Here in the American South, we have a question we ask one another. Who are your people? That means, who is your family? We like to know how we connect to one another. Our guest today is not a part of our biological family, but we do feel like he is OUR people.
Sean Dietrich is a writer, storyteller, musician, lover of bloodhounds, Atlanta Braves fan and Andy Griffith enthusiast. His perspective on the simple, yet important things in life, is so refreshing. Meet us at the table to hear more from our friend, Sean of the South.
This episode was recorded live at The Franklin Theatre (Franklin, TN) on Oct. 30, 2022. We are excited to discuss with Sean his new book, You Are My Sunshine, as well as other fun stories from life as a southerner.
New release: "You Are My Sunshine" - https://amzn.to/3U5QR8M
Autobiography: "Will The Circle Be Unbroken?" - https://amzn.to/3DKpyv7
Subscribe to Sean's daily column: https://seandietrich.com
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Here in the American South, we have a question we ask one another, who are your people? That means who is your family? We like to know how we connect to one another. Well, our guest today is not a part of our biological family, but we do feel like he is our people.
Shawn Dietrich is a writer, storyteller, musician, bloodhound lover, Atlanta, Braves fan and Andy Griffith enthusiast. His perspective on the simple yet important things in life is so refreshing. Meet us at the table to hear more from our friend Sean of the South.
I'm Lainie, and I'm Laura Beth. And we are Steel Magnolias, the strength of steel with the grace of a magnolia. We are here to have uplifting conversations about life in the south.
And we've got plenty of room at our table. So pull up a chair.
Hey, Laura Beth. Here we are at the kitchen table, not just the proverbial kitchen table, the actual kitchen table that we record at every week. But who knew it can seat 300 people? No
idea. No idea. I'm so thrilled to be here. This is our first ever live podcast recording. We've really been dreaming of this moment for many years now. And when we put it at the top of our dream list this year, I never would have dreamed that we would be here on this stage. And we are very excited to welcome our guests that we had at the top of our list. Sean Dietrich. Welcome, Sean.
All right, well, Sean, we've had you on our podcasts in the past via zoom this this little different, right?
This is very different.
We just knew that this was going to be the right format to talk to you because you have so many people in the Nashville area in the Franklin area that love you so dearly. And thank you, we heard a promise that you made to us on the end of the interview we did last year when we were talking about your last book, and you said you promised to come here. If we invited you up for a potluck or dinner on the grounds that you would do your very best to come and be with us. This isn't a potluck. But you've already written another book, another book before we could even get your potluck invite. So we are here to celebrate that book with you tonight.
Thank you. I'm proud to be here.
And speaking of promises, the new book is called You Are My Sunshine, a story of love promises and a really long bike ride. Now, your wife Jamie, who you often refer to as the math teacher plays a central role in this book and this adventure. And I think this was 100% her idea this adventure.
That is correct. I feel like I'm testifying today.
Well, tell us more about that.
If it please the Court My wife has a lot of hairbrained Schemes, but I would never tell that to her face. And I can only say that because she's out front right now. And she's very, she's very high, high energy person, she has a lot of ideas that come and a lot of these ideas just they formulate inside the hippocampus of the female brain. And then they're gone, they disappear and you let them disappear. Because this is how you you stay married. My buddy, he he's a longtime marriage counselor and he said, Look, the day that I got married, he said you can either be happy, or you can be married, but you can't be both came out very wrong. That's not at all what he said. He said you can either be happy or you can be right. But you can't be both. Okay, okay, that's better. But now that I think about it, I liked the other way pretty good. So she came up with this idea and we decided that we were going to do it. It happened during the pandemic and people were making a lot of unwise choices. And so this is a trail it's 350 mile starts in Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh, which I had never been to Pittsburgh before. I don't plan on going back And we left Pittsburgh with two cycles, and I wrote an adult tricycle. I heard that. And an adult tricycle is really just a Barker lounger with wheels. It's the flagship cycle for for men who are over the age of 65. And so I did not fit in on the trail because this trail is a very young culture. So whenever I would be passing through clots of bikers on the trail who were on their very expensive trek, and Shimano bicycles, I would come pedaling by sitting about three feet lower than everybody else. And as I would pass by, these people do a double take me in the go. Not hear him whisper. He's so brave. And that was 350 miles of that. And so anyhow, this was an idea she had, we went through with it. And I'd be remiss if I didn't say that it actually did alter the course of our lives, little decisions you make, they do make big impacts on you. So this, this was a very impactful trip.
