Birthday Girl

We were newlyweds. Our apartment was cozy. Cozy in a nuclear-fallout sort of way.

We’re talking 600 square feet. Our bathroom was barely big enough to shower in without sustaining a subdural hematoma.

The tenants below us had a flea infestation. Which meant the whole building had fleas. Which meant that I was always pausing mid-conversation to scratch my scalp.

Our lives were otherwise pretty good. My wife taught preschool. Which is code for, “wiping tiny butts.” Ironically, when my wife first interviewed with the school, she flatly told the preschool director, “I’ll do anything but wipe butts.”

The director simply laughed. Within 24 hours on the job, my wife had already wiped eight.

Meantime, my job was working with a friend, hanging commercial gutter. I hated it.

I was the kind of guy you’d bring to a nice cocktail party, and whenever someone asked, “So, what do you do?” I’d answer, “My life is in the gutter.” Whereupon cocktail party guests would ask me to refill their drinks.

But we were happy. And that’s the thing about newlyweds. They’re nonsensically happy. My wife and I were always exhausted, overworked, underpaid, and just generally pooped from trying to make ends meet. We lived on ramen noodles, or if we were feeling especially lavish, Stouffer’s lasagna.

But we were happy.

On the night of my wife’s birthday, however, she wanted to go out to eat, and we couldn’t afford it. We had $27.39 in our bank account. It had been a hard month.

Heck, it had been a hard last few years.

At work that day, I was feeling terrible, thinking about how poor we were. I almost asked one of my friends whether I could borrow money for a nice birthday dinner, but I was not raised to ask for money.

The people I come from would rather live in a refrigerator carton than beg.

So that night, I got home from work early and announced that we were going out for dinner. And my wife was confused.

“What’re you talking about?” my wife said. “We can’t afford a nice dinner.”

I told her to get dressed.

She did. My wife wore her church best. Black skirt, pearl earrings, heels. I wore a sports coat, khakis, and I splashed on some toilet water.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

We drove across town. We parked. We walked into the surgically chilled air of the Waffle House.

The people in the dining room stared at us with funny facial expressions. We looked like we had just attended a funeral.

“How many?” said the waitress.

“Two,” I said. “And we’ll take your nicest table.”

The waitress just looked at me. She was older. Her hair was silver, tied atop her head. Before Waffle House went to their current blue uniforms, they wore these striped deals, á la 1971. That’s what she was wearing.

“It’s my wife’s birthday dinner,” I said.

“I see,” said the waitress.

“I want no expense spared,” I insisted.

The waitress smiled and seemed to understand what was happening here, because a change came over her.

“Right this way, sir,” said the waitress.

She led us toward the table, walking more erectly than most waitresses might. She gestured for us to sit, then disappeared quickly.

She returned with a carton of chocolate milk and two plastic glasses.

“A bottle of our reserve vintage, ma’am,” said the waitress. “Compliments of the kitchen.”

This waitress was a genius. We might as well have been in a Michelin five-star restaurant.

My wife and I toasted our milks.

“Would you like to hear the chef’s specials?” said the waitress.

“Yes, please.”

“Tonight, the kitchen is serving a delicate patty of grilled ground sirloin, cooked to order, served atop an exquisite brioche bun, topped with aged cheese, Videlia onions, iceberg, and a tomato slice. It’s really quite nice.”

“Hmmm,” said my wife, staring at the menu like she was about to purchase real estate. “I think I’ll have the chili.”

“Would you like our ribbon-cut potato croquette on the side?”

“Yes, I think I will,” said my wife.

“And I’ll have the same,” I said, handing the menus back.

“Very good, sir,” said the waitress, taking a grand bow.

The woman returned with a basket of bread. Although, technically, it wasn’t a “basket.” It was a bowl. And the bread was no baguette, it was white toast served with plastic butter packets.

The cook got to work on our order. The whole room came alive with the sizzles and hisses of a flat-top. And when the waitress served our meal, she carried our plates high above her head as though she were wearing white gloves.

