The Strongest Generation

“We found inventive ways to keep from starving,” the woman says. “Whatever Daddy could do to make money."

The nursing home has a big flat-screen television. And at ten in the morning, you can find white-haired women sitting in front of it, expressionless. TV blaring.

The woman to my left turns and asks, “Have you seen my daughter? I think she’s coming today.”

“Sorry, ma’am. Haven’t seen her.”

On TV: a fitness model explains the paramount importance of the perfect beach-body. This girl looks like she’s made of plastic and Spandex.

The elderly woman has no problem talking over the noise. “HEY! That girl on television looks like my daughter. Do you know if my family’s coming today?”

Fitness-girl is doing step-ups, and punching the air.

The old woman goes on, “We didn’t have time to exercise in my day. My daddy was a cotton-mill worker. We didn’t know where our next meal was coming from. By the time I’s fourteen, we’d moved twenty-one times around Alabama.”

Now the girl on TV is demonstrating how to tone buttocks by squatting on a chair. “MY BUTT,” the girl is saying, “is the most ESSENTIAL part of my being…”

The woman ignores the television. “I had a friend when I’s young, she invited me and my little brother for supper. My brother didn’t touch his food, but asked if we could take it home to share with Daddy and Mama, ’cause we were so poor. Lord, I was embarrassed.”

Television-Barbie is still squatting, talking about eating too many carbs.

“We found inventive ways to keep from starving,” the woman says. “Whatever Daddy could do to make money. Like the time we went knocking on doors asking if anyone needed repairs. One gentleman, in a fancy house, needed a window pane fixed.”

This makes the woman laugh.

“So, Daddy goes back to the cotton-mill, and steals a small pane of glass from the window. He charged the man for the glass, AND the labor. Paid for our supper.”

Barbie is jogging in place. “Your INNER-strength comes from your physical assets. If you wanna find happiness…”

The woman adds, “I ain’t never known anyone as tough as Mama and Daddy. They made do with nothing.”

The television went to commercial break.

“Oh, fiddle,” the woman says, looking at the screen. “How do I get it back? That girl on TV looks like my daughter.” She hung her head. “I miss my family.”


I know you do, and I know I’m not much of a substitute. But I’m here, now.

And I’d sure like to hear another story.


  1. Maureen - July 9, 2016 9:43 pm

    Love your compassion. And the comparisons are apt

  2. Sandra Marrar - April 17, 2017 9:26 am

    Lord have mercy! You are a good, good man.

  3. Deanna - April 17, 2017 12:58 pm

    Love your stories! My dad was a paper wooder in clarke co. al, and he and my mom raised 9 kids, and we always lived off the land, daddy hunted, and we always planted a garden and canned everything! We were so blessed!

    • Ann Reid - April 18, 2017 4:47 am

      Where in Clark County are you from?

  4. Buck Godwin - April 17, 2017 1:26 pm

    Those folks had a tough childhood but I’ll bet they would do it all again to get out of that hellhole of a nursing home.
    I betcha they had plenty of love to endure the pains of poverty.
    Now, nobody loves them anymore, now they are disposable.

    So, why would we want to live so long that we have to be placed in one of those institutions where nobody cares enough to come and visit and where if somebody does come, we don’t even remember it.

  5. LindaD - April 17, 2017 2:01 pm

    You were probably the best thing that happened to that little lady all day. Bless you.

  6. Barbara Lollie Davis - April 17, 2017 3:32 pm

    I enjoy your writing so much. I live in Blountstown Florida and our local paper has your column. I turn to your column before I read anything, even the headlines! Keep up the good work!!

  7. Sandra G - April 17, 2017 3:47 pm

    Ah, the flat-screen television, it’s a staple in homes for the elderly. So much time spent in front of them, blurry-eyed and lonely. So many pent-up stories to tell, and most of the time, no willing or able ears to hear.

  8. Nancy Gilbert - April 17, 2017 5:08 pm

    My Mom grew up during the Depression. There were eight girls and Grand Daddy was a sharecropper. People today don’t know what being poor is. I still cry when I remember her stories. Thank you Sean.

  9. Mindy Beavers - April 17, 2017 6:24 pm

    As a geriatric nurse, I love hearing my patients stories and being substitute family. Lot as of times they become just like family.

  10. Kathy Burgess - April 19, 2017 6:36 am

    I just want to cry for all of the really sad people in this world. Retired from 43 years as an RN. and cried with someone nearly
    everyday. Now, I work with Homeless people. You surely can feel close to people when you shed tears with them.


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