The Boy Columnist

Today is National Columnists’ Day. Someone just told me. It’s a holiday for honoring those depraved, half-crazed individuals who crank out 500 to 800 words each day beneath rigorous deadlines and still manage to remain, technically, married.

I remember when I unofficially became a columnist. Sort of.

I was a boy. I was in my room, pouting.

My room looked like any little boy’s room. It was messy. It smelled funky. There were underpants scattered on my floor. There were Hardy Boys books, aquariums featuring dead goldfish, and half-eaten peanut butter sandwiches that predated the Carter administration.

I was having a particularly bad day. Namely, because my friends were playing outside and they had not invited me to join them. I could see my pals from by bedroom window. They were having fun, but they didn’t want me around.

When a kid’s father dies in the shameful way mine did, that child is not exactly the hippest kid in the county. I was forgotten. And it hurt.

There was a knock on my door.

It was my mother.

“What’re you doing in here all alone?” she said.

“Nothing.”

She glanced out the window. “You’re pouting.”

“No I’m not.”

“Then go outside and play with your friends.”

“They’re not my friends anymore.”

My mother was carrying something behind her. She placed a gift-wrapped box onto my bed. It was the size of a small suitcase, and heavier than a sack of Quickrete, wrapped in Christmas paper, although it was July.

“What’s this?” I said.

“Open it,” she said.

“I don’t feel like presents.”

Her face tightened. “Well, maybe when you’re done wallowing in self pity, you will.”

Then she left.

Mama always had a way of putting things.

I tore open the packaging. Inside was a vinyl case containing a manual typewriter. Sea-foam green. The spacebar was a little crooked, the S and D keys were faded, the ribbon was new.

Somehow I knew what to do. I loaded a clean sheet of paper. I positioned myself before the typewriter. I sat cross-legged on the floor and pecked out one letter at a time, using my index fingers.

My first stories were undiluted crapola. I used the pen name Twark Main. I wrote a story about a kid who was so lonely that he hopped a train and toured the whole United States with his incredible talking dog, Leroy. Everyone loved this boy, and they all wanted to be his friend, and sometimes strangers hugged him for no apparent reason. It was a great story.

Over the years I got older and considerably less handsome. I kept writing stories. I liked to write about the people I’d met. People I found interesting.

When I became a teenager, my life fell apart. I dropped out of school. I quit trying. But somehow I kept writing. I wrote hundreds of stories that no teacher would ever grade. Truthfully, I don’t know why I wrote. I wrote for me, I guess.

I wrote about the old man who umpired for the Baptist and Methodist league games, who once played for the Cubs in the ‘30s.

I wrote a story about the elderly preacher who lived on my street, who once performed a funeral for my Labrador; he wore a necktie and everything.

By age 20, I was a dropout gone to seed. But I was still writing about people. Like the Mexican woman in my apartment building, Miss Isabella, who sold homemade tamales on construction sites for 50 cents apiece to pay for her daughter’s dental braces.

I wrote about the man who had 28 feral cats and died of lung cancer. I was one of only three to attend his funeral. My friend Rachel and I made sure all 28 cats were adopted.

I wrote stories about the barbeque joints I visited. Of people who died too young. Of kids with illness. About the ancient couple I met on the beach who had been married for 76 years.

I wrote about the homeless man named Watson, who lived behind the Greek Orthodox church and wanted to get sober, but couldn’t seem to do it.

Looking back, I don’t know why I wrote these sophomoric stories. It’s not like anyone cared. But then, maybe that was the whole point. Maybe the point of my life isn’t to write stuff people care about. Maybe my job is just to care.

One morning, shortly after I was married, I got home late from work. I was covered in muddy globs and drywall dust. I shed my workboots and found our small local newspaper sitting on our kitchen table with a red ribbon tied around it.

My wife wore a silly grin and told me to open to page 5A, which I did. Inside the paper was a headshot of me. My sentences were printed beneath the photo. “Columnist Sean Dietrich,” the text began.

My wife told me she sent several of my stories to the newspaper. Much to everyone’s surprise, most of all mine, they published them.

“You’re a columnist now,” my wife said.

So I called my mother and told her I was done pouting for myself.

60 comments

  1. Peggy Sanders - April 19, 2022 7:02 am

    You might be interested in this group; their upcoming convention will be in Birmingham!
    National Society of Newspaper Columnists – Organization I have attended two of their conventions.