The meal was exquisite. After we finished, we were about to leave when the waitress asked us to stay seated.

In a moment, the employee door burst open. The cook and three waitresses emerged from the rear of the restaurant, carrying a danish of the day on a small plate. There was a single candle.

They were all singing “Happy Birthday.” The whole restaurant joined in. Truckers, welders, pipe fitters, and a few off-duty cops all sang along.

People often write to me and ask why I write about Waffle House so much.

Well, now you know why.


  1. Sandi. - October 27, 2022 7:02 am

    I like Waffle House, too. Try their grits. Even if not listed on the menu, they still serve them in the Southern states!

  2. Debbie - October 27, 2022 7:08 am

    That is the sweetest!!!

  3. Debbie - October 27, 2022 7:55 am

    How precious to have strangers care so much! Thank you, Sean.

  4. Shirley Mcgraw - October 27, 2022 8:07 am

    What a very special evening you two celebrated!!!!

  5. Leigh Amiot - October 27, 2022 9:27 am

    The word dignity comes to mind after reading this…it pairs well with living within one’s means…and chocolate milk.
    Happy Belated Birthday to Jamie!

  6. Roy Ovesen - October 27, 2022 10:10 am

    Beautiful story…

  7. Harriet White - October 27, 2022 10:13 am

    That’s wonderful

  8. Julia - October 27, 2022 10:16 am

    This is THE BEST! Thank you Sean…

  9. Lucretia Jones - October 27, 2022 10:26 am

    Wonderful, Sean, just wonderful! Thank you. Lucretia

  10. Jan - October 27, 2022 10:40 am

    Love this! I can see it all in my mind’s eye and it is beautiful!

  11. Marsha Hamby Savage - October 27, 2022 10:42 am

    Started my morning with a smile. What a great waitress … and the rest of the staff. Wouldn’t expect anything less. I had a friend come visit a couple of years ago from New York. Her one big request was that we had to go eat at a Waffle House. She never had. She loved it as well.

  12. Melanie - October 27, 2022 10:43 am

    Waffle 🧇 House Love ❤️ Story Happy Birthday Jamie !

  13. Susan - October 27, 2022 10:54 am

    I just love this! No wonder you love the Waffle House so much!♥️

  14. Julie Hall - October 27, 2022 10:54 am

    Happy Birthday Jamie!!

  15. Te - October 27, 2022 11:12 am

    Aww, now, that was an incredible memory, and I can just picture it. God bless that waitress for being up to spit!

  16. Christine - October 27, 2022 11:14 am

    What a special memory 😍❤️🥰

  17. Chasity Davis Ritter - October 27, 2022 11:18 am

    Dang even this one got my allergies working. It sounds like a really nice birthday ❤️

  18. Anissa - October 27, 2022 11:24 am

    There are a lot of kind people in this world. May we try to be one.

  19. Susan - October 27, 2022 11:24 am

    Love this! 🙂❤️

  20. Harriet Clark - October 27, 2022 11:29 am

    What a delightful story. But as a retired teacher, I actually take offense to you identifying preschool teachers as “butt wipers.” Yes, that comes with the job, but a very minor part of it. Preschool teachers teach children to share, hold crayons, introduce them to reading by sharing read alouds, build gardens outside, introduce the alphabet and numbers, sing songs, and give lots more hugs than wipes!

  21. Debbie G - October 27, 2022 11:40 am

    We had Waffle House last night. Our waiter was great. You can’t beat the awaffle waffle as my husband would say.

  22. Marla Field - October 27, 2022 11:58 am

    Thank you for reminding me that there is beauty in the world. I too often get distracted by the yuck.

  23. Dolores - October 27, 2022 12:04 pm

    Oh to be in love with life itself…and fellow man in the same way. Circumstances fall away when gratitude and passion are aflame. Amen.

