Smiling Heroes

The air in the restaurant went stale, like in old Westerns, just before John Wayne pumps some desperate bandito into the everlasting abyss.

She is a waitress here. She has white hair, and a habit of winking when she smiles. Her name is Mary. I know this because it’s on her nametag.

I don’t know Mary—today’s the first time we’ve met—but I want to be her forever-grandson.

I just watched Mary get dog-cussed.

It happened when she swiped a young man’s credit card at the register. It was denied. She was quiet and discreet with him.

He shouted at her, “Run it again, lady!”

This made everyone’s ears perk up. It’s not every day you see some punk yelling at Barbara Bush.

She swiped the card. Denied.

“Do you have another card?” she asked in a soft voice.

The man shouted, “Another card? Don’t treat me like I’m @#$ing stupid, lady!”

Her mouth fell open. So did everyone’s.

The young man didn’t stop. He went on to say things which I can’t repeat—my mother reads these things.

The air in the restaurant went stale, like in old Westerns, just before John Wayne pumps some desperate bandito into the everlasting abyss.

The customers in the restaurant looked around at each other. The man in the booth beside me stood. So did I. We walked toward the register.

But another man beat us to it.

He was tall, white-haired. He wore a tattered cap. He was older, mid-seventies, with shoulders broader than an intercostal barge.

The old man said, “What seems to be the problem over here?”

The angry kid spat, “My card won’t work.”

The old man let his eyes do his talking. Hard eyes. The same eyes I’ve seen in a hundred Westerns, just before the hero draws a greased Colt Single Action Peacemaker and opens the gates of Armageddon.

The old man was calm. He reached for his wallet. He said to Mary, in a syrupy voice, “I’d like to pay for this gentleman’s meal, ma’am.”

Then, he placed a large hand on the gentleman’s shoulder. He massaged it.

I remember my father giving me the same kinds of shoulder grips long ago, just before he’d explain why I’d be going off to bed without supper.

The old man stared at the kid. He said more with a smile than I can say in five hundred words.

“Be sweet,” he told the young man. “Okay son?”

The kid left the restaurant, climbed into an oversized truck, and rolled out of the parking lot.

Those of us inside smiled at Mary. And if I were a betting man, I’d bet she earned a pocketful of good tips that day.

Mary gathered my dirty plates. I made a light remark, and hoped for one of her smiles—maybe a wink. But she wasn’t in the winking mood.

I’ve thought about her all day. And I’ve also thought about the angry people in this world—and how many they hurt.

And I’ve thought about men in tattered ball caps, with big hands, who refuse to tolerate ugliness, no matter how rampant. Men who have a holster full of gentle words, and aren’t afraid to use them.

I hope I can be one of those men.

Be sweet.


  1. Larry Popwell - October 31, 2017 7:45 am

    The hand of Jesus has spoken.

  2. Virginia - October 31, 2017 12:04 pm

    My Mother told me to “be sweet” every time I left the house. I’ve tried to be.

  3. Cathy Johnson - October 31, 2017 12:13 pm

    If there were more people like that in this world. I loved this story

  4. Bev Mathias - October 31, 2017 12:15 pm


  5. Sandra Smith - October 31, 2017 12:17 pm

    Question…Did sweet boy even have the decency to Thank his Savior ?
    I seriously doubt it, but I sure hope I’m wrong…
    (Man ! I think about the, “Come to Jesus” meeting, I’d have with my parents, if I did something like that, … and CRINGE) !!!?

  6. Deb - October 31, 2017 12:34 pm

    You already are, Sean.

  7. Marty from Alabama - October 31, 2017 1:13 pm

    Reckon who made the young dude mad before he even came into the restaurant? Sounds like his fuse was lit and waiting to blow. Thank goodness for the older gentleman. But Mary’s day was ruined all the same.
    Thank you for bringing these life lessons to us.

  8. Amy - October 31, 2017 1:23 pm

    Do you realize you seem to be at the right place at the right time? That boy was having a hard time before Miss Mary discovered part of his secret. The old man registered it. Betting everyone else blamed the behavior on plain old mean.

    Everyone is in battle over something. God knows … and if we’re to be his instrument, we have to see through HIS eyes, not our own.

    Mary probably knows that, too, even if she felt a bit shaken.

  9. teachenglish67 - October 31, 2017 1:41 pm

    A shoulder massage from someone like that is worth more than 50+ plus words of a “come to Jesus” directory. I’m sure at some point in time, this “massage” will register and register real hard on that “whipper snapper”. Karma has a way of “massaging” one’s shoulder or soul.
    Thank you, Sean, for being where you were and for sharing with us you observations and experiences.

  10. Jack - October 31, 2017 1:57 pm

    Made my day!

  11. Brenda Schweitzer - October 31, 2017 1:59 pm

    Thank you for your post today, Mr. Sean. I am a new reader and a southern girl at heart ( Florida born, college in SC, and moved to Maryland 20+ years ago now just to be near family). I am very glad there are still men out there like the ones in your post, the nice ones! I may be Mary one day and will need the nice ones to be there watching out for me when I need them. Thank you and all the quiet real men out there. We need you to be there……?

  12. Sandi - October 31, 2017 2:01 pm

    Great words…I hope I can be sweet, always!

  13. Elizabeth - October 31, 2017 2:12 pm

    Thank you Sean I am a new subscriber and I won’t be missing many of your heart warming stories

  14. gary - October 31, 2017 2:28 pm

    Lovely story…

  15. Connie - October 31, 2017 3:03 pm

    You are already one of those men. I just hope that young man learns, soon, that being ugly to people is no way to live. And I hope his momma doesn’t know how he behaved. ?

