Gulf Shores

“Gulf Shores sure has changed over the years,” I say. “I don’t even recognize the town anymore.”

GULF SHORES—I have always liked this beach town. There is something about it. Not only is it situated on the Gulf, but wherever you go there is a feeling in the air that seventy percent of the tourist population has been drinking since noon.

I have good memories here. My wife went to college here. A good friend got married on these beaches. I have fished here.

Right now, Earl is giving me a ride in his truck.

Earl is white-haired, and quiet. He drives while I sit in the passenger seat.

It is night. I have just finished doing my one-man show in an auditorium where I told stories, jokes, and sang for two straight hours. I am exhausted and I have lost my voice.

When I exited backstage, Earl was waiting beside his truck.

Earl’s job is to give me a ride to the other side of the building so I can stand by the door, shake audience members’ hands, and apologize for ruining two hours of their lives.

Earl is relaxed and easygoing. He can sense that I am tired.

“How about we go for a drive?” Earl suggests. “So you can catch your breath.”

I nod because my voice is shot.

Soon, I am lost in thought. And do you know what I am thinking?

I’m thinking that for most of my life, I’ve never felt like I did a “good job” at anything. Sure, I’ve done okay, but I never felt like I did anything worthy of a pat on the back.

I realize that admitting this makes me seem pathetic. But then, I come from perfectionists who used to mow their lawns twice per week. These were men who would see tiny patches of grass the lawnmower missed and freak out. Then, they would jog outside to clip the grass with scissors.

But as a kid, I was desperate for somebody to slap my shoulder and say, “Good job, Sean.” Occasionally, I even begged for it in roundabout ways.

Just one pat on the back from someone was all I was looking for. One.

Earl drives in circles. I am looking through the windshield, resting my voice.

“I appreciate the ride,” I whisper.

“Don’t mention it,” says Earl.

I was never what you’d call a model student. I was chubby. And I grew up in a fundamentalist household where people talked more about the evils of hot pants than they talked about, for instance, the threat of nuclear war.

My grades were poor, my athletic abilities were non-existent. Blah, blah, blah. Who cares? Everyone has their own story.

I am a late bloomer, but somehow at this stage of life, I stand in front of people, running my mouth for a living. I have no idea what I’m doing. And most days, I don’t know how it happened. Or why.

I try to make polite conversation with Earl.

“Gulf Shores sure has changed over the years,” I say. “I don’t even recognize the town anymore.”

“Tell me about it,” says Earl. “When I first moved here, this place felt small.”

“Where’d you live before?”


I take a sip of water. “You know, my hometown is sort of like Gulf Shores.”

“Oh, I know all about you.”

And I am taken by surprise. I have never met Earl in my life. Earl is a stranger.

I make sure the vehicle doors are unlocked.

Earl adds, “I’ve been reading your stuff for awhile.”

“You have?”


If I wasn’t so dehydrated, I might cry. I don’t know why. Earl seems like such a nice man, I don’t know why he’d be interested in me. Also, I don’t know why I’m so emotional. Maybe it’s just my time of the month.

I look through the windshield at the night befalling Gulf Shores, and I think about how much I’ve always wanted to use the word befalling in a column.

I’m also thinking about how sometimes, when you need something—and I mean really need it—somehow it’s given to you.

Sometimes, Heaven looks down on you and knows exactly what you need, and how badly you need it. And it gives a tiny miracle to you. My life has been one continuous strand of these.

It’s a shame I didn’t realize this until just now.

When Earl drops me at the door, I see people leaving the auditorium, and it hits me all at once. I’m so ordinary it hurts. What am I doing here?

Five years ago, I was laying tile in the daytime, and playing music in an all-you-can-eat seafood joint at night. I was the guy voted most likely be late on his income taxes. What am I doing in Gulf Shores on a weeknight, outside an auditorium?

Earl says, “You alright?”

“Yeah,” I say with a hoarse voice. “I think so.”

Silence befalls the truck.

Earl says nothing. He only reaches across the seat and pats me on the back. Just once. And once is enough.


There is something about this beach town.


  1. Karen - July 12, 2019 8:15 am

    Earl sounds like one in a million. Take care of yourself, Sean. We love you, and your writing lifts us up, but you and Jamie deserve to relax and renew. You deserve a huge pat on the back from every one of us. Thank you for all you do for us.

  2. Camille - July 12, 2019 9:42 am

    Sean, I’m a little over the half way point in Stars of Alabama and loving every moment of this book. Thank you for giving back so much to so many.

