She sits there behind the cash register. Every day. Reading “Better Homes & Gardens” magazines. Sometimes she reads “Real Simple” or “People.” She rings up customers in the modest, side-of-the-road Alabama café. I am one such customer.
Her husband recently died. He was 74. It was sudden. He had just retired. They were going to travel. See America. Live out their golden years in a 28-foot RV. Have fun. Now he’s gone. Now she works here as a cook. She sold the RV.
“You lose your husband, and you lose your place in the world.”
Warren. That was her husband’s name. There is loneliness in her voice when she speaks of him. Half of her heart lies six-feet below the soil, she tells me.
“I met Warren when I’s fourteen,” she said. “He was fifteen. My daddy made us wait two years to marry. Warren said he would’ve waited until Jesus came back if he had to. I thought he was so romantic. God, I miss him.”
The place does a nice little lunch business. It’s rural food. The kind of fare the American Heart Association wants to ban.
Our mothers ruin us early in this part of the world. They feed us smother-fried steaks, biscuits the size of regulation softballs, sausage gravy for breakfast, battered poultry, and casseroles which primarily consist of cheese topped with more cheese, garnished with cheese.
And we eat lots of vegetables, too. Only, our vegetables are cooked with bacon grease from a Maxwell House can which sits on the stove. Every family has a can like this. The suet inside the can has been accumulating since Nixon was in office.
My grandmother raised my uncles during World War II on a steady diet of bacon grease until they developed 42-inch waistlines. Granny would force my uncles to clean their plates. During each meal she would say, “Remember boys, every time you leave food on your plate, you’re feeding Hitler.”
So my uncles tried to starve the German army.
This older woman is someone’s granny. We are mid-conversation when the woman’s grandchildren burst from the kitchen. Two girls. Both blond. She showers them with hugs while she is ringing me up.
She asks how my food was.
“It was superb,” I say.
“Glad to hear it. Come back tomorrow, and we’ll have zipper peas.”
Believe me, I would. In fact, I would crawl across a sea of broken glass to eat zipper peas. But alas, I am on my way to Kentucky. I have a lot of highway I need to put behind me.
I place my money on the counter. The woman looks at the cash with a smirk. “Not many people pay cash anymore,” she says. “Even our older folks use cards now.”
She uses this opportunity to teach her granddaughters a math lesson. She looks at one of the girls and says, “You want to count his change?”
The girl is maybe 8 years old. The kid mashes buttons. She takes my money. She painstakingly makes change. She is one dollar and two dimes short, but who’s counting?
“I’m a different person since I lost my husband,” the woman goes on.
I ask how she means.
“For one thing,” she says, “I’ve started telling people ‘I love you’ more. I say it all the time now.
“Because you never know when you’re gonna see a person again. We could die today. You never know if this will be the last time.
“So I tell everyone ‘I love you.’ Even people not in my family, sometimes I just say, ‘Hey, I love you,’ because you never know. Someone might need to hear it.”
I ask the obvious. “Do I get an ‘I love you’?” I say.
The woman gives a wry grin. We’re strangers, but in a way, there is no such thing as strangers.
“Sure,” she says. “Why not? I love you, honey.”
“I love you, too,” I say.
Then we hug. Two complete strangers, hugging in an American café. She smells exactly like a woman I used to know.
I release her. I walk out the door. And I’m back on the highway in a matter of seconds.
She’s doing okay, Warren. I just thought you’d want to know that.
Sherry - November 15, 2022 6:24 am
Wonderful story. Not the kind you would hear in California!
David - November 15, 2022 2:09 pm
I live in California and there ARE places here you would hear/see this story. ❤
Renee Welton - November 15, 2022 10:44 am
I love this story💞
Ana Dudley - November 15, 2022 10:49 am
My first husband died when he was 26. Since then, I also say I love you to my family and friends because you just never know. I loved this story and I can relate. Thank you for all of your heartwarming stories.
Sydney R. McClainki - November 15, 2022 11:28 am
My friend is not doing ell. I made a chocolate pie for her, which was not quite done in the middle. As she took a bite, and I was leaving , I said “I love you”. Her eyes brightened. She smiled!
