Cracker Barrel

This boy behind me. I'm thinking about him. The child who speaks with his hands. Who is young, but strong. A boy who wants catfish, and wants the pleasure of ordering it for himself, by God.

Cracker Barrel, 6:39 P.M.—we are sitting at a table for our pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving meal. I am with my wife, my elderly mother-in-law, and her full-time nurse, Carleen.

Carleen is wearing her non-work clothes, her hair is fixed pretty. She is Jamaican. She speaks in a sing-song way. Every few words she calls folks “darling.”

I could listen to Carleen read the White Pages.

There is a deaf boy at a table a few feet from us. At least, I think he’s deaf. He has an electronic device mounted on the side of his head.

He’s using sign language with his parents. His parents sign responses.

The waitress asks for his order.

His mother answers, “He’ll have catfish.”

“MOM!” he says with a moaning, “LET ME DO IT!”

It’s difficult to get the words out, but he manages.


This child is pure willpower wrapped in freckles.

The table behind us: an old man and woman. They are sipping coffee. They are every old couple you’ve ever seen.

A young man walks into the dining room. He’s wearing an Air-Force uniform.

The couple stands. “Oh, Ben,” they say in unison.

They embrace. “I missed you so much,” says the woman.

“I missed you, Mom.”

On my other side is a Mexican family. Three kids, two adults. The woman is in a fast-food uniform. The young man is in boots, dusty clothes.

When food arrives, they hold hands. They bless their plates in majestic Spanish.

The only word I understand is “amen.”

Across the restaurant: a table filled with young women. They wear matching red-and-gold jackets, “FSU” is embroidered on their backs. They are loud, excited, drinking their weight in sodas.

Several middle-aged ladies come through the doors, led by a hostess. The college girls shoot to their feet.

“Mom!” I overhear the girls say.

And if there’s anything more beautiful than mothers and daughters reuniting, I don’t know what it is.

Our waitress arrives at our table. She is soft spoken and sweet. She has curly black hair.

She is taking her son to Disney World this weekend for this ninth birthday. She is a single mother. Twenty-eight years old. Tough as bricks.

My mother-in-law orders fried chicken. My wife orders fried shrimp. The waitress tilts her head when she hears Carleen’s island accent.

Finally, it’s my turn to order.

“Sir?” the waitress asks me. “You ready to order?”

But I’m not listening. In fact, I’m barely even here. My mind is with the Mexicans, and the older couple. I’m thinking about the Air Force man. About our waitress’ son.

I’m thinking about the students from FSU, and their excited mothers.

About families, and how the holidays brings out the best in us—no matter what kind of derailed family we may hail from.

And this boy behind me. I’m thinking about him. The child who speaks with his hands. Who is young, but strong. A boy who wants catfish, and wants the pleasure of ordering it for himself, by God.

This is a beautiful world. A beautiful life. And I hope you know that it’s you who makes it that way.

Happy Thanksgiving.


  1. JOHN PASCHALL - November 23, 2017 8:31 am

    And a very happy THANKSGIVING to you,Sean!

  2. Linda Acees - November 23, 2017 8:57 am

    I’m going to stop reading you: you make me cry every day.

    Just like my 5 year old grandson who is patient when he has to repeat himself because I didn’t hear the first or second time: that’s ok Nanny, it’s because you’re so old!

    • theholtgirls - November 23, 2017 3:57 pm

      Linda, Sean *must* be read before any attempt at make-up or getting ready for the day. But he always gives us a treasure to tuck in our pocket. Place your own order today! Happy Thanksgiving to your grandson and to his Nanny!

  3. Lucretia - November 23, 2017 11:35 am

    Happy Thanksgiving, Sean. I am always happier when I read from you. May you be blessed always to share your gift. In gratitude, Lucretia.

