I am in a bar. Not a nice one. A place that features low lighting, dirty beer glasses, and an unidentifiable odor.
The live music is allegedly country. But it sounds like a college kid sawing his guitar in half.
The man behind the bar is gray-haired. Tall and lanky. He has been tending bar for forty-three years, he tells me.
He has the easygoing personality every bartender should.
“Got my first bartending gig when I’s in my twenties,” he said. “Was either that or go to school to make Mama happy.”
Tending bar was an education in itself. The nightlife is no cakewalk. Bartending is a lot of hard work for mediocre tips.
He met a girl from a small Georgia town. A waitress.
“She and her boyfriend had just broke up,” he says. “Knew I loved her first moment I saw her.”
They hit it off. Things blossomed. They dated. He moved in. They married.
They lived outside Atlanta where he opened his own place. A bar and grill with country music on weekends. She worked the kitchen, he served beer.
They had two kids. They did family vacations at Disney. Little League games. They owned a Labrador.
But nothing in life lasts.
“She came home early one day,” he says. “And stayed locked in our bathroom all afternoon.”
It was bad. The doctor found something in her breast.
What followed was hell. He sold their restaurant for a pittance. He took care of kids while she laid in bed. He made sack lunches, cleaned house. Prayed.
He drove his wife to treatments. He read aloud from magazines while she sat connected to plastic tubes.
Treatments didn’t work. Neither did surgery. She was forty-three when she passed.
Afterward, he couldn’t pull himself together. He quit shaving, quit eating, he let his kids fend for themselves.
“One day,” he says. “My brother comes over. We had a come-to-Jesus meeting. He told me to quit feeling sorry for myself, get off my ass, ‘cause my kids needed me.”
He went back to working a bar in Atlanta. The money was nothing to write home about. He was still bitter at the world.
Then something happened.
“We were about to shut down one night,” he goes on. “And I met this lady who lost her son in a car wreck. And we just talked for hours. She was the first person who gave me hope.”
He’s met a lot of people with hopeful stories. People whose mothers have died, men whose wives left them, redheaded writers who ask a lot of questions.
He’s happy now. He got remarried last year. His children are grown, and he’d give a kidney to anyone who asked.
Today, he leads an ordinary life, he drives an average Chevrolet.
He will never make a newspaper or news broadcast because he is a regular Joe. He is every nameless American you’ve ever met. He is a survivor. And he doesn’t like the spotlight.
“Don’t know why you’re asking all these questions,” he laughs. “My life ain’t worth writing about.”
I’m not writing about your life, sir.
I’m telling my friends how beautiful you are.
HRC - July 20, 2017 12:07 pm
I like regular Joe’s. They usually make me smile. I have a sister. She’s a regular Joe too! I love her with all my heart. She retired several years ago as a flight attendant from Delta and now lives in a small north Florida town. Things were good . But when the depression set in it got very challenging … she lost her joy.
Yesterday was her birthday and I spent almost a week writing this for her … now, I’m certainly no writer but I do believe in journaling, it makes me feel good. And so I Put these thoughts together for her to remind her of how special she is … Everyone needs to feel special. Even regular Joes. So Happy Birthday to all the regular Joes out here!
On thIS SPECIAL BIRTHDAY I WISH YOU MANY THINGS. I wish you would learn from my mistakes. Please never settle, you have the most beautiful soul and deserve nothing but the absolute best.
I wish you will always stay true to you.
I wish you will always forgive. Holding grudges can make you unhappy. Learn to forgive and let go but learn to protect yourself from getting into the same situation again.
I wish you will never give up on your dreams no matter how big or small they seem. If you wish to become mayor, I will be right there beside you being your biggest cheerleader because you can accomplish anything.
I wish you would never give up on yourself because I will never give up on you. Remember no matter what life throws at you, you are never alone.
I wish and hope you will always stay true to yourself. Please don’t ever change. You are the most pure and honest person I know. In a world that’s constantly changing have the strength to be consistent.
I wish that you will always smile. Some of the hardest times in my life you were always there to listen with a smile on your face. It uplifted me and my spirits and it can do that for everyone in your life.
I wish you the ability to realize you have the power to change your world. You are the most inspiring person I know. Your attitude can encourage and change lives. I know that’s true because it has changed mine.
Lastly, I wish you the ability to realize what an inspiration your life has been to me and so many others.
Everything you have done you have worked so hard for. Lxxife has many many twists and turns … sometimes we land in perilous, uncomfortable and unhappy situations and our lives are not at all what we planned, but as you often tell me “Life is what you make it”. Mom is proud of you … daddy is proud of you …. and they’re both proud of US! Happy birthday my sweet Sister … I love you always.
Kay Keel - July 21, 2017 2:29 am
Wow! You and your sister are blessed to have each other.
marsha - September 6, 2017 9:23 am
Thank you for this. Memories are rolling down my cheeks.
Cathi Russell - July 20, 2017 1:15 pm
There are no ordinary Joes, just people who haven’t met you. Another one knocked out of the park.
Sue - July 20, 2017 1:58 pm
If I could, I’d shake his hand and tell him thanks. Folks need other folks stories.
Melodie - July 20, 2017 3:36 pm
I’m a new subscriber to Sean of the South, and absolutely love it! I can hardly wait to read the next one and the next one….You say so much, with great emotions, in such a brief amount of time.
Debbie Galladora - July 20, 2017 5:11 pm
Susan in Georgia - July 20, 2017 5:48 pm
Yes, Regular Joe is beautiful, and you’ve now included him in your Hall of Fame of Special People. Amen and so be it.
Amber - July 20, 2017 6:45 pm
I haven’t been a long-time reader, but I love your work. Each time I see an email from you, I have to open it to see what’s happened in your world lately.
I have to tell you that I shared your blog with 10 people today. I’m fixing to share on joint WhattsApp my family uses to stay in contact, so that’ll be about 10 more. I don’t know if you’ll get any additional readers or not. I certainly hope so.
Thanks for giving me glimpses into what you see.
Norma - July 20, 2017 7:58 pm
Ah, so true. A beautiful person. thanks for sharing his story.
Kay Keel - July 21, 2017 2:31 am
Sean, once again, you’ve shown us all what a wonderful writer you are! Keep ’em coming! We love them all!
Lucretia Jones - July 21, 2017 5:40 am
Beautiful he is, Sean. Thank you. Lucretia
Jack Quanstrum - July 21, 2017 5:47 am
Fantastic story! Super ending. Sean you definitely capture the authenticity of Real folks and their lives that take incredible journeys. Thank you for another story that captivated me. Most folks are regular folks but also you capture their Olympian size hearts which everyday astound me. Keep writing!
Deborah Bundy - July 21, 2017 11:39 am
Love the way you come full circle with your stories and the subject matter, wow. You capture the rural South so well. I’m a new fan and look forward to reading more of your work.
Kathy Burgess - July 25, 2017 5:35 am
beautiful people…they surround us. We just have to stop and listen. Thanks for reminding me of that, Sean.
Robert Carlson - July 26, 2017 10:08 pm
Thanks for telling us about Regular Joe.
Rick Herbst - September 6, 2017 8:27 pm
Dang it, Sean, I try really hard not to let you make me cry, but this time you won.
From just one more regular Joe…….
unkle Kenny - January 20, 2019 4:51 pm
barkeep/confidant/counseling/travel advisor . There is a lot more to do than just fill a glass with beer . Some are there to celebrate, some have lost a loved one , others are lonely . This is the short list of bartending. Not a bad gig .