Poor as Dirt

They tell me her daddy is dead. A car wreck. Her mother does what she can to keep bill collectors at bay. Most days it’s not enough.

“Have a blessed day,” the little girl says to an old man at the counter.

He smiles.

Every customer at this thrift store gets the same blessing when they pay. A little brunette girl is the one who gives it.

Her smile is big enough to set the woods on fire. She wears pink shoes.

“We told her to greet customers, both coming and going,” says thrift store manager, Donna. “She’s never missed a one.”

The girl is all kinds of friendly. But she is poor. Barefoot poor.

She volunteers here. In return, Donna lets her pick out whichever T-shirts she wants. Or toys. Or shoes.

I meet the little girl. She is sorting a pile of clothes at the counter.

“Are you having a good day?” is the first thing she asks me.

They’ve trained her well.

She’s tiny. She doesn’t know a stranger. She’s wearing an “Eagles,” T-shirt—the band, not the team.

“Do you like the Eagles?” I ask.

“My dad does,” she says.

They tell me her daddy is dead. A car wreck. Her mother does what she can to keep bill collectors at bay. Most days it’s not enough.

Donna says the church tried to help financially, but got rejected.

“You know,” says Donna. “Poverty don’t always want help. This is the Deep South, pride goes back several generations.”

And old times are not forgotten.

The thrift store sits facing a slow two-lane highway. Today, they get all sorts of shoppers. Mexican laborers, needing clothes. Young couples, looking for skinny jeans or vintage lamps. And poor folks.

Donna met the girl last summer. One afternoon, the girl’s half-barefoot family walked through the doors. They browsed the narrow aisles, quietly.

The little girl found a T-shirt with Princess Elsa on it.

“Put that back,” said her mama. “You got plenty of shirts. We’re buying school shoes for brother.”

That day, Donna was sorting clothes. She asked if the girl wanted to help her sort while waiting.

The rest is history.

“She’s a good volunteer,” Donna says. “So sweet. Her little face is the first thing I look for when I get to work.”

The little girl is a hard worker. She knows how to man the coffee machine, sort new donations, she even runs the cash register sometimes.

It’s only a part-time gig, but the kid likes her job.

Last week, the church ladies bought three pairs of tennis shoes from Shoe Carnival. Pink with white trim. They removed them from boxes and tossed them into the donations bin.

The girl found them.

“Look!” said the girl. “These are AWESOME shoes!”

Awesome. At first, she was afraid to wear them—she didn’t want to get them dirty. The church ladies insisted.

“We’re just trying to make her feel special,” says Donna. “Trying to show her what she’s worth. She don’t have a clue how much we truly love her.”

I give the little girl a high-five before I leave. Her face is all teeth.

“Have a blessed day!” she tells me.

I will, kid.

And it’s all your fault.


  1. Kathy Smith - April 22, 2017 1:51 pm

    Thanks for blessing MY day with your story

  2. Nita Wright - April 22, 2017 2:00 pm

    All right – this one had me in tears.

  3. Stephanie - April 22, 2017 2:17 pm

    Thank you.

  4. Bobbie - April 22, 2017 2:34 pm


  5. Marsha - April 22, 2017 3:06 pm

    I love you Sean, I am grateful for you opening up my eyes to the good people in this world. I hope it rubs off on me. I am not a bad person, try to help others as I can, but I hope I learn to reach the hurt

  6. Janet Mary Lee - April 22, 2017 3:16 pm

    Just another one of those people who says I found your post today. And I will continue to read them every day… and am richer for it. Thanks, Sean.

  7. Judy Miller - April 22, 2017 3:16 pm

    OhMyGosh! You get to meet the best people!!!!!

  8. Teresa's Earl - April 22, 2017 4:41 pm

    I love your stories, thanks for taking my mind back to when things were good and simple and people were kind. Chivalry is not dead and that is a beautiful thing. Anyway I will continue to read your stories and love them. Thank you

  9. Sam Hunneman - April 22, 2017 6:42 pm

    Oh yeah. Blessed.

  10. Susie Munz - April 24, 2017 12:30 am

    Great story!

  11. Sherry - April 29, 2017 7:06 pm

    You Sean are the real blessing to this world by sharing your life’s stories with us. I just hate it I only discovered you a few months ago but thank GOD I did. And THANK YOU!!!!!! Have a blessed day,from your new bed fan. Love&Peace

  12. Sherry - April 29, 2017 7:12 pm

    Sorry Dang auto correct. I meant to say best fan. Jeeezzzz don’t want people to think I’m your (bed fan)LOL !!!!!!

  13. Deanna J - June 19, 2017 1:12 pm

    Thank you!

    • Katie Maiorano - June 19, 2017 6:05 pm

      Gosh……this one hit my heart with the description of Southern pride.
      My daddy was a kind man and being one of thirteen children growing up on a farm in Eastern Kentucky, he lived with and observed baseline poverty in all forms. When shopping with us girls at J C Penny’s, we would often see very poor families with their children, some of whom did not have shoes, even in the winter. My daddy would estimate the kids’ shoes sizes, buy appropriate shoes and then pass them along to the poor family, saying the shoes were the wrong size for his kids, maybe they could use them. This, of course, was prearranged with the shoe sales person. I miss my daddy.

  14. Judy - June 19, 2017 5:56 pm

    Sometimes I read your stories with tears of joy, other times with tears of sorrow, and then there’s ones like this one that bring out both types of tears. Reared and raised in the part of Alabama, we like to call LA, I hope you stumble upon my hometown one day. You are trekking all around it. Folks just like you tell about can be found all around the square and parts beyond. When scrolling through Facebook, I stop and read your article immediately. They give me a warm fuzzy feeling, something everyone needs if they read the daily news also. Thank you, Sean.

  15. Susan in Georgia - August 28, 2017 9:31 pm

    And, Sean, it’s all YOUR fault that I’m in salty tears at the end of this story. I so love the way you write, and I don’t think I’ll ever look at a pair of pink tennis shoes without seeing that precious girl-child in my mind’s eye. Have a blessed day.


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