I remember going to see the Grand Ole Opry as a boy. My father drove through the busy city of Nashville. I was five, he was thirty-six.
“Daddy,” I said, “Do you think that there will be anyone famous there?”
“Do I?” he said. “You better know it. There’s always famous people at the Opry, and famous ghosts, too.”
My daddy was good with a ghost story.
“Why sure,” he said. “The ghost of Hank Williams, for one thing. And Hank Snow, and Lefty Frizzell… There’s always ghosts at the Opry.”
“Are they nice ghosts?”
“Depends on what?”
“On if you’re a nice little boy or not.”
“What happens if I’m not a nice little boy?”
“A ghost will swoop down from the rafters and rip your face off, suck out your soul, and send you to Hell and make you listen to classical music for eternity.”
Then he would laugh. My father had a laugh that sounded like Mister Ed.
My father and I walked into the amphitheater and were greeted by the smell of hotdogs and popcorn. I had the greatest evening of my life.
Men in ten-gallon hats. Women in rhinestones. Steel guitars, dueling fiddles, the sound of Keith Bilbrey’s silky announcing voice.
We were suspended from the real world for a while. It was a star-studded dream, wrapped in a beehive hairdo, with a guitar strapped to its chest. Onstage we saw Jerry Clower, telling jokes.
My father laughed, slapping his armrest. And there was that Mister Ed laugh again. His odd laugh was funnier than any joke that ever inspired it.
But the height of our evening was not the music, nor the laughs, nor the sparkling rhinestones. The apex of this memory happened after the show.
We made our way to the lobby. There was a horde of people waiting in line. We couldn’t see what they were excited about. Maybe the president was in town. Or even better, George Jones.
When we got closer, I saw her. It was Minnie Pearl. The price tag on her hat dangled from the brim. Her voice was unmistakable.
Soon, we were standing in line to meet her. When she saw my father, she kissed him right on the cheek.
My father was so dumbfounded he could only mumble. I heard him say to her, “I-I-I’m just so proud to be here.”
Minnie laughed and answered, “Hey, that’s MY line, Sugar.”
Sugar. She called my daddy Sugar. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that.
Anyway, not long after my twenty-fifth birthday, I had a bad week. No, make that a bad year. I lost my job, and my confidence, and I was starting to feel pretty sorry for myself.
If my father had been alive, maybe I would have asked him for advice. Maybe he would’ve given me a beer and assured me that everything would be okay. Maybe he could have treated me to that Mister Ed laugh one more time.
But life doesn’t work that way. So I left one morning for a three-day trip to Tennessee. It was just me, an overnight bag, and some Chili Cheese Fritos.
That Saturday night, I paid a few bucks to sit in a balcony at Opryland and become part of a dream.
The lights dimmed. I felt myself tapping my foot with downhome music. The folks onstage were the sort I’d grown up admiring. They were the kind who used more hairspray than allowed by the EPA. People who played fiddles like they’d been born with bows up their noses.
One woman wore so many rhinestones she looked like an aircraft landing light with a two-dollar perm.
Afterward, I exited through the lobby feeling a little better than before. That’s when I saw a crowd gathered. I couldn’t see who they were swarming.
Maybe it was the president. Or even better, George Strait.
I waited to get a better look, but I never got close enough. So I turned to leave. On my way out, I was interrupted by a voice. It was a woman wearing a large hat with a price tag hanging from the brim. She locked eyes with me.
“Well, hey there,” Minnie Pearl said to me.
“Who me?” I said.
“Yes, you. Thanks for coming tonight, Sugar.”
I walked to my truck and felt like I was floating. And somehow within these moments I knew that no matter how crummy my life got, no matter how bad I screwed things up, everything would be all right.
And when I looked into the night sky, I saw the stars of Nashville, twinkling like rhinestones never could. And I could almost swear I heard Mister Ed laughing.
Well. I’m not as good with ghost stories as he was.
Toni Tucker Locke - April 11, 2019 7:25 am
Sarah Cannon was a member of a very large United Methodist Church in Brentwood where the Tennessee Conference of the UMC is most often held. A member of her church shared with me that she would slip into a back pew just as the worship service began and slip out just before it ended. In this way she made sure that the worship was all directed at the Lord and not her. She was surely a fine woman and a sweetheart of a character. I’m glad you AND your dad got up close and personal with her. Only real Southern Ladies can call you “Sugar” and mean it!
