Yeah, I was surprised. Big-time surprised.

I got home at a quarter till. My car approached the neighborhood. It was the perfect December eventide. The sun was setting over Birmingham. The foothills of Appalachia were kissed by a golden sundown, like miniature mountainsides topped with Kraft Velveeta cheese.

My house was within eyeshot. I could see my porch through the windshield. My house’s porch was crowded with people. Lots of people. There were maybe a hundred.

I got out of the car. People cheered. “Happy birthday!” My wife ran up to me. She greeted me with tears in her eyes. The crowd began to sing “Happy Birthday,” off-pitch, like a choir of Labradoodles with sinus infections.

I stepped onto the porch and an ordained priest handed me a beer. “Drink up birthday boy,” said the Episcopal priest, cracking open my can.

You have to love Episcopalians.

I hugged Aaron first. Dear Aaron. Aaron and his wife, April, are family to me. Longtime friends. They are as true as the book of Leviticus; pure as Geneva County tomatoes. “We love you, man,” he said.

I choked back tears.

Next, I embraced Julie and her husband Jake. Julie is my longtime fiction editor—God help her. Julie edited my very first novel, years ago. I will never forget it, Julie’s first manuscript note to me was: “Too many fart jokes.”

We hugged and I felt the dam begin to break.

Next came Patrick. Patrick and I play music together. Then Kelly, who also plays music with me. Then Tom and Fred, my longest held friends and bandmates.

Then my neighbors. Jeff, Donna, Kim, Mistey, and Elizabeth.

I hugged each of them. “Happy birthday,” they all said.

The tears were knocking at my door. But I was diligent to hold the weeping back because I was raised by stoic Baptists who did not cry unless Gloria Gaither said we could.

Next, I hugged Katie and Peter. Peter is the Episcopal priest, and my longtime constituent. Katie, his wife, is a hospice nurse. They both hugged me and nearly broke my ribs.

Peter whispered into my ear, “Happy birthday, man.”

Whereupon, Katie held me closely and said, “I am very drunk.”

Tonye hugged me next. Precious Tonye. My surrogate sister. Then came Mandy and her husband Jon, the teacher and the vulnerable fireman. Then came Shannon and Todd, the hippie and the booksmith.

Amy, Tammy, and Joel. The only true family I have in the great city of Birmingham. The people who, when I first arrived in this city, I was driving a 28-foot U-Haul, were sitting in my driveway at 1:23 a.m. ready to help me unload. If that ain’t love.

Then I hugged Tim and Stephanie. Tim is my dentist. I embraced them both. Tim said, “Your teeth look especially good tonight, big guy.”

After which came Steve and Elvira. Then Robin and Brad. Then Leslie and Bob. Then a whole bunch of other people I’m forgetting.

Next, I saw my baby sister standing there. She was by herself, in the corner. The loveliest young woman at the ball.

I held her. I kissed her hair. I couldn’t believe she came.

My sister and I were raised beneath the weight of ugly childhoods. We were poor. We were suicide survivors. We were both uneducated.

“I wouldn’t have missed this for the world,” she said. “I love you.”

Then the shindig began. We ate Miss Myra’s pit barbecue until our feet swelled. We ate birthday cakes from Iz Café until we succumbed to diabetic comas. We drank cans of ice-cold, local-brewed Ovaltine. We laughed a lot. My house was thumping like a discotech á la 1972.

We sang Christmas carols around the piano. We played music. My longtime bandmates played “Soldier’s Joy.” My wife got up and buck danced.

And when the evening was through, my wife, Jamie, held me closely and spoke into my ear.

“You know what I think?” she said. “I think this is what heaven will be like. Like a big party.

“I believe our friends and family will gather around, on that final day, and we’ll all know we are so loved, so cherished, so unconditionally valued, that nothing we could ever do, that none of our screw-ups, that none of our boneheaded moves could ever separate us from the flawless love of a perfect heaven.”

And try as I may, I can’t think of a better closing line than that.


  1. Kelly - December 31, 2022 6:07 am

    Happy Birthday! I sure hope heaven will be a big celebration woth lots of friends and loves ones surrounding us! ❤️

  2. Ann Chumley - December 31, 2022 6:15 am

    Happy Birthday! I am hoping for that perfect heaven too.

  3. Carolyn Allen - December 31, 2022 6:16 am

    I’m so glad you were born, Sean.
    Happy birthday‼️

  4. Dolores S Fort - December 31, 2022 6:18 am

    Happy, Happy Birthday, Sean. Wishing for you the continued effects of what you experienced so that you will always know how much you are loved. Family and friends are our true gold. They make us complete. And I am so glad that you are surrounded by so many! Lots of love comiing your way!

