Emporia, Kansas, is hot today. The mostly brick and concrete downtown is a throwback to 1953. The weather feels like I’ve just jumped rope in the attic.
I am sitting on a bench, counting cars, eating soft serve ice cream.
I’ve lost count.
I remember my redheaded father bringing me to Emporia as a kid when he had errands to run. I had to hold his hand when we’d cross the street. He’d waltz into a hardware store, and talk to the old men behind store counters.
The old timers all talked the same—they added “now” to the ends of their sentences.
“Okay, now,” an old man might’ve said, messing up my ugly red hair. “Be a good boy, now. Listen to your daddy, now. Hear me, now?”
“Bye, now,” would be the typical farewell greeting.
And my father would always return their goodbyes with: “Alright, then.”
My father could make conversation with a fire hydrant. He was especially chatty with total strangers. And they would usually open right up to him. I don’t know how he did it.
Maybe it was his red hair that made him so easy to talk to.
A green Chevy truck pulls to the curb. A teenage boy leaps from the driver’s seat. The boy is all business. He helps an elderly couple from the vehicle.
The old man wears a camouflage ball cap. He can’t seem to move one side of his body. A stroke, I’m thinking.
The old woman’s silver hair is in a tight bun. She is every farmer’s wife since the Eisenhower Administration.
Together, they all hobble across the street in a three-person clot. The teenager supports them both with lanky arms.
The boy is moving nice and easy, making sure they don’t trip.
They are only inside the store for a few minutes. Then, they exit. The old man holds the boy, dragging a foot on the pavement. The old woman is sipping Coca-Cola from a bottle.
They cross the street again.
And I am Joe Social today, for some reason. I haven’t always been as chatty as I am now, but this town does something to me. Or maybe it’s my hair.
The old man is talkative even though he can’t move his face. He speaks in moans I can’t understand.
“He’s telling you that it’s unusually hot outside.”
“You can say that again,” I tell him.
The old man laughs. His face contorts. His happy, grunting voice is pure music. And our conversation begins.
Granny says they live in the country. Their entire lives have been spent filling silos, raising cattle, and attending church four nights per week. Now they’re too old to do much more than an occasional Sunday service.
The boy is their grandson.
“He takes good care of us,” Granny says.
Grandson blushes. He is about sixteen. Tall, lanky, boots, belt buckle. Granny kisses him on the lips. He blushes even harder.
I don’t get to hear their whole story, but she tells me a few pieces of it.
They inherited their grandson during their elderly years, after the boy’s parents divorced. Drugs were implicated. When the child was two, he was found alone in an empty house near Topeka, he’d been there for a week.
So, during the sunset of their lives, they welcomed a two-year-old into their home. They fought off old age for as long as they could and guided a boy into a manhood.
And that’s about all she tells me because it’s time for them to leave. They’ve got a lot of errands today.
The boy helps his grandfather into the truck. The old woman stands on the curb, watching.
In the truck window, I see the boy buckle the old man‘s seatbelt. The old man rests his head onto the boy’s shoulder for a moment. Then, the boy kisses his grandfather’s forehead.
If there is a sight more holy in this world, I’ve yet to see it.
Before the old woman steps into the vehicle, she looks at me and says: “Take care, now.”
“Alright then,” I say.
The truck rolls away. And I’m glad I have red hair.
Linda Acres - June 10, 2018 6:21 am
Beth Reed - June 10, 2018 7:37 am
Such a sweet story Sean. I am glad you had this awesome conversation with these people. I totally love the way people talk. No matter where you are people have their own way of words.
On the west coast everything is Right On, up in Indiana a soda is always A Pop, down south in my part of the great State of Texas, all soda no matter what brand is A Coke. It use to be Dr.Pepper when I was growing up then I moved up north and when I returned I found that every soda was a Coke.
These people sounds like treasures from years gone by. Keep starting conversations Sean, your great at it you hear now?
Xx Beth Reed
Debbie Chapman - August 7, 2018 7:27 am
Soda must have been used in northern Indiana because in Southern Indiana, where I was born and raised, It was always coke regardless of the flavor.
Frank - June 10, 2018 7:38 am
Beautiful. Just beautiful. Thank You, Sean.
Gary - June 10, 2018 8:57 am
You meet the nicest people, Sean. Thank you for letting us hear about them.
Glenda H - June 10, 2018 10:48 am
YUP, you nailed with this one!
Xan Morrow - June 10, 2018 11:24 am
I sure am glad you have made this trip. It was a long time coming.
Barbara Pope - June 10, 2018 11:27 am
Rare sixteen year old–God bless him–and you.
Edna B - June 10, 2018 11:37 am
Such a beautiful story. We are so lucky that you were able to stop and chat for a while with these wonderful folks. This young man is awesome. Thanks for starting my day with a smile. You have a great day, hugs, Edna B.
Diane - June 10, 2018 12:21 pm
My, my.. alright then on to breakfast, church.
Thank you & good morning.
