Scattered, Smothered, Loved

A little breakfast joint. The waitress is wearing a mask. I wear a mask. The few customers are wearing masks. All God’s children got masks.

Waylon Jennings is singing on an unseen radio. The whole place smells like bacon and lemon-scented Lysol.

A construction worker beside me is sipping from a mug. He is not wearing his mask per se, it sits atop his head while he drinks coffee. It looks almost like he is wearing a little sunbonnet.

“More coffee?” says the waitress. Her own mask impedes her speech, so it sounds like she’s saying, “Mmm kpfff?”

The waitress is wearing rubber gloves. After she touches his cup for the refill she removes her gloves, throws them into the garbage, and gets a fresh pair.

“Thanks,” he says.

“You’re welcome, darlin’.” she says.

A little boy sits at the counter a few seats from me. His mask has licensed cartoon characters on it. He lifts the mask before each bite, then pulls it back over his face to chew.

“Take your mask off to eat, honey,” says his mother.

“But,” says the little kid, “I like wearing it.”

This is a very different world than I’m used to.

The bell on the door dings. Three workmen come walking into the joint. They are not wearing masks. They are wearing work clothes, ball caps, and they are covered in sweat.

“Masks,” the waitress says to them. At least, I think she’s the one doing the talking. I can’t see her mouth moving.

The men dig surgical masks out of their pockets, wrap them over their faces, and apologize. They all sit in a booth with Sunbonnet Guy, who is apparently their pal. They browse the menus.

After a few minutes, one of the men starts talking about his daughter. It’s a brief conversation, but from what I gather, his daughter has just been released from the hospital. She’s had some kind of serious infection. The doctors have been feeding her antibiotics like water.

The other men are very inquisitive about his daughter. They ask heartfelt questions that typical construction workmen wouldn’t usually ask.

I was once a typical construction workman. We were not exactly known for our sensitivity and heartfelt behavior. The most sensitive issue we ever discussed was the importance of a wishbone offense.

But these men aren’t like that. They are genuinely concerned about this man’s daughter. And I can’t help but eavesdrop.

“Is she hanging in there?” asks one man.

“Every day gets better. Doctor says we’re out of the woods now.”

“Thank God.”

Another says, “My wife and I have been thinking about her, and praying every day.”


“She’s such a smart little girl.”

“Tell me about it.”

“How is she taking it?”

“Like a champ. She just doesn’t understand what’s happening.”

Now the father is showing cellphone photos to the men. A few of the guys are older and need reading glasses to see the photos. They all swipe the screen with their finger and say things like: “Gaw, she’s a cutie.”

“She’s gonna be a heartbreaker.”

“She looks just like you.”

“You’re gonna have to keep the boys away from your door with a stick.”


The waitress comes to take their orders. The men all order the Basic American Breakfast. Bacon. Eggs. Toast. Coffee.

“Cute girl,” the waitress says, pointing to the cellphone.

“Thanks,” says Dad. “She’s eight.”

“I love that age,” she says.

Next, the waitress calls their orders to the cook. I love hearing waitresses speak that code-word language they use in joints like this. They holler things like, “Pull three bacon, drop four, scattered, smothered, chunked, topped, diced, tilted, shaken, smashed, dropped from a moving bus, and beaten with a number-two tire iron!”

And the fry cook memorizes it all.

The humble fry cook is the most underrated man in this country. Somehow, a fry cook can keep fifty orders in his mind, simultaneously, without writing them down, without asking questions, using nothing but a single spatula to chop, dice, scoop, spread, flip, squish, mix, scrape, and smash. It’s amazing, really.

The cook gets to work on the orders. Soon, the whole place is alive with the hissing sounds of morning sausage and bacon.

Dad starts talking to his friends again. “Yeah, when that doctor told us she could die, we didn’t know what we were gonna do. We cried for a week. It was like being kicked in the face, man.”

There is silence among the men. It’s one thing to talk about your daughter. It’s another to share your innermost feelings. This level of sincerity demands respect.

“I’m glad she’s okay,” says one workman. “There must be a reason.”

“A reason? What do you mean?”

“I think there is a reason for all stuff,” says another. “We just never know what it is.”

