My dad was born in a farmhouse. He had very little growing up. At least that’s how he always told the story. His family was pretty hard up.

His most valuable possession was a transistor radio he’d bought at a department store when he was a boy. He’d listen to the radio shows in the 50s. “Abbot and Costello” reruns. “The Jack Benny Show.” He’d listen to ball games. He’d root for Mickey Mantle. Roger Maris. The “Say Hey Kid.”

Otherwise, he didn’t have squat.

Which would explain why my father headed up the Christmas tree committee every year at the fundamentalist Baptist church (motto: “Buying life insurance is a form of gambling”).

My father would gather up donations from anyone and anywhere. He would shamelessly ask for money. He would even resort to sending paralyzingly cute Little Leaguers door to door, selling cookies.

The money earned would be used to buy balsam firs. He bought truckloads of trees.

At which point people in the church would submit addresses of families who needed help for Christmas. Whereupon my father and his army of his friends would deliver trees in early December.

Every year, I would go with Daddy on these deliveries. Each year, we would load dozens of balsams into the bed of his F-100. My father would have a clipboard of addresses. And we would drive into the hinterlands, wearing Santa hats.

One night, I remember riding into a little trailer park, way out in the sticks. I remember how dark it was in the country. I remember my father parking the truck in front of a single wide trailer.

We walked up to the mildewed porch. Daddy carried a tree over his shoulder. We rapped on the thin aluminum door. When the door opened, a young woman was staring back at us. A baby on her hip.

Daddy insisted that we sing “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” So we did. We sang the whole thing. Even the dumb verse about figgy pudding.

By the time we finished singing, the young woman was laughing. Then my father would always say the same thing. He would tell the recipient they had won a randomized contest put on by the power company. “You won a free tree!” he’d say.

He would never tell the recipient that someone in church had nominated them for a tree because they were going through hard times. He would never embarrass anyone. We were always with the power company, just wandering through town, carrying a truckful of Christmas trees for the heck of it.

I remember one time we delivered a tree to a veritable shack. It was the kind of place that was leaning sideways. Chipped clapboards. Lopsided porch. An obligatory blue tarp on the rooftop. Simply put, the place was crap.

We showed up to the home, and Daddy was visibly shaken. He wiped his eyes and nailed a smile to his face.

He and I went marching up to the doorstep. He rang the doorbell and several children answered the door. They were scrawny and pale, with dirty clothes.

Daddy set up the tree in their den, and they all just watched him in rapt wonder. And then my father surprised everyone when he placed wrapped boxes beneath their tree.

He told the kids these gifts were from Santa, and that Saint Nick had given him official permission to do this even though Christmas was four weeks away.

The kids threw their arms around my father and thanked him and begged him to stay. And my father just held them tightly and wished them a merry Christmas.

And when we left that place, my father pulled the truck over and wept like a child in the front seat. I asked why he was so upset. He wiped his face and said this was near the house where he had grown up.

Whereupon, he held me closely and told me that we had a lot to be grateful for. He told me he loved me. And he asked me to make him a promise.

“What kind of promise?” I said.

“Promise me that you won’t ever forget about people in this world who are hard up.”

I pray every year that I can make good on that promise.

57 comments

  1. Steve Winfield (lifer) - December 5, 2022 8:21 am

    My dad drove a gas truck for Standard Oil / Chevron for 39 years so we had it pretty good. We lived 2 doors away from his parents. They had 2 1/2 acres & leased 12 more. They raised & sold hogs, chickens & eggs. Grew everything they ate. Bought & sold furniture from thrift stores.
    But they always helped those in need. Paw Paw kept a pile of old bicycle parts. He could build a bike in an hour. Saw him build many for kids that didn’t have one. No one around went hungry, without clothing, beds or furniture.
    It’s just what they done.
    I’ll love those two to no end. Just the greatest nicest people that ever lived.
    Maw Maw & Paw Paw Winfield.

    Reply
    • Debbie - December 5, 2022 1:43 pm

      Such extradinarily beautiful souls❤️

      Reply
    • Susie - December 5, 2022 2:47 pm

      Simply lovely people, Steve! How lucky you were to have such wonderful parents!

      Reply
  2. Kara - December 5, 2022 10:05 am

    Tears! This really touched my heart. Your father seemed to be a compassionate man.

    Reply
  3. Gwen - December 5, 2022 12:16 pm

    Your Dad was so good!!! ❤️❤️❤️

    Reply
  4. Alan Martin - December 5, 2022 12:20 pm

    Goodness, thank you…very much.

    Reply
  5. mccutchen52 - December 5, 2022 12:34 pm

    No eyedrops again this morning…

    Reply
  6. Jen - December 5, 2022 12:35 pm

    Lost my dad last year, and this made me cry. Still so very much to be grateful for.

    Reply
  7. Trent - December 5, 2022 12:43 pm

    Got chills on that one! Hope the deer don’t hear me blow my nose…

    Reply
  8. sunsetpar - December 5, 2022 12:52 pm

    Thanks Sean.

