Some of you may have heard of Sean Dietrich. He writes a syndicated column, has written a couple of books, including “Stars of Alabama,” and he has a podcast, “Sean of the South.” Sean lives over in the Florida panhandle and was “raised” near Destin, though he is “more than familiar” with the “birth ground” of LA, better known as “Lower Alabama,” home of my two best friends in the world, Sue and Carolyn Burkett, Jasper, Florida, who grew up near Sampson, Alabama, not far from Dothan and Florala, and also home to the late, great Hank Williams Sr. and many other notable Americans including Sean’s wife, Janet who grew up in Brewton, Alabama.
At my age, there is not a lot that excites me anymore, but, when my beloved cousin phoned me over the weekend and related to me that Sean Dietrich would be coming to Gateway College soon in Lake City, and she would go with me to see him, I came close to rising up from my bed and dancing a jig, notice I expressed “close.”
Sean Dietrich is a great writer, and it’s not that he is fantastic in the tradition of Eduora Welty or Truman Capote, or Flannery O’Connor, but, in a way, he is. He simply writes about what he knows, the people and situations around him, and he expresses what he knows in the most descriptive way, and in a way where anyone “gets it,” if reading is your thing, and it is mine. I also love him because he knows about struggle, and I think to be a good writer, struggle has to be an element in one’s life. His Dad committed suicide when he was 12 years of age. Anyplace in the nation, suicide is a difficult and tragic event. In the Deep South, there was a time it simply wasn’t discussed and when mentioned folks averted their eyes. So much of that has changed, and I am glad of it.
Not that any of you particularly have a need to know, but there are two celebrities in this world, I would love to meet before going on to my reward, I SAW one in concert when I was about 8 years old over at the Jacksonville Coliseum, and she was much younger, and I was a mere child, and that was Dolly Parton. Back then, Dolly was singing with Porter Wagoner. Since that time, Dolly Parton has become practically a “household” name in the United States of America. What I love so about Dolly is, to me, she is the true American success story. She didn’t see failure as an option. She once said to a talk show host, “Had I not made it in the music business, I couldn’t be any poorer than I was. She told her high school graduating class she was going to Nashville to be a Country and Western music star. There was a ripple of laughter from the audience. I’ll bet some of those folks aren’t laughing now.
You know one of the things other than the fact she is a phenomenal singer and songwriter that I love about Dolly Parton. She has never gotten “above her raising.” For those of you who need interpretation. She knows what it was like to drink well water from a pitcher pump. She’s not doing it now, but she could do it, and she does not feel that she’s so rarified with her nose stuck up in the air that she’d drown if there came a good shower of rain. Some folks are that way. The ones I love are those who are the “pretenders.” They’ve made a little money or sometimes a good bit, and I am happy for them. But, if you want to see the look of pure fear on some of their faces, give, even just a small dinner party with no more than “six” pieces of silver and a bread and butter plate and a couple of crystal goblets and watch the look of fear come into their eyes. Now, Dolly would be like me, she’d be open enough to say to her hostess “I need your help honey” and not miss a beat asking for it, and she has dined with Presidents and Kings. I admire that. I admire, too, she has given back to her community through hiring numerous folks at her amusement park “Dollywood” and providing books, tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of books to children in Appalachia who would not have had books. I would give anything to talk with her just 10 minutes, probably never will, but it would be fun. She would make it that way, and everyone would go away feeling better. That’s class to me. It’s not about whether you wear white after Labor Day, as I wrote last week, but it’s the way you treat others when folks are not watching. Some folks have it. Others never will and money is not what makes it. It can make the package look better, but not the contents inside.
Now, I add the second person I long to meet, and maybe I will meet him and talk to talk to and that is: Sean Dietrich. Raised by a widowed mother, kind of a “geeky” child, told he wasn’t much of a writer. He married a remarkable lady who believed in him, encouraged him, and, folks, whatever the “IT” is folks need to succeed with the written word. He has it. I love his writing, and I love his honesty.
Both Dolly and Sean stay away from politics. I always loved the late President Harry Truman. “The Buck Stops Here.” He meant it. He once challenged a journalist to a fight for criticizing daughter Margaret Truman’s singing, and Margaret wasn’t much of a singer, but she was her Daddy’s baby, and I get that. You will fight a circle saw about your baby. You can cuss me for anything in the world. I might slap you for doing it, but if you start on my family, be forewarned, I will go “ghetto” on you and maybe forget I was raised a gentleman. My cousin once said “I would rather walk through hell with gasoline soaked drawers than tangle with you verbally, and you never use a profane word, but the message is clear to the one hearing it.” I have always considered that a compliment.
Sean Dietrich, the “real deal.” He can write about cornbread and make you taste it. He can write about the death of a favorite dog, and you will weep crocodile tears. He can write about preaching and singing at small country churches, and you can hear it and feel it. He can write about his genteel Alabama mother-in-law he loves and her sister, and you can picture them. The kind of Southern ladies who have their hair “done” each Friday, set and “combed out,” manicures, pedicures, and who can bake the best pound cake and cook the best fried chicken this side of glory. The kind of Southern lady who can say “I love you baby” or “It’s going to be alright.” The kind of Southern lady that still, to this day, makes my heart break and this may not be politically popular but when I occasionally watch “Gone with the Wind,” and the scene where Scarlett O’Hara goes in after that awful trip from Atlanta with Melanie Wilkes, and her mother Ellen Robillard O’Hara is laid out on the “cooling board” dead from typhoid from nursing that “white trash” Emmy Slattery, who was sick with typhoid, and Scarlett screams and collapses. The saddest scene in that movie, because her mother represented all she wanted to be and a civilization “Gone with the Wind.”
If Emmy Slattery had typhoid, a prayer for your honey and good luck, and I was raised to be a gentleman, but I am too pragmatic to be a great gentleman, but I do try, and I will relate this to you: Dolly Parton, for all the wigs and sparkle clothes is a lady, and Sean Dietrich is a gentleman, because it’s what’s in the heart that counts. The outside can fool you with its glitz and glamor, but it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
My mother is the real deal, and she told me once, of all the teachers she had in Suwannee County going through in the thirties to the early fifties, and she graduated in 1952, that five stood out to her, the late Mrs. Nettie Baisden, the late Mrs. Maxine Clayton Miller, the late Irene Beauchamp Bozeman, the late Mrs. Nettie Bass Collins, and the late Mrs. Susie Williams. I asked her “why?” and she said “they were real ladies, and they treated each child like they had potential whether you were rich, poor, or “in between.” In the end, that’s what a real lady or gentleman is. Period!!!
By the way, a little hope, the first goldenrods are blooming, one of the fall’s pre-heralds. Old folks would say “Six weeks till the weather cools down when you see the golden rod. Six weeks till a frost when the dog fennel blooms.” Come on. Come on. A dear friend said she didn’t cut the first of her hurricane lilies and bring them inside this year, and Dorian passed us by, and that when she cut them, we received some damage from hurricanes. From now on, she said, the hurricane lilies stay in the garden. People ask why I love where I live, statements like that bout the hurricane lily, and my Mama’s pecan pie. From the Eight Mile Still on the Woodpecker Route north of White Springs, wishing you a day filled with joy, peace, and, above all, lots of love and laughter.