Tale Telling

When I began storytelling for a living, I had no idea what I was doing. I told stories at Rotary clubs, Kiwanis meetings, Baptist fellowship halls, fairgrounds, and cattle auction warehouses.

Selma, Alabama—county sheriff deputies have blocked the streets with barricades. Blue lights flash. Cars park along the road. This is a storytelling festival. I am here to tell stories. After all, I have lots of them.

I arrived early. I’m carrying my guitar—a 1950’s piece of junk that has survived six major hurricanes, and one disagreement with a truck tire.

A large banner hangs over the door of the Carneal Cultural Arts Center. The sign reads: “Kathryn Tucker Windham Tale Tellin’ Festival, with Sean of the South.”

All of a sudden, I’m the richest man alive.

You don’t get over seeing your name in print. No matter how old you get, no matter how many lower back surgeries you succumb.

The first time I ever saw my name in letters, my baseball team had won the Little League Championship. I was ten. I was a chubby boy with an overbite, and big feet. My picture was in the paper.

The caption read: “Peavelers boys pull off a miracle. Sean Dietrich (1b) completes double play.”

“1b,” that was me. I was a round first-baseman. I was not a particularly attractive child. I was long-limbed, and some said I looked like a Herman Munster with cleats.

My mother clipped the photo from the paper and l flashed this photo to all her Bible-study friends. Her friends would usually remark: “Aaaaawwwwww.”

This is not the reaction that manly first-basemen hope to get from the fairer sex. But we are what we are.

I arrive backstage. I am waiting here before performing. It’s a brick room with a picture window. There is a view of the mighty Alabama River. Straddled over the river is the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge where Martin Luther King completed his five-day march and changed the world forever.

I peek at the audience. The chairs are starting to fill up. I am a little nervous. Which stories will I tell? Will I tell a funny one about my cousin, Ed Lee? Or will I tell a serious one? Will I even REMEMBER my stories? Or will I freeze up? What is the name of the twenty-ninth president? Who won the Spanish Civil War? Why is there braille on drive-up ATM keypads? These things are important.

The music starts—I hear it vibrating through the walls. Then, applause.

A man comes into the dressing room. He brings me a bottle of water. He hands me a microphone. He shows me how to turn it on. After nine attempts, I finally figure it out.

My wife comes through the door next. She is here to give me a peck on the cheek and wish me luck. She notices something about me.

“Are you ready?” she says.

“No,” I say.

She pulls back. “What’s the matter?”

What I mean to tell her is: “I feel like the richest man alive, darling.” But all I can get out is: “Do I really look like Herman Munster?”

Truth be told, I can’t get over the way my name looked on that sign. And I can’t believe it is inscribed beside the name “Kathryn Tucker Windham.”

When I was a boy, I read Kathryn’s words aloud in school and revered her.

When I was sixteen, someone gave me a cookbook written by Miss Windham, and I attempted to bake something from it. When I removed a bundt cake from the oven, it looked like a steaming horse log. I never baked again.

Anyway, when I began storytelling for a living, I had no idea what I was doing. I told stories at Rotary clubs, Kiwanis meetings, Baptist fellowship halls, fairgrounds, and cattle auction warehouses.

Since then, I’ve told lots and lots of stories. Hundreds maybe. And I still don’t know what I’m doing.

But I have admitted to audiences that I am a high-school dropout, and a self-educated schmuck. And I’ve swallowed a lot of pride by sharing this.

I have shaken hands with seven-year-olds who have read all my books. I’ve spoken at schools. I’ve talked in nursing homes, and sang hymns in the cafeteria. And once, in Brewton, Alabama, I even filled in for a Methodist preacher. Don’t ask.

But this. My name, on that sign. In this town. It’s too much.

My wife kisses my cheek. “You’re gonna do great,” she says.

I don’t make much money. I live in a trailer. My truck is on its last leg. I’m wearing the same pair of boots I wore when I laid tile for a living. My dogs get away with murder. I have high cholesterol.

