Road Trip

His biological parents didn’t want anything to do with him. And this might’ve made him bitter, or angry, but his mama taught him otherwise.

Dothan, Alabama—the pollen is bad this time of year. I am stuffed up. My eyes are puffy.

He’s waiting for me in a parking lot. He’s traveling light. An overnight bag and an art kit. He doesn’t have a driver’s license. He needs a ride to Northwest Florida, for a family reunion.

I happen to be on my way to Northwest Florida.

Road trip.

I’m going to call him Willie Merle, even though that’s not his name—those happen to be two names I like.

Willie is easy to talk to. He’s wiry, gray-headed, smokes Marlboros, and has a happy smile.

His biological mother was negligent. When he was nine days old, she bathed him in turpentine. His aunt saw this happen. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and took him home.

His aunt adopted him and he never called her anything but “Mama” thereafter.

“She was my angel,” Willie said.

His biological parents didn’t want anything to do with him. And this might’ve made him bitter, or angry, but his mama taught him otherwise.

He tells me he’s not perfect. He’s made mistakes—show me a man who hasn’t—but I’m not at liberty to talk about them here.

“I’m on probation,” he said. “That’s how come I ain’t got no license. Spent three weeks in county jail, wasn’t no fun. Had to wear orange and everything.

“I’ve hurt my friends and my family. Hell, I don’t feel like I deserve love from nobody.”

We passed through the miles of pasture between Dothan and the Panhandle. The sky was blue. The air was full of spring pollen.

He talked. I listened.

“Haven’t seen my brother and sisters in years,” he said with wet eyes. “My biggest regret is disappointing them. I want to make things right.”

He covers his eyes and sniffs.

Anyway, this weekend is not going to be a sad weekend. Willie is hoping to be part of his family again. It’s been so long since he’s seen them, he’s almost forgotten what they look like.

But he’s ready.

“Know exactly what I’m gonna do,” he said. “I’m gonna sit’em down and beg forgiveness. And, I’ll understand if they don’t want nothing to do with me.

“It’s all good. I’ll just go back to waiting tables, living my own life, I won’t bother them no more.”

Waiting tables is his life. He’s done it for decades. He’s a double-shifter, an over-timer, and he never lets sweet tea fall below the rim.

He earns two bucks and thirteen cents an hour. He survives on tips. But Willie is more than a waiter to those he serves.

Case in point: when his mother died, carloads of his regular customers drove two hours to attended her funeral in Georgia.

“When I saw all my customers standing in that funeral line, I just lost it. I couldn’t believe they’d done that for me, I mean look at me. I’m just a ugly, skinny WAITER.”

He’s the furthest thing from it.

We arrive in the Walmart parking lot. We are waiting for his sisters to arrive.

Wille says, “God, I’m so nervous, man. I just don’t know about this…”

A white car pulls behind us. His breathing gets faster. His hands are trembling. He closes his eyes and takes a few deep breaths. He’s wondering how his sisters will react when they see him.

Willie steps out. His legs are long and skinny. He grabs his overnight bag and his art kit.

“I’m kinda scared,” he says.

Then. His sisters see him. They rush toward him. He drops his bag and art kit.

And I wish I could tell you what happened next. But I couldn’t see through these eyes of mine.

Like I said. The pollen is bad this time of year.

Family is everything.


  1. Karen Greatrix - March 24, 2018 6:34 am

    Thank you so much for this story, I have been dealing with a very sick friend that has a very dysfunctional family, and I needed a good family story.

  2. John - March 24, 2018 7:08 am

    Pollen…it’s been known to get ya any time of the year. Christmas, birthdays, parades, Tuesdays. Anytime.

    • Chris McAllister - June 2, 2018 2:36 pm


  3. Cathi - March 24, 2018 10:21 am

    Sean, you’re a temporarily Earth bound angel. Believe it, I know I do. The pollen got to me BAS reading this one.

  4. Sally Vick - March 24, 2018 10:50 am

    You are such a gifted storyteller and blessing to all who reads your stories!

