Old Stories

I haven’t had food poisoning since I visited Dallas with my buddy, Chubbs. We were there for the Mesquite Championship Rodeo. I ate some tripa tacos that didn’t settle well.

Dothan, Alabama—It’s been quite a night. The Milwaukee Brewers beat the Braves like rented mules. I was eating jalepeño cheese dip in a sports bar, watching the game. Afterward, I went back to the hotel to pout. My stomach started churning. It got worse.

I have food poisoning.

I haven’t had food poisoning since I visited Dallas with my buddy, Chubbs. We were there for the Mesquite Championship Rodeo. I ate some tripa tacos that didn’t settle well.

For two days thereafter, I hugged a motel toilet.

My faithful constituent, Chubbs, vowed to take care of me on my deathbed. I sent him to the supermarket for emergency supplies. He returned with Gatorade, Velveeta cheese, and Hellman’s mayonnaise.

“What’s the Velveeta for?” I asked.

“For nutrition,” he said, blowing a bubble in his gum.

“Where’s my Pepto Bismol?”

“I got mayonnaise instead.”


“Hello? In case you want a mayonnaise and Velveeta sandwich.”

More toilet hugging.

I missed the rodeo that year. The next year, we visited again and I got my picture with a Dolly Parton impersonator.

Anyway, this case of food poisoning isn’t nearly as bad as Dallas. But I can’t sleep, so I’m reading emails.

I got a letter from a young woman named Paulette. It was a sad letter.

“Dear Sean,” writes Paulette, “my husband left me… I am twenty-two and I have a son who’s too young to even know what’s happening…

“It’s hitting me slowly, I’m numb inside, I don’t even know why I’m writing, I mean why should you care about some stranger’s divorce? Tell me a story.”

Paulette. I wish I had something valuable to share, but I don’t. All I can tell you is that you emailed a man whose insides are falling out.

But because I have a few hundred more words left to go, and time to kill, I’m going to tell you about the time my mother took me to a nursing home after I lost the regional spelling bee.

I was a boy. I was in a horrible state of mind after losing the contest on the word “purple.” That’s right, purple.

I spelled it with one too many p’s. The word still haunts me today. Sometimes I spell the word before going to bed, just to prove I still can.

So my mother took me to a rest home. We wandered the halls, passing white-haired people who slumped in chairs.

One man hollered to me: “Jacob! Son! It’s me, Dad!” Then he started crying.

A woman touched my arm and said, “Oooohh, I love little boys with freckles.” Then, she cackled like she was going to eat me.

I was terrified, but Mama insisted I go into the recreation room without her. I almost had a nervous breakdown when the wheelchairs encircled me. But after a few minutes, all fear disappeared and I fell in love with white hair.

That’s because elderly people, you see, tell stories. Beautiful, simple, sweet, good stories.

I’ll never forget the man who saw Babe Ruth play. The REAL Babe Ruth. He recounted his tale in such vivid detail, I was practically with him in the ballpark.

And the woman who got pregnant as a teenager. She was kicked out of her home. She lived in an orphanage, with her baby. She eventually became the first female preacher I ever met. She could also tear the keys off a piano—which she did.

Those are the only stories I remember. I wish I could remember others, but if you’ll recall, I’m currently dying from jalepeño cheese dip poisoning.

When my mother drove us home, I didn’t have much to say. I was busy thinking about the stories I’d heard. I’d heard everything from tales of the Great Depression, yellow fever, the Dust Bowl, and the boll weevil.

My life hasn’t been a cakewalk. My mother was a single mother, times weren’t exactly easy. But stories do something to me. They make me feel less alone.

So Paulette, listen. I don’t know much, but I know you’re going to make it. And one day, when your hair is white, maybe you’ll tell someone your story. I believe the most beautiful thing you will ever get in this lifetime is your story.

So I’ll have to end things here—for reasons I’d rather not disclose. Remember to stay away from jalepeño cheese dip. And know that I am thinking about you.




