Carnival of Lights

Sunset. My driveway.

“Okay, everybody get in the truck!” I shouted, using my cheerful American dad voice.

Although, technically, I’m not a dad. In fact, I don’t even have a traditional “family” per se. Not unless you count our two dogs who weigh more than average middle-schoolers. Thelma Lou is 101 pounds of bloodhound. Otis Campbell (alleged Labrador) is 92 pounds.

I whistled and both dogs leapt into my dilapidated truck, butts wagging, ready for action.

My wife, however, did not get in the truck. She glared at me, clearing her throat loudly, tapping her foot, until I handed her my keys to let her drive.

In nearly 20 years of marriage she has never sat in a passenger seat. She gets motion-sick when I drive and tends to puke on my shoes.

I knew all this going into the marriage. Her matrimonial conditions were simple: she always drives; I never play the accordion indoors.

Don’t get me wrong, our marriage is fair. We’ve made many compromises to keep things that way. For instance, on our wedding night I agreed to always let her operate my truck if she promised to fill our closet with 52,339 pairs of shoes she will never wear. So far so good.

But our life together has all been worth it, believe me. The woman who drives my truck could have chosen a much classier guy for herself. She could have found someone with a great job, who came from good breeding, who owned actual formalwear.

Instead, she married a dropout who went to community college for 11 years and graduated with straight Cs in his early 30s. A guy whose personal truck contains hounds that cost more than his truck did.

But we’re a happy clan, that’s what I’m getting at. And tonight we had an outing. Which is rare for us during the pandemic era. I haven’t done many social things this last year. Not unless you count my interaction with the supermarket cashier who takes my temperature with her little Captain Kirk laser gun.

Once we were in the truck, we drove across town to a nondescript neighborhood. The sun was getting closer to the horizon. My dogs’ snouts were pressed against the windows. I checked my watch.

“Five minutes until sunset,” I announced to the fam.

The air was alive with anticipation. Also, the air was alive with something else because my dogs suffer from frequent gastrointestinal distress.

We parked near the curb and waited. And waited. We listened to Christmas songs on the radio and sipped our Baptist-style eggnog from insulated cups, which is very different from, say, our Episcopalian eggnog.

It was wonderful, simply being together. This little family of mine. These creatures have been the only things getting me through this worldwide pandemic.

It’s funny, I used to hear old timers talk about the Great Depression, and how families leaned on each other. Elderly people were always telling of bleak days when all they had was each other. I’m starting to get it now.

“Look!” said my wife.

The first house’s lights clicked on in the neighborhood. Then the next house. And the next. One by one they illuminated the night with electric joy.

We applauded. This small, wonderful, half canine family. And I caught myself looking at these cheerful faces in my dark truck. Nobody saw the fat tears in my eyes, and nobody saw me trying to swallow the putty in my throat.

We drove past houses that were wild with Christmas decor. We oohed and aahed at the inflatable snow globes, animatronics, fiberglass elves, choreographed strobe lights, glowing flamingos, and Alvin and the Chipmunks singing over a PA system. It was a great evening.

On our way home we stopped by a supermarket Christmas tree lot. My wife and I strolled through the open-air aisles of balsam firs while our dogs waited in the truck.

The irony here is that we already have a Christmas tree, we don’t need another. So I’m not sure what we were doing there.

An employee named Bill kept following us. He wore a surgical mask and Santa hat and was constantly asking if we needed help. Bill was your classic sales professional. He never let a customer go cold. He kept demonstrating various trees by banging them against the pavement and saying, “Check out this baby, wouldya? No shedding.”

I thanked him and told him we were just looking.

Bill’s face went flat. “Just looking?” he said, using the same tone he might’ve used to spit on a grave.

That’s when my wife saw something in the corner. It was the smallest, most pathetic tree ever. It was barren, scrawny, half dead, and exactly the kind of thing that you’d either throw away, or reserve for a CBS Charlie Brown TV special.

In fact, I think Bill actually was throwing this particular tree away because it was lying among a pile of crumpled Whataburger takeout bags and snuff tins.

“How much for this one?” my wife asked Bill.

“That one?” he said.


“Well now, that depends. It’s a quality tree.”

“Is that why it’s by the dumpster?”

