And when doctors told us they found something irregular in her breast, we sat in a UAB waiting room. I quit eating, skipped suppers. I stared at ceilings, whispering things to God.

There is a photo on my dresser. It’s an old photograph. My wife sits at a table. Her arms are crossed. There’s a birthday cake in front of her.

The cake is seven-layer. Caramel. I drove all the way to Dean’s Cake House in Andalusia to buy that thing. Candles poke from the top. My wife wears a warm smile.

That was quite a day.

As a rule, photographs don’t do my wife justice. Her personality is too colorful for rolls of film.

Snapping a shot of her is a lot like trying to capture the Sistine Chapel on a cocktail napkin with a Bic pen.

Even so, that night I held a disposable camera while we sang “Happy Birthday,” using voices loud enough to affect weather conditions.

My wife’s mother placed the seven-layer cake before her. Her father and I kept singing like a duet of Labradors with chest colds.

My wife’s cheeks turned red. She showed a smile. I pointed the camera.

Click.

And for a hundred years, that photo has made me feel less alone.

Maybe it’s her smile. After all, people like us aren’t supposed to smile. At least not like she smiles.

We haven’t had exceptional careers—she worked food service, I stood on ladders.

Our bank account was decidedly shallow. Money wasn’t exactly growing on rose bushes. For suppers, we’d visit Kentucky Fried Chicken to lick other people’s fingers.

But we smiled a lot. She taught me to do that.

We bought cones of ice cream, using quarters from dashboard ashtrays. We sat in parking lots, listening to car radios. We talked until the wee hours. We chatted about life. About kids.

“How about Rose?” she said. “We ever have a daughter, I wanna name her Rose.”

“How about Willie?” I suggested. “I’ve always wanted a little red-headed stranger named Willie.”

We’ve done our share of growing up together. She has watched me lose more times than I’ve won. She’s hugged me when I didn’t deserve it. She listens. She cooked fried chicken when I once got laid off.

And if you ask me, we’ve had a full life. Real full. We’ve watched sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico. Fireflies over ponds. We’ve played Go Fish on the kitchen table. We’ve done campfires, Waffle-House suppers, house-painting parties, and we’ve buried too many good animals.

And when doctors told us they found something irregular in her breast, we sat in a UAB waiting room. I quit eating, skipped suppers. I stared at ceilings, whispering things to God.

Months later, when doctors said it was benign, one of the first things I did was buy a seven-layer cake in Andalusia. Caramel.

We ate it in the car, using our hands.

My wife and I have had average lives. We haven’t traveled much, we’ve paid bills. We drive old cars. We like caramel cake.

We weren’t lucky enough to have a Rose. No Willie, either. But I’m not sorry. And why would I be. I have everything.

The photo on my dresser proves it.

54 comments

  1. Priscilla S. Adkisson - May 12, 2017 12:19 pm

    Beautiful, Sean.
    God bless you and Jamie.

    Reply
  2. April - May 12, 2017 12:27 pm

    Thanks for starting my Friday with a good cry… the best kind. That’s love Sean. What a blessing.

    Reply
  3. Laura Young - May 12, 2017 12:27 pm

    I have never read a more heartfelt story. I know you said you had lost more times than you won, but you hit the jackpot when you won her heart. Any woman who can make a man feel toward her like you obviously do is a true treasure. Wish I knew her too.😍

    Reply
  4. Judy Miller - May 12, 2017 12:27 pm

    This probably sounds cynical, but I’ve seen it in other childless married couples–you’re probably closer because you didn’t have children.

    Reply
  5. Lisa Egstad - May 12, 2017 12:37 pm

    So many local children need good parents. I’m sure you and your wife would be among the best whether it’s fostering or adoption.

    Reply
  6. Deborah - May 12, 2017 12:38 pm

    You are the richest couple I have heard about recently. Enjoy your true wealth.

    Reply
  7. Richard Jones - May 12, 2017 12:45 pm

    Sean,I sure love your stories.You are what we call in the South,Good people.I admire the way you get knocked down and get back up and realize what a lucky man you are.Keep on writing,people need to hear it.

    Reply
  8. Becky Overton - May 12, 2017 12:47 pm

    You have riches far greater than gold. Love, love this story:)

    Reply
  9. Antoinette Smalley - May 12, 2017 12:48 pm

    On old schoolmate shared a link to one of your posts last week and now I am hooked. I am a Alabamian and it’s easily heard in my speech. You make me really proud of the little things I remember abut growing up in the Heart of Dixie… including my Southern drawl. Thanks and please, keep up the great work.

    Reply
  10. Susan Johnston - May 12, 2017 12:48 pm

    Sean,
    I so enjoy your writing. The love you have for your wife is evident in this piece. She’s a lucky woman and, maybe more important, you are an even luckier man. You are wealthy in the things that are important!
    Susan Johnston

    Reply
  11. Bobbie - May 12, 2017 12:51 pm

    No words, just tears today.
    Thank you!

