At First Sight

I walked into the house unannounced. The door was unlocked. Nobody answered the doorbell so I let myself in.

I was young, six-two, awkward, freckles, shaggy hair, telephone-pole legs, and size-13 clown shoes. In a word, I was “gawky.”

In this world you had your handsome guys who were going places; guys who came from generations of good breeding, with investment portfolios. And then you had guys like me. Our family heirloom salad bowls all said “Cool Whip” on the sides.

I announced myself to the empty house. “Hello? Anybody home?”

I was here to Meet the Parents, and I was nervous. I had been dating this girl for a little while. We were at the phase where family introductions were a necessity. I felt like I was going to puke.

An older woman came from around the corner to greet me. Dark brown hair. Chocolate eyes. Early 60s.

“Are you Sean?” she said.

I swallowed. “Yes, ma’am.”

“I’m Mary. Jamie’s mother.”

“Pleased to meet you, Miss Mary.”

I could tell by the look on the woman’s face that I was under inspection. Which is a brutalizing process for a young man. I stood naked before these two exacting eyes.

I shoved my hands into my pockets while she evaluated the boy who was dating her daughter. I half expected her to inspect my teeth.

“Sean,” she said, tapping her chin. “Such an interesting name.”

“Yes, ma’am.”


“No, ma’am. Baptist. But I drink a little.”

“Well, we’ve heard a lot about you.”

Uh-oh. God knows what they had heard. Because I had nothing going for me. A high-school dropout. A string of failed jobs. I’d done everything from construction to scooping ice cream. What pittance I had in savings was wadded in an Altoid tin beneath my mattress. I would later spend it all on an engagement ring. I was—I hate to keep pointing this out—not a prize catch.

A mutual smile passed between us.

“Sean,” she muttered, trying the word on for size.

The hallway clock ticked.

The woman flashed another grin and said, “Would you like something to eat, Sean? Jamie will be downstairs in a few minutes.”

“No, thanks.” I wasn’t hungry. I’d already eaten breakfast.

“Of course he wants something to eat!” came the booming voice of her father from the kitchen.

Case closed. No more discussion.

I was manhandled into an open galley that was filled with steaming stockpots, sizzling skillets, and rising biscuits. It wasn’t even noon yet.

“Sit,” said the woman. “Eat.”

This was not a suggestion.

I was the only person in the dining room, and yet I was fed within an inch of my life. They gave me a plate heaped with butter beans, squash casserole, pot roast, tomato chutney, creamed corn, rice and gravy, cheese grits, sliced raw tomatoes, cucumbers doused in vinegar, and sweet potatoes.

The chocolate-eyed woman sat across from me, not eating, but urging me to keep shoveling spoonfuls into my mouth.

“So you met Jamie at church?” she asked.

My mouth was full. “Yes’m.”

“She tells me you’re a musician?”

Another nod. I was on thin ice here. It is a well known fact that a musician without a girlfriend or a van is homeless. Not exactly bring-home-boyfriend material.


“Where do you work?”

“I’m currently between careers, ma’am.” This sounded a lot better than saying “I live with my mom.”

“Who do you root for in college football?”

“I roll with the Tide, ma’am.”

“Have you been baptized by immersion?”

“Four times.”

“Convicted of any crimes?”


“Full-coverage or liability?”


And that’s how it happened. We laughed a lot. We talked. We told stories. We ate dessert together. We must have reclined at that table for an hour before her daughter came downstairs.

And I fell in love with this family. It was one of my brightest days. Because, you see, I didn’t have much family.

I was the son of a man who committed suicide. Suicide tends to rip a family asunder. I spent my youth eating suppers before a television set watching “Family Feud” reruns and envying the happy contestants.

My three-person family didn’t have big meals. Our Christmases were ten-minute affairs. Our Thanksgivings were spent at Cracker Barrel. No relatives called to wish me a happy birthday. No man called me son. Sometimes I wondered if anyone cared whether I was alive.

But here. At this table. All of a sudden I had an instant family. Just add water. This woman with the chocolate eyes, sitting across from me. To her I was somebody. To her I mattered.

When I finished eating, I asked, “So what should I call you, ma’am?”

She shrugged. “Whatever you want.”

It was a spur-of-the moment remark. It’s funny how things said in passing can sometimes stick with you. “How about Mother Mary?” I said.

She liked this very much.

Over the decades, I would never call her anything else. And as she lies on her sickbed today, it touches me to hear hospice nurses and caregivers refer to her by the same title.


  1. Christina - August 11, 2021 6:56 am

    I could picture Mother Mary examining you at first sight but loving you already. What a beautiful memory of love!

