Angel Tree

Dear Chaquille,

Merry Christmas. You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. I’m just a middle-aged guy with thinning hair who saw your tag hanging on the Angel Tree in the lobby of the Methodist Church.

The Angel Tree is something the ladies in church have been doing since the Earth cooled. Each Christmas, for as long as I can remember, they have been providing gifts for kids who are going through hard times. Kids like you.

The program was started in 1979 by the Salvation Army, when Charles and Shirley White of Lynchburg, Virginia, decided to do something meaningful and began gathering clothing and toys for children at Christmas.

A few years later, Nashville radio station WSM became a sponsor of Angel Tree. After that, each rural family who heard about Angel Tree during broadcasts of the “Grand Ol’ Opry” wanted to be a part of it. My own clan included. The idea spread like a veritable brushfire.

So when I got your Christmas list, the first thing that struck me was that most of your personalized items were baseball stuff.

This warmed the ventricles of this old first baseman’s heart. I am a baseball guy, too, Chaquille. This year when the Braves won the World Series, I cheered like—well—an 11-year-old boy.

The first thing you wanted was pine tar for your bat, so my wife and I bought you enough pine tar to last until you’re 35th birthday.

You also asked for a pair of cleats, men’s shoe size 10. Holy freaking cow. You’ve got humongous feet. I went with Nikes.

Next, you asked for a baseball bat. I’m guessing, by the size of your prodigious man-sized feet that you’re a 31/21. I bought a Louisville Slugger, since there is no other American brand that is of any consequence.

I also bought you a basic glove. I chose the Rawlings Youth Highlight Series. Natural leather color. Old school, baby.

Oh, and you might notice among your gifts that there is a certain athletic protective device which resembles a teacup with an elastic strap attached. As a former Little Leaguer I cannot overemphasize the importance of using this device.

You put a few other items on your list which, if I’m being honest, made me cry when I read them. You asked for a warm hoodie. You asked for nail polish for your mom. Skin moisturizer for your sister. You asked for Skittles. And for new underwear.

You might not think that the person who buys these gifts understands what kinds of hard times you’re going through, Chaquille. And that’s true, I don’t. Compared to your life, I grew up on Easy Street. I don’t show nearly enough gratitude for my Everest of blessings.

Still. I, too, went through some very difficult times when I was your age. My story doesn’t matter, this isn’t about me. But my family suffered greatly when I was 11, following the suicide of my father. At one point, I didn’t know whether we would survive.

So speaking as someone who has made it to his middle-aged years in mostly one piece, with most of his original teeth, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that life will be hunky dory as long as you stay positive.

No, all the junk you go through as a kid sticks with you forever. And I mean forever. Those crummy years traumatized the pine tar out of me.

Those years altered my brain. I have been dealing with remnants of that period every day of my life. I’ve been working on myself. I’ve had lots of help, and lots of therapy.

Sometimes I feel like I’m winning, Chaquille. Other times I feel like I’ve taken a few steps backward.

But here’s the thing. Sometimes I also get glimpses of the rawness of real love. And sometimes I feel this love so strongly that it’s like being wrapped in a steel blanket.

I don’t know much, Chaquille, but I know that the amount of love you receive is directly proportional to the amount of love you need. You don’t have to do anything to deserve it. Do not listen to those who say otherwise.

Within this lifetime you’re going to experience more love than you have ever imagined. This love will come at you from unexpected angles, from unexpected persons, from unexpected circumstances. At times, it will come to you from the sky itself.

And this magic will come at the precise moment you thirst for it.

I have learned that the best thing you can do with this love is give it to yourself first. Love yourself. Cherish yourself. Value yourself so intensely that people think you’re a nutjob. Then, turn around and give your love away.

Give this love to everyone you meet. Don’t hide it, but let it burn down the whole world.

And if ever you have bad days; if ever you wake up feeling like you don’t want to keep trying; if ever you have a hard time loving yourself, and you want to give up, please remember me. Remember that some middle-aged guy who you’ve never met seriously loves you.

I love you so very, very much, Chaquille. I hope you have a merry Christmas. And above all, I hope those shoes fit your truly ginormous feet.