  5. nance - December 31, 2022 6:24 am

    A good birthday celebration. I would like it to be that.

  6. Angela - December 31, 2022 6:31 am

    Happy Happy Birthday! So nice to hear you were surrounded by people who brought you the kind of joy that your outlook on life, experienced thru your writing, brings to us readers.

  7. Holly - December 31, 2022 6:36 am

    And I completely agree. You , Sean just experienced Heaven on earth. Happy birthday!

    • PMc - December 31, 2022 6:51 am

      Happy Birthday Dear Sean!!! I agree with you and everyone else, Heaven will be full of all the people and pets I have ever loved!
      Peace and Love from Birmingham🙏💞💫🥳🎂🍻

  8. Melanie - December 31, 2022 6:46 am

    Happy Birthday, Sean! You are truly blessed with so many friends and family. You sure are.❤️

  9. Loretta Camp - December 31, 2022 7:35 am

    Happiest of Birthdays to you!

  10. Freda Clarke - December 31, 2022 7:51 am

    Happy Happy Birthday!

  11. Denise - December 31, 2022 8:25 am

    So happy for you to be with those you love on such a joyous occasion!! Happy birthday Man!! 🎉🎉

  12. Tawanah Fagan Ponder - December 31, 2022 8:55 am

    I saw your video of you and Jamie walking towards the porch. Happy Birthday Sean’

  13. Debbie g - December 31, 2022 9:05 am

    Happiest of days Sean
    You are truly loved thanks for being there for us You could never imagine how blessed we have been to have you steering us through life with love
    So much love and appreciation for you and Jamie what a perfect pair
    Love to all and pass it on

  14. Sandi. - December 31, 2022 9:44 am

    Happy 40th Birthday, Sean! Sounds like your friends and relatives gave you a delightful party to celebrate this big milestone. May God bless you with many more birthdays..

  15. Melissa Brown - December 31, 2022 11:39 am

    HAPPIEST OF BIRTHDAYS – Sean !! I pray that all your wishes come true.

  16. MissusMux - December 31, 2022 11:42 am

    Happy Birthday Sean! What a blessing you are to so many. Just imagine if all of your readers and folks whose life you’ve touched were on your porch! Enjoy your 40’s. They are some great years. And Happy New Year to you and Jamie!🥳

  17. Allan Nichols - December 31, 2022 11:55 am

    Well they don’t call us whiskeypalians for no reason…Happy Birthday Sean

  18. Sue Rhodus - December 31, 2022 11:55 am

    That’s what love is all about ! Happy Birthday !!
    and heaven too !!

  19. Lani - December 31, 2022 12:24 pm

    Really Sean, just really❤️🎂🎁🎉
    Well said!!!

  20. Chris Floyd - December 31, 2022 12:26 pm

    Wow-what a great birthday surprise! You deserve all of that and more! I’m thankful for finding out about you and I look forward to your posts everyday. Many more birthdays to you!🎉🎉🎂🎉🎂🎉🎉

  21. Ingrid Wright - December 31, 2022 12:36 pm

    Happy Birthday Sean! Life is grand, ain’t it? And thank you for teaching me something today – I learned what buck dance means – you made me look it up!

  22. Pam Williams - December 31, 2022 12:38 pm

    Happy birthday!!! ♥️

  23. Ernie in River City - December 31, 2022 12:46 pm

    Well happy dang birthday, Sean. I had one this week. No surprise though. Those are special. And I completely agree about Jamie’s view of heaven. Glad there will be Episcopalians there.

  24. Tim Smith - December 31, 2022 12:59 pm

    Happy birthday,Sean! You are a treasure.

  25. Karen Powers - December 31, 2022 1:02 pm

    Happy Happy Birthday Sean!!!

  26. mccutchen52 - December 31, 2022 1:09 pm

    Jamie was right… Happy Birthday

  27. Sandy Fopiano - December 31, 2022 1:26 pm

    Beautiful, Sean, Beautiful !!!! Loved every word…. Happy Birthday, Friend !!! Love to you and Jaime !! xoxo

  28. Trudy - December 31, 2022 1:31 pm

    Happy Birthday to my favorite writer. Yes, you, Sean. What a wonderful gift from Jamie. You are rich with friends.

  29. Judy Tayloe - December 31, 2022 1:39 pm

    Happy Birthday, Sean, and may you have many more!

  30. Diana Kinser - December 31, 2022 1:40 pm

    Happy birthday, Sean! I hope the year ahead will be filled with so many blessings that you can’t stop smiling. You are loved!

  31. Brenda - December 31, 2022 1:53 pm

    Happy Birthday wishes pSean!

  32. Gary Stepp - December 31, 2022 1:54 pm

    THIS!! Your daily writing is a highlight of my day. I appreciate you.