Well, you mentioned the story does take place during the pandemic. And during the pandemic, a lot of people had dreams, put on pause. Others had dreams that were awakened. And I'm just curious, I felt like for you guys, the outdoors were reintroduced into your lives. And I recently read that, you know, you've got a great self awareness, we see it in your blog and your writings. But there was a time where I was reading about you stopping the love of nature. And I just wondered if you could tell us a little bit about that, and how it carried through to adulthood?
Well, when I was young, I grew up very rural. And nature was a central part of my life, and we did everything outside and the smell of manure was always on the air. And then you get older. And you do this, and you do that. And suddenly, for me, it felt like I was living in a shopping mall, life was just all about these, going from point A to point B, and that was all in town. And we were buying our groceries here. And we were doing this and I never really noticed that I wasn't getting out into nature. And probably never would have unless my wife had come up with this idea. But as soon as we were out in, in the undiluted space of greens and golds and browns, and river flowing by it changes your, your 360 degree perception, and you realize that, at least for me, that you've been divorced from nature for so long, and it's so transformative to be in nature. And the biggest obstacle of your day is where am I going to eat? How am I going to eat? And will there be a place to pee where nobody can see me? These are all questions that you have as your as you're out there that you've never really had to face before and sometimes you start to stink. Do you bathe in the river? Is that even done? If you bathe into the river? Do you wear your skivvies? Should you wear your skivvies? And I can answer that because we saw a few hippies who had hiked alongside us and they chose option B not to wear their skivvies. You should definitely wear your skivvies when you make it to the Youghiogheny river. So yeah, we being divorced from nature is kind of a it's kind of a process. I think a lot of adult males and females go through in this in our culture, and we forget about it. And then when you go out into this, this space, you become reacquainted with real life and you realize that this society that we live in is basically an interruption to real life.
Well, now you give some great descriptions in this book of sights and sounds and even smells from the trail. You've even done that already. I have heard that smell is the sense that is most closely and strongly attached to memory. So what smell do you think would take you right back to being in the Allegheny Mountains?
The smell of my own body odor because my wife had us get some wicking clothes, and they don't think should come with a warning label because they absorb every bit of sweat and essential oils that come off your body and then as you air dry, and the moisture evaporates Your left was nothing but a stink sandwich. We smelled, Jamie and I both smelled worse than anything I've ever smelled again. I threw away a backpack that was on the back of my because even though I washed it three times in the washer, it couldn't get the smell out. Alright.
Well, well, let's I don't know where you go from there, I just don't. But you've already mentioned that you rode a trike. So tell us just any more that you want to about the bike. And I'm very curious to know if you've written it since .
I have, I’ve ridden it a lot. Because once you get used to this, you see why all the older men love it so much. It's very good if you happen to have hemorrhoids. And it's extraordinarily, it's extraordinarily freeing, because you can use both hands while you're riding, you can let your hands go, and you're just using your legs. And so so you can come up behind your wife. And, you know, because she's way up here, and I'm way down here, that's the only difficulty about it is so for most of the ride, I was I was like her little brother struggling to keep up because one of her bicycle rotations was was worth six of mine, because I have smaller tires. So for every easy scratch she would make on the pedals, I wouldn't be just like a little dog in heat, you know, just. But so I have ridden it a lot since we got it back back home. And I'm surprised actually to say that, but it's it's a very appealing form of exercise. And so we take it out, we've taken it on a few trails, sometimes on a track, by our house. We'll take it out, and we'll just ride and I do enjoy it. I will say that hardly anybody rode these things on the trail, throughout the entire trail only pass two men who were on a track and one man was quitting smoking, and said he couldn't ride a bike because his lungs would not support it. And the other man was a man who was riding a trike, and he might have weighed 350 pounds, and he was biking and when we passed each other all three of us, we high fived so hard, got our pictures together because only we know the hell that we had to go through on that trail on a three wheeled bicycle.