  1. MermaidGrammy - December 9, 2021 6:36 am

    Perfect. What a terrific daddy you should be

  2. Howard Chapman - December 9, 2021 9:57 am

    Sean, this 64 year old man needed this today. My childhood was a good one, but your list of gifts brought so many memories flooding back of accompanying my dad (and coach) as he quietly bought and delivered those items to a young boy on our team who came barefoot to our first practice. Although my dad left us at the young age of 48, he left behind many positive life lessons for his son.
    Merry Christmas Sean!

  3. Donna Williams - December 9, 2021 10:26 am

    Wonderful story! I love that you help others so much.

  4. Lisa K Riley - December 9, 2021 10:40 am

    Sean, you are a gift. Thank you for sharing with all of us.

  5. Joy Jacobs. - December 9, 2021 11:36 am

    Happy tears at 6:30 am. Thanks. ❤️

    • Ang - December 9, 2021 1:30 pm

      Thanks for all your beautiful writings ! Just what this world needs to hear .

  6. Dee Cook - December 9, 2021 12:04 pm

    Precious words. Have you heard the song Paper Angels by Jimmy Wayne? It was very popular maybe 15 years ago. Your story reminded me of that. He is a musician/song writer. I don’t know him personally but he was in foster care and now advocates for children in foster care. Part of his story is here. I think you would enjoy his songs and book.

  7. Paul McCutchen - December 9, 2021 12:53 pm

    I needed some inspiration this time of year and it is always welcomed.

  8. PEGGY THOMPSON - December 9, 2021 1:34 pm

    Thank you for caring & giving these beautiful gifts to this precious young man .I know he will be so happy & blessed for you gifts & love at Christmas!.

  9. Margaret Jackson - December 9, 2021 1:50 pm

    I don’t have words to tell you how my heart swelled at this story.
    I taught 4th grade for 39 years and ‘know’ the child you are talking about. He will remember this Christmas all his life. He will probably try to get away with wearing the cleats to school!!!! Definitely a no-no!

    God bless you and Jamie,

  10. Ann Davis - December 9, 2021 2:03 pm

    Oh how I love to read your articles. They mean so much. I don’t always take the time but when I do, I am always moved. Your thoughts make me a better person. Thank you.

  11. Cathy W - December 9, 2021 2:18 pm

    This was a beautiful Christmas gift to all of us who read your column every day. Just imagine the look on his face when he receives your gifts and has something for his Mom and sister. The gift is in giving, for sure. Your heart is so big. I have had the pleasure of meeting you and Jamie at an Episcopal church in B’ham. And I will never forget that night. Been following you ever since and you are one of my blessings every morning. Merry Christmas to you and Jamie. ❤️🙏🏻🎄

  12. Chasity Davis Ritter - December 9, 2021 2:51 pm

    Here I sit crying yet again. I picture you and Jamie shopping. I picture you with your heart and soul treading down memory lane. I picture Christmas morning when this boy with the big feet opens his gifts and he feels that love falling out of the sky and yes it all brings tears falling out of my eyes. Sometimes I think you’re kinda like Santa, Sean. Your big old Heart has love enough for everyone. I don’t think Santa ever had kids of his own at least I don’t know the story if he did and I believe according to one of my favorite cartoons he started out as a red head. Hey it could be true I’ve heard of stranger coincidences!! Once again I can only say Merry Christmas to you and your sweet wife and I hope and pray you both feel ALL the love that is directed your way every day.

  13. Saturday's Child - December 9, 2021 3:14 pm

    I’m not ever sure how I stumbled upon Sean of the South, but I am sure glad I did. Your daily writing gives us all the inspiration we need to keep the human in humanity.

  14. Shelton A. - December 9, 2021 3:16 pm

    You’re a good couple of folks, Sean and Jamie. The times I did the Angel Tree were the best of times. Thanks for the reminder. God bless you both and your pup dogs, too.

  15. Sidney - December 9, 2021 3:55 pm

    love Love LOVE this. Thank you. I don’t have eloquent words for the impact of your example, but I thank God for it and for you.

  16. Sue Rhodus - December 9, 2021 4:10 pm

    and…I hope that letter is tucked somewhere in that Christmas package…how about inside one of those ginormous shoes ??