  1. Steve Winfield - August 12, 2018 6:36 am

    Is something wrong or am I really the first to comment? Food poisoning sucks moldy theatre seats. I hope it’s over fast.
    I never tire of your stories. I don’t really know you but I love you. God bless you, and your tummy. My dog Oscar loves you too. Get some rest. Alka Seltzer always works for me.

  2. Well picker grinner lover sinner but you can call me ray or joe - August 12, 2018 6:37 am

    I lost the spelling bee – oh no I won on the word weird – good stuff purple ?

  3. Marilyn Ward Vance - August 12, 2018 8:39 am

    We all have a story, part good, part bad. You may encourage someone who lost a spelling bee if you tell the good parts….thanks, Sean. Hope you feel better soon, Son! Tell Thelma Lou that Pooh says hello when you get home.

  4. Linda W. - August 12, 2018 9:57 am

    Purple – really!!!! Great way to start my Sunday. In fact, we start everyday with your story. Blessings!!!

  5. Alison Crosby - August 12, 2018 10:16 am

    I hope you feel better soon Sean!

  6. Kathy G. - August 12, 2018 10:34 am

    Hi, Sean. When I was in elementary school, I was in a spelling bee. I think there were about 10 of us, on stage, in front of the entire school. I was petrified. I spelled exercise wrong. When I got home from school, I went into my bedroom to lick my wounds. My Mom came in to ask how it went; I told her I was the third person eliminated and burst into tears. I’ve never forgotten the comfort of my Mom’s hug…or how to spell exercise. ❤️

  7. Nancy - August 12, 2018 11:32 am

    Have thanked my friend for reposting one of your stories and I was able to discover and share one of the most entertaining story tellers ever.

  8. Mr. XYZ - August 12, 2018 11:40 am

    Fort Gaines, Georgia July 4th celebration. Fried funnel cake cooked in old grease. Without going into any details the ride home to Moultrie, Georgia, where I was living at the time, was one long, awful ride home. Name changed to protect my dignity.

  9. Leslie in NC - August 12, 2018 12:13 pm

    Good advice for that young mom, Sean. She’ll have lots of great stories I’m sure. And if it makes you feel any better, I was eliminated in an elementary spelling bee for misspelling …wait for it…biscuit!! Spelled it with a “q” instead of a “c.”

  10. Joy - August 12, 2018 12:21 pm

    I can always relate in some ways with your stories…three in this story….going through a divorce is harder than experiencing a death of your spouse. Another is a memory of my school days. I was in the 5th grade and taking an essay test; I couldn’t remember how to spell the word ‘it’…so went up to the desk to ask the teacher and she told me to go look it up in the dictionary!

    Sean, sure do love your stories… The third is: food poisoning. Had it once and will never forget ‘it’!! BUT I will forever remember how to spell ‘it’!

  11. Rhonda Howell - August 12, 2018 12:43 pm

    You are so right about the stories. Conversations with strangers pass along and are gone. But stories stick with you. With out study or memorizing. You hear it once and if it touches you in some way it is neatly stored away to cross your mind when needed. And they do make you feel less alone. You feel like somebody thought you were worth sharing something with. Always be sure to watch their face and look in their eyes. That can sometimes say more than the words of the story.

    And I don’t have a spelling bee story but I do have some spell check stories. Like the time I was working late on a webpage for someone and it changed Big Sky Farm to Big Sky Fart and I didn’t see it. Needless to say I got a phone call from someone the next morning saying “have you looked at my web page this morning?”…….. Sometimes I miss pencils.

    • Sandi in FL. - August 12, 2018 3:01 pm

      Rhonda, your comment about using spell check has me in stitches! One letter in a word can definitely alter its entire meaning! LOL

      • PecosKate - August 12, 2018 7:44 pm

        OMG Rhonda. You made me laugh until I cried. Your last comment about pencils was the clincher.

        Sean, your followers are worth following as well.