    Reply
  2. Lynn - April 19, 2022 7:15 am

    I am convinced that all writers write as a means of catharsis. You done good, Sean. Your wife done great!

    Reply
  3. M Dale Milita - April 19, 2022 8:16 am

    Absolutely my number one favorite. Writing certainly is therapeutic. It brought me out of the hellish pothole of life I was in. You and Jamie keep up the good work.
    You Are Loved.

    Reply
  4. Connie - April 19, 2022 9:03 am

    I really enjoyed today’s column. 🥰

    Reply
  5. Joy jacobs - April 19, 2022 9:52 am

    ❤️ and a few tears. ❤️

    Reply
  6. Darlene Cook - April 19, 2022 10:02 am

    So thankful you kept at it!!!

    Reply
  7. Tim Smith - April 19, 2022 10:25 am

    I, for one, am glad you didn’t quit.

    Reply
  8. Cheryl Clem - April 19, 2022 10:35 am

    Write On, my friend, Write On 😊

    Reply
  9. fbcb11 - April 19, 2022 10:37 am

    Your beautiful thoughts and words are a gift to your readers everyday. Thanks to Jamie for recognizing your love and to you for continuing to share.
    Yes, you definitely are a writer of the best kind . . .one who shares Hope.

    Reply
  10. PurpleIris - April 19, 2022 10:42 am

    To have spouse who truly believes in you is one of God’s greatest gifts.

    Reply
  11. Debbie - April 19, 2022 10:46 am

    That Jamie……she’s something else!!

    Reply
    • Beverly - April 19, 2022 11:40 pm

      You got that right!

      Reply
  12. Ann - April 19, 2022 11:15 am

    Your Mother was a very wise woman!…as is Jamie!

    Reply
  13. Joey - April 19, 2022 11:16 am

    Great column. The most important line is “I wrote for me, I guess.” It might just inspire some young writer looking for a reason to stick with it. ❤️

    Reply
  14. suzi - April 19, 2022 11:31 am

    Thank you Mr. Dietrich, I know just the person to send this to!

    Reply
  15. Barbara Culwell - April 19, 2022 11:33 am

    Ohh what a wonderful story! I love hearing about your journey and observations of people. Having eyes (and words) to see and care for others is such a gift! Thank you for helping open our eyes and hearts to so much around us every day!!

    Reply
  16. Ann Thompson - April 19, 2022 11:34 am

    I Hope you celebrate the holiday. Your holiday!! I enjoy reading your column. It sheds light into other peoples worlds, and the humor isn’t mean. Everyone needs a dose of humanity. No, that’s not a typo (not humility).
    Enjoy the day.

    Reply
  17. I CLINK... Conversations and Story Telling - April 19, 2022 11:38 am

    Sean, I am so glad I listened to the Andy Andrews Pod cast today. What a honor to listen to your story and now subscribe to your blog. Your writing so genuine and honest… Everyone’s stories matter

    Reply
  18. Richard Baker - April 19, 2022 11:45 am

    The last sentence, rich! And aren’t we blessed by this commitment to “see” the world and share it with us, thanks, Sean

    Reply
  19. Anne Arthur - April 19, 2022 11:47 am

    We have to love Jamie just for the fact that she loves you and believes in you.
    And your wonderful mom! She saw your talent long before you did. She saw your emotional pain and knew how to heal it. That’s true mom-love.

    Reply
  20. Donna W - April 19, 2022 11:47 am

    Don’t ever stop. I look forward every morning to just sit and relax reading your stories. Sometimes I tear up, sometimes I giggle, and I always get a visual picture in my mind that makes me think. You make people happy, you are wonderful at what you do.

    Reply
  21. Melanie “Nana” Herr - April 19, 2022 11:53 am

    I’ll forward everyday to reading your “pecking away” on the type writer! It is definitely a Spiritual gift on how to live and see people, to embrace life to see reflections of ourselves ! You are a God Gifted writer and man!

    Reply
  22. Patricia A Schmaltz - April 19, 2022 12:19 pm

    I love Jamie. She ROCKS.. as do you. Keep inspiring.

    Reply
  23. Paul McCutchen - April 19, 2022 12:24 pm

    Sometimes you do what you are called to do. It just takes time for you to listen.

    Reply
  24. Jan - April 19, 2022 12:45 pm

    Love this! So interesting to know how you found your way to your God given place in life. I should have known you had two women who loved you so much that they guided you to that identity God had created just for you. Please don’t ever stop because you light up the days of so many with your ability to see what others cannot see until you open our eyes.