Susan - November 15, 2022 11:46 am
Thank you ❤️
Julia - November 15, 2022 12:09 pm
And here’s where identification comes in:
I used to have thoughts and ideas on how people were doing. After a loss. Yes I did. Nothing like first hand experience to let one realize what they didn’t know. (myself)
Unfortunately, I am now in the same category as Warren’s wife. Doing okay? Okay by whose standards? I hope you never have to experience what doing okay means after your spouse dies. Okay, not okay. Love from Louisiana.
Roxanne - November 15, 2022 2:23 pm
I am so sorry for your loss, Julia. My own father passed away 14 years ago. My mother remains. She loves my siblings and me and our kids as deeply as she ever did, but she is not the same.
Kathy H., Farmington MN - November 15, 2022 3:14 pm
Hi, Beautiful. Have you found “the project” yet? The one that no one else can do. That needs to be done. That throws you a life line, and keeps pulling on you until you don’t need the line anymore? 7 1/2 years later, I am doing okay. Most days. Love you.
Trudy - November 15, 2022 12:13 pm
I love you, Sean.
Karen - November 15, 2022 12:27 pm
So happy you’ve come to KY. Hope to meet you tonight and hug your neck!
mccutchen52 - November 15, 2022 12:32 pm
My mom turns 93 today. Still active in the yard and still cooks. When my wife lost her father then years later lost her mother my mom called and talked to her. .She said you almost life you feel like an orphan with both parents gone. When my father past away, years later, she told my wife she felt alone. An orphan that was alone and that is a sad feeling. She is doing better. I call her all the time and go see her. She said once that even when she is in a crowd of people she misses hearing my fathers voice and just depending on him.
Jennifer M - November 15, 2022 12:38 pm
Oh, this made me cry. In a good kind of way.
gwenthinks - November 15, 2022 12:45 pm
such great insight from the cashier and from you!
Suellen - November 15, 2022 12:51 pm
I love all y’all.
Jimmy James - November 15, 2022 1:26 pm
I just read this to my mom. I’m sitting by her bedside. Today is probably going to be the end of the road for her. But at the end of that road is Jesus, waiting for her to come home forever.
Mom always said I love you when we’d part. You said it for her this morning Sean.
Love you. Brother.
Roxanne - November 15, 2022 2:11 pm
Blessings to you and all who love your mother. Jesus is waiting.
Mary yates - November 15, 2022 1:32 pm
Oh Sean, I love this one too. Thank you for focusing on the good that’s always been in our country. May our tribe increase.
Pamela Davis - November 15, 2022 1:44 pm
Sean, this post hit me in the heart! My husband, Gary died 5 years and 8 months ago. We were married 48 years, 6 months and 4 days. He died in front of me in the hospital. A doctor on one side and a nurse on the other, telling he was going for tests. I was at the foot of the bed. He turned his head to the side and was gone. I know he is in Heaven, but it hurts that he is not with me. The winter months are the worst of the year. It gets dark so early and the nights are so long!
When you are alone, the grief consumes you. Family and friends help with calls and visits. But when they leave, you are still alone. My grandchildren help me go on and I am so thankful to the Lord for them. The empty spot in my heart is never going away.
cordellg52 - November 15, 2022 2:04 pm
After you finish in Bowling Green, please come on up to Louisville for a visit. We’d love to see you. A fan of the man known as Sean of the South a/k/a Cordell
Sean of the South: Love You | The Trussville Tribune - November 15, 2022 2:07 pm
[…] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]
Susan A. Royal - November 15, 2022 2:11 pm
I start my day with tears after reading Sean’s column. The kind that warm your heart and make you grateful for another day.
Roxanne - November 15, 2022 2:11 pm
We have a custodian at my school named Vivian. I gave her a big hug this morning and told her I love her. And I do!
Jennifer Sellers - November 15, 2022 2:24 pm
What a beautiful story,Sean! Our God is an awesome God! He is using you in all your travels to tell the stories of people you meet! I pray everyday for God to use me for his good. It was a pleasure to meet you and Jamie at Christ United in Mobile and again at fairhope with your new book.