  33. Don Gardner - December 31, 2022 2:05 pm

    Happy Birthday Sean!

  34. Sammy Ford - December 31, 2022 2:08 pm

    Happiest Birthday Big Guy!

  35. Stephen - December 31, 2022 2:10 pm


  36. Linda Lewis - December 31, 2022 2:12 pm

    Happy birthday! I think Jamie is right about Heaven.

  37. Kristen Dunder - December 31, 2022 2:16 pm

    Happiest of birthdays to you, Sean! Sounds like the loveliest of surprises!

  38. Debbie g. - December 31, 2022 2:20 pm

    Happy birthday Sean 🎂 🥳. Hope you and Jamie have a blessed and Happy New Year .

  39. Anne-Lise - December 31, 2022 2:27 pm

    “Remember no man is a failure who has friends!” Sean, thanks for the wings you gift to us every day. Happy Birthday 🍻! I pray I get to meet you on God’s front porch someday…

    • Gigi - December 31, 2022 11:32 pm

      Happy 40th Birthday Sean ! 🎉🥳🍰 You are loved by so many, far more than you know.

  40. kathy thomson - December 31, 2022 2:31 pm

    Beautiful! And so glad your birthday was fantastic! i agree with Jamie’s view of heaven.

  41. Maggie Priestaf - December 31, 2022 2:35 pm

    Happy Birthday again and again!

  42. Hall Powell (Hank) - December 31, 2022 2:51 pm


  43. Chasity Davis Ritter - December 31, 2022 2:58 pm

    Sounds like a perfect birthday Sean!! You deserved it!! Wish we all coulda been there. That will be thing about Heaven and so glad we’re gonna have eternity to experience it because the hugs are gonna last forever but yeah I really hope there will be food too!!! Love you!! Happy Birthday man!

  44. Catherine Black Winters - December 31, 2022 3:09 pm

    The quality of a man’s friends speaks volumes about his character. Happy Birthday, Sean!

  45. Babs - December 31, 2022 3:11 pm

    Happy Birthday and many fine returns

  46. Anna Wilder - December 31, 2022 3:13 pm

    Happy 40th Birthday Sean and thank you for bringing such positivity, hope and humor into our lives!

  47. Charles Vianey - December 31, 2022 3:15 pm

    Happy a birthday Sean!

  48. Leslie Anne Tarabella - December 31, 2022 3:18 pm

    What a glorious celebration!

  49. Cathy M - December 31, 2022 3:18 pm

    I wish I had been there to watch you soak up all that love that you so richly deserve. Sometimes I wonder if you know what a difference you make in your follower’s lives. Happy Birthday to you, Mr Wonderful❤️

  50. Trilby - December 31, 2022 3:33 pm

    Happy Birthday Sean‼️

  51. Betty Killman - December 31, 2022 3:39 pm

    I enjoyed reading this so much. That last line your wife gave you was so good! You are so right hard to top that one!

  52. sjhl7 - December 31, 2022 3:43 pm

    Well deserved celebration for a man who brings joy and love to so many! Thank you, Sean, and thank you, Jamie and friends for making Sean so happy!

  53. Jim Clark - December 31, 2022 3:45 pm

    Happy Birthday! You are indeed blessed!

  54. Carol Klabunde - December 31, 2022 3:47 pm

    Happy Birthday and thanks for the happy tears!

  55. David - December 31, 2022 3:52 pm

    Happy Birthday Sean! From Hardy, Arkansas

  56. Ruth - December 31, 2022 3:52 pm

    That’s such a lovely picture Jamie as what could possibly be better than to be with Jesus and surrounded by those we love. And no more tears! Happy Birthday dear Sean and many many more🎁

  57. Cate - December 31, 2022 3:54 pm

    Sean, there is a children’s book “I’m So Glad You Were Born – Celebrating Who You Are!” by Ainsley Earhardt that I bought for my great grandchildren this year for Christmas. If I knew where to send it, I would get one for you. Perhaps you can stop by your local book store and get yourself a copy. Not only are you blessed, you are the best. Thank you for being you!

  58. Kathy Croft - December 31, 2022 3:59 pm

    Sounds like an amazing Birthday and one to remember! Happy, Happy Birthday and many more to come! 🎉🎂🎈❤️

  59. Sean of the South: Surprise | The Trussville Tribune - December 31, 2022 4:22 pm

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

  60. Peggy M. Windham - December 31, 2022 4:25 pm

    Happy Birthday and Happy New Year, Sean! May God bless you and Jaime mightily in 2023!

  61. Linda H - December 31, 2022 4:46 pm

    OK … this one brought tears to my eyes. Especially the last part … Jamie’s thoughts on what Heaven will be like. Love you Sean and Happy Birthday!