  5. Sherry - March 24, 2018 11:01 am

    I lost my brother and sister 16 hours apart 2 years ago…family IS everything.

  6. Peggy Kendall - March 24, 2018 11:04 am

    Beautiful. I hope Willie finds the love he needs from his family.

  7. Belinda Cotney - March 24, 2018 11:56 am

    Love your stories Sean. Real people, real life, real love.

  8. annie - March 24, 2018 12:37 pm


  9. Connie - March 24, 2018 12:52 pm

    I hope it all worked out for him. Family can be everything. Not always though. Sometimes the people who should be there aren’t, and strangers become family. Love IS everything though, and it overcomes and forgives a lot. Bless you for listening to people’s stories and sharing them with us. You make us all better friends and better family.

  10. Nita Stacey - March 24, 2018 12:54 pm

    Well, Sean, you did it again. I’m crying and it’s not even 8am.
    Family IS everything.

  11. Connie - March 24, 2018 12:54 pm

    Heart warmer. Reading you each morning sets my compass straight for the day.?

  12. Dianne - March 24, 2018 1:48 pm

    Your stories make my days begin on the right track…………..along with my quiet time with God. A good combination. Thank you!

  13. Pamela McEachern - March 24, 2018 3:11 pm

    Thank you Sean, I love your unconditional spirit to make everyone’s life better in any way you can. Some people say that they are for you, but it has to be only on their terms and it seems like they are only there to judge you and for them to feel superior to you. You are the true blessing.
    Peace and Love from Birmingham

  14. Jack Quanstrum - March 24, 2018 3:29 pm

    It sure is! Whole heartedly agree! You nailed it!

  15. Ted - March 24, 2018 4:18 pm


  16. Jack Darnell - March 24, 2018 4:47 pm

    Yeah dude, the pollen must be bad in central Florida also! Love it. THANKS!

  17. Matt - March 24, 2018 5:31 pm

    Forgiveness is such a lonely and powerful word

  18. Nancy Rogers - March 24, 2018 7:39 pm

    Even when they aren’t our biological family…crying again. Thank you Sean.

  19. Edna B. - March 24, 2018 10:17 pm

    Yup, the pollen is high here too. You’re absolutely right, love and family are everything. Thanks for another awesome story.

  20. Susan Hammett Poole - March 24, 2018 10:23 pm

    How can your stories keep striking home runs 100% of the time. They sure strike a cord in my heart every day. God blessed you with the story telling gift, and we readers receive the benefit. Thank you, Sean.

  21. Steve Welch - March 25, 2018 6:47 am

    Damn you Sean. Now I have cried at the office, at the Courthourse waiting for a judge and reading you on the court’s internet, at home in the morning and now late at night. Thank you for making me believe that life is good and most people are decent. I am going to a reunion of my first cousins at Gulf Shores-Orange Beach, Alabama from June 15 to June 22, 2018. Would consider it an honor to drive to wherever you chose and buy you and your long-suffering wife a beer on any day of the week, any time of day and bar you pick during tha time frame.

    Thanks for being you.

  22. Charlotte Hollis - March 25, 2018 6:01 pm

    And now I can’t see through these eyes of mine!!
    Love ❤️

  23. Janet - March 26, 2018 12:04 am

    Made me cry but happy tears

  24. Carol Brown - May 2, 2021 3:40 pm

    Please keep writing your tales of real people. I read them to my husband on the way to yoga on sunday afternoons. It is a good thing it takes 45 minutes to get to yoga or i couldn’t finish reading the whe thing. I have to stop 3 or 4 times to try to stop crying and regain my voice. The pollen in Ohio is pretty bad too.

  25. Penny - May 4, 2021 12:30 am

    Family is definitely everything. And when the ‘biologicals’ don’t care a thing about you, those who love and stand by you become your family — it’s not always blood, but it IS always love.

  26. Kat Aka Moozle! - May 7, 2021 9:49 am

    Family is everything. Wat powerful story of despair but hope with a happy ending of love and forgiveness. Pollen is bad here too! Glad is have found you. This story was a great one!


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