The first concert I ever saw was the Oak Ridge Boys. I was 2 years old. Mama took me. I pooped my diaper while they were singing “Elvira.” My mother changed me at the foot of the stage as I was singing at the top of my voice. One of the Oak Ridge Boys gagged, mid-song.
“That’s Mama’s little musician,” said my mother, wiping my hind parts.
The next concert I ever saw was the “Grand Ole Opry.” My father moved us to Tennessee because he was building the GM plant in Spring Hill. Mama knew I loved music, so she carried me to “country music’s biggest stage.”
I remember seeing Jerry Clower. I remember a Bluegrass group practically lighting their instruments on fire. I remember Minnie Pearl.
During the Opry performance, Mama stood me on the back of the pew so I could sing along. She kissed my cheeks and said, “That’s Mama’s little musician.”
Mama bought my first nice guitar. It was the first “fine” instrument I ever owned. A Gibson. Student model, B-15. It was indestructible. You could use this guitar to tenderize meat. I still have it.
And it was Mama who bought my first piano on my 9th birthday. Mama bought a second-hand piano from the classifieds. She sent my father to pick it up. He bribed his friends to move the instrument with cases of free Busch. As a result, the piano was beat to heck.
I began playing piano in church at age 10. I was an accompanist. My mother was so proud. She always sat on the front pew at church and told innocent bystanding visitors that I was her son. “He’s our little musician.”
Throughout the years, I would go on to break my mother’s heart a million times. After my father took his own life, Mama became a single mother. She struggled to make ends meet, cleaning condos. I threw my education away and dropped out of school. I helped pay rent.
As a teenager, I took my piano and guitar into dens of iniquity. I played in beer joints because I’ve had a lifelong love affair with Willie Nelson. I sang cheating songs and drinking songs that shamed my mother.
By the time I was a married man, I was a loser without a high-school diploma. I had no pot to you-know-what in and no proverbial window to throw it out of.
I was a construction worker. I hung gutters. I scooped ice cream. I flipped burgers. I even did a short stint as a telemarketer.
In my late 20s, I decided I wanted to go to college. My mother paid for my first class. It cost her almost $100 for the first semester. That was a lot of money for a cleaning lady.
The first class I took was Creative Writing. The first essay I wrote was about a woman named Mama. The essay had water spots on it when I turned it in.
That one essay would change my life. Writing itself would change my life. Writing would lead me into producing newspaper columns. Which would lead me into doing speaking engagements. Which led to doing a one-man musical show, where I would tell stories and play an old Gibson guitar.
Over the last decade, I have taken this pitiful one-man show to 39 different U.S. states. I have played Mama’s guitar all over the Union. And just yesterday morning, my wife got an email.
My wife read this email aloud.
“Dear Sean and Jamie,” the letter read, “‘The Grand Ole Opry’ would be thrilled if Sean would appear on the show … Please let us know some dates that might work for you.”
I cried. My wife cried. My God. This had to be a joke. But it wasn’t.
The first person I texted was Mama. There were streams running down my cheeks as I thumb-typed on my phone.
In only point-two nanoseconds, my mother responded. “That’s Mama’s little musician,” she wrote.
So here’s to the woman who changed my diapers at the feet of the Oak Ridge Boys; who introduced me to Minnie Pearl; who made me what I am; who foolishly believed in her failure of a son, even when nobody else did, not even himself. Happy birthday, Mama.
Listen for your name on the air.
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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