All That Shines

For a woman who has spent her life working her fingers into nubs, Miss Liza has the disposition of a ten-dollar Hallmark card.

Not far from the water tower in Grove Hill, Alabama, sits Bertile’s. It’s an old burger joint with hand-patted burgers and homemade biscuits.

Miss Liza stands behind the counter. She looks much younger than she is. There is gray in her hair.

She’s worked at this fast-food hole-in-the-wall for thirty years.

Thirty.

“She needs a day off,” one young employee tells me. “Miss Liza, she works EVERY day.”

Even Sundays.

“But I only work AFTER church,” Miss Liza says. “My husband is a preacher, we can’t skip church.”

Miss Liza and her husband have managed to muscle through thirty-five years of marriage, raising two boys—working overtime. He’s an electrician and preacher. She manages this burger joint.

She is a faceless working-class woman you’ll probably never hear about—there’s no reason you would, unless some fool were to write about her.

She’s having a rough time. Her mother is dying. She has dementia. Liza makes the long drive to Meridian as often as she can to visit, but there’s not much time left.

“Visited last week,” she says. “When Mama saw me, she throwed her arms out and say, ‘Come here, Liza.’ My mama don’t always remember me, so that was a blessing.”

Liza wipes her eye.

So do I.

“But, I ain’t complaining,” she says. “We poor, but my children turned out to be good adults, God blessed me.”

Blessed. For a woman who has spent her life working her fingers into nubs, Miss Liza has the disposition of a ten-dollar Hallmark card.

I ask when she took her last vacation.

She laughs. “My last WHAT? No sir. Ain’t got time. My husband, he got the asthma, and health problems. I don’t do vacations.”

There is not a trace of self-pity in her magnificent black eyes. In the short time we talk, she waits on three customers and refills two sweet teas.

I ask what kinds of things a woman like Miss Liza might do if she ever had extra money laying around.

She doesn’t even pause.

“Myrtle Beach,” she answers. “Always wanna go me to Myrtle Beach with my family. Probably never get to, but I love them pictures I seen.”

Before I leave, she refills my tea to the brim and says, “God bless you, baby.”

And I can tell she is the sort who means it.

The truth is, I don’t believe women like Miss Liza are as common as they once were. They are workhorses.

They raise kids, feed husbands, pay bills, and sing their guts out on Sundays. They bake casseroles, scrub toilets, rub tummies, kiss foreheads, and cover lunch-shifts for teenage girls with the flu.

They are fearless. And you won’t hear them complain—not even when their mama is dying.

They are genuine miracles. They represent all that shines in this world. And today I was lucky enough to meet one.

I’ll likely never see Miss Liza again. But I’d like to say something to her, if I may—just in case she reads this:

You make me want to be a better man.

And I hope you get to Myrtle Beach.

22 comments

  1. Kathryn Wood - May 20, 2017 12:43 pm

    Amen!!! My Mamma worked in the fields beside by Daddy my whole life. They are now 88 and 89. Talk about blessed and the defibrillator that keeps Daddy alive. Would be honored to have you wonder up into Bullock County sometime. The Red Door Theatre in Union Springs is a labor of love run by a handful of hard working women for the past 15 years. AND we have a real honest to goodness French Bakery opened by a lady from California who couldn’t afford to live out there any longer. Not to mention the statue of a Bird Dog in the center of town.

    Reply
  2. Gloria - May 20, 2017 1:34 pm

    ❤️

    Reply
  3. Nedra Tucker - May 20, 2017 2:11 pm

    Miss Liza is an unsung hero. Thank you for singing her song. There are many heroes like this out there living day to day quietly going about their business.

    Reply
  4. Diane Enloe - May 20, 2017 2:12 pm

    Would love to meet Miss Liza! ❤ Thank you for sharing this story! ☺️

    Reply
  5. Rebecca Smith - May 20, 2017 2:51 pm

    You made me cry! God bless Miss Liza and God bless you!

    Reply
  6. Elizabeth May - May 20, 2017 2:57 pm

    Love your writings. My mother grew up in Clarke county (actually Suggsville which is no more) close to Grove Hill. Thanks for southern memories and culture!

    Reply
  7. Arlene - May 20, 2017 3:06 pm

    I don’t know if you read our comments, but I write them anyway….I become a better person every day because you inspire me to stretch my heart a little wider…you always take me home to my Alabama roots. Thank you. Again and again.

    Reply
  8. Jeff - May 20, 2017 4:14 pm

    Nice Story. If you contact me, I’ll finance that trip to the beach if she’ll take it.

    Reply
    • Leigh - May 20, 2017 7:49 pm

      I would love to help, either financially, or to go wait tables and cook in her. I would hope that her customers would be willing to suffer through my cooking and service for a few days.

      Reply
      • Jeff - May 20, 2017 11:20 pm

        I’ll keep you posted. Sean gave me details for contacting them. Thank you!

        Reply
    • Robin - May 21, 2017 5:59 pm

      ?

      Reply
  9. Janet Mary Lee - May 20, 2017 6:38 pm

    Bless Miz Liza and her family, and bless you too. We have people at church like her; I can’t keep up though I am ten years younger. I know you are right, people like that don’t seem as numerous. Maybe because they went through such tough times and we have it a little easier because of them. God Bless them, one and all!

    Reply
  10. Billy Joe Nunn - May 20, 2017 6:42 pm

    This is the type of thing I want to read each morning to start my day out right. Measure blood pressure. Measure blood sugars. Take pills . Read this. Get on facebook to see what my friends are posting. And then, all kinds of musical instrument. I love this positive beginning to the day.

    Reply
  11. Pat Borland - May 20, 2017 6:50 pm

    Sure wish there were a fund established so I could contribute toward Miss Liza’s Myrtle Beach trip!!

    Reply
    • Catherine - May 21, 2017 7:22 pm

      Would love to contribute toward a trip to Myrtle Beach for this beautiful lady.

      Reply
  12. Sandi - May 20, 2017 6:58 pm

    Miss Liza, I hope you read Sean’s kind words about you, as well as these added comments. You sound like someone we would all be blessed to know.

    Reply
  13. Michael Hawke - May 21, 2017 3:11 am

    You asked me what was in Leary, GA. It’s called Red’s. Great food, run by Miss Ilene. Buy you dinner there any time.

    Reply
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  15. Kimberlee - May 21, 2017 3:36 pm

    Thank you for taking the time to remind us of the small towns that are such a part of our histories. My in-laws, Perry and Golda Harrison (nee Wilson) were born and raised in Grove Hill, AL. It is lovely to come across that place and its people here. Cheers!

    Reply
  16. Tunishia - May 22, 2017 2:16 pm

    These are such touching words you’ve crafted about my dear cousin, who is so sweet, that last year, she baked me my very own sweet potato pie, to eat all by myself! 🙂 These words about her disposition & work ethic are so true! When I visit from Atlanta, I always go there, & as soon as I start to order in the drive-thru, I can hear her smile, as she says she knows that it’s me, & that I’m here for my favorite! Thanks for taking the time to pen this piece, & sadly, Liza’s mom actually passed away last night. 🙁

    Reply
    • Sandi - May 25, 2017 9:14 pm

      Hi Tunishia, please extend my sincere condolences to Miss Liza in the death of her mother. It hurts deeply to lose a loved one. I pray that God gives her an abundance of peace, strength and hope to face the upcoming days.

      Reply
  17. joan loral - May 31, 2017 4:52 pm

    Tell Ms. Liza to come down to Walton County Florida (south of Florala, AL) and our beaches. We will treat her best.
    Loral

    Reply

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