We first met at a Little Free Library. About a mile from my house. I was walking through the ancient neighborhoods of Birmingham. I was with my dog, carrying a little plastic baggy of poop.

The antique houses caught the light from the setting sun. There was the sound of a leaf blower in the distance. Kids on bikes.

Birmingham is a classically beautiful city. Seeing it at eye level is the only way to appreciate it.

She was a little older woman, digging through the public bookcase. Ninety pounds, max. Mid-80s. She was wearing a sweatshirt that read “I’m a side chick—mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, dressing, candied yams, cranberry sauce.”

She held a Dorothy Garlock book in her hand. I was waiting my turn behind her.

I love Little Free Libraries. I’m a big reader. Little Free Libraries are one of the most beautiful inventions mankind ever created except for, of course, beer.

“Have you ever read Dorothy Garlock?” the woman asked.

“No, ma’am.”

“It’s woman crap, but it’s good,” she said.

The woman weighed the book in her hand. “Are you looking for something to read?”


“Why don’t you take this? You’ll like it.”

“I don’t want to steal your book.”

“It’s okay. I know where you live. And I know jujitsu.”

I took the book. It was a fantastic read. Historical fiction. Set in olden times. With just the right amount of sap. I fell in love with the author because she, too, was an old woman.

Dorothy Garlock was born in 1919, in Texas. Garlock worked for 14 years as a bookkeeper and columnist for a local newspaper before retiring at age 49. To fill her time, Dorothy started writing stories. And that’s when her writing career took off. In her golden years she authored over 50 historical fiction books. She died at 98. She was still writing.

I returned the book to the old woman’s house. She invited me in. We had Saltine crackers and pimento cheese. She kept her Saltines in a tin box. She served me iced tea sweet enough to break your jaw.

She asked what I did for a living. I told her I was a writer. The woman got so excited. She read every book I ever wrote. She came to my one-man performances.

She lent me more Dorothy Garlock books. I read them all. And we kept doing this for a little while. I was a Birmingham transplant. She was one of my first friends here.

“Everyone needs friends,” she said to me once, as she kissed my hair.

The woman’s daughters rarely visited her because they lived in other states. Her son had died in a car accident. And I got the sense that the woman was lonely.

She called me once to help power wash her fence. I helped her out. Another time, I helped plant some boxwoods. She paid me in Dorothy Garlock novels.

But over the years, we sort of lost touch. Although sometimes I’d see her when I was out walking. And we’d always talk.

A few months ago, I was walking past her little house. I saw the EMTs. I saw the ambulance. I saw the flashing lights. I stood at the curb. There were neighbors gathered on the street. I asked them what happened.

They all just shook their heads.

I wanted to cry. I don’t know why. I didn’t know her. Not really. I have no reason to get sentimental about a total stranger.

But you don’t forget kindness, no matter how small. You don’t forget your friends, no matter how close you were.

And you never forget side chicks.

Sean Dietrich is a columnist and novelist known for his commentary on life in the American South. He has authored nine books and is the creator of the “Sean of the South” blog and podcast. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.

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