Spring Hill

My father took me to his jobsite one day. The automotive plant was almost finished. He explained the ins and the outs of ironwork to me, but his words were miles above my head.

The General Motors Plant is closed today. It’s a Sunday. The parking lot is empty. The air is chilly. The way the sun hits the sheet-metal makes it look almost beautiful.

My father spent two years building this plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, not long before he died.

My father’s white welding truck would sit parked out front. Hoses dangling from the back, a clipboard on the dashboard, a welding mask in his front seat. Always a welding mask.

You would’ve liked him, everyone did. He was a foreman on this GM plant. Being a foreman in Tennessee was big news for him. Before, he’d always been just a welder. But a foreman, that meant he was more than just a worker bee. He was some body.

Being “somebody” isn’t the same as being “some body.” That single space between the two words makes all the difference.

You might run into “somebody” at the supermarket. But if you run into Jimmy Carter at the supermarket, you’ve just met “some body.”

My father took me to his jobsite one day. The automotive plant was almost finished. He explained the ins and the outs of ironwork to me, but his words were miles above my head.

He talked about footers, joists, girders, column splices, and I can’t remember what else. All I remember is the welding mask, sitting on his front seat.

When the big project was finished, my father took his wife and boy to Nashville for a celebration meal. It was a fancy restaurant with white table cloths. My French fries were reddish-colored and spicy.

I’d never seen fries look so unnaturally colored before.

“What’re these?” I asked, poking at my plate. I expected a tentacle to slither from beneath the fries and steal my fork.

“Those’re seasoned fries,” my father said. “All the big cities have seasoned fries.”

“What’re they seasoned with?”

“Oh, you know,” my father explained. “Seasonings and such.”

I refused the fries. But my mother forced me to eat them because there were starving children in the Soviet Union who would’ve been grateful to have seasoned reddish-colored French fries and I should’ve been ashamed of myself when kids my age in impoverished nations had to do their schoolwork on rolls of toilet paper.

I suggested to my mother that we box up my fries, and send them first class to the Soviet Union.

My mother almost wore me out with a table napkin.

Anyway my father was a hero of mine back then. He taught me everything I knew. How to ride a bike, to sing old hymns, to pitch a baseball, to swing a bat, and how to slide into first—belly down, hands up.

He taught me to open doors for females, even if I had to jog ahead of them to do it. How to sip a beer without gagging. He taught me to remove my hat indoors—even if my hair looked bad.

He taught me to tell stories. And of course jokes:

A man walks into a bar with a kitten on his shoulder. The cat is wearing a green bikini and lipstick.

“My Lord in Heaven!” the bartender exclaims. “Where in the world did you find something like that?”

The cat says, “I bought it at Walmart.”

And another:

A man says to his wife: “My uncle died last week of old age.”

The wife replies, “Really? That’s terrible. I never met your uncle, what did he do?”

“Well,” the man says, “he kinda grabbed his chest and gasped for air.”

Then there was the one about the Georgia hog farmer, holding a pig above his head so the animal could eat peaches from a tree. When the hog finished eating, the farmer lifted another hog above his shoulders to let it eat peaches the same way.

A drifter passed by and said: “Why’re you holding pigs above your head? Wouldn’t it be smarter to pick the peaches from the tree instead, to save time?”

“Nah,” The farmer said. “What’s time to a hog?”

You had to be there, I guess. Daddy could really tell them good.

I drive around the parking lot of the GM plant. I am the only person around for miles. I step out of my vehicle and walk the perimeter.

It might not look like much to some people, but to me it’s the biggest mark my father ever made upon this world.

The factory is the size of a city. I peeked through the chain link fence at what my father built. It was quite an achievement, building this. I reach the end of the parking lot. There, in the corner parking space is a work vehicle. Just one.

It is a white work truck. There is an oxygen canister on the back, hoses dangling. The truck is empty.

I peer into the windows. I almost know what I am going to see before I even see it. Inside there is a clipboard on the dashboard. And a welding mask on the front seat.

You never get over the death of a loved one. And you wouldn’t want to, either.

My father was some body.

34 comments

  1. Jim Keith - March 11, 2019 7:05 am

    I hate ‘daylight savings time’!!! You are an hour later than last week and I find that if I don’t read your post before I go to bed, I can’t get to sleep because I lay there wondering what mysteries you are going to unravel on that particular morning.

    I am not complaining about you. I am complaining about those “wise” men who actually believe that moving the hands of a clock is going to add more daylight in a 24 hour period.

    The arithmetic that I learned in grammar school isn’t advanced enough for me to reach the same conclusion as those brilliant minds that added all of that extra time to play baseball outside in the summertime.

    HAVE A GREAT DAY!!!!!

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  2. Karen - March 11, 2019 8:02 am

    Every time you write about your father, my heart breaks. Bless you, Sean, for enduring…with love and forgiveness. Bless your mama for her strength and love that guided you and your sister through the loss. Bless Jamie for loving you with pure and authentic love. Thank you for sharing your words. They are balms for our souls.

