The Bay Water

There is something about the way the sun falls upon the lustrous water of the Choctawhatchee Bay that lights my heart on fire.

No. Wait. I apologize. That sentence you read in the above paragraph was ridiculous. Lustrous? How immature and overly dramatic. This is because I wrote that sentence when I was about 17 years old, everything was dramatic back then.

That was probably the age when I truly decided that I wanted to be a writer. I was lanky. I was dumb. I was a fatherless dropout. I remember taking my Lettera 32 portable typewriter down to the bay, pulling it out of its travel case, and loading it with paper. I expected a wave of literary inspiration to just (bam!) hit me, but nothing happened. Nada. Zip.

Welcome to writing, kid.

I was sitting there on the shore, my typewriter was getting corroded with salt air, and the only sentence that came to me was the ridiculous one you just read.

But I remember the evening I wrote it. I was camping by the water in a secluded spot. My dog was with me. Lady was her name. She was curly-haired, and faithful. Behind me was my pup tent. Ahead of me was that water. And that stupid typewriter.

What a dork. I can’t believe the level of dorkiness. I remember sitting by that bay, trying to write what I hoped would become a novel. I got maybe six words into it and realized I was an idiot.

You can’t write a novel at 17, your earlobes haven’t dropped yet. You know nothing of life, or about the joys of paying health insurance premiums that cost more than tactical helicopters. But there I was, trying, and I have to give Young Me credit for giving it his best shot.

Somehow, the kid thought that looking at the big water would give him the right words. But after only 10 minutes the kid realized he was wrong and he just wanted to go fishing. So he pulled out his rod and caught one very small fish. He fried it in a little skillet over a fire, and he shared it with his greedy dog.

He was no writer. And he knew it.

Yesterday, I was going through old things in my office, since I have nothing better to do during a quarantine. I found a blue folder that had typed pages in it. There was a one page with a corny sentence about the bay. That was it. No more sentences were on the page, only a ketchup stain.

I was embarrassed when I saw all the writings in this folder because I was such a lost boy back then. Some boys without fathers go their whole lives trying to act like they have things figured out, but by the time they actually do figure anything out, the preacher is already sitting beside their nursing home bed, reading the 23rd Psalm.

Sometimes, when I meet young men or women who are about 17 or so, I see that same dizzy look in their eyes. And I feel for them because it’s hard growing up, it takes someone brave to do it.

The high school years stink. They sneak up on you when you’re not ready for them. There is so much angst and hormones flowing through your bloodstream at the time that you become a fire hazard.

You worry that you’re ugly, you worry that you’re a complete dork, and about other silly things. I’m not alone here. The high school years were misery for a lot of people.

Those years were doubly bad for me because, like I said, I didn’t even GO to high school. Thus, I never fit in around actual high-schoolers. I had never attended a high-school football game, never had a locker combination, never did a lick of algebra, and I never went to prom.

Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to attend a prom. There were moments when I would have killed for it. I had a chance once.

I remember when a girl asked me if I wanted to go to her high school prom. I was so flattered that I almost started to cry. A dropout like me? Go to a prom? But it would have ruined her reputation. I couldn’t do that to her.

So I turned her down. The last thing any debutante needed was to have a loser for a prom date. Her friends would’ve had too many questions, and I would have never felt comfortable.

I regret turning her down, even to this day. Because she was a sweet person, and I would have enjoyed learning how to dance.

Even so, I was not a normal kid. And it took me a lifetime to figure that out. You can’t see yourself when you are yourself.

But oh, that bay. Whenever I held that little typewriter on my lap, on the shores of the prettiest body of water God ever made, comprised of 129 square miles of gray water, teeming with redfish, schools of speckled trout, silver ladyfish, blue herons, great white egrets, and the sands of a million years compacted on a shore, perfect for a little pup tent, I was a poet. Even if only in my imagination. And the world was okay.

My dog and I would watch the sun go down, and I’d think to myself:

God. There is something about the way the sun falls upon the lustrous water of the Choctawhatchee Bay that lights my heart on fire.


