One by One

Every soul at Children’s Hospital, Birmingham. Doctors, nurses, janitors, cooks, staff, and patients.

I was a little boy. I was in a bad mood. My mother sent me to my room before supper.

“You march upstairs, mister,” she told me. “You go count your blessings.”

“But MAMA!” I said.

“Count’em one by one, young man, make a long list, or you don’t get any meatloaf.”

I’m thirty-some-odd years too late, but my wife is making meatloaf tonight.

So:

My wife—because she loved me first.

And boiled peanuts. Just because.

And dogs. Every dog.

And people who stop four lanes of traffic to save dogs. And people who adopt dogs. And people who like dogs. And people who spend so much time with dogs that they start to think like dogs.

And saturated fat. Pork. Smoked bacon, cured hams, and runny yolks in my fried eggs.

And cotton clothes that just came off a summer clothesline.

And the sound wind makes when it makes its way through the trees. And the smells of fall. And rain. Garlic.

Old radio shows. As a boy, a local station used to play reruns of Superman, the Lone Ranger, Little Orphan Annie, the Jack Benny Show, Abbott and Costello, and the Grand Ole Opry. I lived for these shows.

And the girl I met in Birmingham—she’s lived in fourteen different foster homes.

The child in Nashville—whose feet are too big for her sneakers. She can’t afford new ones.

Every soul at Children’s Hospital, Birmingham. Doctors, nurses, janitors, cooks, staff, and patients.

Every child who will be fortunate enough to see tomorrow morning. Every child who won’t.

And tomatoes. Tomatoes remind me of things deeper than just tomatoes themselves. They remind me of women who garden. Women like my mother, who suffered to raise two children after her husband met an untimely end.

Mama. The woman who made me. The woman whose voice I inherited. Sometimes, I hear myself talking on the phone and I realize I sound just like her.

I am proud of this.

And books. I have a garage full of books. Hundreds of books. No, thousands. Some I have read. Most I haven’t.

I love the smell of old pages, and the feel of paper.

I didn’t attend high school. The week after my father’s suicide, I dropped out of the seventh grade. And even though I’m not proud of that, it’s who I am.

To make up for this, I frequented bookstores and libraries. I read too much. Novels. Biographies. Comedies. Romances. Adventures. Classics. I have read every word Lewis Grizzard ever wrote at least fifty-three times.

My whole life, all I ever wanted to be was a writer of books.

Moving right along. Beer. Biscuits. Cheese. Birds. Fishing when I should be working. Sleeping when I should be fishing.

Mayonnaise-based salads. Duke’s. My wife’s pimento cheese—which ought to be illegal.

The people who hurt me—they know who they are. They were like inflatable bumpers in the gutters of a children’s bowling alley. They bounced this poor bowling ball toward home.

Funny. I thought they were my friends. I was wrong. They were even better than friends, they just didn’t know it. They were constellations that sailors use to guide ships.

Norman Rockwell. Will Rogers. Hank Senior. Kathryn Tucker Windham.

People with white hair, who remember when phone numbers had letters in them. Anyone who can remember what the world was like before mass media swallowed it.

My sister—who became a beautiful woman. And her husband. And her daughters.

And my friends. Always my friends.

I don’t know where you are. I don’t know if your life is good or bad. I hope you have shoes that fit, and a forever home. But I don’t know.

I don’t know if you sleep in a hospital bed, or beside someone you love. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to high school. But I want you to know a few things.

I want you to know that I care about you. I want you to know that you can be whatever you decide to be. I want you to know that bad things don’t last forever.

And I want you to know that long ago, a woman once told me that if I counted my blessings, I would get meatloaf. I’m glad she made me do that.

Because her meatloaf was worth it.

26 comments

  1. Jim Sturges - July 30, 2019 10:10 am

    I can but leave you gratitude and encouragement. This one left me speechless.

    Reply
  2. Elizabeth - July 30, 2019 10:48 am

    And front porches, you forgot front porches.

    Should would like to have Jaime’s pimento cheese recipe!

    Reply
  3. lisaweldon - July 30, 2019 11:23 am

    Phew. Good one, real good one. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  4. Joe Patterson - July 30, 2019 11:32 am

    Thanks again

    Reply
  5. Steve Scott - July 30, 2019 11:44 am

    A great start to the day! Thanks

    Reply
  6. Liz Watkins - July 30, 2019 11:47 am

    Good Morning Sean and thank you for reminding me to Count my Blessings!💕
    God Bless 🙏🏻
    Liz Watkins

    Reply
  7. Sue Carol Browning - July 30, 2019 11:53 am

    This might be your best article yet. Looking forward to meeting you this weekend!

    Reply
  8. Wayne Vaughan - July 30, 2019 12:24 pm

    Sounds like some good advice, I never forgot the woman who told me that Jesus would be coming back and I was only 7 or 8 years old, not knowing much, but somehow, I knew she was telling the truth.

    Reply
  9. June Gibson - July 30, 2019 12:38 pm

    I love you if for nothing else but the fact that you love books, books, books, and Lewis Grizzard, and the smell of books and old paper. We’re related !! But mostly I love you because you love….you have the biggest heart in the world.

    Reply
  10. (Kat)herine - July 30, 2019 1:11 pm

    It’s extremely sad that you love so many, so much, except you say nothing about kitties.

