Pensacola, Florida—Hurricane Irma made landfall. Most people are watching raw footage on the corner TV in this breakfast joint.
But not her. She sits at the counter alone. She has sugar-white hair, sharp blue eyes. She’s holding her coffee mug, people-watching.
“Can I sit here?” I ask.
“It’s a free country,” she says.
I shake her hand. Her name is Martha, she’s almost ninety. Her face is angelic. Her laugh is sweet enough to initiate world peace.
“Hope this Hurricane ain’t as bad as they say,” she says. “My grandson’s in Tampa.”
We are instant friends. This is a strong woman, I’m thinking, who knows how to fry chicken using nothing but peanut oil and the King James Bible.
On her breakfast plate: bacon, sausage, eggs, hashbrowns, and enough grease to lubricate the axle of a ‘69 Buick Roadster.
“Bacon’s what keeps me young,” she explains. “Doctors been telling me to quit eating it. What do they know?”
Miss Martha been single for a long time. She lost her husband forty years ago. After he died, she raised three children on her own.
“When he died, all I knew was being a housewife. Had to get me a job’s what I done.” she said. “It was a hard time.”
She says her life began a second time. She found a job, and paid her own way. Hers is a story you’ve heard a thousand times:
Hardworking woman faces adversity, muscles her family through life without getting slaughtered.
Woman ages. She slows down. Her kids talk about her like she’s a saint.
She is a saint, of course. She’s the closest thing to holy you’ll ever see—just like anyone who taught children to fly.
Miss Martha is every woman who’s ever punched a clock. She is every woman who lived on coffee and bad habits, who still found time to make Deviled eggs for the grieving.
She is sacred. And she is among the last of her breed.
“Got me six grandkids,” Miss Martha says. “Seven great grandkids. You know it’s funny. Thought my life was OVER when my husband died. I was wrong. Our family kept getting bigger.”
Miss Martha lives alone, but she’s busy. She visits friends, goes shopping, and she occasionally cooks four-course suppers for her son.
Once per week, she delivers meals to shut-ins with a church group. She sits with the lonely, talks to them, encourages them. A saint.
When we’re finished, I tell my waitress to put Miss Martha’s breakfast on my ticket. I try to keep this a secret, but you can’t slip anything past Miss Martha.
“No way,” Miss Martha says. “I don’t want you paying for my meal. I know how to take care of myself.”
There’s no doubt. So, I give her a hug, and tell her if she doesn’t let me pay, I’m going to kidnap her and make her my grandmother.
Before I leave, she tells me to look her up sometime. Stop for a visit, maybe.
“My name’s Martha Brockington,” she says. “I’m easy to find. There’s only one of me in the phonebook.”
Only one Martha.
And I’ll be damned if I wasn’t lucky enough to hug her neck.