  24. Adam Quay - October 27, 2022 12:09 pm

    I love this, and every Waffle House story you write. When I was 18 years old, I helped open the Waffle House located at I-26 and Hwy 601 in Orangeburg, SC. I worked the summer after I graduated high school and my summer break after my first year at the University of. South Carolina. I learned how to cook “good food fast”. I learned why you should ALWAYS tip your server. I built my confidence when I was running the whole show on third shift July 3rd when all the bars in town closed at 2AM and the restaurant filled up with just me on the grill and two servers. It was a great real world education to receive alongside my college education. I love the Waffle House and I am glad you do too Sean. It is indeed a special place.

  25. Judy Tayloe - October 27, 2022 12:12 pm

    Happy Birthday, Jamie!

  26. Jimmy Stewart - October 27, 2022 12:15 pm

    Back in the day when I was a cook at the local Waffle House in Hattiesburg. I was a high school senior. The lessons I learned on that job, in that environment, serve me well today. There are a lot of similarities between being a Waffle House cook and the pastor of a Southern Baptist Church! Belated Happy Birthday to Sweet Jamie!

  27. chris nischan - October 27, 2022 12:21 pm

    never need a reason to write about WH but…this is a fantastic story! I kinda had tears in my eyes when I read this. Most likely due to fall allergies….

  28. Toni - October 27, 2022 12:32 pm


  29. Heather Miller - October 27, 2022 12:32 pm

    My family loves Waffle House! ‘Cheesy eggs, crispy bacon, hash browns and raisin toast, please.’ Happy Birthday, Jamie. You have the greatest gift; Sean for a husband. Well, you have the greatest gift too, Sean. Jamie for a wife. I have noticed, in reading many of your writings, Sean, that seasonal allergies occur January through December. Isn’t that peculiar?? Must be the ink you use.

  30. mccutchen52 - October 27, 2022 12:35 pm

    There is a Waffle House near me and I walked out one day and forgot my phone. When I got to my truck and realized I left my phone I walked back in. My waitress, who was a character, saw me coming back in and turned to the cook and said “Well you won’t be able to talk to your girlfriend in the Ukraine today” and handed me my phone with a wink. I love those people.

  31. Priscilla Rodgers - October 27, 2022 12:38 pm

    Love this.

  32. Jane Gavin - October 27, 2022 12:44 pm

    God blessed you with Jamie, and Jamie was blessed with you. I am so happy that the two of you, and all of Waffle House celebrated your very special LOVE.

  33. Hall Powell - October 27, 2022 12:46 pm

    Precious! Some of my fondest memories are the times I had “breakfast” at lunchtime with my dad at the Waffle House.

  34. Anne Arthur - October 27, 2022 12:48 pm

    What a lovely description of the three main actors at this beautiful birthday dinner. The waitress is priceless and so is the couple. I hope one day someone will make a movie of your stories, Sean. Again, happy birthday to Jamie. I believe yesterday was as nice a dinner as this earlier one.

  35. beachdreamer - October 27, 2022 12:50 pm

    I cry at the strangest things…such as todays post. I could picture the setting, and God bless the waitress for picking up on what you were doing making it a real occasion! Sean, you’re the best. You can make people happy no matter what the circumstance. Happy Birthday Jamie…as I’ve said so many times, you are truly blessed, both of you.
    You can’t put a price on happiness😍🎂🧇‼️‼️ Getting out my chocolate milk for a toast. To Sean & Jamie…many happy years together 🧋👏👏👏

  36. Fossil - October 27, 2022 12:52 pm

    I absolutely love it. Dang, I even had my allergies act up reading this! What a great thing that waitress did! Isn’t kindness the most wonderful thing?
    Thank you for writing about the things you do, Sean.

  37. Dede Martin - October 27, 2022 12:58 pm

    I love how memories bring such sweet smiles. Happy Birthday Jamie!

