It came in the mail. A small package. A cardboard parcel no bigger than a VHS tape. I weighed it in my hands.
Definitely not a VHS tape. For one thing, it’s too heavy. For another, nobody even uses tapes anymore.
Not long ago, families had to rent VCRs from the supermarket if they wanted to watch video cassettes. Unless of course they were rich. In which case they went out and bought their own supermarkets.
Our supermarket movie rental selection was pathetic. The only two videotapes available were the complete first season of the “Lawrence Welk Show,” and “Porky’s Revenge!”
Anyway, I’m sitting on my porch steps and opening the package with a pocket knife. I have an idea of what is inside, but I don’t want to jump to conclusions.
The first thing I see is a printed name. Four letters.
The Gaelic spelling of my first name has long been mispronounced by P.E. teachers and telemarketers alike. It’s unclear why my mother chose this name. She either named me after my Scotch-Irish ancestors, or she named me after 007.
My money’s on 007. She loved Sean Connery as James Bond. When we purchased our first VCR, my mother would would rent Bond movies from the local library all the time and watch them when she ironed clothes.
She and I were big regulars at the library. I got my first library card when I was in kindergarten and I can still remember signing my name on the back of that card. I signed: SEJMN. Which was close enough for 007.
After my father passed I practically lived at libraries. The elderly librarians were my friends. These were blue-haired ladies who were old enough to have single-digit Social Security numbers. But I loved them.
I read truckloads of cheap paperback books. Not high literature, but low-brow books that I should be embarrassed about. Books about cowboys, espionage, suspense, and toilet humor.
I wasn’t reading because I was a bookworm. I read because books were an escape hatch from reality.
I was shy, I was awkward, I was chubby. School teachers always had a hard time figuring me out. Some liked me. A few didn’t.
One early teacher discovered that I paid better attention whenever I was drawing. She always kept a blue-lined tablet in my desk and encouraged me to doodle when she taught lessons. And it worked, too. That year, I made the best grades of my career.
But the good grades ended after her class. After that, most teachers generally saw me as a big pain in the ascot. I fell behind in my work a lot.
One teacher in particular said I was “slow.” And in those days this word meant “stupid.”
It’s funny how deeply one word can affect you. Ever since then, I considered myself a slow human being.
There were four kids in our entire school who were slow. We were all in a special class called “remedial class.” Nobody knew what remedial meant, even the word sounded like a rare form of medieval torture. Either way, we slowish kids knew we were the village idiots.
Thus, Mrs. Shields would knock on our classroom door at 8:30 A.M. every weekday and a few of us would rise and happily accompany her to the remedial class. I have read before that lambs go happily to the butcher.
Each time we left the grade school classroom, I would hear snickering from other students. It wasn’t full-on laughter. Just soft chuckling.
In remedial class there was Jon, who was taller than anyone in school, his mother packed his lunchbox with two sandwiches instead of one. And Allie, who was Native American, the sweetest soul you ever met.
We would sit in a little backroom while Mrs. Shields talked to us like we were hard of hearing. I know she wasn’t trying to act ugly toward us, but sometimes that makes it even worse.
So when I got the chance to drop out of school in the seventh grade after my father died, I did. I regret that now. But now maybe you understand why.
Still, I never quit reading.
In fact I read more often than I should have. I read more library books than some of my friends. I became so fast at reading that I was zipping through several books per week.
There are swatches of my adolescence when I was rarely seen without a book. There’s a photograph of me standing with my mother and sister in Disney World. I am holding the book “Sphere,” by Michael Crichton. What a dork.
But literature saved me. And even though my life story reads like a roll of used toilet paper, two years ago I started writing my story down. I’m too young to write a decent memoir. I have too much to learn about life still. But I did it anyway.
The publisher sent me an early copy. I got to hold it. A book about the size of a VHS tape. “By Sean Dietrich.” It is a moment I’ll never forget.