  3. Jean - July 12, 2019 10:04 am

    Sean, if I were there I would pat you on the back…give you a hug and maybe a kiss on the cheek and say you are marvelous! You start my day out and I am blessed to read your writings. You are a God send to us all!!

  4. jill - July 12, 2019 11:10 am

    That pat on the back is worth the exhaustion. You did it, Sean. You are perfect, almost. *smile*

  5. Linda - July 12, 2019 11:11 am

    wish I could say something profound about how much I love your writings, but all I can think of is, “Sean, I love your writings”. As a born and raised southerner from North Alabama, I can say I identify with every word you write, understand it in my heart, and accept you as a brother!! Thanks for stirring up all my childhood memories, my appreciation for all things from around here, and making me appreciate all that’s been given to us down here, we are blessed.

  6. Floyd Williams - July 12, 2019 11:21 am

    WE were there… that auditorium! Something magical “befalled” in there when YOU took the stage. We listened, laughed, smiled, cried, & clapped and sang for two hours. Thank you for using your God given talents as a storyteller to show HIS love to HIS people. May God continue to bless you and Jamie. Thank you.

  7. Nancy Brown - July 12, 2019 11:24 am

    Sean, I was in the audience at Gulf Shores, and it was a fabulous evening. You touched memories of us all. Like all the dumb stuff we did as kids,but grew up OK in spite of ourselves. We all have special gifts, and you have undoubtedly found one of yours. Thanks for a superb performance, for signing my book, and especially for giving me a hug! Nancy

  8. Rhonda - July 12, 2019 11:31 am

    Glad you got that pat, Son. I know how you feel. I gave up on getting one a long time ago. Hugs heal the heart. Back pats reach places deeper where unfilled needs hide away. You have a lot to proud of. I can see it from here.

    • sparkerlpc - June 30, 2021 2:55 am

      Rhonda, it hurts me to think of anyone giving up on just being acknowledged and told they are worthy. Please accept a pat on your own back and a hug around your neck from a complete stranger who cares!

  9. Lucretia - July 12, 2019 11:33 am

    Always a pat on the back you give me, Sean. A divine gift when I need it most. A pat on your back, Sean. I humbly thank you.

  10. Bobbie - July 12, 2019 11:40 am

    Oh, I wish I could’ve been there! Heaven indeed knows what we need and Heaven sent us you to brighten our day. Please come to Georgia ! Not able to travel far, but would love to see you in person. God bless you.
    Love that word “befall”?….

  11. Carolyn - July 12, 2019 11:45 am

    Soooooo good Sean…..emotion befalls me.

  12. Candy Broyles - July 12, 2019 12:05 pm

    Sean, my daughter took me to see Herman’s Hermits about two years ago in Mississippi. As a woman who grew up in the sixties and seventies, that concert was the highlight of my life, but your program is now the highlight of my life! It was the best!

  13. Susan Kennedy - July 12, 2019 12:07 pm

    I’m patting you on the back right now. You’re amazing. ?

  14. Dianne - July 12, 2019 12:33 pm

    Sean, you are worthy of the joy, laughs, and brightness you bring into many lives each day through your columms, your music, and your contacts with others. Thank you!!

  15. John Self - July 12, 2019 12:42 pm

    Thank you. I have been thinking abut this off and on all week. this morning. You rang the bell. Because you appreciate the impact of that pat, you will be more likely to sense when others need that recognition, that affirmation.

    As we go through life, especially has we struggle to survive in business, we all need a pat on the back once in a while. Maybe its not a boss. Possibly its your wife. Or a friend. But you are spot on, we NEED that.

    Great leaders are the ones who sense when team members need that pat or a kind word of encouragement. Or better yet, recognition for who they are, the contributions they make.

    Leadership is engaging and caring for people, building thick connections and achieving exceptional results because you gave team members a pat on the back.

  16. Steve Winfield - July 12, 2019 12:45 pm

    Well, you already know I love you & your writing. One thing comes to mind. I’ve been supporting myself for 40 years, self employed for 30. Save as much as you can while times are good. You never know.
    I love them back pats too. Sometimes you really need one.
    Love you big! Steve

  17. bob stoddard - July 12, 2019 12:52 pm

    Hey Sean; It was my little mic you wore on stage, so I could hear you through my hearing aids. I’ve been reading your daily outpourings for quite a while. I’ve told you before: you ARE a writer. Although you sing well and play a beautiful guitar, writing is what you do best. Don’t stop, and don’t forget LOVE is the ANSWER.

