“What are you writing?” she asks. Only it comes out sounding like “Choo rattin’?”

I have a few hours to kill. I stop at a small place to eat. The place is dead. It is just me and a waitress. She is older. Covered in tattoos.

The place is rundown. My coffee mug has lipstick traces on it. The music overhead is George and Tammy. My table is sticky. I’ve been in a lot of breakfast joints in my day, but this is definitely one of them.

I order eggs and bacon. And I type on a laptop while listening to George sing.

She watches me. At first she isn’t going to say anything, but eventually she does. Her boredom is unbearable.

“What are you writing?” she asks. Only it comes out sounding like “Choo rattin’?”

“It’s just a story,” I say.

“Story ‘bout h-whut?”

“This and that.”

“You a writer?”


“You any good?”

“Not really.”

“I ever heard of you before?”

“I doubt it.”

“What’s your name?”


“Never heard of you.”

The music overhead changes to Randy Travis. I have always liked Randy Travis.

I ask her the quintessential breakfast-joint question. “So, where’re you from?”

“Virginia, originally. Only, I been in Alabama since I’s twenty.”

“Doing what?”

“This and that.”

“You any good?”

This makes her smile. “I was good at being stupid. So are my daughters. All been stupid just like me. My son’s the only one who did right. He joined up.”

“The military?”

“A Marine.”

“Semper Fi?”

“Do what?”

“I think that’s their motto, the Marines, Semper Fi.”

“Is that Spanish?”

“I think Latin.”

“Don’t know nothin’ bout no Latin, but he’s a good boy, when I get to see him.”

She returns to wiping the counter. It’s just busywork. There’s nothing to wipe. The cook is in the kitchen playing with his phone. He appears to have a runny nose. He wipes it with his palm. And I think I’m going to be sick.

Out of the blue she says, “You don’t talk like Birmingham.”

“What do I talk like?”

“Just sorta, I don’t know, can’t tell. Is it Georgia?”




“Are you from Tennessee?”





“That’s right, how’d you know?”

“Lucky guess.”

Long pause.

The sound of a refrigerator compressor kicking in.

The cook sniffs his snotty nose.

Dolly Parton is singing: “Here You Come Again.”

“So,” she says, “do people pay you to write stuff or what?”


“But not all the time?”

I shrug. “Let’s just put it this way, my truck still needs new brake pads, and my wife’s car won’t crank without an Episcopal priest.”

“Sounds like my old car. But I don’t have to worry ‘bout that no more. My son just bought a new one for me. Rides pretty good. The AC will freeze your butt.”

“He sounds like a good man, your son.”

“Oh. He’s a Marine, you know.”

“You mentioned that.”

“What was that you said the Marines say again?”

“I think it’s Semper Fi.”

“Wonder what it means.”

“I think it means, always faithful, or always loyal, or something like that.”

“I gotta write that down.”

She writes it on a notepad. Then she says, “I should let you get back to typing on that computer, shouldn’t I?”

“No, it’s okay. I need some conversation, I have been on the road a lot lately.”

“Doing what?”

“I tell stories and stuff.”

“Stories? Oh man, I loved Captain Kangaroo when I was a kid.”

“How about that.”

Our conversation comes to a halt.

The sound of a clock ticking. My fork screeches on my plate. A few people walk past the door. She watches them go by.

She says, “So what’re your stories about?”

“Nothing, really.”

“Oh, so you mean kinda like Seinfeld?”

“Not quite.”

“I just love that Kramer.”

The bell on the door dings. A man walks into the restaurant. He has a little boy. The kid is wearing a plaster cast on his arm. She approaches his table. “What’ll it be?” she asks.

“Pancakes,” says the boy.

She winks. “Comin’ rat up.”

She barks the order. The cook puts his phone away. He sneezes. It’s time to make some cold-and-flu-virus pancakes for Junior. The smell of melted butter fills the room.

She asks the boy how he broke his arm.

“Skateboarding,” he says.

She says, “You gotta be more careful.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“One time,” she adds, “my son, he broke his ankle when he was a little bitty boy, had to use crutches. He milked it for all it was worth.”

The kid smiles. The father smiles.

She leaves their table. She checks on me. I tell her I am doing fine. Then her cell phone rings. She steps outside to smoke a few and talk.

I finish breakfast and I pack my laptop. I leave cash on the table. I walk past her on the way out. She is leaning against a wall, on her phone. I can tell she’s talking to him because she is happy.

She waves at me when I leave.

“Is that your son?” I whisper.

She nods, covers her mouthpiece, and whispers, “He always calls to check on me.”

Probably to see how she’s doing. To see how her new car’s working out. To tell her he loves her. Or that he misses her.

Because, you know.

Semper Fi.


  1. Ann - September 13, 2019 9:11 am

    This is so refreshingly sweet….

  2. GaryD - September 13, 2019 9:37 am

    Where was that breakfast joint! I want to be sure I don’t eat there. Ever. Funny story. This is one of your experiences that I hope I don’t experience. I would have been out of there at the first nose wiping episode.

