The Story

I drove four hours to meet the editor of a big-city newspaper. I walked into a large office wearing my nicest necktie. I was young. Wide-eyed.

She told me I had five minutes. I handed her a pathetic resume so tiny it needed a magnifying glass.

“You’re not even a journalism major?” she remarked.

“No ma’am.”

“You’re still in community college?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You’re wasting my time. I’ve got journalists lining up around the block. Find me a good story, and maybe we’ll talk.”

A good story.

The next day, I stopped at a nursing home. I walked inside and asked if there were any storytellers in the bunch.

The woman at the desk gave me a look. “They’re ALL storytellers, sweetie.”

She introduced me to a ninety-four-year-old man. We sat in the cafeteria. I asked to hear about his life. He said, “You with the IRS or something?”

He talked, and he was eighteen again. A rural boy who’d never set foot in a schoolhouse. His father used a wheelchair. His mother was dead.

Then, he met her. She’d moved to town to teach school. When he saw her at church, he couldn’t take his eyes off her. He approached her with an idea.

“I played on her sympathy,” he said. “Was my only hope, she was too pretty to be seen with me.”

He asked her to teach him to read. She agreed. He made fast progress—which was no surprise. He would’ve rather died than disappoint a pretty girl.

They married. She taught, he farmed. During those years, he remembers how they sat together in the evenings, watching evening take hold of the world. Love can be simple.

She died before age forty.

It was crippling. He gave up living. His fields went to weed. He lost his farm. He lost himself. He checked into a room at the motor-inn.

“I had nothing left,” he said. “I sat on the bed with a thirty-eight caliber in my hand…”

There sat a cardboard-bound, bestselling book on the motel nightstand.

He opened it. He read a passage. Then another. And another. He stayed awake all night, reading the red words. That’s when he claimed everything changed.

He remarried. He had three kids, a career working for an auto-part distributor. He paid three tuition fees, and watched five grandchildren grow.

“If Loretta wouldn’t have taught me to read,” he said, “I coulda never read the first word, and I wouldn’t be here, talking into your little tape recorder. She saved me.”

That night, I typed seven hundred words about him. It was the first thing I ever wrote that felt important. It took me a week to edit. I brought it to the newspaper.

The lady at the newspaper showed me the door.

“Sorry,” she said. “This isn’t journalism, we don’t print this kinda thing. We have an expression in the news business, son. If it bleeds, it leads. People don’t want feel-good crap.”

Like I said, I was young.

The old man died not long after. They buried him in a suit. Necktie. A ratty book in his hands. He wore a Gideon lapel pin and held a framed copy of an unpublished story some kid once wrote about him.

I’m writing this because once I wanted to be a journalist. And because I’m grateful we don’t always get everything we want.


  1. Leslie Criss - June 15, 2023 5:37 am

    I wrote “feel-good crap” for three Mississippi newspapers over a period of 30-plus years. Many editors and news reporters called what I did “fluff,” which is a little better then “feel-good crap,” but not much. Truth is, people love to read human interest stories. And even more important, they need them. This world is a frightening and cruel place these days, and people need feel good stories more than ever. Because of your column about Paige, people who revere you and your stories contributed almost $70,000 in less than 24 hours. That long-ago editor should be ashamed. Never doubt there is a great need for people who look for the good, find it and then share it with others. Thank you, Sean.

    • Dee Thompson - June 15, 2023 11:50 am

      Your comment is perfect. I am a journalist too, and I much prefer writing human interest stories, which is why I started blogging, so I could write whatever I want. We need more stories about humans with faith, humans struggling that we can help (Paige) and fewer stories about violence, IMHO.

  2. Diana - June 15, 2023 11:56 am

    Oh how wrong she was. People do want and need fell good stories, I being one of those people. Thanks Sean, this was one of my favorites.

  3. stephen e acree - June 15, 2023 1:06 pm

    Sometimes we dont get what we think we want and end up exactly with what we need and come to love. We get all the bleeding, leading, law enforcement needing news all day long. Your’s take on the world is a respite from the mean world as it is presented. You help prove it is not that mean or unkiind. Thank you, Sean.

  4. Richard Owen - June 15, 2023 1:26 pm

    That is the kind of pieces that WERE printed in the Walton Sun. You probably read a few of them by my wife between 2001 and 2012. I used to roam the county as the paper’s only photographer listening like you do to the people around me and filing away story ideas for my journalist wife. And we called them “human-interest” stories like Leslie Cross stated. Some were feel good but others, like your Paige piece, brought out the good in people.

  5. Gay T - June 15, 2023 1:37 pm

    I wrote these feature stories for the city newspaper while in college. Those assignments were meaningful and connected me to the community. Thank you for creating community and following your passions.

  6. Julie Hall - June 15, 2023 1:55 pm

    I am absolutely grateful we don’t always get what we want. I am also glad YOU didn’t get what you wanted. I am thanking God you got this “gig” writing this “feel-good crap”.

  7. johnny - June 15, 2023 3:04 pm


  8. Dianne Humphrey - June 15, 2023 3:21 pm

    For all of the above reasons stated in your comments, I shared this story on Facebook this morning. Thank you.

  9. pattymack43 - June 15, 2023 9:35 pm

    THE PERFECT STORY!!! I’ve read your blog every day for over 4 years. THIS is the VERY BEST!! Why, this particular one you ask. I’ll tell you. It is “because we don’t always get everything we want”. I, too, am very grateful for that!! Thank you for reminding us. Blessings!!

  10. Slimpicker - June 16, 2023 2:58 am

    There is a song that expresses, “thank God for unanswered prayers”. I’m sure we all have had one or two of them.

  11. Karen Snyder - June 19, 2023 2:31 am

    “. . . Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” ~ Garth Brooks 🎶


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