I am thirty minutes outside Birmingham. In the rural hinterlands. It’s a gray day. The sky is aluminum-colored and dismal. I don’t like gray days. They really depress me. To make matters worse, this is a pandemic.
Sometimes I wake up and wonder if this pandemic has all been some sort of elaborate nightmare; maybe one morning I’ll wake up and the world will have gone back to rock concerts and handshakes. But that didn’t happen today.
What I need right now is breakfast. I’ve been on the road a few days. I need carbs. I need cholesterol.
I pull over at an old joint. It’s the kind of rundown eatery with old music playing overhead and waitresses who can balance 38 plates on one arm and a carry bottle of ketchup in their teeth.
The place is socially distanced, masks are worn by servers. This new world feels foreign to me sometimes. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it.
My waitress arrives holding a notepad, wearing an N95 respirator. She is cheerful, and dressed in what appear to be high-school colors. She asks what I want to eat. I go with bacon, eggs, coffee.
The coffee looks like tar and it’s strong enough to resurrect a cadaver. Which is good, I need an energy boost today because gray days sap my enthusiasm. They make me exhausted.
So I’m sipping this caffeinated sludge and wincing, since this beverage has roughly the same pH value as hydrochloric acid. That’s when I notice the people at the table a few spaces away from me.
There is a boy. I’m guessing he’s 6 or 7 years old. He is blind, or perhaps visually impaired. The kid sits beside his mother in a booth, his eyes are open, he is staring blankly ahead.
When the family’s food arrives, his mother ignores her own plate of food and begins feeding the boy.
“I can feed myself, Mom,” he says with the classic voice of a determined American child.
“No,” she says. “We’re about to see Grandma in a few hours, I won’t have you getting food on your shirt.”
“I’m not a baby.”
“I never said you were.”
“But Mom,” the kid whines. “Your food is getting cold.”
“I like cold breakfasts. Now open up.”
Mother and son are attracting the attention of everyone in this little place. Especially from the wait staff. We are all transfixed by them because they are magnificent.
The bell over the door dings. The door swings open.
A few truck drivers in camouflage and ballcaps walk in and take a seat at the bar. The waitress asks what they want to eat, but they don’t answer. You can tell these men are immediately captivated by the same tender scene the rest of us are watching.
Mother is spoon feeding Junior and the men don’t seem to be able to notice anything else.
I’m watching too. It’s too lovely to ignore. It would be like walking into a restaurant and trying to read a menu while Beethoven plays “Piano Sonata No. 21.” You wouldn’t be able to focus.
Finally the truck drivers order, and their breakfasts arrive. Their plates are heaping with bacon, their coffee is poured. But their conversation is minimal, they keep stealing admiring glances at the boy and his mom.
I believe there is something special about the relationship between mother and son. Throughout centuries, masterpieces have been painted by deft hands depicting the Madonna and her child. Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, the list goes on. The old masters didn’t go around painting things that were ugly. There is something holy found in the mother-son bond.
When the boy is finished eating, the mother dips a napkin into a glass of water and dabs his messy face. She wipes his mouth gently, then touches his cheeks and fixes his hair. He stares straight forward when she kisses his forehead.
He says, “Do you think Grandma will recognize me?”
“Don’t know,” says Mom. “You’re getting pretty tall and handsome.”
The boy likes this. “Am I REALLY tall?”
“I’d say you’re almost as tall as your sister.”
Now the boy is finished, and it’s mom’s turn to eat. We all watch her stare at a plate of cold food. She unwraps her silverware and prepares to eat ice-cold bacon and eggs. She doesn’t seem to mind.
But something happens.
No sooner has the mother lifted her fork than the waitress arrives. Without saying a word, the server places a new plate onto the table. This plate is steaming hot. The waitress removes the old plate, winks, and walks away. She doesn’t make a big deal about it, she doesn’t say anything.
The mother says thank you, and you can tell that she is visibly moved by this. And the author of this story begins to feel a prickle behind his nose and eyes.
The bell dings as the truck drivers leave the place. I can see them through the front windows, they are all hopping into enormous, muddy vehicles, firing loud engines that rattle the earth and shake my bones.
I flag my waitress. She asks if everything is okay. I tell her everything is great. Then I lean in and whisper to her, explaining that I’d like to pay the bill for the woman and her son. And if possible, I want to do this in secret.
The waitress smiles, removes my empty plate, and points out the window to the noisy trucks. “Too late,” she says. “Those gentlemen beat you to it.”
