By Sean Dietrich
I was interviewed by a nine-year-old. I’ll call her “Kay,” but that’s not her name.
Kay is my hero. Kay is a foster child who loves Auburn University football. Kay is also serious about the sanctity of the interview process. Kay wants to be a lawyer when she grows up.
Her digital recorder sat on the table. She gave me a bottled water. She also had prepared homemade pimento cheese.
It was very good cheese. However, instead of using pimentos, Kay used homegrown habanero peppers from her foster-mother’s garden. Lots and lots of peppers.
The skin on my tongue will be forevermore mutilated by these peppers. My lower intestinal tract will never be the same.
The interview was for Kay’s school. Kay was supposed to be writing about people who were fascinating. But, she couldn’t find anyone, so she wrote about me.
She pressed the button on the recorder. “Please state your name,” said Kay, her pencil poised.
“Your FULL name, please,” Kay said, preventing obstruction of justice.
“Sean P. Dietrich.”
“What does the ‘P’ stand for, please?”
“No, not really, I was just trying to make you laugh.”
But Kay does not laugh or smile. Kay would make a very good poker player.
“Sean, tell me how you started writing?”
“With a pencil,” I said.
“Please be serious.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’m a writer by accident, really.”
“I was no good at anything else. And believe me, I’ve tried it all. I’ve worked a lot of jobs.”
“What kinds of jobs?”
“Oh boy, let’s see…. I’ve been a drywaller, a landscaper, an electrician’s assistant, a commercial framer, a house painter, an ice-cream scooper, a commercial fishing deckhand, a church pianist, and once, after a wild night in Biloxi, I was ordained.”
“Is that true?” said Kay. “Were you really ordained?”
I retrieve the little plastic card from my wallet to prove it.
“You mean you’re still ordained?” she asked. “Remember, you’re under oath, Sean.”
“Yes,” I said. “One of my friends wanted me to officiate their Baptist wedding ceremony, so I had to get ordained in the state of Alabama.”
“So are you Baptist?”
“A recovering one.”
“What do you mean?”
“I was raised Southern Baptist, and that means we ate pear salad, dancing was a federal crime, and my mother ironed my jeans.”
“But what about now?”
“Now, I wear jeans that haven’t been ironed, and I do the Cha-Cha Slide at weddings sometimes.”
Little Miss Auburn made notes.
“What are your beliefs on God?” she asked.
Jiminy Christmas. This kid is tough. I was once interviewed by Don Noble on Alabama Public Television, wearing makeup, under very bright studio lights. Don has nothing on this nine-year-old.
“My beliefs on God,” I said, loosening my collar. “Well, I guess I believe that God, um, loves everybody.”
“Well, that’s just it, I can’t explain because I don’t know enough. I’m not smart enough. What do you think about it?”
“Me?” She furrowed her brow. “I think he watches over kids, and loves us all. And I know God is an Auburn fan.”
“Gimme a break, Sweetheart. Everybody knows that on the Eighth Day God created Nick Saban.”
“Would you like some more pimento cheese, Mister Sean?”
“No thank you.”
“Who is your hero?” she asked for her final question.
And I had to think about this. Truth be told, I have had a lot of heroes in my day. Not famous people. Common people. The old men who stepped into my life after my father died when I was a boy. Men who sort of made me what I am. They treated me like I was somebody.
Also, my mother. And the church ladies who babysat me. And old bosses, who overpaid me because they cared. And the people who told me I should be a writer, even though I showed no talent for it. And teachers who helped me complete my college degree by age thirty. And foster kids who want to interview me.
“You are my hero,” I told her.
“Me?” she said. “Why me?”
“Because, you just are.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes, I am. You’re gonna go a long way in your life. I can feel it. ”
“Really? Do you think so?”
“With all my heart.”
She shook my hand. Then, she asked if she could give me a hug. She threw her arms around me and said:
“It’s kinda hard being a foster kid sometimes, I never know what’s going on in my life. Thank you for letting me interview you.”
My eyes turned pink. I drove home that night and I thought about her. In fact, I haven’t stopped thinking about her. I was even thinking about her this morning, when someone emailed me to say that after a long time waiting, my hero has finally been adopted.
Whoever those lucky parents are, I hope they’re saving for Auburn tuition.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist, and novelist, known for his commentary on life in the American South.