We made landfall in a world of snow, trimmed in mountainous masses of white.


Can you get a letter to Santa for me? Our lives really suck ever since my mom died and you don’t even want to know how screwed up my life is.

My dad is raising us all by himself with no help from my aunts or uncles or anyone and I feel like nobody cares about us, we’re basically all alone.

You probably won’t even read this cause you’re too busy, so whatever.

P.S. I’m only joking about Santa, I’m not a baby.

Not a good Christmas,


After I got your letter, I re-sealed your envelope, packed my bags, and drove to the Greyhound Bus station.

The man behind the counter wore a John Deere cap and had something tucked in his lower lip.

“Quick,” I said. “I need tickets to the North Pole.”

He spit into a foam cup, then laughed. “What fer? You’ll get reindeer poop on your shoes.”

“It’s an important delivery.”

“Well, dream on, pal,” he said. “The North Pole isn’t even dry land, it’s in the epicenter of the Northern Hemisphere, situated in the Arctic Ocean, amid subarctic waters that are permanently covered with constantly shifting, cavernous, and treacherous sea ice.”

“How do you know all that?”

“I graduated from Auburn.”

“I’ll take one ticket, please.”

He flipped through his big book. “Closest I can get you is North Dakota.”

So, I rode for several hours, thinking about my life. When my father died, our life was pretty screwed up, just like yours.

When money was tight, Mama took a job throwing newspapers. One Christmas, I wanted a guitar; my mother worked overtime to buy it so I could learn to play Hank Williams music.

My Greyhound arrived in Saint Louis. I switched busses at the depot. My driver’s name was Moe.

As it turns out, Moe and I had things in common. Moe was raised by a single mother, too. We became friends. We talked about our childhoods.

And when I read him your letter, he asked to go with me to the North Pole.

“Are you serious?” I said. “Why?”

“Because I’m just like that kid in the letter, my life was all screwed up, too.”

We arrived in Chicago. The temperature was twenty-six degrees and there was ice on my eyebrows. Only the clinically insane live in Chicago.

We changed buses again and boarded a Greyhound for Minneapolis.

On the ride, Moe and I met a woman named Helen. She told us she was raised by a mother who was deaf, her father abandoned her at birth.

“Our lives were totally screwed up,” Helen said. “Nobody would hire my mom because of her deafness, so my sister and I had to work to pay bills.”

We told Helen about your letter. Immediately, she wanted to come with us.

The three of us arrived in Grand Forks, the third largest city in North Dakota—which is still smaller than a Waffle House.

I asked around town for transportation to the North Pole, and found a man who owns a charter plane. His name was Dan. We hit it off.

And would you believe it? Dan takes the prize for having the most screwed up childhood ever. He was raised in a community foster home, a glorified orphanage, and was never adopted.

I showed him your letter.

“Sure, I’ll fly you to the North Pole,” said Dan. “No charge, I know what it’s like to have a messed up life. But you gotta promise me something.”

“Anything,” I said.

“Watch out for the reindeer poop.”


The four of us flew several hours. My new friends happened to be good Christmas carol singers—except Moe, who had a voice that sounded like a cross between a diesel engine and Eleanor Roosevelt.

We all got to know each other. We laughed a lot. We talked about your letter.

The plane landed in a little town called Kugluktuk. This place is a patch of frozen Canadian mud. The airport was a shack on the shore of the Coronation Gulf—which connects to the Arctic Ocean.

The airport was run by an old man with a white mustache who spoke with a Nordic accent.

“So, you vant to see Santa?” he said. “Ya, I know where the old man lives, up round near Ichasen. He is good singer, I hear.”

The man’s name was Sven. And get this: Sven’s parents died when he was fourteen. Sven has no family left, not even a cousin. You want to talk screwed up? Sven’s your man.

He offered to take us to Ichasen for free.

We boarded his boat. We rode past glaciers, ice caps, and we even saw a polar bear. The bear waved at us. I waved back.

The bear had half of a penguin hanging out of his mouth—these bears aren’t anything like the Coca-Cola commercials.

We made landfall in a world of snow, trimmed in mountainous masses of white.

