On my sixteenth birthday my mother bought me a telescope for a gift. It was a big, white telescope with a wooden tripod.

The stars are out tonight. Thelma Lou, the bloodhound, stops to stare at the them. She sits for several minutes, looking up.

I’ve never seen a dog do that.

“What’re you looking at, girl?” I say, squatting beside her. “Are you looking at stars?”

Thelma Lou keeps staring upward.

I don’t blame her. The sky above is so magnificent I can hardly stand it. Stars are so bright they look like they might fall from the sky and land on me.

My mother says when I was a toddler I liked stars so much I would stand outside, staring upward, wearing a numb look—like my cornbread wasn’t done in the middle.

When I was thirteen, after my father died, I would sit on the porch and make wishes on stars. I wished for all sorts of things. Fast cars, money, a big-screen TV, Barbara Eden.

And I wished to be happy.

I was the most awkward and chubby thirteen-year-old you ever saw. My hair was pure copper. Today, red hair might be the rage, but back then it was as stylish as a cold booger on a paper plate.

To make matters worse, my mother bought my pants at Sears. I wore “Husky” pants, sold in the back of the store, where chubby boys were routinely executed.

And if anyone doubted I was overweight, my pants bore an actual label on the hindparts which stated: “Husky.”

I did not care for myself.

Still, the males in my family promised I would undergo a transformation one day.

“One day,” my uncle said, “you’ll have a growth spurt, and get skinny, like we all did, just keep your chin up.”

But it wasn’t happening fast enough.

So I took matters into my own hands. My friend, Davis, suggested trying a diet he found in Popular Mechanics Magazine.

The diet consisted of nothing but garlic and hard-boiled eggs. After one week, I smelled like a fertilizer heap, so I gave up.

I decided to give exercise a shot. I would walk gravel roads until I ran out of breath. That was the plan.

So late one night, wearing jeans and a NASCAR sweatshirt, I walked until my inner thighs were chaffed.

I exercised at night—always under the cover of darkness. I did this because:

1. I was chubby
2. girls

You wouldn’t want a girl to see you jogging the roads. Not when you looked like the official spokesperson for Pillsbury and wore Richard Petty sweatshirts.

Even so, I was committed to my nightly regime, determined, even if it killed me. I dedicated my life to the rigorous program, promising to adhere to it, come rain or shine. And fitness became the main thrust of my life for two whole days.

Then I gave up and went back to eating Chili Cheese Fritos.

Anyway, on my sixteenth birthday my mother bought me a telescope for a gift. It was a white telescope with a wooden tripod.

“I know how much you like stars,” she said. “I thought you would like this.”

I set it up in the front yard. I sat on a lawn chair. And while christening my telescope, my mother came outside to drape a quilt over my shoulders, and she said:

“Honey,” she said. “You’re gonna catch a cold standing out here like this, skinny as you are. ”

And that’s when time and space stopped.

Skinny?

I glanced at my waistline. It was a miracle. I was not chubby anymore. My uncle had been right. I had sprouted. How did I miss it? How could something so important happen without me noticing?

“Mama,” I said. “Do you really think I’m skinny?”

“Think?” she said. “Why, you’d have to run around in the shower just to get wet.”

I nearly started crying. I had hated myself for so long, only to find that there was nothing left to hate.

My mother hugged me and said she’d love me no matter how chubby or gaunt I was. Then, she pointed to the Big Dipper and said, “Do you see that star? Right there, the bright one?”

“I see it,” I said.

“That big star is the North Star. It gets hidden behind clouds sometimes, and you think it’s lost, but it’s always there, in the same place, and that is where all my love is, up there.

“To feel it, just keep looking up.”

Anyway, I wish I had a point to this story, or something beautiful to tell you, but I don’t. All I know is that life is hard, but infinitely more beautiful than I once thought it would be. And so is this sky.

Even bloodhounds know this to be true.

Keep looking up.

30 comments

  1. Cathi - January 13, 2019 8:38 am

    Barney, my Basset Hound, loves full moons, so once a month the neighborhood gets to hear the song of his people. While there is little that, to me anyway, is prettier than the “aroooo” of a Basset, the neighborhood, of course, may have other ideas. We’re looking forward to January 20th’s full blood moon, when Barney once again serenades the moon…and the neighborhood. He’ll be looking up with great delight…and hopefully the neighbors will indulge him one more moon. And Thel can be looking up at that same miracle. Thank you, I loved this one, Sean.

    Reply
    • Nancy - January 13, 2019 11:50 am

      Thanks, Cathi, this made me smile.

      Reply
    • Steve Winfield - January 14, 2019 2:10 pm

      We also had a Bassett named Barney. He’s gone now. You should start a blog about him. I’d read it.

      Reply
  2. Jennifer Hill - January 13, 2019 11:00 am

    I am so thankful a friend told me to read your blog. This is the first email I look for in the morning!!! ❤️

    Reply
  3. Karen - January 13, 2019 11:06 am

    I think your mother is a special angel who was scooped up from the stars. She shines on everyone and lights up this world with her love.

