By Sean Dietrich
Long ago, my college professor told us to choose a poem to recite in class. Students chose lofty selections from the greats. Whitman, Dickinson, Frost. I consulted Daddy’s Hank Williams songbook.
10:40 P.M.—New Year’s Eve. Hank Williams is on my radio. My wife is sleeping in the passenger seat. My coonhound is in the backseat. To bring in the year, we’ve gone for a drive on county roads that weave along the Choctawhatchee Bay. There are no cars out. The highway is vacant—except for police cruisers. I’ve never welcomed in a year like this. As a boy, my father and I brought in holidays with shotguns. We’d march to the edge of creation and fire twelve gauges at the moon. Then, I’d sip Coca-Cola; he’d sip something clear. Another year goes by without him.
11:02 P.M.—my tank is on E. I stop at a gas station. The pump card-reader is broken. My wife is still out cold. I go inside to pay. The clerk is a young girl with purple hair. She wanted to be with her kids tonight, but someone called in with a sinus infection. I buy a Coca-Cola in a plastic bottle. I also buy a scratch-off lotto ticket. The last few minutes of the year, I’m feeling lucky. I use my keys to scratch the ticket. I win five bucks. So, I buy another two. I win another dollar. “Lucky you,” the cashier says. “Wish I could buy one, but it’s against store policy.” To hell with policy. It’s New Year’s Eve. I buy her one. She swipes a coin from the take-a-penny tray. She scratches. She wins ten bucks. We high-five. It’s only ten bucks, but seeing her win makes my year.
11:28 P.M.—I’m driving. My wife is still sawing pinelogs. I’m riding through the North Florida woods, sipping Coke. Trees grow so high you can’t see the moon. It’s almost like poetry. Long ago, my college professor told us to choose a poem to recite in class. Students chose lofty selections from the greats. Whitman, Dickinson, Frost. I consulted Daddy’s Hank Williams songbook. He’d given it to me before he died. He’d wanted to be a guitar player once upon a time, but he was god-awful. He gave the instrument to me.I recited, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” and made a D. I wasn’t doing it for the teacher.
11:40 P.M.—my Coke is almost empty. I’m parked on the edge of the bay to watch fireworks. My coonhound is looking at me with red eyes. And I’m writing you, just like I do every day. Listen, I don’t remember how I started writing, or why. I have nothing valuable to say, I don’t know any big words, and I’m as plain as they come. But I won’t lie to you, it has been precious to me. And so have you. These are my last words of the old year, my first words of the new: I love you. Happy New Year.