Arizona—I am a long way from home, watching the Atlanta Braves play baseball on a television in a sports bar. I am waiting for my wife to finish shopping so we can go to dinner.
The man next to me is from Georgia, but he’s been living in Phoenix for nine years. He asks what I do for a living.
“I’m a writer,” I say.
“Really?” he says. “That’s cool. What do you write?”
“Aviation engineering manuals.”
We share pretzels from a glass bowl. Two strangers from the Southeast, meeting in a state where cactuses grow. Where waiters have never heard of sweet tea.
Our beloved Braves are locked in battle with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and we are the only two in the joint who root for them.
My friend’s elderly mother is ill. He’s leaving for home in a few days to see her. It doesn’t look like she’s going to make it.
He shows a picture on his phone. A photo of a young woman and her two boys, both wearing plaid pants. Hello 1970’s.
“That’s her,” he says. “My dad bailed on us, she raised us by herself.”
I could show this man similar photos on my phone. Photos from my own broken childhood, after my father died. I could tell him I half know how he feels.
I could tell him about the first time someone called my mother a “single mother,” and how it turned my stomach. But I won’t. Because writers don’t talk, they listen.
“Mom gave us everything,” says my friend. “Me and my brother got whatever we wanted, even though she couldn’t afford nothing.”
My mother did the same thing. I could tell stories about the sacrifices she made. But like I said. Writers.
Our conversation comes to a pause. The Braves are at the plate. Josh Donaldson is at bat.
“C’mon Josh!” we are both shouting at the TV.
Because Josh Donaldson is your quintessential Brave. Born in Pensacola, went to high school in Mobile, played college ball for Auburn. When I see Josh on the screen, though I am in a desert sports bar, I am back home.
The bartender approaches us. “Would you fellas mind keeping it down?” he asks.
We apologize for being rowdy, but we can’t help it.
A few nights ago, Josh Donaldson hit his first home run for the Braves. I was with my wife in a pizza joint when it happened. I cheered like my pants were on fire and tried to chest bump a man from Indiana.
We from the Gulf Coast support our own.
My friend glances at his phone and says, “My brother just texted, says he has the game on in Mom’s hospital room.”
Then he tells a story:
“In middle school, all my friends had Ocean Pacific shirts, you remember those? Ones with the little ‘OP’ on the chest?
“Well, we couldn’t afford’em, Mom got our clothes at thrift stores. But one time I got home from school and she had a bunch of OP shirts for me.
“They were knock-offs. Mom had stitched the letters ‘OP’ on a bunch of cheap shirts with a needle and thread. Took her several weeks.”
A tear threatened to fall from the corner of his eye.
We are interrupted. The bartender turns up the volume. Josh Donaldson has just tagged a runner out at third. Hot diggity spit.
My friend and I high-five.
The bartender shushes us.
I almost tell my friend about the time my mother bought a two-hundred dollar guitar for her awkward son.
Two hundred dollars in those days was enough to buy a used washing machine, or new tires, or groceries. I’ll never forget seeing the instrument in my bedroom.
I nearly tell my friend about it, but choose not to.
I could also tell him that I was a boyhood freak to the rest of the world. I could explain that a kid whose father takes his own life and leaves his family in ruin isn’t exactly someone other kids want at their birthday parties. I could tell him about how my mother helped me through that period.
I could. But I don’t.
My wife finally arrives. We’re about to go to dinner. Before I leave, my friend and I shake hands. I briefly consider hugging him, but I decide against it.
“A writer, huh?” he says. “I’m gonna check out your stuff, I’m gonna need something to read on the plane to Georgia.”
Right now would be a perfect time to tell him that I hope his mother defies the odds and makes a full recovery. And I could tell him that I truly believe in such miracles, because I happen to be one of them. And so does he. I could tell him that I love him, though I’ve never met him. But I won’t.
I’ll just let him read about it on the plane home.
Because that’s what writers do.
Sandi in FL. - April 19, 2019 6:59 am
I was born in Atlanta and have been a loyal Braves fan for many years, even though I reside in Florida now.
Sean, I do hope you keep business cards in your wallet to give to strangers you meet and converse with, so they’ll at least have your website address to visit. Bless the mother of the guy you met in the sports bar, and may she survive the illness that’s got her in the hospital.
aclownn - April 19, 2019 7:03 am
And at the end, it’s smiles or tears.. And I usually smile through the tears.
Cathi - April 19, 2019 10:57 am
Go Braves, go Josh, go Sean. You make my mornings complete!