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  3. Randall Baikey - March 11, 2019 9:35 am

    I read your columns eagerly every day. My late brother-in-law was moved from NY state by GM to participate in building that plant in Spring Hill. At the time it was the largest building I had ever seen. Thank you for reminding me of it, and as always for your column.

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  4. Frank - March 11, 2019 9:59 am

    My daddy worked for General Motors in Indiana for over 30 years. We lived just a short walk from the plant and I used to wait for him across the street from the gate he walked out. He was some body there, a door inspector. I remember when he became an inspector and how proud he was. Your story brought back a flood of memories about daddy and the plant as he called it. He has been gone for several years now but I can remember the smell of machine oil and sweat when he came home. Thank you for the memories, I enjoy your stories.

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  5. Sherrie - March 11, 2019 10:09 am

    So are you, Sean Dietrich. So are you.

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  6. Camille - March 11, 2019 10:39 am

    I agree that Jimmy Carter is definitely some body. I’d love to meet him, but would be just as excited to meet you, Sean!

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  7. Naomi - March 11, 2019 12:04 pm

    My father also. He never finished school. He had a failed first marriage but he loved my brother and me unconditionally. I was a daddy’s girl. I went everywhere with him. He died of a heart attack on New Year’s Eve 50 years ago, two weeks after his 65th birthday. When I went to bed last night, I was thinking how much I still miss him.

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  8. Nancy shields - March 11, 2019 12:05 pm

    I am so sorry that your father -or ANYONE-was so unhappy. It is a terrible thing to live with. You honor him with your writing.
    “I got him at WalMart” !!!!!! 😂😂😂😂

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  9. Jess in Athens, GA - March 11, 2019 12:26 pm

    My father wasn’t a polished man, he only made it to the fourth grade before his father made him quit school so he’d be available to work around the small farm/ranch my grandfather owned back in the early part of the 1900s. My father was a good man in my eyes, very low-keyed and easy to be around. I looked up to him because he was kind and gentle. He’s biggest mistake was smoking cigarettes, it cost him his life at only 59 years old! Sean, when you write about your father I naturally think about mine….and I miss him. Thanks for being the writer that you are.

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  10. Connie Havard Ryland - March 11, 2019 12:53 pm

    No we never get over losing someone we love and we shouldn’t. That person was part of who we are and what we become. For the people that I’ve lost, I try to live in such a way that they would be proud of me, just as I know your dad is proud of you. Love and hugs.

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  11. Cathy Moss - March 11, 2019 1:06 pm

    Well, your message today went straight to my heart. I was one of three children but the only girl. My mother used to say he was a fool for me. He died in his sleep at 49 of a heart attack. He had called me on the telephone before he went to bed. I had married in college and he wanted to check on me. We laughed and he told me that he had been in New Orleans that week on business. I come from food people. He told me abt every meal he had while in New Orleans. He told me that he loved me and I repeated the same words. My Uncle called early the next morning to say he was gone. I have had a good life. Still married to the man I married ata young age who walked me through that terrible loss. I have three wonderful children who are married to wonderful people and I have 8 fine grandchildren but ther is a void in my life that will always be with me . My children and grandchildren never knew him . I think you miss your dad as much as I still miss mine. I would like to tell you that missing him will ease off but I can’t lie to you. I feel his presence often and I will see him in heaven. Your dad would be so proud of you and Jamie and what you are doing with your life. Keep it up Sean. You are making a difference in people’s lives every day. You are some body. ❤️👍🙏🏻

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  12. Diane - March 11, 2019 1:14 pm

    I pass the Spring Hill Plant occasionally and now when I do I will think of you and your dad. What beautiful memories you have of him mixed with the sad memories. I have to admit that sometimes I am a little envious when I hear people share sweet memories of their father. When I knew my dad he was very troubled and not much interested in being a dad. I heard that later in life, after he left our family, he settled down and was happy. I so hope that is true.

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  13. Noah - March 11, 2019 1:27 pm

    I feel the same way about seasoned fries. We should sent them all to the Soviet Union.

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  14. Ala Red Clay Girl - March 11, 2019 2:03 pm

    Somebody v. some body reminds me of the quote, “To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.”

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  15. Patricia Pope - March 11, 2019 2:07 pm

    Beautiful credit to your father, Sean. Hope and pray daddys, and moms, who read will recognize the power and wonder of a father. Important stabilizing foundations they lay in the life of a young one… Dear God, help them to see and live it well!

