The Old Man on the Hill


My dad is in the process of dying. He has mild dementia and he’s bitter right now, and is lashing out at all of us around him, and I don’t know how to keep it together, honestly.

I just need you to make me laugh or something. I am so totally stressed with caregiving and I don’t even know why I’m here all the time, helping him because my dad was never there for me and my mom growing up, but left us when I was four years old.



There once was an old man who lived on a big hill. He was a bitter man, and his vision was bad. His weak eyes could see vague blurry shapes and colors, but only enough to get around.

He didn’t like people. He didn’t want to be bothered. We’re talking about a major-league jerk here. The blurry-eyed man lived for years on his lonesome hill, in his little backwoods shack by himself.

Every morning he would hike to the nearby river to fetch drinking water for the day. This was the hardest part of his entire existence. Because this was a very, VERY steep hill.

Thus, at sunrise he would carry a huge bucket uphill from the river, climbing a treacherous dirt path home. Always the same. Downhill. Uphill. Back and forth. Year after year. It was exhausting work.

If the man would have lived in town proper all he would have had to do was turn on a faucet. But embittered people make things hard for themselves.

One morning, he was on his way to the stream when he sensed a stranger nearby. He heard the voice of a little girl and saw the blurriness of her shape.

“Who are you?” he grumbled. “And what’re you doing on my river?”

The girl told him that she had wandered away from home and was lost in these woods.

“Well, you’re trespassing,” he said. “I own this land. Go on home, child.”

“Please don’t send me away,” she begged. “I don’t know how to get home. I’m lost.”

The man couldn’t help but notice how much this girl’s voice sounded like Laura from “Little House on the Prairie,” season one, episode 14.

The man waved her off and bent to fill his bucket from the stream. But his lower back muscles seized. He moaned in pain. He fell over and grabbed his back.

In a few moments, the girl said, “Here, let me do it for you.” And she fumbled the bucket from his hands.

Normally, the old man would have told the child to get lost. But he was out of breath, wheezing badly, and his vision was oh so blurred. He needed help.

After she fetched his water, she offered to carry the heavy bucket up the steep path, but he snarled and said, “Are you outta your mind? It’s a long hard walk up that hill, you’re just a child. Go home.”

But she would not take no for an answer.

So she carried his water. Or, at least, she tried. The kid was hopeless. He could hear her struggling, grunting, stumbling, tripping over rocks, falling, dropping the bucket, spilling the water, and tumbling down the hillside. She had to refill her bucket twenty, thirty, and forty times.

Finally, the girl finished the rigorous climb and brought the bucket to his cabin, whereupon she collapsed with a mighty thump. The child was out cold from exhaustion, and the bucket was empty.

Later that afternoon, she awoke in his cabin. The old man told her to go home. Then he left to fetch water once again. But she followed him, once again, and said, “Please, let me help you!”

“No thank you,” he said in a nice voice, for he was feeling bad about being such a dip-wad to someone who reminded him of Melissa Gilbert. “You are a clumsy girl, and you keep spilling my water. Go home.”

But the girl was relentless. She accompanied him downhill once more. She even held his hand, which he liked. And she insisted on fetching his water.

After she filled the bucket, she tried hauling it uphill, same as before. And he let her try. Only this time she was more clumsy. She kept falling. Water kept splattering. When he attempted to help her, she wouldn’t let him.

Once again she stumbled. Once again she hit the dirt. She even cried. When they reached the cabin, she collapsed again. Pure fatigue hit her. And the bucket was empty again.

The old man felt bad about the way he’d behaved.

The next morning, she awoke to the smell of eggs and bacon. The girl got out of the cabin bed just in time for breakfast. The old man was so excited to have company that he was actually in a great mood.

After breakfast he handed her a leather bound book and said, “I wondered if you wouldn’t read to me. My wife once loved this book, and my old eyes can’t read it anymore.”

But there was only silence. The girl didn’t answer. Finally, she said, “I would, but I can’t read.”

