Pretty 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.” Not unless you count our dogs who weigh more than average middle-schoolers. Thelma Lou is 101 pounds of bloodhound. Otis Campbell (alleged Labrador), 92 pounds. Marigold (blind coonhound) about the same weight as a bag of Fritos.

I whistled and 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. 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. 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. 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 you how family was the only way they made it through life. 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. 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.

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 was constantly asking if we needed help. Bill was your classic sales professional. He never let a customer go cold. I told him we were just looking.

Bill’s face went flat. “Just looking?” he said, using the same tone he might’ve used if I had just handed him a jar of warm sputum.

That’s when my wife saw something in the corner. It was the smallest, most pathetic tree ever. 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. 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. We took it home. My wife placed the pitiful tree onto our back porch. She decorated it with homemade ornaments, lights, and dollar-store garland. She put a plastic star on its dismal top.

She transformed a tired and ragged piece of refuse into something proud, happy, and full of life. The thing positively glowed. 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. JonDragonfly - December 8, 2022 6:48 am

    Boy, I never saw that coming!
    But, how true for many of us.

  2. leighamiot - December 8, 2022 8:03 am

    This brought back memories of riding around to see Christmas lights in Valdosta, Georgia, with a family that became non-traditional after my father’s early demise. My mother drove a green Plymouth Fury III in the early 1970s, Grannie in the front seat, me in back, and we’d go ooh and ah over Christmas decorations and lights, especially the colorfully lit trees floating on the mill pond and on nearby lakes.

    I bet Jamie has made French toast with that delicious egg nog, good groceries!

  3. Peggy Lovelady - December 8, 2022 8:25 am

    Oh my, I love your stories and I am sure I would love you and your wife. Merry Christmas ‼️

  4. Kathleen Jun Magyar - December 8, 2022 9:35 am

    Dear Sean, That is the first time a single line of simple English words caused me to burst into tears.

  5. Susan Dooley - December 8, 2022 10:06 am

    Aww, this brings tears to my eyes. Thank you.

  6. Dennis - December 8, 2022 10:35 am

    Good stuff, man.

  7. Renee Welton - December 8, 2022 11:17 am

    This made me cry. You are SO talented…I could just “see” it all. Thank You♥️🎄♥️

  8. stephenpe - December 8, 2022 11:17 am

    Merry Christmas, Sean. You are the gift that keeps on giving us all year long.

  9. Mary Spechko - December 8, 2022 11:27 am

    Your story warmed my heart! Love your daily story.” Merry Christmas” or were I grew up we said “Happy Christmas”

  10. Jean Sherrill - December 8, 2022 11:44 am

    She saw promise and love from you. She chose wisely. You two are a great pair. Merry Christmas!

  11. Karen Snyder - December 8, 2022 12:04 pm

    And your glow shines out to us through every word you write. Thank you for sharing that. ❤️🎄

  12. Joretta Parker - December 8, 2022 12:12 pm

    What a lovely statement about your wife. She is blessed to have a husband like you.

  13. Gwen - December 8, 2022 12:48 pm


  14. Susan W Fitch - December 8, 2022 12:52 pm

    Awwwwsome, plain and simple!

  15. David - December 8, 2022 12:52 pm

    Ahhhhhh! Gettin’ all mushy! Good one Sean.

  16. oldmamacrow - December 8, 2022 1:03 pm


  17. mccutchen52 - December 8, 2022 1:10 pm

    Enjoyed the story but I have a question…Shouldn’t the shoe count be an even number? YOU must have lost a shoe in the move..

    • Gigi - December 8, 2022 2:51 pm

      @mccutchen52~ Sean said “pairs” of shoes. You can have an odd number pair of shoes. (Just trying to be helpful). Have a good day !

    • Susie - December 8, 2022 3:56 pm

      Lol, good one, McCutchen!!

    • J.I. Thomas - December 8, 2022 6:32 pm

      He was speaking about Pairs of shoes.

  18. Regina Vanderneut - December 8, 2022 1:13 pm

    Wow! Mr Sean!! What an incredible and romantic man you are!!! What a blessed woman you have married and what a wonderful blessed husband she has in you!!!!

  19. Sean of the South: Pretty Lights | The Trussville Tribune - December 8, 2022 1:51 pm

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

  20. Cindy - December 8, 2022 2:04 pm

    Elizabeth Barrett Browning is for sure smiling down on you. ❤️

  21. beachdreamer - December 8, 2022 2:13 pm

    Ditto to all the above! That last line turned the faucet on. I have to say again how blessed you are Sean Dietrich! I wish you would stop putting yourself down. You have an awesome wife and life! You bless so many by your words each day. You yourself are a gift, and don’t you forget it! We all have a past…but I’ve recently learned we are not defined by who we once were. God bless you and your ‘fam’. 🎄👵🏻

  22. Tom - December 8, 2022 2:14 pm

    I think most of us, me for sure, are much improved because of the brides we married. The Redhead is still knocking some rough edges off me after almost 52 years. I am a lucky man.

  23. Marilyn - December 8, 2022 2:33 pm

    What a sweet tribute to Jamie! I love reading your daily column because it is so uplifting. Your descriptions put me right in the middle of each situation. Keep up the great work, and may you, Jamie and your family (the dogs) have a very blessed Christmas.

  24. Margaret - December 8, 2022 2:36 pm

    Best one yet!

  25. LIN ARNOLD - December 8, 2022 2:38 pm

    Merry Christmas to you and your wife …… and your 3 “babies”.

