“The Torch Lunch,” Feb. 7, 2023

Dear Readers: In December, after 32 years of writing a weekly column, I decided it was time to stop. To all of you who’ve written to congratulate me, I can’t thank you enough. I also can’t answer all your mail. But I’m trying. And I’ll keep trying for as long as it takes.

Meanwhile, I’m posting past columns each week on this site. The following is from 2007. It was written, not by me, but by my former editor, who is also my husband. Tomorrow is his birthday. Yes, this is his gift.

“The Torch Lunch”
by Mark Whittington

I am not Sharon Randall. Sorry to disappoint regular readers of her column. She is sick. Not the “I got sniffles, but I can still write,” sort of cold, but the “I ache all over and am going back to bed” kind of flu.

At one point she actually said, “Don’t look at me, I look like a mangy dog,” and described how her old mangy dog would look at her over its shoulder. She does not look like a mangy dog. I’m just saying that’s the look she gave me when I asked what I could do to help?

“Nothing,” she said. Then she whimpered. So I dragged home canned soup and fruit and juice and every remedy suggested by family, friends and the doctor. I even brought her peonies like the ones she carried at our wedding. They almost put a smile on her cold-sore-crusted lips. But she got sicker every day.

Finally, I volunteered to write her column. Either that or she’d call in sick. So rather than disappoint her readers across the country, she agreed to let me tell you this story about the day we call “the torch lunch.”

Years ago, before we were married, when we both worked for a newspaper in California, I invited her to meet me at Ferdi’s, a lunch joint that serves New Orleans style food hot enough to make you sweat on a foggy day. The place was a newsroom favorite, so she expected a crowd from work to join us. When she arrived (20 minutes late) she was surprised to see just me _ in a starched white shirt and big goofy grin.

Later she’d recall thinking, “Well, this is different.” Also, she claims I was sweating and she had never seen me sweat. She ordered jambalaya. I got the barbecue shrimp, extra hot, floating enough oil to guarantee that I would stain my tie.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to say. It’s funny. At the most important times, the right words are often just beyond your reach, even if you work with words for a living.

So I asked her about her recent trip to the Carolinas, and she talked about visiting her family. She also talked about a man she’d met who wanted her to make those visits permanent. I figured it was now or never.

So I blurted out, “Before you up and get married, you should know there’s a line of guys stretching around the block waiting for you to say you’re ready to go out with them.”

Or something like that. I had slipped into that underwater zone where you can’t hear anything and you’re sure your ears are going to burst from the pressure. Then, in the distance, I heard myself say: “You know, I’ve been carrying a torch for you for a long time and I think you ought to give me a chance.”

I don’t know who said what next. I was trying not to pass out. I looked across the table and she was smiling. I took it as an encouraging sign. Or maybe pity. I was sure the lid had popped off the cayenne bottle while the cook was peppering my shrimp. My starched white shirt was soaked clean through.

Maybe those weren’t the exact words I wanted to say. “Carrying a torch” is not the same as “I love you.” I was, after all, just a boy from California of All Places trying to win the heart of a Southern girl _ a heart that had been broken two years ago by the death of her first husband.
But somehow she got the message. And so it began, a five-year courtship. (After the torch lunch, it took a while to get the nerve to ask her to marry me.)

A year after our wedding, we moved to Las Vegas of All Places, where I work for a newspaper and she writes her column at home in her pajamas.

We spend most evenings at home watching sunsets together over the desert. In all the years I’ve known her, I think this is the first time she has been sick enough to miss writing her column. After she reads this, I’m sure it will be the last.


  1. Cath Tendler says

    No wonder you two are married! You have the same entertaining, folksy, and sincere writing style, guaranteed to pluck a heartstring and make us laugh, but I might have the sequence incorrect. Here’s to good health, Sharon! Have you two thought about sharin’ (Sharon?!) a column? We’d have double heartstrings and double laughter! ❣️❣️

  2. Sharon—can you format and post your columns so I can torn my cellphone sideways to read them. I can enlarge the text so that I can read it without going back to find the beginning of the sentence. Love your work!

  3. Oh Sharon we are going to miss your weekly column, read in Anderson SC paper. Wishing you all the best with those precious grands. Time is fleeting so you are doing the best thing, taking the time to enjoy those loved ones. Godspeed!

  4. Good to know , your husband wrote for your column. It is good . Enjoyed reading it. Happy birthday to your husband!!

  5. I am always so thankful to get to read your column. Our newspaper changed ownership & for some unknown reason stopped your words we love. We have stopped the newspaper because the prices kept going up & up & less actual news was printed. It was 2 day old items we’d already heard on tv news–wasted $$. This an especially good share from the past this week. When my current & only husband of 62 years in 11 days asked me for a date to go to a basketball game, I immediately accepted. I had forgotten I had to get my half sister to the game. I asked my date could come along & thankfully he said ok. A teacher I knew agreed to take the 3rd wheel home so we got to go home without her. 1 year & 4 months later we eloped & meant it when we said our vows. I made sure I didn’t vow to obey because I knew that would be a lie. Now we are old & have gone thru happy & sad times together. We have been truly blessed. Please never quit sharing your words. Love you & yours, Hope from
    SW IN

  6. Sharon Cole says

    I don’t think I read this the first time, so I’m glad to get to read it now. How wonderful for both of you that the “torch lunch worked out so well!

  7. Marie Disselhorst says

    What a great article. I’ve been following Sharon

    for several years and was lucky enough to see her in Wichita Falls TX a couple of years ago. The highlight of my life. Sure do miss her column but I understand retirement. So good to get to read some of her old columns. God bless you both

  8. Katie Musgrave says

    Good replacement article. Nice to know your “torch” story. You must be special to have won her heart! Happy for you 2 “wordsmiths.” Hope Sharon recovers soon or you could b3c9me a regular! God bless you both!

  9. I hate for you to go cold turkey 🦃 ! But I understand, I will be 78 in March. You need to spent time with your husband, children and those sweet grand babies. I have three great-grandbabies. You need to up date us on how everyone is doing & the grandchildren’s age. We stopped taking our newspaper and I have missed out on you columns. Then found you on FB…..which was fantastic. Our paper got to where it was not worth going to the paper box to get it. Sharon’s I have told you before I took my Mother to see & talk to you when you were in Bristol, Tn. We had dinner then went next door to see You. It was close to Mothers’s Day and you were just as great as we thought you would be. Really I could set and listen to you talk. And I love it when you say, “ the boy “. I don’t know why but I do. Please do enjoy 😊 everything you two have wanted to do together…visit the children. Take long rides stop at a little roadside place have a hamburger 🍔. I know I must shut up. Thank you for so many days of enjoying your columns. I have picture your home 🏡….visit home and when you stayed closed to the lake. Sharon I could go on & on …… I do want to say that I love 💗 you as a friend and a blessing to my heart. 💕. You friend Connie Burnette, from Bluff City, Tn.

  10. Patsy Styers says

    I thoroughly enjoyed your column from another view of our beloved Sharon Randall. Thank you so much and I’ll look forward to both of your columns!!

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