Four Letters

It’s my thing. Some folks make conversation about weather. I coerce complete strangers into telling me love stories.

A young man sits across from me in a restaurant. It’s a meat-and-three place, with napkin dispensers on the tables.

The young man is with a girl. They’re holding hands. She’s staring at him, he’s staring back. And even though my wife begs me not to, I ask how they met.

It’s my thing. Some folks make conversation about weather. I coerce complete strangers into telling me love stories.

The girl asks me to repeat myself. Her voice is uncommonly loud. He tells me that she is deaf.

“Our parents introduced us,” he explains. “We started as friends, and then…”

They’re newlyweds. He is signing while he speaks.

Dinner arrives. Our food is terrible.

A few weeks ago, I met an older couple in a movie theater. White hair. Steel-rimmed glasses. They were leaning on each other like high-schoolers.

My wife begged me not to make conversation with them.

But their hair was so white.

The man said they’ve been married fifty years. They realized long ago that they couldn’t have children. It was a harsh blow.

But they’re grateful for this today, he told me. Because during their forties, a young woman in their town died, leaving behind a five-year-old.

That five-year-old became their daughter. Today, she has a family of her own.

“Some things are meant to be,” he tells me.

I met a twenty-year-old boy. He was a newlywed. We shared a bench at a mall in Birmingham while our wives shopped. I asked about his wife.

He’s been with her a long time already. Her brother and father died when she was not yet a teenager. She wasn’t sure she’d ever survive it. He made sure she did.

“I’ve loved her since I was nine,” he said.

They eloped last month against his parents wishes.

Parents don’t know everything.

I got an email from a man. He’d been with his girlfriend eight years. She wanted to get married; he couldn’t bring himself to propose.

“I screwed up my last marriage, man,” he admitted. “I didn’t wanna mess her life up, too.”

After eight years, his girlfriend had enough. She applied for a job in her hometown. One morning, she left with a full suitcase.

“I was just sitting there, crying,” he said. “I realized I was screwing up big time.”

He sped through traffic. He even made phone calls to the airport, requesting to stop her plane. But life isn’t a Hallmark-Channel romance movie, and airline pilots aren’t played by Henry Winkler.

He arrived to find the plane had left. No girlfriend.

He walked away with his head in his hands. He found her car in the parking lot. He was going to leave a note on her windshield. He saw her sitting inside the car.

They’ve been married fourteen years.

So I’m leaving the meat-and-three place. I see the deaf girl in the parking lot, she’s signing to her husband. Before I crawl into my vehicle, I wish them luck.

Then, I ask them to show me how to say “I love you” using sign language.

The girl laughs. “Why do you want to know?” she asks.

“I’m a writer,” I explain. “We ask dumb questions.”

She throws her arms around the young man. She hugs him so hard his face turns purple. Then, she kisses his nose.

“Like this,” she says.

Well. I’d better start practicing my sign language.


  1. Linda H - January 4, 2018 11:08 am

    I love your writing. Thank you!

    • Suzanne Brantley - January 6, 2018 2:47 am

      Really love this! Really made me smile. Thank you.

  2. Cherryl Shiver - January 4, 2018 11:53 am

    1 4 3 1=I 4=Love 3=You 143 that’s what I remember from a lifetime ago, last century when I was a young Alabama teenager.

  3. Snoopy - January 4, 2018 1:41 pm


  4. Jack Darnell - January 4, 2018 1:44 pm

    I am deaf, never learned sign. But I think I could learn THAT. The Cochlear implants are wonderful, now I hear her say I LOVE YOU, That is nice when you are old.

  5. Lucretia - January 4, 2018 2:28 pm

    Wonderful, just wonderful, Sean. I need to practice my sign language also.

  6. Margaret Green - January 4, 2018 2:34 pm

    Thank you ! Absolutely right on Sean! Keep on asking and making conversation. People,actually, do end up liking your interest in them…I consider it kindness in&for our world today?… God Bless You!
    The PLANT in Dothan, Alabama is where everyone needs to be to here you tonight, January 4,2018!

  7. muthahun - January 4, 2018 3:03 pm

    Thanks for the warm-up on a very cold, snowy, blowy day in Maine. You are a master collector-of-stories, Sean, and lucky for us, you share them. Question: what’s a “meal-and-three place”? I’ve been to “supper clubs” in Wisconsin, drive-in’s here in Maine, diners all over, but flummoxed on this one.

    • Tammy Moody - January 4, 2018 4:01 pm

      muthahun, it’s “meat-and-three” (that one letter probably now explains it), meat and 3 sides. Warm hugs from IL, where I’m freezing too!

  8. Brian Heinz - January 4, 2018 3:12 pm

    Its funny you know when it’s the right one in your heart. Met my wife on Feb 14th and married her on May 1st our second date was going to church services. Done deal from there on. Thanks for reminding me will do something for her tonight.

  9. Teresa - January 4, 2018 3:13 pm

    Maybe I’m cryer, but this one did it. It’s true, love is love. Your writing is amazing and uplifting. And keep talking to strangers-you learn so much!

  10. Teresa - January 4, 2018 3:33 pm

    Sean, if you are interested in signing I love you, go to

  11. Marty from Alabama - January 4, 2018 3:35 pm

    Here in Oakman a “meat-and-three” is a plate lunch that consists of a meat and three veggies. More than likely it is home cooking at its best and the servings aren’t skimpy. Come south and try it. You will like it and probably just want to move south.

    By the way, Sean, another good read. You are the best – about as good as a “meat-and-three.”

    • muthahun - January 4, 2018 6:17 pm

      Thanks, Marty from Alabama! I’m reminded of the Blue Plate Specials from the 76 Diner in Marion, SC (this was in 1966 and my family was there when my dad had a very serious heart attack on our way back to Maine from Florida). My introduction to collards and black-eyed peas! Great stuff.

  12. Sue Cronkite - January 4, 2018 5:19 pm

    Another good one, Sean. Keep ’em coming.

  13. Jim Keith - January 4, 2018 5:37 pm

    For an old man like me who doesn’t sleep very much, I try to be the first person to read your daily post. However, when I don’t see it around three in the morning, I start to worry about your health. But then {even though we have never met and do not know each other} I realize that you are just messing with me and me alone! You are a bright spot in the day for all who read your blog. Keep telling the stories of the state where I was born and ‘reared’.

  14. Earl Culver - January 4, 2018 5:45 pm

    Your are such a sap, and you sucker me in every time. Consider that a great compliment.

  15. Dru - January 4, 2018 8:34 pm

    Thanks for making me laugh out loud!

    • Alice Cooper - January 4, 2018 10:53 pm

      3/8…. three little words….8 little letters….was always written on the back flap of love letters I received a lifetime ago. SO looking forward to hearing you when you come to Palatka, Fla. in 8 days!!!!!

  16. Marilyn - January 5, 2018 1:05 pm

    Love your essays! ??

  17. Kay Keel - January 7, 2018 9:06 pm

    I’ve given and received that sign language “I Love You” from many sets of bleachers at ball games and rows of seats at band concerts…from outside of bus windows as my boys left on youth trips, scout trips and band trips.


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