Birmingham—I am in the Hyatt Regency Hotel, overlooking the city. This hotel is a swanky joint. The bathrobes and bath towels are so plush my suitcase won’t latch.

Last night, I told stories to a room of Alabamian farmers’ wives in the hotel ballroom. They wore their nice clothes, I wore mine. We had a big time. Linguine with cream sauce was served.

On my way to the banquet, I met an old man in the hotel elevator. He was from Louisiana, visiting town for a funeral. His name was Elvis.

“Elvis?” I said. “That’s your real name?”

“Yep,” he said. “Only I’m ten years younger than the other one.”

I shook his hand because I have always wanted to shake hands with Elvis.

Before we parted ways I told him what a pleasure it was meeting him.

He did his best impersonation of the King and said, “Thank you. Thank you very much.”

When I was a boy, I always wanted to be good-looking, but it never worked out. I was chubby, and plain, and I had a deep affection for Moonpies. My strongest academic area was lunch.

I also wanted to be athletic, but that didn’t work out, either. Coach Watson put me at first base and I was awful. After a week, he created a new position just for me.

“You’re gonna be my right guard,” Coach explained.

“What’s a right guard do?”

“It’s a very important position, he sits on the right half of the bench and guards the water cooler.”

I wish I were kidding, but I’m not.

Back then, I just wanted to be noticed. All children do. Instead, I walked through childhood like a bowling shoe in a sea of penny loafers.

Until the annual talent show.

The talent show was when all fourth-graders were free to exercise their unique abilities. And mine was music. The only thing I could do was music. I sang in church choir. I picked a little guitar.

The week of the show, I practiced in my bedroom, singing along with Elvis records. I sang into a hairbrush, I shook my hips. I love-me-tendered. I viva-Las-Vegased. I sang “American Trilogy.” I danced to “Hound Dog.”

My mother contributed to my routine. She made a white polyester jumpsuit with a low-cut collar and bellbottoms. I wore a belt buckle the size of a tractor tire.

The day of the show, she carried me to the beauty parlor. I was in full Aloha-From-Hawaii costume. The women almost died when they saw me.

Mama’s only instructions to them were: “Turn my boy into the King.”

Three matronly ladies placed me into a hydraulic chair and gave my hair a temporary color job. Miss Annette painted lamb chop sideburns onto my cheeks. They used a gallon of Brylcreem.

When she finished, Miss Annette started to weep.

“I saw Elvis in concert,” she said. “I was sixteen. I screamed until I lost my voice, he was everything.”

Then she kissed my cheek and got lipstick everywhere.

When I arrived at the talent show, I stepped out of the car and people were gawking. I felt like a moron.

I was about to go onstage when my mother gripped me by the shoulders and said, “Quit being so under confident. Show this world who you are, sweetie. Sing real pretty for me.”

“I don’t know if I can do it, Mama.”

“You can.”

“Do I look stupid?”

“You look like a hunk of burning love, Mister Presley.”

“What if I mess up?”

“What if you don’t?”

“I can’t do this.”

So she shoved me through the curtains.

I stumbled onstage. I was sick to my stomach from nerves. In the front row, I could see Mary Ann Williamson, the prize of the fourth grade. I heard students giggling. Someone burped. I saw my baseball team, slapping their knees.

The world was closing in. I felt like a giant anemic frog wearing polyester.

Miss Loretta played piano accompaniment. I gripped the mic. My tune was “Walk On.”

And I gave it all I had.

Then, I sang “Jailhouse Rock.” And I was on fire.

When I finished, people applauded. They stood. They hollered. My mother led the charge. And I’ve never felt so high.

I’ve never won anything in my life. No awards, and no trophies. I didn’t win anything that night, either. But my mother’s pride weighed a lot more than a plaque.

The morning mist rises over Birmingham. I see it from my hotel window. Sometimes I can remember the kid I used to be.

He is still in here somewhere, living inside my adult body. He still doubts himself. He still feels ridiculous. He still feels soft in the middle.

But oh, if that boy could become half the man his mother believed he could be.

That would be better than shaking hands with Elvis.

36 comments

  1. Donna Harvey - April 6, 2019 7:21 am

    Love It!

    Reply
  2. GaryD - April 6, 2019 10:04 am

    You ARE The King, Sean .

    Reply
  3. Cathi - April 6, 2019 10:30 am

    You did it, Sean! You are living your dream and we are the richer for it. Thank you, thank you very much.

    Reply
  4. Estelle Sexton Davis - April 6, 2019 10:51 am

    I love your way with words. You can make me laugh and cry in the same column. 😊 & 😢

    Reply
  5. sdkulwicki - April 6, 2019 11:16 am

    Sean, We really never do quit being the child in us but I for one am thankful for the child you were because it made you who you are today. Thank you for being my first ‘read’ of every morning. It sets the day for a kinder me.

    Reply
  6. Keloth Anne - April 6, 2019 11:35 am

    What an amazing young man you are!! I know your Mother is so proud😍😍
    Lots of love from Ozark ♥️

    Reply
  7. MermaidGrammy - April 6, 2019 12:03 pm

    You won the greatest prize of all – you won those kids’ and teachers’ hearts. And you win our hearts over and over – every morning. Now go out and find a little boy or girl. Or both. And let them know what it’s like to be noticed. Do you know that when a child is ignored (and zillions are!), it negatively affects the same part of the brain as though the child had been physically or mentally abused? God sent you here to be a dad. Adopt some chillun

    Reply
  8. Karen - April 6, 2019 12:10 pm

    That doubting boy may still be in there, but there is a part of him that has been able to overcome the doubt. There was a bigger part of you that was stronger than the fear. And here you are. I love this story. Thank you.

