Three Words

The night-shift cashier gave him hotdogs and egg rolls—lukewarm from the warming rack. She did this instead of throwing them away. She did it because she liked Tony.

A gas station. The middle of the night. Tony stopped by this store every evening. He came for the food, and the company.

The night-shift cashier gave him hotdogs and egg rolls—lukewarm from the warming rack.

She did this instead of throwing them away. She did this because she liked Tony.

Tony. A nice homeless man with yellowed beard, gentle spirit, and dusty skin. A man who occasionally smelled like whiskey.

The two would sit on the sidewalk during the wee hours. They’d swap cigarettes, stories, laughter.

He was a spiritual man.

He told her about himself. In another life, he’d been a fella who was working his way through seminary. A thirty-something man, trying to do something worthwhile.

Then, his pregnant wife died in an interstate accident. He lost two people in one day. And he lost himself.

Anyway, Tony listened to her, too. She told him about boyfriend problems, her runaway father, and her unstable mother. She looked forward to his visits, they helped each other with late-night boredom. They helped each other period.

He gave her advice. She brought him clothes. He gave her presents on her birthday.

One particular week, Tony never showed. She sat on the sidewalk, waiting. No signs. She felt like something wasn’t right.

She called the hospital. The voice on the phone said, “Yeah, we got a homeless guy here… Been here a few days. He belong to you?”

Tony had checked himself in. He’d told doctors he couldn’t breathe. His chest infection had become pneumonia. He was dehydrated.

She visited when she got off work. She lied to the nurses and said she was family. They knew better, but looked the other way.

She found him in a bed with tubes connected to him. She sat in the chair beside him. When his eyes opened, she handed him a greasy paper bag.

“I made these fresh,” she said.

Hotdogs and egg rolls, straight from the gas-station warming rack. He grinned at her and coughed. It was his way of saying, “thank you.”

He ate, but he was too sick to do much more.

He tapped two fingers against his mouth every few minutes. He wanted a smoke. So, she placed an unlit cigarette between his lips to pacify him.

Before she left, he asked her to pray for him.

“Me?” she said.

He folded his hands. She did the best she could, but she was rusty. When she finished, he touched her hand and said, “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” she said.

Tony didn’t make it.

But there’s a picture on her refrigerator. It’s an old photo. She’s got her arm around a bearded man. She’s wearing a cashier uniform, cigarette between her fingers. He’s eating an egg roll.

The photo is ancient history now. She’s not a young girl anymore. Today, she works for a local hardware store. It’s a good job, but she’s only doing it to help raise her kids and pay for her own schooling.

She takes weekend classes, some online courses. I ask what she’s studying. She tells me she’s in seminary.

“It’s weird,” she says. “Three little words from someone is all it took to change the direction of my life.”

I’ve spent the past fifteen minutes trying to come up with a better line than hers.

I can’t.

25 comments

  1. Angie Long - January 16, 2018 7:30 am

    Sometimes that’s all it takes. Sometimes not even words; a gesture, a hand on a shoulder, an embrace. Something to remind us to hope and believe again. Thanks for reminding us all, Sean.

    Reply
  2. janiesjottings - January 16, 2018 11:21 am

    There’s a lot of power in those three little words!

    Reply
  3. Judy Holdren Beaver - January 16, 2018 12:12 pm

    Three little words are all it took to change the direction of my life as well. This coming Saturday I will become the wife of the dearest man I know. At this stage of our lives we are surely blessed

    Reply
  4. Cathi - January 16, 2018 1:01 pm

    Neither can I, Sean, neither can I. I hope you, Jamie & Ellie Mae stay warm and happy the next few days. Canada is reportedly moving in to Alabama later today, staying overnight and through Wednesday. Promises to be an eye-opening time!

    Reply
  5. Sandra Marrar - January 16, 2018 1:35 pm

    Wow! Another beautiful story.

