A tiny wolf spider is hopping around our porch like he owns the place. I'm sorry to say: I hate spiders. In fact, I used to smash them whenever I saw them.

It's sunset right now. You should see all the colors.

Sometimes, I wonder if God has enough free time to enjoy things like these summer sunsets. I know he must be very busy up there, but I hope breaks free long enough to see this.

Our cat, Lula Bell, is laying at my feet, out here on the porch. I didn't know cats liked watching the sun lower. I guess they do. She's whipping her tail back and forth—which is universal feline-language for: “I feel great.”

Good for her. This feral cat has a gimp leg and lots of scars, she deserves to feel that way.

A tiny wolf spider is hopping around our porch like he owns the place. I'm sorry to say: I hate spiders. In fact, I used to smash them whenever I saw them.

Not anymore.

We don't kill spiders in this house. My wife refuses to kill anything bigger than household bacteria. She won't even kill cockroaches. She picks them up in napkins then deposits them outside.

I used to think

this was squarely ridiculous. Because during my childhood, we shot at things bigger than cockroaches, and we did our damnedest to hook anything that swam.

Anyway my arachnid-squashing days came to an end one summer. It happened when my wife and I were rushing out the door for Atlanta, to visit my aunt.

There was a loud smack on the front window.

Outside, flopping on the ground was a bird. The thing had hit the glass so hard its head was bleeding. It was still alive, panting.

My wife came unglued.

She stayed outside with that bird half the day, stroking its head, whispering to it.

I finally phoned my aunt and explained we wouldn't make it to Atlanta any time soon.

Hours later, around sundown, my wife screamed, “Come quick! Look, he's getting better!”

I didn't have the heart to tell her, the…

It's tough watching fathers and sons sit in the bleachers, smiling like a couple catfish.

Children are the happiest creatures on earth. And when they're sad, they're the saddest ones.

Children are the happiest creatures on earth. And when they're sad, they're the saddest ones.

If you are a fatherless child, I wish I could give you money. And I mean a lot. For boys: ten million dollars, cash. Maybe that would help make up for some of what you'll lack in life.

Probably not, but it's a start.

I hope somehow, it makes baseball games more fun. Those are hard. It's tough watching fathers and sons sit in the bleachers, smiling like a couple catfish.

Or, when the concession man walks by, and someone's father yells, “Two bags of peanuts!” before reaching for his wallet. Such small things go unnoticed by the rest of the world. Not to us.

We've been buying our own peanuts for a long time.

To the fatherless girl: fifty million. It's not nearly enough, but it'll have to do, since there are lots of fatherless girls out there.

You need your daddies more than us boys. A decent, overprotective father, who gives good piggy-back rides.

More than that. You need someone to remind you of how pretty you are. It's easy to

forget. Someone to wait on the porch when Joe Freckle-Face comes to pick you up for a date. Who warns this boy, you're not just a girl in the passenger seat—you're the entire world wearing a dress.

Kids without mothers: you get hundreds of billions of dollars. Maybe more. Because when you have no mother, you have no compass. You'll walk in circles, wondering if anyone gives a damn.

Few people do.

I knew a boy whose mother died during childbirth. He grew up in a house absent of frilly things. He'd tear out magazine perfume ads and keep them for later. He told me once, he liked to smell them at night, imagining he was falling asleep next to his mother.

I think about him sometimes.

When I do, there's a restless feeling I get. This feeling gets strongest when I see families who don't look…

Because the truth is, being human hurts like hell. That’s not exactly something people talk about during graduation ceremonies, but it’s true.

Kids, enjoy your life. God knows, you only get one crack at it, and then before you know it (snap), it's game over.

If you're like me, you'll get everything wrong. You'll follow the wrong career, wrong ideas, wrong people, lose money. Don't worry about it. Everyone gets it wrong. Mistakes are free. And chances are, if you haven't thrown a wrench into your own plans, your parents already did this for you several years ago.

Go buy an ice cream sandwich, have a good cry, and try to be happy.

Because the truth is, being human hurts like hell. That's not exactly something people talk about during

graduation ceremonies, but it's true. The moment you declare yourself an adult, you turn into a frightened coon—you might dodge the hunter a few times, but in the end, your tailsection becomes a hat.

Oh sure, I like inspirational speeches about success, fame, fortune, and how working hard pays off. Promises of how you'll be rolling around in piles of cash if you think successful thoughts and say some trademarked magic words.

Well, permit me to give you my opinion:

Chicken fertilizer.

Life is not about fame and fortune. Some folks crave…

The truth is, all good things keep vanishing. They make cheeseburgers out of chemical Jell-O and grow fish in Japanese labs.

Before you read another word, you should know: I'm an optimist. I believe in hope, love, and puppies. Which is why you'll often hear me say things like, "Mother of Frank, this world has really gone to hell."

