Small-Town Belle

She's a hero. One who cooked, washed, mopped, gave baths, spanked, and kissed skinned elbows. She was born to love. Now she eats alone.

Crestview, Florida—Cracker Barrel is slow for lunch. There aren’t enough folks here to form a baseball team.

I’m sitting alone at a two-top. The elderly woman at the table beside me is also by herself. We’re both looking at the phony gas fireplace. It’s not all that cold outside.

But a phony fire is better than no fire at all.

We get to talking. I can’t tell how old she is, exactly, and it would be rude to ask. She’s a small-town Belle. Women like her would rather be shot and quartered than discuss age with anyone who is not a board-certified physician.

What I do know about her:

She’s wearing the same kind of perfume everyone’s granny does. I don’t know what this stuff is called, but the smell makes me smile.

Also, she’s dressed to the nines. Pearls. Her handbag matches her blouse.

We make friends.

She orders a breakfast for lunch. She tells me she’s been fasting because she had blood work done this morning.

It doesn’t take long to learn she’s a widow. But her husband died long ago while her kids were young.

“I didn’t have time to remarry,” she says. “I was too busy figuring out what was for dinner.”

Then, she talks about her kids. And you ought to see this woman’s face beam.

One of her sons is an attorney. The other is a restaurant manager. Her daughter is a sales-rep. All three have moved. Two went to Birmingham, I forget where her daughter moved to.

When she talks, I notice something in her voice. It’s impossible to miss. She’s lonely.

“I loved being a mother,” she explains. “It’s so hard, especially when you’re single. But you live for your kids. Your do it for so long, you don’t even think of yourself as a woman anymore, you’re just ‘Mama.'”

This mama did whatever she could to get by. She was a working woman. And even though she never sought higher education, she paid for two university tuitions—the degrees half-belong to her.

She eats slow. I’m already finished before she’s even touched her hash-brown casserole. But I’m not leaving just yet because I don’t have anywhere to be.

And it’s been a while since she’s had an audience.

She removes a smartphone from her purse. She squints at the screen and hands it to me. “These’re my daughter’s kids.”

“Beautiful,” I say.

“They’re coming to visit me next weekend. I’ve been working to get my house ready.”

And even though she doesn’t say it, she doesn’t have to. She wishes they lived closer.

This is a woman whose children are her universe. She guided them through the hell of childhood. She’s a hero. One who cooked, washed, mopped, gave baths, spanked, and kissed skinned elbows. She was born to love.

Now she eats alone.

I ask how long her daughter’s going to be in town.

She smiles big. “As long as it takes her to find a job. She’s moving in with me next month.”


I thank her for the conversation. I feel like I ought to hug her, but I don’t. Instead, I thank the Almighty for kids who come back home. And for mamas.

I leave a tip.

Lunch is on me, ma’am.


  1. Lisbeth Garecht - February 5, 2017 4:20 pm

    It’s hard to believe these stories are real from your life. You have a way of seeing the mundane everyday things through different eyes. You have the heart of an artist and you paint beautiful pictures with your words. I love your artwork❤️

    • Bunny - January 23, 2018 6:28 pm

      Well said. You have a way also.

  2. Carol DeLater - February 5, 2017 4:50 pm

    oh, I’ll take a lot of flack for this thought. I already do. My grandson asks me all the time how his generation got to be the way they are. I always say it is because most single mothers don’t put their kids first. They let the wrong guy get in the way of doing what is best for their kids. My daughter did that, it’s why we raised one of my grandsons. I make an allowance because she did the best she could…even though I don’t agree with it. America likes to blame mothers, don’t we. I can say I want my kids to be near…but I DON’T want my daughter to live in the same house with me.
    xx, Carol

  3. gayle tucker - February 5, 2017 4:57 pm

    How can you be a cynic and a romantic? Everything you write is both thought provoking and a tribute to who or what you are writing. It is a thrill to see someone who can wrap Paul Harvey, Mark Twain and Will Rogers into a single enjoyable package.

  4. Paulette Dugan - February 5, 2017 5:09 pm

    Beautifully done and insightful. Thank you for understanding Mamas.

  5. Loree - February 5, 2017 6:22 pm


  6. Joyce Hilburn - February 5, 2017 7:01 pm

    Even though my husband & I will celebrate our 48th wedding anniversary this week this essay really hit home. I raised my son and daughter to leave the nest believing that’s what parents are supposed to do. As it turned out I did my job well because they both live far enough away that it’s expensive or tiring to visit them frequently. Now understand, it’s no ones fault because the demands of life just make it so hard to bridge the distance, for them and for us. Even so, your words ring so true and brought tears because as much as I try to convince myself it doesn’t matter – the truth is – it matters – a lot!

