Public Places

Birmingham. A public park. It was sunny. I was walking my bloodhound, Thelma Lou, trying to get her to do her business. I wore a blue plastic poop-baggy over my hand. Ready for action.

The park was alive with people. People of all kinds. From all walks.

I passed a priest. The padre was elderly, with dandelion-fuzz hair. He walked on the paved track alongside a young man whose hair was in cornrows, whose skin was painted in tattoos. They were having a discussion about something evidently important.

At one point I think the boy was crying. Whereupon the priest put his arm around the young man and they hug-walked in silence.

I also passed a middle-aged man with freckles, sitting on a blanket with his beautiful Asian wife. They were having a fancy picnic, complete with champagne. My dog nosed around their plates and we were instantly introduced. We talked.

“Today is our 30th anniversary,” said the woman. “We met when we were in the Air Force, overseas, in Germany.”

I asked them to say something in German.

“Ich liebe dich,” they said to each other. Then they kissed.

I asked what this phrase meant. The woman just smiled at me and said, “Look it up.”

I practiced this phrase several times, committing it to memory, using a faux German accent. But, much to their amusement, I sounded like a prodigious idiot.

Meanwhile, in the distance, I saw a busload of young Black girls filtering into the park. They were maybe 8 or 9 years old. There must have been a hundred of them.

They were running on the track, jogging in various directions, hollering, laughing, doing cartwheels. Some wore school uniforms. Many had beads in their hair.

Several girls were playing elaborate hand-clap games at breakneck tempos, shouting in loud rhymes.

“Double double this, this! Double double that, that…!”

A few of the girls were interested in my dog and followed me.

“What’s your dog’s name!?” they shouted.

“Thelma Lou.”

“THELMA LOU!” they all swooned.

One little girl reached into her pocket to remove a handful of candy. “Does Thelma Lou like Starburst?”

Does she like Starburst? Thelma Lou’s idea of a five-star meal is cat poop á la mode. So yes, she likes Starburst. And, as it happens, so do I. So everything worked out.

Next, I met an older woman who was supervising a half dozen young adults who shuffled along the track, walking with uneven gaits and uncoordinated movements. Some of these young people were talking aloud to themselves. One of the young men was constantly slapping himself.

As I passed him, the young man spoke between slaps to his temples. “LOOK! A DOGGY!”

The next thing I knew, my dog and I were swarmed by six dog lovers. Thelma Lou had 12 hands petting her at once.

“YOU’RE SUCH A PRETTY DOGGY!” said one of the young men.

“I LOVE YOU,” said another woman.

The young man who was striking himself said, “THANK YOU FOR LETTING ME PET YOUR DOG, I NEVER GET TO PET DOGS WHERE I LIVE.”

Then I received several hugs from strangers, and a few handshakes.

I nearly choked on my Starburst.

When I reached the parking area, I met two Ukranian young men. I know that is the country they were from because they told me so. They came to Alabama for school, not long before their homeland erupted in a bloodred war.

They were eating lunch at a picnic table, speaking in rapid-fire Ukrainian. Before their meal, I noticed them praying together. I don’t speak Ukrainian, but it doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to know what they were praying for.

When I asked the young men if they missed their homes, they smiled painfully, and one answered, “I miss my mother.”

When our walk was finished, my dog still had not done her business, but I was thinking about how much I’ve changed as a person over the years.

I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but long ago I used to think this world was indifferent to me. I felt alone, isolated, disconnected, different, outcast, and fill in the blank. But I don’t feel that way anymore. Not here. Not now. Not today.

Sometimes I look at people in public places and I feel so similar to my fellow human that it’s bewildering. Corny as it sounds, sometimes I feel like we’re all related somehow. And I make no apologies for my corniness; I grew up watching “Love Boat.”

Still, oftentimes I wish it wouldn’t have taken me so many years to fall in love with the human race. I wish I wouldn’t have wasted so much time.

I told the Ukrainian young men that I sincerely hope they see their mothers soon.

“Thank you,” they said.

I crawled into my truck and waved goodbye. Then I noticed the young men snickering at me because, as it turned out, my hand was still covered in a vibrant blue plastic poop-baggy.

Ich liebe dich.