Suddenly, today is less gray than when I started this column.
Ray Gehring - February 10, 2021 6:13 am
Beth L Ohlmann - February 10, 2021 6:56 am
Your writings make me cry like it’s my very soul getting cleansed from the inside out. You are appreciated.
Roberta R (Bobbie) - February 10, 2021 6:35 am
This was wonderful and tender. My brother and his wife have 8, now grown, children. Once when they were all at a restaurant, my brother went up to pay and was told the bill was covered by a couple impressed with how polite all those children were, yet not constrained. Paying it forward is always a blessing. And so are you, Sean. Thank you.
Phil Jennings - February 10, 2021 7:08 am
Recognizing true love.
A list too long to keep going.
Thanks again Sean.
You’re a Norman Rockwell with words.
Pam Beauchamp - February 10, 2021 7:26 am
There are many kind people . We just don’t always hear about them❤️
Bob E - February 10, 2021 7:43 am
Certainly satisfying to see some people still get it.
God bless those who help.
Leigh R Amiot - February 10, 2021 9:30 am
Those aluminum sky days get to me as well when there are too many of them in a row. The forecast in my neck of the woods is just that, eight days of it ahead, but I’m going to fight it. This lovely essay brought to mind a similar story but on the other end of life’s spectrum. My husband and I were seated at a seafood restaurant when people were still completely at ease to go out to eat, and an older fellow and an ancient fellow sat down in a nearby booth. When the food arrived, the older fellow went over to the ancient fellow’s side of the booth, cut up every bit of his food carefully, then sat out the flatware for him. From their appearance, I felt reasonably sure they were father and son, and I also thought that the older fellow’s life should go well for him, a promise from the Lord for honoring the ancient fellow, his father.
Joe Dorough - February 10, 2021 9:58 am
Thanks Sean! I needed this!
Julie - February 10, 2021 11:09 am
Lots of Love flowing in that diner this morning, Sean. And in spite of your gray sky, and the nightmare hanging over all of us, your spirits were lifted by some fine examples of that Love.
For you to share your experience with your readers is the next best thing to being there.
Thank you for making our day less gray, too💝
You sure do have a special knack for that❣️
Kate - February 10, 2021 11:12 am
I love your stories, you write about goodness, kindness, and love, which I think most people are really about, we just need you to keep reminding us. TV, news media, social media and so many others things constantly shove the other end of the spectrum at us. Thank you for keeping us grounded in goodness. You are a blessing.
Kate Medina Writes - February 10, 2021 11:41 am
Thank you for these precious stories that revive our faith in our fellow humans.
Leslie - February 10, 2021 11:41 am
Your title of this piece speaks volumes. There is something marvelously beautiful about the relationship between a mother and her son. Yes, this bond can clear the clouds of a gray day. And so can the generosity of others.
Vivian Holmes - February 10, 2021 12:29 pm
Sometimes the sunshine just finds us through the gray! Thanks for this sweet start to my morning. Have a blessed day. 💕
Ann - February 10, 2021 12:33 pm
We are in pea soup fog today and your column brought out the sun!!
William Strawn - February 10, 2021 12:43 pm
I am going to have to reduce the number of days I read your writing. I cry so often that my whole body dries out.
Jean - February 10, 2021 12:44 pm
You have made my day brighter and more hopeful.
Barbara - February 10, 2021 12:55 pm
I like Kate’s comment about “grounded in goodness.” Thank you for reminding us that goodness is still there.
Sonya Tuttle - February 10, 2021 12:59 pm
Love never fails. 🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰
Debbie g - February 10, 2021 1:10 pm
Diane Bailey - February 10, 2021 1:14 pm
I love the heart of a writer, who is always looking quietly at the heart of others. Well done. Well done
Dee Thompson - February 10, 2021 1:31 pm
Wow, this is one of your best. As the mother of a child with one hand, I can really identify with the mother. It’s such a delicate balancing act, trying not to be overprotective and wanting your child to feel competent and independent. I love that people are buying meals for others, and tipping extravagantly. My brother and my BFF — both very frugal people — for months have been ordering takeout 2-3 times a week and tipping really well, trying to help in a small way. If this pandemic has done anything good, it’s to make us kinder to one another.
Susan M - February 10, 2021 1:35 pm
Now this was a wonderful way to start my day, thanks for another great one Sean!
