She is a waitress here. She has white hair, and a habit of winking when she smiles. Her name is Mary. I know this because it’s on her nametag.

I don’t know Mary—today’s the first time we’ve met—but I want to be her forever-grandson.

I just watched Mary get dog-cussed.

It happened when she swiped a young man’s credit card at the register. It was denied. She was quiet and discreet with him.

He shouted at her, “Run it again, lady!”

This made everyone’s ears perk up. It’s not every day you see some punk yelling at Barbara Bush.

She swiped the card. Denied.

“Do you have another card?” she asked in a soft voice.

The man shouted, “Another card? Don’t treat me like I’m @#$ing stupid, lady!”

Her mouth fell open. So did everyone’s.

The young man didn’t stop. He went on to say things which I can’t repeat—my mother reads these things.

The air in the restaurant went stale, like in old Westerns, just before John Wayne pumps some desperate bandito into the everlasting abyss.

The customers in the restaurant looked around at each other. The man in the booth beside me stood. So did I. We walked toward the register.

But another man beat us to it.

He was tall, white-haired. He wore a tattered cap. He was older, mid-seventies, with shoulders broader than an intercostal barge.

The old man said, “What seems to be the problem over here?”

The angry kid spat, “My card won’t work.”

The old man let his eyes do his talking. Hard eyes. The same eyes I’ve seen in a hundred Westerns, just before the hero draws a greased Colt Single Action Peacemaker and opens the gates of Armageddon.

The old man was calm. He reached for his wallet. He said to Mary, in a syrupy voice, “I’d like to pay for this gentleman’s meal, ma’am.”

Then, he placed a large hand on the gentleman’s shoulder. He massaged it.

I remember my father giving me the same kinds of shoulder grips long ago, just before he’d explain why I’d be going off to bed without supper.

The old man stared at the kid. He said more with a smile than I can say in five hundred words.

“Be sweet,” he told the young man. “Okay son?”

The kid left the restaurant, climbed into an oversized truck, and rolled out of the parking lot.

Those of us inside smiled at Mary. And if I were a betting man, I’d bet she earned a pocketful of good tips that day.

Mary gathered my dirty plates. I made a light remark, and hoped for one of her smiles—maybe a wink. But she wasn’t in the winking mood.

I’ve thought about her all day. And I’ve also thought about the angry people in this world—and how many they hurt.

And I’ve thought about men in tattered ball caps, with big hands, who refuse to tolerate ugliness, no matter how rampant. Men who have a holster full of gentle words, and aren’t afraid to use them.

I hope I can be one of those men.

Be sweet.

37 comments

  1. grantburris - November 6, 2019 7:15 am

    I liked that one, Sean.

    Reply
  2. Steve - November 6, 2019 7:27 am

    I’m glad there are still old men like this. Kind, gentle, but with the wisdom to know how to masterfully teach those that really “need a lesson”. Unlike the old man, this middle aged man would be standing in front of a Judge right now! If I’m honest, I probably (notice I wrote probably) wouldn’t commit a crime – but I can guarantee you I would have made a scene even uglier than the one already committed. I wish I was more like the old man. Just like you do Sean, I want to be like the old man. I hope the punk does as well. I just hope it doesn’t take him 50 years to know that.

    Reply
  3. Leigh Amiot - November 6, 2019 8:47 am

    Old guys rule.
    Chivalry isn’t dead.
    Mary didn’t deserve the verbal abuse, but she did deserve to be stood up for.
    So thankful there are real men left in the world still willing to do so.

    Reply
  4. Jean - November 6, 2019 11:26 am

    I am afraid I would have not been as kind as Mary. Maybe after the first response…but then…no. That man is a true southern gentleman. We need lots of them.

    Reply
  5. Ella Herlihy - November 6, 2019 11:37 am

    How can a story about a restaurant make me cry? Thanks for finding the humanity in every being and pointing it out so beautifully.

    Reply
  6. Dave Wilson - November 6, 2019 12:01 pm

    Thanks for the very good words!

    Reply
  7. Billy Joe Bowling Jr. - November 6, 2019 12:04 pm

    Typical of my personality, I am cynical. It is my fear the described young man did not learn a thing from the encounter. Likely a privileged, entitled snot that gets through life behaving badly. Without going on a rant I will close by saying if John Wayne was behind the counter running the card we would be reading a different column this morning.

    Reply
  8. Nancy Miller - November 6, 2019 12:07 pm

    Another great story Sean. Thanks and keep them coming. My morning coffee and Sean….just the way I like it. 🤗

    Reply
  9. Lloyd - November 6, 2019 12:15 pm

    Me to Sean, me to. Thank you for sharing the kindness.

    Reply
  10. Linda - November 6, 2019 12:15 pm

    Amen to that. My husband has a ball cap that says “Old Guys Rule”. I grabbed it one day when I forgot my own and got quite a few stares and quizzical looks from others at the fairgrounds.

    Reply
  11. Karen - November 6, 2019 12:48 pm

    The situation you describe could have easily escalated into something else. Thank you for sharing an example of how an entire restaurant learned a lesson about love and kindness. I pray that we would all be more kind and loving.

