One by One

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.

Growing up, I frequented bookstores and libraries. I read too much. I love the was a book feels in my hand. I love the way the pages start going by faster during the good parts. Novels. Biographies. Comedies. Romances. Adventures. Classics. I have read every word Lewis Grizzard ever wrote at least three hundred and fifty-three times.

My whole life, all I ever wanted to be was a maker 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.

Anyone who has survived a pandemic.

The precious memories of those who didn’t.

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

Tonight, I don’t know if you sleep in a hospital bed, beside someone you love, on a friend’s sofa, beside your kids, or beneath the watchful eye of a hospice nurse. I don’t know if you’re happy or not. 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.

39 comments

  1. Anne - March 14, 2021 6:26 am

    You’re a good man, Sean Dietrich. Thanks to your mama for seeing to that.

    Reply
  2. Christina - March 14, 2021 7:46 am

    I can imagine your mama’s voice. Tell her I counted my blessings just now and am ready to try her meatloaf 😋

    Reply
  3. Paula Calhoun - March 14, 2021 9:17 am

    Well done, Sean! Thank you for your reminder of all my blessings today!

    Reply
  4. Janie - March 14, 2021 11:00 am

    I loved this! Thank you for the reminder about all of our many blessings!

    Reply
  5. Sharon Lawson - March 14, 2021 11:22 am

    Your column is such a brush of fresh air during these terrible times.

    Reply
  6. M. Dale Milita - March 14, 2021 11:31 am

    Thank you Sir,
    I too would endure whatever for just one more taste of my wife’s meatloaf, if only that were possible. Your loving and caring is what we all are supposed to be about.
    You and Jamie are loved.
    ~Dale

    Reply
  7. Linnea Miles - March 14, 2021 11:43 am

    Books that line my shelves and will be there forever were created by Lewis McDonald Grizzard. I would’ve married the man and cooked him sausage and milk gravy and meatloaf. My Sheltie is proudly named Lewis Grizzard, called Lewis. Actually C.S. Lewis Grizzard, my 2 favorite authors. How do we get your email address, Sean?

    Reply
  8. Suzi - March 14, 2021 11:50 am

    Making the start of my day humble, thankful and reflective, thank you

    Reply
  9. Jo Ann - March 14, 2021 12:05 pm

    Counting our blessings, the best way to start & end each day. Thank you for another morning talk, Sean. You are one of our blessings.

    Reply
  10. Phil (Brown Marlin) - March 14, 2021 12:18 pm

    Your mama is one wise woman! We all need to heed her advice every day. That old song comes to mind – “When you’re worried and you can’t sleep, count your blessings instead of sheep; and you’ll fall asleep, counting your ble-e-e-sings.”
    BTW, I like MY wife’s meatloaf, too. She is my greatest earthly blessing, and her cooking is not far behind.

    Reply
  11. Abbe Laboda - March 14, 2021 12:29 pm

    Thank you!

    Reply
  12. Kate - March 14, 2021 12:45 pm

    I am fortunate to have slept last night beside a wonderful man who is kind, funny and loving. He as been my husband for 21 years, and is a wonderful blessing as are our children, friends, relatives, and strangers like you Sean, who encourage us. One of my favorite hymns is “Count Your Blessings”, something we should do everyday, and marvel at how blessed we are, even in not so good times. My husband and I have had tough times, two bouts of cancer for me, him serving overseas in Afghanistan, challenges with children ( isn’t that most everyone). But every morning and every night we find something or someone to say thank you for. When I was going through chemo and so tired I could hardly move I would sit outside and feel the gentle breeze on my skin. I was thankful for that blessing and now 21 years later, that memory seems to be one of the strongest. ( I was diagnosed with breast cancer five months after we were married and my husband stayed, some don’t). Thanks Sean as always for the encouragement and reminders.

    Reply
  13. Heidi - March 14, 2021 1:06 pm

    Im Kind of superstitious, so believe that if you don’t Thank God every day for your “thankfuls” you might lose them! Needless to say, sometimes it’s awhile before we tuck into our meatloaf.😂
    Starting our tomatoes from seed today, inside on a heat mat. Spring is coming!!! I’m so thankful.

    Reply
  14. Denise Walker - March 14, 2021 1:15 pm

    Lewis Grizzard was one of the BEST Southern authors. EVER. He is still missed.