Karen - April 11, 2019 8:06 am
I have never been to the Grand Ole Opry, but I felt like I was there, reading your description: “…a star studded dream, wrapped in a beehive hairdo, with a guitar strapped to its chest” – that transported me. I have never heard your father, laugh, but I saw enough episodes of Mister Ed to know exactly how he sounded. Thank you.
Cathi - April 11, 2019 8:45 am
I had the honor of knowing Sarah Cannon & she was as fine a woman as you’d like to think. Minnie Pearl was a star in Nashville while Sarah was a pillar of the community. And if you’ve been “Sugared” by her, you’ve surely been blessed. Thank you for that smile & that memory, Sean!
Leah E Whitby - April 11, 2019 9:03 am
I lived in Nashville for 10 years. One of my best memories is taking my daughter and one of her college friends to The Opry. Thank you so much for making me think about that this morning. God is good!
Elizabeth - April 11, 2019 10:37 am
Oh, that’s a good one!
Sherry - April 11, 2019 12:47 pm
I do love Chili Cheese Fritos…and the Opry!
Barb Perry - April 11, 2019 1:30 pm
Oh my, this surely touched my heart, I am crying like a baby. Thanks for this precious memory of The Opry. Bless you!
Mary - April 11, 2019 2:24 pm
That, Sean, was a divine appointment. I’m so glad Sarah was obedient to the call.
Carol Heidbreder - April 11, 2019 2:35 pm
This was beautiful Sean! These things are the extra hugs we need from the Lord just when we need it most. Such blessings! God’s timing! Have had a few of these too! And the Grand Ole Opry? Well, that’s a little piece of heaven on earth! You are truly blessed and so are we, your readers for having you! Another one of Gods blessings! I thank Him every day for introducing you to me!
Jack Darnell - April 11, 2019 2:54 pm
Well sugar, that was a good one. There are some things that soothe the soul, when found it is a secret thrill.
Sherry & jack
PS: I was so glad to be here.
Carol - April 11, 2019 3:40 pm
No ghost story there!!Pure heavenly Sugar!!
Lois Young - April 11, 2019 7:02 pm
Just fantastic! I love your stories.
Mary Lee - April 11, 2019 7:27 pm
Ad always I love every word you write. Thank you for sharing.
Janie F. - April 11, 2019 8:53 pm
Sean Dietrich, you have a way of telling a story like no one else. I felt like I was there at the Opry with you and your daddy. What a precious memory to hold in your heart. Thank you for sharing it with me.
Pecos Kate - April 12, 2019 1:43 am
Your art work is GREAT today and every day.
Charaleen Wright - April 12, 2019 3:08 am
Dru - April 12, 2019 5:33 am
My best dessert of all time came straight from Sarah Ophelia Cannon’s cookbook. My mother-in-law did Minnie Pearl impressions in college assemblies years back, and we still have her hat and dress, which she sewed herself. Minnie was a national treasure, Sugar! So are you.
Johnny Wheeler - April 12, 2019 3:15 pm
One of my best friends was a fantastic fiddler. I had the pleasure of attending the Opry with him a number of times when he would play with some of the best singers of all time. I was privileged enough to hang out back stage. Your story brought back a lot of memories. Thanks.
Kathryn Arnold - April 12, 2019 11:23 pm
I’ve never been to the Opry, but I hope I’m there the first night you’re onstage.
Keith Bilbrey - April 13, 2019 3:40 am
I love this and it reminds me of my first visit to the Opry when I was 12 years old. It was my Dad’s favorite and we listened every Saturday night. It was that night in 1965 that I determined I would stand at that podium and be an announcer just like my hero, Grant Turner, the “Dean of Opry Announcers”. I lived that dream for 34 years. Thanks for the mention and the remarks about my dear friend, Minnie Pearl.
Lester Jewell - April 13, 2019 12:46 pm
Sean I sit here with joy in my soul reading this.Why you ask,cause like you I love me some Miss Minnie Pearl. As for George Jones, Well he is my favorite. My wife and I listen to the Opry most every Friday and Saturday nights on our XM as we truck all over the country. We’ve been a time or 2 to the Opry and yes you can feel the ghosts of Hank and Lefty and now George Jones..Thank you for this, It lifted my spirits up this morning.
Tawanah Bagwell - May 1, 2019 2:47 am
I am ready for you to make your debut on the Opry! I listen to it on the radio and I know you would be well received.
Debbie Shiflett - May 12, 2019 12:47 pm
What a gift you are Sean. I’m so thankful for you.