    Reply
  12. Lydia Bennett - May 12, 2017 12:51 pm

    Just figured out who you are- The Velveteen Rabbit!!! You touch my heart with your every word.Thank you

    Reply
  13. Leisa Taylor - May 12, 2017 1:01 pm

    Thanks for making me cry first thing! What a wonderful love story!

    Reply
  14. Eric Mancil - May 12, 2017 1:06 pm

    Dear Sean,

    I am so pleased to come upon your blog. My name is Eric Mancil, and I am an Episcopal priest in Chelsea, Alabama- right outside of Birmingham. Reading your stories brings back so many fond memories of my own childhood, growing up in Andalusia and Enterprise. I am quite familiar with Dean’s cakes, too. Although, I must say, my layer cakes rival those of Dean’s.

    Peace be with you,
    Eric+

    Reply
  15. Joann Wilson - May 12, 2017 1:09 pm

    I love this story. She has obviously made you happy enough to enjoy happy times rather than dwell on unhappy times. I wish I could see that picture of her. A Great Woman.

    Reply
  16. Maxine - May 12, 2017 1:17 pm

    Everyone wishes they had that someone that felt this same exact way about them for this is the stuff a good life is made of.

    Reply
  17. Paula Link - May 12, 2017 1:17 pm

    Every woman in the world wants to be loved – and to love – like this.

    Reply
  18. Arlene - May 12, 2017 1:21 pm

    You have brought tears and a smile to my face…once again. thank you for what you do for me every day…because I read your article each morning…you bring me home every time.
    We all appreciate you….give our love to your wife, too, please.

    Reply
  19. Debbie Beach - May 12, 2017 1:27 pm

    Oh man…….Sean. You got us on this one. The tears just flowed reading about your wife. Your actions towards her are of biblical magnitude.
    …and you, you can make a grown man weep because of the way you put words together on a piece of paper and then share them with anyone who is willing to spend a moment with you.

    You have now become a part of our family! We’re blessed.

    Reply
  20. Jeanie - May 12, 2017 1:49 pm

    This is the kind of love every woman wants in her life. Its not the things money can buy. Its the things a person does or says that means so much. I had that once —————

    Reply
  21. C johnson - May 12, 2017 2:02 pm

    She’s a lucky lady!

    Reply
  22. Mitford - May 12, 2017 2:13 pm

    Very well said.

    Reply
  23. Sandy Park - May 12, 2017 2:16 pm

    I’m so glad I found you… your life stories are amazing, eloquently written, funny, touching and beautiful…. love, love, love them as they entertain my soul.

    Reply
  24. karen - May 12, 2017 2:17 pm

    Great attitude Sean. Made me cry!

    Reply
  25. Amy Katherine - May 12, 2017 2:40 pm

    Great. Now I have to go fix my eye makeup…but it was worth it.

    Reply
  26. Rev. Steve Baccus - May 12, 2017 2:58 pm

    Another home run, Sean!

    Reply
  27. Mackie H. Jirdan - May 12, 2017 3:00 pm

    Sean, I love your columns, but please don’t be talking about those Dean’s cakes. If the Yankees hear about them, they’ll have a daily line outside Dean’s in Andalusia — just like they’ve done @ Thomas Donuts in Laguna Beach, now that Southern Living has made them famous.

    Reply
  28. Carolyn Finlayson - May 12, 2017 3:13 pm

    I would say you are one of the richest people in the world. You realize what valuables really are. Not diamonds, toys or the latest of everything. Simply life and someone you love to share it with.
    I love reading your posts.

    Reply
  29. Perri Geaux Tigers Williamson - May 12, 2017 3:18 pm

    I love it best when you write about your forever in a dress. If you ever ran for president and they asked you to disclose your income/wealth you could just declare that you are the richest man in the world.

    Reply
  30. Camille Atkins - May 12, 2017 3:26 pm

    Wonderful story! You and Jamie hit the lottery when you found each other. Dean’s 7 layer Caramel is my favorite also and the choclate is nothing to sneeze at!

    Reply
  31. Nancy - May 12, 2017 3:31 pm

    Sweet love, sweet life, sweet story. Knowing how blessed one is is priceless.

    Reply
  32. Sam Hunneman - May 12, 2017 3:38 pm

    they don’t call ’em soul-mates for nothing!

    Reply
  33. Lynda Gayle Knight - May 12, 2017 3:38 pm

    Every article seems to get better! So glad to see someone loyal and loving to his wife though all kinds of time. I taught English for 30 years in high school, and appreciate talent which you have an abundance in writing! My daughter introduced me to your writings a short while ago, and I look forward every day to your article. Now, I’m introducing you to my friends ! Keep it coming! Money is certainly not the best thing in life-not even in my top ten; that is evident by my choice of vocations which I would never choose to change.