Joey - February 10, 2021 1:38 pm
Phil Jennings nailed it: you are a Norman Rockwell with words. Wow.
Anne C - February 10, 2021 1:39 pm
And just like that, the aluminum gray day here became brighter in spite of the rain dripping down my cheeks. Thank you.
Jan - February 10, 2021 1:47 pm
You have outdone yourself! Such a beautiful story. As the mother of three sons and grandmother of four grandsons, I agree there is something special about that relationship. I hope to learn to watch and see through your eyes, Sean, so that I will not miss a detail of the glorious stories playing out all around me. Thank you.
Richard - February 10, 2021 1:48 pm
“And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three: but the greatest of these is love.”
Patricia Gibson - February 10, 2021 1:59 pm
Thanks for sharing!!❤️❤️❤️
Bobbie - February 10, 2021 2:10 pm
You are special Sean Dietrich! So thankful for those who can see outside themselves at the goodness all around them. Kindness is contagious. Let’s all start spreading it today! God bless you. And a special blessing to that dear mother and son❤️🌹🌹🌹
Tom - February 10, 2021 2:20 pm
There are few things in life more enriching for the soul than a good turn done anonymously.
Phil (Brown Marlin) - February 10, 2021 2:22 pm
Somehow I knew the outcome of that story before reading it. As i was glued to your message I found myself right there in that cafe dripping salt water into my coffee and reaching for my wallet. With so much animosity, enmity, even downright hate in the world, kindness lives on in the hearts of so many, and it ALWAYS overcomes selfishness.
Chelsea Bucci - February 10, 2021 2:23 pm
Thank you for this <3
Betty - February 10, 2021 2:23 pm
I forward these columns to one of my children or friends almost every day. Sometimes there will be one that I want to keep to myself. This one is not a keeper; it’s meant to be shared among mothers and sons, among parents and children, among people who see love and give it in return everywhere.
terry - February 10, 2021 2:38 pm
Grace Qualls - February 10, 2021 2:44 pm
Sean, you are right up there with Leon Hale, columnist with the Houston Chronicle. Could you write a column on roaches in a comical vein?
Suzanne Moore - February 10, 2021 2:45 pm
Wonderful story, Sean. There are kind and caring people around us all. Today the aluminum grey sky outside my window will look less gloomy as I remember your post. Love to you and yours…
Deborah L Blount - February 10, 2021 2:46 pm
Gracious, Sean! My eyes are perspiring. That was my feel good moment of the day.
Laura - February 10, 2021 2:47 pm
They say to start your day with an affirmation or something positive. For me that is reading your daily missive before I do anything else. Then I forward it to a couple of friends to start their days. It has made life better since a friend introduced me to your writings, definitely gets my day off to the best start.
Helen De Prima - February 10, 2021 2:59 pm
Bless you, Sean!
Anna Shaffer - February 10, 2021 3:04 pm
Keep sharing the goodness Sean. You lift us out of the doldrums that we see in the news. God bless you. ❤️
elizabethroosje - February 10, 2021 3:22 pm
Oh man. Thank you so much for this. That is beautiful and encouraging! I love it so much! God bless them!!! ❤
Dean - February 10, 2021 3:31 pm
Great column. Starts my day with tears and a smile
Kaye Sears - February 10, 2021 3:31 pm
In a weary, scary and uncertain world full of seemingly dreary gray days, your view of life parts the clouds and makes me grateful for everything I have in my life – and the beauty of it all. God bless you and keep you Sean! Thank you!!
Tom Wallin - February 10, 2021 4:03 pm
Some people just know the right thing to do. I wish I had been there with you but I can see it in my mind. Thanks for the great story.
Christina - February 10, 2021 4:39 pm
Is there a better picture than this? This is a heaven on earth moment. Thanks for noticing and capturing it so beautifully for us, Sean.
Peggy - February 10, 2021 5:19 pm
Nothing greater than a Mother’s Love for her child/children. I love this post.
Kimlyn Esser - February 10, 2021 5:35 pm
I could have told you you were going to be to late. I’m married to one of those men, truck driver. They, mostly, are the kindest people on the planet. They travel the country seeing the bad, and the good, that we all have to offer. They read bed time stories to their kids over the phone, they attend school events via Facebook live, and they drive through the night so they can spend three hours with their kids before school. While the kindness of the mom in this story is touching, it’s the return kindness of those who were in the diner that world could use more of. Thank you for contributing kindness.