    Reply
  15. Eddy - March 14, 2021 1:30 pm

    Thanks Sean! And thanks to my best friend Chad. He is always sharing the delicious food he makes. Two weeks ago it t’was awesome meatloaf and heavenly creamed taters! LORI & I LOVE Y’ALL & MISS YOU IN THE REAL MISSISSIPPI DELTA!!

    Reply
  16. Farris Jones - March 14, 2021 1:32 pm

    Thank you God for all our many blessings , and all God’s people said AMEN !

    Reply
  17. Peggy Thompson - March 14, 2021 1:33 pm

    Love this…thank you!

    Reply
  18. Jan - March 14, 2021 1:36 pm

    Thank you, Sean, for the reminder that blessings are bountiful if you only stop a moment and reflect or open your eyes and heart to what is all around you.

    Reply
  19. Becky Kaufman - March 14, 2021 1:54 pm

    I’m glad you love meatloaf! It’s may husband’s favorite meal.

    Reply
  20. Sue Cronkite - March 14, 2021 1:55 pm

    Great reminder. I’m counting my blessings one by one and sing the song while I get breakfast together.

    Reply
  21. LaNix - March 14, 2021 2:59 pm

    Thanks for remembering that remarkable Bulldog, Lewis Grizzard. I still recall vividly his column about leaving Chicago after a miserable few years and returning to the Atlanta Journal. When making his flight reservations back to Georgia the ticket agent asked if it would be round trip. “No ma’am,” he said, “That’ll be one way.” I greatly appreciate your picking up the baton as a champion of the beauty and culture of the South.

    Reply
  22. Janette J. Anderson - March 14, 2021 3:39 pm

    Sean, you and I are Soul Mates. You don’t know that fact about us … but I do. This column SEALED that deal. I read Lewis Grizzard LONG before you ever heard his name – maybe before you were born! Lewis and I grew up in the same town. We had some common friends, but he was – sadly – never my friend – I just asked him from afar. He was 4 years (I think) older than I (or at least 4 grades ahead of me, or maybe 3) . Anyway, he was the friend of a friend of my first cousin. My cousin and he graduated together. She told me LOTS of stories about him. He grew up poor in Moreland, GA east (I THINK) of Newnan, GA. I grew up poor (on a textile mill village in Arnco, GA, west of Newnan GA. The local newspaper printed a section in their weekly newspaper dedicated to each of the three Coweta County high schools: Newnan High (where Lewis and my cousin attended); East Coweta, about which I know little, except that they had good basketball teams; and Western High, where I attended along with most of the other “Lint Heads” (as many of the Newnan High students referenced us because our parents worked in the cotton mills at Arnco Village and Sargent Village). Lewis was not one of those who called us that name, though. Anyway, I digress. The Newnan Times Herald printed the schools’ “news” in its weekly publication, and Lewis Grizzard wrote a weekly column that was published in the Newnan High School section of weekly Herald. I could NOT turn to the page to read his column fast enough on Thursdays when I would rush to the vending box at my uncle’s country store and put my dime in to collect my copy! I longed for more “Grizzard Stories” once he graduated from high school. It was a LONG DRY SPELL between those “Tiger Tales” stories (Newnan High School’s major was a tiger … a life- sized stuffed tiger that they rolled around on a platform was the highlight of parades around the Court House Square for Homecoming and at Christmas, and such.) and throughout his professional career! IMAGINE my joy when the Atlanta Journal and Constitution started carrying a LEWIS GRIZZARD COLUMN!!!!!

    From those columns, I soon “graduated” to his books, then his appearances on TV variety shows, and his recorded story telling personal appearances. I own most of his books, and I think I’ve read ALL of them, even the ones I don’t own. I listen … often … to his recordings … and they are as funny and as accurate to life today as the first time I heard them.

    One of the reasons I became an avid reader and have subscribed to your emailed articles is that your work appeals to me in much the same way as does Grizzard’s work … and I have NEVER made that statement to ANY OTHER WRITER!

    THANK YOU for so poignantly representing the segment of society that is not always “proper,” and depicting us as “GOOD PEOPLE.”

    If you read this comment, I would LOVE to hear from you. I taught high school English for 46 years, and I do KNOW “authentic voices” (as English writing “professionals” like to call it) … AND YOU, MY FRIEND HAVE MASTERED THAT ART!

