Here I am, sitting in a library in mid-Alabama. It's nearby to where we're staying, and it's a swanky place. You ought to see it.

They even have espresso machines.

I'm am at a desk now. When I first sat here, I planned to write about God-knows-what. But, midway into the third paragraph of what was shaping up to be the most boring piece of literature mankind has ever seen, I saw them.

An older couple. She's small. Her slacks look four-sizes too big. Her tall husband is holding her hand.

“I wanna rent a movie,” she's saying.

“Sure thing, baby,” he answers in a thick drawl.

He lends her his arm like they're promenading onto a dance floor, and they shuffle toward the DVDs.

Libraries have changed over the years. Long ago they were books, desks, Dewey decimals, and unpleasant beehive hairdos. Now, modern municipalities like this place have aquariums, WiFi, soundproof playrooms, and Spanish-English classes on Tuesday nights. And you should see their DVD collection.

She grabs a movie and hands it to him.

He reads aloud, “Species: a government scientist intercepts

an alien transmission, and...”

“No,” she says.

He reads another. “The Exorcist: when a twelve-year-old girl becomes possessed by a demon, she...”

"No!"

They do this a few more times until she begins to yell. “I don't want to watch THAT! God, I hate it here! And what am I doing? Where is this place?"

"The library, honey."

"WHAT?"

“Don't yell, honey,” he says. “How about we read something in the sitting area?”

"DON'T TOUCH ME!"

He just smiles.

"HANDS OFF ME!" she says, limping to the lounge. He's following her. He helps her into the chair. She winces in pain when she bends her knees to sit.

“That's it," he says. "Just relax.”

Her eyes are closed. "I hurt. My body hurts all over."

“I know it, darlin', you want some coffee?”

She shakes her…

“Used to,” she went on, “my favorite thing to do was camp with my friends. Mama didn't even worry about safety back then. We girls camped by the river, we'd get so dark-tan we looked caramel.”

If you grew up like she did, you'd call yourself a tomboy too. She has the attitude and the antique pictures on her wall to prove it.

“When I was a girl,” she said. “After school, we'd spend the afternoon catching frogs, fishing, climbing trees. A tomboy like me didn't know HOW to be comfortable indoors. I was nothing like my other sisters, I wanted to be outside, in the mud."

Muddy childhoods like hers are foreign concepts to modern-day kids. Things like climbing trees, throwing pocket-knives at pine trees, or catching frogs are forms of cruel and unusual punishment now.

Today, it's video games, texting, or songs

about getting naked and drinking enough tequila you forget your limo-driver's name.

And folks have the gall to call it country music.

While we chatted in the kitchen, her eight-year-old grandson laid on the sofa, playing with his phone.

“Used to,” she went on, “my favorite thing to do was camp with my friends. Mama didn't even worry about safety back then. We girls camped by the river, we'd get so dark-tan we looked caramel.”

Her grandson waltzed into the kitchen, his sneakers squeaking on the floor. Without taking his eyes off…

"This is a real funeral. Your loved ones aren't coming back, you're all alone. You'll forget to eat. You'll sleep for thirty-six hours on end. Welcome to the worst day of your life. You'll grieve until you're eighty-two."

"The Lord is my shepherd," he's saying, slowly. And it takes him a good three syllables just to say the word, “Lord.”

He stands beside the casket, sweating through his suit. His white hair looks nearly perfect.

This is Brewton, Alabama. The family of the deceased sits motionless with swollen faces, dabbing their eyes. He's old, he talks with a drawl that won't quit. He has the Bible open, but it's only for show. He could recite this passage from memory.

For the life of me, I don't know why anyone—myself included—bothers to pick up a pen and write anything. Everything you'd ever need to know; he's saying it.

“He maketh

me to lie down in green pastures...”

The sound of a bird chirping competes with the preacher's voice. Someone ought to shoot that bird.

"He restoreth my soul..."

I once knew a girl whose husband died when his tractor rolled over. At the funeral, she sat beneath the big tent, stone-faced while the preacher spoke. Her two children beside her.

That morning, she told me, “I'm too stunned to cry. I keep expecting it to hit, but every time I try to cry, nothing comes.”

That day, she didn't…

When we reached the church, it was a little white building with only one truck out front. The Sepulga congregation consists of nine people who all pronounce the word, “power,” like, “par.”

We got lost on the way to Sepulga Baptist Church. We ended up wandering through forty miles of Alabamian countryside to find it.

"Honey," said my wife, after an hour driving. “We've passed that same barn ten times now."

So, I pulled into a squatty general store, next to a forest overgrown with kudzu. A dilapidated place where you can buy everything from Red Man chew to Georgia Pacific toilet paper.

I asked directions. The lady behind the counter spat dark spit into a Styrofoam cup, saying, "Go 'bout a quarter mile d'rectly up yonder 'til y'all hit a fork, hold right a few miles furr' an' y'all're smack-dab

at Sepulga. Got it, darlin'?"

Not really.

She sent me away with a Ziploc of pecans—no charge.

When we reached the church, it was a little white building with only one truck out front. The Sepulga congregation consists of nine people who all pronounce the word, “power,” like, “par.” And on this particular day, the crowd was a few shy of a baseball team.

Once folks found their seats, seventy-nine-year-old Brother John called from the pulpit, “How're you feeling today, Ricky?”

An elderly man hobbled to his feet, thumbs hitched in…

This is virgin land, and it's so quiet out here you can hear your own pulse. As a boy, I hated the country. I couldn't wait to get away. Now it's the stuff my dreams get made of.