    Reply
  25. Lisa Branch - April 19, 2022 12:45 pm

    Just saw your interview with Andy Andrews. I was so touched and inspired! For so many reasons. I’m 66 years old and say I want to write. But I don’t. I do taxes. Maybe, just maybe……. My son attempted suicide and he has two boys. There were people in the neighborhood who wouldn’t allow their kids to play with them. By the grace of God, a devoted and loving mother and the Chaplain of their school, they are fine boys/young men. The good Lord keeps putting people in their lives (coaches, church camp leaders) and the list goes on and on of those who guide and encourage them. Thank you again for sharing you. Ordering your books right now!

    Lisa from Texas

    Reply
  26. James Kelly Williams - April 19, 2022 12:48 pm

    Sean. I say that like I know you and I feel like I do. I am 62 years old and have come to Finally realize that these every day encounter are gems if we pay attention. Your post help remind me of that. And that’s why I’m a fan of yours. Keep it up brother.

    Reply
  27. Linda Lewis - April 19, 2022 12:58 pm

    Oh, I loved this story. It made me smile. I pray that you are well and that you keep writing for a long time. I look forward to reading your column every day. My day would not be complete without your column. I wish you and your lovely wife a strong, healthy, happy, long marriage. May your life be good.

    Reply
  28. Pingback: Sean of the South: The Boy Columnist | The Trussville Tribune

  29. imcdbw - April 19, 2022 1:28 pm

    And this is why I love your mama and your wife! I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting either of them, but I love them dearly. I love you, too.

    Reply
  30. Christina - April 19, 2022 1:28 pm

    Thank you for caring Sean. That’s something we can always count on in here. Your mama must be so so proud!

    Reply
  31. Rodney Lynn Thomas - April 19, 2022 1:56 pm

    That was really good. God Bless our Momma’s and God Bless you and Jamie.

    Reply
  32. oldandblessed - April 19, 2022 1:57 pm

    I’m glad you’re still a bit of the “Boy Columnist.” I think that’s a quality you should keep in your writing.

    Reply
  33. Cathy M - April 19, 2022 2:15 pm

    Best yet! The talent was there and your Mom saw it and helped you find it. Then Jamie came into your life and believed in you. These two women are long overdue for a night on the town. I have met your beautiful wife and I would love to meet your Mom. She is to be commended for all she did as a single Mom. I raised three children and had a husband on my team so I have the greatest respect for single mothers. She deserves a Medal of Honor and all the live you can give her. Great story❤️👏

    Reply
  34. Suellen - April 19, 2022 2:25 pm

    Twark Main! I love it. While you had a lot of heartache in your life you are still very blessed with the people that God has surrounded you with. Good job Jamie.

    Reply
  35. Deborah Guttridge - April 19, 2022 2:33 pm

    Oh my gosh, Sean i hope I can address you like that. I have never left a comment, I’m technically challenged to say the least, and didn’t even know there was this feature.
    A dear friend introduced me abt you, having loved Lewis Grizzard, she said I’d enjoy your writings. Indeed I have immensely. I also have shared you are with others. I can’t wait to open email, and read your articles. I love your humor, you truly do have a gift from God. I can’t express how many times I laughed til I cried, and then cried over your love for people who seemed to not matter to no one.
    I know first hand of your sadness of what impact it had on you losing your father in that manner. However God sees us thur it. I pray God’s grace and love to you and your wife. I was raised too with good ole southern background and you sure describe us well and I love it.

    Reply
  36. Marilyn - April 19, 2022 3:04 pm

    Follow your dream! It’s there for a reason

    Reply
  37. Ruth Mitchell - April 19, 2022 3:09 pm

    You just don’t know how much I needed to read this! Thanks and never stop being a columnist!

    Reply
  38. Louise of Montgomery - April 19, 2022 4:04 pm

    Your columns have introduced us to some of the most amazing – surely interesting – people. I have been to funerals of people I didn’t know. I’d go to support their survivors, with whom I was friends. (Don’t want you to think I’m a “funeral visitor” who goes to random funerals for the food, of whatever. I digress. Anyway, after most of these funerals, I feel sad that I missed knowing the deceased. That’s how your columns affect me. I’ve missed so much by not knowing your daddy, Miss Mary, your mother, sister, each one of your dogs. Mostly, you and Jamie – a true thousand carat diamond. I love you all. Because of your insight and words

    Reply
  39. Teresa Clabots, MD - April 19, 2022 4:06 pm

    Dear Sean…. I love your thoughts. I have a. muscular disease that is progressive and I will eventually be bedridden and it is a real downer. Your writings help and inspire me. Thanks for being my daily dose of sunshine.