  26. sjhl7 - December 8, 2022 2:43 pm


  27. Gigi - December 8, 2022 2:52 pm


  28. Rachel Lindsey - December 8, 2022 2:58 pm

    why oh why do i wait to read these until i get to work, 🤦‍♀️. Im all up on my feelings now 🙄🥲

  29. Terri - December 8, 2022 3:02 pm

    This one caught me off-guard at the end and I teared up a bit. Beautiful.

  30. Carol - December 8, 2022 3:17 pm

    Love It!

  31. Debbie g - December 8, 2022 3:23 pm

    You are a very blessed man. I lost my husband several years ago and miss him terribly. You have a wonderful family. Hope you and your family have Merry Christmas.

  32. Stacey Wallace - December 8, 2022 3:29 pm

    Sean, thanks for getting my husband’s and my morning started off right. Merry Christmas! Love to you, Jamie, and Marigold.

  33. dmgtomlin - December 8, 2022 3:40 pm

    LOVE this one, Sean!

  34. Susie - December 8, 2022 3:54 pm

    SWEET, Sean. 👍❤️ Ya did good, Jamie. 👍💖

  35. Will Cagle - December 8, 2022 4:02 pm

    Sean, 2 months ago at an intersection on a country road near my house, I noticed a small tree making it’s way out of the asphalt in the island at the intersection. We had had a very hot month and I couldn’t believe the tree was surviving. Last week as I passed it, my thoughts turned to Jesus and how he was born out of the simplest but harshest of places. This simple tree born out of that same kind of environment touched my heart. So 2 weeks ago, I got one of our Christmas tree balls and a little red bird figure and mounted them on the tree. A week passed and suddenly one morning, someone had put more balls and some tensile in the tree. Suddenly on Facebook in our community page, the posts were full of wonderful expressions by people who saw our little tree and what it meant to them. I responded to all those posts reflecting on my anology to Jesus’s birth. Further, my wife painted a scene depicting Jesus in the manger on a rock and we placed it at the base of the tree along with a red skirt and a lighted Santa Claus. Several days later, someone came and put battery operated lights on the tree. Our community was abuzz with the spirit of Christmas, and saying how much this simple message meant to them. Finally, yesterday another member of our community found a small cedar tree sitting in a large open field by itself about a mile away from our little tree. They then when went and got some decorations, came back and decorated this tree. So isn’t it amazing how one simple little tree can propagate the spirit of Christmas!

  36. Elaine Moore - December 8, 2022 4:03 pm

    Beautiful story !!❤️❤️❤️❤️

  37. Connie Gatlin - December 8, 2022 4:38 pm

    I absolutely love the moment when an author smacks me up the side a’ the head with an unexpected last line! Made my jaw drop! Well done, Sean!

  38. Shoshana - December 8, 2022 4:42 pm

    Thank Glory she rescued you!

  39. Julie - December 8, 2022 5:38 pm

    God bless you Sean (and Jamie)!!

  40. virginia westlake - December 8, 2022 5:46 pm

    So great!

  41. Rita Naftel - December 8, 2022 7:26 pm


  42. Martha B Stuart - December 8, 2022 10:01 pm


  43. Kathy - December 8, 2022 10:12 pm

    So beautiful!! Merry Christmas!

  44. kingswaydaughter - December 8, 2022 11:29 pm

    Thank you for taking us on a simple joyous Christmas outing. The simple things we do are the realest things we do.

  45. Susan - December 8, 2022 11:50 pm

    You sir are a truly lucky man! ❤️

  46. Diane Mark - December 9, 2022 12:04 am

    Thank you for making me cry a lot. It is a good thing. Merry Christmas to you and all of your family

  47. Mary Lou - December 9, 2022 12:25 am


  48. Karen - December 9, 2022 12:32 am

    This is the Christmas spirit I love. You and your little family going to see the Christmas lights. Your wife sees the potential and magic of a small, scrawny tree.

  49. Paula Ann Loftis - December 9, 2022 12:49 am

    Absolutely lovely with the true message of Christmas. Thank you Sean. (I can relate to your wife’s motion sickness, I always drive and it took 20 years of marriage to figure it that men do not always need to drive).

  50. Irene J Steele - December 9, 2022 1:28 am


  51. Jeannette - December 9, 2022 1:44 am

    Irene…my word exactly. Beautiful!

  52. Chasity Davis Ritter - December 9, 2022 2:53 am

    Jamie is one of a kind and you’re the luckiest man alive.

  53. Linda Everett - December 9, 2022 2:59 am

    Debbie G, I lost my wonderful husband 3 years ago. He always was awake before I was and had coffee ready and waiting. One morning shortly before he died, I found a note at my breakfast place. It simply said “ Real Love Stories Never Have Endings”. I have found it to be true, I still have my love for him and cherish the years we had together💕

  54. Mize Rosemary - December 9, 2022 3:35 am

    Merry Christmas to You and The Mrs🎄

  55. MAM - December 9, 2022 3:53 am

    Isn’t it amazing what Love can do? The simplest things bring the most happiness! As I often say about my husband of 54 years, “I think I”ll keep him,” when actually I KNOW I will keep him as long as God will let me!

  56. Carolyn Hallmark - December 9, 2022 4:50 am

    Love your humor and the messages your writings impart…you’re a genius!!!

  57. Anne Arthur - December 9, 2022 1:19 pm

    What a sweet declaration of love!
    Your writing is awesome, no wonder Jamie and the dogs love you.

  58. Anne Trawick - December 9, 2022 1:37 pm

    Love it.

  59. Gayla - December 10, 2022 7:46 am

    Jamie is such a class act! She is definitely a keeper…she knows quality in trees and men!

  60. George Robert Leach - December 11, 2022 11:30 am

    What? She found you in a dumpster and had to haggle for your price?

  61. Sue - December 11, 2022 4:56 pm

    Love your family. Some similarities to ours!


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