She greets each customer with sugary words and a cheek-crippling grin.

Calera, Alabama—the Cracker Barrel off I-65 is busy this morning. There are people in the dining room from every walk of life. Lots of noise.

An elderly man with military patches on his ball cap. A young couple with loud children who test the limits of the known sound barrier. An old man in a cowboy hat, sitting with his grandkids.

My waitress is Tamba. She is pretty, middle-aged, with cropped black hair, and a smile that sets the room on fire.

“How y’all today?” she says.

Her smile makes me smile. Which makes my wife smile. Which makes Tamba smile. Which makes me grin so hard my cheeks are sore.

She fills my coffee mug. She takes my order. And there’s that smile again.

My cheek muscles will never recover.

I watch her weave through the chaotic dining room like a ballerina. She takes orders from grumpy parents, over-caffeinated children, and flat-faced out-of-towners who woke up on the wrong side of the hotel bed.

She greets each customer with sugary words and a cheek-crippling grin.

She takes orders by memory. She listens when picky eaters specify exactly how they want their eggs. Before she leaves tables, she recites orders to her customers without flaw.

And I sincerely hope that John Q. Customer notices how remarkable she is. Her personality is brilliant, her sense of humor is refreshing, and her memory is the Eighth Wonder of the World.

If I were a betting man, I’d bet she could memorize the Jefferson County phonebook in one sitting and recite it with her eyes closed.

On her way to the kitchen, people flag her down.

“I need mayo!” hollers a man.

She’s got it covered.

“Ma’am!” says an impatient woman from the back. “I NEED some pepper sauce.”

Pepper sauce. Check.

“Ma’am, can I get some more biscuits?” says a little boy.

On it.

“‘Scuse me, Miss?” says a woman. “We’re outta ketchup.”

Coming right up.

Our heroine emerges from the kitchen holding a one-hundred-pound tray over her head. She delivers pepper sauce for the weary, coffee refills for the downtrodden, and more biscuits for the tired and heavy laden. And she does it with a patented smile that can only be measured with a light meter.

My food arrives. She places it before me and asks: “You got any big plans for today?”

She looks me in the eye when she says it.

Now here is a woman, I am thinking, with an entire dining room that wants a piece of her. A room she’s been servicing since her early shift started. But right now, she’s asking about my day.

We talk briefly. More smiling. And she’s back to work.

I eat my meal, but I’m still watching her. She zips through clusters of chairs, calming the impatient, winking at babies, and making people laugh.

Finally, she brings my check. She also brings me a to-go coffee in a foam cup.

She tells me: “Drive safe, sugar.”

And this might not sound like much to untrained ears, but in our part of the world, “drive safe” is code for: “I care about you.” And it’s hard to find people who care.

I say goodbye. I wander through the gift shop, looking at trinkets and toys for my niece. Then, after purchasing some black licorice, and a pair of toddler-sized cowboy boots, I pay my bill.

I reach for my wallet, and I see her.

Tamba is jogging through the dining room with a foam cup in her hands.

“Sir!” she’s saying. “You forgot your coffee!”

She hands it to me. I thank her.

Then, she nails me.

She hugs me. Hard. I am taken off guard because this is not your run-of-the-mill hug. This is the real variety. The kind of hug you get from church ladies; or Sunday school teachers; or cousins; or childhood friends; or from your aunt Eulah. This is a true slice of affection.

“You drive safe, now,” she says.

And she disappears.

Sometimes I wonder about this world. I wonder where it’s going. Another day, another tragedy. If you want heartache, flip on the news. You’ll find mankind has lost his ever-loving mind and he can’t seem to find it.

Somewhere along the way, people quit trusting one another. Hatred sells at clearance prices. People are angry with things they can’t even name.

But that’s not the case here in Calera. Not this morning. At least not for me.

In this restaurant there is only sunshine. Her name is Tamba. And if you are ever fortunate enough to meet this woman, your cheeks will be sore for days.

Drive safe.

40 comments

  1. Pippi - September 22, 2018 6:03 am

    😊

    Reply
  2. Matt Fuqua - September 22, 2018 7:26 am

    I’m in Starbucks in Milan and wish Tamba were here! Thanks for all your write

    Reply
  3. Donna Tonnemacher - September 22, 2018 8:25 am

    I know her personally. She is all this and more. She also works at Bertalones Italian restaurant in Calera. She is genuine “SUGAR “.

