Pulled Pork

She is in good shape, she doesn’t talk much. Sometimes she is clear, other times not. But her eyes sparkle like they’re sixty years younger. Her name is Irene.

I wasn’t going to come tonight. I don’t usually attend birthday parties for folks I don’t know. But then, it’s not every day you get to sing “Happy Birthday” to a brand new ninety-nine-year-old.

She is in good shape, she doesn’t talk much. Sometimes she is clear, other times not. But her eyes sparkle like they’re sixty years younger. Her name is Irene.

She grips my hand and smiles. She is like looking at American History. “Oh, it’s good to see you, Sam,” she tells me.

I explain that my name’s not Sam.

She rubs my shoulder. “Don’t be fussy.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

If you can’t beat them, join them, I say.

Earlier, her sons and nephews picked her up from the assisted living home. It was the first time she’d ridden in a car since Easter Sunday.

Her boys moved a high-back recliner into the kitchen.

Irene sits in the same kitchen she raised her family in. She sits with women who prepare supper. Women like her grew up in kitchens.

She sits, watching her redheaded daughter and granddaughters prepare potato salad.

She speaks. Maybe she’s offering words of advice. Nobody is sure because she’s not using complete sentences.

“Pick’em taters, Sam,” she says to me.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Pick’em, I say.”

“I’m a pickin’ ma’am.”

“Oh, Sam.”

Her son smokes the pork. We stand beside a grill and sip. He talks.

He says, “My mama’s strong. I remember when Daddy died, she was going through medical problems of her own at the time. We didn’t think she’d last much longer.”

She certainly showed them. That was forty years ago.

“Mama’s tough,” he said. “Not in-your-face tough, but quiet-tough. Remember once, she chased me for a half-mile up the road, when I’s fourteen, just to give me a whippin’.”

Quiet-tough.

When the patio table is set, we sing “Happy Birthday.” It sounds like any rendition you’ve ever heard. Off-key, and sincere.

Instead of singing to Irene, it’s “Happy birthday dear Mee Maw.”

For supper, I am sandwiched between Irene, and her great, great grandaughter, Mary—a nine-year-old. And even though Mary is as big as a millisecond, she eats more pulled pork than me.

Someone brings a cake with a black-and-white photo printed on the icing. Fancy.

It’s a photograph of a woman, standing in front of a rounded car. Next to her: a man. High-waisted trousers, pomade hair.

Irene can’t have any cake because of blood sugar, but she inspects the photo before the cake gets cut.

“That’s me,” she says. “Look at me.”

Nobody says anything. They let her remember. Her two eyes say it all.

“That’s me.”

At the end of the night, they help Irene into a car. We wave goodbye.

“Bye, Sam,” she says.

The family sends me with Ziplocks of pulled pork.

I crawl into my truck and drive down a dirt driveway. I’m thinking about white-haired elders, and how this world wouldn’t be what it is without their quiet toughness.

The last thing I pass before I hit the highway is an old mailbox at the end of the drive.

Above the address: two names spelled in gold letters.

Irene and Sam.

39 comments

  1. candyalso - October 11, 2017 1:25 pm

    OMG, I love the ending!

    Reply
  2. Martha Fondren - October 11, 2017 1:58 pm

    ***sigh***

    Reply
  3. Leia Lona - October 11, 2017 1:59 pm

    And the water spills out of my eyes.

    Reply
  4. Linda Akers - October 11, 2017 2:06 pm

    Oh my! You really got me there at the end. How honored you must feel now…….Sam. You are loved.

    Reply
  5. muthahun - October 11, 2017 2:08 pm

    What a gift you gave… Sam. You’re a good one.

    Reply
  6. Della Haase - October 11, 2017 2:09 pm

    Aahhh, Sam, you are one lucky duck! And because of you, so are we!!

    Reply
  7. Carol - October 11, 2017 2:22 pm

    Oh Sean. You’ve made me cry.

    Reply
  8. ponder304 - October 11, 2017 2:25 pm

    Irene celebrated with her Sam! Forever…….

    Reply
  9. paula jones - October 11, 2017 2:40 pm

    My heart just melted.

    Reply
  10. bettyjo2012 - October 11, 2017 2:42 pm

    Just when I’m thinking about how so many of the younger generation has never been taught traditional family values and traditions, you throw in that ending which instantly brought tears to my eyes. Thanks again “Sam”. 🙂

    Reply
  11. Jack Quanstrum - October 11, 2017 3:02 pm

    Beautiful, touching story. There is definitely alot of history in folks that are older! I respect there wisdom and are thrown back by their genuine kindness. I wish they could live forever. By the way great finish to your story! Peace and blessings to you Sean.

