I remember when my father handed me the bat during a game. It was top of the eighth. My T-shirt bore the name of a local gas station. My white pants had a patch sewn on the seat.

It’s morning. I’m parked at a community ballpark, eating a breakfast sandwich.

I made the mistake of turning on the radio. It’s nothing but horrifying news, greasy politics, shouting evangelists, and music that sounds like a choir of chainsaws with chest colds.

Radio off.

I see a boy in an oversized helmet, he’s on the field by himself. A man pitches underhand to him. The kid swings. After a few strikes, he hits a home run. It arcs clear over the fence.

Meet William. He’s the nine-year-old who hit the ball, and he hit that thing harder than Roy Hobbs.

Right now, William is very happy. You can see it on him. He’s running the bases. His legs are skinny, his face is all smiles. William has Down syndrome, and his tender heart is the size of four states.

This morning, his father has been teaching him to use a bat. Will’s mother is the only one in the bleachers.

“I didn’t expect Will to be so

amazing,” his mother says. “Did you see him hit that ball?”

I did.

And I can sort of relate to what he must be feeling. The first time I ever hit a baseball over the fence was the only time it ever happened.

I was about William’s age. I was moderately chubby, un-athletic, I liked pocket knives, pork products, endurance napping, and I wore Superman underpants.

I was no Lou Whitaker.

I remember when my father handed me the bat during a game. It was top of the eighth. My T-shirt bore the name of a local gas station. My white pants had a patch sewn on the seat.

Daddy said: “Keep. Your. Eye. On. The. Ball.”

I swung. It was pure luck. The thing sailed like the S.S. Minnow. And the image I remember most clearly is my father throwing his…

And over time, love has done something to me. And I don’t want to get all sappy, but I’m going to:

Oxford, Alabama—I am in the car. I am sipping a coffee. And I am waiting to take a stage and entertain a bunch of good-hearted people.

I have ten minutes until showtime.

And I love you.

Admittedly, I don’t know WHY I love you. Because chances are, we’ve never met. But I DO love you. And I guess you could say that I’m only passing it on. Because that’s what you do with love. You don’t keep it in your pocket.

See, once I was once a kid who looked out a bedroom window at acres of sadness. After my father departed this world, it took two decades to find myself. I didn’t know if I ever would.

I was a drifting soul. I’ve had a hundred grunt jobs, and a hundred more, and not a single job paid over a few bucks per hour. I was a blue collar nothing. You would’ve walked past me in Walmart and never remembered my face.

At big gatherings, I was the

man who sort of blended into the upholstery. I am a high-school dropout, a person who once felt like a waste of cosmic space.

A man who would usually find himself in the kitchen after a family event, doing dishes because that’s where I felt I belonged.

I don’t know. Anyway, I felt unloved, unwanted, unseen, un-special, un-smart. For the largest piece of my life, I wondered if anyone gave a damn about me at all. And if they did, I wondered why.

Growing up, it seemed like other kids had more important things to do than worry about love. Most were interested in sports, girls, fast vehicles, beer, or combining all four of the aforementioned.

So I didn’t believe in love. I thought it was a made-up idea. And a cruel one at that. But I was wrong. Because somewhere along the way,…

I’m a sentimental little thing. I make it a point to visit Hank Williams at his perch, overlooking Montgomery when I’m in town. Today, there was a blue jay sitting on his head, that has to be a good sign.

The sun is shining in Montgomery. The river is a mirror. The sky is cloudless. The downtown couldn’t look better if it were gold plated.

I’m a sentimental little thing. I make it a point to visit Hank Williams at his perch, overlooking Montgomery when I’m in town. Today, there was a blue jay sitting on his head, that has to be a good sign.

My wife and I are only passing through town for an early supper. We are on the road for three weeks, living in our old Dodge Durango.

And I’ll tell you the truth, I’m in heaven. I could be on the road forever, eating from coolers, watching sunsets, making new friends.

We’ve had this Dodge for years. The old girl is running ragged, but she’s a special vehicle.

Long ago, I bought this old thing from a newspaper ad. My wife needed a car in a bad way. We’d been sharing my truck for a whole summer—which wasn’t all that bad.

Our workdays all went

the same: she would drop me off at my job, then head to work. At the end of the day, I’d stand by the curb with a lunchbox. Mama Bear would arrive. I’d jump in.

Then, we would drive to the local Pizza Hut.

Pizza Hut was our place. Back then, it still had an all-you-can-eat grease buffet. My friend, Matt, worked behind the counter.

In another life, Matt and I were friends. As younger men, we would entertain ourselves by driving secluded beach roads after dark. We would search for stranded tourists whose vehicles were stuck in the sand.

We’d hook chains to their axles and save the day. Some folks offered to pay us, but we refused money. And we used unnaturally deep voices on the off-chance we might impress any girls in the area.

That’s how Matt met…

And after our breakfast, I felt something. Something good. It’s a feeling I can’t explain in words—even though I deal in words.

He’s good to my mother. And in my book, that qualifies him for Catholic sainthood.

You’d like him. He has a silver mustache, blue eyes, works with his hands, and when he talks he sounds like Birmingham.

The first time we met was at his home in the sticks of Mossy Head, Florida. My mother sat on the sofa, watching us sip beer and talk baseball. She smiled—she smiles a lot when she’s around him. We hit it off.

Later that night, my mother told me, “I think I might love Mike.”

I looked at my five-foot-two mother and my eyes got blurry. For twenty years after my father left this world on purpose, my mother wouldn’t even date a Dorito. She’d sworn off love altogether.

Instead, she worked. She served food, cleaned houses, or threw newspapers. There was no time for anything but raising kids.