    Reply
  4. GaryD - September 22, 2018 8:37 am

    You meet the nicest people in your travels. Good for you. And good for us you tell us about them.

    Reply
  5. Marilyn - September 22, 2018 9:51 am

    A smile can certainly make a big difference in how one’s day goes. Seeing one is almost better than wearing one they both can bring good feelings. Thanks for sharing Tamba this morning. She sure has started my day out in a good way too.

    Reply
  6. Denecier - September 22, 2018 11:14 am

    Ur stories always have sucha luving spirit to them…

    Reply
  7. Nancy Thomaston Rogers - September 22, 2018 11:33 am

    And make sure to hug tight.

    Reply
  8. John - September 22, 2018 12:01 pm

    We have a Tamba except we don’t have a Cracker Barrel. Here it’s Pioneer Cafe and her name is Karen.

    Reply
  9. Mike Guilday - September 22, 2018 12:07 pm

    You drive safe now Mr.

    Reply
  10. Bethnee Durham - September 22, 2018 12:20 pm

    Thank for sharing Tamba’s smile with us…i can just see it! It costs absolutely NOTHING to BE KIND! Drive safe my friend!
    Bethnee
    Gardendale,AL

    Reply
  11. Joy - September 22, 2018 12:31 pm

    Every six months when we have to go to Birmingham for a doctor’s appointment we stop at this Cracker Barrel and every time those who wait on us are always, nice, friendly, and efficient.

    Love your stories…thanks for sharing and getting my day started off right. Drive safe Mr. Sean…write more stories.. Love you and a great big hug via e-mail!

    Reply
  12. Bruce Stover - September 22, 2018 1:22 pm

    I like the way you write! I read your post to my wife daily. It’s something we look forward too. It always brings a smile or a tear. Many times both…

    Reply
  13. Carol - September 22, 2018 1:50 pm

    Your my sunshine and my smile and sometimes my tears everyday!
    I wouldn’t know what to do without having you talking to me everyday!
    You drive safe, you hear!!
    Love ya!

    Reply
  14. Jeanne Butlet - September 22, 2018 1:52 pm

    Well my day was starting not good as usual. Then I read Sunshine. Got me smiling and crying. You know how to do that to me. Our chocolate lab is whining as always so I am going to take him out front and sit and watch the river and read Sunshine again. Love you Sean. And always be safe. That’s what I always say to my son and granddaughter when they leave the house

    Reply
  15. Karen - September 22, 2018 1:58 pm

    Drive safe, sugar ❤️

    Reply
  16. Sherry G Bourgeois - September 22, 2018 2:22 pm

    💯

    Reply
  17. Sylvia - September 22, 2018 2:57 pm

    What a lovely tribute to a beautiful person. Hope Tamba gets to read this.

    Reply
  18. that's jack - September 22, 2018 3:19 pm

    Love it dude! As always I enjoy your take on life. Life is good! DRIVE SAFE!

    Reply
  19. Shelton Armour - September 22, 2018 3:25 pm

    Good to see that there are not affected by the divisive times. Safe travels.

    Reply
  20. Sandra Vance - September 22, 2018 3:45 pm

    Tamba needs to be recognized by the CB corporate office! I will forward this to them so she gets recognized for awesome service! Thanks for posting. Smiles and safe travels to everyone!

    Reply
  21. Terri C Boykin - September 22, 2018 4:17 pm

    Thank you Sean for being in my day, love you much. Drive safe, you hear?

    Reply
  22. Jack Quanstrum - September 22, 2018 4:26 pm

    Great story. Great Lady. Positive, caring and authentic. Needed that after watching the horrible news. By the way I was in Calera riding my bicycle.

    Reply
  23. Ronda Tedder - September 22, 2018 5:26 pm

    Thank you, such a great story, we all need reminders that there is still good in this world.

    Reply
  24. Barbara Knight - September 22, 2018 6:05 pm

    Tamba is a breath of fresh air in this crazy world. I’m glad you wrote about her.

    Reply
  25. Terrie - September 22, 2018 6:06 pm

    ☀️😊🚙

    Reply
  26. Toni Alphord - September 22, 2018 6:16 pm

    We stop there on occasional trips to Kirklin Clinic in Birmingham, I will be sure to look for her! Everyone can use a good hug!