“Clerical error.”

“I want it.”

“Make me an offer.”

They haggled like commodities traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. We took it home.

That night my wife placed the pitiful tree onto our porch. She decorated it with homemade ornaments, lights, and dollar-store garland. She placed decorative presents beneath its slender, sad boughs. She put a plastic star on its dismal top.

Soon, she had transformed a tired and ragged fir into something proud, happy, and full of life. The thing positively glowed in the darkness like a beacon. And when I saw it, all lit up with love, it hit me:

About 20 years ago, she did the same thing to me.


  1. oldlibrariansshelf - December 12, 2020 6:49 am

    Good love stories are rare. Great ones are precious. ‘So glad you two (and your pups) found each other.

  2. sparrowtracks - December 12, 2020 7:45 am

    What a burger?????? Got me through my high school days in west Texas! Merry Christmas!

  3. Sharon Brock - December 12, 2020 9:33 am

    I am sitting in my dark living room at 03:31 lit only by one tree, a lighted garland, and the electric fireplace. I am so very glad that Jamie found you so you could create the beautiful stories Sean. Thank you and Merry Christmas from central Missouri.

  4. Deborah L Blount - December 12, 2020 9:37 am

    This story is why I look forward to your take on the world. Thank you!

  5. Ann - December 12, 2020 11:17 am

    Tis the season of miracles…God bless everyone!

  6. Alice - December 12, 2020 12:26 pm

    What a sweet sweet story Sean!God bless you and your wife!Merry Christmas to you and yours❤️❤️

  7. Ann chumley - December 12, 2020 12:41 pm


  8. Debbie g - December 12, 2020 12:54 pm

    We should all look at others as Jamie looked at you. What other awesome miracles are we missing what a blessing y’all are to all of us ❤️❤️❤️

  9. Marilyn - December 12, 2020 12:57 pm

    Didn’t know where you were going with this story, but the ending was perfect! Merry Christmas

  10. Kate - December 12, 2020 12:57 pm

    Thank goodness for all the Jamies in the world that transform others through their love, goodness, kindness, and ability to see the beauty in others. Your Jamie is a very special lady.

  11. Karen Goss - December 12, 2020 1:00 pm

    I’ve been reading your column for years now, Sean. I always like the whole column but especially your endings. This one is the best yet! Happy holidays to you, Jamie, and your canine kids!!

  12. Karen Erwin-Brown - December 12, 2020 1:11 pm

    great love story. I’m the designated driver in our family too. Always. Except a month ago when we both thought we had Covid. He drove us to the CVS in Lagrange where we swabbed our own noses while sitting at the drive up window. We were both negative. The people behind us in the line blowing their horns were excessively negative and rude. Hope none of them had Covid.
    Merry Christmas.

  13. Te Burt - December 12, 2020 1:25 pm

    You had me at “bloodhound.” Thelma Lou. Perfect.

  14. Edwin G Staples - December 12, 2020 1:31 pm

    This is another good one Sean, not that their not all “Good Ones”…..

  15. Linnea Miles - December 12, 2020 1:45 pm

    There’s a Charlie Brown tree out there I want to decorate with love, or maybe he needs to spruce me up. I hope we’re meant to be, again. Merry Christmas to you and your sweet family!!

  16. Kjl - December 12, 2020 1:55 pm

    You are both extremely pleased. Younto be saved by her and her for finding the perfect person to save just for her! God bless!

  17. MR - December 12, 2020 1:57 pm

    Sean, you had everything that made you special all along. Jamie just helped you see it!

  18. Steve Maynard - December 12, 2020 1:59 pm

    Greatest ending ever!

  19. Janet Williams - December 12, 2020 2:10 pm

    LOVE IT!

  20. Jan - December 12, 2020 2:37 pm

    Love, love, love this story!

  21. Phil (Brown Marlin) - December 12, 2020 2:53 pm

    You and I and other guys I know are truly blessed men, Sean. In the immortal words of the late Jerry Clower, we “over-married.”
    Merry Christmas to you, Jamie, TL, and Otis.

  22. Judy - December 12, 2020 3:05 pm

    So sweet! Merry Christmas!