  17. Dianne Deavours Shafer - December 9, 2021 4:24 pm

    Blessings on you, former 11-year-old Sean Dietrich. You pass forward blessings like Clarence the angel on a mission to earn his wings!

  18. Stacey Wallace - December 9, 2021 4:38 pm

    Love you, Sean. Thanks!

  19. Gayle Wilson - December 9, 2021 4:47 pm

    Sean, you and Jamie are the salt of the earth that still has saltiness. God bless both of you. I’m sure mother Mary is looking down and smiling on both of you.

  20. Christina - December 9, 2021 5:11 pm

    I cannot wait for Chaquille to feel the love that we all feel from you!

  21. Linda Moon - December 9, 2021 5:38 pm

    I love Angels, their trees, and kids who receive gifts. I’ve heard and loved tales of the Grand Ol’ Opry, and my Opry tale-teller cheered at the Braves win. Your story and tales matter, Sean, even though this post wasn’t about you. Thank you for writing it today. I love Chaquille. And, from this Moon (me) — I love you to the moon and back!

  22. Peggy - December 9, 2021 5:51 pm

    A beautiful job today with this column. Spreading the love!

  23. Dianne DeVore - December 9, 2021 6:45 pm

    You hit it out of the ballpark today, Sean. Thank you, and I know that Chaquille will have a very Merry Christmas thanks to you and your big heart!

  24. Marg Guth - December 9, 2021 6:52 pm

    You are a good man.

  25. Sarah Gregory - December 9, 2021 7:11 pm

    Thank you for this. I have participated in Angel Tree programs since 1997 when I could ill afford to do so. The love it has brought me to give has been a gift and it is my favorite part of Christmas.

  26. Kathy Spray - December 9, 2021 7:43 pm

    Am crying as I am reading this. Thank you, Sean, for the humorous and honest way you view life! God bless you.

  27. MAM - December 9, 2021 8:06 pm

    Sean, you love and you are loved. What could be better this time of year? You’ve just made one kid unbelievably happy. If he’s a crier, he will be crying for joy when he opens his gifts. Merry Christmas! P.S. I read your message every day, whether I have time to or not. It’s like a breath of fresh air in a sometimes hostile world.

  28. CarolM - December 9, 2021 8:32 pm

    Heart Tugs Galore!

  29. Patricia Gibson - December 9, 2021 10:05 pm

    Best thing I have read in a long time❤️ God bless you,Sean and I love you❤️

  30. William Deal - December 9, 2021 11:54 pm

    Thank you

  31. Sean of the South: Angel Tree | The Trussville Tribune - December 10, 2021 1:12 am

    […] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South  […]

  32. Ann - December 10, 2021 2:15 am

    The true spirit..

  33. Deborah Blount - December 10, 2021 8:56 am

    His greatest gift was your letter. I hope he keeps it and rereads it throughout his life. Have a very blessed Christmas Chaquille.

  34. Suzi - December 10, 2021 12:12 pm

    You just summed up Christmas-love, sharing and kindness~thanks for the reminder~

  35. Diane Kirby - December 14, 2021 2:49 am

    Omg……you were only 11 when the Braves won the World Series. Great….I’m old!! Beautiful story.

  36. MaryB - December 14, 2021 5:05 pm

    One of your best. You gave some love to a lot of people today.

  37. Nancy Chapman - December 15, 2021 12:34 am

    Thank you Jesse, for “introducing me to this sweet, compassionate man.

  38. Sandy - December 15, 2021 2:11 am

    I have been in charge of an Angel Tree program as a caseworker for The Salvation Army. The stories I could tell you of children whose parents sold their presents for drug money…. The ones who needed it most suffered at the hands of the ones who were supposed to be protecting them.

    I hope this little boy enjoys his gifts and I hope your wonderful letter gets to him. He needs that message of “you’re not alone”.

  39. Janine White Vincent - December 22, 2021 4:23 am

    Sean, thank you for sharing this beautiful letter. My mom and dad are Charlie and Shirley White who started the Angel Tree in 1979, and this is exactly why it was started. As much for the giver as the receiver! Be blessed this Christmas and thank you for your caring heart.


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