  2. Debbie g - August 11, 2021 7:21 am

    Christina is right. What a beautiful memory
    Of love. You and mother Mary and you married the daughter of love Life doesn’t get any better. And I send love and prayers for all

  3. S.W. - August 11, 2021 7:24 am

    I can just see those eyes… she smiled with them..
    and I can hear her southern drawl. Jamie has her eyes and smile. ❤️ & 🙏🙏🙏 to all of you.

  4. Joan Moore - August 11, 2021 8:15 am

    Y’all have a blessed relationship. It will be eternal. Love and prayers to ease the pain. You will write your best work about her and the daughter who has her eyes.

  5. Steve Winfield (Lifer) - August 11, 2021 8:17 am

    To say you lucked out is the gargantuan understatement of world history. They were supposed to hate you. Hope you died in a car crash after you dropped her off that night. But no. They liked you. A lot. You won Wheel of Fortune, $10,000 Pyramid & Who Wants to be a Millionaire all in the same night. You lucky dog you.
    I’ve met her. She’s a prize. The biggest teddy bear on the midway kind of prize.
    IMHO, you deserve her. And she you. And Mother Mary loved her son-in-law to the end.
    I am so sorry she has to go but I’m so glad you & Jamie have each other to lean on.
    God bless & comfort you both.
    Love & prayers from Lifer Steve.

  6. Amy Wells - August 11, 2021 9:50 am

    Like everyone who has commented before me, I can just see Mother Mary giving you the once. . .no, twice over. And coming up with the same impression your precious Jamie came up with— there is something special about you. And Jamie. And MM. And everyone who reads your column. Because you make us that way. It’s a gift. Real talent. Thank you, and God’s blessings of comfort on you all in these final days on earth for Mother Mary.

  7. Suzi - August 11, 2021 10:21 am

    Mother Mary was a smart cookie, she saw the good in you that you did not see in yourself.
    And….I think she brought out the best in everyone.

  8. flacbe - August 11, 2021 10:26 am

    Praying for Mother Mary, Jamie and you. Please, Please never stop telling Mother Mary stories.

  9. JB - August 11, 2021 10:47 am

    I hold my breath each night thinking this will be the night you break the bad news. Instead you continue to find lovely, warm stories about Mother Mary. Our prayers are with you.

  10. Janie Gentry - August 11, 2021 10:48 am

    Oh, how beautiful!

  11. Jennifer Campbell - August 11, 2021 11:11 am

    How blessed you were to be given a chance, taken in and loved unconditionally by Jamie’s family, your in-laws. How I wish that when my husband and I had just started dating, 18 year olds in college, he had been given that chance instead of receiving a wall of hatred for no reason at all, other than that I lived in the most dysfunctional family ever. Hurt still to this day, 36 years later. You received such a gift and have been a gift in return to Mother Mary. What a beautiful thing!

  12. Dean - August 11, 2021 11:16 am

    Great as always. 🙏🙏🙏 for you’ll during this time

  13. Karen Snyder - August 11, 2021 11:34 am

    ❤️🙏🏻 Isn’t it beautiful how God puts us where we belong when the time is right?

  14. chris - August 11, 2021 11:42 am

    wonderful…you are very loved

  15. RhondaP - August 11, 2021 11:42 am

    It’s so hard to let them go. But, oh, the precious gift of memories! It appears that you’re counting your blessings and high on your list is being loved by Mother Mary and her daughter. Prayers and thanks for sharing your gift of thoughts in words.

  16. Toni Adcock - August 11, 2021 11:43 am

    Mother Mary would love to hear you tell that story.

  17. Jan - August 11, 2021 12:08 pm

    Special story … special family!

  18. Denise - August 11, 2021 12:20 pm

    We’re the same- my mother-in-love is Josephine, and she’s lived with us for 25 years or so. I call her Mom, but to my siblings, she’s Jo-mama. And now her caregivers here at the house all call her Momma or Jo-Momma. She’s been in hospice quite some time/a couple years. That was one TOUGH generation-Great Depression, WWII, so she’s still with us. She’ll be 103 in a month…Lord willing.

  19. Lisa - August 11, 2021 12:22 pm

    Sean, I’ve been a daily reader for quite some time, but now following Mary’s final journey I just want you to know that I’m praying for you and your family. What a glorious gift you have of family. Peace and blessings to you and yours. May Mary pass peacefully into her Savior’s arms.

  20. Amanda - August 11, 2021 12:25 pm

    This was such a treasure that I reread it almost immediately to let the humor, sweetness, and poignant touches sink in a little more. Your recall and the ability to take us back there with you is amazing.