“What do you mean you can’t read?”

“Well, I’m blind,” she said.

The man was moved to tears. He took her into his arms. “Blind? Land sakes, child! You’ve been carrying my heavy buckets, working yourself silly, suffering for my sake, and your life is harder than mine. Why would anyone in their right mind do such a selfless thing for such a fool as I?”

The girl shrugged. “Don’t ask me,” she said. “Sean Dietrich wrote this dumb story, and I’m just as confused as you are.”

Kids. What can you do?


  1. Mary Bales - October 20, 2020 10:01 am

    You should have been a minister! Here I was looking for the “big picture” in the homily, and instead I got a great chuckle. Thank you for your writing, and sense of humor.

  2. SJB - October 20, 2020 10:05 am

    Exactly. There is always someone worse off, and they may not realize it. Every day IS a GIFT!

  3. Ron Mahn - October 20, 2020 10:41 am

    Really nice collapsing the fourth wall on this story … kinda like a shovel pass … once maybe twice a season;, but really effective in the surprise play.. Very provocative as to why we make the sacrifices we do in relationships … especially when the logic for such escapes reason.. Really think this offering is one of your best.

  4. Martha Owens - October 20, 2020 10:52 am

    Wow! Great story, Sean. Keep up the good work.

  5. Joey - October 20, 2020 11:21 am

    Didn’t see that coming…

  6. Robert M Brenner - October 20, 2020 11:23 am

    Priceless Sean ❤️

  7. Samantha - October 20, 2020 11:47 am

    FORTY-AND-STRESSED, it is so hard to do loving things for someone who chose not to share life with you; but in doing this for him, you are showing yourself and the universe that despite his life-long absence, you are a decent person. You are a better man. Also remember that a dementia patient is not *giving* you a hard time; he is *having* a hard time. He is slightly manipulative, probably, but also frightened, confused, and trying with all his might to retain control of his faculties. He has always been in charge.

    When it comes to dementia, we are all blind. We all have to feel our way through. Even when you’ve loved and been loved fiercely all your life – it is so very hard. Bless you.

  8. Timothy McMeans - October 20, 2020 11:53 am

    Lol……I love it Sean. Great piece!

  9. Beryl - October 20, 2020 12:23 pm

    Dear forty-and-stressed, what a wonderful gift you have been given. Your father is your obstacle to your freedom of forgiveness. This challenge, which is not easy, is to find the humanity within this man who gave you life. Forgiveness will not necessarily benefit him but it will unburden you from all the negative events that have come about by his behaviors. Remember, this external experience your having is directly related to how you process it internally. You will reflect on this long after your father is gone. How do YOU want to remember your behavior? How do YOU want to be treated in your final days on the planet? How do YOU wish to be remembered by those you love? There are gifts in every Obstacle. May you find the strength to be compassionately loving to yourself. You are worth it.

  10. Mariah - October 20, 2020 12:33 pm

    Good job Sean! This will be like the tune we can’t get out of our heads, trying to come up with an ending…and there will be as many as you have readers.

  11. Connie - October 20, 2020 12:43 pm

    Thanks, I needed that….

  12. Mary - October 20, 2020 12:47 pm

    I read your letter every morning. Most of the time the letter makes me smile or laugh out loud. Sometimes there is moisture in my eyes. You are a very gifted man. Thank you for writing.

  13. Glenda Hinkle - October 20, 2020 1:04 pm

    I do believe this is my favorite help story you’ve ever written!!! HA HA HA HA Dumb and all!!! I was caregiver for both my parents and I know exactly where this person is coming from. What got me through was I prayed every day for God to give me the strength to get through one day at a time and to help me be as loving and without resentment of my situation as possible. After they both passed, I can honestly say that caregiving both of them has been one of the most blessed times of my life and I hope this person will pray my same prayers. When you are going through it, it seems like it will NEVER end, but it does……….all too quickly. And, living with yourself knowing you helped your parent (s) will be the most rewarding memories you will ever have. GOD BLESS!!