Our lives aren’t exactly what I thought they’d be. And I am still just an ordinary man with a junky guitar.


Stories. I have plenty of those. So do you.

And I am the richest man alive.


  1. S C Anderson - October 25, 2018 5:38 am

    Love reading your stories!

  2. Janet Mary Lee - October 25, 2018 6:26 am

    Such an amazing life you have, and so many amazing stories and experiences!! Thank you for sharing them with us all. Thank Jamie for sharing you!! I will never look at an ATM the same ever…just like we fans look at life differently and more richly because of you!! What a great honor to participate to a man who appreciates what it means!! ((hug!!))..Kiss the puppies…

  3. Pamela McEachern - October 25, 2018 6:59 am

    You’re killin it Sean! It’s the simple stories you tell that we all love. Jamie thanks for being his rock.

    Peace and Love from Birmingham

  4. Nancy Rogers - October 25, 2018 8:42 am

    I think Kathyrn Tucker Windham would approve.

  5. Carol Stern - October 25, 2018 9:32 am

    Wondered if you would be there but could not find out. Hate I missed it.

    • Mary Rice - October 25, 2018 2:09 pm

      His web page has his schedule.

  6. chatfield84 - October 25, 2018 9:45 am

    You are a fabulous story tellin’ man. Your words and your honesty bring this middle aged woman in Arkansas to tears most days.
    You’re not only a rich man, you’re a rich man who showers those of us paying any attention at all with your wealth every day.

    I’ve wondered FOR YEARS why drive-up ATM’s have Braille…

  7. Sandra Smith - October 25, 2018 10:04 am

    You have no idea, how you, as a storyteller, enrich OUR lives. I’m reading a book right now (The Reader) where, the entire goal of someone’s life, is too, live a life that becomes the greatest story that can be told, because “your story” and how long it is told (forever is best) is the measure of how successful …meaningful, your life was.
    The stories matter, Sean. They always have, they always will. Thank you for telling them. ❤

  8. Jean - October 25, 2018 10:07 am

    Seeing your mail in my mailbox every morning just brightens my day. It’s usually the first thing I read and it kinda gets me going for the day. Some so sweet and some so sad they make me cry…but I love reading them all. You have such a gift…and we should all be thankful for our wonderful lives.

  9. Anita - October 25, 2018 10:33 am

    Baby, you’re doin’ just fine…don’t change a thing…

  10. Jon Jones - October 25, 2018 11:01 am

    Your stories help remind me of the life we had and love so much. A friend, Joe Stokes, from Auburn promised to invite me to your next Rotary visit.
    My club is talking to dogs. Being hurt is like a Ferrari with 4flat tires. Oh well, best wishes.

  11. dlpedit - October 25, 2018 11:03 am

    I know exactly how you feel. I feel the same way every time I see my bylne on an article when it gets published. I’m just a poor country boy who’s been blessed far more than I deserve. Stay humble, and keep tellin’ those stories!

  12. Jan - October 25, 2018 12:18 pm

    Congratulations! What a momentous occasion. You are so talented, Sean! You make people laugh and cry. You are famous yet we can all identify with you. Most of all, you have a heart bigger than Texas and you aren’t afraid to let people know!

  13. Dilcy Windham Hilley - October 25, 2018 2:32 pm

    Sean, I so enjoyed your account of the Tale Tellin’ Festival in Selma. Kathryn Tucker Windham was my mother, and that’s just the sort of story she would have loved too. I wish I’d known about the festival. I would have been right there to hear you.

  14. Mary rice - October 25, 2018 2:44 pm

    I check the web site weekly hoping that Sean will come to Florida but no such luck. So guess this older granny will have to plan a road trip to Alabama to enjoy him in person. I always read his blog first thing in the mornings. Starts my day off right and gives me the strength to read the day’s news. Thank you for being who you are.

