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Saturday, April 20, 2024 at 4:42 AM
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Meet Sean, hug his neck, share a story

A STORY WORTH TELLING

BY LEON ALDRIDGE

“ Your big-time writer is a person with incredibly poignant things to say about life and the profundity of the human condition … a columnist’s highest aspiration is for someone to cut his or her column out of the paper and hang it on the refrigerator.”

— Sean Dietrich, columnist, novelist, instrumentalist, singer and stand-up storyteller.

“Sean of the South,” the program flyer proclaimed. “After the show, stick around to meet Sean, hug his neck and maybe share a story of your own.”

As someone who has written a weekly column off and on for some 40 years, I also read a lot of columns.

Especially the storytelling kind. Hence, the tagline on my weekly blog offering; “A Story Worth Telling.”

Sean Dietrich also tells stories in columns. He’s famous. I’m not. Yet. And he writes one every day. I struggle to get one together once a week.

I remember Paul Crume’s “Big D” column he wrote for the front page of the Dallas Morning News every Sunday through Friday for 24 years. I read Crume’s column in high school and college in the 60s and 70s.

Reading storytelling columns was something I relished long before the thought ever crossed my mind that I might one day grow up and pretend to be a column writer.

In addition to writing a daily column and having authored 15 books, Dietrich’s work has appeared in Newsweek, Southern Living, Reader’s Digest, Garden and Gun, The Tallahassee Democrat, the Birmingham News and The Mobile Press-Register. And his column appears in newspapers throughout the U.S.

Not just an overachiever in writing; he plays multiple instruments, sings and appears on the Grand OIe Opry, too.

Sunday afternoon a week ago, Dietrich was in Mineola, Texas, of all places. A stretch for someone famous who lives in Birmingham, Alabama. He was there not just as an entertainer, but also as a fundraiser for the Flint and Steel Foundation.

According to the same program flyer in each seat at the civic center, “the Wood County nonprofit foundation’s aim is to advance educational, recreational and artistic opportunities for people of all ages in the area, especially older youth and young adults.”

Dietrich entertained for some 90 minutes, intertwining singing, playing several instruments, and relating humorous anecdotes about Southern lifestyles.

Said and done, all the proceeds went to the Flint and Steel Foundation. He is just that kind of guy.

Something you quickly learn about him if you’re a regular reader of his columns.

Having been one of those regular readers for a few years, I waited after the show to see him. Not for a hug so much as for the unique opportunity to see him in person and simply to shake his hand. Maybe get him to autograph his book I bought before the performance. And I even had a story to tell him. If he had time to listen.

Waiting in line, I thought about the meager feeling of accomplishment I had enjoyed seeing my column audience grow, now published in a handful of Texas newspapers plus a blog for the last eight years.

And how that was underscored recently when an automotive magazine contacted me. They wanted to include my column in their publication.

That was the beginning of the story I wanted to share with Sean of the South. If he had time to hear it.

Turns out he had time to hear my story and lots of others. He spent as much time visiting and hugging after the show as he did performing. Taking all the time needed, listening to what anyone who had waited in line had to say.

My time came. I stepped forward; arm extended for a handshake. Instead, he grabbed me in a bear hug with a slap on the back. “Thank you for coming,” he said.

“Where are you from?”

“Center,” I said.

Reading the “I don’t know where that is” look on his face, I explained. “Just 17 miles from the Louisiana border; closer to Shreveport than any sizable town in Texas.” After expressing my delight with his show and appreciation for his generosity, I added, “I have a quick story to share with you.”

“And I want to hear it,” he said. I told him I was just an old newspaper guy who enjoyed telling stories in columns. One who, after some years, had built an audience in a few newspapers and a weekly blog.

“But the pinnacle of my pursuit,” I continued, “ was when Motorsports Magazine wanted to start publishing my work recently. I was super excited when I received my first issue and saw my column in it. Then I turned the page and there was yours. Imagine that,” I said. “My column; published in the same magazine with Sean Dietrich!

“I’ve shown it to everyone,” I added.

The gracious Southern gentleman, writer, storyteller and musician listened intently without interruption. When I finished, he said with a smile, “Well, if I’m going to be in the same magazine with you, I’m going to have to up my standards.”

“Wow,” I thought while driving home that night. “Maybe someone will cut my column out of a newspaper and hang it on their refrigerator.

Someday”


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