  4. teachenglish67 - November 23, 2017 11:41 am

    Smiles and blessings to you, Sean, this Thanksgiving day. Smiles because you bring them to others; blessings because you are one blessing others with your observations and thoughts. I give Thanks because you are so Giving of your thoughts and observations

  5. Pamela Verbel - November 23, 2017 11:58 am

    Happy Thanksgiving. I am already blessed this morning because I read your story. Keep writing and we will keep reading.

  6. Sandra Marrar - November 23, 2017 12:05 pm

    And a Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

  7. Michael K. Doyle - November 23, 2017 12:10 pm

    Happy Thanksgiving to you! Just started reading your blogs,.. Awesome! And a big THANKS to you!

  8. Gordon - November 23, 2017 12:31 pm

    And your writing is beautiful, Sean. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

  9. Connie - November 23, 2017 12:34 pm

    Happy Thanksgiving Sean.

  10. Mary K. - November 23, 2017 12:36 pm

    Happy Thanksgiving to you! I appreciate the thoughtful insight you bring me each day that I read, cuddling with my dogs on the couch while sipping coffee. You are a blessing!

  11. Marty from Alabama - November 23, 2017 12:46 pm

    Ready for the day now that I’ve had my “Sean Read.” Having a family gathering a piece down the road and have so much to be thankful for. Unfortunately, there is some sadness as there seems to be at these gatherings. But we will enjoy the day. You and yours enjoy.

  12. Judy Ennis - November 23, 2017 1:08 pm

    Thank you Sean and Happy Thanksgiving!

  13. Sandi in FL - November 23, 2017 1:18 pm

    Hope you and yours have a blessed Thanksgiving, Sean.

  14. Cat - November 23, 2017 2:13 pm

    I am thankful for your essays every day. Through your eyes, we witness the lessons of kindness and gratitude.

  15. Judy - November 23, 2017 2:18 pm

    You live thankfully. We should all follow your example. And thank you. Happy Thanksgiving.

  16. kathdedon - November 23, 2017 2:21 pm

    I am thankful for the emails I receive from you every morning. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, Sean!

  17. Marcia MacLean - November 23, 2017 2:24 pm

    I knew if I read your post first thing this morning, it would set the right tone for the rest of the day. So thankful for my family. Happy Thanksgiving Sean.

  18. Randy - November 23, 2017 2:24 pm

    Thank you Sean, we need you…

  19. Donna J. masmar - November 23, 2017 2:48 pm

    I am thankful that you start my day on a good note every morning–thanks for your talent!

  20. Amanda craig - November 23, 2017 2:58 pm

    You made my day!

  21. Janne Swearengen - November 23, 2017 3:04 pm

    A brief note about today’s Sean of the South, shared a bit ago. Today is Thanksgiving, if you didn’t know, and millions of folks, including your Elf, are bustling around the kitchen with a million things to do before sitting down to give Thanks. So, in our kitchen this morning, it goes like this: There are at least a dozen things on my to-do list that I will get to when I finish reading Sean; Big Solid reminds me that ‘the toast is done’ but I can’t respond until I finish reading Sean; Marley TWP is scratching at the back door to go out, but I’m pretty much immobile until I finish reading Sean; there are countless food stuffs that need to be removed from the ‘frig but I’ll finish reading Sean first; the powdered sugar for the dessert today needs to be sifted but that can wait until I am done reading Sean; I want another cup of coffee but have to finish reading Sean, and, finally, after savoring every word, rejoicing in this man’s gift of words, I close my Elf-eyes, grab a Kleenex and get ready to face this glorious day…yep, I have finished reading Sean. Now, let’s get on wit’ it!

    • Jean - November 27, 2017 12:59 pm

      Beautiful reply to a beautiful piece of prose.

  22. Ken Burton - November 23, 2017 3:06 pm

    Happy Thanksgiving, Sean. Thank you for helping me see the beauty in the little things which are really not little things at all.

