Good Granny

Breakfast time. A mediocre hotel. The continental buffet features food that is only a few notches above prison-camp food.

A youth soccer team forms a line at the buffet. They are filling paper plates with dry bacon and shoe-rubber eggs. I am standing behind them, waiting for my gruel.

I didn’t sleep well last night because of minor back pain.

Long ago, my mother used to say that each naughty thing I ever did would come back to haunt me in the form of back pain. I never believed her as a child. Now I do.

I find an empty table. I am eating breakfast in peace when an old woman asks if she can sit beside me.

And all of a sudden, I’m eating with a stranger.

We are quiet for a few minutes. What should strangers say over breakfast? Conversations about the weather would be shallow. And I’m not any good at discussing politics.

“I’m having a hard time waking up,” she finally says. This starts the conversational ball rolling.

“When you’re my age,” she goes on, “you don’t sleep good, you’re lucky if you get a few hours. How about you?”

“I had back pain last night.” Then I tell her what my mother used to say about divine back punishment.

She laughs.“You musta been an ornery child.”

“I had moments.”

We are joined by a boy in a soccer uniform who sits beside the woman. She uses sign language to speak to him. He moves his hands in response.

“This is Aaron,” says the woman. “He’s my grandson.”

A girl makes her way toward us. She is older than the boy, tall, lean, with blonde braids. She carries a full plate. I count four biscuits.

If I ate four biscuits, I’d nap like a bear that’s just been shot with a tranquilizer dart.

“This is his sister, Emily,” says the old woman.

Emily shakes my hand.

Pretty soon, I cease to exist. The three-person family is speaking with their hands. And it looks like they’re having an argument, too. The old woman moves her hands in an animated manner that makes my shoulders sore just watching.

“Do as I say!” she finally shouts to the boy.

Her face is stern, and I know that look. I don’t speak American Sign Language, but I am fluent in Parental Body Language. She’s scolding him.

The boy leaves the table. He hangs his head. His sister follows.

“Everything okay?” I ask the woman.

“I don’t know what we’re gonna do with him,” she says. “We joined this soccer team so he could make friends, but he keeps hanging on to me, and depending on his sister to translate everything, that’s never gonna help. She can’t be with him forever. He’s gotta put himself out there, and quit being afraid.”

Granny is actually their mother, even though she is elderly. She’s raising the boy and his sister because their mother is out of the picture.

Doctors discovered Aaron’s hearing disability a few months after his birth. Since then, Granny has moved heaven and earth to make his life successful. And so has his sister.

The boy and girl sit at a table in the corner. The other soccer players become quiet when the boy is near.

None of his teammates seem to know how to act around him. A few get up to leave. In a few minutes, the table is empty, and it is only the boy and his sister

But his sister keeps him good company. She knows how to make him laugh, and she does this a lot—while simultaneously eating four biscuits. Anyone could see that these two are a tight unit.

The woman beside me is watching them, but saying nothing. She only wears the face all mothers, grandmothers, and guardians wear. Concern.

“I just don’t know,” she goes on. “He’s so smart, but I worry, it’s not gonna be easy when he goes out there in the real world. I worry.”

She says nothing more during our breakfast. And I am suddenly wondering who worries for Granny.

We bid goodbye to each other. The elderly woman disappears. Then, I make my way to the elevators. I press the button and wait.

I hear footsteps. It’s the boy and his sister. They are waiting for the elevator beside me.

The girl hugs her brother, she kisses his cheek. She wraps her arms around his shoulders and kisses his hair.

“I love you, Aaron,” his sister says aloud, signing her words.

The boy makes a hand gesture.

“Nope,” she says. “Doesn’t count, you have to say it like we practiced.”

“I love you, too!” the boy says in a loud, awkward voice. “You know I love you, Emily!”

I don’t know much about much, and I know even less about children. But something tells me Granny doesn’t have a thing to worry about.

Just watch out for back pain, kid.


  1. Mike Stamps - September 4, 2021 6:28 am

    Thanks for sharing this with us. In a time that folks seem to be caring less and less about one another, this is a breath of fresh air.