Elizabeth - April 19, 2019 11:42 am
You got me again! Thank you and your new friend for a great morning.
Naomi - April 19, 2019 12:06 pm
My daughter planned her wedding for Oct. 26, 1991, the last day of the World Series when the Braves were in the playoffs. It was also the first day of opening season for deer hunting and all of her new husband’s family and friends were hunters. After a few hours at their wedding reception, people started disappearing. I ended up being left alone to clean up.
flkatmom - April 19, 2019 12:11 pm
Go Braves, yup… you got me again! ❤
Yvonne C - April 19, 2019 12:17 pm
Sean, you never cease to amaze me! The depth of your love and understanding of the people God puts in your path is incredible! Thanks for my morning smiles and sometimes tears! Tell Jamie hello and I’ve been praying fir your safe travels.
Rhonda - April 19, 2019 12:44 pm
Listening is something that is learned. Some folks never quite get there. Hearing what your listening to is even more rare. Often words are like songs and mean different things to different ears. The understanding of the connection of those words to the heart is a gift. Like any other art its the translation of emotion into some sort of communication. See this, hear that. The gift is the words between the words. Unsaid but part of the conversation just the same. The moist eyes, soulful gazes, and often times the body language of deep sadness or a love so strong it carries your through.
Writers share that gift for those who didn’t get it. Every body needs to pour it out sometimes but just don’t know how. Then you read written words by an unseen face that is looking inside your heart and knows. Just knows. You are a gift to us.
Connie Havard Ryland - April 19, 2019 12:46 pm
Go Braves! I’m a longtime fan myself. Born in Mobile, AL, if you liked baseball you were pretty much destined to root for the Braves. Thank you for another great read this mor morning. I’m sure your new friend appreciated having someone to listen.
Shelton A. - April 19, 2019 12:51 pm
Great story for Good Friday.
MermaidGrammy - April 19, 2019 1:20 pm
He’s a blessed man to have met you just when he needed to. Hope he lets you know how his momma/mama/mommy/mom/ma/mother is doing. Thank you
Ginger Clifton - April 19, 2019 1:24 pm
Love that you engage people as you go about. Part of that is the writer in you, but part of it is what your mama taught you, what you believe as a Southerner, and who you now are. Yesterday in the line at WM, an elderly Black lady and I engaged about how good it is to be alive and able to be there. As I looked at a magazine article about US national parks, (I always read while I wait), we talked about the Grand Canyon and how we would like to see it. The conversation drifted to reality and Birmingham, 45 miles away, and how we could not safely travel there any longer. Point is we connected, and I wished her a blessed Easter when I left. Can we just connect, people? Can we just be nice? Tell us more, Sean.
Carol Heidbreder - April 19, 2019 1:30 pm
Yes of course go Braves but more than that, go Sean! God places you in the right place at the right time every time! This is watching Gods work in real time. You never know who you will meet in a public place. Met one of my best friends and prayer partners ever in a restaurant. Just passing by each other but we were supposed to meet. What a gift! And this one just keeps on giving! Just like you Sean! I’m an old lady now but if I were having birthday parties you would be first on my guest list! You certainly made my day AGAIN!
Jan - April 19, 2019 1:36 pm
Awesome, as usual!!!
Ann Fuller - April 19, 2019 1:57 pm
Great advice for all of us..don’t talk, listen, writer or not.
Linda Moon - April 19, 2019 2:38 pm
Robyn - April 19, 2019 2:49 pm
Wow, this story moved me – I too share a similar childhood cloth. Thank you for sharing. Our mothers were anything but ordinary. I wish I would have known that then.
Jack Darnell - April 19, 2019 7:32 pm
I could tell you about Betty out in AZ, who has lived everywhere except the SE USA. Then there is Myra who reads you every day who moved from FL to AZ then what? Settled for Alabama to find peace of mind and be close to her son…. But then….. No body is perfect, my brother was an Atlanta Braves fan!
I do know the feeling of meeting someone at a place where you feel like you are in a 3rd world country until they say, I’m from Georgia! HOO RAH!
Now hold the noise down.
Sherry & jack
Chasity Davis Ritter - April 19, 2019 9:43 pm
The world is a blessed place because of mommas like yalls. (And mine too)
Charaleen Wright - April 20, 2019 3:31 am
Edna B. - April 20, 2019 10:48 am
What a wonderful story. You have a gift, Sean. You listen, you put folks at ease, you bring us right along with you. Thank you. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.
Dru - April 24, 2019 3:00 pm
Arizona is good for you! Writers listen. Thanks, Sean.