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.


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.


  1. stephen e acree - August 29, 2023 10:03 am

    “And cotton clothes that just came off a summer clothesline……. I have read every word Lewis Grizzard ever wrote at least fifty-three times…….Fishing when I should be working. Sleeping when I should be fishing…….. I frequented bookstores and libraries. I read too much. Novels. Biographies. Comedies. Romances. Adventures. Classics……..I would get meatloaf”

    Must have been separated at birth………these things make life worth living,………

  2. Daisy - August 29, 2023 12:57 pm

    Lightning bugs and cicadas! Thunderstorms, speckled butter beans, Sea Breeze for mosquito bites, hide and seek, badminton, cane pole fishing!

  3. Bill in Tennessee - August 29, 2023 1:36 pm

    Oh I DO remember our phone number when I was a child! It was in a small east Tennessee town, cut off from the world except for the railroad that went through and a winding mountainous road that took HOURS to get to from any city of consequence. Our telephone company was locally owned by a cooperative, had women who worked a switchboard, and who knew me by name when I called my parents at work. Our phone was a “party line”, which meant we share the line with everyone on our little country road… and we could always rely on nosy Miss Jeffers up the road to listen in on our conversations… on very IMPORTANT conversations like what was for dinner that night, or if one of my siblings was sick, or (once) had fallen out of a tree and broke his arm.

    Our number was J-28… yup, that was it. Just plain old J-28. And the phone itself hung on the wall and weighed probably about 20 pounds, maybe more. To use it, I had to stand of a little stool to reach the phone, and I was under STRICT orders to use it only in an emergency. And I had the good sense to know when something was an emergency or just a whim or want that I had.

    No one called in carry-out in those days; the concept would have been too foreign to us. We had relatives in Norfolk, VA, and Bedford, OH in those days, before terms like VA and OH were a thing. And when my parents wanted to talk to them, they would get the lady at the coop phone company on the line, tell her who they wanted to talk to, and then hang up for it would take several minutes for the lady to patch through a call via many different phone companies, with actual plugs being pulled and inserted into boards by other ladies of other phone companies.

    After what would seem an eternity, our phone would ring, all the connections had been made, and then we could talk to my aunts and uncles in those places that were so far away from us that they seemed like exotic lands to us hillbillies in the hinterlands of east Tennessee.

    I miss the “complex simplicity” of those days, when everything was mechanical and driven by humans … AND THEY WORKED! Modern technology was supposed to make our lives easier and more convenient; but all it’s done is make us 24/7/365 slaves to that technology, where people are chained to their phones and screens as if that is where life is lived.

  4. David in California - August 29, 2023 3:08 pm

    My list of blessings includes Sean of the South who reminds me of things I’ve forgotten, or only rarely remember, and often challenges me to “do better.”

  5. Renita Dirks - August 30, 2023 11:11 am

    The old song says:
    When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed
    Do not be discouraged thinking all is lost
    Count your many blessings name them one by one
    And it will surprise you what the Lord has done!
    When I was growing up this song was traditionally sung at Thanksgiving, but it seems like it would be a great song to sing every day.
    Thanks for the reminder, Sean!

  6. Gail Landgraf - September 16, 2023 4:36 pm

    Life is such a beautiful blessing! You express it so well. I laugh and I cry every time I read your posts.


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