“Here we are!” Sven announced. “Santa lives just up the hill. Watch out for all der reindeer poop!”

We hiked to a place that looked like a ski lodge. We saw smoke coming from a chimney.

And it happened.

We found Santa, seated behind a big desk. He was nothing like the pictures. He was bone skinny. He wore a large cowboy hat, ostrich skin boots, and he was playing a guitar.

“Are you him?” I asked.

“Yep,” he said.

“THEE real Santa Claus?”

“Yeah, but the whole world calls me Hank.”

I handed him your letter. He read it to himself. Then he thought long and hard, closing his eyes.

“How about it Santa?” I asked. “Can you help him? Can you help the kid not feel so alone?”

Santa rubbed his beard. “That’s the wrong question to ask, son. The REAL question is: is this boy alone, like he thinks?”

He tucked the letter in his pocket, winked, and said, “I’ve got a special surprise in store for this boy.”

Then Santa played a few bars of “Your Cheatin’ Heart” like a man with his beard on fire.

That’s when it hit me.

I looked at my new friends, and I thought of all the people I’ve known with sad childhoods, hard lives, and pathetic holidays. People like you. Like me. We all hurt the same. We all laugh the same. Our tears are made of the same saltwater.

For most my life I thought I was alone just like you. But the joke was on me. On this Greyhound bus trip of “life” I have made precious friends who know exactly what it means to be screwed up.

I was never alone. Not even for a second. And neither are you.

I have the reindeer poop on my boots to prove it.


  1. Karen Greatrix - December 21, 2018 7:06 am

    Now that is a Santa I can believe in. Thank you

  2. Brenda - December 21, 2018 9:16 am

    Yes, we’ve all been screwed up at some point. It’s a choice to get over it and live for the ones we love. Eleven will be ok long as he remembers to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Hope he gets a dog! They teach us so much about life and love!

  3. Camille - December 21, 2018 10:16 am

    Oh Sean, that was outstanding!

  4. Steven P Bailey - December 21, 2018 10:41 am

    Beautiful. Merry Christmas.

  5. Marisa Franca @ All Our Way - December 21, 2018 10:42 am

    That was absolutely gorgeous!! Nope, we aren’t alone even though we sometimes feel it. I hope you got the reindeer poop off of your boots. Your sweet wife wouldn’t appreciate you tracking that stuff into the house. Merry Christmas!!

  6. Marilyn Vance - December 21, 2018 10:52 am

    I was one of the fortunate ones who had a great ‘growing up’ yet still managed to do my OWN life screwing up as the years passed. Never alone…..God is waiting for us to acknowledge that He is always there……Thanks for a sweet Christmas story, Sean. Merry Christmas to you, Jamie and the pups!

  7. SmaxMomma - December 21, 2018 11:20 am

    You are pretty alright Mr. Dietrich.

  8. Jean - December 21, 2018 11:27 am

    Dear Sean…most of my family is gone…but i realized that friends can be and are family too. Merry Christmas sweet man!

  9. dartinia - December 21, 2018 11:38 am

    The is your best one yet. Merry Christmas, dear man. You are loved.

  10. Elaine Watson - December 21, 2018 11:46 am

    Merry Christmas to you and your family. This was the best. Pleading for you to turn it into a Children’s Book. We then need to get Dolly to distribute it through her Imagination Library Program. It is a story worth hearing by people if all ages, especially children.

    • Fraulein - December 21, 2018 1:17 pm

      What wonderful story that would be, not only for all children, but adults as well. Certain it would be on my coffee table and I am a senior citizen. Thank you!

    • Eleanor - December 21, 2018 2:49 pm

      I agree with Elaine!

  11. Mary Burns - December 21, 2018 12:02 pm

    So kind of you to find Santa for this young man. Hope he finds that his life gets better. Merry Christmas!

  12. Lydia - December 21, 2018 12:04 pm

    Great one,Sean! Merry Christmas!

  13. Sheila - December 21, 2018 12:14 pm

    Dear Sean, I want to print this and hang it in a frame on my wall. Not because I join you with a screwed up life or childhood, because it is beautiful, clever, thoughtful, and full of love. LOVE – what matters most and we all need it. Thank you for being you. Love to you from WV

  14. Elizabeth Edens - December 21, 2018 12:43 pm

    Wow, what a great one! Thank you!!! Merry Christmas! I sure hope Eleven realizes he’s not alone!