  23. Jack Darnell - November 23, 2017 3:19 pm

    A beautiful Thanksgiving entry. THANKS Yep, while in GITMO we had several Jamaican friends. I loved to listen to the sing-song ‘English’. Hope your day is good. I do enjoy your wordmanship!

  24. Janet Mary Lee - November 23, 2017 3:34 pm

    Yep, now that I am done crying, and feeling incredibly thankful, I want to wish you a you and your family, and extended family a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving. Save a good piece of something for sweet Ellie !

    • Janet Mary Lee - November 23, 2017 3:38 pm

      Sorry, tears must have got in my way….That is” you and your family” !

  25. D. White - November 23, 2017 4:02 pm

    I always enjoy your articles and especially enjoyed this one. Many thanks and Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!!!

  26. Damain - November 23, 2017 4:43 pm

    Thanks Sean. I hope you and your family have a blessed Thanksgiving. Such a gentle sincerity in everything you write………..I am so glad someone shared your writing with me.

  27. Maxine Cockerill - November 23, 2017 10:15 pm

    Sean, once again you have made my day even more blessed. I wish that your Thanksgiving Day was perfect and by geepers I bet it was. Thank You .

  28. Linda Chipman - November 23, 2017 10:18 pm

    Thank you Sean and I hope your Thanksgiving was good.

  29. Dot Wells - November 23, 2017 11:03 pm

    Thank you Sean!!! I love you!!!

  30. Daniel L Bennett - November 24, 2017 1:40 am

    Happy Thanksgiving to you too

  31. Jack Quanstrum - November 24, 2017 4:45 am

    Thank you! Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

  32. Laura Boyd - November 25, 2017 5:26 am

    Never does one of your musings not make me have “goose bumps” and wet eyes……they are so very touching, and beautifully written. Thank you so for your incredibly sweet spirit, caring, and empathy…..AND, keep’em comin’! I hope that your Thanksging was extremely blessed. Laura

  33. Jean - November 27, 2017 1:13 pm

    My computer at home bit the dust a week ago so I missed all my beautiful Sean words while on Thanksgiving time off. Now that I am back at my work computer, I am catching up from last Wednesday’s posts. How sweet it is!!

  34. Gale Smith - November 22, 2018 8:39 am

    Happy Thanksgiving, Sean, to you and your family. We are grateful to you for your writings. You give a voice to many beautiful people who struggle and are often overlooked. In Avatar, there is a line “I see you.” It means they see the real you–They know you. Thank you for seeing inside everyday people and knowing them to be beautiful. Wish everyone had this gift.

  35. Carolyn K - November 22, 2018 12:28 pm

    Happy Thanksgiving

  36. Brenda McLaine - November 22, 2018 7:41 pm

    Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

  37. Barbara Bray - December 29, 2018 7:37 pm

    Beautiful……may I share a story of my own? For my daughter’s birthday she wanted to go to Cracker Barrel. It was her 50th birthday. She has cerebral palsy , confined to a wheelchair all her life and deaf. She communicates in sign language as best she can with limited use of her hands and no verbalization. She is a gifted artist and smart as a whip. Our life is a game of “charades” everyday…but we laugh and get through it. She wasn’t expected to survive childhood so turning 50 was a very big deal……so back to our visit to Cracker Barrel. We wanted so much for it to be a special day. Our favorite waitress was not there. Someone else waited on us. Someone with no personality…she could have cared less that it was someone’s special day….she had a wall around her. Broke my heart for my daughter, Dana. As we were shopping in the Country store gift shop a clerk was so sweet and nice to me I took her aside and asked her if she would speak with Dana. I knew with her sweet personality she wouldn’t mind ( you can just “read” some people ) . She talked with Dana …bragged on her pretty outfit..her pretty hair and told her ( thru my signing for her ) that Dana did not look 50 but 25 .today. Dana left happy….that’s all I wanted …was for her , please God, to be happy today. Sometimes , that’s all it takes….smile …be nice…it could mean a lot to someone ….thank you for “listening”.


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