  62. Sue - December 31, 2022 4:49 pm

    What a great surprise 😮 happy birthday 🎂

  63. Michael - December 31, 2022 5:06 pm

    Happy Birthday Sean! I’m looking forward to it!

  64. Betty Gibbs - December 31, 2022 5:47 pm

    Happy birthday, Sean. You surely deserve the big party with so many friends. My brother also had a New Year’s Eve birthday. Happy New Year to you & Jamie & may it be your best one ever.

  65. Patsy - December 31, 2022 6:07 pm

    Just perfect! Thanks for sharing with us this very special, wonderful surprise! You are a blessed and very loved man🎊❣️

  66. Rebecca - December 31, 2022 6:55 pm

    Beautiful! Happy Birthday Sean! And a very Happy New Year to you and your family.

  67. Linda Moon - December 31, 2022 7:02 pm

    I’m glad Gloria Gaither said you could cry. I’m looking forward to another one of your bone-crushing hugs. And I’m glad you wrote your wife’s words in closing for us readers about love and parties in Heaven, so please tell Jamie that “Uma” loves her and her words too. From one December baby to another, Happy Birthday Sean!

  68. Jame - December 31, 2022 7:53 pm

    Happy birthday Sean! 🎂🎉. I am reading your blog with tears in my eyes. Of course UA just scored in 4th qtr 42/13 Hopefully more scores by Bama before the qtr ends. Enjoy every birthday celebration!

  69. pattymack43 - December 31, 2022 8:02 pm

    Happy Birthday Sean! THANK YOU for blessing each day of 2022! New Year’s blessings to you and Jaime!!!

  70. Judy - December 31, 2022 8:04 pm


    Happt Birthday

  71. Becky Souders - December 31, 2022 8:42 pm

    You are blessed to have so many friends and family ! Some words I like to share on birthdays:

    “May your coming year be filled with magic and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself. ” ~Neil Gaiman

    Happy Birthday, Sean Dietrich.

  72. Mary J Neal - December 31, 2022 9:08 pm

    Well, Happy Birthday, Sean! We didn’t know we would be celebrating our 65th wedding anniversary the same day as your very Happy birthday. Congratulations. And we hope you and Jamie will celebrate a 65th wedding anniversary too. It was very special- although quieter than yours.

  73. Laura Young - December 31, 2022 9:10 pm

    Happy Birthday, Sean. If I had known, I would have baked you a Vanilla Wafer Cake- mmm good with coconut and pecans, 6 eggs and butter rich. I would have driven from Wetumpka to Birmingham to deliver it and hugged you along with the rest! May your birthday and bee year be as blessed as you bless all of us every day!🎂❤️

  74. Suellen - December 31, 2022 9:13 pm

    Happy Birthday.

  75. MAM - December 31, 2022 10:29 pm

    Pretend this is me singing to you! Happy birthday to you X2, Happy Birthday, dear Sean, Happy birthday to you! And MANY MORE!

  76. AlaRedClayGirl - December 31, 2022 11:45 pm

    I think Jamie’s vision of heaven is definitely something to hold on to. May 2023 be the best year yet for all of us. Happy New Year, everybody!

  77. Sharon Smith - January 1, 2023 3:58 am

    Happy Birthday Sean!

  78. Louise - January 1, 2023 4:39 am

    Amen .

  79. Steve Winfield - January 1, 2023 6:37 am

    HBD too.
    Lifer Steve.

  80. Diane Pearson - January 1, 2023 12:14 pm

    Merry Christmas, Happy Birthday and Happy New Year!!!

  81. Ann - January 1, 2023 12:24 pm

    Perfection!…happy birthday…and hats off to Jamie….creating a surprise is monumental!👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻🎉🎉🎉

  82. Leigh Langdon - January 1, 2023 1:36 pm

    Hey Sean, it’s Leigh. Happy belated birthday! You have a ton of friends!



  83. Paul Alge - January 1, 2023 4:08 pm

    Happy birthday Sean. But there was no disco in 72. Forever your loving critic. Or critter. Paul

  84. Marg Ahearnaret "Marge" - January 1, 2023 11:27 pm

    Love it; thanks for sharing.

  85. conkledavid - January 2, 2023 2:36 am

    Happy Birthday

  86. Dottie Rogers - January 3, 2023 1:43 am

    Happy 40th Sean. May the Lord bless your socks off this year!

  87. Ann Gramlich - January 4, 2023 7:50 am

    Happy Happy Birthday and Bless Your Heart

  88. Ginny A - January 7, 2023 4:33 pm

    Happy Birthday, Sean! You have touched me more times than I can tell you and someday I will have the whatever-you-call-it to share a few things with you.


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