I am on a video call using my laptop. I stare at the blank screen waiting for my virtual host to arrive.
Meantime, I see the miniature version of my prodigious Mister Potato Head face on my monitor. I am trying to ignore the fact that I look like I’ve been sleeping under a porch for the last several decades. I try to fix my hair, but I only make more fall out.
I’m having a rough morning.
The conference call is joined by another entity, but no image yet. Then comes the voice. An adult woman speaks. “Hello? Can you see us?”
“How about now?”
“Hold on. Anything?”
The sound of technological fiddling. “Wait… This stupid… Freakin’ camera… I need to… Get my…” Crashing noise. Followed by: “Anything?”
I sympathize with tech confusion. I don’t jibe with the digital effluvia of modern life. No matter how I try, I cannot feel warm and fuzzy about video calls, GPSs, or applying signatures to PDF files. These are dark arts.
I bought my first cellphone when I was a grown man with a mortgage. Back then mobile phones were novelty devices roughly the size of cinderblocks, you had to carry them in leather holsters like Little Joe Cartwright. We’ve come a long way.
Suddenly, a face appears on my screen. A mother seated beside a 12-year-old girl. The mother scheduled this call last week as a surprise for her daughter.
Both ladies are wearing strings of pearls.
“Hi!” they say with a wave.
The girl is first to speak. “These are my grandmother’s pearls, they’re not real, they’re Majorica, she let me borrow them for this, I read your story about how your mother-in-law always wears pearls.”
My mother-in-law would be monumentally proud. Eighty-one-year-old Mother Mary wears pearls and poppy-red Color Envy matte lipstick to check her mailbox.
The mother straightens her daughter’s necklace and says, “My mom wore these when she met my dad back in the midsixties.”
I smile because although we are communicating via George Jetson technology, it’s nice that some traditions remain timeless. It’s hard to imagine Glenn Miller playing a dance tune called “String of Smartwatches.”
The girl leans into her mother and whispers, “Tell me what he looks like, Mom.”
Which confuses me because the girl’s eyes are open.
Her mother gives me a glance. “You mind if I describe your face to her?”
“Only if your stomach is up for it.”
So the woman describes my physical assets in detail. “Well… Um, he’s got a lot of, ah, hair… A beard… And he has a very full—you know—face…”
The girl happily interrupts when she’s had enough descriptive horrors. The kid says, “We just finished all your books, everything you’ve ever written, I really feel like I know you now.”
Long pause. I’m flattered beyond speech.
The girl shows a smile. “I’m blind, in case you’re wondering.”
Then the mother-daughter duo tells me the girl’s life story. She was born prematurely, and developed a host of infections that nearly killed her and robbed her of eyesight. This kid is a fighter.
Her mother jumps in. “So one of our favorite things to do has always been reading novels. I’ve been reading to her each night since she was a baby.”
The girl adds, “I have really wanted to meet you ‘cause I think we could be friends, you know?”
I glance at the goofy image of myself on my laptop screen. I look like Yukon Cornelius after a bad night. “Well, it’s nice to meet you.”
“So can I tell people we’re friends now?”
“How about cousins?”
“Be an honor.”
“So we’re cousins then?”
“Thicker than water.”
We talk some more. We cover lots of ground. The girl tells me about herself and her daily life. About her new service dog, Brady. Then, our conversation becomes more sincere. And if sincerity were a liquid, this child would be the Pacific.
She offers something autobiographical:
“Sometimes when you’re blind, people treat you like you’re stupid, and not the same. Some kids act like I can’t even climb stairs or read books. Or like I won’t ever get married someday. But we read books, and trust me, I will get married one day.”
And something is flaring up my allergies.
The child leaves me with the kindness of her words. “Before I go, I just wanted to tell you that me and my mom are thankful to have you in our lives.”
The miniature Potato Head on my monitor is now officially a mess when it tries to speak. “Thank you. I really… I just…”
“No. You don’t have to say anything.” The girl says this with a childlike lilt. “But you can maybe write about me in one of your blogs sometime.”
“Make sure you mention our pearls.”
“Oh, and also, I love you, Cousin Sean.”
Maybe technology isn’t so bad.
Steve McCaleb - May 26, 2021 7:18 am
Nice story Sean. Your new cousin can see a lot more than most sighted folks. Both her and her mother seem like wonderful people. Thank you for making them a part of our lives too.
Robin McDonald - May 26, 2021 11:40 am
Dang, who is peeling onions in here! Made my day!!!😀
darcy myers - May 26, 2021 12:37 pm
Mark D MacIntyre - May 26, 2021 7:25 am
God blessed you to be a blessing to others. And boy do you ever…
Remember, as Yukon Cornelius says, Bumbles bounce!
Debbie g - May 26, 2021 8:38 am
I would like to put on my pearls and be this young lady’s bestest of cousins too and of course with cousin Sean you are awesome young lady and we both have good taste with cousins love y’all t
Nancy T Rogers - May 26, 2021 8:54 am
Out of the mouth of babes…
Paul W. Chappell - May 26, 2021 9:43 am
Feel-good story of the day. You just keep it simple and real. Thanks.