    Reply
  12. Sheri - October 11, 2017 3:30 pm

    My 87 year old grandmother just moved in with me and my two teenage daughters. It is such blessing. She brought with her three 18 gallon storage tubs full of old photos and memories. I could sit all day and listen to her tell the stories behind each of those photos.

    Reply
    • Margaret - November 15, 2017 12:58 pm

      write the names on the back so your children will know the stories and who is in the pictures.

      Reply
  13. NovaLee - October 11, 2017 3:35 pm

    💙 So touching 💙

    Reply
  14. Marty from Alabama - October 11, 2017 3:53 pm

    The most important man in Irene’s life is the person she thought about when she saw you. That is the ultimate praise a widow could give to a young red haired man.

    Reply
  15. Lynda Clemons - October 11, 2017 4:11 pm

    Oh my. A really good sweet story until the last sentence. Then I felt the depth of this story and the moisture hit my eyes. Thank you.

    Reply
  16. Jan Fincher - October 11, 2017 4:18 pm

    That gave me chills!

    Reply
  17. Kim Tillman - October 11, 2017 4:29 pm

    You kill me!! Um um! Your endings.

    Reply
  18. Liz Reed - October 11, 2017 5:09 pm

    This is a good one. I’m crying at work.

    Reply
  19. Pamela McEachern - October 11, 2017 5:23 pm

    Such sweetness and what an honor to know she had a birthday with her Sam, I am sure she had sweet dreams of her birthday party. I miss my Grands, they were so wonderful ro me.
    Peace and love from Birmingh!m

    Reply
  20. Sandra Marrar - October 11, 2017 6:14 pm

    Aww…sweet!

    Reply
  21. TN Lizzie - October 11, 2017 6:22 pm

    Sam of the South ~ yes it has a nice ring to it. I think you enjoy your last lines; I know they do me in! <3 Really, you should be sponsored by Kimberly-Clark's Kleenex Tissues. <3 Thanks, again!

    Reply
  22. Jackie - October 11, 2017 6:54 pm

    I am by no means a saint, I am mostly a sinner. But I do try to see the good in things. More so of different types of people since I started receiving your blog. I was visiting Chattanooga this week, and saw several homeless people, offered a few bucks to them when they asked. (One said he wanted a grilled cheese sandwich from five guys. It’s hard to beat anything from five guys) And I found myself wondering what would Sean of the South see in these people. What’s the story he could tell. Seeing them in a different light made me wish I had more to give. Thanks for bringing a light to the things that we often overlook.

    Reply
  23. Linda Mann - October 11, 2017 7:54 pm

    Another one of many of your writings that has brought tears to my heart❤️ Thank you!

    Reply
  24. Pat Byers - October 11, 2017 8:25 pm

    and again, the last sentence. you got me again.

    Reply
  25. Linda Chipman - October 11, 2017 9:00 pm

    You made me cry…and remember my Mama. Thank you.

    Reply
  26. Sue Cronkite - October 12, 2017 12:23 am

    Great column you did there, Sam. Don’t forget to pick ’em taters.

    Reply
  27. freefromthecoccoon - October 12, 2017 12:31 am

    The end of this was amazing.

    Reply
  28. Amy - October 12, 2017 2:17 am

    You keep doing this on purpose. 🙂

    Reply
  29. Michael Hawke - October 12, 2017 2:39 am

    That was quite a closing. Didn’t see it coming.

    Reply
  30. Lynn A. - October 12, 2017 1:44 pm

    Leaky eyes. You made her evening! Thanks for reminding us to let them remember…

    Reply
  31. Mary Anne - October 12, 2017 7:39 pm

    Oh my. This one got to me. Great story, Sean. God Bless, Irene. Happy birthday, Old Girl. Sean, you were kind to just say “yes ma’am” and leave it at that. Irene will get to see HER Sam again before too many more years.

    Reply
  32. Melodie - October 16, 2017 2:14 am

    AWwww….how touching. ♥ Thank you for sharing this lovely story.

    Reply
  33. Anne Trawick - October 20, 2017 12:36 am

    Nice. Very nice.

    Reply
  34. Katy - November 9, 2017 7:22 pm

    You always make me smile, Sean.
    Thank you –

    Reply
  35. Sue Baldridge - November 15, 2017 11:26 am

    Oh, Sam!

    Reply
  36. robin. - November 15, 2017 5:39 pm

    I do Occupational therapy in a nursing home, I love this geriatric setting. I love their stories, their toughness. I am blessed every. Single. Day. 💜

    Reply
  37. Denise Dandis Miller - November 15, 2017 6:39 pm

    So very beautiful, a 3 tissue story…

    Reply
  38. Diane - November 15, 2017 11:07 pm

    Ok, I’m bouncy bawling that was so beautiful! 💜

    Reply

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