You remember how you bumbled your marriage proposal speech. The red blouse she wore to church that Sunday.

In Baker, Florida, you’ll find a little cafe with an alligator on the sign. If you go inside, you’ll see another huge fiberglass gator wearing a corny grin.

The waitress, a fifteen-year-old, will seat you and your wife in a booth. Then, she tells you about the soup of the day—which is chicken.

She notices your wife’s UAB hospital bracelet, but doesn’t say anything, because she can see how exhausted you both are. Instead, she calls you both, “sweetie.”

Your wife orders fried shrimp, you order the catfish. And in this empty restaurant, your tired discussion is all over the map, like married conversations often go. Only this time, even dull topics seem more important than usual.

After finishing your meals, you’ll talk about life. Growing up, and your old bicycles. About what kind of mustard you like, or when you learned to swim. You talk about your daddies, then she remembers that time you got mugged in Atlanta.

When the waitress asks if you want banana pudding, you ask if it’s good pudding—like she’d ever tell you it wasn’t.
When she brings it out, with two spoons, your wife takes the first bite. And you notice the ring on her finger. The silver one, with the tiny diamond in it. It’s nearly fifteen years old.

And for some reason, you recall the day you set an Altoids-boxful of cash on the jeweler’s counter, saying, “What’ll this buy me?”

Then, you remember the hours spent with an air-powered nail-gun, filling up that tin box; and all that lumber you cut with a radial saw. You remember how you bumbled your marriage proposal speech. The red blouse she wore to church that Sunday.

Your wife slides you a spoon.

You try to think back before you met this girl. But you can’t. It’s as though each memory preceding her, erased itself. Until your whole damn childhood disappeared.

Then, you wonder if perhaps you ever really existed without her, since there aren’t any images in your mind to prove it. You wonder if maybe you’re not two people at all; but one soul with two spoons.

She’s halfway through the banana pudding, now. And you haven’t even taken a bite.

“Don’t you want any of this?” she asks.

But all you can do is look at that stupid fiberglass gator. Then to your wife. You think about how happiness is a lot like a houseplant. No matter how much you water it, nothing lives forever. Everything is on temporary loan—and that includes people.

You know that one day, the world will fall apart when one of you quits breathing. And, you thank God that day isn’t today.

Because her tumor was benign.

12 comments

  1. Timothy - April 11, 2017 11:41 am

    That ending made me catch my breath … and think hard about a relationship.

    Reply
  2. Deanna - April 11, 2017 12:38 pm

    Praise God !

    Reply
  3. Beverly - April 11, 2017 1:28 pm

    Your best……because all of us women want to be loved like that.

    Reply
  4. June - April 11, 2017 1:47 pm

    The greatest one yet, hope to see them all compiled in a book one day!!!

    Reply
  5. Karen Bethea - April 11, 2017 2:02 pm

    I am sitting here, my morning ritual – reading Sean of the South – drinking my first cup of coffee and my husband of 43 years is upstairs. He wasn’t so lucky, Sean. He wore a UAB bracelet 24, yes 24 years ago when he had major surgery at UAB – a Whipple Procedure. Look it up – it’s scary as hell. Cancer – rare cancer – a Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumor..not the Henry Mancini kind that kills you in a few months, but a rare cancer on his – get this – islet cells of the Isles of Langerhorns in the pancreas that make hormones that make our bodies tick. He had to be different. He had to have one that was on the glucagon producing cells…the cells that make your muscles ache when you exercise. We were dumbfounded…told to just go home and check back every year for an exam to see if there were any tumors. Year 1-7 I bit my nails, year 8 I cried…there were tumors in his liver. Again, since these tumors grow so slowly and there was no treatment the Head of the Kirklin Cancer Center knew about, told to go home and come back in 6 months. Hell to the NO!!! Thank you God, for computers and the rickety internet we had. To make a long story short, after finding a Specialist in Tampa at Moffitt Cancer Center (look it up if you are not familiar with it) who retired, then to Vanderbilt to a brilliant young PNET specialist who decided he was not being treated well and established his own Nueroendocrine Tumor clinic in Denver, to New Orleans where hubby just plumb plain took an instant dislike to the Specialist there, and now to the University of Kentucky in Lexington where we have gone through one Specialist who moved up to New York City (cannot believe he did that and left the bluegrass and horses) and fortunately had another to go to at UK…, my husband has fought a great battle and it seems the battle volleys are dwindling. I hope you never have to say to yourself what I had to myself yesterday as he trudged up the stairs to rest….”It’s okay to go…you have been so brave…and I will love you forever….and my heart is breaking…” Praise to the good Lord above that as of now, you and she can smile a smile of hope at one another. Blessings.

    Reply
  6. Marlene Willis - April 11, 2017 2:07 pm

    I am emotional about this one because it is a shared human experience and because I am grateful for the 47 years that I had with my husband and the 17 years since the world fell apart. I am grateful that it came back together, but there is a piece missing.

    Reply
  7. Gail Campbell - April 11, 2017 2:33 pm

    Sean,
    I’m so glad Jamie’s tumor was benign. Now, go make more memories with that lucky woman by your side.

    Reply
    • Noah - April 12, 2017 4:36 am

      We have eaten at the Gator Cafe in Baker many times. Stopped there with grandchildren on the way to the beach. They offer real malts and milkshakes too. So glad you had good news to celebrate there. I always liked sitting with Jimmy Dean.

      Reply
  8. Dena - April 11, 2017 5:08 pm

    Bless. I loved this whole thing and then you went and made me catch my breath on that last sentence. Praise the Lord for good reports!

    Reply
  9. Peggy Black - April 12, 2017 1:34 am

    So many can relate to this limbo, this everyday meal with such extraordinary meaning.

    Reply
  10. Gail Murph Bruce - April 12, 2017 11:56 pm

    Sean Dietrich, do you live in Baker FL?

    Reply
  11. Ashley - April 15, 2017 9:12 pm

    Thanks for leaving me in tears on this one. I’m kinda new and absolutely love everything you write. Beautiful.

    Reply

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