People Who Change the World

It was pure impulse. And even though she wasn't a student, she told her own story—signing her sentences. An entire trailer full of janitors, landscapers, and Hooter's employees sniffled.

I used to attend night college classes. My history class was in a trailer that had coffee machines in back, ashtrays out front, and a bathroom roughly the size of a luxury coffin.

The room had people from all walks of life. Men in camouflage caps, stay-at-home mothers, teenagers, middle-agers, active military, lawn-maintenance professionals, a peace officer, a Hooter’s waitress.

And one deaf boy.

The deaf kid was twentyish, tall, skinny. His mother came to every class with him. Each night, she wore the same green Publix uniform. Each night, she brought glazed donuts.

Each night, she sat beside her son, translating the professor’s words into sign-language.

They were pleasant folks. He smiled often. She spoke with an accent that sounded like a Georgia hayfield.

At the end of the semester, students were assigned to write essays about our ancestry, then read them aloud. And if you’ve ever had the privilege of watching thirty adults stand at a podium, reading with as much sincerity as it takes to scratch one’s own ass, you understand torture.

One student wrote about his father’s high-school football career. Another discussed her Dutch heritage. I almost slipped into a donut-induced coma.

The last to speak was the deaf boy. He walked to the front. His hands were shaking.

He spoke slow, with labored moans. He told us about himself, about his siblings, about how his father abandoned his mother when doctors discovered he was deaf. And when he started talking about his mother, he had to quit reading.

If you’ve never heard a deaf boy cry, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Before he finished, thirty caffeinated blue-collars rose and faced the back of the room. We applauded the woman until her face turned red. Even the teacher clapped.

Then his mother came forward to take the pulpit.

It was pure impulse. And even though she wasn’t a student, she told her own story—signing her sentences. An entire trailer full of janitors, landscapers, and Hooter’s employees sniffled. Her talk was so honest, I get stuffed-up just remembering it.

After class, I saw her on the porch, eating a donut. I told her I thought she was an exceptional woman.

She answered, “Honey, I’m just doing the best I damn well can for my son.”

That was a long time ago.

And, to be honest, that night wasn’t exciting enough to be worth writing about. I can think of more interesting literary topics than a bunch of over-aged students, reading essays, each hoping to make a C—if we were lucky, a B.

But that night, on my way home I stopped at the drug-store. I bought a greeting card and scribbled on it in the parking lot. I used every pretty word I knew.

I signed the card:

“Thanks for doing the best you could, Mama.

“Love, your son.”


  1. Shirley Rose Glisson - February 4, 2017 7:40 am

    I’ve been reading your blog for a week and you have made me cry almost every day. Thank you. I have a feeling Lewis Grizzard would have loved you!

  2. Sandra Swindall - February 4, 2017 11:52 am

    There is such beauty and meaning in the everyday struggles of people around us and therein lies community and hope.

    Just joined your site and enjoy reading your stories. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Camille Atkins - February 4, 2017 11:57 am

    Sean, I love everything you write but this one really got me! Thanks for making my day, everyday!

  4. Belinda Herring - February 4, 2017 12:15 pm

    Good morning from a teary eyed fan!! As a Mom, I pray that I did my best.

  5. Nancy Segovia - February 4, 2017 12:26 pm

    Wow! I am speechless. Such love should leave a person speechless

  6. Cres Keys - February 4, 2017 1:46 pm

    Love your down to earth stories. Some make an old man cry!

  7. JP - February 4, 2017 2:12 pm

    Did you mail the card?

  8. Christi McCully - February 4, 2017 2:16 pm

    I have just discovered your blog and had to wipe away the tears at this one. Amazon is delivering your books this week. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Judy - February 4, 2017 2:30 pm

    Every one of us Mama’s would love to get a card like that, from our kids.

  10. Carol DeLater - February 4, 2017 3:48 pm

    How often I think I did the best I could. Not raising my daughter, but her son. That card made your mama feel better than any words you could have said. Thought and effort. Actions speak louder than words.
    xx, Carol

    • Billy - March 17, 2017 10:51 pm

      “Thought and effort.” A lot said in three words. Thanks!

  11. Kay Keel - February 4, 2017 4:35 pm

    What a beautiful story…Now I’m sniffling and my eyes are red. Thank you Sean!

  12. Susie Munz - February 6, 2017 12:32 am

    You are all heart, Sean Dietrich.

  13. Greta - March 17, 2017 2:10 pm

    Thank you Sean for your sweet uplifting stories. I start my day with reading one of your stories. It’s awesome to know how many people are loving on others. Blog on! You are making a difference.

  14. Tom - March 17, 2017 3:06 pm

    My younger brother is deaf. He has lived with struggles that go unnoticed to most people. My mother did, “…the best she damn well could…” for him. I wish she were still with us so that I could share this article with her. I am sure she would be wept for her kindred soul.

  15. Charaleen Wright - March 23, 2019 3:58 am


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