It was four in the morning, hours of work remained, eighty thousand papers were still in the backseat, we sat on a curb. We waited for a locksmith. I placed my head in my hands.

I woke early. My back is stiff. I should be sleeping right now, but I’m not.

My mother always said this would happen. “One day,” she said. “You won’t sleep as long or hard as you used to.”

She was right. She was always right.

It is dark outside. So, I drive to the gas station. I buy coffee and a bag of sodium-free pork rinds for my dog. The coffee isn’t ready yet.

The man behind the counter is nice. He puts the coffee on and tells me it’ll be a few minutes. So I wait out front, looking at the night sky.

A man pulls up in a ratty vehicle. He jumps out and starts loading the newspaper machine with today’s edition.

“Good morning,” I say.

He smiles. His eyes are baggy. His face is tired. I recognize that face.

“Morning,” he says.

“Can I have one of those?” I ask, handing him a five-dollar bill. “They’re better when they’re fresh.”

He forces a courtesy laugh. “Just pay the machine, dude, besides I can’t make change.”

“I don’t want change.”

He stares at me. He takes the money. He tips his hat. I get my paper.

One hundred years ago, my mother and I threw the Northwest Florida Daily News. We would wake up at two in the morning. She would drink god-awful gas station coffee every blessed day.

And each morning, she’d take one sip and say, “This coffee tastes like bathwater.”

We were service people.

In daily life, you had your regular Joes—guys who had nice cars, a single-story-three-bedroom, and two-point-five kids. And you had service people. Us.

Service people are the sort who drink bathwater coffee.

One morning, my mother and I were delivering papers to apartments on the beach. We carried large canvas bags, slung over our shoulders. My mother had sewn these bags herself, out of canvas. Each bag could fit forty or fifty papers.

They were heavy bags that knocked against your calves when you walked so that it was hard to keep your balance. We strolled breezeways, tossing rolled papers like boomerangs.

That morning, we finished early. We traipsed downstairs ahead of schedule. My mother tried to lift the car door handle.

And.

The worst.

We were locked out. Even worse than that: it was my fault. I knew this. My mother knew this, too. But she never said a word about it. She probably wanted to cry, but she didn’t. She wouldn’t.

It was four in the morning, hours of work remained, eighty thousand papers were still in the backseat, we sat on a curb. We waited for a locksmith.

I placed my head in my hands.

My mother dug a paper from her bag. She shook it open. She wore a soft smile.

“What’re you doing?” I asked.

“What’s it look like? I’m reading the paper.” She handed me the sports section. “Here, we’re not onna let this get us down.”

I was too depressed to read the sports section. So, my mother started reading aloud.

She cleared her throat. “The Yankees,” she began, “sweep the Texas Rangers in three games, and will go on to play Cleveland for a spot in the…”

“Mama,” I told her. “I don’t feel like hearing about baseball.”

I was too upset with myself. How could I have locked the car? How could I be so dumb? There was no dumber person on this planet than a dummy such as I.

“…And if the Yankees defeat Cleveland,” she went on, “they will be American League CHAMPIONS, contenders in the World Series…”

My mother had never watched a game of baseball in her life. She didn’t know the difference between a pop-up single and Sylvester Stallone.

I finally said, “Mama, stop trying to cheer me up.”

She didn’t answer. She only turned the page. “Did you know David Wells has pitched eight COMPLETE games and five SHUTOUTS this season. Isn’t that just fascinating?”

“Mama.”

She closed the paper and touched my shoulder. “One day, you’re gonna look back at this whole morning and laugh. You hear me?”

I heard her. And those words have lasted with me for an entire lifetime. Even on mornings when I can’t sleep. Maybe that’s why I’m smiling right now.

The gas station clerk knocks on the glass window. The coffee is done. I pour a cup. I pay him. I crawl into my truck. I open the paper to the sports section. I take a sip.

This coffee tastes like bathwater.

If you get a chance today, thank someone in the service industry.

25 comments

  1. Sandi in FL. - September 5, 2018 7:13 am

    It doesn’t cost a penny to be polite towards others, and “Thank-you” will never be over-used when we say it sincerely. Sean, I’m so glad that long-ago memory of the locked car and your mother reading the sports section has turned into one that brings a genune grin to you face.

    Reply
  2. Camille Atkins - September 5, 2018 9:06 am

    We absolutely could and would not survive in this country without our awesome service people! It is so important to realize their worth and pay them a livable wage. They may not always do things exactly the way we would like, but they DO THINGS, things we either can’t or don’t want to do for ourselves. Thank you Sean, for reminding us.

    Reply
  3. Toni Tucker Locke - September 5, 2018 9:07 am

    Sean, I already missed getting a daily newspaper. Now I am sad that i never really knew our paper carriers. Too many people go unnoticed. Thanks for the reminder. Thanks for being one of the service people.

    Reply
  4. Nancy Thomaston Rogers - September 5, 2018 9:09 am

    Everyone should have to work in the “service’ industry at some point in their life. It helps to keep you humble.

