Hard Times

We aren’t like other clans. We don’t have cookouts anymore. We don’t do three-legged races at barbecues. We don’t own real estate. We're less like a family, more like a support group.

This is the kind of place where tourists eat. It’s on the Gulf. The breeze is warm, the air is sticky.

Mama got here early. She’s drinking a Corona with a lime—as I live and breathe. Beer is something I hardly ever see her do.

Mike is with her. He is gray-haired, blue-eyed, all Alabama. He is family.

I hug Mama. She fits beneath my arm. Always has. She calls me “baby.” Always will.

I order a beer. Budweiser. My wife orders something with lime.

Mike and I talk football. He’s an expert. He can name each equipment manager in the SEC since Wade Wallace.

My sister is late arriving. She’s walking onto the deck, carrying a baby. Her husband is with her.

The baby looks like just like her.

She lets me hold her. The kid is heavy—like a sack of Quickcrete. She looks me in the eyes and holds her stare. I make a funny face. I would’ve made an okay daddy.

“She has your eyes,” my sister remarks.

“Really?” I say.

“Yeah, you’re the only person in the family with gray eyes.”

Well I’ll be dog. A baby with my peepers is an unfortunate soul. But then, I guess this means she’s one of us now.

Poor child. We’re not much of a family.

After Daddy died, Mama, my sister, and I slept in the same bedroom with the door locked. For four years I slept on the floor with our dog. And when my sister had bad dreams, she slept on the floor beside me.

Nobody tells you grief feels just like fear.

We aren’t like other clans. We don’t have cookouts anymore. We don’t do three-legged races at barbecues. We don’t own real estate. We’re less like a family, more like a support group.

But we’ve done life together. Lots of life. The three of us worked menial jobs together. We threw newspapers at two in the morning—together.

We pooled money for rent. We unloaded catering trucks, laid sod, cleaned condos. My sister rode on my hip until she was fifteen.

And even though our holidays were pitiful affairs, we still had them.

Once, we had Thanksgiving at Waffle House. We sat in a booth. I ordered eggs and bacon. My sister ordered a patty melt.

Nobody talked.

Mama said grace, then said, “You know, one day you’re both gonna have families of your own.”

It seemed like a far-off fairytale.

“I’m serious,” she went on. “On that day, three of us are gonna go to one of those tourist traps, have drinks, and forget about these hard times.”

Then, she wiped her eyes with a paper napkin.

That’s ancient history now. But here we sit, just like she said. We’re at a tourist trap. Mama is drinking beer with lime. My sister is a woman. Nobody’s drying eyes with napkins.

I don’t want to forget our hard times. In fact, I’d do the whole painful thing over again.

As long as I could do it with my family.


  1. Michelle Gilliland - April 25, 2017 1:21 pm

    One of the best.

  2. steve norman - April 25, 2017 1:22 pm

    What a great way to start the day! Thanks

  3. Sam Hunneman - April 25, 2017 1:34 pm

    You do have a way of getting to the heart of the matter. And gray eyes are sexy… like smoke. And moonstones.

  4. Kay Keel - April 25, 2017 1:58 pm

    I beg to differ with your statement that y’all are “Not much of a family.” Y’all are the epitome of a family and what a family should be. Y’all are each other’s rock solid, even in the toughest of times and THAT, my friend, is the very definition of family!

  5. Ann Marie - April 25, 2017 2:18 pm

    Takes something special to make me click “open” on busy days like this. Well worth it.

  6. Dave McDowell - April 25, 2017 3:06 pm

    Thanks, Sean. It’s good to remember that family is whoever is in the foxhole with you, dodging bullets and fighting the enemy. And, when it is over, those are the ones who stay the closest. It reminds me of my favorite verse … partially given here, Phillippians 3:10 … that I may know Him and the fellowship of his suffering …. fellowship of suffering, that’s what you have described.

  7. Jennifer Mary Lee - April 25, 2017 3:23 pm

    Amen, Kay Keel!

  8. Barbara Nelle Ewell - April 25, 2017 3:54 pm

    I just finished reading Lyla. Read it on my Kindle for PC in a big font. ‘Cause my macular is degenerating, they tell me. It reminded me a lot about family and loving. This morning’s post just added a verse to that hymn. It made my day.

  9. Laura Young - April 25, 2017 4:26 pm

    Sean, Jamie did really good when she found you! You never cease to bring a smile and, yes, tears face. How you find the soul of a story amazes me- as a southern born and raised girl with roots in poor farms with outhouses and hand drawn well water, this story touched me and my 92 year old Mother. We cried together this morning as I read her our daily dose of Sean. I commented to her, “too bad he’s too young and already taken ’cause he would be someone I could see myself loving for the rest of my life”. Her comment “Yeah, he could eat crackers in my bed anytime” which is her comment about some man she sees as special! ..:-)

  10. Gloria - April 25, 2017 5:45 pm

    Love all of your stories but this one really touches my heart..you’ve captured family..it means just being together no matter what, when or where.

  11. John Blase - April 25, 2017 5:55 pm

    Helluva post. Many thanks.

  12. Bobbie - April 25, 2017 7:39 pm

    Oh gosh…me too!

  13. Diane - April 25, 2017 11:49 pm

    Great commentary on your family. At least the really lean years are behind all of you. I knew a woman who’s mother had to move her 9 children to a pig barn, and this wasn’t so long ago, the 1960’s. I grew up in a large family of 10, and even though we didn’t have much money, we always had big traditional holidays with all the family. Now my sisters and brothers don’t even want to bother. It seems I’m the only one who wanted togetherness. So now I am content with my husband and daughter, and we love each other, that will be enough.

  14. Rose - April 26, 2017 3:59 am

    Yep, ya’ll are part of what my life was all about! Your tales evoke many, many memories. Keep on, keeping on . . .

  15. Connie Suttle - April 26, 2017 12:34 pm

    Thank you for this. It reminds me so much of my sisters and me, and the journeys we’ve been on through our lives. You have a deft touch with words that goes straight through the heart and finds the place where memories live.

  16. Suzanne Wright - April 28, 2017 12:58 pm

    You have a beautiful heart.


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