  2. Christina - September 4, 2021 7:31 am

    This sibling love reminds me of your memoir and how your sister slept on your floor because she was afraid. Love keeps us company so we don’t feel so alone in our fears and worries.

  3. oldlibrariansshelf - September 4, 2021 10:08 am

    Thanks. This grandmom needed the encouragement.

  4. Paul McCutchen - September 4, 2021 11:52 am

    Now I have an answer for my back being in shape its in.

  5. Kay - September 4, 2021 12:44 pm

    This reminds me of the growing up years of my own brother, now 66. My parents made the difficult decision to send him to Alabama School for the Deaf at the ripe old age of 4. They traveled to Talladega every 2 to 3 weeks to bring him home to Tuscaloosa for the weekend. Being born into a family of hearing people is like an English person being born into a a French speaking family. I want Granny to know he has had a full, self sufficient life. We all take our miraculous senses for granted on a daily basis. My heart goes out to all three of the characters of this story. These challenges they face create tight knit family ties.

  6. Nancy Crews - September 4, 2021 1:06 pm

    ❤your writing.

  7. Robyn - September 4, 2021 2:19 pm

    How do you do it Sean? Every single day you make me laugh, cry & smile or some combination there of. Every single day. You must be a good writer! 😉😘💚❤️💚❤️💚

  8. Suellen - September 4, 2021 3:00 pm

    I can empathize with Granny. I have 2 adult handicapped children. They’ve both come a long way in being able to take care of themselves but they’ll never be able to live alone. My son has worked for Walmart for almost 30 years cleaning the store but never learned to read much. My daughter is more dependent on me. I’ve talked about finding them residential care but my youngest daughter says no way would they be happy that way that they would come to live with her when the time comes. I worry about the stress that will put on her family and her marriage. I worry.

  9. janbonn - September 4, 2021 3:31 pm

    My daughter shared your post “Rise”, which made me smile and sigh. With these “s” emotions, I joined your many other subscribers. Thank you for sharing your gift of words and allowing the rest of us to smile and sigh at your thoughts.

  10. Stacey Wallace - September 4, 2021 4:06 pm

    Sean, my husband and I taught for thirty years and met grandparents who were raising their grandchildren. May God bless them all.

  11. Harriet - September 4, 2021 4:28 pm

    I love this Sean. I wake up every morning and the first time I do is read your column. Long time follower of you.

  12. Linda Moon - September 4, 2021 4:36 pm

    I’m having minor back pain from vicariously finishing six months hiking on the Appalachia Trail. Hearing my grandson’s long tales of it was something! As I’ve reached Grandmother age, I realize I don’t know much either, Sean. But what I do know is very valuable. I love my people and a hearing-impaired student of mine who eventually got cochlear implants. When he heard for the first time, then realized he could hear his own voice, I knew his parents and teachers and Grannies would have less to worry about. Here’s loving back at you, Sean.

  13. Michael Wenberg - September 5, 2021 12:50 am

    Well, you did it again. Touched a chord and made me weep. And the C major chord your essay touched was one near and dear to my heart. You see, my youngest son is profoundly hearing impaired, the term audiologist’s used to describe the fact that he’s completely deaf in one ear, and has only partial hearing in the other. Growing up, his big sister looked out for him and loved him. Like the sister in your essay. When he missed stuff, and misinterpreted social queues, Marieka was always there to help out.. They had . . . and have . . . a special relationship. Luke even credits his big sister with helping him not turn into a punk. I like to think I helped out in that regard, too. So, just today, Luke sent me a screen shot of his diploma. He received his Master of Science in Education degree in Deaf and Hard of Hearing Education. So, this kid who started out life in South Korea and had to contend with a learning disability AND impaired hearing, slugged it out and earned a Master degree. Wow.

  14. Karen Snyder - September 5, 2021 1:46 am

    Something wonderful magically appears in my email inbox every morning. Thanks. ❤️

  15. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - September 5, 2021 2:25 pm

  16. Linda Hill - September 18, 2021 1:52 pm

    This story reminds me most of my disabled little grandson & how much his 2 older sisters love him. We ALL love him, but the way THEY love him is so unique. Good grandmothers or any caregiver can be & usually are wonderful with a disabled child, but the love & care from their siblings is on a different plane altogether.


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