Well, now this kind of leads to my my next question, you make reference to the bonding that takes place with strangers that are tackling this same goal, like on a long trail like this. And so tell us more about that bonding that takes place.
Well, when you're out there, and you're you are surviving, I guess in a way, you paid a lot of money to live like a homeless person for weeks on end, and you're not in the military, so no one's forcing you to do this. And it never escapes you that you're out there of your own volition making yourself do this. And occasionally you'll pass towns with comfortable places to stay and you'll watch them drift by you. And then you're back into nature, the fifth circle of Dante's hell. And you're all in this experience together. And the biggest the biggest concerns that you have you all share, is the weather going to cooperate today? Are we going to have enough calories to get through the day? Or should we stop early? And if we stopped early? Where are we going to stop? Because you can't just stop anywhere? These questions are numerous. And by the time you have spent enough worry and anxiety figuring out what you're going to do, you realize that you've got a lot of friends who had been worrying about the same things. And so the moment that you run into each other, that becomes an instant conversation starter and, and it's not a very big leap to talk about these certain vital issues, to start talking about normal life issues and deep issues in your own life. So I found it very interesting that once you'd start a conversation with someone who you'd never met before, no matter where they were from, that you would instantly begin talking about something in their life, why they were here, and why they were here was always a deeper reason. And that would lead to another tale about their life. And so you get to know people very intimately. I'm in touch with several that I met on the trail and they live in different states. It's really it is fascinating.
Well, that makes me think Do you think we could ever get our Congress to do this trail together so they can learn how to accomplish things together?
I will take the fifth, Your Honor.
Well, I do want to go deep just for a little bit because I know you have the depth in you. Can you discuss a moment where on the trail you just really saw God in His creation, or just a particularly healing moment on the trail?
Yeah, it was a small moment. And I'm not even sure if I made it into the book, because because my editors are very good at making sure that nothing stupid gets into the book. But on the outside, it seems so meaningless. But it wasn't it was very special. I woke up early, we had been camping out. And I went down to the Youghiogheny River, which is a word that I learned how to say on the trail. Because it's spelled Youghiogheny, which looks like it'd be pronounced you he'll hailed Guinea, which is approximately the way I did pronounce the word for the audio book, until the publisher got back to me and said, was this guy smoking something funny in the audio booth? We learned how to say Youghiogheny. So I'm very proud to be able to pronounce that now. I went down to the Youghiogheny River and it was early morning, the sun was rising. And I looked and I saw a single deer. And she was lapping out of the river, very gentle, very still. There's big mist in the air. So it was very picturesque. And I was looking at her and I was making notes in my note book, because at the time, I thought, wow, you know, it would be wouldn't be the stupidest, most idiotic and ludicrous thing to actually write a book about all this. Maybe I'll do that. And so I make making notes. And she looks at me, this deer, and we have we hold eye contact. And, you know, I come from people who look at Deer very differently than that. And so we held sustained eye contact for quite a while. And as I was looking at her, I noticed things moving behind her. And I hadn't seen it until, until I took my eyes off her. And then I saw, she had a little kid next to her. And behind him, or it were several more deer and the chain of deer backed up, way yonder past what the eye could see . It like, they went over the hill and crested down. And they look, she looked at me, and she finally decided that I was no threat. So she continued to walk forward in this chain passed by me of deer that I have, I will never see anything like it again in my life. And it just went on and on and on. And each deer kind of looked at me, as they walked by very cautiously, and I did I have never held my breath for so long. And when it was done, it was very, you know, the hairs on my neck tell the whole story. It was very special. So I don't know if that answers your question.
It does and you writing things down actually leads me to another question you have in a very precise way of remembering or recalling conversations from years back. Will the circle be unbroken, is a great example of that, or even just from the trail that you did recently. Is there some? How do you do that? Are you writing things down when you meet people? Like, can we do that?
