Christmas Lights

I am on our porch, which is lit up with little Christmas lights. My two dogs are asleep on my feet, creating smells powerful enough to bring a tear to a glass eye.

Across the road there is a family who is gathered on their porch too. They have even more lights than we do. Someone on their porch plays a guitar using the musical finesse of a tablesaw. And there is singing.

It’s hard not to sing along because they’re playing Christmas music.

This is Florida, and it never truly feels like Christmas in this mild weather. We live in the woods. One mile from the bay. Two miles from the Gulf of Mexico. I am sandwiched between two large bodies of humidity.

Where my house sits was once a swamp. We have longleaf pines, lots of hanging moss, mosquitoes the size of Chevy Impalas, scorpions, spiders, gators, water moccasins, coral snakes, rattlesnakes, pythons, vipers, and real estate developers.

Our scenery is not exactly fit for a Christmas postcard. But the music coming from the porch makes it almost feel like it.

I eavesdrop on my neighbors.

A young boy says, “Granddaddy, can we play that one song about Grandma getting killed by reindeer?”

Granddaddy launches into “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” A real classic.

I hear a teenage girl say, “I love that song.”

An old woman’s voice says, “Well your grandmother doesn’t.”

Granddaddy takes a break. He sets the guitar down and he starts talking to the kids. He’s not saying anything important, just jawing the way that old men do.

He has a gentle tenor voice that’s perfect for telling stories about life before technology. Back when people still listened to the radio. When Tommy Dorsey, Guy Lombardo, and the immortal Louis Armstrong still played real music.

Sometimes I wonder what happened to music like that.

I hear the teenage girl say, “Can you teach me to play the guitar, Granddaddy?”

So Granddaddy explains the finer points. How to strum, how to hold her hands correctly, how to use a flatpick.

After this, I hear the unmistakable sound of a guitar pick, scraping across steel strings. PLINK! Followed by three seconds of silence. Then another PLINK! PLINK!

“Keep practicing,” says Granddaddy.

Two feral cats are looking at me right now. They are on my porch steps, listening to the scraping guitar noise. They are named Linus and Lula Bell. We don’t know where they came from, but we started feeding them years ago and they’ve been around ever since.

Linus jumps on my lap. He loves it whenever I sit on the porch because this means I will rub his cold little ears. And he loves to have his cold ears rubbed.

Ever since these two cats showed up, more cats from all over the United States began appearing at our house. One after another. We have lots of cats now.

I haven’t gotten too creative with their names. There’s Kitty Gray, Kitty Black, Kitty Khaki, and Kitty Off-White. And as of yesterday, I saw a new cat prancing through our yard. I call him Kitty All-Kinds-of-Crazy-Colors because he looks like a cross between a raccoon and a Hawiian shirt. He was carrying a dead lizard in his mouth as a housewarming gift.

So we have seven or eight cats who use our house as a kind of feline headquarters. They visit every day just to let us know that things are okay in Cat World. But mostly, they spend their hours sleeping on my truck hood, on my boat, my charcoal grill, my shed roof, or on anything else I own.

But I don’t mind. Because the cats and I have an unspoken agreement between us. I agree to give them food and shelter; they have agreed to constantly patrol our yard and hunt for new places to poop.

The cats are listening to the guitar music coming from the porch across the street. They sit side-by-side, whipping their tails. They look sort of comical. I almost use my phone to snap a picture, but the scene is already perfect without involving technology.

I hear the neighbor girl give up struggling with the guitar. She says, “I can’t do it, Granddaddy.”

Then I hear the old man say, “Whoa, sweetie! You’re getting a little heavy for Granddaddy’s lap. You’re gonna break my legs.”

“Granddaddy, will you play the one you always sing for me?”

The next sound I hear is a guitar being tuned. Then, a few gentle strums. Followed by an old voice. He sings to her slowly:

“I see skies of blue,
“Clouds of white,
“The bright blessed day,
“And the dark sacred night,
“And I think to myself,
“What a wonderful world…”

The old man’s voice is not smooth. It’s raspy and it sounds like it’s been around the world a few times. Like this voice has experienced life for what it is. Heartaches and triumphs. Scrapes and bruises. Ups, downs, losing streaks, strokes of luck, good football teams, cold ice cream, sunshine in June, wayward cats, loyal dogs, broken radiators, chocolate, kisses from loved ones, and the loss of friends who died too young.

“I hear babies cry,
“I watch them grow,
“They’re gonna learn,
“More than I’ll ever know,
“And I think to myself,
“What a wonderful world.”

When the old man finishes, there is heartfelt applause. A standing ovation, actually. But all this clapping is not coming from the porch across the road. It’s coming from mine.

Because even my cats agree, no matter how bad things might look sometimes, it is a wonderful world.


  1. Katherine Young - December 16, 2019 6:55 am

    So beautiful… about cats, Louis and life.
    So uplifting. You understand things about cats as well as dogs. I love them both, equally.