LeAnne Martin - June 10, 2018 12:23 pm
Beautiful! As usual. I hope to chat with you someday. 🙂
Lylabeth King - June 10, 2018 12:25 pm
Sean, once again, I must say this is one of your best.
Jim Allen - June 10, 2018 12:38 pm
I’m a 91 year old man and men are not supposed to cry, but I can’t help it.
Jones - June 10, 2018 12:49 pm
Another great one! I am so glad you find and write about the good folks still left in this world! (My husband and I stopped in Emporia last year during a road trip after we visited the Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve. Another beautiful area of this amazing country God blessed us with! Hope you found the chocolate shop on the main drag!) Thanks for sharing your amazing stories!
Sue Cronkite - June 10, 2018 12:52 pm
Fasten my seat belt. Here comes another great one.
Dianne - June 10, 2018 1:01 pm
Another beautiful and heartwarming story about good people in this country. Thank you for sharing, Sean!!
Charlu Kent - June 10, 2018 1:19 pm
Such a beautiful read this quiet morning ??❤️?
Connie Stubblefield Ridgway - June 10, 2018 1:27 pm
Lydia - June 10, 2018 1:28 pm
Bonnie - June 10, 2018 1:44 pm
I am proud to say i have 2 grown grandsons and 1 grandaughter who are just like that.
Connie Havard Ryland - June 10, 2018 2:14 pm
I’m glad you take time to talk to strangers then share their stories with us. As a grandparent who raised a granddaughter, mostly alone, I can tell you that those grandparents were blessed to have that chance. And it sounds like they did a great job of it. What a beautiful story.
Jack Quanstrum - June 10, 2018 3:43 pm
You take after your Dad. He has blessed you with the gab! And that’s meant to be complimentary!
Heidi - June 10, 2018 4:09 pm
Thank God you have red hair. Your daddy blessed you many times over. I think you found that out on this great trip. Btw…made me cry again. You do that regularly. Alrighty then.
Judy Riley - June 10, 2018 4:41 pm
Love this story….made me cry! One of your best! NOTHING is greater than LOVE….and having someone to love and love you back…..alright, then!
Linda Chipman - June 10, 2018 5:01 pm
I was kind of down this morning but after reading this I feel better. Thank you Sean.
My Mama sounds like your Daddy in that she could talk to anyone. Now that I’m in my 70’s I find that I also have that ability.
Dianne Correll - June 10, 2018 5:16 pm
Pat - June 10, 2018 7:22 pm
Beautiful story! Thinking of that child by himself for a week at the age of two makes me cringe to think of what could have happened. Just when you think your life and or luck is bad……………………
Nancy Brown - June 10, 2018 11:40 pm
I adore your writing. I was adopted by parents the State of PA deemed too old to qualify to raise an infant girl (1952). Children of the Depression and adults during WWII, they persevered. I’m thankful that they did. Thanks for reminding me to be thankful.
Dolores S. Fort - June 11, 2018 2:15 am
Thank you, Sean, for your ability to tell such a sweet, meaningful story!
Sure do wish I could get to meet you!
Maybe someday, now!
Rene Youell - June 11, 2018 2:41 pm
A beautiful story Sean. If that does not warm your heart and make you smile at the goodness of mankind with this family. Keep writing Sean, your words are a bright spot in our daily grind! Have a great day, now.
LARRY WALL - June 12, 2018 9:13 pm
“And they would usually open right up to him. I don’t know how he did it.”…….Yeah, Sean, you demonstrate that to us nearly every post that you write. 🙂 God Bless.
Steven - June 18, 2018 5:44 pm
Holy, indeed. Beautiful.
c - June 20, 2018 3:55 am
I grew up in Emporia… many many years ago… you took me back… such sweetness…
John Masters - August 7, 2018 5:11 pm
i went to college there. four best years of my life. the people were so kind and caring .lived over a carpet shop and ate at the flint hills cafe and Blaylocks
ahuntca - August 7, 2018 6:04 pm
thanks for this… touches home…. and the heart
Debbie Anderson - August 8, 2018 2:10 am
And this is why you are the writer! I could grapple for days for just the right turn of phrase for this beautiful moment… but you! “A sight more holy” and the sting comes immediately to my eyes!
Thank you again Sean!
Lynda - August 8, 2018 1:37 pm
My mother’s family (6 generations) have called Emporia home. I spent many a summer there on the farm with my grandparents. Thanks for sharing and bringing back some lovely memories. You take care, now!
Jess from Athens, GA - December 27, 2018 9:19 pm
“The weather feels like I’ve just jumped rope in the attic.” LOL…I spent some time at Fort Leavenworth, KS, going to a military course (not incarcerated in the prison there) and it does get hot in Kansas, that a fact.
The other line of yours that I really appreciated was when the young man put his grandfather in the truck and then kissed his forehead: “If there is a sight more holy in this world, I’ve yet to see it.”
Sean, you have a way with words that bring so many things into the light and makes me appreciate the English language a great deal. Just keep on writing, Sean, I look forward to reading your Blog every day.