I don't know if anybody can learn how to be this miserable. Because my mother says I have a photographic memory. But it's not true. It's not true. I can just remember enough to get myself out of trouble. I started writing my column. And it will come across these people. And we would start to speak together. And I initially I knew immediately that I want to write about them. And I would start to take notes. And so I pulled out a notebook because I was I used it before we had phones, I was carried on with me and hadn't had a phone as long as some other people I guess. And so I would take notes. And I realized after I had taken these notes that I want to go to write the article, I would recall just about nothing from what I had written. And it was perplexing to me because my mother has said I have a photographic memory. So she had to be right. Because she will tell you she's right about everything. So I quit taking notes. And I remember meeting a guy and I did a piece on him. He was he was a Gideon. He was a man who gave Gideon Bibles when he told me his story. And I recorded his story, which I rarely do too. I don't record interviews. I feel like it changes things. And when I went down to write my story, I went back and listen to what I recorded. And I got it. I got the whole thing because I was I was engaged with him. I was looking at him and I was I was watching him Speak I was I was feeling what he was feeling I was going through the vocal cues because he had a really powerful story I thought he wanted to he was suicidal. And his wife had left him. It was it was a chain of terrible events. And he's in a hotel room when he found a Gideon Bible. And that's what made him want to be Gideon. So anyhow, after that, I realized maybe, just engage, engage with people. And you will recall what you need to recall. If you don't recall, something little that they said verbatim. It's probably because your brain said, No, that's not essential to this story we're telling. That's very bad advice for any English majors out there. You didn't hear it from me.
That's good. Well, it adds a lot of depth to your stories and your column.
Okay, now on this trail, you made your way down past the Mason Dixon Line. And for some, that's the definition, the defining point of what is the south? So I have a question. And that is, is Maryland in the South? And what surprised you about this region?
How do I answer that? (Someone from the audience yells, NO!) Sean replies, “What he said”. It was amazing. Okay. Going up from the way I grew up. I had a friend he was from way, way, way up north about I think he was from Dothan, Alabama.
And we talked about how different it was and all that. And I had never been that far north before. And so when we got to Pittsburgh, and everybody was that that way. But they all they were very fascinated with Jamie and I. Jamie and I walked in before we started the ride, we walked into a little deli. We got in there. We ordered a ham sandwich. And my wife sent me the order I said, we'll take a ham sandwich. The woman behind the counter looked at us, she said, What did you just say? So we will do a ham sandwich. She looked at me and she said, Eugene, get over here listen to him saying this. So my wife and I did this little dialogue for them, like Lucy and Ricky. And they gave us our meal for free. So we realized that we were in a very foreign land. And so I went to a place walked in there in Pittsburgh or acts outside of Pittsburgh, and there was a door and I grew up the way I grew up. You always hold the door open for whoever's coming. And you always offer your chair to a woman named ma'am, Miss or mama. And I held the door open for some approaching folks. And they were coming and they walked for it to the door. They didn't even look back at me didn't say nothing. And I thought well, that's all right. And then three or four more people came to the door while I was holding it. And they didn't say nothing. And then a slew of other people came through the door. And then I think maybe four or five Boy Scout troops came through the door. And I had been standing there for quite some time holding his door. And finally I said I got to let this thing go. I can't do this anymore. And so I let go the door and the door shut and the people came to the door and they open their own door and I knew that we were in a different world. When we got to Maryland, things seemed very much the same. But when we got to the West Virginia line, it was amazing. I walked into a little gas station eatery. And George Strait was playing overhead and then there was Reba McIntyre singing fancy don't let me down. I went up to the counter and I said Ma'am, I would like a hamburger. She said Would you like fries with that? I said as many as you can give me without losing your job. She put on these fries and she turned up the radio and I've never been so happy I saw a guy in the parking lot that said you can have my guns when you pry them from my cold dead fingers, and I knew I was home.
Amazing, Thank you. Thank you for clearing that up for us. Appreciate that.
So truthfully, I hate to draw to find a point On this but I feel like the spiritual South begins somewhere in West Virginia.