  38. W G Hendricks - October 27, 2022 12:58 pm

    My Cousin and his Bride celebrate the anniversary of their first date at the House, over 30 years now. Give me a Ham and cheese omelette with an extra egg, large hash browns and crisp wheat toast, water to drink can not beat their breakfast

  39. Pilgrim Jax FL - October 27, 2022 12:58 pm

    I read this twice because I enjoyed the emotions this story stirred within me.
    Thank you Sean

  40. Tim - October 27, 2022 1:02 pm

    Sometimes in life, you figure out that in order to be “content” in life, you don’t need a lot of “contents” in your life.
    Sometimes in life, you figure out that the more “stuff” you have in life, the bigger the place you need to “stuff” all your “stuff” into.
    Sometimes in life, you realize that a happy “WIFI” equals happy “LIFE I” lead.
    Sometimes in life, you realize that my WIFI must’ve been down yesterday morning because I didn’t get to read one of these parables first thing in the morning.
    Sometimes in life, you realize why I felt extra hydrated yesterday afternoon, because I didn’t have to walk up shedding tears (of joy) yesterday morning.
    Sean – I hate to say this, but you need to take more days off.
    or I need to drink a lot more water “sometimes in life”.

  41. elizabethroosje - October 27, 2022 1:10 pm

    This made me so happy I told my Husband about it over breakfast 🙃🥰☺️🥲😄

  42. Suellen - October 27, 2022 1:15 pm

    To me that is better than any high dollar restaurant birthday celebration!

  43. joe - October 27, 2022 1:22 pm

    thanks for the memories. both the Waffle House which I still enjoy and the tough happy times of newlywedness

  44. Patricia Nelson - October 27, 2022 1:39 pm

    Lovely tears here. Sean, you are so blessed. Thank you for blessing your readers as well. Happy birthday, Jamie.

  45. David - October 27, 2022 1:42 pm


  46. Cathy Meintjes - October 27, 2022 1:46 pm

    Beautiful memory! Loved it

  47. Patricia Gibson - October 27, 2022 1:51 pm

    What a beautiful person that waitress was and what a lovely memory!

  48. Sarah Burdin - October 27, 2022 1:53 pm

    Loved this one. Started my morning off with a smile.

  49. David Britnell - October 27, 2022 1:57 pm

    What a great memory! So close to home for so many I’m sure. Now where did I put my kleenex??

  50. Deborah (Debbie) Gillespie - October 27, 2022 1:58 pm

    Love this! I worked for 17 years as a waitress (and hostess) at a well-known local pancake house in Pigeon Forge. The “art” of waiting tables is being able to discern your customers’ needs as well as desires. And then, the mark of a truly “professional” server was making the customer feel as if they were the only people you were waiting on and to give them “5-star service” even though you anticipated a pensioner’s tip. We once held a wedding in the restaurant (the couple had their license and were looking for a local preacher to perform the ceremony, but they couldn’t afford any of the wedding chapels). Our manager called a pastor friend who came right over (with the promise of biscuits and gravy for his services). The bride was handed a worn-out blinged-out ink pen for “something old”…the cashier handed the bride a pack of DoubleMint gum from the counter for “something new”. One of the waitresses gave the bride a pretty brooch she was wearing for the “something borrowed”…another waitress gave the bride her blue wrist band (the kind you wore to protect your arms from 2-degree burns from hot plates) fulfilling the “something blue”… One of the cooks handed her a bunch of bananas for a “bouquet”, and I sang “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” as the bride and groom walked down the aisle to the back of the restaurant where the kitchen was. As the preacher performed the wedding service and before the couple said their vows, the preacher had us all bow our heads to pray God’s blessings upon the couple as I sang “The Lord’s Prayer”. When they had finished their “I Dos” and the preacher said, “I now pronounce you husband and wife!”, we all broke out into cheers and applause and a few of us shed the happy tear. A “fine restaurant” is hard to find these days! #GodblessWaffleHouse

    • Anne Arthur - October 27, 2022 4:40 pm

      Debbie, what a beautiful story. This couple had a much happier wedding as if they had borrowed thousands of dollars to do a huge one just for other people’s satisfaction.