They don’t say much more. And they don’t need to. Even though, personally, I wish they would because it would make a great story if they added a few more tidbits. But you can’t have everything.

When the cook finishes, the waitress brings their plates. Before the men unwrap silverware and start eating they remove their hats. They bow heads. They fold hands.

“Dear Lord,” says Sunbonnet Guy, “thanks for this food, and thank you for helping J.T.’s daughter get better. She’s so special, and we just love her to death. We all owe you one, Lord.”

Four amens from the whole table.

One amen from the guy who wrote this column.


  1. Barb - July 8, 2020 10:12 am

    Heartwarming story of hope in times of great uncertainty. God bless this little girl and thanks for sharing a worthy eavesdropped bit of encouragement. 💜✝️

  2. Debbie - July 8, 2020 10:49 am

    Wonderful story, so heartwarming!

  3. Keloth Anne - July 8, 2020 11:33 am

    Well another great one and somehow my eyes are filled with water 💧
    I love your compassion, your ability to listen and “really hear” and your love for others! What a great Mentor/Role model you are♥️
    Thank you for sharing your works—love to you and Jamie 🥰
    Blessings to that precious 8 year old 🙏💕

  4. Bev Clark - July 8, 2020 11:54 am


  5. marthabarnett2015 - July 8, 2020 12:32 pm

    Love this Sean. Makes my heart smile!! Thank you.

  6. Josh Cnossen - July 8, 2020 12:35 pm

    Sometimes the roughest looking guys can have the softest hearts.

  7. greatgrams6 - July 8, 2020 12:35 pm

    This is the America I love! Thanks for sharing.

  8. Connie Ryland - July 8, 2020 12:37 pm

    Dang it Sean. It’s too early to have leaky eyes. I wish everyone could recognize that you big, brawny, tattooed guys can have the softest, sweetest hearts. God bless. Love and hugs.

  9. Small Town Southern Girl - July 8, 2020 12:46 pm

    Love is beautiful – here’s another AMEN to that heartfelt blessing.

  10. Pam - July 8, 2020 12:59 pm

    Love this…good southern hardworking men with good hearts!🥰

  11. Shelton A. - July 8, 2020 1:36 pm

    Amen from this reader.

  12. Tom - July 8, 2020 1:38 pm

    You got my eyes leaking again. My heart goes out to this family, will add the daughter to my prayer list. It is men like this that built this country.

  13. Jan - July 8, 2020 1:41 pm

    Amen from Pinson, Alabama.

  14. Jimmy Stewart - July 8, 2020 1:48 pm

    Fantastic!!! Thanks for sharing Sean!!! I worked my way up to cook at a Waffle House 6 blocks from my house when I was a senior in high school. Cool gig. Lots of amazing lessons learned. Started washing dishes and “retired” as a shift cook almost 3 years later. Started at less than $3 an hour. Remembering orders and serving the public is a great way to prepare for pastoring!!! The manager would often ask me “How much am I paying you Stewart?” After I told him he would say, “That’s too much. I’m going to fire you and hire you back for less money.” Today I’m joining in prayer for an 8 year old construction workers daughter. Thanks to the guy sitting at the next table.

  15. thoughtsfrommybedroomwindow - July 8, 2020 1:50 pm

    Nice column. A far cry from how we should all just keep hugging everybody, especially people in nursing homes. This virus has changed lots of minds about lots of things.🙏

  16. Becky - July 8, 2020 1:54 pm

    One of your best, Sean.

  17. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack - July 8, 2020 1:55 pm

    Another amen from a guy who read this column.

  18. Catherine - July 8, 2020 2:00 pm

    I’m not sure how to express my emotions at reading this simple yet profound “story” other than to say thank you for sharing your world~such a gift all beautifully wrapped up and handed to the rest of us. You are loved.

  19. Tammy S. - July 8, 2020 2:04 pm

    It’s so nice to pick-up two things each morning: my Bible for my morning devotion, and my phone to read your email. Another great one this morning. But, one of these days I’m gonna send you a bill for all the tissues I go through reading your emails. 😉They always bring a tear, sometimes through sadness but so often through laughter! All put a smile on my face. This morning was one of those. And as others, I add my “Amen” as well! Thanks, Sean, for continuing to bring a moment of normalcy to our otherwise turned upside down days.