  14. Kathy - October 20, 2020 1:06 pm

    We are all broken. We live and help others out of our brokenness.

  15. Karen - October 20, 2020 1:11 pm

    Re the old man and the hill…….😫

  16. Eddy - October 20, 2020 1:46 pm

    Yep, you’ve more than found your calling in life and we sure appreciate it. I sure didn’t see that coming either. Another great story! We love you, Brother Sean!

  17. Margo - October 20, 2020 2:02 pm

    Beautiful story. You are good! 😁

  18. Connie - October 20, 2020 2:06 pm

    Dear Forty: Dementia is a horrible disease that robs even wonderful people of their kindness. Although we had our differences and difficulties, my mom was a wonderful person until her dementia started. Then some alien inhabited her brain and she was so mean. But we kept on taking care of her. We lost her last year but I will always know that we took care of her and we were with her when she passed. I can look at myself in the mirror and rest at night because I did the right thing, no matter how hard it got. And it is hard. Caring for someone with dementia is draining. Pray a lot. Ask for help. Don’t try to do it all by yourself. God bless you.

  19. Jenny - October 20, 2020 2:32 pm

    Made me smile.

  20. Becca - October 20, 2020 2:36 pm

    Sean, mission accomplished! You are AWESOME!

  21. AlaRedClayGirl - October 20, 2020 2:47 pm

    My mama always said “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Forty-and-Stressed, you are doing the right thing; you will not regret it.

  22. Johnnie Blackburn - October 20, 2020 3:02 pm

    You ain’t right.

  23. Summer Hartzog - October 20, 2020 4:25 pm

    Sweet story, and yes, the son is doing the right thing, even if his dad never appreciates it. If his son has children, I hope they’re watching.

  24. Sondra Kephart - October 20, 2020 4:42 pm

    I love it! Always love the end of each of your columns!!!!

  25. Linda Moon - October 20, 2020 6:03 pm

    Your dumb story could work its way into a novel, like “Stars of Alabama” or perhaps even like one of my faves, “Les Miserables”. So that’s what you can do, Sean Dietrich. And, you can let us readers know when your new novel is released. I’ll be less miserable myself when I can order it, and one day …. one day more…I can see you in person!

  26. Jess Rawls - October 20, 2020 6:27 pm

    LOL………that was funny and a great read. Well done, Sean.

  27. CM in Auburn - October 20, 2020 7:35 pm

    Amazing. And, LOL. I smiled. I hope the OP does too.

  28. Ann - October 20, 2020 8:21 pm

    This is soooo perfect…you continue to be amazing!

  29. Sue Rhodus - October 20, 2020 10:43 pm

    Gotcha !!! Another favorite !

  30. Christina - October 20, 2020 11:05 pm

    I almost thought you got this story from some folktale… I guess it’s from “Sean’s Fables” 😆.

  31. Jean P. Stone - October 21, 2020 3:31 am

    This is beautiful. Thank you.

  32. Helen De Prima - October 21, 2020 2:21 pm

    Dear Stressed: You can’t see it now, but you’ll be rewarded the rest of your life knowing you did the right thing even when it was hard and ugly and exhausting. And don’t beat yourself up when you slip, when you feel like you’ve failed. The effort is everything.

  33. Robert Chiles - October 22, 2020 11:42 pm

    Forgiveness isn’t for the other person, it’s for you.

  34. Vicky - October 23, 2020 11:47 pm

    Dear Forty-I was in the same position as you with my dad. I cared for him & went through the same feelings that you are having. When he died there were a lot of emotions that I had to get through & I’m not through it yet 11 years later. It’s a messy thing when a parent hasn’t done a good job, yet you have to be there for them at the end. I send you so much strength as you go through this difficult part of life. Thank you for being a good human being-you’ve got this.

  35. Peg - November 18, 2020 1:38 pm

    Oh my…..I wasn’t expecting that. I love a story with a lesson and a surprise ending!


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