  51. Ruth - October 27, 2022 1:58 pm

    What a lovely evening. I find fancy & expensive a waste! Give me Cracker Barrel or the beloved Waffle House.

  52. vjwinton - October 27, 2022 2:06 pm

    That is above precious.

  53. Carolyn Allen - October 27, 2022 2:11 pm

    Giving Waffle House a 10!!

  54. Gayle Maynard - October 27, 2022 2:24 pm

    Loved this thanks

  55. Sean of the South: Birthday Girl | The Trussville Tribune - October 27, 2022 2:53 pm

    […] By Sean Deitrich, Sean of the South […]

  56. JonDragonfly - October 27, 2022 3:07 pm

    Happy birthday, Jamie!
    Blessings upon you both,
    Jon Dragonfly

  57. Tom Wallin - October 27, 2022 3:15 pm

    Very Classy! I love it.
    Kudos to Waffle House. They get just it.

  58. Paula - October 27, 2022 3:19 pm

    Love it. Had to read it aloud to my husband to share the enjoyment. After 50 years, we remember those lean early years (Morton’s vs Banquet chicken pot pies were a staple). Keep ‘em coming, Sean. Write about Waffle House all you want.

  59. pattymack43 - October 27, 2022 3:33 pm

    What an awesome experience!! thanks for sharing!!

  60. Carolyn Geck - October 27, 2022 3:40 pm


  61. Julie, RN - October 27, 2022 3:42 pm

    It’s the PEOPLE who make the occasion special, no matter where, and even at a Waffle House! A couple madly in love, and a waitress who knew how to maximize the minimum. That’s a formula for guaranteed SPECIALNESS‼️

  62. Sheri K - October 27, 2022 3:53 pm

    Coolest story ever! Brings happy happy tears!! Happy birthday Jamie!

  63. Lavenda - October 27, 2022 3:57 pm

    What an absolutely beautiful tell itso well ifelt like I was there and sang too..happy birthday Jamie

  64. LIN ARNOLD - October 27, 2022 4:06 pm

    And THAT is how we do it in the heart of Dixie!!!

  65. Lauren McLachlan - October 27, 2022 4:08 pm

    Tears. You made me cry!
    Such a wonderful birthday experience!

  66. Donna - October 27, 2022 4:24 pm

    I could not love this more!

  67. Peggy Campbell - October 27, 2022 4:46 pm

    Ah, Sean. Thought you were writing about “my” birthday girl–Mom is 96 today … still living independently, still playing her grand piano magnificently daily, using her ipad and laptop (et al) … and best of all, perpetually overflowing with gratitude for length of days and a wonderful marriage that lasted 74 years (Dad died almost one year ago). So … “keep preaching it”–your words of appreciation, thanksgiving, compassion just never grow old!

  68. Carol - October 27, 2022 5:03 pm

    Moments like this make the rest of the day, week, year, worth living…and oh, the memories….Thanks, Sean, you make every day special…

  69. virginia westlake - October 27, 2022 5:59 pm

    Beautiful! Tears in my eyes!

  70. PMc - October 27, 2022 6:01 pm

    I’m sure it was a birthday to remember! Love made it so special 😍
    Happy Birthday Jamie 🎂
    Peace and Love from Birmingham ❣

  71. Trisha - October 27, 2022 6:11 pm

    I absolutely love the people that represent Waffle House!
    I also love your daily posts. Thank you!

  72. Bill Woodward - October 27, 2022 6:11 pm

    This so delightful ! It brought a great big smile on my face thinking about some of my wife and mine special moments like this 50 years ago . We just celebrated our Anniversary and recalled our best memories were when we were broke . Thank you Sean !