  21. Hope Ewans - August 11, 2021 12:31 pm

    She is Mother Mary to all who read your writings too. Still praying for your entire family as you walk through the end of Mother Mary’s days with her. Take a moment to just breathe and feel the love you have sent out to this world so many times come back to you and yours.

  22. Pamela Williams - August 11, 2021 12:35 pm


  23. Linda Vaughan - August 11, 2021 12:42 pm

    Another homerun!

  24. Lucinda - August 11, 2021 12:44 pm

    Oh how these vividly written words must be such a cathartic release for you. Thank you for sharing them with us. Blessings for you, Jamie and of course Mother Mary.

    • Sarah - August 11, 2021 1:07 pm

      What a family! ♥️ I’m so thankful for the love you felt from them when you met and the years following. What a blessing. I continue to keep you all in my prayers. Prayers for peaceful hearts and minds. (And thank you for sharing this story with us.)

  25. DEBRA CHAMBERS - August 11, 2021 12:58 pm

    Praying for your family, Sean!

  26. Paul McCutchen - August 11, 2021 1:05 pm

    Everyone calls my mother Neanie…everyone. At 92 she gets whats she wants and is in better shape than most of us.

  27. Heidi - August 11, 2021 1:17 pm

    If my mom had lived to her “elder years” I think she would have been similar to Mother Mary. The memories that MM has given you & Jamie and us as well have been a blessing. Thank you for sharing her with us.

  28. Mary Anne Weisiger - August 11, 2021 1:19 pm

    This is one of the best stories you have written, that I have read. Love and joy ozze out of it. As you can tell, I am not the best speller. Bless you, Mary Anne Weisiger

  29. vjwinton - August 11, 2021 1:54 pm


  30. Jami Allison Jenkins - August 11, 2021 1:54 pm

    Love this. My mother-in-law (who was also Mary) outlived my first husband — he died tragically at age 46 — and afterward, I did my best to take care of her like he would have. She was sick with lung cancer at the time and made it for about six more months. She raised three ornery boys and always treated me like the daughter she never had. My 4-year-old daughter and I spent Mary’s last two days on this earth by her hospital bedside, telling stories and laughing and reminiscing. I had the chance to tell her how much I always appreciated the way she treated me — that she was a good mother and mother-in-law. So many people don’t get that chance. I’m glad you will also get that chance with your Mother Mary.

  31. KARLA G MEIER - August 11, 2021 1:59 pm

    Isn’t it amazing how God puts people into our lives when we need it?! Mother Mary is very lucky to have you in her family – which I think she knew all along!!

  32. Susan - August 11, 2021 2:00 pm

    And Mother Mary is what I call her in my prayers. Continued prayers for her, Jamie, and you.

  33. leslie4jc - August 11, 2021 2:02 pm

    I love this. You do know though, that we love you and want to embrace as many moments we can as a family with you:)

  34. Cynthia Russell - August 11, 2021 2:07 pm

    Bless You .. & all the little, middle, & adult boys within you!!

  35. Stacey Wallace - August 11, 2021 2:10 pm

    Sean, I just love you. I wish y’all could come to our house in Auburn, Alabama, for meatloaf. But I warn you, we roar with the Tigers. War Eagle!

  36. Bill Harris - August 11, 2021 2:12 pm

    Thank you Sean. Once again you have brought me to tears.

  37. Cathy - August 11, 2021 2:21 pm

    What a gift to Jamie that you love her mom as deeply as she. I am blessed with a good son in law and I treat him like he is one of mine. I am praying for comfort and peace as MM crosses over into paradise. The journey has been a wonderful story. I hope you are as close to your own Mom. It may have been hard but she raised you and in my eyes, she hit a home run. You are loved by so many people from all walks of life❤️🙏🏻😇

  38. Helen De Prima - August 11, 2021 2:42 pm

    I came to love my in-laws, especially my mother-in-law, but it wasn’t love at first sight. My family background was reticent-German; my husband’s was kiss-everyone-on-first-meeting Italian. Mealtime conversations frequently left me fearing that blood would flow as readily as the red gravy (not sauce!) on the lasagna. Massive culture shock!

  39. Dianne - August 11, 2021 3:10 pm

    Thank you, Sean, for another heartwarming and endearing story. Your stories make my days better.