    Reply
  4. Kelly - January 13, 2019 11:20 am

    My lab and I star gaze often. My favorite time is an early chilly morning when the sky is clear and it’s just me and him outside looking at the stars. I know when the North Star is shining bright that my Mom is sending her love.

    Reply
  5. GaryD - January 13, 2019 11:46 am

    I was sixteen when my parents bought me a white telescope with a wooden tripod from Sears. The night I discovered Saturn was a night I’ll never forget. I ran inside the house hooping and a’ hollering about my discovery. No one was home. They had all gone to town, I guess. It was still a night I cherish to this day almost fifty years later.

    Reply
  6. Nancy - January 13, 2019 11:51 am

    Loved this one, Sean. You are my shining star.

    Reply
  7. Ellen Walters - January 13, 2019 12:12 pm

    Thank you for sharing memories, which cause me to remember things of times past. I miss see the stars when I was living in the country on a farm in Illinois.

    Reply
  8. Edna B. - January 13, 2019 1:21 pm

    I love looking up at our beautiful sky. When I was just a little girl, my Daddy told me that whenever I needed someone to talk to and no one was around, I could always look up to the night sky and talk to the man in the moon. He would always be my friend. My Daddy was right. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  9. Gaynell Lumsden - January 13, 2019 1:46 pm

    I LOVE YOU. You are the only writer that makes me feel like I really know you. You have a beautiful soul.

    Reply
    • Ellen Walters - January 13, 2019 2:14 pm

      Amen!!!!!

      Reply
  10. Stephanie Godke - January 13, 2019 2:00 pm

    Please put these in a book so I can hold them and reread them when I need them.

    Reply
    • Donna - February 12, 2019 8:21 am

      Sean has many books! Each as good as the last.

      Reply
  11. Debbie Britt - January 13, 2019 2:18 pm

    ❤️

    Reply
  12. Melanie - January 13, 2019 2:29 pm

    First thing I do when taking the dogs out in the backyard. A reminder of the infinite beauty of our universe and a gentle lesson in perspective. ❤️

    Reply
  13. Amelia - January 13, 2019 2:47 pm

    Changing in life can be dramatic and we don’t eve notice. A wonderful thing we don’t realize till after it has happened and don’t know what to do after it happens. The stars don’t change and are beautiful all the time, I think we all want to be a star.
    AC

    Reply
  14. Shelton A. - January 13, 2019 2:47 pm

    I have too much light pollution to see much, but I always look up anyway to see what I can see. Never saw one of my dogs do it though. Pretty amazing…

    Reply
  15. Jeri Blom - January 13, 2019 2:55 pm

    Awww, my first morning smile! Thank you!!

    Reply
  16. Brenda Posey - January 13, 2019 3:01 pm

    Isn’t star-gazing an amazing way to soothe your soul and regain hope for tomorrow? Thank you, Sean. Well done.

    Reply
  17. Sherry - January 13, 2019 4:10 pm

    The size of the night sky helps you put your problems in the right place…they are usually small and within our control compared to the big issues in the world…once you realize that and take a deep breath, you can sleep. Having your dog beside you is a true blessing….

    Reply
  18. Jones - January 13, 2019 5:07 pm

    Another great one!👍👍

    Reply
  19. Jess in Athens, GA - January 13, 2019 5:11 pm

    1. Barbara Eden….right on, brother.
    2. “…as stylish as a cold booger on a paper plate.” LOL, never heard that one before.
    3. “Keep looking up.” Good advice, Sean.
    4. You turned out pretty good after all that worrying when you were a youngster. You have much to be proud of, and I hope you keep on writing whether it has a point or not.

    Reply
  20. Linda - January 13, 2019 6:01 pm

    Wonderful advice….

    Reply
  21. Pamela McEachern - January 13, 2019 6:25 pm

    The night sky and the stars have been a comfort and an amazingment to me since I was 11 or so. I sat on our front steps with some wonderful people and a few animals listening to the radio and beinging in the momemt. We all really are so closely related. Thanks for the remembrance of these times.

    Peace and Love from Birmingham

    Reply
  22. Dale - January 13, 2019 9:23 pm

    I look forward to your email every morning. I can so relate to your descriptions of bright red hair and awkwardness. I grew up thinking everyone looked good except me. My grandfather died when I was a freshman at Auburn and I drove to Ochlocknee in South Georgia for his funeral. One of my 23 first cousins said to me, “You are not as homely as you used to be” I eventually outgrew my homeliness and realized its not looks that matter but what’s in your heart. Thank you for your ever-positive outlook in life. It is contagious. Blessings

    Reply
  23. Jack Darnell - January 13, 2019 9:50 pm

    Many times I enjoy your advice column………. THANKS
    jack

    Reply
  24. Bob Hubbard, Sr. - January 13, 2019 10:41 pm

    My friend, even when you tell a seemingly pointless story, it’s still quite an exciting experience..

    Reply
  25. Donna - February 12, 2019 8:17 am

    Sean, your mother heard every single one of your silent words. You surely were loved.

    Reply
  26. Steve Winfield - February 12, 2019 1:14 pm

    I went through the “Husky” pants phase too. Lost all my fluff in Navy boot camp in Orlando. Did you know Orlando has mosquitoes in January?
    Love Steve

    Reply

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