SEPTEMBER 7th, 9:29 A.M.—Hurricane Irma is close enough to smell. Most of Florida lives within the geographical area meteorologists are labeling the “Run-Like-Holy-Hell Zone.”
I’m eating a late breakfast at Waffle House. I am the only customer here. George Strait sings in the background.
The woman behind the counter is in her late sixties. She is lean, rough features. Her voice is like a pack of Camels.
The regular fry-cook is gone. He has evacuated town. She’s here alone until the replacement cook shows.
She takes my order, then cooks my breakfast herself. She is a go-getter, this woman, she knows how to cook an egg.
I ask if she’s worried about Irma.
“Ain’t worried about nothing,” she says. “Been through too many hurricanes to worry about this little old storm.”
Irma isn’t a “little old” anything. Irma is wider than the SEC, stronger than forty-mule-team Borax, and heading straight up the pant-leg of Florida.
The woman delivers my plate, refills my coffee. We talk.
Her husband was killed when they were newlyweds, long ago. She raised two children on her own. It was no cakewalk.
Every summer, she managed to take them to Disney World as kids. She saved her pennies and dimes to do it.
“Family vacations was important to me. Used to stay in an RV park, only we was the ONLY tent, between all them big rigs.”
After raising her kids, she should’ve been cruising Easy Street. But that’s not how it happened. Her daughter got pregnant and returned home with two grandbabies.
She raised them while her daughter attended college.
Today, her daughter is a registered nurse in Birmingham. Her grandkids are in college. Her son lives in Albuquerque. They are successes, and they make her so proud her teeth are showing.
“That’s my daughter,” she says pointing to a cellphone photo. “She’s pretty, ain’t she?”
I hear melancholy in her voice. I’m not the world’s sharpest axe, but I know loneliness when I hear it.
We are interrupted, the cook walks through the door. He has his apron in his hand.
I ask her if I can write about her. This earns a chuckle.
“What would anyone write about me?”
Oh, nothing really. I’d probably write that you’re a woman who knows how to cook an over-medium egg.
Or: maybe I’d write that you have been strong when others couldn’t be. That you loved until it hurt. Maybe I’d point out that even though you earned below minimum wage, you changed the world for a few people.
And for my big finish, I’d write this:
“She’s master at kissing boo-boos, singing away nightmares, making a hot supper appear from nowhere, and paying college tuition with her own sweat.
“She developed callouses on her bare hands, bone spurs, and stiff joints. And she did it all without asking for a damn thing in return.”
After that, I would tell folks why I wrote about you. I’d explain that I had intended to write about the biggest hurricane in modern history. But then, I discovered something even more powerful.
A woman. And even though she only weighs a-buck-ten, she is a real giant.
That’s what I’d write.
Connie Ryland - September 8, 2017 1:20 pm
For all the strong women out here who have had to do it alone, thank you.
shanatproctorgmailcom - September 8, 2017 1:26 pm
One of your best!
Pat - September 8, 2017 1:29 pm
Love your writing. Was just introduced a few weeks ago and have loved every single one so far. Tears, laughter, and images conjured up as if I were sitting right next to you. Keep it up!
Melissa Shaffer - September 8, 2017 1:30 pm
I hope she reads this.
Pam - September 8, 2017 1:32 pm
Thank you for this article. As a grandmother, it resonates with me. I spent four years being away from my family to be financially independent. Loneliness is a serious health issue and is epidemic in our society. Churches and other nonprofits should to do more to address it.
Melodie - September 8, 2017 1:34 pm
OMG! Yes, with Irma screaming toward us, you make me realize that there are much stronger women to contend with. This story is so familiar. GOD Bless all the strong women and men out there, who work so very hard for the ones they love the most, so they will have better lives, than they.
If hands could talk…. ♥
Huey Ford - September 8, 2017 1:37 pm
Wow. That was a very touching story. Thanks Sean.
petewriting - September 8, 2017 1:57 pm
Hi Sean – loved the Storm Shift story! I look forward to your blogs!
Pete – Monroeville, Al
teachenglish67 - September 8, 2017 1:59 pm
There are so many unsung heroes from all walks of life found in the most unlikely of places. Thank you, Sean, for “singing” about this one. Blessings and smiles to you and her.
Mary Bea Johnson - September 8, 2017 2:29 pm
Thank you for always seeing (and reminding us about) the beautiful in the every day! It has made me open my eyes wider and that has made my heart bigger!
Tammy Moody - September 8, 2017 2:45 pm
Great job as always, Sean. Once again, you show us what is really important.
Dee Corkran - September 8, 2017 2:52 pm
Touched my heart. Thank you.
Sheila - September 8, 2017 3:29 pm
Sean, your ability to SEE those in your presence is a gift and an example I am striving to emulate. Thank you for sharing your gift of seeing the gift in each individual. You make us want to be someone worth seeing.
Patrick - September 8, 2017 4:19 pm
Sheesh… go ahead and make tears run down my cheeks… I’m a 70 year old man with a soft heart.. You get a Grammy, an Oscar and any other award that can be bestowed on you… However, you and I will both agree… the “lady”.. is the real HERO
Amanda Ellis - September 8, 2017 4:28 pm
I read these every day at work and sit here while silent tears stream down my face. There is just something about the way you write that makes it seem like the audience is there with you. I love looking at the world through your eyes! 🙂
Paula - September 8, 2017 4:42 pm
Wonderful! What a woman, grandmother, and mother!