  20. Robert M Brenner - July 8, 2020 2:20 pm

    Thanks for sharing this heartwarming story Sean! I do not know this little girl but she’ll get a prayer sent to God by Bob right now…Thanks Lord

  21. BJean - July 8, 2020 3:02 pm

    I love these intimate glimpses you give us into the lives of people from every walk of life. We see how similar we all really are. Thanks, Sean.

  22. Nancy Huey - July 8, 2020 3:49 pm

    Was driving 5 hrs to widowed Moms. Feel I actually dosed off at wheel. Car passing woke me. Thank you Lord! Pulled off next exit at Waffle House. Went to potty. Got in back seat after pulling car close as possible to front door. Called Mom.went to sleep, felt safe. Woke, got coffee, continued to AL. Blessed🙏🏻❤️🇺🇸

  23. Helen De Prima - July 8, 2020 4:08 pm

    Love your eavesdropping. I’ve snatched dialogue like that from so many places — public transportation, soul-food restaurants, behind the bucking chutes at bull-riding events. Writers are merciless scavengers.

  24. Linda Moon - July 8, 2020 4:24 pm

    I loved “hearing” Clara Ward’s song as I began reading this post. Then, I was quickly saddened to read that a child is so used to wearing his mask that he’s learned to like it. Maybe it’s because of the cartoon characters. I hope so. I’ll never get used to eight-year-olds fighting for their lives. The reasons for children wearing cartoon-covered masks and fighting for LIFE are hard to understand. So, thank you for helping me find my Amen, columnist. You are not deity, but I think I owe you one for the reminder that things can get better and children can live!

  25. Susan I Gleadow - July 8, 2020 4:30 pm

    We always go to the breakfast joint (WH) in PCB where Inlet and Laguna beach are and we love it!

  26. Frank - July 8, 2020 4:36 pm

    Home Run, Sean!

    Some days you swing and you miss. Not on many days, but some days.
    Most days you hit it squarely and get on base.
    Many days you really nail it and hit one over the fence.
    Today? Not just over the fence but out of the park!

  27. MAM - July 8, 2020 6:54 pm

    You certainly unleashed plentiful appreciative tears today! It’s so nice to read about people who still pray, instead of the ones who destroy! I agree with Frank, Home Run outta the park. You are blessed with an awesome gift!

  28. Melissa Williams - July 8, 2020 6:59 pm

    I knew that we were going to be OK when our Waffle House finally got back to 24/7 and is hiring. Unfortunately, I don’t think folks are wearing masks because our governor and mayor are lily livered chicken shits do my county’s case rate has doubled in the last month. I wish I could go to Waffle House for a double order chunked but no such luck. I’m 68 and chunked myself!💜

  29. Linda Broyles - July 8, 2020 7:07 pm

    Loved this. Thank you.

  30. Christina - July 9, 2020 6:39 am

    An Amen from the other side of the country 😭 Thanks Sean! Love the smell of bacon, hash browns and toast, but even better is the story of these tender-hearted men

  31. Ann Mixter - July 11, 2020 12:08 pm

    I am so happy I discovered your column. The world needs more people like you these days. Thank you.

  32. smithsmaccom - July 12, 2020 10:48 pm

    Rick Bragg (“All Over But the Shoutin'”) said ““… to tell a story right you have to lean the words against each other so that they don’t all fall down…….”. Sean’s stories never fall down.

  33. Lisa Martin from Oxford - July 16, 2020 2:29 pm

    I save your posts to read once a week so that there will be at least one thing that gives me a sense that there are still decent, loving people in our crazy world. I read five this morning. I teared up four times and laughed out loud several. My dog, Dude, keeps looking at me like I’m crazy. Keep the love coming please.

  34. Randy Johnson - January 27, 2021 11:17 pm

    Public Works construction supervisor for 10 years until a call to minister, B.A. MDiv. and then 35 years of pastor, hospice chaplain and retired as a Director of Chaplain Services in a medium 300+ hospital. I appreciate your writing and enjoy your perspective!!


Leave a Comment