It was November 8, and 28-year-old Eric Haralson grabbed breakfast at a local McDonald’s in Noblesville, Indiana. As he was minding his own business, an elderly woman approached him. Little did they know, however, but an onlooker was readying her camera to capture what happened next.
Haralson had been eating alone late that morning, which isn’t something he normally likes to do. But he had a welcome distraction from the solitude: he was watching some basketball he hadn’t had a chance to catch the previous night. His day was about to take an unexpected turn though.
In the same restaurant was an older woman whom Haralson guesses to have been somewhere in her 60s. Her name was Jan Jessup, and at first she had approached a group of teenage friends. The elderly lady singled out one of the teenagers, but only because she was curious about his hair.
As Haralson recalled to Yahoo! Lifestyle in November 2018, “She asked him about [his hair] and who helped him with that style because she has never seen it before. He responded with his mom, and then they exchanged a few words.” Realizing that she had forgotten napkins, however, Jessup wandered off to fetch some.
But when Jessup returned to the group of youths whom she had been sitting next to, they had left. In need of some company, at least for a little while, the elderly woman had a look around for someone else whom she might be able to dine with. It was then that she spotted Haralson sitting on his own.
As Haralson described to Yahoo! Lifestyle, “I was eating breakfast by myself, just catching up on the NBA games that I missed the night before, and Jan Jessup, being the center of attention that I assume she has been all her life, sat at the table across from mine.”
Jessup had asked Haralson if he would prefer to be left alone. But he happens to enjoy some company while he eats. So when the older woman asked if it would be okay to sit with him while she ate her meal, Haralson didn’t hesitate in allowing her to do so.
But their exchange didn’t end there. “As I pushed the chair out for her, I reached out my hand and introduced myself,” Haralson described. “She extended hers and did the same.” They would eventually talk for about three-quarters of an hour as if they had known each other all along.
In that conversation, Haralson learned a lot about the woman who was dining with him. “She goes to church every Sunday,” he explained to ABC News in November 2018. “We talked a lot about that.” Clearly then, Jessup was a religious woman who pays attention to the Bible’s teachings.
Indeed, it struck Haralson that his guest was somewhat of a spiritual person as well as religious. It struck him that Jessup was fond of the mantra to “love thy neighbor.” It was a subject that she spoke warmly of throughout their meal. But they talked about other things too.
Haralson was taught manners growing up, so he never asked for his breakfast guest’s age, but presumes to be in her 60s. He learned that Jessup’s car is in need of a lick of paint. She didn’t, however reveal anything too personal about herself or her current relationship status.
As it happens, Haralson is a dad, but when he talked about his girlfriend and fatherhood, Jessup didn’t give much away. “She never mentioned if she lives with someone,” he recalled to Yahoo! Lifestyle. “[She] just mentioned someone by the name of John Boy.”
Haralson even learned what Jessup likes to eat. The elderly lady, who lived close by the McDonald’s site, used to indulge in a Caramel Frappé when she popped into the restaurant. But when one had made her feel unwell, she had switched to the grilled chicken salad, which she was eating that day.
Watching as the conversation was taking place was another diner a few tables away. A group of special education teachers were in for lunch, and the pair caught the attention of Amanda Craft. She observed how they had apparently never met before, yet interacted as if they had known each other forever.
Onlooker Craft described the meeting to WTHR in November 2018. She said, “I don’t know what she said to him, but he just started laughing, and it was like a contagious laugh. Like that belly laugh you get when you just can’t help but laugh along. It was really touching, heartwarming, and you know it was just really fun to watch.”
Craft posted a photo she took of the unlikely new friends to her Facebook page. In less than three weeks, the image garnered more than 17,000 likes, about 1,6000 comments and has exceeded 8,000 shares. And when Haralson’s friends saw it, they added a tag of him. That’s when he knew that he and Jessup had gone viral.
“I could tell she’s a firecracker,” Haralson admitted to ABC News. “She will tell you exactly how she feels and has no problem being outgoing.” The young father received a lot of praise online for allowing the elderly lady to join him that day. His friends, however, wouldn’t have been shocked.
“I honestly don’t think my peers would have been surprised,” Haralson told Yahoo! Lifestyle. “They know the type of person I am. I’ve always been this way.” He explained that it’s just how he is and he wouldn’t have turned anybody away. But also, he says, “Who really wants to eat by themselves?”
When the pair had finished eating, Haralson escorted Jessup out to the parking lot, where the conversation continued for a further 20 minutes. The elderly lady had just wanted someone to talk to that day, but it was an arrangement that the young father intends to renew in the future.
Unsure of how close by Jessup’s friends and family are, Haralson’s intention is to keep in regular contact with her. Although so far he was only able to leave a voicemail message telling his new friend that they had gone viral, the young father wasn’t about to give up. He told Today in November 2018, “I know if we had forever, she would have a story for me every day.”