  18. Shelton A. - July 12, 2019 1:12 pm

    You do deserve a pat on the back for all the smiles, laughs, and thoughtful moments you’ve given us. “Pat”

  19. Bud Carroll - July 12, 2019 1:14 pm

    Sorry, but I feel your comment about being emotional and “you’re time of the month” is a male put down to woman. I don’t know any of us menfolk who have a real INSIDE feeling about menstration. But I know for certain you are a bright, clever, talented, entertaining young man. I’m with Earl – a nice pat on your back! Bud Carroll

  20. Lizzie - July 12, 2019 1:15 pm

    Sean, Your magic is in reviving memories and commonplace things that we have all experienced. That is not an insignificant gift, Because you touch so many people’s hearts, and bring them joy, you should be proud and happy, too. How many of us could continue to write about new topics as often as you do? Not many, for sure. that makes you and what you say exceptional. Thank you for helping us remember the things is life that are slipping away. You’d be surprised to know that many others feel what you are feeling.
    I am new at reading your essays, but I wonder whether you have written about “Mirrors,” especially what mirrors in the home have meant to Southerners over the years. Was there a superstition about seeing your reflection in a mirror in your house at one time? I am trying to remember what my grandmother, born 1884, warned me about when I was a girl many years ago.

  21. Outdoor Writer David Rainer - July 12, 2019 1:15 pm

    Great job in Gulf Shores, Sean! I haven’t seen my wife laugh that much in quite a while. I was impressed with your guitar picking as well. You’re one multi-talented dude!

  22. LeAnne - July 12, 2019 1:34 pm

    Beautiful! Hope to see you soon! 🙂

  23. Pat Nichols - July 12, 2019 1:41 pm

    After reading your articles every single day and sharing them on facebook every day, many of us do feel like we know you. You have begun to feel like Distant Cousin Sean who is faithful to write to us and let us know what is going on in your life. Please keep those “letters” coming!

  24. Ken Dunn - July 12, 2019 2:21 pm

    Today I’m sending you a pat on the back and an ATTABOY ! You take us all back to a kinder, gentler time !

  25. Melinda - July 12, 2019 2:31 pm

    My husband and I attended your Gulf Shores show. You are such a talented man. You draw us into your life stories. You make us laugh and sing. You have something so special and you share it with us. Thank you for two hours of pure joy❤️

  26. Kathy Elder - July 12, 2019 3:42 pm

    I recently vacationed in Gulf Shores with a sweet 7 year old girl and a hell on wheels 3 year old boy…yes, I was drinking at noon.

  27. Linda Moon - July 12, 2019 3:48 pm

    Why do you run your mouth for a living?…Hmm…It happened for many reasons, some of which you may never know. For me, it happened for two specific reasons: first, the loss of your father and the other one, bringing me joy every morning instead of thinking about cancer demons that my Angels are fighting. There’s something about Gulf Shores, and there’s something about you too. Good Job, Sean!!

  28. Lillian Dale Sumter - July 12, 2019 3:59 pm

    Loved your show! I think the entire audience left there feeling so much joy in their hearts and souls! Thanks for a blessed night! ? I also bought your new book which I can’t wait to read. Sending you a pat on the back??Dale Sumter

  29. jnearen2013 - July 12, 2019 4:17 pm

    You did a great job Sean. We really enjoyed it. Even my British wife laughed herself silly even though she admitted that some of the jokes (the pear dessert) were lost on her. We love you dude. I don’t expect we will ever get to meet (didn’t know that you were going to shake hands after the event or would have hung around). But, I wanted to share one thing about Gulf Shores (Orange Beach/Ono Island actually) that you probably don’t know. A fellow there — Andy Andrews, the famous speaker and author — has one of the finest collections of The Andy Griffith Show paraphernalia in the US. In fact, from time to time you will see him cruising down the road in Andy’s squad car. Next time you come I will do what I can to hook you guys up so you can see his wonderful collection. Thanks for coming to see us!

  30. Jones - July 12, 2019 4:32 pm

    I hope you can feel all of these virtual pats on your back from your devoted readers!!! You bring brightness to many lives. Thank you!

  31. throughmyeyesusa - July 12, 2019 8:28 pm

    If you read these comments, even a few, even occasionally, know you are loved, or you should. I’m certain the audience reactions tell you the same. Your writing is beautiful, often uplifting. Your own story is touching.

    But Sean, it’s time to start accepting the “pats”, the “hugs” and the affirmation you are being given every day. The past is the past! The now is what matters and NOW you do amount to something! NOW you are creating something important and you are doing something important for people and moving in their lives. Please accept that and put your ghosts of inadequacy to rest.