This house is old. And the overgrown yard needs a good cutting. Maybe I'll jump on my cousin's mower and give it a trim.

Maybe.

I don't know what I like about antique houses. It could be that the floorboards make noise when you walk on them. Or maybe it's the air conditioning window-units that look like leftovers from the Eisenhower Administration.

Out back is a gargantuan tree. The squirrels are playing a game of tag in it. They look like they're trying to kill each other.

The kitchen has rolls of vinyl laid on the ground, like area rugs. If you lift the corners, you can see daylight

through the gaps in the floor.

There is no dishwasher, no garbage disposal. No coffeemakers, either. Only a stained, aluminum device that looks like it's still celebrating D-Day.

The living room stinks of mildew. They say three generations have held funeral visitations in that room. Only, folks didn't call it a living room back then. They called it a parlor.

But, parlors aren't important to me today. The only places that matter are the porch, the refrigerator, and the pond.

This is virgin land, and it's so quiet out here you…

“I was in the marching band,” she said. “We got to travel everywhere. It was like being famous. Suddenly, this little farm girl was wearing sparkling uniforms with tassels. I loved it.”

She wasn't going to wear an apron. Because the only girls who wore aprons were housewives, and she wasn't going to be one. It wasn't that she had anything against housewives, it was that she saw something else whenever she looked into the mirror.

“I didn't want to be a maid and cook,” she said. “I had too restless of a brain.”

But, this was wartime. And in small-town, rural Florida, once girls reached puberty, they had two career options: (a) teaching school (b) aprons.

And, since she had a God-given passion for not wiping snotty noses, she went away to the Florida College For Women, in Tallahassee.

“I was

in the marching band,” she said. “We got to travel everywhere. It was like being famous. Suddenly, this little farm girl was wearing sparkling uniforms with tassels. I loved it.”

And then the war ended.

In a few weeks, the entire world was overrun with soldiers looking to make new lives for themselves. And there weren't enough colleges to hold them all.

“So they renamed our school,” she said. “The name stuck—Florida State. You might've heard of it?"

It rings a bell.

"We girls weren't happy about it," she said.…

He laughed. “What're you running from?” He stooped down to pick up the thing. “It's just a little old rattler.”

"Number one thing I'm afraid of is being alone," says my longtime pal.

But, this can't be right. Because my friend is not afraid of anything. He's fearless. Well, at least he's unafraid of snakes.

While we walked through an overgrown field somewhere outside McKenzie, Alabama, we heard a loud rattling noise. A sound which—due to centuries of accumulated folk-wisdom and various Biblical serpent-stories—mankind instinctively runs like hell from.

Which is what I did.

He laughed. “What're you running from?” He stooped down to pick up the thing. “It's just a little old rattler.”

The fifty-foot diamond-back was anything but "little." Besides, I hate snakes. Especially "little old" ones.

In kindergarten,

a zoologist visited our school. The man paraded around our tiny assembly hall with a little old albino python wrapped around his neck. The thing crawled inside his shirt-collar and...

I can barely write this.

Anyway, out of twenty-five kids in our class, one child had a nervous breakdown and did something truly awful in his pants. I won't tell you which kid. But I will say: Mrs. Welch called my mother to drop off a pair of clean britches and a bottle of bleach to the school.

My…

“I KNEW I was going to die,” Phillip said. “I mean, I knew it was my time. The doctor told me flat-out, 'Phillip, you're gonna die.'"

Miss Betty nearly drowned when she was twenty-six-years old, in a little pond.

“I'd never learned how to swim,” she said. “God, It was like fighting the strongest gravity. My bodyweight just kinda sucked me under.”

Betty lost consciousness.

“All I can remember,” she said. “Is that I was somewhere else, in my mind and body. I didn't see anything spectacular. But I did feel like I was leaving one place, going to another. Does that makes sense?”

Not really.

“I heard someone talking to me. Only, it was saying stuff in MY voice."

It was saying, "It's gonna be alright, Betty."

Next, meet Phillip, he's seventy-nine years young this July, and

he talks with a Carolinian drawl so thick, it smells like possum pie.

“I KNEW I was going to die,” Phillip said. “I mean, I knew it was my time. The doctor told me flat-out, 'Phillip, you're gonna die.'"

He went home and vomited himself to sleep.

Phillip refused medical treatment, hoping to live out his final days without hair-loss or bone-crushing nausea. And he started spending his money like a man whose face was on fire. He sold his things and bought an RV.

The nice kind…

The very first step is to spend an entire childhood riding your bike down the sidewalks of a town about the size of an area rug.

Right now, I'm looking in my refrigerator. To the left of the beer, I see so much pimento cheese it's enough to give a man cardiac arrest. My wife made buckets of this stuff. And I should tell you: this isn't your average pimento cheese. This is Billy Graham in a Tupperware container.

And, in an unprecedented act of culinary selflessness, my wife has allowed me to share her top-secret Southern recipe.

So, without further delay, here's how she does it:

1. The very first step is to spend an entire childhood riding your bike down the sidewalks of a town about the size of

an area rug. I'm sorry, but you can't just can't make good pimento cheese if you grew up riding the public transit in East L.A. So get out there and start pedaling.

2. Buy a camouflage apron.

3. Read the entire Southern Living Cookbook collection. You'll find volumes 1 through 59,124 on my bottom bookshelf. Skip the holiday editions.

4. Own at least 1 string of pearls. It will take some time to break these puppies in. You must wear them often—this includes football games and showers.

5. Teach Sunday school.

6. Drink beer from…