After my baby sister left home, my mother became seriously ill. It felt like the greatest tragedy of the twenty-first century.

I visited her in Atlanta and hugged her frail body. The Emory Doctors forecasted the worst, and I cried for weeks.

But the worst did not happen. She got better. It was a genuine miracle. In fact, I considered it to be the biggest miracle I’d ever seen.

But I was wrong. Heaven was only warming up. Because then she met him.

He built a sewing room for her in his house. There, she quilted, knitted, and used her old Singer sewing machine like she’d done long ago. My mother can sew the pants off the Pope.

They made a life together. She decorated his place; he built her a fire pit. She adopted stray cats; he worked outside.

He’s a quiet man—he won’t speak too loud. And this makes him very different from the hot tempered man who raised me.

And he…

Last night, I showed my wife old photographs, and a certificate with my name on it. I told her what I just told you. I thanked her for all she’s done for me. For making an orphan feel like somebody, for once in his life.

Yesterday, I was digging through boxes in the garage. The boxes were covered in dust. I found things I didn’t even know I owned. A fondue pot, for instance. Brand new. Just what every man of the modern age needs.

I found our wedding photos, too. I had to sit down to look at those.

In one photo, I’m cutting a cake while the woman on my arm is laughing, holding her belly. Young Me is watching her.

I remember exactly what I was thinking. I was thinking the same thing I’m thinking now:

“I like making this woman laugh.”

Easier said than done. She doesn’t know how to fake laugh. It’s not in her. In fact, she doesn’t laugh unless something is worth dying over.

And if you’re lucky enough to see her get tickled—big “if”—the first thing she’ll do is hold her stomach. And IF you can get this woman to clutch her stomach, your life has been worth it.

I also found a certificate

in one of the boxes. The thing was covered in plastic, with my name written on it. My college degree.

I was a grown man when I went to college. It took me eleven years to finish. The only reason I completed was because this woman believed I could.

Sometimes I can’t tell if I’m her sidekick or if she is mine.

Either way, she is a woman who does too much. She works too hard, she loves harder. She has quirks, too. And nobody knows them like me.

For example: she cannot fall asleep without an assortment of machinery.

In her arsenal is a foam wedge (for her lower back); a heating pad (for her cold nature); a mouthguard (she grinds her teeth at night); a sound machine (apparently I snore); earplugs (apparently I am not an amatuer snorer); an eye…

“Alzheimer's hit him fast,” my friend says. “You just won’t believe how fast it moves. You hope for moments of clarity… You live for those moments.”

The smell of barbecued ribs is in the air. I am with a friend who knows his ribs. His father taught him everything he knows.

My friend can also handle more beer than I can—he can drink several, back-to-back, without spontaneously bursting into “Louie Louie.”

We were good friends once, but we lost touch a long time ago.

I liked his father, who was a natural teacher. For example: his father taught me how to change the oil in my truck when I was a younger man.

He also attempted to teach me to throw a football—which is on the large list of things I never learned. Also on the list: water skiing, pronouncing “Worcestershire,” parallel parking, making my bed, earning a living.

My friend’s father is here today. He is white-haired and shaky. He has Alzheimer’s. He is not the man who once showed me to throw a spiral in his yard. In fact, he doesn’t remember me.

He’s holding a beer can.

My friend says: “It’s non-alcoholic beer. We replaced it

with fake beer. It makes him feel like old times to hold a can. We hope it jars a memory.”

The old man sits in a chair between us. His language is a mixture of gibberish and one-liner jokes, and he ends every sentence with “Inallmylife.”

When he starts talking, it’s impossible to understand him.

“Whositwasasittlemershimackinpillowhapper…” he chuckles. “Inallmylife.”

We all laugh—we know by the tone of his old voice that he’s telling a joke. And you always laugh at punchlines, even if you don’t understand them.

My friend answers, “Oh yessir,” to almost everything his father says. And this suits his father just fine. Any response will do.

“Listenlistenlistentome,” his father begins. “Wasabackinnineteenerother…”

“Yessir.”

“...AnshesaidtomeIwasadoosiebut…”

“Oh, yessir.”

“Philorandaosamerjonathan…”

“Yessir, Dad. That’s right.”

“Inallmylife.”

And so it goes.

The old man sits…

I want to go around reminding teenagers how important they are. I want to listen to the jokes old men tell when their wives aren’t around.

I’d like to make my mama proud. That’s one of my main goals in this world. If I’ve made her proud, well, then I’ve really done something.

My mother, you see, is the kind of woman who taught me how to be nice, and how to have manners.

Long ago, she would make me sit with my cousin, Myrtle, at covered dish socials, so Myrtle wouldn’t be sitting alone. Mama would say things like: “Be polite, and make sure you ask your cousin how her baton twirling is coming along.”

Admittedly, Myrtle was about as interesting as watching ditchwater evaporate. But like I said, I want my mama to be proud.

Maybe I should back up and tell you where all this is coming from.

Earlier this week, I spent some time with people who were—how do I put this— not very nice. Now, they weren’t MEAN people, per se, but you don’t have to be “mean” to be un-nice.

I hope I am never an un-nice person. What would Mama think?

Mama is a woman who says things like: “Don’t talk about yourself too much, it’s like passing gas in an elevator; people will smile, but they don’t mean it.

And: “Be a good listener, your ears will never get you in trouble.”

I don’t aspire to much in this life, but I know that I want to be the kind of man who listens.

Also, I want to be the kind of man who dogs follow for no reason. I want to be the guy who does magic tricks for toddlers.

I want to go around reminding teenagers how important they are. I want to listen to the jokes old men tell when their wives aren’t around.

I want to hear long stories on porches, and I want to be the first to respond: “Well, I Suwannee.”

A good Suwannee…