Noted. Sean, what sorts of habits have changed in your your daily life since doing this trail, any phone habits change, lifestyle changes? This was quite the experience you've been through. Yeah. Thank you for acknowledging that- tell my wife. Yeah, things have changed. I do not take air conditioner for granted anymore. Sleeping in a tent is misery. There is nothing appealing about it whatsoever. You are in a little box of your own carbon dioxide. And your breath forms this condensation layer on the tent ceiling that drips on you. There's nothing you can do about it. And when you wake up, and you feel that urge in your lower bladder, to go to the bathroom, you have roughly six or seven zippers to get past before you get outside to evacuate. So, so I don't take those for granted. Also, it has changed me in as much as I go hiking now all the time, which is really rare for me, I did not I was not a major hiker. But my wife and I just this week alone, we've gone three different times to trail where we were close to where we live in Birmingham. And we would have never done that before. And we find ourselves outside all the time. And it's it is entertainment in and of itself for us. Whereas before we would have watched Downton Abbey, one of us would have watched it and no one would have fallen asleep. And I'll let you guess who that other one is.
And so we're outside a lot and we're hanging out and it's very, very nourishing time for us together. For her birthday. I was stunned. This her birthday was last week. I was stunned when I asked her what she wanted to do for her birthday and she said let's go hiking. I said you want to go hiking for your birthday trip. I'm offering you whatever you want to do. And you want to go hiking. She said yes. I love to see you suffer.
Well now let's say you and Jamie are heading out on a road trip to a favorite destination. I want to know where you're headed. I want to know what music is on your playlist. And I want to know what car snacks you have or what you're stopping for for food?
That is a brilliant question. So you want to know first where we were going where we would be going to fun trip
to a favorite destination favorite
destinations. Ah well, probably Lake Martin in Alabama. We love Lake Martin and so so all three of them. It is, it's a really special place so we would drive there from where we live now and only take us I believe in and a half from Birmingham maybe an hour but used to where we lived in the panhandle of Florida. It would take us quite a quite a while to get there. We will be listening to Willie Nelson. We will be listening to Waylon Jennings. We will be listening to Hank Sr. We will be stopping if we're going in this direction. And I can't really remember the route in Georgia and Alabama and a little gas station called Kendalls barbecue joint which is in a in a sheet metal shed attached to the gas station and they give lots of pickles with the barbecue which is the secret to healthy and rich life. In our snack container we will be having we'll be having chili cheese Fritos because this is my weakness. I love chili cheese Fritos. Never had a pause for for those before. Let's see what else was the what was the final part of that question. Either would be a dog in the car with us smelling up the car and her head marigold with travels with us now. She will put her head right on the console because she wants to be right up there in the in the fray with us. My wife always drives because she has always the answer is she's always driven. That's just how it works. She has many reasons for this, but we know that it's just because she can't let go of the wheel. I sit in the right seat, the passenger seat and I write. And Marigold nestles her head between us. And that's how we've been traveling lately.
Well, you do travel a lot. And you keep that column up to date every day. Are you at a decade now almost of writing the blog and the column? That is correct. It's hard to believe. Do you ever go to a place and not find a person that is or a dog that inspires you? And is it ever hard to find inspiration to write about?
I feel very self serving, saying no, it's not. Because it sounds like a total lie. For someone to say that, no, I don't ever have writer's block. But, I don't probably because when I was a kid, my teacher filled out on my report card. Right underneath all my D's and C's. She said talks too much. In class. Remember when they used to do that? Lainie got that too. So I, I talked too much. And because I do that I inherited this from my mother, people talk back to me and my mother can never, ever go anywhere from the grocery store to an airplane ride without making friends with the staff. And having their life story told to them. And by the end we were praying for so and so. (Lainie says, “I knew I loved you.”) Sean goes on, her husband left her, it has been rough on her we got to pray for her. And I my wife said, you know it finally hit me. It was like a three years in our marriage. She said, You're just like your mother. Because we went out for our anniversary. And I sat at the bar waiting for a table. And I was having, well, an ovaltine. And a guy came up next to me and we were talking. And we got to talk and deeply and longly and he was he started to cry and weep. And finally the waiter said your tables ready and my wife came to find me. And she sees this guy just pouring his tears out. She said, What is wrong with you? I can’t take you anywhere. She said, we got our table ready. And I said well, Hubert here's gonna join us. That was a rough one. So, I like people, I love people, people have saved my life. I've gone through a lot of junk in my life, but people have saved my life in varying degrees of relationships to the surface relationships which are valuable too and the deep relationships, it doesn't matter. I just love people, I really do. And I find something interesting in them whether or not that is interesting to other people doesn't always matter. To me, I just like to find that nugget of beauty if I can. And sometimes I feel like I find it and other times I feel like I've missed it. There's there's more there. But I guess it all just boils down to sometimes your mother really is the best example.
