Last week, I played music and spoke to a room of white-haired women. It was a dim-lit bar, with decent onion rings, heavy burgers, and waitresses who call you “sweetie.” Not exactly the place you’d expect to see the White-Haired Beauties of America.
But they were here. Ladies from all walks of life held glasses of beer and wine. A few had canes and walkers. A few got too loud. I was entertainment.
Eighty-two-year-old, Jo, approached me first. She wore a white blouse with houndstooth scarf. She asked if she could buy me a beer. I yes-ma’ammed her.
“Don’t yes-ma’am me, boy,” she said. “I’m trying to hit on you. Ruins the excitement.”
We sat at the bar together. She fired up her vaporizer cigarette.
“Doctor says I shouldn’t smoke,” said Jo. “But still I smoke two a day. One in the morning, one at night, and I vape until my throat’s raw.”
Jo is an M-80 firecracker. She is from rural Alabama and she sounds like it. She is a writer, a poet, an artist, and a shameless flirt.
She told stories, of course.
Her words were a trip backward on the timeline. Suppers on church grounds, childhoods with calloused feet. Chicken pens, hog roasts, cotton-pickers, fish fries, front porches.
By the time she had worn out her butterscotch vaporizer, she was talking about her husband.
“I miss him so much,” she said. “He was a precious man, the best thing in my life. You look a little like he did.”
There was another woman. Ella.
She was eighty-nine. She asked if the band would play “Tennessee Waltz.” We played it at an easy tempo.
She slow-danced with her son. He was careful with her. When he dipped her, she was nineteen again. That’s when he blew out his back.
Ella’s husband died when she was forty. She never remarried.
“Always had me a few boyfriends,” she said. “Seems like I went dancing almost every weekend. My sister would watch my kids, us girls would go out jukin’.”
Ninety-nine-year-old Mary sat at a table with her eldest daughter. She could only move her feet to the music. Occasionally her head bobbed, but she was all heart.
“I growed up in THEE Great Depression,” Mary said. “You ever hear of THEE Depression?”
Once or twice.
“They was bad times,” she went on. “They was times when my daddy saved chicken bones for his fish traps, then he saved fish bones for the chickens to eat.”
Her mother died when she was fourteen. Mary became maternal head of her family. She could slaughter poultry, rock babies to sleep, and re-screen doors by age sixteen.
“I used’a mix ketchup and water for supper,” she said. “Called it tomato soup. If I had butter, I made corn bread. Sometimes I made biscuits if we had enough flour. I kept my family alive’s what I done.
“My brother stole chickens from a farm up the road. If we ever had extra money, I’d tell him, ‘Jeremiah, leave this here dollar on their porch, we ain’t thieves.’ We didn’t WANNA steal, you know. But we had to.”
She asked if my band would play “Little Brown Church in the Dale.”
At the end of the night my new friend, Jo, bid me goodbye. She asked if she could show me something.
She dug in her pocketbook.
She handed me crinkled black-and-white photo of a young woman holding a baby. A tall man, standing beside her. She kissed the photo.
“That’s me and Tom,” said Jo. “Before he died. I miss him every day, we went through a lot together. Oh, wasn’t I so pretty back then?”
You were, ma’am. And so was every woman who endured times of drought, world wars, hunger, poverty, the Munsters, and shag carpet. You were women who raised families on nothing but Corningware, white flour, and folded hands. Certainly, you were all fine-looking girls back in your time.
But today, you take my breath away.
Gary D - July 10, 2018 5:29 am
You meet the nicest people. I’m glad you always introduce them to us.
John - July 10, 2018 6:53 am
Sean, just because I don’t leave a comment every night doesn’t mean I’m not reading. And sharing. And crying. I don’t know what the rules are about 72 year old retired beer truck drivers crying, but at 72 I just don’t care much anymore.
theholtgirls - July 10, 2018 1:20 pm
John, You’ve got 20 years on me, but your words made me cry. You are one of those good men who have kept the rules for so long, you are allowed to not care much anymore. Social rules aren’t needed much by gentlemen; you just can’t help being nice. Have a blessed day!
