Her husband died of a heart attack when he was thirty-six. She was only twenty-nine. She raised her child, living on minimum wage, long hours, and too many cigarettes.

It’s late. She’s standing on a curb at the gas station, waiting. She’s wiry. Her neck is gaunt. She’s having a smoke.

When she finishes her cigarette, she touches the ember to a fresh one.

I’m filling my truck. It’s cold outside. She’s bundled. Whenever a gust blows, she pulls her jacket tight.

The weatherman is calling for snow.

I break the ice. “Cold, isn’t it?” I say.

She makes a familiar remark about a witch wearing a brass bra, and I love her.

She looks old, but is younger than she looks. She clocked off work an hour ago. Her daughter was supposed pick her up, but there’s a problem.

“Our car don’t work so good,” she says. “My girl’s gotta call her boyfriend and borrow his car.”

So she waits.

I wait with her for a few minutes. She’s cold and alone; I need something to write about.

So meet Karen. She raised her daughter on her own. It’s always been just the two of them. They’re best friends.

Her daughter is an honor student. A senior. The girl has been looking for colleges all over the U.S. She has scholarship opportunities.

There is sadness in Karen’s voice.

“All them colleges she’s looking at,” she goes on, “they’re outta state. That kid’s been my whole life for eighteen years. I can’t bear the thought.”

I offer her a ride. She refuses. I insist. She only laughs. Laughing leads to coughing. Coughing leads to hacking. Smoking hasn’t been kind.

Her daughter has taken a few road trips with her boyfriend to visit universities. One trip took them to Philadelphia.

“Fifteen hours away,” she says. “Might as well be Mars. Every time she leaves to visit a college, I see what it’s like without her. God, it’s so quiet. Don’t know if I’m strong enough.”

Strength. This woman has plenty.

Her husband died of a heart attack when he was thirty-six. She was only twenty-nine. She raised her child, living on minimum wage, long hours, and too many cigarettes.

Her whole life has been for that honor student. That’s what makes women like her tick. Family.

Women like her would give it all for those they love, and do.

They make fried eggs at midnight because that’s your favorite. They’ll exhaust their own coin purse to buy the three-hundred-dollar guitar you always wanted. They’ll pray for you until their knees are skinned. They’re mothers.

“I pray she picks a college that’s close,” she says. “Don’t think I’ll make it if she leaves.”

More laughing. More coughing. The laugh isn’t real. The cough is.

“Ah, but I’m proud of her,” she goes on. “She’s so smart it ain’t even funny. Not at all like her mama. I’m just so proud.”

Laugh. Cough.

A vehicle rolls up while we’re talking. A Dodge Durango with dents. A girl jumps out. They hug.

“I’m sorry, mom,” the girl says.

Mama steps on her cigarette. She pets the girl’s blonde hair. She kisses her forehead. She says, “It wasn’t so bad, sweetie. Besides, I made a friend while I waited.”

Friend. I’m honored.

She crawls into the passenger seat. They drive away. She waves at me through the window. There goes one incredible woman. I’m lucky to have met her.

The weatherman is predicting snow tonight. And I’ve got four hours of driving ahead of me.

Dear Lord, I know you’re busy. But if you’re listening to me…

Let that child pick a college close to home.

18 comments

  1. Susan Patterson - February 3, 2018 7:44 am

    Every morning I wake up to your writing and get goosebumps and misty eyes. Thank you for reminding my heart that it still feels. Love. Susan from Pensacola, living in Panama City

    Reply
  2. Kathy Grey - February 3, 2018 10:54 am

    Sean, I have never known anyone like you, who can say so much with so few words. You have a gift, my friend.

    Reply
    • Dianne Correll - February 3, 2018 4:11 pm

      I totally agree with you!!

      Reply
  3. Howard Humphreys - February 3, 2018 11:13 am

    I keep saying wonderful story but it’s true. I just finished this one…

    Reply
  4. debhumphreys - February 3, 2018 12:40 pm

    You made me feel like I made a new friend too!

    Reply
  5. Mary - February 3, 2018 1:32 pm

    I begin my morning with my coffee and your post. Wonderful start to the day.

    Reply
  6. Connie - February 3, 2018 1:39 pm

    Lord, that touched home. I raised a beautiful, smart, sweet child too, with the world as her future. She has been my whole life. It makes me happier than it should that she picked a college close enough that she can stay at home and drive every day to school. I know that probably sounds selfish, but it really was the best college for her chosen field. So it was a win for us both. Thank you for sharing another mom’s story of love.

    Reply
  7. Judy O'Bar - February 3, 2018 1:56 pm

    I love the way you take everyday life and make it meaningful just because you really listen to people and have the talent to put these encounters into stories that touch the hearts of so many.

    Reply
  8. Jackye Thompson - February 3, 2018 2:32 pm

    Every Mother knows how Karen felt.I pray for the best for them.
    Jackye

    Reply
  9. Nix LaVerdi - February 3, 2018 2:42 pm

    Before I go to bed at night, I think to myself, “I hope Sean has another story for my inbox by the morning.” I drink my tea and check my mail. When I see, “Sean of the South”, I become happy, hopeful, peaceful and grateful. What a story teller you are. I am a single mama, too, and everything I do is for that kid. He motivates me to be the best version of myself. Your respect and gratitude for this single mama is beautiful, endearing, and just plain awesome. Your writing is plain awesome. Your stories are plain awesome. Thank you for living in this world. Peace, Nix

    Reply
  10. Sue Cronkite - February 3, 2018 2:55 pm

    I add my prayer to yours. Oh Lord, let that daughter pick a college close to home.

    Reply
  11. Mari Lou Jones - February 3, 2018 3:12 pm

    What a pleasure to hear you speak last night in Decatur, Alabama and a blessing to enjoy it along with my daughter. You speak straight to my heart. I l check my emails each morning to make sure a new one is there. Most days I read it right then; but some days I save it for later in the day when I need that little shot of encouragement. You never fail to lift my spirits. Thank you for telling it just like it is here in our beloved Sourh!

    Reply
  12. Jack Darnell - February 3, 2018 3:30 pm

    I like it when you write about someone I know!

    Reply
  13. Dickie Anderson - February 3, 2018 3:42 pm

    Just found you through a friend who thought our writing had similar themes…if you want to be on my list let me know. From The Porch….
    dickie.anderson@gmail.com

    Reply
  14. Jack Quanstrum - February 3, 2018 4:50 pm

    Smiling in response to your heart warming story!

    Reply
  15. Judith - February 3, 2018 6:17 pm

    Having just had my only child and her family transfer all the way to California and feeling that empty feeling, I so relate to this story. The tears flow. But as long as they are happy…..

    Reply
  16. Dottie Moore - February 3, 2018 6:29 pm

    Praying for a college close to home too.

    Reply
  17. Debra - February 3, 2018 8:14 pm

    I can so relate. When my son went to college the whole dynamic of our family changed. I couldn’t even go into his room for months. At that time it was the hardest thing I had ever faced… Still brings tears.

    Reply

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