  12. Jack Darnell - August 12, 2018 12:46 pm

    I just forwarded this to a friend who is a real story teller…. We called him Buddy!

  13. Carol Houston Rothwell - August 12, 2018 2:17 pm

    I did the same thing over 8 bowls of chocolate pudding!
    I was craving chocolate pudding!
    Won’t do that for awhile, but I am addicted to chocolate!
    Feel better soon and I’m glad I don’t like thoes Hali!
    Whatever how you spell them peppers!
    Love ya!

  14. Music City Mark - August 12, 2018 2:25 pm

    Great time to start a diet. Get well soon. That young mom and her lucky son will have many great stories to share.

  15. perry5360 - August 12, 2018 2:48 pm

    S I N C E R E. I was in Grade 5 spelling bee for whole school, just me and Jamie Hewitt in Grade 8 left …two room country school 8 grades 24 students. I still think about that moment, wanting to win so badly and feeling like popped balloon. Learning to lose is such a hard thing, learning to never stop trying is amazing!!

  16. perry5360 - August 12, 2018 2:49 pm

    Tequila always gives me food poisoning ?

  17. Sandi in FL. - August 12, 2018 2:58 pm

    You’re so right about food poisoning, Sean. I got it once after eating sweet and sour pork, then another time after eating old (unknown to me) chicken, both times at well- known restaurants. I’d mention the names but might get in trouble!
    Hopefully Paulette is having a happier day today than when she penned her letter to you. At least you gave her a dose of encouragement instead of a dose of food poisoning!

  18. Edna B. - August 12, 2018 4:22 pm

    That young lady will do alright raising her son. I went through divorce and raised my children. They turned out to be awesome adults. Of course, it left me with lots of stories to pass on down to my grand children. Sean, I hope you feel better soon. Hugs, Edna b.

  19. Sandra Smith - August 12, 2018 4:26 pm

    I love this for SO many reasons, but mostly because, as an Old Nurse, who worked in long-term care/aka/ Nursing Homes, for the last ten years of my 35 yr, Nursing career, I have to tell you, I did it for the stories, and I got SO MANY !
    One of the greatest Blessings of my life.
    Get back on the bike Sean…make some FRESH jalapeno cheese dip, and have yourself a GREAT experience with it, this time. ❤

  20. Diane Kelly - August 12, 2018 8:34 pm

    Dear Sean, when I was 13 I fumbled the word “television” in our regional spelling bee. I am almost 52 years old and still remember that horrible moment like it was yesterday. 🙂 You are not alone, LOL.

  21. Sue Cronkite - August 12, 2018 10:54 pm

    Get well fast. Keep the stories coming.

  22. Ellen - August 13, 2018 12:49 am

    I still practice b-u-f-f-l-o, which I definitely knew how to spell. The whole 7th and 8th grade from the American School had come with me on an army bus to Wurzburg, Germany from Aschaffenburg, Germany in 1957, but I went down like a stone on the first word. All those people who were backing the winner-to-be were probably quiet on the way home. I’m thinking I was just embarrassed.

    Actually, I think I came in a car so I wouldn’t get to nervous from singing 99 Bottles of Beer all the way.

    I’t been a long time, so I may have forgotten some details, but I can spell b-u-f-a-l-o-e.

  23. Ann - August 13, 2018 2:18 pm

    Oh how I can relate. Secretary. I spelled it with a “c” and not the one that is already there. It has lived with me forever. So glad I’m not the only one! You tell such great stories. Thank you!

  24. Pam - October 8, 2018 12:10 pm

    Take activated charcoal tablets with you when you travel. Take a couple at the first sign of stomach distress. Work fast and very effectively. The charcoal will take the toxins out of your system.

    In the meantime, watch the food in Dothan. The Cracker Barrel is usually safe.

  25. Kelly - October 9, 2018 3:57 am

    5th grade…The word was Judge…5 letters…
    me: J-U-G-D-U-G-E…??‍♀️
    Needless to say the judge of the spelling bee was not impressed.


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