    • turtlekid - July 13, 2019 12:27 pm

      Throughmyeyesusa….you have written what I believe. Sean Paul has had such a hard time with his past, as he has poignantly written several times. It is like accepting Salvation, we can’t accept that we are loved and forgiven for our past. I guess it is a process that many go through, finally recognizing and accepting LOVE. He is truly loved and appreciated by many, and I am proud to say I am one of his fans.

  32. Rebecca Qualls - July 12, 2019 8:38 pm

    Sean..just love this article…why it was like a got “a pat on the back too”…thank you!!!

  33. Janet Mary Lee - July 12, 2019 8:50 pm

    I met you at a show in Montgomery once. I felt kind of guilty because I was in line waiting to meet you after the show. I knew you were probably tired and still had to get somewhere for the night. But I thank you for speaking to me and hugging me and suggesting to me I could get a picture!! It just shows what a kind and thoughtful man you are, that you would care about me. An old complete stranger!! I treasure my moment, and especially treasure Thelma Lou’s signature in one of the books I bought then. It will always be a part of our family! I hope you know how much you mean to all of us!! 1/3 into your new book..and loving it!!! I am savoring the words like a hot biscuit and peach preserves!! Big hug!! And A pat!!! May God grant you and Jamie a special moment of rest and peace for all you do for us!! Love you guys!!!!

  34. Joe Patterson - July 12, 2019 11:00 pm

    Thanks got to get the book keep writing

  35. Jan - July 12, 2019 11:04 pm

    I love your stories reading them & hearing them on podcasts! You have a way of making others feel better in this crazy hectic world we live in. You are touching so many lives with your story telling. I look forward to the day when I can hear you in person. Keep up the great work & doing what you do!

  36. Melissa - July 14, 2019 2:41 am

    Here’s a pat on the back in written form. I home schooled my children for few years when I moved from Metairie to New Orleans. What I tride to impress upon my children the most, was good writing skills. Most kids don’t understand the basics, let alone style. Both my daughters who are in college are excellent. My son who is starting at Rummel next year is getting better. Yours, however, is exactly what I try to teach my son he can do with his own writing. One of my clients turned me on to you when he found out I stopped listening to the news. I’m so grateful I have some media that is worth spending my time on each day. Thanks so much for what you do. Hope you felt this right between the shoulder blades.

  37. Sallie Alston - July 22, 2019 3:05 am

    Pat* pat* pat* love your story about Gulf shores. We had a small cabin that my uncle built in 1947. No air conditioning, only window fans. No county water and our teeth turned brown if we drank the it. I’m with Earl in Gulf Shores changing !
    Can’t wait to buy your book and meet you in September in Aliceville ?

  38. Margaret - August 5, 2019 12:37 am

    Sean, you tickle my heart strings daily and make me feel like I’m not the only one who feels like I don’t fit it. High Five, man!

  39. Anne - August 5, 2019 7:16 pm

    I mailed my son in Colorado a copy of Stars of Alabama…he texted a few days later, “That book you sent is great!” Keep up the good work!

  40. sparkerlpc - June 30, 2021 2:57 am

    Sean, you have tapped into one of your several talents. We all see your talent, your ability, and the joy you bring to others. It’s time for you to see it, now. Sending love!

  41. Debra Cheney - June 30, 2021 4:25 am

    Sean. I read your FB column and your current column every day. The reason you so profoundly touch so many people with your writing and your public talks, is because you are an ordinary man doing the best he can – just like all of us, your readers. You are honest and open and vulnerable. And we love you.

  42. Carol Goddard - June 30, 2021 10:05 am

    Sean, you say so many things that are in our hearts and you touch each of us in so many ways. Thank you for giving so much of yourself to all of us. I’ve had the privilege of attending two of your “Sean Dietrich” evenings and you gave us everything that was in you. Thank you for who you are and what you see in life and give to us. We appreciate the time you give to allow us to greet and hug you, for you to sign our books and allow us a picture with you. We understand why you are exhausted but love and appreciate you so much.

  43. Claudia Hibdon - June 30, 2021 11:51 am

    Sean. You inspire me. You bring back wonderful memories. You show humility, which is missing in culture today. You give hope. Your compassion seeps out of your pores. You are a unique child of God (even when you put down Baptists!) . YOU are loved and I know our Lord is daily reaching down not only to Pat your back but give you a great big hug. You don’t need to put yourself down…God has raised you up!

  44. Debbie Powell - June 30, 2021 12:52 pm

    “Good job,Sean.” Here is a pat on the back from us.


Leave a Comment