    Reply
  11. Gabrielle - July 30, 2019 2:02 pm

    That made me tear up!
    Here with my morning coffee, are some tears.
    This one is my favorite so far.
    Thank you for your talent.
    Have a great Tuesday.
    Gabby

    Reply
  12. Bobbie - July 30, 2019 2:11 pm

    Some people just throw words out there…meaningless…just saying what they think people want to hear. But you, Sean, are one of those souls who speak honestly and with feeling. Your heart comes through in your words. A beautiful list of blessings and I am blessed that you have shared them with me and all your readers. We love you back, Mr Dietrich😍.

    Reply
  13. Linda Moon - July 30, 2019 3:44 pm

    Dogs. I wish you had met Pyper. You two would’ve liked each other. Books. If you want more, you can’t have any of the hundreds of mine. THEY BOUNCED THIS POOR BOWLING BOWL TOWARD HOME. These are some of the most powerful words I’ve ever read. There’s some Levon Helm words/lyrics that have bounced around in my head all morning: “I’m only halfway home, I’ve gotta journey on…” I’m counting my blessings in this long journey I’ve been on. People and cancer try to hurt us! Let’s keep our ships on course, Sean!

    Reply
  14. Shelton A. - July 30, 2019 3:50 pm

    We all have so much to be grateful and thankful for: I’m thankful and grateful for you because of your list of things to be thankful for in our lives. Plus your columns always seem to start my day just right. Thanks! God bless you and Jamie.

    Reply
  15. Shelton A. - July 30, 2019 3:51 pm

    p.s. my dog is a rescue and she’s a sweetheart.

    Reply
  16. sholmes53 - July 30, 2019 4:23 pm

    I FELT every word you shared. Thank you for reminding me it’s the small things in life that make it all worthwhile, and …dogs!

    Reply
  17. Mary - July 30, 2019 4:50 pm

    Momma’s macaroni and cheese! You are a delight to the heart and soul

    Reply
  18. Lana Jones Barbaree - July 30, 2019 6:06 pm

    Meatloaf is worth it.

    Reply
  19. Amy - July 30, 2019 8:14 pm

    Reading your posts are just good for the soul!

    Reply
  20. Lainey Goen - July 30, 2019 10:51 pm

    Your honesty and transparency has moved me to a regular subscriber and I plan to read your books(not the ones in the garage). My hair is gray, my heart is full, I rarely get lipstick on my teeth and I live in Alabama. Your words are a breath of fresh air.

    Reply
  21. Estelle - July 31, 2019 7:59 am

    Thanks for reminding me to count my blessings. We tend to forget how truly blessed we are. Also I am thankful for you and your words. They bring help and hope, comfort and joy to so many of us. God’s blessings be with you. Love from Estelle

    Reply
  22. Judy Broussard - July 31, 2019 9:11 am

    You’re the greatest Sean. How about talking Jamie into giving us her pimento cheese recipe.

    Reply
  23. That's jack - August 1, 2019 4:55 am

    Good entry. Oh yes Tomatoes, and then white bread and mayonnaise. The rest is incidental.
    Love it all,
    Nite from, NC.
    Sherry & jack
    She will be by tomorrow.

    Reply
  24. Janet Mary Lee - August 1, 2019 3:55 pm

    Constellations by which you navigated. Gosh I love your mind and how it works!!! I have had many Blessings too! And you are one !! Bless you, Jamie and the pups!! And your family!! ((hugs!!)).

    Reply
  25. Jon Dragonfly - August 8, 2019 4:57 am

    Most of those Old Time Radio shows can be found and heard again at: http://www.otr.net

    Reply
  26. Jon Dragonfly - August 8, 2019 5:01 am

    Great Grandmother Ellison’s
    (Almost) Secret Recipe
    Pimento Cheese

    Ingredients:
    16 oz. Kraft Coon Brand New York Sharp Cheddar Cheese
    [now sold as Cracker Barrel Aged Reserve, in black wrapper]
    4 oz. Diced or sliced pimentos
    32 oz. Kraft Miracle Whip Salad Dressing
    ¼ tsp. Salt

    Procedure:
    Using a meat grinder with a small hole cutting plate, grind cubes of cheese while occasionally adding pimento to the grinder until all is ground together.
    Empty the salad dressing on top of the cheese/pimento mixture, add the salt, and stir, stir, stir. It will be very soupy. (Taste some on a Ritz cracker and ask your helper if it is salty enough.) (Don’t eat all of it now, it gets better.)
    Cover and let stand in the refrigerator for 24 hours. The cheese will absorb the dressing and the mixture will become somewhat stiff. Taste it now and if more salt is needed or more dressing is needed to “loosen” it up, they can be added.
    When ready, bottle it in the salad dressing bottle and the pimento bottles. The big bottle is for your family. The little bottles are for gifts to drive your friends crazy with desire for the Secret Recipe. Any that will not fit in the bottles, you get to eat right away.
    You must keep this refrigerated, it has no preservatives except what was in the original products. Grandma’s Pimento Cheese gets better the more it ages, the hard part is to not eat it up before it reaches its peak.

    This recipe was devised by Wilma Copeland Ellison sometime in the 1950s. She taught it to her son-in-law around 1970 (see, she did love me). She would be delighted to know that her love lives on in this creation.
    Wilma C. Ellison 1913 – 1989

    Reply

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