Sandi in FL. - July 10, 2018 8:20 am
Sean, I agree with what Gary said. Thank you so much for introducing to us all the nice people you meet. Often it’s the last sentence in your posts that packs the biggest punch, and this one is no exception. I hope Jo reads it.
Barbara - July 10, 2018 10:02 am
Sean, you are the kindest soul. Thank you for listening to old ladies, observing life, expressing appreciation for your wife, dog, and even a painful loss and sharing it with your readers. I am hooked on your writing. Thank you.
paula jones - July 10, 2018 10:15 am
Your columns remind us all what it means to be gloriously, heartbreakingly, and hilariously human. Thank you.
Melanie - July 10, 2018 10:29 am
Appreciation of our elders is something long gone from our culture. Thank you for reminding us to not forget Sean. ♥️
Nedetria Talbot - July 10, 2018 10:58 am
I just purely love you! You make my heart and start my day with a smile.
Sue Cronkite - July 10, 2018 11:14 am
Another great one.
Leia Lona - July 10, 2018 11:14 am
I have some of those ladies in my Alabama family.
Marilyn Mason - July 10, 2018 11:25 am
I read your words and wept. The tears are for the gift God gave you Sean. Words are only words until they are tumbling off a pen like yours. Now I’m smiling because you inevitably use a laptop. Anyway, thank for sharing with the world and eloquently painting what needs to be said. We all need reminders and to be remembered.
Terri - July 10, 2018 11:40 am
Bless you Sean. Love you much. Terri
Connie Havard Ryland - July 10, 2018 11:44 am
Today you honored the women of my life. The grandma who raised 13 children on nothing but prayer and my gorgeous mom. My momma was something. Beautiful, sweet, sassy. Full of life, spirited. Raised a family on beans and biscuits and what we could grow. Now she’s in a nursing home with advanced dementia, but some days those blue eyes spark and she’s back. Thank you for remembering all the wonderful women who are the true backbone of the world.
Lynn Hedges - July 10, 2018 12:24 pm
Here’s to the women that raised us, and the ones that raised them. True gems.
Janet Williams - July 10, 2018 12:33 pm
You’re a good man, Charlie Brown. LOVE the people I meet through you!
Connie - July 10, 2018 12:38 pm
And sometimes your posts bring a tear and or take my breath away too!
James - July 10, 2018 12:44 pm
I am a fairly new reader and am curious if you do your own artwork for each post.
B. Daniel - July 10, 2018 12:54 pm
Thanks for all your stories. I am almost 82 (I sound like a child — almost) and the stories remind me of so many things as I was growing up. This story reminds me of my mother- dresses made from flour sacks, killing chickens in the backyard and teaching us to gut them and singe the pin feathers off the chicken over a gas burning kitchen stove, hunting rabbits for the chickens to peck on, taking us to a field to pull cotton bolls in the fall (for about 30 minutes), trading stamps during WWII with other moms to get us shoes for our fast growing feet, ironing the sheets and underwear after washing, doing washing at the laundry-mat with water so hot you had to use a stick to pick up the clothes to run through the ringer, churning the cream for our butter. I don’t miss the good ole days but I wish younger people had some way to experience life as we did and could lift their heads from their iPhones. Again, thank you.
Peggy Savage - July 10, 2018 1:03 pm
Well you’ve done it again….reading your thoughts with tears running down my cheeks. Darn it Sean, just love your writing and your beautiful glimpses of life.. keep it coming…..
Marty from Alabama - July 10, 2018 1:17 pm
I thing my sweet momma may have been in this crowd. But she never got white hair. Neither she or her mother, my precious grandmother, ever became white-haired ladies. If stress and hard work and worry cause white hair, they would have been the queens. Daddy died early, massive heart attack, and mother never re-married. I was out of high school and had two years of college. Next was my brother, in business college, then the two youngest, brother number two and the baby sister. They were still in high school. Times were hard, but by the grace of God and help from others, we all made it and have had good lives. Yes, momma and her parents knew about THEE depression. Lived through it and momma would have really enjoyed herself at your program.