    Reply
  9. Chasity Davis Ritter - December 5, 2022 1:06 pm

    Thanks for the beautiful poignant reminder of what this month and everyday should really be about. Oh yeah you know you got the water works going as always. Love you Sean and the heart you got from BOTH of your parents.

    Reply
  10. Trudy - December 5, 2022 1:30 pm

    You got your good looks and your compassionate heart from your Daddy. He was a good man, Sean. He left a legacy. I can tell you are so much like him.

    Reply
  11. Debbie - December 5, 2022 1:40 pm

    😢🙏❤️

    Reply
  12. Robyn - December 5, 2022 1:42 pm

    You are the living legacy and you share it with us everyday. And we are so lucky and grateful you do. You are a blessing!

    Reply
  13. Guy Cortesi - December 5, 2022 1:44 pm

    Sean – I don’t know how you do it, but each story you write is a treasure. This one is no exception. In a world that presents so much bad news and terrible “information”, you manage to come up with touching and heartfelt stories, that help me keep the faith and remember what’s really important. Thank you. Please don’t stop.

    Reply
  14. Helen De Prima - December 5, 2022 1:46 pm

    Your daddy must be so proud of you!

    Reply
  15. David - December 5, 2022 1:49 pm

    I’m not crying, You’re crying! Very moving. God bless everyone today!

    Reply
  16. Kevin Conklin - December 5, 2022 1:59 pm

    It’s too early in the morning for me to cry. Thank you so very much. And I mean it!

    Reply
  17. Oliver Rhett Talbert - December 5, 2022 2:14 pm

    Oh, you’re making more good on that promise than you even know. Blessings.

    Reply
  18. Sam and Ann - December 5, 2022 2:16 pm

    I occasionally comment on your posts, Sean, but just know I love every last one of them—even if I don’t post. My husband and I read every morning as we drink our coffee. Your dad would be so proud. Just like we all are! You give us reminders we all need to never put our lives out of gear but to keep our eyes open to do good in this word every chance we get!!!

    Reply
  19. Susie - December 5, 2022 2:52 pm

    TAHT is the sweet part of your father’s legacy he left to you, Sean!! Kudos to him for that, bless his heart.

    Reply
  20. LynnB - December 5, 2022 3:11 pm

    What a treasure your daddy was! Hold on to all the great memories of him and know that he would make a different choice in his lowest moment of desperation, if possible. One glorious day, he will be there holding you as you celebrate Christmas for all eternity!

    Reply
  21. Chalmer's Favorite Granddaughter - December 5, 2022 3:21 pm

    Sean, Thank you for sharing your Dad with us, again. “There, but, for the grace of God go us.” I always try to remember this saying when I see someone poor or sick or who needs help. My grandparents instilled in me that it was important to help those who needed help as one day, it would be me who needed the help. They have been so very right so many times in my life. Chalmer & Mae Miller were good people who always put a person who needed food to work after giving them a meal. Your Dad seems to have been a very tender hearted man and it must have been hard for him to live on this earth with all of the hardship that we witness everyday. I pray that you continue to remember the beautiful things that you shared with your father and release the rest. He was a man who loved deeply. You are such a beautiful writer to be able to put the words down so that we can see the entire events as if we are there. God bless you, Jamie, and your family this Christmas Season.

    Reply
  22. Jim Kelly - December 5, 2022 3:25 pm

    Your DAD was a good man, Sean. So sorry he left you so early. I know you loved him, it always shows.

    Reply
  23. Debbie g - December 5, 2022 3:32 pm

    I hope everyone remembers what Christmas is all about. Giving from the heart.

    Reply
  24. Sylvia E. - December 5, 2022 3:41 pm

    I have believed every word you have written until today. You describe a leaning, crap shack as having a door bell. Not happening! I thought you wrote non-fiction but now believe otherwise.

    Reply
    • Sarah - December 5, 2022 4:17 pm

      Silvia E., I think you’re missing the point of the story. And I don’t think Sean has ever indicated his writing is purely non-fiction. It’s a story. Sometimes stories are embellished. And that’s Sean’s choice.

      Reply
    • P D - December 7, 2022 1:18 am

      Bah hum bug on you Sylvia!!!

      Reply
  25. Stacey Wallace - December 5, 2022 3:42 pm

    Sean, thanks for such a sweet, heart rending story. Your Daddy was a wonderful, compassionate, loving man, and so are you. Love to you, Jamie, and Marigold.

    Reply
  26. Pubert Earle Bozemann - December 5, 2022 3:47 pm

    SEAN; like they always say, The apple don’t fall far from the tree. Sounds like you came by it honest!

