The General

I entered Alabama at 11:03 a.m. The sky was vivid blue and cloudless. I pulled into a gas station not far from the state line.

I was exhausted and depleted after a morning on the road. For nearly 40 miles I had been stuck behind a dilapidated truck on a two-lane highway. The truck’s bumper sticker read, NICK SABAN IS MY LOVE LANGUAGE.

I swiped my card. I started pumping gas. And that’s where I met the General, at gas pump Number Eight.

The General introduced himself to me. He was maybe five-four, with a blazing white beard, a pronounced limp. He was bone thin and smelled like a distillery.

There were strips of duct tape on his shoes. His jeans were ragged. He had a duffel bag slung over his shoulder and a calico cat resting in his arms.

“Can you help two travelers out?” he said.

“Where are you traveling?” I asked.

“Ain’t decided yet. Right now we’re fundraising. Can you spare anything?”

“How about ten bucks?”

It was a pittance, but it was all I had. The General took the cash and thanked me. He told me the United States Army thanked me. Then he nodded to the calico cat, who was purring. “My lieutenant general thanks you, too.”

I almost saluted, but thought better of it.

A few more of the General’s troops emerged from the shadows near the filling station. Some in the General’s company were Persian-white, others were orange striped, one was tri-colored. They flocked to the elderly high-ranking officer, meowing their tails off.

The brass hat stooped on his heels, reached into his heavy duffel bag and removed a bag of Walmart-brand cat food. He scooped out several handfuls and placed the multi-colored food on the pavement near the pump.

“Troops got to eat,” he said.

“What about you?” I asked. “You need to eat, too.”

He shook his head. “They eat. Then the general eats. That’s the rule. We take care of our own first.”

“Are you really a general?”

He smiled his tooth at me. “Would a five-star general lie to you?”

Right.

The old man said he enlisted when he was 19. His wife was pregnant. They needed money, and the military was a promising career. The Army was good to him, it was an organization that treated people fairly.

“You do good at your job in the Army, they treat you good. Just how it works. In the civilian world, it don’t go that way, they’re always hiring someone cheaper. I miss the Army. You knew where you stood in the Army.”

They sent him to Vietnam. His son was 2 years old when he left. It almost broke him to leave. But after two tours of duty, it was even harder to come back home.

“I slept in the backyard, first few years when I got home, couldn’t sleep indoors. Didn’t feel right inside. Shoot, man, I could tell stories.”

But this is all the General tells me about himself. I wanted to ask more, but I got the impression he didn’t want to share. He just wanted me to know that he could tell stories.

I pointed to the Waffle House across the street. I asked if the man wanted to join me for a late breakfast. Maybe a cup of coffee.

“No, thank you,” he said. “Officers don’t eat with enlisted men. That’s the rule.”

Then he gave a wink.

“Are you really a general?” I asked again.

“In a manner of speaking,” was his answer.

He sort of staggered away on unsteady feet. His troops dutifully followed. His men formed a kind of single-file line behind him.

The General hobbled into the gas station. I saw him purchase something. I stayed in my vehicle to see what he was buying with his newfound funds.

Truthfully, I was expecting the General to exit the station carrying a brown paper bag containing a 40-ounce Bud Light, maybe one of those godawful hotdogs from the spinning grillers.

But instead the venerable officer left the station and walked to the back of the building. He opened multiple cans of cat food, maybe six or seven cans, and placed them on the sidewalk. The cats congregated around the food and ate greedily.

Once they were finished—and only when they were finished eating—the old man unwrapped a microwaved burrito and ate.

“They eat. Then the general eats. That’s the rule. We take care of our own first.”

I can’t help but wonder who is taking care of the General.

39 comments

  1. Steve McCaleb - June 30, 2022 7:37 am

    May God bless the general (and his troops) and may He also bless your kind hearted self. Boy…..you got a mighty good heart beating in your chest. And the best part is you share it with all of us every day. I know it ain’t easy….but please……keep on keeping on. Everybody needs a light to shine out here in the darkness.

    Reply
  2. Debbie - June 30, 2022 8:04 am

    “Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember them that are in bonds,as bound with them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body”. Hebrews 13:1-3

    Reply
    • Amanda McKinley - June 30, 2022 3:07 pm

      Amen. It would not surprise me one bit if he was an angel. ❤️

      Reply
  3. Debbie - June 30, 2022 8:07 am

    Thank you, Sean. ❤️🙏

    Reply
  4. 🇿🇦🇿🇦 Norma Den - June 30, 2022 8:24 am

    God, and kind strangers like you Sean, are who is looking after the General. A sad but thought provoking story. “For as much as ye do it unto one of these, ye do it unto me”. God bless the General and many like him, and God bless you too.

    Reply
    • Chasity Davis Ritter - June 30, 2022 1:23 pm

      Amen Norma. Amen.

      Reply
  5. Shirley Robin Ivie - June 30, 2022 8:55 am

    I really enjoyed this delightful story.The general seemed like such a kind soul and was definitely in in need of some kindness himself.Thank you for showing an interest in his well being. Our veterans are so often forgotten and neglected.

    Reply
  6. Harriet White - June 30, 2022 10:56 am

    ❤️

    Reply
  7. Ed (Bear) - June 30, 2022 10:58 am

    You can find good in yourself by looking for good in others.

    Reply
  8. Atticus Haygood Sims 111 - June 30, 2022 11:45 am

    I enjoyed this little story.

    Reply
  9. Catherine - June 30, 2022 11:51 am

    Who is taking care of the general? Big hearted folks like you who provide sustenance and kindness to him and his troops. I am sensing that you were ministered to by him, as well~that’s usually how it works. God bless you both…and the troops.