Thanks again for a moment of memories. Miss my loved ones, but one day we will talk.
Carol - July 10, 2018 1:48 pm
I wrote it , but I lost it.
I’ll buy you a beer one day !! And tell you who I use to be and who I see now in the mirror!!
Denyse Forton - July 10, 2018 2:13 pm
Dry-eyed until that very last line . . . sigh!!!
Jack Darnell - July 10, 2018 2:13 pm
I was born 7 years after THE DEPRESSION so I heard first hand of the stories from brothers, sisters and mom & dad. Great entry, love it!
Wendy Franks - July 10, 2018 2:19 pm
Candy Wright - July 10, 2018 2:29 pm
I grew up in SW Georgia but have been in Texas for over 50 years…haven’t seen or heard that word JUKIN’ since….how it takes me back! Love your words, thoughts and heart!
Jeanne Butler - July 10, 2018 2:33 pm
I’m sitting out front watching the river and reading your life story. Got me crying again for the wonderful women in this world. Got me thinking about my mom and Great Aunt Nettie who sat for hours on the front porch watching the river. They saved many people whose boat when on the jetty by calling the fire department. Always wondered why they sat and watched the river when I was a little girl. Now I know why. It helps heal your soul. Love you Sean
Barbara Pope - July 10, 2018 2:52 pm
Mine, too. Strong women are a national treasure!
Edna B. - July 10, 2018 2:53 pm
Gosh, what a beautiful story. It brought back so many memories of my childhood. I came along in the late thirties. My folks worked hard to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. But my best memories come from those growing up years. I don’t get to travel very much, but every morning I feel as though I’ve just come back from a short trip with you. I love meeting all these wonderful folks. Thank you Sean. You have a blessed day, hugs, Edna B.
Sandy nickel - July 10, 2018 3:16 pm
Crying….you are amazing.
Carole - July 10, 2018 3:30 pm
Sean, I love you! The beauty you find around you is breathtaking. Thank you.
Susie, too - July 10, 2018 4:59 pm
So what have you got against the Munsters? (Just kidding.) Beautiful story. And again, how do you do it, I’m in tears.
Barbara Schweck - July 10, 2018 6:53 pm
Oh Sean, you really touched my heart today. Thank you for sharing. God Bless every older woman who has worked so hard to keep her family fed, sheltered, and loved. May they find their reward from their children and the Great Lord.
Karen - July 10, 2018 8:12 pm
When I was a 22 year old nurse, fresh out of college, I helped a frail, stooped, white haired man to sit on a bedside commode in his hospital room. He was humiliated, and he said to me, “I am a doctor. I used to be the Chief of Staff at this hospital. There is no dignity in growing old.”
I always tried to remember that my patients were once young. They each had a story. I tried to treat them with dignity.
I am now a retired 64 year old nurse, and I feel dismissed, almost invisible. You have reminded us that our older generation has experience and wisdom that is golden. They deserve our respect, our admiration, and our gratitude. They have great value.
Donna - July 10, 2018 10:43 pm
Bless your sweet heart for seeing the value in the elderly as well as the young. You bless my heart.
Kelly Joe Ray - July 11, 2018 12:24 am
Take a bow Sean…
Janet Mary Lee - July 11, 2018 3:15 am
Yep, you done it again! You have the sweetest heart. Never lose it!
Toni Tucker Locke - July 12, 2018 10:26 am
This reader was feeling all younger-than until the line about Corningware. It was made available to the public in 1958 and was the gift of choice when I married in 1968. I received so many pieces that I traded three pieces in at a local hardware store for a shiny chrome canister set and STILL had multiple shapes and sizes. Who knew that microwave ovens would give it new purpose in the late seventies when they invaded many American kitchens. Much of my Corningware still attends church suppers . . . . I’m so glad you love and respect your elder–and that you write every single darn day!
Ann Ehrhardt - July 18, 2018 8:55 am
Sharing memories of yesteryear – love it.
Wanda Martin - December 7, 2020 11:11 am
First time reader of this gifted man. I feel at home reading this! I will be looking for more. Thank you Sean.