    Reply
  5. Steve Winfield - September 5, 2018 9:20 am

    I read this on my phone. Just as I read the last sentence I glanced downward to make sure it was the end. The first word I saw was “unsubscribe”. I said to myself, “No way!”.

    Reply
  6. Barbara Pope - September 5, 2018 9:53 am

    Sweetest mama ever!

    Reply
  7. Karen - September 5, 2018 10:16 am

    Your mama was a special woman. How strong and good she was. She certainly had an influence on who you have become. Thank you for reminding us to thank those who take care of us.

    Reply
    • LARRY WALL - September 6, 2018 9:03 pm

      Karen, just in case you didn’t realize or know, Sean’s Mom still IS. 🙂

      Reply
  8. Glenda Hulbert - September 5, 2018 10:18 am

    You just made my day, I have a long string of service jobs in my rear view mirror. You take me back every time, Thank you Sean for your meaningful stories.

    Reply
  9. ppp1brain - September 5, 2018 12:09 pm

    You’re awesome, Sean.
    Happy Wednesday 😊

    Reply
  10. Terri C Boykin - September 5, 2018 12:10 pm

    That’s what good mamas do. You’re a good man Sean Dietrich, love you much.

    Reply
  11. Rhonda Howell - September 5, 2018 12:13 pm

    I always thought your “job” was writing and speaking. I am beginning to see you have a bigger job and writing and speaking are the tools of the trade. You seem to have that rare and wonderful gift of touching folks. It might be acknowledgement of something, understanding of things unseen or the ability to know that someone is so lonely that they are dead inside. The ability to make someone smile when they feel like they might never smile again.
    Day after day you and Jamie and the dogs get up in the morning and venture out in to life and maybe even without meaning to make a difference in that day. I am sure its often in ways you never even know about. You might not think of yourself as a preacher but you are definitely a teacher. Thank you for your service.

    Reply
  12. Jack Darnell - September 5, 2018 12:51 pm

    Good story about mom. I miss mine. They are like a good blanket in the winter. My paper route was in the afternoon!

    Reply
  13. Carol - September 5, 2018 2:02 pm

    Your so good Sean , to always remember other people!
    I once delivered the paper and on sat night or was it early Sun. that was a big paper to put together. It was my husbands extra job, but when he was at the fire dept, I loaded up a 4 yr old and a baby and a backseat full of papers!
    I use to cry a lot then too!
    Love ya!

    Reply
  14. Pat - September 5, 2018 2:31 pm

    Given enough Tincture of Time we can usually laugh at the upsetting, awful or embarrassing times.

    Reply
  15. Susan Swiderski - September 5, 2018 3:37 pm

    Not sure, but I think your mom may have been part angel. Most parents wouldn’t have been nearly as kind and understanding. At the very least, she was a wise woman.

    Reply
  16. Jack Quanstrum - September 5, 2018 4:10 pm

    Will do. Love the story. Life’s certainly full of twist and turns!

    Reply
  17. Edna B. - September 5, 2018 4:26 pm

    I have to agree with Rhonda Howell. You have a special way of making our days just a bit brighter. Your mama was definitely a special lady. You have a great day Sean. Hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  18. Haskel JP - September 5, 2018 4:42 pm

    Sadly the internet and dead journalism have killed this industry. I think some weeklies are hanging on but they’re mailed. I delivered a daily in the 70’s on bike and it was a character builder.

    Reply
  19. Shelton Armour - September 5, 2018 5:38 pm

    I hope newspapers (even if they all have to go digital) stay around for as long as I do. Thank God for service people and I ‘God Blessed’ on today. Makes me feel better.

    Reply
  20. Myra - September 5, 2018 6:14 pm

    I try and make it a point to always say ‘thank you’ — and, if someone is wearing a name tag, use his/her name. (Doesn’t everyone enjoy hearing their name?).. Invariably, I’m saddened when they look surprised. One cashier even asked, “Why? I’m just doing my job.” Some of the housekeepers and ‘back-of-house’ individuals at my last job are often overlooked, but have the biggest hearts.

    Reply
  21. Sandra Binford - September 5, 2018 6:49 pm

    Back when I was growing up in Niceville, the NWFlorida Daily News, was called the Playground Daily News!😉Love your stories! Looking forward to seeing you in Enterprise on the 15th!
    Sandra B.

    Reply
  22. Phillip Saunders - September 5, 2018 9:51 pm

    Nice going, Sean. So many of those “service people” are overlooked or taken for granted. Lots of them are like elephants in the circus – they work for peanuts. We appreciate the ones who do a good job. That’s why we tape an envelope with a card and some cash inside to our trash receptacle just before each major holiday to thank the guys on the big orange truck and mail a check each Christmas to our faithful rain or shine newspaper girl. Doesn’t hurt us and may help them feel appreciated.

    Reply
  23. perry5360 - September 6, 2018 12:19 am

    I’m a b team player myself. God bless you and your mama. T

    Reply
  24. Edy - September 14, 2018 2:45 am

    Amen!

    Reply

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