  15. Anita D. Rankin - October 25, 2018 2:55 pm

    Congrats Sean!! My wonderful mother in law was K T’s roommate at Huntington College & were life long friends until they passed away- I can assure you K T loves you & your gift of story telling!! I think of her a lot when I hear you at Beckwith and read your stories- that’s high praise – you are so gifted and blessed!

  16. Jack Quanstrum - October 25, 2018 3:05 pm

    Amen! And Hallelujah I say to you. Your the best!

  17. Pat - October 25, 2018 3:07 pm

    You are a rich man Sean…so many people who have never met you, love you. I saw a FB share recently that read “Have you ever seen anyone so poor that all they had was…money”. ’nuff said!

  18. Kathy Wolfe - October 25, 2018 4:25 pm

    For someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing, you are doing a great job of it! (Hugs)

  19. Mary Anne - October 25, 2018 4:43 pm

    Hi Sean, I saw your name in print just the other day – on a HUGE outdoor billboard here in Pensacola. It told me that you are coming to see us at the EggFest in November. I hope I get to meet you then. I think are you are a great storyteller and I am uplifted by your posts. You make all your readers “rich” by association. Rich in love for our fellow man. Much love to you, Sean.

  20. Debbie - October 25, 2018 5:25 pm

    You are a wonderful story teller….. you make everyday things come alive with your words and make all who read your posts happy for a moment!!

  21. Gorodn - October 25, 2018 5:48 pm

    I was not able to attend last Thursday in Selma but was there in spirit. Kathryn was a dear friend of mine (we played combs together). I know she would have been proud that you were a part of a festival she began many years ago in Selma. Because of her dedication to that fall event, I and many were able to hear many wonderful, outstanding story tellers through the years. I have heard through many Selma friends that you “nailed it” Thursday evening. Keep on nailing it. Keep on telling your stories. And I look forward to hearing you in person one of these days.

  22. Alice - October 25, 2018 6:25 pm

    You are a wonderful man Sean and I am wondering if you would ever come to Dothan AL I would love to see you please think about it❤️God Bless

  23. Lisa - October 25, 2018 8:19 pm

    I have been reading your stories everyday for over a year. Some are better than others, but I love them all. There is nothing wrong with any of the things you said about yourself, except for the high cholesterol. I wish you would eat better.

  24. Connie - October 25, 2018 10:07 pm

    I was there! I was right there on the second row…behind the guy whose phone rang. Yes, I am one of those “Presbyterians”….didnt get rowdy and I also didn’t come shake your hand or snap a picture with you., but I sure did enjoy seeing you in person. You truly make the simple things extraordinary and meaningful….by weaving the train, the helicopter, and that ringing cell phone into the stories you were telling, you gave them a personal touch….just for us in Selma. I am glad that you were telling more laughing stories than the ones that make me a blubbering mess…i would have been really upset if my makeup had gotten ruined with that crowd of people. To be honest “I’ll Fly Away” almost did that anyway. I sure hope you come back to Selma again!!

  25. Jon Dragonfly - October 26, 2018 4:17 pm

    “I am a high-school dropout, and a self-educated schmuck. And I’ve swallowed a lot of pride by sharing this.”
    Sean, you shouldn’t be swallowing pride, you should be busting your shirt buttons with pride because you are a dropout and still well educated. To have your name in the same breath as Kathryn Tucker Windham is a feather in your cap. To have thousands of us start every morning with your words is proof that you are a success.

  26. Edna B. - October 26, 2018 5:14 pm

    I guess all of us can’t be wrong. You are truly blessed and gifted. Maybe one of these days I’ll be lucky enough to catch one of your shows too. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

  27. Shelton Armour - October 27, 2018 1:33 am

    Any man, married to a good woman who loves him and has a dog or two who act like you hung the moon, is indeed a very rich man. We are richer for having read your stories. How you do it every day is amazing.

  28. unkle Kenny - December 16, 2018 5:55 pm

    when i first heard about you it was at folklore brewery and the guy was telling one of your stories about the torn upholstery in the booth where you sat and ate . i have read a lot of your stories since then . you are doing good, continue. uk


Leave a Comment