And do you know what I hope more than anything? I hope that somewhere in the world, perhaps in a dark and dingy remedial classroom, some kid who feels like a complete screw-up is reading this very sentence right now. I hope he realizes that even though some might say he’s slow, and not as smart as the others, these people are flat wrong.
Because to me he’s 007.
Karen Greatrix - January 20, 2020 7:18 am
Books let me travel when I can’t afford to go anywhere. I live only three blocks from my library.
Sharon Lawson - January 20, 2020 10:28 am
Thank you for this column.. It was so good I read it twice to make sure I didn’t miss anything. We are all broken in some way but you take that brokenness and talk about it. It touches my heart. Thank you for that. When you do talk about it the pain in my own heart doesn’t seem as great.
Lisa - January 20, 2020 10:41 am
When’s the book going to be available?
Peggy Savage - January 20, 2020 12:02 pm
Sean, I’m so sorry our educational system failed you. I’m a retired educator who spent her life working with students with varying special needs. The thing is….all students have special needs. Every student has a unique story that impacts what happens in the classroom. As a teacher, it was my goal to discover that story and find a way for that student to be successful. I’m sorry that didn’t happen for you. But, you know what. …you were and are successful. You have taken your experiences in life and used them to bring joy, laughter and love to others. I just wish I could have had you as my student. We would have had a great time learning together.
Pete Foley - January 20, 2020 1:00 pm
Fantastic, as always, Sean. Thx, 007!
Berryman Mary M - January 20, 2020 1:24 pm
Books are the gateway to the world. If you can read, you can teach yourself anything.
Anne Arthur - January 20, 2020 1:33 pm
And, I bet, your IQ scores higher than the one of your teacher(s). Typical case of failing to recognize a gifted child. If teachers would just observe how the one did who let you doodle. I am sorry you had to go through so much pain but the outcome of your life is glorious. What a gifted, wonderful writer you are! That’s what we call a successful career!
Keloth Anne - January 20, 2020 1:47 pm
Jess - January 20, 2020 2:08 pm
Some called you “slow” when you were in school and that was painful, I understand. When I was about 13 or 14 years old, one of my aunts called me “backwards” in front of another aunt. She could have said “shy” instead of backwards because she meant I was shy and reserved. She made that comment more than sixty years ago, and I still remember how I felt at the time. I didn’t let that keep me down. I’ve done okay for myself and my family. Some people don’t realize how hurtful words can be…almost as painful sometimes as a slap across the face but the pain lasts a lot longer than a slap.
KATY - January 20, 2020 2:18 pm
💕Looks like you showed them, 007! Yes, You and your gift of literary wit bloomed at this moment in time because you are just what our wounded world needs, right here, and right now!
Sean, Your blessed words give us hope and laughter! 💕
Steve Winfield - January 20, 2020 2:29 pm
And then there’s that paragraph below. Southern Living, the B’ham News, 7 books. Yeah, he’s “slow” alright.
Marcia Lynn MacLean - January 20, 2020 2:44 pm
I pray frequently to have a soft, compassionate heart for people Your stories help me to be mindful of others. We can all use our experiences as examples of how to be, AND how NOT to be.
Shelton A. - January 20, 2020 2:55 pm
Kudos to you, Sean. Keep on truckin’.
Leigh Amiot - January 20, 2020 3:01 pm
Some of us simply can’t, weren’t meant to, jump through all the standard hoops in an orderly fashion.
And the world is a better place because of those who refuse to be boxed.
The label slappers are the ones who have the most to learn.
Leigh Amiot - January 20, 2020 3:04 pm
For what it’s worth, at this phase of life, late 50s, kids raised, parents buried, I intentionally do things slower, remembering the words of a precious grandmother, “Notice whatcher doin’.” That was country speak for pay attention to what you are doing, or what modern people think they have just discovered, being present in the moment.
Karen - January 20, 2020 3:05 pm
When I was in first grade, I learned quickly, but I was very slow in completing written work. We were expected to draw pictures to represent the sounds of letters. I couldn’t complete mine as fast as my other classmates.
