Sean of the South
with Sean Dietrich
She was a tough woman. Forty-some years ago, she was a single parent who’d raised her daughter into adulthood on nothing but pennies and late shifts.
She and her daughter were tight. They lived together until her daughter was in her twenties.
Then her daughter got pregnant by a man who did a disappearing act. The pregnancy was painful and complicated. Doctors said something was wrong. When her daughter went into labor, things got ugly. They say there was a lot of blood.
It was a boy. The baby almost died, but he pulled through.
Her daughter didn’t.
It was a small funeral. She said goodbye to her daughter and stayed until the end. She watched a front-loader dump fresh soil over an expensive casket.
She could’ve been angry. Angry at doctors. At the deadbeat who got her daughter pregnant. Angry at life. Or at God.
But she had a newborn; there wasn’t time for anger. Instead, she fed him, bathed him, and stayed up late whispering into his ear. She changed dirty diapers, sang to him, and taught him to speak.
She smoked cigarettes and rocked him to sleep on the front steps, watching the moon.
She wasn’t a young woman. She had gray in her hair and lines around her eyes. She wasn’t far from retirement age, but she was light-years away from retirement.
She joined a local Methodist church. Not because she was spiritual, but because they offered free daycare. She dropped the boy there while she worked a day shift.
They say she received weekly church assistance—brown sacks of baby formula and other groceries.
She was a mother all over again. She did all the maternal things. She packed sack lunches, paid for field trips, attended PTA meetings, and hollered at baseball games.
And during the high-school years, she took an extra job at a supermarket to pay for all the pleasantries that teenagers want. Things like blue jeans with tattered knees, cassette-tape players with headphones, and used Chevy two-doors.
They say she never lost her clarity. She was sharp until the end. She was a temperate woman—except for the cigarettes. She didn’t drink—though she would sip champagne at weddings. She didn’t cuss. She wouldn’t complain. And she never took medication that doctors gave her.
The boy is an adult. He has a family of his own. He earns enough for a comfortable life by building houses.
In fact, he built the sunporch that’s attached to her single-wide trailer. The same room they found her in a few mornings ago.
A cigarette was still burning. The television was on. Photographs of her daughter and grandson were on the side table, only a few feet from her. She was the woman you’ve seen in traffic a hundred times. She worked at every grocery store, fast-food counter, hotel, and gas station you’ve ever been to. Maybe you missed her, but she was there. You might never hear her name uttered down here on this earth.
But she’s downright famous where she is now.
Words and illustration by Sean Dietrich