Precious memories

Sean of the South



This Thanksgiving season I’m thankful for good memories. First and foremost.

Memories I have made with my wife, with my family, with my fishing rod. Memories of happy childhood days, memories of minor triumphs, of people who loved me, and memories involving beer.

Yes. I am infinitely grateful for pleasant memories. Because nothing in this world stays the same, everything changes. Things deteriorate. Health fades. Car warranties expire. Beauty goes south in a hurry. But memories, once they’re formed, don’t change. Some even get better with age.

You can time travel if you pick the right memory. You can surf into the past and remember moments that made you feel strong, encouraged, lighthearted, and alive.

I’m grateful for my memories.

I’m also thankful for good books. You don’t know how immeasurably books have helped me throughout my life. Every guy has his vice. Books are mine. I am an addict of the printed word.

I love all books. Fiction, non-fiction, “Adventure Comics,” spiral bound cookbooks, Chilton auto repair manuals, farmers’ almanacs, and outdated encyclopedias from yard sales.

And don’t even get me started on bookstores. I can walk into a small, independently owned bookstore, listen to the tiny bell ding above the door, smell the scent of a paperbound world, and my heart turns into bread pudding.

I feel the same fondness for libraries.

Growing up I was an educational failure. After my father’s suicide I did not attend high school. I dropped out of the seventh grade. As a result, almost everything I ever learned – which ain’t much – came from the library.

Today, I am proud to say that my true alma mater is indeed the American library. The old-woman librarian is my professor, the Dewey Decimal System is my roadmap for life, Louis L’Amour and Samuel Clemens are my classmates.

In my modest opinion, the library is the greatest invention given to us by mankind, aside from the George Foreman grill.

Something else I am grateful for are the beaches of West Florida. The Ninth Wonder of the World.

My home state of Florida has over 1,197 continuous miles of coastline – that’s a distance roughly three times the length of Nebraska. Most of this coastline is inhabited by old people in jogging suits with Brooklyn accents. But you can still find a private beach if you look hard enough.

It doesn’t matter where you stand in Florida, geographically, you will never be more than sixty miles from the sight of water. Growing up in a place like this does something to you, it changes your biology.

As a North Floridian man, I have saltwater-thin blood and no tolerance for temperatures below 69 degrees. If it snowed, I’d probably die of thrombosis.

I need the Gulf of Mexico. “Need” being the keyword. It is a physiological need. An inalienable need. I need to hear gulls and crashing breakers. I need ospreys and herons and sea oats and alligators and giant skink lizards procreating in my garage.

Let’s see. What else?

Oh, yeah. I’m grateful for baseball. This year the Atlanta Braves won the World Series. Don’t tell me miracles aren’t real.

I’m grateful for greasy hamburgers that ruin your clothes. And ribs. For old photographs of people I love. For good dogs who, when they sense you’re having a rough day, bury their muzzles in your lap and force you to love them.

I am grateful for my wife. She is my life raft.

I am grateful for mashed potatoes made by hand, for Cheez-Its, old Levi’s jeans, worn belt buckles that belonged to my father, anything Pabst, and the sound babies make when you blow raspberries on their bare bellies.

And I’m grateful for my mother’s old Bible.

The tattered book is covered in Scotch tape and age. The pages are brittle, the red cover is falling apart and held together by only dirt and good will.

There is a handwritten note on the inside flap, written in my grandmother’s perfect hand. It was a note to my mother; my grandmother was giving my mother a Bible verse.

“Have I not commanded thee? Be strong and of good courage, be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed; for the Lord thy God is with thee wheresoever thou goest.”

I’ve thought about these particular words a lot during my lifetime. I’ve doubted them. I’ve ignored them. I’ve pretended they don’t matter. I’ve written them off as old-lady-speak.

But I don’t do that anymore.

And I can’t quit wondering: Why did my grandmother choose those words? The King James Bible contains 783,137 words. Out of all the passages in the Good Book, why that one?

Why select a few sentences on fear? Why not a verse on how to be happy, or successful, or filthy stinking rich? Or maybe a cute proverb about little lambs eating ivy?

Well, maybe the old woman knew things. Perhaps she knew that life can make you afraid. Deeply afraid. Paralyzingly afraid. The kind of fear that cripples your nervous system and alters your brain chemistry.

Maybe she also knew that sometimes her offspring would experience this kind of fear. Maybe even her unborn grandson. Maybe.

Either way, long ago I once heard an old woman say that fear looks to the future, but gratitude always looks to the past.

Which is why, as I say, I’m grateful for good memories.

Sean Dietrich is a columnist, novelist, and podcast host, known for his commentary on life in the American South. His work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, he has authored 13 books, and he is creator of the Sean of the South Podcast.