    Reply
  23. Linda - March 14, 2021 3:45 pm

    I woke up this morning thinking I might make meatloaf. Now I know I will

    Reply
  24. Julie - March 14, 2021 4:03 pm

    My Mother turned this song into our “Good Night” lullaby when I was 3 years old in 1954…

    🎶 When I’m worried and I can’t sleep,
    I count my blessings instead of sheep,
    And I fall asleep counting my blessings.
    When my bankroll is getting small,
    I think of when I had none at all,
    And I fall asleep counting my blessings.

    I think about a nursery, and I picture curly heads,
    And one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds.
    If you’re worried and you can’t sleep,
    Just count your blessings instead of sheep,
    And you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings.🎵

    From the movie “White Christmas”, composed by Irving Berlin, and sung by Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby.

    Reply
  25. Linda Moon - March 14, 2021 5:10 pm

    Runny yolks in fried eggs. Cotton sheets fresh off the clothesline. Abbott and Costello. Homegrown backyard tomatoes. Books. These are among my favorite things. However, one cannot read too much. Repeat: “cannot”. You’ve made some good reads for us, Author. And being bounced toward home is one of the most beautifully unique descriptions of LIFE itself that I’ve ever read. Life, with all its blessings and challenges, is worth it.

    Reply
  26. Jenny Young - March 14, 2021 5:18 pm

    Yesterday I added a little sign to my living room that says, ‘Go ahead. Count your blessing.’ I need those reminders.

    Reply
  27. Cathy Moss - March 14, 2021 6:02 pm

    You continue to bless so many. I hat the privilege of being in your audience maybe two yrs ago at St. Stephens Episcopal church in B’ham. As I got out of my car, I realized that you were parked next to me and we had a short but great visit before you spoke. I had a visit with a very close friend yesterday who has made the move to a retirement home. That’s just hard. I told her that three yrs ago I had a grandson in the NICU at Children’s. Dark time. Did not know which way it would go. His precious Mama and I were in his room one day and she handed me a little notebook with blank pages. She told me it was a gratitude journal. Just jot down a few things that occur during the day that make you feel grateful. An old song on the radio that takes you back to a great time, a fabulous BLT, an afternoon spent with a friend of forty plus yrs that included laughter and the words I Love You as I departed. Gratitude is medicine for the soul. That baby who was so sick in NICU is now three. He has Downs Syndrome and is nothing less that a bucket of live and has just begun to walk on his own. He even knows how to kiss and I can’t get enough. After this past yr., we all need to be more aware of our blessings than ever before. Your message is on my list today. Keep on keepin on and my compliments to your Mama. She is what all good moms strive to be❤️🙏🏻👏

    Reply
  28. Paul Alge Moore - March 14, 2021 6:25 pm

    Your an old soul Sean. You seem to have more in common with people my age ( 66. Dogs. Hank sr. Meatloaf Grizzard C T Windham. It’s good to have you there. Thanks

    Reply
  29. Ronald Smith - March 14, 2021 7:11 pm

    I have enjoyed reading your wonderful, uplifting columns for years. I SAVED this one. I have never done that before.

    Reply
  30. Linda Holmes - March 14, 2021 9:18 pm

    YOU are a blessing. Thank you for making me laugh and making me cry.

    Reply
  31. Dean - March 14, 2021 11:54 pm

    Thank You for another great column. I needed to be reminded to count my blessing everyday.

    Reply
  32. JonDragonfly - March 14, 2021 11:56 pm

    MEATLOAF!
    Thanks Jamie and Sean

    Reply
  33. Delphia Smith - March 15, 2021 12:32 am

    Honestly you would make anyone feel better!

    Reply
  34. Betsy DeVan - March 15, 2021 12:35 am

    Thank you for a great column. Always enjoy your writing!

    Reply
  35. didyouseethis - March 15, 2021 12:51 am

    <3

    Reply
  36. Liz Bishop - March 15, 2021 12:54 am

    I’d love to buy the young girl new shoes. Send me a size and address?

    Reply
    • Melanie - March 15, 2021 4:06 am

      Liz beat me to it. If there’s a way to do this I’m in.

      Reply
  37. Evelyn McCarthy - March 15, 2021 1:38 pm

    I loved this article! I also have a heart for Children’s as I spent several weeks of my life there recovering from a brain injury that I nearly died from. The last 11 years of my life I have kept doctoring there and yes, my favorite doctors and therapists are there!

    Reply
  38. Sandra - March 15, 2021 2:45 pm

    Comparing people who hurt you to inflatable bumpers and then saying they were better than friends! This hit me like a ton of bricks! How great that you can view them from this perspective. You are a blessing!

    Reply

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