I went for a walk with my niece, Lucy. Lucy is 5. We were in the forests of Equality, Alabama. Which isn’t the Middle of Nowhere, but you can see it from here.

The sun was low in the pines. The frogs were inheriting the earth. There were lightning bugs, which some Midwesterners call fireflies because—God love them—they’ve never been taught any better.

The only flowers in the ditches were black-eyed Susans. A few daisies. But not many.

“I want to pick flowers for my mama,” said Lucy.

Lucy’s Mama is my sister. My baby sister. She used to look just like Lucy.

My towheaded niece darted back and forth, grasping handfuls of wildflowers, reminding me of my kid sister.

My baby sister was impulsive. Hardheaded. Cocksure. I never worried about her when she dated boys. Because when my sister liked you she liked you. When she didn’t, you’d better be wearing a protective cup.

“Do brothers and sisters always love each other?” asked my niece.

“Yes. They do.”

“Do you love my mama?”


My sister and I grew up hard. It wasn’t the kind of childhood depicted in Hallmark Channel movies. Our father died by suicide. I dropped out of school in seventh grade. My sister quit attending class in Kindergarten. She finally learned to read in her mid-twenties.

But still, our childhood had its moments.

We watched a lot of TV together. We played games. We had our own short-hand language, which only we could interpret. She imitated me because there was nobody else to imitate.

I was a pitiful example. But what I lacked in fatherly behavior, I made up for in ice cream.

That’s right. Ice cream. My sister and I once worked at an ice cream shop together. We used to work the same shift sometimes. We ate so much ice cream that her big brother developed a 36-inch waistline.

The best part of that job, however, was that next door was a Barnes & Noble bookstore. My sister and I would meander to the bookstore, still wearing our uniforms, and hang out in the cafe. She’d ask me to read books aloud to her.

“You should be a writer someday,” she said one night.

“I can’t,” I said. “I’ve never even been to high school.”

“Yeah, but you’re the smartest person I know.”

“You need to meet more people.”

“I think you should do it,” she said. “You read all the time. You’re amazing.”

I closed the book. “I’m nothing, Sarah. One day you’ll find that out. And, believe me, it will break my heart when you learn the truth. But it is true. Your brother is a loser.”

We were quiet for a while.

“Besides,” I said, “what would I write about?”

“You could write about our lives,” she said. “About all we’ve been through. You might even write about how we worked in an ice cream shop together and how you got really fat.”

Over the years, my sister taught herself to read. She taught herself to be a mother. She taught herself to be a business owner. She taught herself a lot. One thing she never taught herself was how to be bitter.

Soon, my niece had a handful of black-eyed Susans. And on our walk back home, she found Equality’s only purple coneflower, growing in a ditch. You don’t find coneflowers in South Alabama.

“Do you see this flower?” I said to Lucy. “This is a very rare flower in South Alabama.”

Lucy ran forward and snatched the flower out of the earth.

“We should give this flower to my mom,” the 5-year-old said. “Because she’s pretty rare, too.”

“Good idea,” said I.

Good idea.

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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