Brewton, Alabama, 6:02 A.M.—I’m sitting in Aunt Cat’s kitchen, sipping coffee.
She’s not my blood aunt. She is my wife’s aunt. Even so, I have called this woman “Aunt Cat” for a long time now. Referring to her as otherwise would be an affront to aunts worldwide.
Aunt Cat and I are talking. She’s in pajamas, I have bed-head hair. We’re at her kitchen table, using quiet morning-voices. The early sun is coming through the windows.
It’s nice weather. There’s a train whistle in the distance. Bird sounds outside. There is a calico kitten in Aunt Cat’s lap.
I am happy. My surrogate aunt and I chat about everything and nothing. About family. About jelly jars. About mothers-in-law. About last night’s small concert downtown.
Last night, my band played in Brewton. It was big fun. Mister David hauled giant speakers downtown. He strung miles of cable, and set up colored lights.
Some folks sold boiled peanuts. Suzy had baked goods for sale—her handmade bread is good enough to make a grown man fan himself with a church bulletin.
There were local vendors with tents. Not the trendy sort of merchants—like you’d find at hippy suburban farmers markets. No. These were men who would wear jeans and red suspenders to their own funerals.
Aunt Cat put out a spread, of course, at her house. Ham sandwiches, cheese trays, caramel poundcakes, cookies, you name it.
After the informal concert, I hugged necks. Old friends asked how my mama was doing. One woman brought me a poundcake. Miss Connie brought a cooler of beer for the band.
I received three Baptist church invitations, two Methodist, one Presbyterian.
At the end of the night, Miss Connie sat beside me on my vehicle bumper.
We watched families carry lawn chairs to vehicles. Women climbed into camouflaged pickups. Two boys tossed a football—one wore crimson, the other wore orange and blue.
I’ve been coming to this place for many years. And every time I visit, it makes me high. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the paper mill.
Miss Connie placed her arm around me. “This place is kinda like your home, you know,” she said. “And that makes you one of our people.”
She looked me in the eye to say it.
As it happens, I grew up without people. And home was a place we paid rent for. I don’t mean to get melodramatic, but such raisings can ruin a man.
Sometimes, a fella starts thinking he doesn’t matter. Sometimes, you feel like you don’t belong. Sometimes you wonder whether you HAVE people.
But then, here I am, welcoming in the South Alabama morning with Aunt Cat.
If you ask me, life is pretty. It’s bizarre and surprising. It’s hard. But I believe people are magnificent creatures if you let them be.
I’m grateful for what heaven has given me. For those who have had the gumption to give a damn about me.
I am grateful for potlucks, homemade bread, old guitars, old friends, adopted family, and surrogate aunts.
But most of all, I am grateful for Brewton, Alabama.