I was on TV. It happened a few weeks ago. This was pure history for the Dietrichs. To my knowledge, I have never been on TV before. Break out the Natural Light.
The last time a Dietrich made television was when my cousin, Billy Joe Ed, got arrested for setting off M-80’s in the restrooms at the Methodist Church. They interviewed my father on television as an eye-witness.
He froze. His face developed exactly two zits.
“Hey, Mama,” he said to America.
No, this was different. It happened in Monroeville, Alabama. I was interviewed by Don Noble on Alabama Public Television. We were surrounded by the same kind of TV backdrop they use on Sixty Minutes.
You know the kind of décor I mean. A dim-lit, mostly wooden room. Leatherbound books on side tables, Robert Goulet records playing in the background. A suede wingback chair with a beer holder in the armrest.
I was nervous, watching men in headphones run in circles. They positioned me on my mark and told me to “Speak up!” and “Quit mumbling!” and “Don’t LOOK straight at the camera, kid!”
Then, they aimed a NASA spacecraft lens at me until I developed two zits.
The makeup lady applied powder to my forehead.
“Don’t be embarrassed,” she said. “Pimples are just a natural part of life.”
So, Don asked a few questions, and I tried my best to sound smart—which is always a mistake. The only way I know how to sound smart is to make quotation-mark gestures with my fingers when I speak.
Don asked questions in rapid fire. I almost choked.
He asked about my favorite TV show—Andy Griffith.
He asked where I look for spiritual guidance—Richard Petty.
He asked what my favorite literary topic was—I blanked. “Hey, Mama” I pointed out.
Then, he asked a question I wasn’t ready for. It happened so fast it almost flew past me.
“Who are your people?” he asked.
Well, I’ll be dog. Nobody has ever asked me that. And this idea deserves a little thought.
So right now, I’m thinking about it while I write you from a hotel room. And as it happens, I don’t have to go far to find my people.
Right now, for instance, there are two maids outside my room. They’re pushing vacuums. One maid sings while she works. I’ve been a blue collar worker all my adult life. These are my people.
I also have folks at the Huddle House. A few nights ago a cook named Paul cracked a million eggs, flipped fifteen thousand burgers for a late night rush. He’s my people.
Jordan—high-school senior whose mother passed from pancreatic cancer this month. Mine.
Derrick—moved to Nashville to be a singer, but is a janitor with four kids. Mine.
Chet—truck driver who hasn’t seen his little girl since his last layover in Atlanta. Mine.
Ironworkers, pipefitters, trim carpenters, roofers, and anyone who can fog up a mirror.
Mine, mine, mine.
Mothers who are alone. Fathers who are broke. Students who won’t graduate. Jacob, who drives a commercial lawn mower. Charlie, who plays the accordion. And Billy Joe Ed, who believes wholeheartedly in the awe inspiring power of the M-80.
And here’s the part you knew was coming:
You are my people. Sort of. I mean we’re not that different. The affluent and the blue collars all eat grits the same way. The red yellow, black, and white. The window washer, the Mississippian Episcopal priest.
And the teenager named Mary, who endures a five-hour spinal surgery while I type this.
You deserve someone better than me to be your people. But then, you deserve a lot of things. You deserve a ten-foot-tall trophy for getting out of bed this morning. You deserve to be seen.
I wish I could make that happen, but I can’t. I’m just one fella. All I can do is develop pimples on live television. I can’t make good things happen, or undo the bad things. And I don’t have any ten-foot-tall trophies lying around.
I suppose all I can do is claim you, just like the folks who claimed me. And if we belong to each other then, by God, we belong.