It's so good. I feel like that your writing is kind of like, you know that picture from the Sistine Chapel of God and the the creation of Adam. And there, there's that finger touch moment, right, where God's giving Adam life. I feel like that's where your writing is. It's just in that, that that humane moment of humanity, and the kindness of God. And just yeah, those sorts of moments. I feel like you're able to find those places. And sometimes it's a lot of hands coming together, right? But it's a really, really unique gift.
I want to know, kind of changing gears here. What's something that makes you laugh out loud, like really hard belly laughter. The Farside. Whenever I do I have some occasionally I'll be cajoled into doing literary things where you have to sit on a panel with other authors. And these people are real people. I mean, they're real famous. And I'm, I'm Northwest Florida white trash. And I'll be sitting up there with these folks. And they'll say now, the number one question I get is, who's your favorite author? You know who you like? They'll ask this guy and he'll say, my favorite author is you know, Herman Melville and an American author and they go on to the line and by the time they get to me, I say, Lewis Grizzard.
Okay, Sean, we're coming in for a close here, but I'm so interested to know, how do you think people can learn to better appreciate the joys in life that just maybe on the surface even seem mundane?
Well, the short answer is I don't know. Because I, I'm learning myself, I don't, I don't have any insight. I get a lot of messages from younger folks and readers. And the last, if I have a have an insight in there, I know they're always a little bit disappointed, because I don't. But I'm trying. I'm trying, I can honestly say I'm trying. And I have been trying to find beauty in my life since childhood, which was not a great experience for me. And it takes a lot of effort. And I've had a lot, a lot of help from from very knowledgeable people who have helped me look in that direction. And I'm still giving it my best shot. And I hope to one day, have a day that seems so unbelievably plain and ordinary. But because of my perspective of it, at the end of the of that particular day, I would love to lay my head down to sleep and say that was a beautiful, wonderful, perfect day. I'm not there yet, but one day I will I will be able to do it, I believe and if not here, then up there.
Alright, this is the new book. And I think the only thing that would have made this book even better is if you included some yoga photos, you you tell a really funny story about the yoga, and maybe even some of those iPads selfie photos, that would have just made it even over the top. My groin went to be with Jesus.
Well, I think this book shows what a wonderful team you and Jamie are two, it really shows what a cool team. Everything that you see in my life. Anybody who is even remotely familiar with me, first of all, I'm sorry. And second of all, everything you see is really just Jamie. She does everything. She does everything she is the driving force behind everything we do. And she prefers to be in the back of the limelight. But she is everything.
She fans that flame that's in you or sprinkles water on it what needs to be
well, I can't I have to mention this one, too. So this is will the circle be unbroken? This is the autobiography. And I just had to also give this one a plug because it's so special. So he's gonna have lots of choices out there tonight, if anybody would like to purchase those, and Christmas is coming, but those are the two. Yes, I couldn't I just had to mention will
the circle be unbroken came out in 2020. And we were talking backstage before the podcast here. You know, maybe it's gonna find its way into the hands that it's supposed to, but it didn't get the proper book tour that everybody thought it was going to. And so I just want to add my name into the affirmative. That is an incredible book and a great way to start to know Sean. So for those listeners who are not here in person in the theater with us, our live event is going to transition a little to Sean's one man show and if you have not yet seen Sean out on the road, I highly recommend coming to see him if he's anywhere near you. If its in driving distance if you want a road trip. And we also hope to do more live events across the South in the future. So we hope to see you face to face. We're going to bid farewell to Sean for now. But Sean, Peace be with you. And also with y’all.