  16. Jack Quanstrum - October 31, 2017 3:04 pm

    Excellent story, Excellent advice. Profound in the way you wrote it. Peace!

  17. Wendy - October 31, 2017 3:32 pm

    There’s a beautiful & profound lesson in this! Thank you, Sean.

  18. Betsy estopinal - October 31, 2017 3:47 pm

    One of your best yet! I hope this really happened? Betsy in Huntsville

  19. Sarah Kennard - October 31, 2017 4:12 pm

    An especially good message during these perilous times. Thanks.

  20. Janie Fuller - October 31, 2017 4:55 pm

    There is a lady at our local barbecue restaurant named Miss. Rose whom all the regulars love. One day when we were there a guy started giving her a hard time about it taking too long to seat them, very loudly. I’m a woman & I wanted to knock the rudeness out of him. She couldn’t have been more polite, apologizing and trying to do all she could to appease him. The management paid for their meal. For being rude!!!!

  21. Jo Brooks - October 31, 2017 5:16 pm

    Great story. I hope that kid was embarrassed as he roared off, and that it will make an impression on him later when he calms down.

  22. Cindy Bailey - October 31, 2017 5:29 pm

    ❤️ this one. My dad and my brother would
    Do that!

  23. Lynda, Alaska - October 31, 2017 5:42 pm

    Wow, Sean, wow. Great story! Thanks for writing and sharing this story!?

  24. Pamela McEachern - October 31, 2017 6:03 pm

    Such a tender lesson from such a tired and ugly situation. Thank you for sharing, it gives me hope someone else cares for people that are not able to take care of an angry person,. Anger is ugly and sometimes will ruin a person’s heart. God Bless you and your’s Sean
    Peace and Love from Birmingham

  25. Jane - October 31, 2017 6:22 pm

    Lovely story. My Mama always told me that “God don’t like ugly”. Apparently, this young man’s Mama should have said this to him in his younger years. I am now 58 years old and can still hear my Mama say those words every day for so many years!

  26. Susan - October 31, 2017 7:11 pm

    That white haired man could have been my dad years ago.

  27. Caroline Lyons de Freitas - October 31, 2017 7:40 pm

    “Be sweet” says so much. Hopefully the little punk possessed the capacity for self-reflection. People working roles serving others experience stuff like this all the time. I was a server while I was in college. It prepared me for my present profession, a nurse. Now I don’t have to rely on tips. People think it’s funny to use tips to demoralize servers and/or threaten them. You can tell a lot about a person by how they treat someone serving or caring for them.

  28. Sam Hunneman - October 31, 2017 8:06 pm

    We’re kinda powerless here in the south today. The South of Freeport, Maine that is. Very thankful that some years ago, after the cellar flooded twice in less than two weeks, my husband agreed that we were too darn old for this nonsense, and I took myself up to a big box store and brought home a generator.

    This morning, someone had cut up the telephone pole and the enormous pine tree that trapped us inside Spar Cove, and off we went to check on a couple friends, get a few supplies, and get more gas. There were lines like I’ve not seen since the 70’s, and of course we picked the slowest one. But patience is supposed to have its virtues, right?

    Well as it happened, just as the car in front of us pulled away, a little sedan came screaming in in the other direction, slammed on the brakes, got out and glared. We pulled up to her bow and went about our business, filling gas cans and our van while the cars came and went around us. Once we finished, there was a delay as cars jockeyed for position… no one wanted to let us out for fear someone would sneak in front of them.

    Little tests of faith. And a reminder that we have it oh so easy compared to the poor people in Puerto Rico.

  29. Nina Thompson - October 31, 2017 11:13 pm

    Your words ministered to me again today…reminding me of the person I hope to be. Thank you

  30. Kathy Burgess - November 1, 2017 2:33 am

    Amen, Sean, just Amen.

  31. Don Ramsden - November 2, 2017 9:34 pm

    When kind acts intercede, there are never any real losers. Everyone gets something positive….some more and some less.

  32. Barbara J Schweck - November 3, 2017 12:06 am

    I would be willing to bet that the kid knew his card wasn’t going to work and that some kind soul would pay for his meal. You know what, even if you think that the kid was pulling a scam, you pay for him anyway. Someday hopefully, he will reflect and realize how kindness can change lives.

  33. Annette H. Bailey - November 5, 2017 7:15 pm

    Sean…as usual, I enjoyed your story. It touches my heart to see words like yours put on paper and the kindness you invoke in your readers, is heart rendering. I wish I could be as gentle as the man who paid for the rude man’s food. I think I feel the way I feel because I’ve seen the kindness of others get it knocked down their teeth too often lately. I realize that many haven’t had loving parents like I did even though I came from humble beginnings. I wish the man who paid for the meal, could have been Clint Eastwood or John Wayne and taken him outside to drag him up and down the pavement for been so rude and speaking ugly to that woman who only knew goodness and kindness every day. Having said this, I wondering why I wanted him hurt because that’s not who I am. I wasn’t raised that way…to hurt others I mean. I was raised to honor thy mother and father, and follow the rest of the ten commandments and I did with the exception of coveting my neighbor’s boat for my husband. I was raised to pray for others even my enemies. But only having a few aches and pains after retiring, my husband and I are happy. We only get upset when anyone’s being treated harshly…mostly when it’s children or the elderly. Having been a teacher, I do understand why the gentleman did what he did. He hoped that the young man would see that kindness begets kindness and hopes he will change his ways. I hope so too. Have a good ‘un Sean…and thanks!


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