    Reply
  10. Sheri K - June 30, 2022 12:04 pm

    What a heart-warming story! God protect the General and his army and thank you Sean for helping Him.

    Reply
  11. Pingback: Sean of the South: The General | The Trussville Tribune

  12. Holly Moore - June 30, 2022 1:12 pm

    Thanks for your kindness to the General and his precious troops! Aren’t cats and dogs great? They are always happy to see you and never complain! Maybe if we were all like them, the General would have had more faith in mankind! God bless the General and his troops and of course you Sean! God Bless America🙏🏼❤️

    Reply
  13. Cathy M - June 30, 2022 1:19 pm

    You are an observer with a gift is inspiring others with what you see. The general is a lost lamb and you showed him compassion. After all, he has his dignity and his four legged soldiers. God bless us all

    Reply
    • Brenda Harvey - June 30, 2022 5:49 pm

      Well said Cathy!

      Reply
  14. Chasity Davis Ritter - June 30, 2022 1:22 pm

    I picture this so vividly and I have big fat tears rolling down my face not just the smaller variety you routinely produce. The Bible says not to worry. See how HE feeds the birds of the trees and the beautiful flowers of the fields. They do not worry. Why should HE love me any less. (Ok I know I’m way paraphrasing) but God provided. The general is providing for his troops and I PRAY GOD is providing for him. He served our country during a terrible war. I wonder what happened to his wife and son. I pray his mansion in heaven is bigger than mine because he deserves that. And if it needs to be open to the sky and his bed not covered by a roof so be it. Maybe he will have beautiful out door place located near the rainbow bridge where the troops can still greet him each day. I always say if I ever win the lottery….. there are a few people from
    Your stories is like to meet and contribute to.

    Reply
    • Amanda McKinley - June 30, 2022 3:06 pm

      Amen. I pray the same for him. So beautifully said.

      Reply
  15. David Britnell - June 30, 2022 1:44 pm

    Sean, do you write from actual experiences or do you just have a God-given talent for sharing your thoughts. If this was a real life story you must have a very interesting and blessed life. I love your talent so much and appreciate you sharing with us!

    Reply
  16. Carol - June 30, 2022 1:51 pm

    Thanks, another great way to start the day….

    Reply
  17. Don Gardner - June 30, 2022 2:16 pm

    Thank you for your stories and your example. You inspire me to treat others better. Praying for the General and his troops.

    Reply
  18. Patricia Gibson - June 30, 2022 3:22 pm

    God bless the General and his men. So many out there that need our help and God bless you, Sean for caring 🙏

    Reply
  19. Kandi Simpson - June 30, 2022 3:36 pm

    Thank you for telling us about the General and his troops.You give us insight on everyday people and how we should view the world with a humble heart ❤️

    Reply
  20. Ann of Mobile - June 30, 2022 3:50 pm

    Thank you (sniffle), Sean.😻😔

    Reply
  21. Karen Dees - June 30, 2022 4:45 pm

    Love, love, love this !

    Reply
  22. sjhl7 - June 30, 2022 4:55 pm

    Heavenly Father, please protect and bless the General just as he protects and blesses his troops. Amen.

    Reply
    • Jas - July 1, 2022 12:06 am

      Amen!

      Reply
  23. Dawnie B - June 30, 2022 5:07 pm

    May our Lord bless you richly, in many ways, for your caring and loving heart. And I pray for the General to be blessed with his daily needs & will find comfort, joy, love, and peace.

    Reply
  24. daniel a beck - June 30, 2022 5:53 pm

    you are,

    Reply
  25. Linda Moon - June 30, 2022 5:54 pm

    I hope someone is taking care of the General, Sean. If I could, I’d help and do some care-taking for all those cats, too. Oh….and I’m glad you’re still open for us readers of your posts filled with humor, insight, and wisdom.

    Reply
  26. Karen Taghi Zoghi - June 30, 2022 7:00 pm

    Beautiful story and message. Love your writing!

    Reply
  27. Barbara - June 30, 2022 8:47 pm

    The Lord

    Reply
  28. Allen Berry - June 30, 2022 11:47 pm

    To paraphrase my second favorite writer, Cormac McCarthy: “God will look after the General. He always has, he always will.” God, and His servants; common folk, cat lovers, and red-headed writers.

    Ph. Dude

    Reply
  29. Debbie g - July 1, 2022 1:10 am

    What a blessing meeting your angels
    Thank you dear Sean
    Love you and Jamie
    And love to us all and may we pass it on

    Reply
  30. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - July 1, 2022 5:10 am

    ❤️

    Reply
  31. Georgiann S. Wheeler - July 1, 2022 3:37 pm

    I’m in tears. God bless the General and all like him

    Reply
  32. Robert Chiles - July 1, 2022 10:13 pm

    Consider the lilies of the field……

    Reply
  33. suzi - July 2, 2022 11:08 am

    The good Lord and folks like you,
    The Lord’s Army🎶

    Reply
  34. Bill in Tennessee - July 3, 2022 2:17 pm

    As I drive around my southern city and watch videos from foreign lands like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle etc., I see so many lost souls that for various reasons are appended to the fringes of our society. Invisible mostly, possibly dangerous to themselves and others, comatose from drugs or alcohol, fighting secret mental battles that most of us can’t understand…. and it appears like they are increasing in numbers, but always silently, they drift away from us, from family and suburbs and cities, drafted into the invisible army of the misfits.

    Something is definitely “off” in America, and we haven’t quite figured out what it is. Is it a soul-sickness? An abundance of addictive and deadly drugs? Mental illness that somehow propagates by proximity? Jesus was right when He said that the poor will always be with us.

    Reply

Leave a Comment