By Sean Dietrich
The day the planes hit the towers in New York was my late father’s birthday. I was at work. Ten of us stood on a job site, hands resting on toolbelts, sweating like hogs, listening to a radio the size of a rice box.
The commentator announced: “America is doomed, folks.”
Five fellas cut work early. One foreman called his sister in Manhattan. The rest of us just looked for atomic mushroom clouds.
The next day: I counted 400 American flags hanging from every nook and cranny of our world. At our construction site, we hung a two-story flag. My friend even got a flag tattoo on his ankle.
I’m not going to mince words. I love this land. You want to know why?
I thought you’d never ask.
The Everglades at sunrise, there’s the first reason.
Alabama football. There’s number two.
Furthermore: I’ve been fortunate enough to do a few patriotic things in my day. Like baling hay in middle Alabama. Or: shooting a coon in south Georgia—then eating the god-forsaken thing with ketchup.
I’ve seen the Oak Ridge Boys sing “Elvira” and Mel Tillis sing “Coca-Cola Cowboy.” I’ve changed a tire on an Oklahoma highway. I’ve raised leghorns and wrung more red-rock necks than I can shake a wishbone at.
I’ve camped inside the Grand Canyon and shaken hands with Mickey Mouse in Orlando. I’ve watched Steel Magnolias nearly 7,000 times.
I’ve eaten pozole prepared by a Mexican family who lived in the woods. I worked one summer on a cattle farm—and slept under the stars after a full day tagging heifer ears. I’ve fished in the Gulf of Mexico, seen two tornadoes and washed my drawers in the Mississippi River.
I’ve worked in an ice cream shop—and gained 14 pounds. I’ve staked heirlooms, boiled peanuts, eaten homemade biscuits and drank bathtub moonshine. I can eat a full jar of peanut butter. I’ve pulled over for automobile funeral processions and been part of a few.
I’ve heard a man pray in tongues at a funeral, I’ve attended exactly one Junior League meeting, and I have been inebriated at the Iron Bowl.
I’ve watched Willie Nelson sing, “America the Beautiful,” I’ve eaten Conecuh sausage, and I’ve shot bottle rockets on the Fourth of July.
I own fifty pairs of Levi 501’s, drink warm beer from a can, have mediocre health insurance and I’d rather waste money on a baseball game than a cruise to Greece.
My roughneck father was born on the 11th day of September. My ancestors are blue-collar nothings. Just like me. I’m a nobody. I haven’t done anything remotely noteworthy, and most likely, you don’t even know who I am.
But I’m American.
And I’m proud as hell about it.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist, and novelist, known for his commentary on life in the American South. His work has appeared in Southern Living, the Tallahassee Democrat, Southern Magazine, Yellowhammer News, the Bitter Southerner, the Mobile Press Register and he has authored seven books.