Linda Moon - February 10, 2021 5:52 pm
Yesterday I was sixty minutes outside Birmingham. It wasn’t gray and dismal. It was beautiful as I hiked part of the Pinhoti Trail. Getting used to this new world won’t happen for me…..not really. “Am I REALLY tall?” My prickle began there because of an unfathomable question from a boy who could not see that he was tall. I wish you had been on the Pinhoti with my guys and me yesterday, author. It was a beautiful day.
Bob Brenner - February 10, 2021 5:59 pm
This is very touching and beautiful! Thanks Sean…❤️
nebraskannie - February 10, 2021 6:18 pm
I had just started to feel sorry for myself when I read your story. It’s why I try to read you every day. Sometimes I need to be reminded there are such great people in the world.
Bill - February 10, 2021 7:04 pm
Kindness and generosity are found in all places in the world. It starts with us being generous
Susan Kennedy - February 10, 2021 7:28 pm
Beautiful. It is suddenly warmer and the sun is shining. 💙
Celia Bass - February 10, 2021 7:48 pm
You do this to me every time, or almost every time. I keep thinking I will get through a column without crying, but you usually catch me at the end, the last sentence or two. This picture you painted today is one or similar to one I’ve witnessed many times in Southern places where we eat. You drew for us a beautiful, heart-warming picture of human kindness and love that we all hold dear. I’m so looking forward to being able to eat at restaurants again, and secretly paying for others meals as we have enjoyed doing in the past. You did make my day brighter.
MAM - February 10, 2021 8:10 pm
Leaking eyes again on top of a huge smile! Thanks, Sean, for not only being an excellent writer, but a very caring person!
MaryJane Breaux - February 10, 2021 9:21 pm
And just like that, the gloom of this cold front has given way to the restored warmth in my heart. I sure do love you Sean…thank you again!
Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - February 10, 2021 9:44 pm
It’s wonderful that you can find people performing kindnesses to others. That had to make your day!
Adrienne Johnson - February 11, 2021 12:42 am
I love your stories. It did remind me of a Norman Rockwell picture. It did make the tears fall. There are kind people in the world. You are like a bit of sunshine 🌞.
Cynthia Russell - February 11, 2021 4:29 am
AGAIN, THANK YOU SEAN.. SO LOVE YOUR HEART!!
Karen Howard-Goss - February 11, 2021 12:50 pm
The reader of this article feels a pickle behind her nose and eyes! There is always color outside the gray when you’re looking for it :))
Katie - February 11, 2021 4:00 pm
Bobby Ray Reeder - February 11, 2021 4:11 pm
This one really hit home with me. I was the youngest of nine kids and my oldest brother was blind. However, he had gone out on his own into the world before I was old enough to remember the interactions with our Mom. Soooo, the following totally reinforces the love and sacrifice of moms.
My Mom and Dad (in name only) divorced because he was unfaithful. Mom worked and raised the kids still at home on her own. Needless to say, we struggled. I remember once that Mom stopped eating and said she was so full. (Of course I had cleaned my plate.) She pushed her plate to me and said “please finish mine”. I was too young to realize what she was doing. (Wisdom comes with age.) The thought of that day supersedes many sacrifices Mom made for us. My Mom, Bessie Mae, was the best…….I miss her.
Karen Greathouse - February 11, 2021 7:50 pm
Made me cry, beautiful. I love my son, too. He’s 43.
Jane - February 11, 2021 10:01 pm
Just takes one little ray of sunshine to transform a cloudy day.
‘Almost’ retired father - February 12, 2021 1:57 am
Almost to sacred for mortal eyes!
johnallenberry - February 12, 2021 2:30 am
Dang it, Sean! You made me squall again!!
'Ink Re-cap 119 and Inspiring Inklings for Our Weekend - kimenink.com - February 13, 2021 2:08 pm
[…] inspiring read of the week. Or every week. Please tell me you signed up to his […]
Anne Riemer - February 14, 2021 12:43 pm
Wow. I only save the Sean columns that bring tears to my eyes. That makes 10,000. This is getting ridiculous.🥰
Mahlon Boehs - February 22, 2021 1:17 pm
Aww man… Thank you for taking us along to that diner and sharing the experience. My eyes were starting to prickle when the waitress swapped the cold meal for a nice, new hot one. Then when you offered to pay, they started to leak. The real sucker punch came when we found out the truckers had stole the show. That’s when the blubbering and flood ensued. Have a great day and keep the stories coming!