September 11th: My Father’s Birthday

The next day: I counted four hundred American flags hanging from every nook and cranny of our world. At our construction site, we hung a two-story flag. My friend even got a flag tattoo on his ankle.

The day the planes hit the towers in New York was my late father’s birthday. I was at work. Ten of us stood on a job site, hands resting on toolbelts, sweating like hogs, listening to a radio the size of a rice box.

The commentator announced: “America is doomed, folks.”


Five fellas cut work early. One foreman called his sister in Manhattan. The rest of us just looked for atomic mushroom clouds.

The next day: I counted four hundred American flags hanging from every nook and cranny of our world. At our construction site, we hung a two-story flag. My friend even got a flag tattoo on his ankle.

I’m not going to mince words. I love this land. You want to know why?

I thought you’d never ask.

The Everglades at sunrise, there’s the first reason.

Alabama football. There’s number two.

Furthermore: I’ve been fortunate enough to do a few patriotic things in my day. Like baling hay in middle Alabama. Or: shooting a coon in south Georgia—then eating the god-forsaken thing with ketchup.

I’ve seen the Oak Ridge Boys sing “Elvira,” and Mel Tillis sing “Coca-Cola Cowboy.” I’ve changed a tire on an Oklahoma highway. I’ve raised leghorns, and wrung more red-rock necks than I can shake a wishbone at.

I’ve camped inside the Grand Canyon, and shaken hands with Mickey Mouse in Orlando. I’ve watched Steel Magnolias nearly seven thousand times.

I’ve eaten pozole prepared by a Mexican family who lived in the woods. I worked one summer on a cattle farm—and slept under the stars after a full day tagging heifer ears. I’ve fished in the Gulf of Mexico, seen two tornadoes, and washed my drawers in the Mississippi River.

I’ve worked in an ice cream shop—and gained fourteen pounds. I’ve staked heirlooms, boiled peanuts, eaten homemade biscuits, and drank bathtub moonshine. I can eat a full jar of peanut butter. I’ve pulled over for automobile funeral processions, and been part of a few.

I’ve heard a man pray in tongues at a funeral, I’ve attended exactly one Junior League meeting, and I have been inebriated at the Iron Bowl.

I’ve watched Willie Nelson sing, “America the Beautiful,” I’ve eaten Conecuh sausage, and I’ve shot bottle rockets on the Fourth of July.

I own fifty pairs of Levi 501’s, drink warm beer from a can, have mediocre health insurance, and I’d rather waste money on a baseball game than a cruise to Greece.

My roughneck father was born on the eleventh day of September. My ancestors are blue-collar nothings. Just like me. I’m a nobody. I haven’t done anything remotely noteworthy, and most likely, you don’t even know who I am.

But I’m American.

And I’m proud as hell about it.


  1. Sybil Smith - September 13, 2016 1:38 pm

    You are a REAL somebody to so many of us who can’t wait for tomorrow column!
    Keep em coming, with thanks to you.

    • Elizabeth Thomasson - January 29, 2017 2:18 am

      I love your writing style and look forward to reading one of your short stories every day, they make me laugh, some make me cry, and most of them I can personally identify with the settings and places you write about.
      I want to tell you up front that this is not a criticism but rather an observation concerning pigs. You wrote, “sweating like hogs” in this story and I did not know if knew that hogs do not sweat. I think they would enjoy sweating to stay cool in the hot southern summers, but they just can’t sweat to cool themselves down. Hogs root up the dirt and wallow in mud holes to keep cool. But I am guessing that you probabably smelled like hogs if you were shoveling on that hot September 11th day.

  2. Sharon Norris - January 28, 2017 3:01 pm

    Sean, you’ve become a favorite “nobody”of mine. Thanks for the stories.

  3. Joseph Mullan - January 28, 2017 3:02 pm

    Quality…1st class Thanks again Sean

  4. Connie - January 28, 2017 3:13 pm

    Sean you make my America real everyday! Remind me of the simple things I take for granted…thank you!!

  5. Linda - January 28, 2017 3:17 pm

    You are our somebody. September 11 was my niece’s birthday also. She died at the young age of 48 from cancer, the day before my birthday…we were the same age. That horrible day in New York she would have been 49. Horrible tragic day for a lot of people.

  6. NANCY P WARD - January 28, 2017 4:28 pm

    You are the best author this side of heaven and you can always make my day brighter. 🙂

  7. Patricia Hartzog - January 28, 2017 4:33 pm

    They say, “You can tell the character of a man by the smile on his wife’s face”.
    You may be nobody but you sure have/are a character, read by many & beloved by ll!

  8. Patricia Hartzog - January 28, 2017 4:33 pm

    They say, “You can tell the character of a man by the smile on his wife’s face”.
    You may be nobody but you sure have/are a character, read by many & beloved by all!

  9. Judy Justice Reunion chardson - June 5, 2017 4:21 pm

    My 47th anniversary with be September 11 this year. In 1970, USC came to Birmingham for the first time in 25 years to play Alabama. My Mother informed me that I would need to change my September 12 wedding date or I would be missing my Mom at my wedding. I got married on Friday night, the 11th. But at my wedding, I noticed none of my Shelby County uncles were there. It was a Friday night high school football. I sure hope Vincent won.