JonDragonfly - November 15, 2022 2:30 pm
From one guy to another guy,
“I love you”
Patricia Gibson - November 15, 2022 2:36 pm
I love you,Sean❤️❤️❤️
Barbara - November 15, 2022 2:38 pm
I cried today. My husband passed 4/8/22. She is right about “I love you.”
Cate - November 15, 2022 2:46 pm
Your columns, essays, short stories, prose, touch my heart in so many ways every day. Thank you Sean.
Brenda - November 15, 2022 2:52 pm
My husband and I have almost the same background story. I will keep this sweet lady in my heart, because I can’t imagine life without my Johnny.
Oliver Rhett Talbert - November 15, 2022 3:06 pm
Another big winner – smiles and tears aplenty.
Kathy H., Farmington MN - November 15, 2022 3:09 pm
14 and 15, reversed. My husband was 14, I was 15. We waited more than two years. I lost him to a seizure-prone driver almost 8 years ago. Ever since, when I hear people I love arguing with people they love, I cringe inside & out. Even if it’s me doing the arguing. My best friend has been giving me hugs and showing me love in any way she can to keep me going. She sent me this. I love you, Sara. BTW – crying again. Such a gift Sean. My angel, Sara.
Cynthia - November 15, 2022 3:09 pm
Where will you be in Kentucky? Date! I need to meet you so that I can wipe my tears as I tell you how much humanity your stories reveal, and how much difference it makes in my world.
David - November 15, 2022 3:14 pm
Beautiful story! Makes you kind of homesick don’t it?
June McPherson - November 15, 2022 3:38 pm
I love Bruce and Nancy. They have been right with me all these years!!!!!!Thank God
Daniel R. Dietrich - November 15, 2022 3:22 pm
I love you, Sean!!!!
Susie Gravitt - November 15, 2022 3:48 pm
My husband died suddenly 30 years ago when he was 42. We started dating when he was 16 and I was 15, married when he was 21 and I was almost 20. Our children were 16 and 13. I still feel the loss of my best friend, sometimes feeling like I am just half of what I should be. I also say “I love you” more than I did before he died knowing that you never know when the last time you can say it will be.
Roberta Carver - November 15, 2022 4:34 pm
What a nice commentary. I love Sean if the South and now I’ll sign up for receiving the articlesw directly. Thanks “Warren” Roberta
Cheryl Hill - November 15, 2022 4:39 pm
I love you, Sean. And Jamie too!!
Stacey Wallace - November 15, 2022 4:41 pm
Thanks for this sweet column, Sean. I’ll pray for this wonderful lady. She’s right; you never know if you’ll see someone again, so her saying “I love you,” is a great idea. I love you, Sean.
Dee Thompson - November 15, 2022 5:00 pm
I was diagnosed with cancer ten years ago and I had to have a hysterectomy. I started then telling my friends I love them. Why not? It’s true. Love is the best thing we have, and it’s the only thing you can give away freely and get more back in return. God bless this sweet lady. I hope her love for her grandchildren will keep her around a lot longer, despite her grief.
Ginga - November 15, 2022 5:14 pm
Oh Sean, I just love this story! It is without a doubt typically Southern. I am Southern through an through. However, I know that all that bacon grease is bad for my body, so I’ve never kept a coffee can full of it. Don’t get me wrong, I truly love all of my Southern ancestors and our Southern ways!! And, I love you and thank you for writing about the South!!!
Mari Bonomi - November 15, 2022 5:35 pm
I love your daily column, even though I am a secular humanist. But even this Northern gal with Jewish roots knows that what’s in that coffee can is lard. Pork fat. Suet is beef fat 🙂
I’ll bet your mamma knows that!!
Mary Younce - November 15, 2022 5:55 pm
I loved that story and understand how she feels as i lost the love of my life 12 years ago. Being a daughter of the South I was raised the same way. I never hang up the phone or text message without saying I love you. Love ya!
Anita Smith - November 15, 2022 6:41 pm
Sean, everything you write touches my heart. What a precious soul you have. Thank you for making my day better.
