He fried his catfish whole, smother-fried his dove, and whatever he did with squirrel was heaven on a fork.

When I first met him, it was early morning. He picked me up in his old truck, and we zipped off to Brewton, Alabama. The truck smelled like the backside of a filthy goat.

He botched my name. He called me either Shane, Sheen, or Seen. The Irish spelling didn't register in his brain. He finally settled on calling me, Jeezus, because of my beard.

I called him Brother Jim.

His religion was food. He believed in slaving at the stove, and he wouldn't fix his own plate until everyone had too much on theirs.

"You're looking puny," he'd say. "Getcha some more."

And then I'd go back for seconds,

thirds, and dessert.

He fried his catfish whole, smother-fried his dove, and whatever he did with squirrel was heaven on a fork. He barbecued like a fool, made his burgers too thick, and his creamed corn gave my life purpose.

He took me fishing, I caught several bream. He'd squeeze their bladders, making them squirt urine on my face.

He told jokes, long ones. He full-mooned me whenever he saw me riding up the driveway.

If you knew him, you'd know he had his share of problems. He made mistakes.…

My first instinct was to swipe my hand through the colors. The cows nearby watched me with big eyes while I behaved like a six-year-old.

"STOP THE TRUCK!" my wife screamed.

She scared the stuffing out of me. I slammed the brakes and nearly swerved into the ditch. I came to a stop in the middle of a cattle pasture.

"A rainbow!" she said, staring at a giant arch of color. “Can you BELIEVE it?”

I could believe a lot of things, but I wasn't in the mood to squeeze out a kidney stone over a rainbow.

This is because only few days earlier, our vacation had been full of thunderstorms and sadness. Jamie's father had just died—she was a wreck. And on top of everything else, it had been raining.

All week, we'd stayed inside

the condo playing five-card draw, using Cheetohs for poker chips, watching the rain.

So, we ended our trip early and left for home. And as fate would have it, as soon as we traveled three miles outside town, the weather broke. The sun busted through the clouds—it looked like God was announcing summer.

And so, there we stood, staring across ten acres of fresh Alabamian cow pies, watching moisture evaporate into color.

"Is that the tail?” she asked, pointing.

So help me God, the end of the rainbow was…

The truth is, people don't talk or behave this way anymore. Often, when young folks open their mouths, they do it while gazing at smartphones.

Donald has a Southern drawl that won't quit. It's the same accent many older folks from his walk of life have.

I wish you could hear him. He sounds like an afternoon in the shade, swatting gnats. And if you don't know what I mean, you probably own a snow shovel.

Right now, Donald is telling a story about his days picking tobacco in lower Alabama. But it doesn't matter what he's talking about. I could listen to him read the phonebook with that voice.

He uses old phrases, like: "you got it, buddy," instead of, "you're welcome." Or: “by all means,” which is how folks used to

say the word, “yes.”

There's a difference between new talking and the old kind.

Try listening to a few elderly women chat, you'll swear you've gone backward in time. All they have to do is open their mouths, and the old stories practically tell themselves. They'll carry on about catching frogs by the pond, outdoor country dances, and sneaking past the ushers in the old theater.

While you're at it, ask one of them for a sample of her poundcake—they always have cake on the counter.

When you do, all ten will…

Friends visited, brought flowers, told Jordan all the usual things said in hospitals. Like, “Keep fighting, buddy,” or, “C'mon, Jordan, we love you.”

Tuesday, 12:01 p.m.—Grady Hospital, Atlanta. A group of people gathered around a hospital bed and sang, “Happy Birthday.” The beeping of the life-support machines accompanied them.

This is the burn unit, where they send bad cases.

In the bed: Jordan Sims. His family hardly recognizes him. He doesn't look much like the Jordan they remember. He's a burned-up, bloody, purple mess.

It happened on a Sunday night in Valley, Alabama. He lost control of his car, colliding headfirst into a tree. The vehicle caught fire— Jordan pinned inside. Nearby neighbors doused it with residential garden hoses. Emergency responders had to cut his body from the front seat, the

life-flight helicopter carried him to Atlanta.

One all-night surgery later, here Jordan lays. Eyes taped shut. His liver has taken a beating. His arms and legs have the worst kinds of burns you could have. He has too many bone fractures to count, his stomach is wide open, and they amputated his right leg.

Now for the bad news.

Doctors found two fractured vertebrate and enough fluid on his brain to fill a watermelon. Not only that, but his kidneys are a wreck.

They tried to wake him, to inspect the cranial…

...it's okay for grown men to feel like little boys from time to time—kind of like I'm feeling right now.

I thought of you a few days ago. I was driving past a controlled burn. The fire department had lit up half of the lower Alabamian forest. It was terrifying but beautiful—the flames surrounding the trees. Fire trucks lined the road. It took several men on four-wheelers just to manage it.

"That's a prescribed burn," you said once, watching a forest fire. "It can save the woods, kills off bad things."

"Really?" I asked.

"Yes sir. You should see this forest in a few months. It'll be green, far as the eye can see. Fire ain't always a bad thing."

Maybe not. But

it's deadly stuff. I remember the day we burned off thistles and dead weeds in the pasture. After saturating ten acres with gasoline, the fire got all the way to the porch and nearly burned our house down.

The things I remember.

I also remember the time I wrecked the tractor. And how I did chores for god-knows-how-long to pay it off. Afterward, you rewarded me with a fishing trip, where I caught a large mouth the size of my leg.