    • Patricia Nehren - September 12, 2017 1:43 am

      You just made me smile, right along side of that beautiful soul, Sean. Love reading you nobodies! Signed, nobody, too!

  10. Mary Crenshaw - September 11, 2017 9:06 am

    And I was remembering the loss/death of my youngest son, sinking into dis-pare, when the news flashed and I thought..all those mommas have lost their sons and daughters. I wept for their their loss and my own, but more for their new pain.

  11. Lisa - September 11, 2017 10:04 am

    Sean, thank you so much for your stories. Today is September 11, 2017, it’s my 37th birthday, just another day. September 11, 2001 however, is a day that I, along with millions of others will never forget. That year though, was my 21st birthday. All I wanted to do was buy myself some wine coolers legally, lol….instead, I stayed home & cried. I cried for America. I just want to say a big THANK YOU to those who serve our country on the front lines each & every day!
    Sincerely, Lisa

  12. Mary Ann Massey - September 11, 2017 1:17 pm

    And, how quickly some forget. To the best of my checking out different stations, Fox News and C-Span are the only stations carrying the readings and memories this year……Sean, thank you for bringing back to some memories, the reality of that day. For some of us, it is indelibly impressed in our brains…..

  13. Vicky - September 11, 2017 1:22 pm

    Well, MR. Nobody, you definitely have some flashes of brilliance when you turn a lovely phrase.

  14. Mickey - September 11, 2017 1:46 pm

    I love America❤️ I pray that one day we will all be united in the same love of our country.❤️?? Thank you once again for a great read.❤️

  15. Donna Oliphint - September 11, 2017 2:08 pm

    It’s the nobodies who make this country great.

  16. Judy - September 11, 2017 2:11 pm

    My first impulse after I saw the news from New York on that morning was to put my flag out. I almost felt defiant.

    A day or two later, flags were flying in the median of a major thoroughfare of Montgomery – Atlanta Highway. My three year granddaughter and her mother were driving toward town on that highway. My granddaughter was taking in the parade of US flags and commented “Someone woke up the flags.”

    It was also on that date, but a few years later that my father, a USAF Retired VietNam Vet, lost his so very courageous battle with lung cancer.

    I have a lot to remember on 9/11.

  17. unkle - September 11, 2017 4:55 pm

    9 11 departed with my Iwo Jima Marine friend John Price to go fishing .I heard about the first attack while he was in the dentest office. Then the next tower attack and we realized we were under attack. I got a little scared and offered we might need to get to the house. John looked at me and said “I can remember when them Japs attacked Pearl harbor . We are a big and powerful country. Don’t stop living just to be scared. Lets get on to Lake Eufaula and catch some fish” It was a strange day as normally a lot of planes doing the Atlanta to Dothan run were not there.A few high flying military jets flew over all day . We caught a box of fish , they were not scared just hungry. Occasionally I would get a call about the Pentagon and then the HEROES that were able to take the first defensive action agenst the goat lovers when they said LET’S ROLL and messed up the little bad people’s plan. Into a field they went. Holy ground now all the sites of all the crashes. But as the great one Toby sang ” we wlll put a boot in your ass, and we did! NEVER FORGET not for a second. They started it , we are going to finish them ! Insert boot here. GOD BLESS THE USA

  18. Linda Bailey - September 11, 2017 5:35 pm

    Sean you may think you’re a nobody but how very wrong you are. You humble so many of readers everyday with your stories of just plain simple of days gone by. I’m one of them. May the good Lord bless you and your family abundantly

  19. Lee Daugherty - September 13, 2017 7:27 am

    I was in Arizona , just past the Palo Verda nuke plant. We were building a gas turbine Elec. Plant for Duke Energy. I worked for MMR. I remember exactly where I was on the job site and who gave me the news. My friend said you no we are right next to the largest or one of the largest Nuke plants in the country. Fighters from Luke Air Force Base were circling all over. Not having smart phones then. We had no communication with anyone. That was an eerie feeling in the middle of the desert .

  20. Susan Poland - September 15, 2017 2:46 am

    My son was born on 9-11…he hated that…it made him sad. He was my hero. He died in 2016 but I always celebrate him first, America next.

  21. E j johnson. A Kentuckian in Atlanta Georgia. - September 12, 2020 12:03 pm

    I must tell you. You are one great American. And like you I love America I preach. Kindness. I hope 🤞 I can read your writings again. You are loved.

  22. Susan Wold - September 14, 2020 4:15 pm

    My daughter also has the 9/11 bday. On that day she was turning 21 years old and planning to party the night away with friends. When she came home from work she turned on the TV, because at work she only was hearing news on the radio. In that moment, she watched the quickly squelched footage of people jumping from the towers. Then screen went black. When her crying stopped she said “I don’t want to celebrate my birthday.” I tried to explain that we have to go on with life, even when it’s hard. When I told her I was going to a prayer service at our church that night she called her friends to meet her there. She spent her 21 bday praying for our county, families and workers. After the service her friends all went home to be with their families. My daughter grew up a lot that night. 9/11 has become much more than my daughter’s bday. It is a day to celebrate those whose lives were lost. My daughter and I vow to never forget them and to always pray for their families, who have had to endure life without them.


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