September 14, 2023

‘Thank you for telling me NO!’


            My people were storytellers. I grew up listening. I can still hear their voices: Big Dink, Mother, Nanny, Uncle Billy, Aunt Sue, Aunt Lillie, Uncle James and Uncle Johnny. And there was one of my beloved mentors, Dr. J.W. Fanning (1905-1997). We’d go for drives in the country. I always took the long way home. I didn’t want his stories to stop. In his syrupy Wilkes County drawl, he’d remind me, “Only wurds [words] live forever.”

            I like stories. Maybe that’s why I like country music. Well, more of the older storytelling stuff, before it became heavily infused with rock and pop. I like, really like, Buddy Jewell’s “I Wanna Thank Everyone.” I stumbled onto this Billboard chart-topper in 2003. I bought the CD and kept it in my truck. When I had to make a sales call, I’d punch in Buddy to sing “I wanna thank everyone” who ever told me no.

            One morning—while taking a shower—I was wondering, “What will I say to our sales team today?” With my eyes closed and rinsing out the Prell, I could hear Buddy. “That’s it,” I said. As soon as I hung my towel on the rack, I grabbed a pen to jot down the 12 signature times that I had been told no. Driving to the meeting, I rehearsed what happened after hearing those nos.  In 2009 I told those stories in a short book.

            This year I decided to add more stories to the collection. The older that I get, I am reminded, “Only words live forever.” Later this fall, Thank you for telling me NO! will come off the press. Six friends read the first draft. I am both humbled and genuinely embarrassed by their effusive endorsements of the upcoming book. For brevity’s sake, here’s what two said:

            “Dink writes about the past with such heart and color, it makes you wish for a time machine.”

      —Rick Bragg, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and author

            “In this wonderful book, my friend Dink NeSmith reveals some of the secrets of his highly successful career. You will want to sit up and pay attention because I have seen Dink accomplish goals against tremendous odds, when no one else could. The word that comes to mind for Dink is ‘unstoppable.’ I’m impressed with the boy who pumped iron all summer so he could lift an anvil over his head, and I’m honored to know the man who led the effort to stop a coal-ash dump outside his hometown. This is a generous, inspiring book written by one of my heroes, a man whose unstoppable nature I aspire to emulate.”

            —Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, member of Georgia Writers Hall of Fame

            I blushed just typing the words of Rick and Janisse. On the back cover of the book, you’ll read what the other four friends had to say, too.

Family and friends are life’s greatest treasures. I am grateful and beyond blessed.

            And I wrote this book, primarily, for our eight grandchildren and—in time—their children and grandchildren.

            After all, Dr. Fanning was right: “Only words live forever.”