  3. Elizabeth - September 13, 2019 10:33 am

    Good job!

  4. Marilyn - September 13, 2019 11:13 am

    Simple, but so full of meaning!s

  5. Beverley Phillips - September 13, 2019 11:23 am

    Sean, you’re just getting better and better. Keep it coming!

  6. Gloria - September 13, 2019 12:22 pm

    Sean, you have a wonderful way of catching glimpses of simplicity in life and weaving a beautiful story. Thank you!

  7. Connie Havard Ryland - September 13, 2019 12:54 pm

    Dang it Sean. Tears before 8 am is not a good thing. Sweet story. Love and hugs.

  8. Nancy - September 13, 2019 12:59 pm

    Some people would only complain about the sticky table and the cook’s poor hygiene, but not you. You see the humanity. You see the love and pride of a mother for her son. You bring a story of goodness from a dingy diner. I look forward to reading your column every morning.

  9. Cathy Moss - September 13, 2019 1:10 pm

    Oh Sean, I commend you for sticking with the diner and listening to your server. She got s chance to brag on her son and it does not sound like she has one other thing in her life to brag about. Life just does not turn out for everyone as they had hoped. This story makes me look forward to counting all my blessings more than once today. You are one of my blessings. Thank you for what you write because every story makes me a better person. Pls tell us if you read these comments. I need to know. Can’t wait to hear you at the end of Sept. I will be on the front row even if I have to camp out before you start. I am pretty excited. I hope Jamie is going to be with you❤️👍🙏🏻

  10. Carolyn - September 13, 2019 1:32 pm

    Sweet story, Sean. God bless that fine son for caring so much about his mother. You know what
    the Marine Corp posters say….”We only want a few good men!” I know it brings her a lot of pride knowing that she raised a son that qualifies.
    Semper Fi. Hope you didn’t get the flu‼️

  11. Linda Moon - September 13, 2019 4:07 pm

    Your stories are not about nothing. They can be life-affirming art with beauty and meaning…..and also funny. The waitress who never heard of you is missing a lot. You could’ve been Sean Connery or Sean Penn for all she knew. My grandsons and I saw Sean Penn while filming the Tree Of Life in Houston, but his people wouldn’t let us get near him because he’s a famous actor. The waitress was in the presence of another famous Sean and didn’t even know it! But, as an Always Faithful reader, I know!!

  12. Sheila - September 13, 2019 5:57 pm


  13. throughmyeyesusa - September 13, 2019 6:26 pm

    Well, she was right about one thing; not only WAS she good at being stupid, she still IS good at it!
    She never heard of you, but didn’t have the curiosity to ask your surname?
    Her son was a Marine but she’d never heard of Semper Fi?
    And how long had she served – and probably eaten – food inoculated by the snotty-nosed cook with no concern for own health or that of the patrons?

    Your writing is sublime, Sean Whateveryournameis, but this story was just depressing!

    And you kept eating?!! You started eating? You even ordered from that sticky table after the coffee arrived in a dirty cup? Eeeeeuw!

  14. Ala Red Clay Girl - September 13, 2019 9:11 pm

    Even “stupid” people deserve a kind or encouraging word now and then. I’m glad that you did that for her, Sean.

  15. Edna B. - September 13, 2019 9:16 pm

    Lovely story, but I’d never be able to sit down at a table in that place, much less order and eat the food. You’re a brave man Sean. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

  16. Brian - September 13, 2019 9:55 pm

    Keep em comin Sean. Have a great day and God Bless. War Eagle

  17. Pat - September 13, 2019 10:28 pm

    Oh how sweet. I know that phone call made her day!

  18. Beverly Wynn - September 14, 2019 2:22 pm

    You always paint a picture with your words….& that one kinda’ made me a little queasy.. so glad you didn’t get sick… Love your stories….they’re always full of love for humanity,.. even if sometimes the visual is daunting to the tummy 🙃☮️😚

  19. Jomi Murphy - September 14, 2019 6:10 pm

    I am watching college football on television and not very interested in the two playing and picked up my phone to read this and you made me tear up again! Kids just don’t know how happy a phone call can make their momma💙

    • terry - September 16, 2019 8:58 am

      Or their Pops

  20. That's jack - September 15, 2019 2:37 am

    The waitress was right, under the circumstances, he got it right. Semper Fi, I hope he stays for 20! beats what he knew as a kid, I do know that. Semper FI

    • Mary Grider - September 15, 2019 4:55 am

      Not sure if you intended it to be, but that’s a sweet story! You really do see to the heart of a person, not the outside which most of the world sees! Where most see failure, you look for the success. She did something right even if she did make some mistakes! Thank you for that.

  21. Leigh Ann - September 24, 2019 3:03 pm

    This was refreshingly sweet and just the kind of story I need for my day

  22. Sam Seetin - October 6, 2019 11:03 am

    Anticipate, adapt, overcome – Hooha!


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