  15. Jules - December 21, 2018 12:52 pm

    Now that I am in tears in Tennessee, tell Eleven he is not alone.

  16. Jack Darnell - December 21, 2018 1:16 pm

    I don’t believe ‘at for a minit! I bet you didn’t get past Kugluktuk, but I do believe the rest of it. Well maybe ‘cept Hank!
    Good one, I love a good meaningful story. My mama said I used to tell stories! ;-O

  17. Jackye Thompson - December 21, 2018 1:17 pm

    Merry Christmas,Sean.I loved your Santa story .Made me laugh and also shed a tear for all the
    lonely in the world.The Lord Be With You!!!! Yours In Christ.Jackye

  18. Connie Havard Ryland - December 21, 2018 1:40 pm

    Dear Eleven: your letter made me want to pack you and your family up and bring you to Alabama. I had a screwed up childhood; I had my heart broken by someone who may as well have died. I thought I was alone too. But I’m not. I learned that friends are as good as family, sometimes better. I learned that my children are my best friends and I will never be really alone. I hope things get better for you. Sending love and prayers. Dear Sean: Thank you for another lovely column. You bring so much joy to so many.

  19. Fraulein - December 21, 2018 1:49 pm

    What an absolutely beautiful story and, yes, it would make a great book, Sean. Not only for children, I’m 83 and it would be on my coffee table Thank you and have a Blessed Christmas!

  20. Chip - December 21, 2018 2:07 pm

    Good one, BUT….NO penquins in North Pole area…. Only Anartica…. Maybe you took a wrong turn???

  21. Tiffany Cadenhead - December 21, 2018 2:13 pm

    Oh Sean, in the midst of tears i feel hope. We’re never really alone. Thank you…

  22. Becky comer - December 21, 2018 2:16 pm

    Another great life story, Sean. Merry Christmas to all the children and adults who feel all alone.

  23. Anita D. Rankin - December 21, 2018 2:19 pm

    I don’t know how you do it!!! You make my heart sing & and cry at the same time!!!!!! Merry Christmas to you & Jamie!

  24. Maureen A - December 21, 2018 2:42 pm

    Merey Christmas everyone! Eleven is already lucky to know to write to you…your blogs comfort me every morning and I am sure all your other readers. This story was a great gift to us all. Thank you…and Eleven I am keepibg yoy in my prayers.

  25. Phillip Saunders - December 21, 2018 2:48 pm

    Sean, your talent is astounding! Wonderful Christmas message wrapped in your special down home humor. I forgive you for one tiny boo-boo: no penguins at the North Pole…well, maybe there was one, but now it’s polar bear poop. Some say there is no Santa, too, but as for me and Grandpa, we believe. You have a gift, my friend, and thankfully you share it daily with us. Keep spreading “peace on earth and good will toward men.” Merry Christmas to you, Jamie, and the pooches.

  26. Holly D - December 21, 2018 3:12 pm

    Sean, you really started my day off right! Not only was your story entertaining, but your message made me count my many blessings. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  27. Barbara - December 21, 2018 3:30 pm

    Wonderful life lesson!

  28. Jeri Blom - December 21, 2018 3:31 pm

    Sean, very interesting story! As I read it, I too, could see the story as a children’s book that adults and seniors would enjoy also. But since there are no penguins at the North Pole, there won’t be a picture of a polar bear with penguin in his mouth! Make the book! I’ll buy a few!

  29. carol dolan-groebe - December 21, 2018 4:10 pm

    There was an ad at the end of your blog?

  30. Edna B. - December 21, 2018 4:14 pm

    Just beautiful! Sean, I have to agree, this should be a book, not just for children but everyone. I’m almost 80 and I loved it! Merry Christmas to you and Jamie and both your doggies. My Pogo sends woofs too. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.
    p.s. I’ll buy the book too!