  7. Priscilla S. Adkisson - February 5, 2017 7:21 pm

    Heartwarming story; thanks.
    I have just “tuned in” to your website and am enjoying your writings.

  8. Camille Atkins - February 5, 2017 7:57 pm


  9. Susie Munz - February 6, 2017 12:23 am

    This made me smile…maybe, because I was a single Mom of 4 for 13 years, and can relate. But, instead of the kids moving back home, we moved to be closer to them.

  10. Mary Ellen Hall - February 6, 2017 4:28 am


  11. Cherryl Shiver - February 6, 2017 11:57 am

    Thank you….I never get tired of reading your words, its like starting the day with a friend. Your Momma did a good job learning you to be the man you are. You can teach a lot, but very few learn……you , my dear, well, you have done a really good job. Now as for having no children of your own, ….look at all of us that you are sharing with, everyday, if you had some young ones of your own you might not have time to write, just saying the Lord knows a lot more than we do,….something to think about,huh?

  12. Kay Keel - February 6, 2017 12:28 pm

    I teared up when I read the part about the lady not needing to say she wished her kids lived closer. I second that wish!

  13. Matt - February 6, 2017 3:28 pm

    Thank you for this one, Sean. My Mama could’ve been this lovely lady.

  14. Joan - February 6, 2017 5:27 pm

    That fragrance? It’s Estée Lauder Youth-Dew. Thank you for seeing and expressing what we so often overlook. God Bless You!

    • Al Pointer - January 23, 2018 10:47 pm

      I am guessing that the perfume fragrance is Emeraude which was first launched and produced by Coty back in 1921. It is a nostalgic fragrance for me … many of the beloved women in my past smelled uniquely delightful because of it. It is still available but not in the original formulation. The new version has lost much of its depth and charm.

  15. Cathleen - February 6, 2017 6:48 pm

    Love this. My son is a word smith and I believe he would love to read your stories. I can’t wait to share.
    Thank you and please don’t stop writing!

  16. Rhoda - February 26, 2017 1:33 pm

    Again you never cease to amaze me. Its Sunday morning, I was thinking about going to church today…but at this moment I wonder after reading your words and hearing your message if I didn’t just get a brighter vantage to remind me how much life is important to the individual how each one of us has sommething good to offer no matter how small the gesture or irrelevant to others it may seem. Thank you for the tapestry of the words you weave this love into… your gift is a welcome reflection.

  17. Lorry - February 26, 2017 2:02 pm

    My daughter came back! It’s wonderful. And my sons bought the house next door. In April I’ll get to hold my 4th grand. I’d rather be surrounded by them than fancy cars and hefty bank accounts any day. I’m rich!

  18. Judy Steele - February 26, 2017 2:42 pm


  19. Nellie Strange - March 4, 2017 3:46 pm

    Just beautiful. So well said.

  20. Annette H. Bailey - January 23, 2018 1:59 pm

    Dear Sean…I wanted so much to be a Mother. We wanted two girls and two boys. But at one time, we would have settled for one of either gender. I bought baby things too soon and wound up giving them away. My Mom told me that God has our lives planned out, and that He knew best. I didn’t believe her until someone I know lost his middle child in an accident. Good student, great ball player, good kid. My friend has not been in his right mind sense. My husband and I will not have to face that…ever. Still, I would have loved to have tried it just once. I look forward to your stories every day. My Mom hasn’t had to eat alone in 91 years. She had us 6 kids and one or more of us have been with her since Dad died. She passed away 6 months ago. Moms are the most wonderful gifts God has….well, them or a baby.

  21. Pat - January 23, 2018 2:19 pm

    Thank you Sean, for not writing the stories journalism students are being taught to write now days. They are gosh awful. We get too many of them on the national news. In fact, I’ve quit watching those channels because they are so depressing & one sided politically. Just give me the news & let me decide my politics. The days of Walter Crokite are gone. I enjoy reading your stories much more. Keep on telling us about real people. May the good Lord bless you & yours.

  22. Al Pointer - January 23, 2018 10:48 pm

    I am guessing that the perfume fragrance is Emeraude which was first launched and produced by Coty back in 1921. It is a nostalgic fragrance for me … many of the beloved women in my past smelled uniquely delightful because of it. It is still available but not in the original formulation. The new version has lost much of its depth and charm.

  23. Jeanne Butler - August 19, 2018 6:30 am

    I haven’t heard “dressed to the nines” since I was a little girl and my daddy said that. Long time ago as I am 73. God bless you Sean. You bring back so many good memories.

  24. Charaleen Wright - April 2, 2019 4:25 am


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