    Reply
  27. janiesjottings - September 22, 2018 6:21 pm

    Love this Sean! It reminded me of the day my husband and I took his 86 year old mom out for lunch. Our male server must’ve had a tender heart for the white haired lady using the walker because he proceeded to treat her like a queen. He could not have been more friendly or accommodating. When we were about to leave I told him how much we appreciated him and asked if I could give him a hug. He turned red but the smile on his face spoke volumes. My Mother was a waitress when I was a child. It is hard work and they deserve every tip they get.

    Reply
  28. Myra - September 22, 2018 11:01 pm

    Oh my word … yes. I remember Tamba! A few years ago – before we had the good sense to move to Alabama – hubby and I stopped at that Cracker Barrel. There came what we used to call a ‘toad frog strangler’ — but her genuine friendliness lit up that dining room. I’ll never forget. When preparing to leave, Tamba invited us to come again soon. Well, I explained, it might be a while … we’re on our way home to Phoenix. “Oh! So, so far! Well, in that case (she reaches for both my hands) I’m going to ask the Lord to extend his travelling blessings on you until we meet again.” Footprints on one’s heart material, for sure.

    Reply
  29. Sally Jo Denney - September 23, 2018 12:40 am

    Our world could use more Tamba and Sean!
    Going to stop at the CB in Calera to see Tamba when we visit our son and family at Maxwell AFB.

    Reply
  30. Edna B. - September 23, 2018 2:48 pm

    What a delightful person Tamba is. This world could use lots more like her. Thank you for this wonderful story. Travel safely, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  31. Arlene - September 23, 2018 10:13 pm

    Oh how we all need a Tampa in our world

    Reply
  32. Sylvia Whitt - September 24, 2018 4:08 am

    I want to meet this wonderful woman!

    Reply
  33. Celeste Sheppard - September 24, 2018 1:59 pm

    You did it again Sean, now I’m crying! I used to have an Aunt Eula. Yes, it’s crazy out there. Thanks for the reminder that there’s still good in this world❤️

    Reply
  34. Tommy Adkins - September 24, 2018 3:02 pm

    Good very good ! I being a author of sorts too( Tommy Adkins, you can check me out on Amazon or any major book outlet) do like you stuff.. Keep up the good words.

    Reply
  35. Brad - September 24, 2018 10:46 pm

    I took 9 grandkids to that Cracker Barrel on our way down to Destin last summer. Quite the adventure, I’m pretty sure I met Tamba.

    Reply
  36. Debra - September 25, 2018 1:07 pm

    I am proud to say that I am from Calera! Next time you go, check out the Zapopan’s just north of the Cracker Barrel on 31. It’ll be on the left after the second red light. Next time you’re in my neck of the woods, give me a holler and I’ll meet you and your lovely wife at Zap’s. Of course, I’ll bring my husband and lovely daughter along with me, and introduce you to the owner and his family. I frequently share your blogs with my daughter. It makes both of us smile. Sometimes, we need it more than others. Like a lot of people that read your inspired words, it gives us hope and helps us with grief. So, thank you, Mr. Sean, for visiting my home town. I wish you could’ve stayed longer and maybe I could’ve even run into you and your wife. All my best wishes for you and your calling. You have a wonderful gift. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  37. Diane Rinaldi - November 18, 2018 1:05 pm

    Sean Dietrich, you make the world a better place with your writing – thank you for introducing us to Tamba and her sweet, sunny spirit!

    Reply
  38. Mary Ann Massey - November 18, 2018 1:30 pm

    My son is in the Air Force and was stationed in Virginia several years ago. We stayed at a hotel with a Cracker Barrel across the street. On the very first morning, we met a precious Hispanic girl who immediately began calling me “mommie”. We asked to be seated at her table every morning we were there and on every trip until he was sent to a different base. She calls me Mommie to this day. Since that time, my son has been moved to New Jersey. The young woman and I are Facebook friends and communicate frequently….she is still beautiful and now has two children….the mysteries of The Lords’ works! 😘

    Reply
  39. Donna blair - November 18, 2018 1:58 pm

    Well, there may be more educated, sophiscated writers, but- God gave you a gift. You are blessing many of us with it.

    Reply
  40. Melanie - November 19, 2018 7:04 am

    ❤❤❤❤❤

    Reply

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