Columbia, South Carolina—I stopped in the Capital City for food. I find a simple, no-frills chain-restaurant that is filled with cars.
I’ve been driving since morning. I’m not picky. A cold beer would be nice. Maybe a burger.
There’s a ten-minute wait. Even the bar is full.
So I wait outside. That’s when I see her. She is on the sidewalk. A small woman with white hair and rough skin. She wears a red T-shirt with the words: “Y’all Hush” on the front. She is smoking.
She tells me she’s waiting for the rest of her dinner party. But there’s a problem.
“My son had a flat tire,” she tells me. “God, I’m so worried. He is coming from Augusta.”
I can tell she’s nervous. She tries him on the phone, but he doesn’t answer.
“Oh,” she says. “I hope he’s okay. I’m worried ‘bout him.”
She lights another worrisome cigarette.
So I keep her company.
She tells me about her son and his two daughters—her beloved grandbabies. This brings a temporary
smile. For a moment, she’s not worried, but a granny.
Our conversation doesn’t go far. I ask basic questions. I’m just trying to keep her talking. Talking fights off worry, my mother always said. I’m not sure if this actually works, but it’s worth a shot.
I learn about her. She’s from Waynesboro, Georgia, originally. She got married when she was eighteen. Her boyfriend did the honorable thing and married her. But his honor only lasted three years.
He left her with one kid and a second on the way. She was a baby herself when he ran. She was young and scared. It was the classic sink-or-swim scenario.
She dog paddled.
“I worked hard all my life,” she says. “Didn’t never ask NOBODY for help. Taught my kids work hard too, and to be respectful…