Melissa Brown - November 15, 2022 7:17 pm
Omg, it is so very important to be kind and smile at everyone. I am like this sweet lady – l tell everyone “l love you “. I wish l could have told my Daddy one more time before he died.
Durand - November 15, 2022 7:24 pm
As a person supporting and loving on my sister who is grieving the loss of her husband, I can say with almost 100% accuracy that Warren’s wife really isn’t okay. She’s probably just going through the motions, putting one foot in front of the other. Just trying to survive. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. Thank you, Sean, for taking the time to talk to her and hug her. ❤️
Wendy Johnson - November 15, 2022 7:28 pm
When my father’s father died 30 years ago, my father started tell us kids he loved us at the end of every visit and phone conversation. Prior to that, it was implied with everything he did. I have since followed suit with friends and family. My husband and I never part or go to sleep without a kiss and an I love you, even on the phone when we are trying to find each other in Walmart, we always end the call with I love you! You never know when it will be the last time. Love you all!
Linda Moon - November 15, 2022 7:36 pm
“LOVE YOU BACK”, I say in all CAPS!
pattymacl43 - November 15, 2022 8:11 pm
There is never a time when “I love you!” doesn’t help!! So don’t forget it!! Blessings!!
MAM - November 15, 2022 10:29 pm
I hope that God’s love can help her grief. I do not look forward to the day I lose my beloved husband. We, too, make sure we say “I love you” many times in a day.
Sandra - November 15, 2022 10:32 pm
I lost my husband after 52 years 10 months and 9 days. We were child hood sweethearts. We grew up on the same rural road in Alabama. He was and still is the love of my life. The last thing I say to all of my family and friends when I talk to them is I Love you. You never know when it is the last time. ♥️🙏🏻
Gordon - November 16, 2022 12:28 am
Another great post, Sean. Note-To clean our plates, our parents would always remind us that there were starving children in China who wished they had the food we enjoyed. That’s why I had to wear husky pants to school and church.
George Robert Leach - November 16, 2022 3:41 am
Sounds like many women I have known. Most of them were too busy to sit by a cash register and read.
William C Gardner - November 16, 2022 4:06 am
Been reading your stuff for several years now. Just saw your BGKY show. It was great! I believe you have attended my country church years ago. Alabama oh yea, Baptist. You hit it on the head! My uncle said “ I rather be a widow woman s lap dog than a third verse in a four verse song in a Baptist Church! Go back and let’s sing that third verse! ( you know what I mean)
Luv you. LUBO! ( love you, bye out)
Melissa Norman - November 16, 2022 11:52 am
Beautiful way to start my cold Michigan morning!!! Thank you, Sean, for bringing tears to my eyes over my coffee. I just want Phil to know I am fine today even though he left me just over 3 years ago suddenly while I was playing a joke on him. I thought he was doing a Michael Jackson “Moon Walk” joke back on me. It was AFIB taking him suddenly from this world to Heaven. God, I still miss him everyday even though I have a wonderful widowed man who sits across from me drinking a cup of coffee who I love dearly. Life here on earth is always a journey I never would have written, but, it is very sweet. God bless America! God is blessing you, Sean! Love you dearly!
Larry Harris - November 16, 2022 11:57 am
Love this story. I love you too, Sean.
Susan - November 16, 2022 2:35 pm
You write about people I grew up with. Coffee cans with bacon grease (I keep mine in the fridge in a glass ball jar), and home cooked food that, while not elegant, tastes grand and fills your belly & send me back in time. My dear mama told me we at soul food before it was cool.
P.S. I love you
Dot Coltrane - November 16, 2022 3:21 pm
Your reference to zipper peas made me smile. Most people don’t know the difference between zipper peas, purple hulls, black eyed peas, or any other variety. But those of us who grew up eating mostly veggies our mamas grew in gardens in our back yards — we KNOW. These days, I buy zipper peas shelled and frozen in plastic bags at a local farmers’ market. We had some for supper last night, with cornbread. I love your writing, Sean. And like the lady whose husband has just died, I love you.
CEEK - November 17, 2022 7:11 pm
All that bacon grease, biscuits and gravy at age 96. It’s a shame to loose someone so young because they didn’t “eat right”.