Barbecue in Alabama

Rural Alabama. Geneva County. A barbecue joint. The woman was alone. She was sitting all alone, in the booth by herself. She looked lost. There were scabs on her face. Her teeth were gone. She was bone-thin.

The woman was clothed in rags. She looked like she was in her fifties, but she might have been only 20-something. I don’t know much, but I once had a friend who became addicted to meth. And this woman bore all the tell-tale signs.

The irony is, nobody noticed her. She was invisible. Nobody paid her any mind. Except, of course, for her waitress.

Her waitress was a young, wholesome looking girl. Blonde. High-school-age maybe. The server saw the woman. She approached and took the woman’s order. The skinny woman ordered simply water and potato salad. That was all.

“Don’t you want to order more?” asked the youthful waitress.

The waitress had her shirt tied around her waist so that her midriff showed a little. She wore tight-fitting jeans. And she had a sleeve of tattoos, like many of today’s kids have. She looked like pep rallies and senior class trips.

“No, ma’am,” said the woman. “I can’t afford more.”

The waitress looked at her for a beat and said. “But you need to eat more than just potato salad.”

“I’ll be okay,” said the woman.

The waitress just smiled at her. She went back to the kitchen. In a few moments, the waitress reappeared with two big foam boxes of food. She showed the boxes to the woman. Inside were two pounds of meat. A pound of pulled chicken. A pound of pulled pork. Coleslaw. Potato salad. Camp stew. Sauce. Pickles. Chutney.

The lean woman looked at all the food and said, “I didn’t order this.”

“It’s on the house,” said the waitress. “The kitchen has to get rid of their meat today.

The woman was proud. She showed no emotion. She only pushed the box away and said, “I can’t accept this. I don’t want your charity.”

“Fine,” said the waitress. “It’s just going in the trash anyway. The kitchen has to get rid of it.”

The lean woman just looked at the food. An eternity went by. She finally said, “Really?”

“Really,” insisted the teenage server.

“God bless you,” said the woman in rags.

“No,” said the waitress. “God bless you.”

The woman picked up the boxes of food. When she got to the parking lot, she ate with her hands. She was starving.

The waitress moved toward the cash register. I saw the manager shake his head at the young girl. He was an older guy with a balding head. “You can’t give handouts to people like that,” he said to her. “They’ll take everything if you let them.”

“But she was hungry,” explained the girl.

He just shook his head again. His body language was clear. The manager has around, he was saying. You have to be tough, he was saying. “You can’t just give your money to burnouts and meth heads,” that’s what he was telling her.

But the waitress was undaunted. She reached into her apron and withdrew a fistful of dollars. She placed cash into the register.

When I paid for my meal, the young waitress was the one ringing me up at the register.

“I saw what you did,” I told her.

“Yeah,” she said nonchalantly.

“That was generous of you.”

She shrugged. “I’ve known people like her.”


“Yep. My sister is an alcoholic. She was drunk when she gave birth to my niece, now my mom and me are raising my niece.

She gave me my receipt.

“My sister isn’t a bad person, she just went down the wrong road. That woman is probably someone’s mama, you know? She just needs to know she matters.”

It was all she said. Because this was all that needed saying.


  1. stephen e acree - August 1, 2023 2:14 pm

    Thank you. We are quick to judge but that is not helpful. The waitress understands more about life than many twice her age.

  2. Scott Martin - August 1, 2023 5:16 pm

    Sean, Can I ride along in your truck while petting your dog and chatting about how you get past all of our defenses and excuses and see the individual with a soul in every encounter? I promise to be on my best behavior. (By the way, I was a fellow Trailblazer on the opposite weekend as you.)

  3. pattymack43 - August 1, 2023 8:59 pm

    Thank you for sharing your stories. NEVER stop writing!! Blessings!


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