  2. Carol-Ann Dearnaley - December 16, 2019 7:37 am

    This is one your best. A very long time ago, one of my Goddaughters learned to play that timeless Christmas song about poor grandma and the reindeer for my late husband as her Christmas gift to him and he was elated. It was his favorite Christmas song. He was an Episcopal priest.

  3. TERESA MARTINEZTRAVITZKY - December 16, 2019 7:40 am

    People don’t realize that cats also keep the snakes away! Loved this post! Merry Christmas!

  4. Sandi. - December 16, 2019 10:14 am

    Sean & Jamie, best wishes to y’all for a wonderful Christmas and a healthy 2020!

  5. Leigh Amiot - December 16, 2019 11:40 am

    You bring us back a lost piece of ourselves, Sean. Here’s a virtual standing ovation for you! 👏

  6. Betty F. - December 16, 2019 12:59 pm

    Another happy tears winner, Sean.
    You and Jamie and “the kids” have a terrific, peaceful next couple of weeks – and keep us grounded with your beautiful observations.

  7. Marilyn - December 16, 2019 1:16 pm

    Loved it, Sean! And it is “A Wonderful World”!

  8. Jerry catherine Deloney - December 16, 2019 1:17 pm

    That’s beautiful. Merry Christmas

  9. Phil S. - December 16, 2019 1:41 pm

    And that it is, my friend. That it is.

  10. Patsy G - December 16, 2019 2:25 pm

    Thank you for this today! I needed a reminder that it is truly ‘a wonderful world’!!

  11. Lee Q. Miller - December 16, 2019 2:42 pm

    Thanks again for the memories of yore! It was and is a wonderful world.

  12. Donna - December 16, 2019 2:51 pm

    Sean, THIS column is my definition of perfect as it includes so many of my very favorite things: Christmas lights, CATS with jellical double (or more) names, the great song It’s a Wonderful World, and a story telling Granddaddy!!!!!!!! Thank You & Merry Christmas!!!!!!!!!

  13. Steve Winfield - December 16, 2019 3:17 pm

    Front porch sittin is pretty much a thing of the past. You’re lucky it still exists in your neighborhood.
    We also adopted 2 cats the same way. Eventually found out they belonged to a neighbor but we must buy better food. Now there’s also a young racoon living under the back deck. He loves cat food, too.
    We have a small zoo. Oscar Mayer Weiner Dog. 2 gerbils, Cheech & Chong. 2 Hermit Crabs. 2 Cats & 1 Coon.
    Oscar would kill them all if he could. The cats are twice his size & basically just annoyed by him.

  14. Sharon Brock - December 16, 2019 3:28 pm

    What a wonderful column, Sean. That little girl will remember her granddaddy loved her for the rest of her life. She may not ever be a musician or she may outdo Taylor Swift and tell stories of how her granddaddy taught her to play. My gramps has been gone for 40 years and I still remember.

    Choctawhatchee Bay? I lived on Eglin AFB for two years in the mid 1970s. If I remember correctly, the altitude is 14″ above sea level. Niceville, Cinco Bayou, Crestview, Ft. Walton Beach, and Destin.

    You forgot the cockroaches big enough to saddle and ride in the Derby.

  15. Susan Kennedy - December 16, 2019 4:34 pm

    I was able to picture all of this perfectly. It was like I was there. Perfect. Thank you.

  16. Jim Porter - December 16, 2019 4:46 pm

    We had two cats while I was growing up in Arkansas—Kitty Grey and Kitty Yella!!😏

  17. Robert Chiles - December 16, 2019 4:53 pm

    Talk about creative cat names- my mother had a cat named “cat.” Now we have one named “Grey cat” who answers to “Grey cat.”
    This was a great post today! Happy Advent and Merry Christmas

  18. Chaz - December 16, 2019 4:59 pm

    “…, vipers, and real estate developers (but I repeat myself…)”

  19. Linda Moon - December 16, 2019 5:02 pm

    Dear Mrs. Dietrich: It is a wonderful world as your son described today. I celebrated my birthday with someone I know and love whose birthday was yesterday. Mine is today. We are both honored to share these December days of our births with you. My cats and I hope yours was wonderful on Friday the 13th!!

  20. Judy Wilson - December 16, 2019 5:26 pm


  21. Cheryl Hatter - December 16, 2019 5:49 pm

    Oh yes we do❤️ We are so blessed to live here in America. Home of the free and land of the brave.

  22. Jerry Shell - December 16, 2019 7:12 pm

    Your words paint a beautiful picture. It is indeed a wonderful world! Merry Christmas!

  23. Gloria Ann Collier - December 16, 2019 8:27 pm

    Wow! This one takes First Place!

  24. Rene Mims - December 16, 2019 11:05 pm

    I’m a new subscriber. I’m going to enjoy your writings!! Thanks for sharing your gift.

  25. Carol - December 17, 2019 8:37 pm

    We are blessed in so many ways and your one of them!!
    Love ya!

  26. Susan I Gleadow - December 20, 2019 8:54 pm

    Grandma got run over… Came on just as I was reading it! Beautiful, just beautiful and I may quote the part about no need for technology.


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