48 comments

  1. Tadpole - April 26, 2022 6:24 am

    Best one so far

    Reply
  2. Joseph Mullan - April 26, 2022 7:10 am

    Really enjoyed this read and all the different characters..Nice and easy ..

    Reply
  3. Lander - April 26, 2022 8:52 am

    Good stuff, Sean. Took me a while too. Funny how we’re reluctant to admit falling in love with the world around us.

    Reply
  4. Jocelyn P - April 26, 2022 9:20 am

    Another feel good to be human story. Thanks. Your statements always give me a boost. The world is made up all types. All interesting in their own way.

    Reply
  5. Kitty Rowell - April 26, 2022 9:58 am

    You made my day!! You are a gift to us all. Thank you!

    Reply
  6. Wendy - April 26, 2022 10:00 am

    I think this is perfect.

    Reply
  7. terry - April 26, 2022 10:16 am

    Ich liebe dich – I love you. The word “believe” is rooted in the German word “belieben” which means to love. So when you believe in someone, or the whole human race, you are loving them, giving them your heart.

    Reply
  8. Edith Clark - April 26, 2022 10:32 am

    It means I love you, and I do young man.
    I am in south Texas where it is currently flooding. First rain in 3 months.

    Reply
  9. Barbara M. PFLUM - April 26, 2022 10:36 am

    Thank you for your uplifting article every day!

    Reply
  10. Christine - April 26, 2022 10:52 am

    Yes, I pray those young men see their Moms soon♥️

    Reply
  11. Sally Ann Sisson - April 26, 2022 10:58 am

    I almost feel like I’ve taken that walk in the part myself! Love it!

    Reply
  12. Susan - April 26, 2022 10:59 am

    I love how observant and interested you are in everything around you! I am going to try to do the same! Thank you, Sean♥️♥️

    Reply
  13. dbt57 - April 26, 2022 11:18 am

    Sean’s writing warms the heart.

    Reply
  14. Carla Walrath - April 26, 2022 11:19 am

    Ich liebe dich, too! Beautiful, Sean! My eyes are leaking. Bless you, bless you, bless you!

    Reply
  15. Karl - April 26, 2022 11:39 am

    I love you. (Ich leibe dich)

    Reply
  16. Lauri Reeg - April 26, 2022 11:50 am

    Thank you! A perfect story, but makes me miss Birmingham…. Crestwood Park, maybe?😊

    Reply
  17. Patricia Collins - April 26, 2022 11:52 am

    Love the way you presented this story! I love your column, keep it up ! Ich leibe dich

    Reply
  18. Paul McCutchen - April 26, 2022 12:01 pm

    Nice one Sean, hope Thelma Lou did decide to wait till she got in the house to do her “business”.

    Reply
  19. Tom - April 26, 2022 12:20 pm

    Ich liebe dich mien freund

    Reply
  20. Gladtobealive - April 26, 2022 12:28 pm

    Ich liebe dich. I love you. And, you, and you and you!

    Reply
  21. Porky Pig - April 26, 2022 12:41 pm

    I love you, too, Sean!!

    Reply
  22. Jan - April 26, 2022 12:50 pm

    You bring the world right into my home and I love it! I love you, too! Thank you, Sean!

    Reply
  23. Ruth Mitchell - April 26, 2022 1:28 pm

    Thank you for the reminder: we are all connected. Wrapping those connections in love will make a better world.

    Reply
  24. Sonya Tuttle - April 26, 2022 1:30 pm

    🥰🥰🥰🥳🥳🥳😇😇😇

    Reply
  25. Donna W - April 26, 2022 1:52 pm

    You are a beautiful human being. Thank you for sharing these stories written from your heart.

    Reply
  26. Doris Putnal - April 26, 2022 1:56 pm

    We all love you as well, Sean Even with a blue bagged hand.

    Reply
  27. Marie - April 26, 2022 1:58 pm

    Home bound now. Thank you for the walk with Thelma Lou today. I met so many interesting folks. ❤️

    Reply
  28. Dale Parsons - April 26, 2022 1:58 pm

    Wonderful.

    Reply
  29. Pingback: Sean of the South: Public Places | The Trussville Tribune

  30. Krista - April 26, 2022 2:11 pm

    <3

    Reply
  31. Linda Tucker - April 26, 2022 2:36 pm

    As you begin to wander around Alabama, you should go to Clanton during the peach season for some of the best peaches you will ever taste. Also, you should go visit Hank Williams grave in Montgomery.

