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Sean of the South

 

 

A nice car stalls in traffic. Horns honk. People shout. Traffic backs up for miles. In the front seat is an old woman.

Four Mexican men leap out of a nearby dilapidated minivan. They push the woman’s broken down vehicle from a busy intersection.

In the front seat is Jocelyn. A 73-year-old lady with cotton hair. When she is out of harm’s way, one of the men says something in broken English.

“Chew need a ride, ma’am? We can take you wherever chew wanna go.”

They drive her home, across town. She offers to pay for their gas. They decline. So she offers to feed them. They accept. They become lifelong friends. They visit often. They help repair her house. They mow her lawn. Compléteme gratis. She always reimburses them with food.

Years later, Jocelyn dies. At her funeral, Jocelyn’s daughter sees a group of unfamiliar Mexican men standing in the visitation line. She’s never met them. They tell her the story I just told you.

Next, meet Chase. He is middle aged and clumsy. He has the idea to repair his own roof one day. Bad idea. He climbs on the house while his wife is away. He loses his footing. He trips. The shrubs break his fall— and his leg.

A neighbor’s 14-year-old son sees the accident. The boy calls 911, then performs first-aid. The kid even rides to the hospital inside the ambulance with him. When Chase awakens, there is a boy sitting at his bedside, mumbling a prayer. Chase is confused.

“Who are you?”

“I called your wife,” says the tearful kid. “I found her number in your phone.”

That might not sound like a classic tale of heroism to you. But that boy is an adult now and he is an EMT. And also, he is one of Chase’s best friends.

There’s a girl. I’ll call her Karen. As a child, she was abused by her father. Karen leaves the details out when she retells the story to me. Karen left home when she was old enough to drive. She drove six states away and tried to forget her scarred childhood altogether.

And she did forget. One divorce and two kids later, things were looking up for her. She had a job managing a cellphone store, a nice apartment. Then her aunt called one day. Her father was sick. Stomach cancer was eating him from the inside out.

“Why the hell should I care about him?” was Karen’s first response.

But she didn’t sleep for a week thereafter.

So she packed her children and belongings into a Ford Escort and drove six states toward a hole she used to call home. Her father was gaunt and poor. He needed in-home care but couldn’t manage to make it happen.

Karen moved her family into his spare bedroom. They cared for him through the worst. For nearly two years she cooked meals, washed clothes, bathed him, and helped him use a toilet.

And days before his end, his words are: “You must be some kinda angel or something. How can you possibly give a [bleep] about someone like me?”

“I don’t know,” she answers honestly. “Maybe because I love you.”

He asks Karen to forgive him. Karen tells him she already has.

So the news is blaring on a television in my room as I write this. It’s been playing the same sort of thing for days. Men in suits, shouting at one another. Primetime violence. Swearing. Pharmaceutical commercials. Politics. Pop music. Ex-athletes urging you to reverse mortgage your home. Talking heads chewing the same cud they’ve been chewing for weeks.

A news commentator remarks, “This world is in serious trouble, folks.”

Serious trouble. Well, maybe it is. Lord knows, I don’t have the credentials to refute that. Maybe the end of the world is near. Maybe our civilization will only last a few days before going up in flames. Maybe hatred will finally conquer the Earth. Maybe the angry mob wins. Maybe there is no hope for this planet we call home. Maybe. But do you know something? I don’t believe it. And I won’t.

Not after meeting a woman named Karen.

Sean Dietrich is a columnist, novelist, and podcast host, known for his commentary on life in the American South. His work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, he has authored 13 books, and he is creator of the Sean of the South Podcast.