Christian Vowell - May 26, 2021 9:58 am
Dang these allergies!
Susan Corbin - May 26, 2021 10:07 am
So sweet to read this morning. Thank you.
Mike McKay - May 26, 2021 10:23 am
I will forever grateful for you and your wife taking the time to talk to Bailey about writing that day in Cracker Barrel it meant a lot to her and me thanks again
Kat - May 26, 2021 10:35 am
Made my day so much better Sean …again ❤️
Dr. Dennis Stalvey, aka Preacher Dennis the Storyteller - www.preacherdennisthestoryteller.com - May 26, 2021 11:15 am
You know, Cousin Sean, for a moment at the end of your conversation with your new kin, I felt as if we were in Beverly Hills with the Clampetts: Jed, Granny, Jethro, and Elly Mae, who always made us feel as if we were part of their family. And your word pictures gave us a perfect description of what your new cousin looks like. So maybe we don’t always need 20/20 to see things, especially those things in the heart. Y’all come back, tomorrow, Ya hear?
Jean - May 26, 2021 11:16 am
Sweet!! You are one good man Cousin Sean. She and her mom will remember your kindness the rest of their lives.
Lander - May 26, 2021 11:34 am
Yeah, maybe some of this tech stuff isn’t too bad, even if you have to wipe your eyes a couple of times cause of all this springtime pollen in the air.
eliza - May 26, 2021 11:55 am
Dee Jordan - May 26, 2021 11:57 am
This makes me curious as to your books you’ve written. A lovely piece as ever and you show YOUR human side in this one.
Gay - May 26, 2021 12:09 pm
In this life I consider myself lucky if I can make a difference in just one life …you my friend have hit the lottery…you have made a difference in thousands of lives. You might not wear pearls, but you are a “pearl.” Thanks “cousin” ❤️
Bob Brenner - May 26, 2021 12:17 pm
A truly touching story with such a sweet young girl. This story makes us all more thankful for your sharing these with us. A grateful reader! ❤️
MARY ANN ROOT - May 26, 2021 12:37 pm
I don’t know what pollen is blowing in the air today, but it’s here in NC, too. We love you, Cousin Sean…
Wendy - May 26, 2021 12:46 pm
Glad I read this before I put my makeup on.
Karen - May 26, 2021 1:01 pm
Made me believe what great parents you would have been. Seems like God had in mind that you be a dad to the children of the world. God bless.
Bill Ledbetter - May 26, 2021 1:10 pm
This young lady is wonderful! In large part because she has a wonderful Mom! Kudos to this Mom and all the Moms I know and have known. Great column as usual, Sean.
Carol Mcrae - May 26, 2021 1:14 pm
This is one of your sweetest yet.
Tom - May 26, 2021 1:48 pm
Amazing young lady. I would be honored for her to be my cousin. I’m signing off – y’all got my eyes leaking.
Cathy - May 26, 2021 1:59 pm
Quite frankly Sean, you have totally ticked me off! I guess it’s my own fault; I should know better than to read you before I have to go somewhere and look presentable. Thank you for the extraordinary telling of lives of which we otherwise would not be aware. Just as long as your potato head doesn’t have angry eyes!
Judy - May 26, 2021 2:02 pm
Pearls of wisdom. I wear my Aunt Carrie’s pearl earrings every day. She is always with me and that makes me stronger. You are a gem Sean. God Bless You.
Martha Fondren - May 26, 2021 2:08 pm
Always real life. Loved it
Ellouise Pennington - May 26, 2021 2:10 pm
Please do not ever question your value
Kenneth Slinde - May 26, 2021 2:16 pm
Well, that was a touching start to the Dat. Thanks for sharing.
Jan - May 26, 2021 2:44 pm
Precious story … precious young lady who has been loved and guided well by her mother. Thank you, Sean!
Helen De Prima - May 26, 2021 2:45 pm
As a child in Kentucky, I learned that “Cousin” was often an honorary title for family friends who might or might not be blood kin, maybe several times removed. Or just to people you’d be pleased to call family. Thanks for all the joy you supply, Cousin Sean.
B3ckie09 - May 26, 2021 2:48 pm
Now, I’m liquid…..see how many lives you touch? Can you see how your writing speaks to so many of us and how we consider you a gift? Also, can I call you Cousin, too?
jstephenw - May 26, 2021 2:56 pm
Thanks for that column today Sean. I needed that. I am in the hospital with an infected hip implant. I had a little pity party for myself yesterday. Poor me. Then in todays’s column, the girl and her pearls both inspired me and also maked me feel guity. No more pity parties. She is a reminder that “my attitude determines my altitude.” It bothered my allergies as well. Hey to Jamie. Tell her I am passing some of your columns on to her counsin Jim in SC. Again, thanks.
Cynthia Russell - May 26, 2021 3:54 pm
PRECIOUS MEMORIES!! THANK YOU FOR YOUR HEART OF GOLD & TEARS – that you have & give to everyone of us!!
Christina - May 26, 2021 4:35 pm
Oh cousin Sean, what a precious girl you’ve introduced us to. She is truly a pearl!