Because optimists say things like that.

The truth is, all good things keep vanishing. They make cheeseburgers out of chemical Jell-O and grow fish in Japanese labs. Hardly anyone uses paper money, film-cameras, or manners. Church ladies have disappeared, along with their casserole dishes.

And so have potlucks.

Don't take my word for it, listen to seventy-three-year-old Phillip, who I met at a bar in Geneva, Alabama.

He said, “Growing up, summer was one big party. Our churches had homecomings and potlucks. Also, Granny held family reunions. There was always a cookout going.”

I love cookouts.

“Not anymore," he said. "After Granny died, we just kinda quit having family reunions. And our church homecomings aren't the same either. Mostly, food gets catered nowadays, sometimes it's Chinese food.”

God help us. I'd rather eat a cold slice of undercooked beaver than eat egg foo yung at a church potluck.

Not long ago, summer used to be ninety-days of home-cooked barbecue, fish-fries, and gospel…

If you're a dog-person, I don't have to explain what such a statement means. And if you're not a dog-lover, you might as well stop reading here.

Alan is a salt-of-the-earth fella, whose wife just bought him a camouflaged recliner. It's the first thing he shows off to visitors. The second thing he takes you to see is a mounted buck head the size of a Chevrolet.

Framed photographs litter his side tables. Pictures of Alan's kids, grandchildren, weddings, baby pictures, big kills, vacations.

And one chocolate Labrador.

“This is Babe,” he said, tapping the photo. “She was THEE dog.”

If you're a dog-person, I don't have to explain what such a statement means. And if you're not a dog-lover, you might as well stop reading here.

Alan went on, "I got her for hunting, but then realized, she wasn't that kinda puppy. So, I ended up spoiling her. She rode shotgun with me, ate whatever I ate. She loved Big Macs."

Don't we all.

It was one spring, while Alan was installing a deer-stand in the woods, he noticed his chest felt funny. His heart raced, he felt dizzy. He fell, caught himself. Stumbled again. He lost consciousness.

Babe licked

Alan's face until he awoke. When he got up, he didn't know where he was.

“I was bad lost,” said Alan. “Didn't know what the hell was happening, I felt like I was dying. Babe just kept licking me, nudging me home, from behind, a few feet at a time. I really thought I was a goner.”

When he got closer, Babe alerted Alan's wife. She rushed him to the hospital. Doctors say he was lucky to survive.

In Alan's backyard, a wooden cross pokes out of the grass. Alan removes his ball cap whenever he stands in front of it. “Throat cancer,” he said. “She quit eating when she got old. We miss her.”

I'll bet.

To be honest, I don't know why people love dogs so much. After all, there's nothing filthier than a canine. Take mine, for instance, they've destroyed rugs, pantries, reading…

Ethel married Chester when she was nineteen. He was a hardworking boy who could do just about anything with his hands

Pollard, Alabama—to say the weather is beautiful today would be an understatement. It's magnificent.

Pollard sits off Highway 31, between Flomaton and Brewton. This sleepy place claims just over one hundred residents. With a few more people, you'd have enough for a baseball team.

It's an everyone-knows-your-mama town. The kind where county officials aren't elected, because hardly anyone votes. Men who run for office just show up to work one day.

“Pollard's different,” says one man. “Folks get free water, free garbage pickup, and if your cow dies, call the mayor. He'll haul it away for you. No charge.”

What a deal.

You might think people are the same the world over. Well, I don't. People in towns like Pollard differ from the rest.

Take, for instance, Ethel. She was the Avon Lady. And if you don't know what that is, it's because there aren't many left.

Ethel married Chester when she was nineteen. He was a hardworking boy who could do just about anything with his hands—he even built their farmhouse with those

hands. And inside that home, sitting on top the hill outside Pollard, Ethel and Chester made a family.

Theirs was an ordinary life—at least in these parts. A life revolving around fishing, homegrown turnips, field peas, and peaches so plump they should be rated R.

These were people of their times. Back when men knew how to use axes, and weren't afraid to stain their clothes killing supper. When women fried cornbread, carved meat better than butchers, and still had the gall to sell Avon.

Well.

Ask anyone around, this kind of quiet existence is easy on the body. Folks like Ethel and Chester often lived well into their golden years. They didn't slow down, either—since you can't move much slower. And the years of marriage just kind of lulled by.

At ninety-eight-year-old Ethel's wedding anniversary, a local reporter interviewed her. “Mrs. Turner,” the reporter said.…

I wish you could see this woman beside me. She's eating fried chicken like a starvation victim. And using her whole body to do it.

She takes a large bite, then wipes her chin with her sleeve. She pauses only to sip sweet tea. Then, it's back to destroying more drumsticks.

She stares at my discarded bones and says, “You like it?”