  1. Hazel c. King - May 2, 2020 6:58 am

    Am I actually the first reader to comment? It is 2:53 a.m.and I am number one! As a writer myself, I have lived what you wrote. I still do. Reading your words makes me want to write my own. Thanks!

  2. Hazel c. King - May 2, 2020 7:03 am

    I don’t know why, but the time here is way off from the time in NC. it is 3:03 a.m. as I post this.

  3. Lynn Thomas - May 2, 2020 7:06 am

    The first line I ever wrote was, “The wheels on the wagon creaked as we crossed the old wooden bridge heading home.”
    Pretty bad, I know. I was 12 years old, I believe.
    That was a great story.
    I love reading your writings.

  4. Brenda - May 2, 2020 10:23 am

    Sean you felt more at 17 sitting at the bay than most people have in a lifetime. They were beautiful words that resonate who you are. Have a wonderful day! 🌞

  5. leeboyz86 - May 2, 2020 10:24 am

    I wish I could tell Young Sean that he would become a good writer.

  6. Naomi - May 2, 2020 11:27 am

    Sean, I felt like you the first time I saw the ocean. It was in the 1950; I was a teenager and my Girl Scout leader had taken a station wagon full of girls to Panama City, Florida. The sand was so white that I though it had snowed. Back then there were no hotels, condos or restaurants. There was one Piggly Wiggly where we bought our groceries because we had to cook our own meals in a ramshackle cabin that smelled like Sulphur. After we settled in, I put on my bathing suit and walked down an unpaved road to the beach. I was the only one there and all I did was lie there and look at the ocean and listen to the waves. Many years later, when my grandson was a toddler, his parents took him to the beach. He threw himself down on his back in the sand, spread his little arms out and said, “Look what God has made”.

    • Dana - April 10, 2021 2:01 am

      Precious memories come full circle…

  7. Tammi Pettet - May 2, 2020 12:24 pm

    I’m a neighbor in Mary Esther, there IS something truly spectacular about the sun glistening on the water @ 12 or 50.
    I love your writings! You are real and refreshing.
    This article particularly hit me as I reflected on the loss of my father at 17 then, I had no idea the loss I’d continue to experience throughout my life, marriage, babies… just too young & numb to understand. 🙂

    That Sun & Water tho…

  8. Berryman Mary M - May 2, 2020 12:53 pm

    Dear Sean, Every time I come over the Mid-Bay bridge and behold ( and yes, behold is the right word) the beautiful waters of the bay and Destin it takes my breath away and truly restores my soul. Thank you for your thoughts today.

  9. sgirton1957gmailcom - May 2, 2020 12:53 pm

    Thank you from a dork

  10. Meg Widmer - May 2, 2020 1:01 pm

    I have been writing since I can remember AND, for some strange (probably egotistical) reason, I have all the notebooks since I was about 10, …that was back in 1950 or so. And now you know how old I am and MAYBE, just MAYBE things were different then than when you were growing up…don’t know. All I know is that when I go back and open one of those notebooks, I can relate to your feelings of …expressed in my words…’what was I thinking?’ Not much, apparently, but it is obvious I thought it was important. Now, when (if) I reread some of these entries, it kind of surreal to ‘meet’ that little girl who lived near a small Midwest farm and knew more about work than a lot of people do now. It was good…I felt I was important, that I was needed and I learned so much. During these almost 80 years, what I experienced on the farm still is with me in big ways and small ways. I am thankful for that time and what I learned. All my siblings are gone…there is no one left to share those memories with….that is the hard part. But I taught my kids work and, in a way, it is a bond now being passed on to the next generation.

    I enjoy your life stories and your philosophy…much of which I share. Thank you for what you do …and dI think you ARE a writer, because you are writing from your heart. and we see who you are…that is sometimes the scariest when we write. Keep up the good work. I am a new ‘reader’ of your works and am enjoying your work immensely. God bless, …..

  11. Elizabeth - May 2, 2020 1:15 pm

    All those years of learning and growing have served you well. I do have to ask, do earlopes drop🙂

  12. Peggy Savage - May 2, 2020 1:55 pm

    Yes, Elizabeth….earlobes do drop. Just ask anyone in their 70s or 80s. As a matter of fact, everything droos.

