.

  18. Dan Wise - August 20, 2018 2:59 pm

    My Dad liked to play twists with word pronunciation…”Choctawhatchee Bay’ verbally translated became “Chocta Whatchee Bay”!

  19. Patricia A Schmaltz - August 20, 2018 3:34 pm

    Sean, if you remember one thing from me, let it be this: YOU are in charge of your own happiness. It is a DECISION, not a result of circumstances, education or hair color. It is up to YOU to DECIDE to be happy. You’re on your way by counting your blessings and seeing the beauty around you. Your admirers and fans are cheering you on. BE HAPPY!

  20. Shelton Armour - August 20, 2018 3:38 pm

    Find the places, activities, and people who make you happy, Sean (and everyone), and hold onto them for dear life.

  21. Susan Swiderski - August 20, 2018 3:40 pm

    Going fishing is a pretty good way to judge compatibility. People who don’t enjoy fishing don’t appreciate its peacefulness and its “communing with nature” aspects, which are important to those of us who love to fish. And those who are squeamish about getting their hands dirty with worms and fish might not be sports about taking on the other “dirty” things life throws us.

  22. Edna B. - August 20, 2018 3:41 pm

    Ah Wendy…..your loss! I love your story and I’m so very thankful for every day I have and the friends and loved ones around me. You have an awesome day, Sean. Hugs, Edna B.

  23. Linda - August 20, 2018 4:02 pm

    I get it. I understand exactly what you mean.

  24. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - August 20, 2018 4:15 pm

    I am so glad that I can read your email everyday. You mean a lot to me too. I hope I can see you when you speak in Gadsden. I live inWeaver which is near Anniston.

  25. Lisa - August 20, 2018 5:18 pm

    Isn’t it funny how one bad experience (overeating pie for instance) can have such a lasting effect? I wish it was the case more often … I’d have no problem losing these extra pounds!

  26. Lisa - August 20, 2018 5:20 pm

    One more comment … that Jamie is a hoot. I loved her “do you take all your heifers here” line. Maybe she didn’t say it even … but it communicates her in 3d imagery.

  27. Dianne - August 20, 2018 8:01 pm

    And you mean a lot to us, Sean. Thank you for make our days a little happier.

  28. Alice Roose - August 21, 2018 12:35 pm

    You mean a lot to me too Sean love you God Bless uou❤️

  29. Glenda the good witch. - August 21, 2018 5:42 pm

    You red-headed stranger YOU made me cry for the second time today, think I’ll get a hickory switch, ijs. LOVE YOU too, Sean ~ warm hugs for Jamie.

  30. Charles L. Scott II - August 22, 2018 8:56 pm

    Wish I lived close enough to walk up and tell you to move over a bit!

  31. Joan Mitchell - August 23, 2018 10:38 pm

    I haven’t left a comment before, because when I read all the others, they’ve already said everything I wanted to say, and done it so well! But today I had to say something. Your gift for words is so extraordinary! “A monk on Miller Lite?” How Perfect! You have added a happy dimension to my days. Joni Mitchell (yes really but not that one)

  32. Janet Mary Lee - August 28, 2018 6:56 pm

    perfection exists if we have the eyes and heart to see it! You do..and you share nicely!!

  33. Allen Harris - October 16, 2018 12:37 pm

    ……I grew up on Boggy Bayou, off Choctawhatchee Bay. Best childhood a kid could wish for, fished almost everyday. Your story took me back to the sights, smells and sounds of those days. And I too, saw Willie Nelson.

  34. joannie6535 - October 16, 2018 3:00 pm

    Sounds great….except them skeeters…they really can cut into my happy.

  35. Mike Fought - October 16, 2018 11:10 pm

    I love Hog Town Bayou. Spent a lot of time there with a castnet catching mullet. My friend and I used to take all of our kids there and the old 331bridge, when we went fishing. They still talk about it and they are now in their 40s.

  36. Liz - November 10, 2018 8:02 am

    You made me cry. Not everyone understands Hogtown…you just have to go everyday and see enough incredible things happen to get it. Like a big pod of dolphin swimming right past the dock, or a kid hoist a massive red out of the murk or the sunset paint the sky a murderous red with green rays. Then you just can’t say goodbye.

  37. Becky Kaufman - March 17, 2021 3:50 pm

    Love this! We all enjoy fishing in our family.


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