  31. Mignon c.watson - December 21, 2018 4:20 pm


  32. jnearen - December 21, 2018 4:37 pm


  33. Jan Hammac - December 21, 2018 5:18 pm

    You are the absolute best! Thank you for bringing a smile and joy to that 11 year old!!

  34. Chuck Gerlach - December 21, 2018 5:22 pm

    You most certainly do not need to be raised by a single mother or father to be screwed up. We are all, to one degree or another, screwed up. But EXCELLENT article. It is in our “screwed-up-ness” that we can ALL connect.

    Sean: You are a gift and gifted. I love reading your stuff.

  35. Richard C. - December 21, 2018 5:23 pm

    This is one of your best blog posts ever. I love the way you morphed Santa into Hank Williams. This certifies you either as genius or crazy. I’m leaning toward genius. Merry Christmas.

  36. Cathi - December 21, 2018 6:59 pm

    None of us is ever really alone, even if it might feel like that at times. Merry Christmas to all the Dietrichs!

  37. Shelton A. - December 21, 2018 7:00 pm

    Sean…my hard drive crashed and I lost my ability to comment. I know a messed up childhood, too. God bless you, your friends who know, and the letter writer, too.

  38. Susie, as well - December 21, 2018 7:15 pm

    Great story and artwork, but what’s with the ad?

  39. Steve Winfield - December 21, 2018 9:59 pm

    Write the book. Leave out the penguin. (I would never have caught it on my own.) Merry Christmas.

  40. BJean - December 21, 2018 9:59 pm

    So true! What a great answer. Hope he sees it ?

  41. Steve Winfield - December 21, 2018 10:05 pm

    AND, prints of that drawing would easily sell. 12X16’s

  42. Judy Broussard - December 21, 2018 11:36 pm

    You are a genius with the biggest heart I have ever seen.

  43. SuzanneB - December 22, 2018 12:36 am

    Dear Sean, how do you do it ?? time after time after time ☺️

  44. Carol Stern - December 22, 2018 4:12 am

    Nothing but love, you big teddy bear❤️

  45. Gary Jensen - December 22, 2018 5:06 am

    Love you Sean! I was laughing/crying the whole wonderful ride. You’re one heck of a writer and a fine human being besides!

  46. Lulu - December 22, 2018 5:29 am

    Sean, I needed this! I just learned my brother has lung cancer and I hurt for him! I love him dearly! Would you pray for him!

  47. Melanie - December 23, 2018 2:22 pm

    If it’s ok with you I’d love a seat on that bus. ❤️ Thank you Sean.

  48. Sandra - December 27, 2018 2:32 pm

    I see that others have already put forth my idea: this wonderful, colorful story should be a book! An illustrated book for kids, but really for all ages. Love your (true) stories, Sean!

  49. Robert Chiles - December 28, 2018 1:58 pm

    How about a movie? The “Polar Poop Express” I’m sure Tom Hanks would star in it for free.

  50. Gretchen Hitchcock - January 1, 2019 7:32 pm

    Absolutely awesome. Not only incredible talent but an amazing spirit as well

  51. Harriet - December 15, 2019 2:14 pm

    That’s the best Santa story I’ve EVER heard.

  52. Ella - December 23, 2019 4:09 am

    Best Christmas story EVER! By the best storyteller EVER. You are a joy-giver, Sean, and I pray it all comes back to you seven-fold. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  53. Pamela Verbel - December 23, 2019 10:01 am

    Merry Christmas, Sean.

  54. Marge - December 23, 2019 3:53 pm

    Dear Sean, I’m learning that ‘alone’ is a state of mind..the love of my life for 57 years is gone and I miss him dearly. BUT…this dear 11 year old boy needed your love and you, as always, are ready to share this precious commodity with those around you! Thank you for this posting this morning. Every morning it feels like a “best friend’ is sending me something great to start my day! My prayers for this child will continue till he is surrounded by the best new stranger/friends he can find!

  55. Joyce Heishman - December 24, 2019 1:47 am

    It’s time to start passing it forward. I hope somehow someone will find him, and pass it forward. Your story was great. But he needs someone to hug him right now. Doesn’t sound like he’s getting much of any kind of hug or touch. Please God send someone to show some love to that little boy


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