    Reply
  6. Penn Wells - January 16, 2018 1:49 pm

    These stories are everywhere, if we would just be “awake” and pay attention. Thanks for being our eyes & ears, Sean. 👍

    Reply
  7. Steven P Bailey - January 16, 2018 2:04 pm

    Wonderful story.

    Reply
  8. John Lewis - January 16, 2018 2:45 pm

    “I Love You.”

    Eight letters. Three words.

    Those three words may be the second most important three words in the universe, second only to “God loves you.”

    Saying either of those three words to someone may be all they need to turn their life around, or in some cases, to continue living their life. They really are that powerful.

    Reply
  9. Sue Cronkite - January 16, 2018 2:52 pm

    I can’t either. The three little words are perfect.

    Reply
  10. Jack Darnell - January 16, 2018 3:47 pm

    I like the way you start my day. I am about thru the first book, I never enjoyed ‘short stories’, not even Reader’s digest versions, until I came here. you say a lot in a few words…
    THANKS dude!

    Reply
  11. Jack Quanstrum - January 16, 2018 4:26 pm

    I hear you Sean! Great tribute! Guidance for us readers to reach out! Endless possibilities.

    Reply
  12. theholtgirls - January 16, 2018 4:28 pm

    Sean, I love you!

    Reply
  13. lovemykatie - January 16, 2018 5:13 pm

    Wonderful story. Certainly makes me try harder to be a better person.

    Reply
  14. Pamela McEachern - January 16, 2018 5:35 pm

    Myself, I believe the Beatles helped a whole generation understand “LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED.” You help us all know that it still matters today. I love you all.
    Peace and Love from Birmingham

    Reply
  15. Cindy - January 16, 2018 5:46 pm

    ❤️

    Reply
  16. Joan Workman - January 16, 2018 7:18 pm

    Beautiful story, hope some day I can be as compassionate and humble and as good a person as the lady in this story.

    Reply
  17. Lois M Cockerill - January 16, 2018 7:52 pm

    Gods great command is to Love others and with the doing comes the showing and telling. Sean, I love you and your words. Stay with us a long time.

    Reply
  18. Diana Williams - January 16, 2018 8:03 pm

    Incredible story. Thank you for your wonderful stories.. Being a friend to someone is priceless.

    Reply
  19. Carolyn Kent - January 16, 2018 9:01 pm

    FAITH, HOPE & LOVE are the good things He gave us! And the greatest is LOVE!

    Reply
  20. Stefanni - January 16, 2018 9:18 pm

    Your fine words in my inbox make my day. Thank you for helping me look more closely and see more clearly.

    Reply
  21. Connie Pritchett - January 17, 2018 3:23 am

    Thank you.

    Reply
  22. Donna Johns - January 30, 2018 12:44 pm

    What a beautiful story!! God puts just the right person in our lives to help us on this journey we call life!!

    Reply
  23. Marty from Alabama - February 26, 2018 3:04 am

    I CANNOT BELIEVE IT!! I was checking things on the computer and I suddenly saw in my Sean of the South folder there was an unread post. No Way. I never miss them. Never is a long time and by golly, I had, indeed, missed one. So, immediately it got read, and I’m so glad I found it. It is so true. You never know what a small deed or a few words can do for another person. I just hope before I leave this big ball of dirt that I have had some kind of positive influence on at least one person. I have tried, but maybe not enough. Anyway, thank you for providing us with these little bits of wit and wisdom. We all need it.
    God bless you in your day to day travels and wanderings. You sure do make a bright light along a lot of paths.

    Reply
  24. Susan - April 9, 2018 4:27 pm

    Thanking God for you today ❤

    Reply
  25. Susan Boughton - April 9, 2018 7:01 pm

    “Pray for me” are 3 little words that can open up a dialogue with God for anyone! What HE says back, “I love you”, can come back in many unexpected ways. Thank you for sharing this story that speaks to how wonderful our loving Father is! I don’t know what she prayed, but I’m sure HE answered! ❤

    Reply

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