    Reply
  9. Elizabeth - April 6, 2019 12:21 pm

    Oh, your Momma is really proud!!!

    Reply
  10. Joy Davis - April 6, 2019 12:24 pm

    It’s amazing how childhood experiences affect us everyday, especially when those experiences were not ideal. I too was that chubby, awkward, always got picked last for the team kid. Eventhough we “grow up” and “grow out” of things there will always be part of that scared, insecure kid deep inside. Thanks for sharing your stories and encouraging everyone, everyday!

    Reply
  11. Penn Wells - April 6, 2019 12:25 pm

    Thank God for Mothers, 👍

    Reply
  12. Mississippi Girl - April 6, 2019 12:34 pm

    Elvis loved his Mother too! Thank you. Thank you very much!

    Reply
  13. Sharon Chandler - April 6, 2019 1:28 pm

    “But oh, if that boy could become half the man his mother believed he could be.” Sean, I see a man that became more than half of what his mother believed he could be. You have a God given gift, the talent of writing. Don’t sell yourself short!

    Reply
  14. Edna B. - April 6, 2019 1:32 pm

    Us lucky ones never lose sight of the kid in us. Thanks for the smile this morning. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  15. Pecos Kate - April 6, 2019 2:25 pm

    God bless your precious mother!

    Reply
  16. Donnie - April 6, 2019 2:27 pm

    Oh, that all mothers would make their children feel that way. 💖

    Reply
  17. Janie F. - April 6, 2019 2:33 pm

    Sean you say you’ve never won anything but that’s not true. You have won the hearts and devotion of your readers. Beautiful story & God bless your Mama!

    Reply
  18. Peggy Savage - April 6, 2019 2:57 pm

    You are so much more than your mama expected. You are so much more than you realize. You are one of a kind, unique, highly prized and loved by your creator and all of us who love you.

    Reply
  19. Linda Moon - April 6, 2019 4:00 pm

    I believe in Mothers who can turn us into Kings and Queens. I had one. To have that kind of mother is better than shaking hands with that other King, Elvis. I’m probably half of what she believed I could be, and I bet you are for your mother, too!

    Reply
  20. Shelton A. - April 6, 2019 4:02 pm

    You’ve become a kind, caring, loving man. Your Mama is still proud and that younger Sean has grown into a fine man and great teller of stories. Thank you, Sean. Thank you very much.

    Reply
  21. Donna Gulliver - April 6, 2019 4:44 pm

    I know your Mama is proud of the kind of man you have become. For years, I have had a saying on the front of my computer, which says “If your dreams are like candles, then recognize that there are more candle-blowers, than there are candle lighters. Learn who is which in your life.” YOU, Sean are a candle lighter and that is why I look forward to your column every morning! You always look for the best in others….

    Reply
  22. Richard Dowling - April 6, 2019 6:13 pm

    Thank you, Sean, for another wonderful story.

    Reply
  23. Lois - April 6, 2019 9:21 pm

    Sean you are every young country boy grown into every man from the country. Still a little country hides behind your ears to keep you humble. You are loved and appreciated. And I want to know if you ever decide to do your Elvis act again. I want to be there to act like a teen again, though those years are so far behind me I can hardly remember how to shout, cheer and jump up and down. Love you!

    Reply
  24. charliestsimons - April 6, 2019 11:16 pm

    I’m pretty sure your mama thinks you got it 100% right! I don’t even know you and I think you did!

    Reply
  25. Bill Heaton - April 7, 2019 12:19 am

    I got to shake hands with Sean Dietrich a few months ago, and dang it, that was pretty cool. Yes sir, it was.

    Reply
  26. Jack Darnell - April 7, 2019 1:35 am

    SHUCKS, I ‘Knowed’ it, you are the King. The dude could have never written that! Love it.
    Sherry & jack in NC

    Reply
  27. Charaleen Wright - April 7, 2019 4:16 am

    Reply
  28. Robert Chiles - April 7, 2019 8:49 pm

    You’ld be as great a preacher as you are a writer.

    Reply
  29. Steve Winfield - April 8, 2019 6:40 am

    What a guy you are! Love, Steve.

    Reply
  30. Jean Tidwell - April 8, 2019 6:52 pm

    You have such an extraordinary gift with words! So many of your stories make me cry! What a blessing it is to have people who believe in you. Especially a good Mama. Thanks for your stories.

    Reply
  31. Mary Lee - April 11, 2019 12:38 am

    Live it!

    Reply
  32. Connie Havard Ryland - April 21, 2019 12:29 pm

    I’m sure your momma is very proud of you. She did good. You are famous. Maybe not to the world at large, not yet, but to thousands who pay to come see you. Sit and listen to your stories, or listen to you sing. Those of us who read you every day and pass your columns on to the people in our lives. And I’ve been to see you twice. Both times I got a hug and a autograph and spoke to your wife and I was over the moon. Thank you for sharing your gift with us and for not forgetting where you came from.

    Reply
  33. Mike Welch - May 7, 2019 8:32 am

    I’m living the last three paragraphs with you!

    Reply
  34. Sonya Tuttle - May 7, 2019 12:00 pm

    We all have a talent, or two, or three…but it sometimes it takes a while to unfold them. Your mom saw your potential, as most moms do! Long live king Sean Paul!

    Reply
  35. Gladys R. Harris - May 9, 2019 6:06 pm

    Ooh I Love this !! Love’em all. I hope one day I get to shake your hand. Thank you Sean !

    Reply
  36. Carolyn Drake - May 11, 2019 12:41 pm

    I always read your stories and re-live some as well, your mentor would give you a “thumbs up” for sure!

    Reply

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