    Reply
  12. Edna B. - November 6, 2019 1:05 pm

    Such a good story today. We need lots more men like the kind one. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  13. Shelton A. - November 6, 2019 1:39 pm

    Great story with lessons we all needed to remind us that kindness beats back a bully if given the chance. God bless you and Jamie, and, of course, the dogs.

    Reply
  14. MermaidGrammy - November 6, 2019 1:43 pm

    You already are one of those men. Much love to you, Dear Sean

    Reply
  15. Janis - November 6, 2019 1:43 pm

    amen to that. thanks for the reminder about faith in humanity. i, too, hope the young man reflects, reconsiders and learns, and remain perpetually grateful for those who know that ‘being sweet’ matters. thanks for the hopeful tears in my morning coffee, Sean. well done.

    Reply
  16. Derek Robertson - November 6, 2019 2:02 pm

    That was “fanflippintastic!”

    “I hate rude behavior in a man. I Won’t tolerate it.” Captain Woodrow Call – Lonesome Dove.

    Reply
  17. Naomi - November 6, 2019 2:13 pm

    The Bible says, “A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.”

    Reply
  18. Bobbie - November 6, 2019 2:15 pm

    Good reminder. “Kill em with kindness.” This so applies here. Whether the irate young man learned a lesson or not, isn’t the point here. Just do the right thing. I think, Sean, you’re gonna be a kind, wise and reddish-gray haired old man who will do the exact same thing. In fact, you are already. God bless you for a heart ‘big as the state of Alabama’… ❤️

    Reply
  19. Connie Havard Ryland - November 6, 2019 2:30 pm

    I needed those words about kindness this morning. Thank you for sharing and thank you for making us all see the little things every day. Be kind, always. It doesn’t cost a thing and it makes every day better. Love and hugs.

    Reply
  20. Harriett - November 6, 2019 2:38 pm

    I hate the term “toxic masculinity”, but that young, piece-of-punk deserves the title. The older guy shows true masculinity. He was strong enough to do the right thing (protect a lady), but gentle enough to diffuse a tense
    situation with looks and words not fists. Kudos to him, and kudos to Sean for recognizing this everyday hero.

    Reply
  21. Ctucker - November 6, 2019 3:08 pm

    One of your best yet.

    Reply
  22. kellygirlteacher - November 6, 2019 3:08 pm

    That kind gentleman turned the other cheek for that sweet waitress. Hopefully the obnoxious young man felt a pang of guilt. Your words are magical SEAN! You take simple words to a whole new level, one that pierces out heart.

    Reply
  23. Tim House - November 6, 2019 3:14 pm

    Powerful today…

    Reply
  24. Dee Thompson - November 6, 2019 3:17 pm

    This is a great column Sean. One of your best. I must offer two small suggestions. Regarding the use of the word “syrupy” when describing the old man’s voice – maybe rethink that one. It’s slightly negative — like too sweet, you know? Maybe use the word “gentle” or “kind.” I’d also love to see a description of the kid’s face when the old man was paying for his meal. Just suggestions. Keep writing!

    Reply
  25. Gail - November 6, 2019 3:28 pm

    Praying for more sweetness and kindness and wisdom like the dear man with the tattered cap – may there be more like him in Washington too. Oh Lord help us all. Thank you Sean.

    Reply
  26. Dawn Bratcher - November 6, 2019 3:58 pm

    I am so thankful the gentleman took care of the situation. I expected him to grab him by the neck & put him on the ground! That is only because my daddy was a big, tough Green Beret & my brain automatically went there! 😉

    Reply
  27. Donna - November 6, 2019 4:12 pm

    I’m still aspiring to be as graceful as the tall man in the tattered cap.

    Reply
  28. BJean - November 6, 2019 4:32 pm

    Loving this still! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  29. Linda Moon - November 6, 2019 4:37 pm

    I’m not quite old enough for you to be my forever-grandson, so I’ll just remain your forever-fan (or follower or whatever we readers and eventers are called). I want to be just like Barbara Bush when I get old enough. Thank you for respecting your sweet mother by not repeating the angry man’s words. The gentle answer onto the “gentleman’s” shoulder turned away wrath. You, Sean, packed a holster-ful of words today…gentle, profound, sweet and more. I’ll be extra sweet today on account of those words! John Ford couldn’t have given us a better story than you did, Sean!!
    .

    Reply
  30. M. J. - November 6, 2019 6:14 pm

    I’m saying what she’s saying…

    Reply
  31. Lita - November 6, 2019 6:19 pm

    I cried.

    Reply
  32. Ann - November 6, 2019 6:48 pm

    Whew….beautiful…..I wish more could handle road bumps so beautifully….
    Thank you Sean…

    Reply
  33. John - November 6, 2019 7:31 pm

    I was searching for that same quote!

    Reply
  34. Pete marovich - November 6, 2019 8:09 pm

    This was one the best I have read in many days. Thanks. Pete m.

    Reply
  35. Paula Pace - November 6, 2019 11:37 pm

    You ARE that man, Sean.

    Reply
  36. peggyhayesauthor - November 7, 2019 6:23 pm

    You are one of those men.

    Reply
  37. Cheryl Peterson - November 10, 2019 4:15 pm

    You are one of those men. You are a joy, an inspiration, and my saving grace on some days. I so wish I could hug you.

    Reply

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