    Reply
  32. AlaRedClayGirl - April 26, 2022 3:00 pm

    Ich liebe dich. Yes, we should all love one another – although we don’t have to necessarily “like” them. Sometimes it is still difficult.

    Reply
  33. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - April 26, 2022 3:42 pm

    Reply
  34. Laura Bendall - April 26, 2022 4:43 pm

    This one was a home run!!! Thanks for writing!

    Reply
  35. Linda Moon - April 26, 2022 6:19 pm

    Thelma Lou! I haven’t read much about her lately and was glad to see her name here. I think the human race fell in love with you long ago, Sean, and you’ve now reciprocated. Ich liebe dich too!

    Reply
  36. Jerry York - April 26, 2022 6:55 pm

    “And I say to myself, ‘What a wonderful world…..!'”

    Reply
  37. pattymack43 - April 26, 2022 7:10 pm

    Back at you!! And “Amen!”

    Reply
  38. pattymack43 - April 26, 2022 7:11 pm

    P.S. Ditto Jerry York!!

    Reply
  39. Becky+Souders - April 26, 2022 8:57 pm

    As many words as you give us, Sean Dietrich, I don’t think you are wasting time at all! Danke.

    Reply
  40. MAM - April 26, 2022 9:55 pm

    Walks, dogs and other people simply go together. Dogs, especially ones with Thelma Lou’s presence and personality, draw people to them. And you, as her owner, get to write stories about all those interesting folks you meet. Keep your stories coming daily. I always read them with appreciation.Thanks, Sean. Give Thelma Lou a pat for me.

    Reply
  41. MiMi - April 27, 2022 5:43 am

    I absolutely am totally consumed with your writing. Best. One. Ever. Thank you.

    Reply
  42. Lynne Davis - April 27, 2022 9:27 am

    I love your article each morning. As a former high school English teacher in Mobile (welcome to Alabama!), I have to polish one bit of your grammar: instead of saying “would have,” use “had.” Instead of saying, “If I wouldn’t have been so picky,” say “if I hadn’t been so picky.” Can’t remember the reason one is proper and the other isn’t, but the rule exits. I haven’t cried since my daddy died when I was nineteen (I’m 73 now), but sometimes I almost do when reading some of your articles. Thx, Lynne

    Reply
  43. Kim Morris Ladoczky - April 27, 2022 1:43 pm

    I believe that people are inherently good… you just provide the evidence. Thank You

    Reply
  44. Penn Wells - April 27, 2022 1:55 pm

    There will continue to be war and racism until we finally accept the fact that we are all one. Sadly, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

    Reply
  45. Larry Wall - April 27, 2022 7:45 pm

    Sean, first off, great writing today. It helps us all to be reminded that we are to love one another. It is one of our Christ’s commissions to the apostles and to us. Then, your comment about taking some time to love others, well, that is how all love takes place typically. It very seldom happens in the twinkling of an eye although, that is exactly how I felt about the lady that I have spent the last 59 years with. Love usually happens with a mere noticing of another human being and then seems to creep upon us gradually until we reach that point where we must be with another in order to feel happy. You do seem to love all people.
    Ich Liebe Dich!

    Reply
  46. Kathy - April 27, 2022 9:27 pm

    Ich liebe dich. Jaime won’t mind because I’m 70 years old and happily married. The nice thing about loving people is paying attention so you know whom you’re loving.

    Reply
  47. Dorothy Calloway - April 28, 2022 2:12 pm

    I read your messages everyday to my husband. We laugh, we cry, but always are uplifted for the day’s beginning. We are in our late seventies and remember much about your stories of days gone by. Never give up!!

    Reply
  48. Daphne Woodall - May 1, 2022 10:35 am

    Love your everyday observations. Miss our dog Annie. You make great case for having another dog. Not that I’ll convince hubby who tired of repairs after thunder storms. I write fiction but you make a great case for nonfiction. Enjoy your musical talent. Keep sharing your words. I can relate. Grew up watching Mayberry, Ed Sullivan and remember watching and listening to the National Anthem when television wasn’t 24/7. Visit us again in NC!

    Reply

Leave a Comment