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  16. Lee in MS - March 11, 2019 2:36 pm

    Spring Hill is a lovely tribute but one statement needs correction. Your unintentional mistake was commenting about your walking the perimeter of a plant that was “the biggest mark my father ever made upon this world”. I am confident your readers respectfully disagree. A magnificent, state-of-the-art manufacturing plant is a tinker-toy compared to his values, insights and fatherly love.
    Blessings to you, Sean.
    Lee

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  17. Jack Darnell - March 11, 2019 2:55 pm

    Well you made it. You became ‘Some Body!’ to the ones that read. I like what friend Rick said, “Sean pulls the hay down where the goats can get it!”
    From Central Florida for a few more weeks,
    Sherry & jack

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  18. Charaleen Wright - March 11, 2019 3:25 pm

    My Daddy was a carpenter…just like Jesus. He was such a wise, kind, strong and quiet man. Daddy passed at the young age of 66. He’s been gone for 32 years, and I still miss him so. He became ‘some body’ when he was asked to build a podium for Billy Graham’s crusade. My Daddy walked on water.

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  19. Cheryl - March 11, 2019 3:35 pm

    Oh, Sean, I loved this story as much as every one you tell. We pass the Saturn plant (as it was called) as we travel through Columbia on our way to the big town of Waynesboro TN. I remember when that site was chosen for the plant. It was both a blessing and a curse to Columbia/Maury County. I am so glad they decided to reopen it, just recently. There is no doubt your daddy was some body, Sean. He and your Mom made a good Some Body, too.

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  20. Shelton A. - March 11, 2019 3:38 pm

    God bless and watch over you like He’s watching over your dad. MY dad was an electrical engineer. He built gyroscopic guidance systems for missiles before there were computers. He showed me one once, when they were outdated and no longer a secret. I didn’t understand all the physics and math but I got that there were 3 gyroscopes to make sure it got to it’s target even if it lost 1 or even 2. I knew what dad worked on was special. I understand a bit of how you feel about your dad’s greatest achievement.

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  21. Janie Shouse - March 11, 2019 3:40 pm

    Love this story about your father. Even more because I live very close to the GM plant. I was living here when it was being built, saw a lot of white work trucks back in those days and my father was also a welder. Keep the stories coming. Hope I meet you some day.

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  22. Charaleen Wright - March 11, 2019 3:46 pm

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  23. Robert Chiles - March 11, 2019 5:54 pm

    My father was an alcoholic, so he was often absent. I had a cousin named Charlie who stepped into the role. He taught me important things, too. Like how to cook a steak. How to drive a car fast and drive a stick shift. How to shoot a gun. How to take wonderful photographs.
    He died in his 50’s from stomach cancer and I still miss him. He was some body, like you.

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  24. Linda Moon - March 11, 2019 7:49 pm

    I like your father. My father was some body. My grandsons’ father was some body. Like yours, they both made that space-between-words difference, and I don’t want to ever get over either of them. Thank you for letting us get to know your father through the story.

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  25. Steve Hewitt - March 11, 2019 10:05 pm

    I live in College Grove, about 15 minutes to the Saturn plant. I’ll think of your Dad each time I pass the building now to shop or go to the Movies.

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  26. Carol - March 11, 2019 11:24 pm

    I wish you had that truck!
    It needs to be with another some body!!
    Love ya!

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  27. Esteban - March 12, 2019 12:27 am

    A priest, a rabbi, and a Methodist minister walk into a bar. The bartender asks them, ”Is this gonna be a joke?”

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  28. Stuart - March 12, 2019 3:25 am

    I’m sure your father was a good man, a some body.
    But not Jimmy Carter. I was in a very small restaurant in downtown Americus, GA 2 yrs. ago. I noticed him and a SS agent 15 feet away because folks were getting pictures made and getting all flustered at his presence. He’s a rockstar in SW GA, but an inept former President and busybody to SE Georgians. Anyhow, I had no interest in meeting him. Would much rather have shaken the hand of a working man like your dad.

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  29. Carol Heidbreder - March 12, 2019 6:19 am

    Especially loved this one. Lost my father few weeks before my 10th birthday. He too was a welder. Bad eye sight kept him out of the service during WW II but he was directed to the shipyard in Mobile to build war ships. There he spent 16 hr days sometimes with no days off for weeks. Have my own story as you do. You are so right. You keep these memories close to your heart and , no, you never get over losing a loved one. I am gray haired now and he has been gone since 1957, but I have missed him every day and always will. He was too young to have material things to leave me. I never missed those things. After all these years I can still feel his love and picture the way his eyes crinkled when he smiled at his little girl. That’s what he left me and that is priceless!

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  30. Debbie Phillips Hughett - March 12, 2019 10:43 am

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  31. Mary T - March 12, 2019 7:54 pm

    I am a generation older than you. When I was a child it was starving children in China.

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  32. Debbie - April 8, 2019 10:32 am

    ❤ My father passed when I was 12.

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  33. Janet - April 8, 2019 11:48 am

    My father passed away unexpectedly when I was 13. The police officer who came to notify my mother got someone to follow him to the house in my Dad’s jeep to bring it home. It was 1974 and I can still picture it sitting in the driveway that day. I miss him every day. I wish I still had that jeep. Thank you Sean for talking about your father. Fathers are really important to kids. I’m glad I got to have mine as long as I did.

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