  23. Sheri Krueger - December 12, 2020 3:23 pm

    Oh Sean, I didn’t see your ending coming! How perfect! God bless you and Jamie and the pups! I love seeing the world thru your eyes. You are such a blessing to your readers. Merry merry Christmas!!!

  24. billllly - December 12, 2020 3:34 pm

    What a great piece! Thank you. billllly

  25. Paula - December 12, 2020 3:57 pm


  26. Patricia Gibson - December 12, 2020 4:10 pm

    That was a marvelous story❤️❤️ Thank you!

  27. Cheryl Duncan - December 12, 2020 4:14 pm

    You have outdone yourself with this one, Sean😎

  28. Catherine - December 12, 2020 4:15 pm

    Awwww! Christmas lights and love, too!! Merry Christmas, you two!!

  29. Bobbie - December 12, 2020 4:21 pm

    Your words bless my heart, as does your beautiful family. God bless you with the best Christmas ever !! 🎄❤️

  30. Jenny T Brannan - December 12, 2020 4:51 pm

    This one brought tears to my eyes.

  31. Becky - December 12, 2020 4:55 pm

    You had me at “fat tears”. Merry Christmas to you and your beautiful family.

  32. Linda Moon - December 12, 2020 5:37 pm

    Dads’ voices often change from cheerful to something else if their children might have acted like…say, your glaring wife. Your wife has brought illuminated joy to me many times. Keep the fair and simple conditions going, Mr. and Mrs. Dietrich. And here’s some extra love and advice to Jamie from “Uma”: keep glaring when needed…it works!!

  33. Susan - December 12, 2020 5:38 pm


  34. Jean - December 12, 2020 5:38 pm

    You are a lucky man and she is a lucky woman! Merry Christmas to you, your wife and your fuzz butts.

  35. Patricia Levine - December 12, 2020 5:49 pm

    I always read and enjoy what you write but this one I truly loved!
    Merry Christmas and happy 2021!
    Keep writing

  36. Chasity Davis Ritter - December 12, 2020 5:59 pm

    That’s beautiful and made me smile and cry like always. I wish you could put pictures on here because I’d love to see this little tree. Merry Christmas to you and yours Sean. Thanks for taking me to see the lights with you.

  37. Susie, as well - December 12, 2020 6:20 pm

    Such a delightful story. Loved it, and I loved the ending. Sure didn’t see it coming, though.

  38. Margaret Angell - December 12, 2020 6:37 pm

    Another one out of the park, Sean! Merry Christmas!!

  39. MAM - December 12, 2020 7:50 pm

    That’s one thing that’s really special about your writing. We don’t see the endings coming and they are always awesome! Thanks, Sean, and Thanks to Jamie for seeing the real you! Merry Christmas!

  40. David Money - December 12, 2020 9:03 pm

    I understand, Sean. I really do. More than you know.

  41. Norm Purdue - December 12, 2020 9:19 pm

    And just look how you turned out 👍😊

  42. Lavenda - December 12, 2020 11:01 pm

    I “Awwwwed” at the end with a chuckle and a tear! My favorite Christmas trees have ALWAYS been the Charlie Brown trees.

  43. Mary M Berryman - December 13, 2020 4:59 am

    There’s no such thing as an “ugly” Christmas tree. When they are all wrapped up in love, they are always beautiful. Thanks, Sean!

  44. Beryl - December 13, 2020 1:26 pm

    The last line is the clincher, Sean. You might as well have been the last Atlanta Braves player at the plate, seventh game of the world series-bottom of the ninth, two outs, two strikes and no balls, tie game…and the pitch.

  45. Jana Frost - December 13, 2020 3:56 pm

    Love this one!

  46. Ken P - December 13, 2020 7:41 pm

    Thank God for simply spending time together with our “better halves” and fur buddies. It’s the simple things sometimes that mean the most.

  47. nebraskannie - December 13, 2020 9:51 pm

    And aren’t we the lucky ones!!!

  48. Julie - January 2, 2021 4:17 pm

    THANK YOU, JAMIE❣️ Your TLC has helped to nourish Sean in becoming the amazing human being that he is‼️‼️ And I hope there’s a blue flannel blanket under that Tree, if he doesn’t already have one⁉️ Love Always, Linus💙


Leave a Comment