My teacher would lead the class in chanting, “Slowpoke! Slowpoke! Karen is a slowpoke!” She would make me stay after school to complete my work.
When I became and adult, my mother explained that the teacher’s husband worked for my father, and he disliked my father. Interestingly enough, it didn’t color my feelings about school. I enjoyed school and was a good student.
Rebecca J Cotney - January 20, 2020 3:20 pm
Love your writing Sean & as a librarian I am happy you found solace in books. I don’t know if you read Louie Lamour but he wrote a book about his life & self education that is one of my favorites, Education of a Wandering Man. If you haven’t read it I recommend it. Peace & love.
Edna Barron - January 20, 2020 3:30 pm
I have always loved books, and have read more than my share. I still read lots of books. I do believe books are a life saver. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.
Nell Tipton - January 20, 2020 3:37 pm
Oh my, how beautiful and touching. Every parent should read this when they are concerned that their child just does not quite ‘measure up.’ Who knows?–they may be a ‘Sean.’ Even if they’re not, each child is gifted in their own way.
Kathy - January 20, 2020 3:39 pm
I confess that I was not labelled “slow.” But, boy, I am a reader. For many of the same reasons you state. What wonderful places we go in those books. Thank you again. I like reading what you write.
Frankie May - January 20, 2020 4:31 pm
Sean, you are such a talented writer. You write with your heart. Your column reminds me of my grandson, who once – well, a few times – got into trouble for reading too much in class. He’s a wonderful young college sophomore now who still loves reading.
Linda Moon - January 20, 2020 5:18 pm
Long ago when I was a kid I knew several rich families who owned their own supermarkets. My boyfriend worked at one when we were teens. Much time has passed since then so I’m glad you loved old ladies on Social Security, and I hope you still do. As a former teacher, I assure you I would have figured you out, and I would have liked you. I completely understand why you dropped out of school in seventh grade. That age and time for kids can be brutal and was understandably worse for you. You are 007 to me, but I’m still trying to figure out SEJMN!!
Sharon Brock - January 20, 2020 5:31 pm
Or the young girl who attended a new school in a new town without friends for two years, who never got picked for teams, who was so shy that she usually set alone at lunch, and who was verbally abused at home so that she recognized a fellow sufferer. In fact, four of her best friends in high school were the school rejects. She escaped by reading, she grew up, joined the military, became a single mother (an entirely different level of rejection), held a string of minimun wage jobs, survived crippling bouts of depression, finished college at 45 and embarked on a new career from which she retired two years ago.
I started reading at 4 and still devour books by the cart full. Congratulations Sean on that first book. I can write nonfiction with my eyes closed but fiction is beyond my scope. My God given talent is appreciating those who can. You are a fine writer Mr. Dietrich. Thank you.
Mary T - January 20, 2020 7:16 pm
Alabama has a digital library which I use all the time. You have to get a card from your local library then use your library number to check out books. I love it.
Cathy Rickey - January 20, 2020 7:22 pm
Favorite childhood memories: the Library, sitting in the
Library’s chairs, going to the Library to look, coming from the Library with. Many others the same, I’m sure!
Amy Fischer - January 20, 2020 7:57 pm
Thank you for your words. Thank you for sharing your life story with us. From a school librarian in North Alabama
Neil Mathews - January 20, 2020 11:24 pm
Dropped out of school, you traded up, up to the school of HARD KNOCKS U. It is a tough place, and you learn from your mistakes, sometimes brutally. Reading as much as you did, was better for your vocabulary (for the most part anyway) and thinking, sometimes it is not easy following a multi-phase plot. Love your writing, stirs many old memories, some like yours were written on toilet paper. God Bless
turtlekid - January 21, 2020 12:27 am
Sean Paul you have become my favorite author. And I don’t even have to to the library, your words come to my I Pad every day! Your personal history of sorrow touches me deeply! GOD had a plan for you all along! I have a troubled grandson whom I pray for daily, his few years on this planet have had half his life in jail. But I believe in redemption, and your stories prove it! Thank you for your perseverance!