You pulled it in the boat and said, “This here's the…

Take my house and give it to a worthy cause. Maybe a place for abused women. If you put bunks in each room, you can sleep roughly sixteen.

When I'm dead, I want my old truck donated to science. It has hundreds of thousands of miles on it. Every time I take the ratty thing to the mechanic, he says something like, “I don't know how this thing keeps going, man."

Me neither.

Maybe, scientists can figure out the secret, then bottle it up and sell it.

Also: I'd like to give all my money—every cent of it—to the children's choir for at-risk teens. Most of them come from broken homes that make my life look like Windsor Palace.

I once drove three hours to see those kids perform at a high school in

Alabama. I was one of twenty in the audience. Those children danced and sang for two hours until their clothes were sweaty.

For the life of me, I don't know what they have to be so happy about. Whatever it is, they deserve more of it.

Take my house and give it to a worthy cause. Maybe a place for abused women. If you put bunks in each room, you can sleep roughly sixteen. I've done the math. You're going to need a bigger kitchen.

And sixteen more bathrooms.

A few years went by. The sixteen-year-old turned into a twenty-year-old. And life priorities became startlingly clear with age.

“My mom was so mad,” she said. “She just couldn't believe I was pregnant. She kicked me out. It was a really hard time for me. I moved in with my boyfriend.”

Her pregnancy was an accident. And at age sixteen, God knows, your whole life is an accident waiting to happen. Especially if you've been engaging in the same extra-ciricular activities your peers have—and I don't mean basket-weaving.

As soon as it happened, her boyfriend swore he'd stick around forever. He bought her a ring, even got a tattoo. But sixteen-year-old boys don't know how to make promises, and forever lasts longer than a tattoo.

Before her second trimester, he bolted for Tennessee.

“He just didn't come home one day,” she said. “My body kept changing, I felt abandoned, I couldn't focus on school, so I just quit going.”

A few years went by. The sixteen-year-old turned into a twenty-year-old. And life priorities became startlingly clear with age. She wanted more for her son than minimum wage.

“My cousin,” she said. “She's an X-ray tech. She makes decent money. She raises two kids by herself, and doesn't struggle to pay the bills. I thought to myself one day, 'hey,…

He escaped on New Year's Eve. My wife called me to deliver the news. The first thing she said was, “You're gonna wanna sit down, honey.”

“Have you seen a golden Lab?” she asked, standing on my front doorstep. “He's about this high, orange collar, I chased him through the woods yesterday, his name's Cuckoo...”

There was no mistaking that look she wore. Dog owners recognize it from a mile off. Worry mixed with rage.

She left me a with flyer featuring the picture of a yellow Labrador and telephone number. The thing hung on our refrigerator for almost a week. It sat directly between the photo of my nephew, and my wife's note which read:

"Don't drink from THE ORANGE JUICE CONTAINER or I will cut your heart out with a

melon-baller!!!! XOXO, Your Wife."

Thus, each time I'd swing open the fridge, I'd see Cuckoo smiling at me, urging me to reconsider grabbing the OJ.

As it happens, I know what it's like to have a dog go missing. Your mind starts playing tricks on you. You wonder how an animal could be so decidedly stupid to bolt off. Then you wonder how YOU could be so stupid for letting it happen. Then you just feel sick.

We lost a dog once. He slept in our bathtub. I don't know why, but…

“I can't explain it," he said. "I wasn't in this world, but a bright place that smelled like a florist shop."

Of all things, he was drinking sweet tea when it happened. It started with pain in his chest. Then his arm. He knew what it was.

His wife rushed him to the hospital. They shoved a stainless steel wire mounted to a balloon inside him and saved his life.

“I was a human science-project,” he said. “That's how my wife tells it. I don't remember anything.”

He was out of it.

He claims something happened. “I can't explain it," he said. "I wasn't in this world, but a bright place that smelled like a florist shop. I was at peace. When I

came to, the doc told me I could never drink caffeine again.”

And so, this is how it happens. One second you're watching the big game, and in the blink of an eye (snap), no more sweet tea.

He's not the first person I've talked to about this. A friend of mine has a daughter who fell from a second-story balcony and hit the ground so hard she bounced.

She was in a coma for two days. When she woke, she told…

"I can think of worse things than a house scented with boiling peanut oil.

Mama made the best banana pudding in Alabama,” she said flatly. "She was such a good cook, one of her friends nicknamed her Betty—short for Betty Crocker.”

Well, since Betty is as good of a name as any, that's what I'll call her mother.

I have it on good authority that Betty was more than the miracle-worker of banana pudding. She was also a kitchen queen, with a knack for bread pudding, chicken and dumplings, Coca-Cola cake, and squash casserole.

“As kids," Betty's daughter went on. "We just loved it when folks had showers or parties, Mama'd start whipping up pimento cheese..."

She leaned in and

got quiet.

"But we liked funerals even better, because Mama was head of the funeral committee. Which meant she made fried chicken—she always made extra.”

If you've never lived in a small town, maybe you don't know about things like funeral committees. Imagine: twenty white-haired ladies, with sun hats and skirt-suits, who can cook circles around a chicken.

That's a funeral food committee.

Often, these ladies have enough sugar flowing in their veins, they practically bleed sweet tea.

The funeral committee's job is to help families of the deceased go…