  13. Peggy Savage - May 2, 2020 1:56 pm

    Make that… drops

  14. Janis - May 2, 2020 1:57 pm

    Thank you, Sean. You are correct, on all points. Maybe being a dork isn’t all that unusual, or all that bad. I believe you are in very good company. Even though I’ve been away for a while, there is something about the sun on that body of water that lights my heart on fire and makes my soul sing too.

  15. Dean - May 2, 2020 2:07 pm

    I start my day with your column. I enjoy reading it every day and passing it on to friends.
    You are a great writer. Keep up the good work

  16. Jan - May 2, 2020 2:07 pm

    Being young isn’t easy. Being old isn’t easy. Life isn’t easy. But it sure is beautiful and full of wonder if you just stop and look around.

  17. sholmes53 - May 2, 2020 3:16 pm

    Never thought about earlobes dropping, but seems like it’s true!

  18. Tammy S. - May 2, 2020 3:30 pm


  19. Laura Young - May 2, 2020 4:07 pm

    Love this column and, you are a writer! Southerners are the best story tellers and I am from a family of southern Illinois and southern Missouri story tellers, pretty much the same. I am new to your site, but am certainly hooked by your style, honesty, and love for nature. Great stuff for a quarantine!

  20. Christina - May 2, 2020 4:27 pm

    Aaaah! I’m so glad the 17 year old dork didn’t stop writing. You take us to places in your world with such warmth, humor and genuine storytelling. Your words connect us.

  21. Linda Moon - May 2, 2020 5:03 pm

    When I was 17 it was a very good year. And when I think of all the drama with 30-hour-baby-birthing and years interspersed with many deaths and just LIFE itself that has occurred since then, I still think it was. Yesterday I thought a lot about all that time gone by because of a writer – you, Sean Dietrich. And by the way, “normal” is highly over-rated. An oncologist with a wonderfully sly sense of humor helped me figure that out! I’ll have a beautiful afternoon while I’m thinking to myself and listening to Sinatra and Armstrong while I’m still in this wonderful world. And I can picture the beauty of the Choctawatchee Bay, because of you, Writer.

  22. Nancy M - May 2, 2020 7:49 pm

    I feel the same way about Mobile Bay. Whenever I go south down I-65, then reach the hill in Spanish Fort where Hughways 98, 90, and 31 meet, I look over at the water and say, “There it is!” Every time.

    By the way, I’ve missed seeing Edna B’s comments here. I hope she is ok.

  23. Lita - May 2, 2020 7:59 pm

    I just want to hug that young poet, aka you. Have a wonderful weekend.

  24. Ala Red Clay Girl - May 2, 2020 11:05 pm

    The teen-age years can be full of dreams, but also of doubts and lots of insecurity. I’ve found that sometimes it’s tough being in your own skin at any age though, just trying to figure out life. I enjoyed your column today.

  25. MARYLIN ANDERSON - May 3, 2020 5:07 am

    Laura Young, you should see him in person! Check his website for dates of his shows.

  26. Danny Wadsworth - May 4, 2020 2:02 am

    Im thankful for you crafting that sentence so many years ago.

  27. Tommy - May 5, 2020 2:16 pm

    Laura Young, where did you live in southern Illinois? I lived @ worked on SIUC campus for a coupla years long ago.

  28. Sharon Brock - June 11, 2020 5:26 pm

    I lived on Choctawhatche Bay in a little community called Cinco Bayou from April to November 1975. The Bay was gorgeous until Hurricane Eloise barreled through. When I found snakes swimming around my front porch in the resulting floodwater, I got the hell out of dodge.

  29. Sylvia Bodiford - June 12, 2020 1:24 pm

    Love your WRITINGS!!

  30. David Early - January 10, 2021 10:29 pm

    Sean. I am a descendant of two of the pioneer fishing families from Niceville and Destin. While my life took me west my soul is healed every time I return. Thank you for writing so well about such a special place.

  31. Charles Garrison - April 9, 2021 4:10 am

    I like your writings. You are my favorite!

  32. Trey - April 9, 2021 6:04 am

    “Luminescent.” — your editor, from the west end of the Bay.


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