  40. Janice - Silverhill - August 11, 2021 3:25 pm

    What a wonderful story of true love. God knew exactly what you needed when He brought Jamie & her family into your life. My Mother wasn’t fond of my husband at first but within a year they loved each other dearly. I’ve always said the day she died she loved him more than she loved me. We’ve been married 52 years. Mother Mary is loved by countless people who pray for y’all daily. You & Jamie will cling to each other when she leaves & your love will grow. 🙏❤️🙏

  41. steveleachman - August 11, 2021 3:39 pm

    I’m reminded of my parent’s passing. Mom in 2015 and dad in 2019. Hospice as a God send but the grieving takes its toll. I can tell how hard it is for your wife Jamie and you. Just know there are people who have you in their prayers. It helped me knowing that.

  42. Nita - August 11, 2021 3:49 pm

    There are so many thigs I’d like to say but will just stick with ‘my heartfelt prayers are with Jamie, you and Mother Mary’.

  43. Jennifer - August 11, 2021 4:46 pm

    I’m more and more in awe of your writing and am so thankful that you are sharing Mother Mary’s life and stories with us. It’s so important. It’s beautiful. Don’t ever stop sharing and writing about the things that make life truly what it is. Love, laughter, loss, stress, anger, happiness, sadness…. These are just some of the things that make up a life in this Earth, and writing about them to connect with others and to help them connect, is an art. It’s another way to connect to God. He gives us all gifts, thank you for using yours and sharing it.

  44. Linda Moon - August 11, 2021 5:16 pm

    My mama often referred to me when I was young as “gawky”. I like the name you gave to your future mother-in-law. She has an amazing spirit to keep on living while there on her sickbed surrounded by caregivers, family, and the bay. I like her very much….no, I LOVE her. Please gently whisper my love to her. And, I’m loudly telling you now: I think you and Jamie both won the lottery.

  45. Karen - August 11, 2021 6:22 pm

    Keeping Mother Mary, Jamie, you and her family and friends in prayer.💖

  46. Dawn - August 11, 2021 6:27 pm

    And, because of you, the rest of us do too!! Thank you for sharing that wonderful story! Prayers and hugs!

  47. Jannie Bryant - August 11, 2021 6:54 pm

    God Bless you Sean. Please don’t ever stop writing.

  48. Cita Smith - August 11, 2021 7:18 pm

    I am gently weeping as I read this. Your love for Mother Mary is so touching. I know she must have loved you in
    return. Prayers continue for you all.

  49. Deborah Blount - August 11, 2021 7:19 pm

    Of all your stories about your mother-in-law, this is my favorite. Mother Mary is in my prayers. She, because of you, is touching thousands of lives in her last days and hours. Thank you.

  50. Susan Kennedy - August 11, 2021 7:35 pm

    I’ve never met Mother Mary, or you or Jamie. But I love all of you. I am a hospice nurse and you are the kind of people that get into my heart. ❤️

  51. Ellen - August 11, 2021 7:45 pm

    I love you and Jamie! Praying for sweet Mother Mary as well. I’m so glad you found your family!💕

  52. Martha Black - August 11, 2021 7:53 pm

    “At first sight”. How aptly named. This sweet “love story” and it goes on……….

  53. Martha Black - August 11, 2021 7:56 pm

    “At First Sight”: how aptly titled. And still it goes………

  54. Juanita - August 11, 2021 8:13 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  55. Liz Watkins - August 11, 2021 8:41 pm

    So happy that God gives us memories to help relive our past!
    Prayers for Mother Mary, Jaime and to you. Sean 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻

  56. Patricia Gibson - August 11, 2021 9:03 pm


  57. Tom Wallin - August 12, 2021 2:39 am

    Threat story. I was in the kitchen watching you.
    Sounds like every young man’s intro to his girls family.
    Jaime and Mother Mary chose well.

  58. Anita Smith - August 12, 2021 2:41 am

    Precious Memories how they linger, thank God 💞

  59. stephenpe - August 12, 2021 10:12 am

    I had a morther Mary. She was the best mother I ever had. Bought me my first suit. Treated me like a son. I married her youngest daughter back n 78 and was there when she passed. She was a nurse in WW2. An amazing woman. You were a lucky man, Sean. And more you understand it and can share it so well.

  60. Rikki - August 12, 2021 4:19 pm

    Oh my word, Sean! Everyone should be as lucky as you to have a Mother Mary. I can only imagine the love that is shared in this lovely family. Gotta admit I’m a bit jealous. Thanks for making me smile and cry at the same time.

  61. Kate - August 12, 2021 8:14 pm

    The meal you were served, so southern, and so full of love. An abundance of food and love, a precious combination. Thanks for sharing with us.

  62. Verna Kays - August 13, 2021 5:31 am

    Blessings…prayers…..and again,Your stories are beautiful..


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