Levy Cassie - May 26, 2021 4:55 pm
And right there, a few minutes with this brilliant young woman wipes out all the negative trash that appears in your mailbox.
Linda Moon - May 26, 2021 5:35 pm
My next thesis might be “The Effluvial Effects of Digital Life”. But, moving on to happier subjects…I just love Yukon Cornelius, my cousins (got some great news from one of them down there on the Panhandle yesterday), and …back to love…there’s more for Sean, Jamie, Mother Mary, and a blind girl I just met. Maybe we can all meet face-to-face and hug-to-hug in real time someday soon. Wouldn’t that be so good!! In the meantime I’ll keep reading LIFE’s stories via this hi-tech internet thingie. I’ll snail-mail my thesis to you when it’s finished, Writer.
Leigh R Amiot - May 26, 2021 5:58 pm
Ordinarily I read your column before or around daylight, but I didn’t this morning. After being thoroughly put out because of a zoom call failure in which I missed most of my granddaughter’s Pre-K step-up, I read this. God is always trying to put things into perspective…if we pay attention. Perhaps you’ll get to play at this precious pearl-wearing young lady’s wedding one day and write about that, too!
Lulu - May 26, 2021 6:25 pm
Hey Sean, you have a lot of new ‘cousins’ which is awesome. In China where the number of children one can have is limited to one or on farms, etc two. So, they have lots of ‘cousins’. I love this new cousin of yours and her mom. How wonderful they are with such loving spirits. Oh and I’m going to dig out my pearls and wear them all the time. Love, love your writing and by the way, you are an awesome artist…I love your drawings on each post. You’re VERY TALENTED…. Hugs ‘n Love wrapped in Peace and Joy!
Bill Harris - May 26, 2021 6:35 pm
I thank you for your stories. You DO look like Yukon Cornelius!
Love you brother!
MAM - May 26, 2021 7:23 pm
Thanks for another sweet one to release the eye leaks! Sean, your writing is so inspiring and so descriptive, the reader, this commenter, feels like she’s in that room. Bravo, as usual!
Jenny Young - May 26, 2021 7:28 pm
Oh we need to tell people often how important they are. Children are some of the smartest people on the planet!
Last week my 3.5 yr old grandson stopped at least three times during his day with me, looked me in the eye & said..”Oh Gwammy…I am so happy to be with you! I am so happy to be at your house!”…then he hugged me, kissed me & jumped up & down.
Why don’t we do this? Why don’t we enthusiastically let people know how we feel about them? So a few days later I was at my book club meeting. I told the hostess…a dear friend who I’ve known for over 20 yrs….how happy I was to know her, how happy I was to be sitting in her garden & eating her good food. …No jumping up & down or slobbery kisses but I did give some enthusiasm. She teared up. I was even happier to know that my presence brought her joy.
Keep sharing your presence Sean. Keep showing your beautiful face & singing your songs. I am so happy you come to my house so often.
Brenda - May 26, 2021 8:03 pm
Please keep sharing your heart – and the dang allergies… love y’all! ❤️
Donna Story - May 26, 2021 8:53 pm
The little things are the big things. Precious story.
Rebecca Souders - May 26, 2021 10:13 pm
“I don’t jibe with the digital effluvia of modern life.” I’m definitely going to use that, Sean.
Bob E - May 26, 2021 11:35 pm
It’s so satisfying to meet a child with such insight, wisdom and love. Your newfound cousin will succeed in all she attempts.
God bless her and her mother.
aleathia nicholson - May 27, 2021 2:01 am
Phil Jennings - May 27, 2021 10:43 am
Nana - May 27, 2021 2:41 pm
One of your best! ❤️
Diannr - May 27, 2021 4:48 pm
Thank you, Sean. Your kindness to others always fills my heart and floods my eyes.
Kate - May 27, 2021 5:11 pm
I have several cousins that call me Cousin Kate. It seems this is a long held tradition, especially when we had much older cousins. It is interesting to be in a small town visiting and someone yells out “Cousin Kate”. Makes you feel as if you belong. Cousins are nice to have and the more the merrier. I also have a friend who lives in New Mexico and is a Laguna Pueblo. She calls me her sister because she explained that “her” people, just adopt everyone they really like into their families. I think that is a nice way to have a lot of different, wonderful families. Sean, thank you for including us all into your family.
Patricia Gibson - May 28, 2021 12:17 am
That little girl is a blessing from God. Thanks for sharing
Katherine D Jones - May 28, 2021 2:53 am
WOW! Sean, Thank you for sharing this story and this column. If this doesn’t make you rejoice in our shared technology & George-Jetson-like lives, then you aren’t really reading what’s going on in our lives right now. Wonderful! THANKS AGAIN!
robnrockin - May 28, 2021 2:20 pm
Oh Cousin Sean, i luv you too!!
Delphia Smith - May 29, 2021 3:31 am
Such a great story. I love to read your column. You are my kind of guy.
Suzi - June 3, 2021 1:20 am
Yep, bad time of year for those allergies 🤧
Candice Fall - June 5, 2021 3:04 pm
My allergies flared up too when I read this. How sweet! Sean do you have any idea how many of us are glad that we have you in our lives? You’re my cousin too.