Sean Dietrich is a writer, humorist and novelist known for his commentary on life in the American south. His humor and short fiction have appeared in South Magazine, the Tallahassee Democrat and Bitter Southerner. We’re thrilled to be featuring him in The Beachcomber, and you can—and should—read more of his stuff at www.seandietrich.com.
On a little plot of land, in the middle of no-damn-where, stood a small house. One that leaned a little to the left, as though it sipped too much whiskey. If you walked inside, you would’ve seen four names etched into a wood baseboard, crudely.
Sam put the names there.
It was during the Christmas of 1928, a particularly cold year. The same year the movie house played the world’s first Mickey Mouse cartoon. And it was the same year he lost his daddy, too.
To earn money, 17-year-old Sam got a job on a nearby farm. He worked in exchange for loaves of bread and bags of hominy. But, the bread didn’t do Sam any good. His younger brother and sister were the ones who needed it.
That holiday season, the doctor told Sam if he didn’t eat something substantial, he’d soon turn into a pine tree. Then, the doc slipped Sam a dollar.
Without skipping a beat, Sam took his dollar, and bought a damn chicken. Feathers and all. He kept it alive until Christmas morning. And, I understand when the feast was over, not a single fiber of flesh remained on a nary a bone.
After supper, Sam told his siblings he had a gift for them.
“Gift?” they shouted, almost peeing on themselves.
“What?” his mother said. “Why, we don’t even have a tree.”
Sam displayed the four names, freshly carved into the wood. “See,” declared Sam. “We do have gifts.”
“But,” his sister said. “It’s just our names.”
“No it ain’t,” said Sam. “Those are four souls, a family. We belong to one another, we’re each other’s gift.”
Sixty-five years later, Sam would tell this story to his grandson.
And now, his grandson has just told it to you.
THE CLASS YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF
The auditorium was nearly empty at Walton Academy’s graduation. It took place in DeFuniak Springs, Florida this past weekend.
Not long ago, I’d never even heard of this county school before. It’s not a traditional high school. Many of the students hail from Paxton or Mossy Head. They come from hardworking families, with no means.
The 2015 class was tiny, not enough graduates to form a baseball team. Their ceremony was casual. If you showed up in anything more than a T-shirt, you found yourself overdressed.
Take me, for instance: I was overdressed.
I noticed the graduates weren’t taking selfies. A teacher told me it’s because most of them don’t have cell phones. She said they didn’t take senior trips, attend proms, or apply to colleges either. They’re too busy with full-time jobs, and newborns.
The teacher went on to say she keeps food in her classroom since the kids don’t have enough to eat at home. Charities dole out bags of groceries sometimes. “But you gotta get there early,” one student says. “All the bags get snatched quick.”
These are Walton County’s rejects. They know it too. Most of them don’t make it past eighth grade.
But these graduates did.
They were a handsome lot. Under-confident children wearing gowns. The students threw their caps in the air. The thin crowd rose to its feet. The man next to me, still in dirty work clothes, clapped so hard he nearly broke his wrist.
“That’s my son,” he said.
Yes it was.
It certainly was.
MY FEMININE SIDE
Doctors aren’t perfect. Last week, my doctor prescribed me a women’s fertility medication by accident, instead of an antibiotic. No joke. But it wasn’t his fault. His office accidentally called in the wrong prescription.
The first day on the meds: I noticed I had a stronger sense of smell.
Second day: I was a little grumpy, and my pants didn’t fit.
Day three: the medication kicked in with full feminine-power. I woke up hungry, and my nipples hurt.
Jamie asked, “Do you want some eggs for breakfast?”
I misheard her. I thought she called me a “miserable fat-ass.”
The next day, things went from bad to worse. I had cramps like I was about to give birth to a litter of goldfish. I also laughed for no reason, then cried. Then laughed again.
After which, I cried.
So, I drove to Krispy Kreme. I plowed through a dozen glazed donuts with both hands. Then, I returned home to watch Steel Magnolias on television. Afterward, I cried in the shower until we ran out of hot water.
Before bedtime, I cranked our thermostat down to forty degrees and redecorated the living room. Twice. That was the final straw. Jamie insisted I go to the doctor.
“What seems to be the problem?” the doc asked.
I sighed. “Things aren’t good.”
“Oh? Why don’t you tell me what’s wrong.”
It took me a few minutes to stop sobbing.
“It’s my wife,” I said. “She doesn’t pay attention to me. And I feel fat.”
So, he wrote me a new script.
For a pap smear.