    Reply
  40. Aunt Tim - April 19, 2022 4:07 pm

    Twark Main🤣 your humor is wonderful.

    Reply
  41. Shelton A. - April 19, 2022 4:10 pm

    Glad the pouting stage came to an end. Thanks for sharing, today and every day. You help start our days off right. You care and we are thankful because you remind us to care. God bless

    Reply
  42. Moe Livingston - April 19, 2022 4:27 pm

    You have a gift my friend…even when you don’t have anything in particular to write about, you write and we read, and we say “you have a gift my friend.”

    Reply
  43. Susie Flick - April 19, 2022 4:39 pm

    Love hearing how this wonderful writing began and first brought on by two of your biggest fans! So glad they believed in you and supported you in your aspiration. Thankful every day for your words.

    Reply
  44. Betty - April 19, 2022 4:50 pm

    God bless Jamie for believing in your writing & doing something about it & God bless your mamma for getting you started & you for never quitting.

    Reply
  45. Mary Bartholomew - April 19, 2022 4:50 pm

    Thank you for caring. Your columns often make me stop pouting for myself.

    Reply
  46. Christine - April 19, 2022 5:32 pm

    Just a great story, Sean. Loved it like I do all of yours!

    Reply
  47. Dawnie B - April 19, 2022 5:36 pm

    You have been blessed with a wonderful mother, a very large heart, an incredible talent, and the perfect mate – Jamie is priceless! You have never been alone ✝️❤😊

    Reply
  48. Helen De Prima - April 19, 2022 6:17 pm

    My hero! Took me a few more years than it did you, but I’m a write. (I’m 78.)

    Reply
  49. Becky+Souders - April 19, 2022 6:36 pm

    Lucky you to have such support from the women you love!

    Reply
  50. Linda Moon - April 19, 2022 8:06 pm

    Thank you, Mrs. Dietrich, for giving your son a typewriter. You were very wise and caring. We Mamas give and care, don’t we, especially in hard times. I love a Mama who did that for her two young sons, one of whom began writing because of circumstances like yours, Sean. Thank you, Jamie Dietrich, for sending your husband’s stories to the newspaper. And, thank you, Sean, for becoming a “sort of” columnist. With gratitude, I care.

    Reply
  51. Amy - April 19, 2022 8:15 pm

    I think what I love most about your column is the way you see the unseen and overlooked then write about them in such a way that it reminds me of how many regular people are out there, that they all have a story, that all of those stories are important. Brandon Heath wrote a song that sums it up perfectly called “Give Me Your Eyes”
    … Give me Your eyes for just one second
    Give me Your eyes so I can see
    Everything that I keep missin’
    Give me Your love for humanity
    Give me Your arms for the broken-hearted
    The ones that are far beyond my reach
    Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten
    Give me Your eyes so I can see

    Reply
  52. MAM - April 19, 2022 9:13 pm

    Writers just gotta write! Thanks to your mother and your wife for understanding you and helping you along the way to becoming a bona fide columnist. Writing columns often turns into writing books. After all, the material is already there.I have one published from interviews I’ve done, and I am working on the next one. Keep it up, Sean. We love your writing!

    Reply
  53. Kathy - April 19, 2022 9:28 pm

    I like the song Amy shared. Sounds like a real columnist to me.

    Reply
  54. Bonnie - April 19, 2022 9:56 pm

    Ok. You did it again. I’m a blubbering crazy person crying in the break room. I gotta quit reading your stuff at work. People are starting to talk. Seriously., you got me with the fact you helped adopt out all of the cats….I was swimming in tears after that. It just got worse. Now I need kleenex. Big time.

    Reply
  55. Chasity Davis Ritter - April 19, 2022 10:18 pm

    Mommas always believe.

    Reply
  56. Kathryn M Wise - April 20, 2022 4:55 am

    You are amazing. You remind me of all the good “stuff” when I was growing up. You write like I think. I appreciate you.

    Reply
  57. Bonnie - April 20, 2022 1:53 pm

    So glad you care and you have quit pouting. We are the benefactors.

    Reply
  58. Lisa - April 21, 2022 2:30 am

    You gave me the smile I wasn’t able to give myself today. Thank you.

    Reply
  59. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - April 23, 2022 12:41 am

    Reply

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