    Your friend,

    Pubert

    Reply
  27. patricia Comery - December 5, 2022 4:10 pm

    Dear Sean, my husband and I read your letter every morning, not knowing if we are going to laugh or cry. You are essential to starting our day. We are so touched with your sensitivity, compassion, and human insight. You have a light inside you that glows in each letter you write. Blessed be. 🥰🙋‍♀️🥰. Pat Comery

    Reply
  28. Dee Thompson - December 5, 2022 4:42 pm

    Wow, this one made me cry! My dad grew up poor, too, in a house with no electricity or indoor bathroom. He became a banker and made middle-class money, which seemed like wealth, to him. He spent 30 years tirelessly working for The Salvation Army, The Boys and Girls Clubs, and other charities. He did a ton of work for his church, for free. He told me once he never dreamed as a boy he would ever live in a house with heat, air conditioning, and good enough light to be able to read at night. I think those who experience real poverty want to really help others. Here’s to all those dads who present great examples of generosity.

    Reply
  29. Sandy - December 5, 2022 5:05 pm

    Sean, you’ve done it again. What a heart warming story so beautifully written.
    A warm and loving Christmas to you and your family. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  30. Carol - December 5, 2022 6:30 pm

    May God Rest His Soul; Your Daddy was a good man, as are you, Sean…I’m certain he is proud of the man you have become…Merry Christmas

    Reply
  31. Larry Robertson - December 5, 2022 7:27 pm

    Sean,

    No matter how the demons in your Dad’ s life may have affected him, at this time of year he was moved to compassion on those who grew up like him or with less.
    And yes you have never forgotten to have that same compassion. Merry Christmas!

    Reply
  32. pattymack43 - December 5, 2022 7:54 pm

    A promise that we all (who are willing and able) should endeavor to keep! thank you, Sean, for reminding us to do so!

    Reply
  33. Alane Duncan - December 5, 2022 8:04 pm

    What a wonderful memory! Thank you for sharing this story. When you get to heaven your dad will be proud of the good you have done on this side of heaven!

    Reply
  34. MAM - December 5, 2022 9:09 pm

    Thank you, Sean, as alway, for a tearful, but heartwarming story, and for the reminders that you gracefully tuck away in your stories. We should all emulate your father, who loved you, your mom, and all humanity!

    Reply
  35. Debbie - December 5, 2022 9:53 pm

    Beautifully written! Wow!

    Reply
  36. Shannon Miles - December 5, 2022 10:58 pm

    The world needs more people like Daddy. He clearly understood the true meaning of gift giving.

    Reply
  37. Linda Moon - December 5, 2022 11:22 pm

    My Daddy became a father on this date, December 5th. The word “Daddy” itself is precious to me, and that Daddy of mine was too. I believe you’ve kept your promise to your Daddy by telling us readers about those who make it through hard times. My Daddy did, and he’s resting in peace in an old cemetery I told you about, where you were once close-by….and I’m so grateful you were there.

    Reply
  38. Jeannette - December 6, 2022 12:14 am

    Your Dad had a good heart and passed it down. God Bless you Sean. Thank you and Merry Christmas!

    Reply
  39. Anne Trawick - December 6, 2022 1:11 am

    Thank you, Sean. I won’t forget them either this year, and I’ll say, “From Mr. Dietrich.”

    Reply
  40. Edith Reed - December 6, 2022 1:42 am

    ❤️❤️❤️🎄❤️❤️❤️

    Reply
  41. conkledavid - December 6, 2022 4:55 am

    Thank you

    Reply
  42. Sean of the South: Daddy | The Trussville Tribune - December 6, 2022 2:05 pm

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

    Reply
  43. Susan W Fitch - December 6, 2022 2:17 pm

    Thank you for sharing this memory!

    Reply
  44. Shirley Webb - December 6, 2022 3:15 pm

    Enjoy your reads…Thank you

    Reply
  45. Becky Souders - December 6, 2022 7:51 pm

    Easy to see where your tender heart comes from, Sean. Thanks for these good words.

    Reply
  46. Carmen - December 6, 2022 9:09 pm

    Your daddy had a good heart. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Merry Christmas season, Sean, Marigold and Jamie.

    Reply
  47. Ann King - December 6, 2022 11:02 pm

    I have to say , this story made me cry a tear or two. ❤️

    Reply
  48. suzi - December 7, 2022 12:46 am

    “There’s a sweet,🎶 sweet spirit in this place”🎶.
    Your daddy🦋

    Reply
  49. Nancy Cunningham - December 7, 2022 4:23 am

    Your Daddy was a good man with a good heart!!

    Reply
  50. Karen - December 7, 2022 6:20 pm

    You continue to carry on your Dad’s tradition. Merry Christmas.

    Reply
  51. Patricia Gibson - December 7, 2022 11:45 pm

    We all need to keep that promise!!!

    Reply
  52. Ruth - December 8, 2022 3:59 am

    Love reading all these wonderful comments in response to your poignant story. I’m glad your Father inspired you to care about others. I know he must be so terribly proud looking down.

    Reply
  53. Ginga Smithfield - December 13, 2022 5:25 pm

    You had a good Daddy, Sean!

    Reply

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