A Lot More Than Sugar and Spice

As it happens, nowadays I am hungry—though sometimes this world tries to steal a man's appetite. And I'm more than that. I'm alive.

The week after Daddy’s funeral, it stormed. Bad. I woke to the sound of wind. Rain.

And piano music.

I walked downstairs to see our den full of ladies dusting, sweeping, mopping. One woman was even playing our hallway spinet.

“Morning,” said my aunt, kissing my forehead. “You want breakfast?”

No. I didn’t.

I hadn’t been hungry for weeks. I’d lost weight because of it. The only things I could choke down were milkshakes. And it’s because of this, I haven’t touched one since my voice dropped.

My aunt led me to the kitchen.

It was crowded. Ladies in aprons, standing at workstations, dusting things with flour. Almost every surface held poundcakes, layer cakes, bunt cakes, or cookies.

I received three hugs, ten kisses, and one stiff pat on the hindsection.

My aunt made a milkshake by hand, then said, “Get some chocolate cake, too. It’s GOT to get eaten before it goes bad.”

That woman. She was made of sugar and spice, and all kinds of bacon grease.

I wandered to the porch, sipping a milkshake, eating cake. I found my uncle on the swing, listening to the rain make noise, the same sound TV static makes.

“Ain’t they something?” he said, spitting into a mug. “All them busy ladies.”


He laughed. “You know what they call life without women?”


“They call it suffering.”

Well, I’d counted nearly twelve females in our house—not including the piano-player. Laughter came from the kitchen. Music from the den. I guess we weren’t suffering too bad.

Then, the screen door slapped. A young lady came onto the porch with two more plates of chocolate cake.

My uncle stood when he saw the girl. I stood with him—which is something my people do in the presence of females.

He thank-you-ma’amed her. So did I.

He handed me his cake and said, “You’re gonna have to eat mine, I already gotta mouthful of spit.”

So, I did.

Anyway, yesterday I woke to the sounds of thunder. A pine tree behind our house got hit by lightning. The apocalyptic noise rattled me awake.

And when I wandered out of the bedroom, I expected to see our house torn apart.

I didn’t. What I found was our kitchen, humming with energy. And it took me back in time. My wife had prepared breakfast big enough for a first-string varsity lineup.

She said, “I sure as hell hope you’re hungry.”

Hungry. As it happens, nowadays I am hungry—though sometimes this world tries to steal a man’s appetite. And I’m more than that. I’m alive.

And none of it was my doing. It was God’s own army who saved me. Wingless ambassadors, who’ve taken the time to water me like a house-plant.

They may look like aunts, mamas, sisters, and wives. But they’re far more than that.

They are women.

And life without them is called suffering.


  1. Sandra Lee Van Dam - February 11, 2017 4:17 pm


  2. Sandra Marrar - February 11, 2017 4:20 pm

    As always, your writings bring tears to my eyes and a smile to my face!

  3. Paulette Dugan - February 11, 2017 4:28 pm

    I too come from a time and community where this is true. Food might not fix everything but it gave you something to do in the meantime – both the grieving and the givers.

  4. Dedra - February 11, 2017 4:34 pm

    Touched again by words only created by daily sweetnesses of the south! Loveliness to my mind and soul.

  5. Beckie Johnson - February 11, 2017 5:12 pm

    My friend’s child calls funeral food “sad food” but my experience is that it is a balm to the souls of the grieving. As my Mississippi mama always said upon hearing of the death of a relative or friend. “I may not be able to do anything for the dead, but I can bake a whipping cream pound cake for the living.” It was always a hit on the sad food dessert table! A friend introduced me to your writing yesterday and I’m about blind from reading posts on my phone for hours. Two of my favorite writers are Roy Blount, Jr. And Rick Bragg. Now I will add a third–you!
    Beckie Johnson

  6. Gayle Dawkins - February 11, 2017 7:41 pm

    Love this Sean. I grew up in the north, and by the grace of God I moved down south in my teen yrs. I didn’t know what food was until I got here. First to Texas and my Granny’s cornbread dressing and fried Taters. Then on to Alabama and all of it’s Southern Baptist cuisine. Yes it is funeral food, but it comforts the soul no matter what your going through.

  7. Carol DeLater - February 11, 2017 8:24 pm

    Thank you?

  8. Sherry L Hill - February 11, 2017 8:29 pm

    This is so on point as to make me swoon.
    Thank you for your thoughtful and relevant musings.
    I share you with everyone I can, you are that good 🙂

  9. Susie Munz - February 11, 2017 9:44 pm

    Appreciation of the efforts of people to ‘make things better’ is being grateful, which you show on a regular basis. I wish more people would.

  10. Cherryl Shiver - February 11, 2017 11:19 pm

    Thank you. This make me proud to be a Southern Lady.

  11. Judy - February 12, 2017 1:51 am

    I wish there was a whole world of men like you.

  12. Jill Prince - February 12, 2017 2:44 am

    As usual, a tearjerker! Great writing, it is truly your gift.

  13. Tricia - March 4, 2017 2:48 pm

    Nothing says ” I love you”, or ” I feel your pain” better than a table full of good southern cooking.

  14. Rex Hern - March 4, 2017 3:53 pm

    My family had the good fortune to grow up in small-town South Dakota. The warm, wonderful women in your story sounds just like my Mom, grandmas, aunts and the rest of the army of big-hearted small-church women I knew – just with different accents. This Yankee appreciates your way of seeing some of the good that’s left of the world God inexplicably trusted us to manage.

  15. Joseph Mullan - March 5, 2017 12:08 am

    Sean ..would it be too much to ask you to tell me ..or should I say . tell us more about your father..dad ..old man whatever..would like to know more if it helps..please ..my old man was a drunken bum ..seriously I really mean that ..don’t get me wrong I’m certainly not referring that your old man was as bad ass as mine no way ..just saying mine was bad..please

  16. Joyce - March 5, 2017 12:13 am

    I love what you wrote about food and the way in which people show their love for you with it.
    I had a lot of bullying at school when I was growing up. Every day when I got off the school bus,and felt horrible,the woman who raised me,always had a pan of homemade brownies,and a glass of milk waiting. That didn’t cure all my problems,but it made me know someone loved me,and thought I was wonderful!

  17. Roxanne Langley - April 3, 2017 2:49 am

    Today, I was having this exact conversation with regarding the reaction of a friend from growing up. His dad died on Wednesday. When my friend, a southern gal whom he had dated long ago, came to the funeral and hugged him, he said, “This is awesome.” She was s but puzzled by his reaction, and didn’t have an experience with which to square it–she’s an only child. So, I explained. I told her it’s because she was there and hugged him and he needs friends who have known and loved him a long, long time. I think for some reason men feel the responsibility of the death of a patriarch differently or something… hard to explain. My husband and brother both did when my own Daddy died 9 years ago. Women get busy and cook and clean and hug and cry. Men are just devastated and don’t know what to do. I’m blessed to have been reared by strong, southern men and women…but it was the women who taught me to keep ingredients for lemon bundt pound cake on hand just in case. And that showing up with extra toilet paper and paper towels for the extra company isn’t a bad idea either. You are an eloquent man. Thank you for honoring women in this way.

  18. Charaleen Wright - March 30, 2019 3:47 am


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