Pamela McEachern - September 8, 2017 4:46 pm
I am proud to know this strong woman, she is what I believe to be the backbone of our great country, God Bless anyone that has given their love so dearly. That you Sean, love and peace
Steven Porter - September 8, 2017 4:49 pm
Wow. Just #goodstuff
Debbie Taylor - September 8, 2017 5:42 pm
This is a good one, Sean … a REALLY good one. Thank you!
Judy Clark - September 8, 2017 5:45 pm
Each time I read your blog I say “oh boy this is the best one yet” BUT this is the best one yet, until the next one. Thank you for making me cry, making me smile and making me so grateful to be alive!
Chelsey smith - September 8, 2017 5:51 pm
elvissister - September 8, 2017 6:08 pm
I adore you, Sean Dietrich.
Donna J. masmar - September 8, 2017 6:15 pm
You are a great story-teller–but please get out of there before it hits!
Howard Humphreys - September 8, 2017 7:12 pm
Very enjoyable to read your writing thanks to my Facebook friend Jim Jewell….
bewell40 - September 8, 2017 7:52 pm
Dear Lady At the Waffle House – – I hope you read Sean’s post about you. And the comments. Most of those say what I usually say – – we praise and thank Sean. But I thank you, too. You are a gift, as are so many of those whom Sean Dietrich leaves in our mailbox every morning, each one wrapped up special – – sometimes with a bow on top; sometimes not. You have a handsome bow on top, in the shape of a heart. Like I said, thank you.
Janis - September 8, 2017 7:58 pm
I hope that people who read this and remotely see a similarity in their own lives will accept it as a story about their own mothers/themselves/their children. This woman’s story is a testament of love; and a call to action…
Catherine - September 8, 2017 9:31 pm
This is so much better than anything about a hurricane could be.
J. Elliott - September 8, 2017 10:02 pm
Wow! What a champion; God bless her.
Shirley J Brown - September 8, 2017 10:52 pm
This could have been the story of my mom except I’m the daughter who stayed by her side even when she wasn’t aware of my presence. I miss my mom.
theholtgirlsTN Lizzie - September 9, 2017 1:19 am
Shirley, I don’t know why your mom wasn’t aware of your presence, but you sound like a good daughter. The fact that you stayed by your mom, and miss her now, says a lot of positive things about you. Thank you for taking care of her, and may your heart find comfort because you were strong enough to love her nevertheless. You are a giant.
lavenderlady - September 9, 2017 12:38 am
Thank you again. You recognize those accomplishments that often go un noticed. Today I read all of the comments. They were spot on.
Leah Lloyd - September 9, 2017 12:58 am
Tired of hearing about hurricanes. Never tire of your stories.
Jack Quanstrum - September 9, 2017 1:29 am
I love this story. Good is what people like you and her are all about. The Human Spirit is undeniable. Of course God created it for good if we are willing to use it. Shalom!
Ann Collard - September 9, 2017 4:51 am
Just returned from a trip to Beaufort/ Bluffton S.C. area, (actually got evacuated) -my first experience with this. My sister lives in Escatawpa and I’ve heard her “stories” but living it sheds a new light on the whole thing! It’s a NiGHtMarE! She has also told me about your books and columns and forwarded the one to me about the meteorologist. We had just been discussing the very thing you wrote so eloquently about! I laughed til I cried and have subscribed to your blog and Facebook. Keep them coming. I appreciate how you prioritize and need to hear this in these CrAzY times. Thank you from bottom of my heart. Ann from West Memphis, Arkansas. PS I hope to meet you some day along with my awesome sister;)
Maureen Sudlow - September 9, 2017 8:55 am
Sure is – thanks for showing us the heart in the commonplace…
Debbie bernard - September 9, 2017 11:15 pm
You’ve made me find more “kings” and “queens” in rural Arkansas than I ever imagined could be here. Your view on the common man is contagious and very rewarding. Thank you.
Laurie - September 9, 2017 11:42 pm
Reminds me of my Grandma, Sean. She got to the restaurant every morning before it opened to make homemade soup. Thank you.
Perri Geaux Tigers Williamson - September 10, 2017 12:22 am
Awww. We’re right in the crosshairs of Irma in Ft. Myers–but thank you for putting things in perspective. I will try to be half as strong as your subject.
Margaret Bernardo - September 11, 2017 4:11 pm
You are a fabulous writer! I visualize everything! My love and praise goes out the strong woman at the Waffle House.
Martha Black - August 10, 2019 8:57 am
You got good eyes Sean! I know because I read about the people you meet and pull up a chair beside and talk a spell. You search out the very best & seasoned ones and tell us about how good living and people can be in spite of what may have come or went. Keep looking, listening & telling us about it. You’re gaining wisdom & knowledge gained through those that created it and we’re lucky enough to have it served to us from your view.
Go head now, pick us another good one ready to share, just like a sweet ripe Carolina Peach.