Dawn A Bratcher - January 21, 2020 12:45 am
❤️ My old heart goes out to your young self. I remember those awkward moments when the other children would turn and stare at me when the teacher would call my name. I still don’t like to be the center of attention. I’m sorry you had to experience that.
Ann Marie Bouchet - January 22, 2020 4:11 am
There is nothing slow about you. I hated being called on in school and never liked being”picked” to go to the board to highlight something. Heck, I am 67 years old and will still not pray out loud in church!!!! Do not like that spotlight on me!!!!
Amy - January 22, 2020 3:14 pm
You know Sean, teachers frequently leave lasting impressions on students and like you, some are good and some are not so good, even life altering. My dad is 83 years old with a severe case of Alzheimer’s Disease. He very clearly remembers a kid in his 1st grade class, Wesley Isles. The teacher (out of respect I’ll leave the old witch’s name out) beat this child every day because he couldn’t read. My dad has told this story all my life (55 years) and the details do not change. Poor Wesley Isles of Lockney, Texas. I can not imagine a 6 year old getting beaten every day because some self-important idiot determined it was a battle of wills. Wesley must have had a learning disability. I have personal friends who are Teachers and this is a noble profession. Unfortunately some times, due to strange circumstances, some folks are employed in positions where they have no business what so ever. Those folks sully the name of all the others due to their self-importance or delusions of grandeur. My heart has grieved for little Wesley for 55 years.
You are anything but slow and I hope Mrs. Battleax sees this and recognizes herself in your article. Obviously she was unable to recognize talent in her students. I wonder who else she missed? Thank God you were able to rise to your destiny in spite of her failure.
Donna Huskey - February 26, 2020 6:51 am
I am not happy unless I have a book going in my life. There have been many that I hate to see end because I have gotten so intense in the story line that I feel a part of it. Sean, you are a wonderful writer. Every day you take us to a whole new place and capture our hearts. You just have such a way with words that it draws us all right in. Seldom do I read your posts without both smiles and tears. God certainly gave you a wonderful gift and I am so glad you graciously share it with us each day.
Dr. Paula E. Griffith - February 28, 2020 3:34 pm
I proudly loved and taught kids just like you. I taught the “bottom quarterly”–those kids who didn’t pass the test (I hate labels). I quickly learned that many of them didn’t pass the test because they were disengaged, not because they were slow. We had so many adventures. The year started with a humor unit–you would’ve loved that! Puns, word play, jokes, riddles–do you know that humor requires critical thinking skills? Then on to urban legends and storytelling! I made a pretend campfire, turned out the lights, and we pretended we were camping and telling scary stories. They had to pick one they liked, read it enough times that they could retell it, and we enjoyed every one. Then on to stories about immigrants–both fiction and nonfiction. Once we read those stories, we HAD to research and find out more about what made these people want to come here. My kids discovered they loved to know the background story–the real story. Then we followed Scrooge in all his “dis”glory through his travels and travails as he learned the greatest lessons of his life. And this was only the first semester. While all the other teachers were killing and drilling, we were having one adventure after another. I taught sixth grade. I knew at that time that many of my kids had already decided to drop out as soon as they could. Imagine my surprise when, years later, I was invited as an honoree to the induction of the Honor Society members. I looked at the officers on the stage–four of the seven were mine former students. I looked at the two rows of kids about to be inducted, and the majority were very familiar. I wish you had been in my class. The top priority I had was to restore their dignity after years of learning they were “failures.” The second priority was to let them discover they actually loved reading. These kids taught me everything I thought I knew, and they learned more about who they REALLY were and not what someone else told them they were.
Wynn Murrell - November 8, 2020 9:37 pm
Love hearing your teaching methods. I had such luck, too, with creative approaches. I love Sean’s memories 📝:) and yours! I’m sure some hungry teachers is going to eat them up! 😋Wynn 🙂