She was cool. That was my initial thought when I first met her. She was just cool.

It wasn’t her milk-chocolate hair. Or her Poarch Creek skin. Or her quirky mannerisms. Or her loud, Alabamian voice. Or the way she spoke, like everything she said carried the same level of importance as, say, national security.

It wasn’t her filthy ‘89 Nissan Altima. Her car was disgusting. Before you crawled inside, you wanted to make sure you were current on all your shots. Her backseat was littered in culinary school textbooks, mostly with French titles. Fleetwood Mac was in the cassette player. There was a church key in the ashtray.

It wasn’t that she was bossy—I have a thing for bossy women. It wasn’t that she was a tomboy—I have a thing for tomboys. It wasn’t that she truly believed she could beat me at arm wrestling, and then proceeded to do so.

It wasn’t that she knew all the words to Joe Diffie’s “Pickup Man,” or that she could clear a dance floor whenever they played “Watermelon Crawl.”

It wasn’t the way that dogs and children always followed her around. And it wasn’t the way she smelled without perfume; a sweet smell, mixed with a little sweat.

It wasn’t the way she listened intently when someone spoke, with a slightly tensed brow, like she was REALLY listening. Either that, or she was trying to solve the Riemann Hypothesis.

It wasn’t the way she laughed too much. Or the way she was always cracking jokes. Or that she had her black belt in sarcasm. Or the way we could spend 138 hours in a car together, without one serious word being spoken between us.

Or the way she chewed her nails. Or the way she never had to shave her legs because she is the only human being I’ve ever known who was devoid of arm and leg hair.

It wasn’t the way she always pulled over to help someone with a flat tire, or a dead battery, or an out-of-state tag, or whatever the problem may be.

It wasn’t that she saved pop tabs from her own aluminum cans (and the aluminum cans of anyone within the Continental United States), for donation to Ronald McDonald House. She had several dozen shoeboxes full of tabs. She was heck at a tailgate party.

It wasn’t the way she could carry on a one-woman conversation with herself whenever she called you on the phone. It wasn’t the way she wrote thank-yous for every occasion, including the onset of Daylight Saving Time. It wasn’t the way she planned family Christmases, at minimum, 12 years in advance.

It wasn’t the way she had to know exactly what was in random people’s refrigerators at various houses she visited.

It wasn’t the way she subscribed to “Cook’s Illustrated” magazine, or that she owned every “Southern Living” cookbook predating the French and Indian War.

It wasn’t that she made pimento cheese that was good enough to make a grown man slap his grandmother. It wasn’t that she could prepare pound cake without consulting a recipe card.

It wasn’t that she always—ALWAYS—looked for the underdogs. It wasn’t that she had good manners. It wasn’t that she possessed enough etiquette to befriend the village idiot, and then be kind enough to take his last name.

It wasn’t that she once told a middle-school dropout that he could be whatever he wanted in this life. It wasn’t that she had the wherewithal to actually help him do it.

No, it wasn’t any of that. It was simply that she was the only woman he ever loved. And after a few decades of marriage, she still is.

Happy 50th birthday, Jamie.

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

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