No.

I love it.

Her fried chicken is legendary. Hens everywhere from here to the next county marvel at this woman. That's because you've never seen anyone—not even the Colonel—fry a bird the way she does. Local poultry stand in line, volunteering their lives toward her cause.

It's no exaggeration:

she lives for food.

You'd never know it to look at her, but she plans her life around supper, her summers around vegetables. We once postponed a family vacation because tomato season wasn't yet in full swing.

You ought to travel with her. She hauls ten coolers wherever she goes. They're stocked with things like: buttermilk, eight kinds of cheese—nine counting pimento—chicken salad, tuna salad, coleslaw, potato salad, egg salad, pear salad, fruit salad, cucumber salad, Jell-O salad, and ambrosia.

She believes in the gospel according to whole…

Willie finished the concert by welcoming Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter onto the stage.

Last week, my wife surprised me with tickets to a Willie Nelson concert, saying, "Pack your bags, Miss Daisy."

The next thing I knew, we were sitting four hundred feet away from the redheaded stranger himself.

He played all the classics. One by one. And when he sang, "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys," I cried. Since my mama decidedly failed in this regard.

Willie finished the concert by welcoming Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter onto the stage. Seven thousand of us rose to our feet and nearly tore the place apart. The ninety-one year-old president hugged the eighty-three-year-old cowboy. I couldn't have been happier if I'd seen Bear

Bryant and Jesus shake hands.

Then, Willie sang, "Amazing Grace."

So did Jimmy and Rosalynn.

So did I.

Seven thousand folks set their beers down—since this is what you do while singing hymns. The woman next to me sat down and just stared into the night sky, listening to all the voices.

Willie sang the second verse.

I closed my eyes.

We sang this song at my grandmama's funeral, at my grandaddy's, my uncle's, my cousin's, father-in-law's, and Daddy's. To people of my pedigree, this song is sacred.

It was a small ordeal, I hardly remember anything except the words, “Who gives this woman away?”

My sister's instructions were to wear a nice shirt. Something that didn't look like I'd, “just rolled out of bed.”

I tried to set her mind at ease, assuring her I almost never roll.

That day, I left work early. I changed my shirt in traffic while I sped to the courthouse.

It was a small ordeal, I hardly remember anything except the words, “Who gives this woman away?”

Woman.

I answered for the entirety of my family. They kissed. Mama cried. Everyone shook hands. And then it was over.

No party. No dance bands.

The truth is, she deserved more. A proper ceremony, a dress, photographs, a honeymoon. What she got was

zilch, with a steaming side of jack-squat.

Well, I know that's just the way life goes. I'm not complaining about it. But sometimes, I like to imagine things.

For example: let's imagine I'm walking along a beach. I see a rusty bottle wash ashore. And, let's say I pick the thing up and give it a good scrub.

A genie pops out.

He says in a booming voice, "I am Genie Of The Seven Seas, who hath awakened me from thy slumber?"

And I say, "It is…

I'll probably never venture many miles in my life. I'm like my mother, and the furthest we ever travel is the post office.

"I've never been to Europe, never explored South America. But I've caught more than a few fish.."

"I've never been to Europe, never explored South America. But I've caught more than a few fish.."

You should meet this buddy of mine. He's a loud talker, and will not let anyone fit a word in. He's my age, but we're nothing alike. This man has been everywhere, done everything.

Presently, he's taking a year off to hike across Alaska.

Alaska.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit, I sometimes wonder about my own life. I wonder if I ought to be concerned about how uneventful it's been. After all, I've spent more time around mobile homes than I have around airports.

I've never been to Europe, never explored South America. I have not played tennis, ridden a motorcycle, tasted a martini, nor seen the Northern lights.

But.

That's not to say my life hasn't been interesting. It has, even though my GPS would disagree.

To start with: I have thrice been baptized. Once Methodist, once Baptist, and one Gatorade bucket.

I once worked as a trim-carpenter with a Mexican man named, Jesus. He was about four-foot tall, and he lived in his car in the Walmart parking lot. He would introduce himself using

the American equivalent of his name.

“Hello,” he'd say. “I am Jee-zus, a carpenter. Berry nice to meet choo."

It was a riot.

Let's see. I've owned too many Labradors to count, and one coonhound who knows how to open peanut butter jars with her mouth.

I've floated in the the Gulf of Mexico, just to watch the stars. I've been lost in New Orleans, mugged in Atlanta, left for dead at Disney World. I have owned two single-wide trailers, and one house. My truck smells like a wet dog—so did the trucks before it.

I laugh weird.

I learned to drive a tractor at nine, wrecked one at ten, and spent seven years riding another, until it made me hard of hearing.

I've worked in four churches, three restaurants, two factories, and one janitorial position.

I've known love.

In fact, I…