Before Irma

Mom turns to him. She gives him a warm look. It’s the same sweet look mothers have been giving children since the invention of the diaper. 

September 6th, 11:13 A.M.—Hurricane Irma is moving closer. And it looks like the storm is getting angrier every few hours.

Here in the Panhandle you can see people gathered around TV’s and cellphone weather videos everywhere you go.

Walmart is a nuthouse. They are out of bottled water, milk, bleach, toilet paper, bread, and according to one official, they’re running dangerously low on ketchup.

People wander through the store with tight faces. There is a man wearing a homemade T-shirt that reads: “Irma Sucks.”

In the peanut-butter aisle, I see a child who follows his mother’s cart. The woman is stocking her buggy with essentials.

The kid holds a cellphone, volume turned up. I hear the tinny voice of a weather report.

The little boy says, “Mom, are we gonna be okay?”

Mom turns to him. She gives him a warm look. It’s the same sweet look mothers have been giving children since the invention of the diaper.

It’s a look that says: “Everything—no matter how afraid you are—is going to be alright.”

It’s the same look my mama gave me when a swarm of red ants crawled up my legs and bit the Holy Spirit out of me. I had an allergic reaction, trouble breathing.

“Mama,” I said. “Will I pull through?”

She gave me that look, and here I am.

I also see an old woman. She is frail, she walks bent over. She’s searching for bottled water on barren shelves.

A female employee notices her. She asks what the woman needs.

“Where am I gonna find water?” the old woman asks. “What am I gonna do?”

The employee gives the elderly woman that look—the same one I was just telling you about.

“Let’s see what we can do,” the employee says.

She flags a man in a yellow vest, he walks toward them. He types on his cellphone.

“My wife texted,” he says. “She said Winn Dixie still has plenty’a bottled water.”

“Really?” the elderly woman says. “How sweet of you. Thank you.”

He grins. There’s that look again.

In the checkout line: an old man in a motorized wheelchair. His wife is pushing a buggy of groceries. He wears a cap with a battleship on it. A tube runs from his nose to an oxygen tank.

“Are you worried about the storm?” the cashier asks his wife.

“Not really, are you?” the older woman says.

“Actually, I’m REALLY scared,” the cashier goes on. “My kids are too. We were so freaked out last night we stayed up late, watching the news. I don’t know what to do.”

The man in the wheelchair starts moving. He is animated. He’s trying to turn his head, and it seems like it takes all his strength to do it.

He finally says, “D-d-don’t be scared, sweetie.”

He digs into his shirt pocket—it takes him a lot of effort, but he is determined. With a shaky arm, he places a Tootsie Roll into the girl’s palm.

“What’s this?” she says.

“It’s good luck,” he says.

He forces a smile. He is old, tired, weak, and riding in a wheelchair. But his two blue eyes are the strongest pair you’ve ever seen.

Especially when he gives her that look.

19 comments

  1. Leigh Rankin - September 7, 2017 1:40 pm

    sniff.

    Reply
  2. MaryJane Breaux - September 7, 2017 1:45 pm

    If I was not sitting at my desk in my office, this would be a Cat 5 cry. Your writing speaks to my soul.

    Reply
  3. Catherine - September 7, 2017 1:57 pm

    The weather people have a job to do, I suppose, but when did it become to scare the bejesus out of everyone? Thanks Sean for reminders we’ll be ok.

    Reply
  4. Tim Parker - September 7, 2017 2:42 pm

    God bless your insight.
    I know that look.

    Reply
  5. Jack Quanstrum - September 7, 2017 2:43 pm

    Great story. I like that look! Thanks Sean. Shalom!

    Reply
  6. Trudy :) - September 7, 2017 2:45 pm

    “That look” is based on faith and experience, as well as discipline of caring. My mother gave me “that look” many times; a raised right eyebrow was with it at times, usually when I questioned her. Then there is “that look” coupled with squinty eyes and a slight turn of the head. Oh gosh, that one you didn’t question, but tried to find solice in your room, under the covers, and pretending to be asleep or sick. Funny how history repeats itself. My children got the same looks I received when I was growing up. Hmmmm, maybe it’s in the gene pool, or something like that.
    Smiles and blessings to you, Sean, for another respite from concern of the storm or other daunting issues of the day.

    Reply
    • Pat - September 7, 2017 2:51 pm

      Wow Trudy your comment about “a raised eyebrow” brought forth a memory of loooooong ago. When I saw that from my mother, I knew I had approached the line I did not want to cross! Thanks!

      Reply
  7. Ann Gaddis - September 7, 2017 2:55 pm

    Coastal Floridian currently on the move and in evacuation mode. This writing is really ringing true with every other human I’ve so far encountered. Panic is the undercurrent but mutual human love and attitude of helpfulness totally prevails. Hotel breakfast bar with moms and dads calmly overseeing good manners and calm. Younger ones pushing wheelchairs. Others letting you ahead in lines ,lots of thank you’s. Blessings to perfect strangers to “Be Safe”
    I know there are lots of bad people out there but thank you Jesus, there are far more good

    Reply
  8. Melodie - September 7, 2017 3:16 pm

    Good luck, that look, AND a Tootsie Roll? Now I know we’re going to be ok! ♥

    Reply
  9. wilma christian - September 7, 2017 3:47 pm

    Mr. Dietrich, you just write it so well……So glad a friend told me about your writings…..Stay safe…..

    Reply
  10. Pamela McEachern - September 7, 2017 4:00 pm

    Thank you for the calming words, God Bless

    Reply
  11. Marty from Alabama - September 7, 2017 4:08 pm

    Once again you have done it. Your soul is tied to the spirit of helping people in whatever they need on any given day. Today, she is called, “Irma.”

    Reply
  12. Wendy - September 7, 2017 4:29 pm

    We had an escape from reality when our tv was out from Sunday to Wednesday when the technician came. Now we’re back to the news of Irma. Let us not forget to pray for victims of Harvey as we pray for all in the path of Irma.
    As usual, thank you Sean for your insightful writings that help us with our worries!

    Reply
  13. Linda - September 7, 2017 4:30 pm

    Thank you Sean…I needed “that look” right now! Praying for all of Florida and beyond.
    By the way, I had planned on being in Andalusia, Alabama this weekend and was going to see you speak at the local college on Monday morning. Maybe another time…

    Reply
  14. Chicky - September 7, 2017 6:55 pm

    Sean, I love your writing. Stay safe and stay out of Walmart! 😉

    Reply
  15. Sean Hollis - September 7, 2017 7:48 pm

    Sean, you ‘da man.

    Reply
  16. Janet Lee - September 7, 2017 8:52 pm

    Well, I have been following a while and I seem to have dropped off the list even if it is in my emails. I think the excess traffic is playing havoc with stuff. Jeannie, loved the cat 5 cry- I did it for you!!

    Sean, another of your best!!!

    If anyone reading this is getting out of S. Florida- bring a dog from Sebring, Fla with you. I have someone in Tallahassee that can transport 3 hours and a place in Luverne Al that might take them. These dogs are trapped, some have pledges, some rescues but really need transports!! Some will have to be put down..Sebringflurgents@gmail.com Needs pledges, foster, rescue pulls but mostly transport!!!!

    Reply
  17. Michael Hawke - September 8, 2017 1:44 am

    You will help get us all through this.

    Reply
  18. Marion - September 12, 2017 7:15 pm

    I’m in between tears and smiles. Great message to guide us through our storms. Thank you again.

    Reply

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