  73. Dianne DeVore - October 27, 2022 8:00 pm

    I love Waffle House, and my deceased husband loved it, too. He always ordered the All-Star Breakfast eggs over medium, hashbrowns, bacon, toast and the waffle. In fact, the last breakfast he had was at Waffle House and “his usual” order.

  74. Ann Phillips - October 27, 2022 8:10 pm

    My husband said “if you’ve never taken Your LAST $5 and ate a meal with your wife, you haven’t really lived”. We were in south Texas with two small children under 3. I wanted a Whataburger so bad. My husband loaded us in the car. I begged him not to spend that last $5 (yep all four of us divided the burger fries and drink). He said to me “If this is the last $5 we ever have, we’re going to starve anyway”. I still love him for that. Ann Robbins Phillips.

  75. MAM - October 27, 2022 8:22 pm

    That brought tears of … not exactly joy, definitely not of sadness… but I guess of gratitude for good people. Happy day after your birthday Jamie! And thank you, Sean, for your exquisite writing that brings tears of good emotion.

    • Cm - October 27, 2022 8:46 pm

      You have spoken my heart as well

  76. Cm - October 27, 2022 8:46 pm


  77. Susan Kennedy - October 27, 2022 9:27 pm


  78. Ginny - October 27, 2022 9:48 pm

    If only I was creative enough to plan an elegant birthday dinner for two on such a … delicate … budget!

  79. Linda Moon - October 27, 2022 10:25 pm

    Keep writing about the Waffle House with many more birthdays to come!!

  80. Charlie - October 27, 2022 10:28 pm

    You gotta love Waffle House.

    • Russell Moulton - October 27, 2022 11:31 pm

      Got that right!

  81. Karen - October 27, 2022 11:05 pm

    Sean, this is so beautiful. To be in such a loving environment is so special. This was a special evening you all will never forget. Happiness is never about the size of a home or how you celebrate special moments in life. Love is what makes life special.

  82. wfsuga - October 27, 2022 11:27 pm

    My son went to prep school up East. Every time I picked him up at the airport for a vacation his immediate request/demand was to stop at the first Waffle House we saw. God bless the South!

  83. Susie Murphy - October 28, 2022 12:52 am

    Y’all make me smile.

  84. Linda Rose Allen - October 28, 2022 2:50 am

    Now that was a wonderful story/memory! Thanks for sharing with all of us. Happy Birthday to Jamie and many happy returns. 🥳❤️

  85. Susan - October 28, 2022 3:20 am

    What a magnificent story!

  86. Cathy Moss - October 28, 2022 12:09 pm

    You are a romantic. Just one of the many things I love abt. you. My husband of over 50 yrs. And also struggled for many yrs. His work ethic is beyond belief. Still working at 75 and loves his career. He passed that work ethic to our three children. We all love the Waffle House and I have never had a bad meal there. Happy belated birthday Jaimie. Y’all are a great team and that makes for a great marriage. Now I am hungry for a waffle😂

  87. Brenda Lynch - October 28, 2022 2:49 pm

    My husband and I have struggled. but the birthday tradition I love the most belongs to my daughter and son-in-law—instead of a big night out they share a cupcake with a candle on a small boat on a lake in Georgia. I get lots of those pictures–they are priceless! She served in Law Enforcement 30 years and he is still there serving with more than 35 years–High end is probably not
    in their budget, but fishing is and it suits them both!!

  88. Nancy Robertson - October 28, 2022 3:09 pm

    Many of the many ups and downs of life kind of fade a little with time, but those moments of kindness stay sharp and vivid (and can bring me to tears like your article here) every step of your life – and hopefully they inspire us to pass that feeling on to someone else when the opportunity arises. Thanks for sharing.

  89. Ruth Mitchell - October 28, 2022 3:24 pm

    It’s no wonder your marriage is so strong! If Waffle House ever advertises, it needs to let you be the official spokesperson!

  90. Deborah Blount - October 30, 2022 8:37 pm

    I have a new respect for Waffle House. Thank you for sharing.


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