    Reply
  34. Dolores Fort - May 12, 2017 5:08 pm

    Wonderful, Sean! Thank you so much for sharing. You remind me of the wonderful life I had with my husband of over 50 years. Relationships like that are well worth fighting for always. God bless you and your very special wife!

    Reply
  35. Patricia Gibson - May 12, 2017 5:19 pm

    Amen!

    Reply
  36. Darrell Dame - May 12, 2017 5:23 pm

    Well, I managed to lubricate my eyes again today . Keep it up.

    Reply
  37. judith clark - May 12, 2017 5:30 pm

    Thank you so much. Everything you write has a depth and meaning that is incomparable and I look forward to each and every piece!

    Reply
  38. Brenda Laurence - May 12, 2017 6:40 pm

    Such a beautiful tribute. God blessed each of you with just the right person to compliment the other. On a side note, where’s Ellie Mae? Surely she was in the middle of all that cake eaten’.

    Reply
  39. Olivia Grizle - May 12, 2017 6:50 pm

    This is a beautiful story and tribute to your wife. Y’all are blessed with a special love.

    Reply
  40. Lilli Ann Snow - May 12, 2017 7:12 pm

    You have more than everything, Sean. You have the parts of the universe we can’t see with our human eyes. You have Heaven.

    In front of you.

    Behind you.

    Way ahead of you.

    Heaven.

    Reply
  41. Joan Raines - May 12, 2017 7:46 pm

    You did it again. Made me cry. A sincere life and a sincere Tribute.

    Reply
  42. JACKIE - May 12, 2017 8:12 pm

    What a beautiful tribute, a wonderful life! Thanks for sharing

    Reply
  43. Sharon Schwalbach - May 12, 2017 10:11 pm

    Absolutely the best writing…bringing real, true life emotion from your heart and putting it to paper with pen. Exceptional. Can’t wait for tomorrows.

    Reply
  44. Lynn - May 12, 2017 11:29 pm

    Lucky woman. Lucky you.

    Reply
  45. Jody Herren - May 13, 2017 1:46 am

    I love this, ya’ll are BLESSED.

    Reply
  46. Mary Hennis - May 13, 2017 3:14 am

    You just made me cry..
    God Bless you both. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every married couple in America had your experiences in life and realized that love is what it is all about.

    Reply
  47. Cynthia Broaddrick - May 13, 2017 5:57 am

    ❤️

    Reply
  48. Becky - May 13, 2017 1:22 pm

    ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

    Reply
  49. Clint - May 13, 2017 1:46 pm

    God heard those whispers.

    Reply
  50. Phil Benton - May 13, 2017 2:23 pm

    A couple of years ago ( I think ) my wife showed me a post written by Sean and I read it saying ” this is good ” I got his sight on to my daily email and began reading more. I have always been a student of southern writers from Faulkner to Ellen Gilchrist , enthralled by the well worded descriptions of things recalled by me from my past.
    Suddenly and I don’t remember when , Sean’s work dissappeared from my email and I was too busy with the less important things of working , etc to search why.

    More recently my spam blocker also began again sending me a list of the blocked items and low and behold ( or better voila) there it was. Sean’s site being stolen by my blocker. I instantly notified the controlling master ( Ford if you remember) and now it is along side my daily reading of the New York Times .
    My wife tells me that I will get to meet him in September , where his other talent of music will be at work.

    I have always been amazed at the talents of writers, songwriters musicians and poets . Good use of this thing we call words and communication has been eroded by the very thing that allows us to reach so many. I am always appreciative when I see it’s rebirth.

    thx 4 ur wrk

    Reply
  51. Mike Windham - May 13, 2017 2:45 pm

    Sean, I enjoy your writing. You’ve been an inspiration to me. This story about your wife is so close to the shared life my wife and I have had for the past 46 years. Thank you for thinking and capturing your thoughts.

    Mike

    Reply
  52. rhonda - May 14, 2017 12:39 am

    this truly warmed my heart

    Reply
  53. Dora Huelsbeck - May 14, 2017 1:14 am

    Beautiful story. You are both lucky. Keep these wonderful memories coming.

    Reply
  54. Michael Bishop - May 15, 2017 2:13 pm

    Just read this today (day after Mother’s Day 2017), along with another piece called “Mother,” and must say that you aren’t like that biblical farmer in a famous parable who build barns to put his overabundant field crops in, in expectation of eating, drinking, and being merry at some future time, only to find his soul required of him long before that hoped-for day of festival arrives. No, you live your life daily, enriching the present with action, memories, and (most important) relationships, and living rather than postponing the abundant life. Blessings, dear never-met but inspiring friend.

    Reply

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