His daughter told me he parked himself by the window and talked to his best friend every day—morning until night.

DEAR SEAN:

I don’t mean this to sound mean-spirited, but I've read some of your stuff and I can’t tell if you’re a real Christian or not.

There are no gray areas, sir, you’re either all in, or not. Your use of swear words is not cool, or glorification of alcohol and tobacco... Substances that promote destructive lifestyles.

I’m just trying to figure out what you believe, as well as urging you to consider your eternity. No offense.

PRAYING FOR YOU

DEAR PRAYING:

None taken. I wish I could answer this, but I don’t know how. Most anything I say will be the wrong thing. And I might inadvertently cause you to worry for my soul even more.

So.

Yes. It’s true. I cuss sometimes—mostly on accident. Some phrases come from my blue-collar ancestry.

And I promise: I only use three of the six major swear words. Though in very rare cases—like blunt trauma to the kneecap—I’ll use a fourth.

But I still haven't answered your question. So let me tell you what an eighty-nine-year-old preacher once told me.

I'll call him Brother Jay. I wrote

a report for a world-religion class. I visited Jay at his home. He was white-haired and slumped in a wheelchair.

His daughter told me he parked himself by the window and talked to his best friend every day—morning until night.

I saw him by the window, moving his mouth. I didn’t see anybody with him.

Jay was a preacher’s son. His uncle—also a preacher—sexually abused him as a boy. When Jay blew the whistle, his mother sent him away to a boys home.

He grew up an orphan. His family never visited. Not ever. The word loneliness comes to mind.

A woman took him under her wing. She was a custodian at the shelter. She brought him home with her. She took him to church. She introduced him to his best friend.

Then, something…

Have you seen what’s on television? This country is in the worst trouble we’ve been in and you’re talking about happy-go-lucky (double bleep)…

DEAR SEAN:

I just read a few things you wrote, and I have to say that I refuse to see life through the rose-tinted glasses you obviously wear. I can’t agree with the bull (bleep).

Have you seen what’s on television? This country is in the worst trouble we’ve been in and you’re talking about happy-go-lucky (double bleep)…

The last thing we need is another ignorant redneck on Facebook telling everyone how great things are... So go back to your cornfield and just shut the (unprintable word) up.

Regards,

CALLING IT LIKE I SEE IT IN BIRMINGHAM

DEAR BIRMINGHAM:

Firstly: Nice to meet you. Remind me to invite you to my annual coon roast and rat-killing party. I'd like you to meet my uncle—who holds the national award for most tobacco-spit stains on a truck interior.

Secondly: I can bear being called a redneck—I come from a long line of men with farmer tans and bad handwriting.

But ignorant.

I would rather be quartered with a cheese grater and strung up in front of the A&P.

Look, maybe you’re right about the world. Maybe this is

the biggest trouble we’ve ever known.

Maybe when my great-great grandaddy marched in the Battle of Cumberland Church—during a time of 620,000 civil soldier-deaths on American soil—it was only child’s play.

Maybe the Great Depression itself—a period when those fancy Birmingham subdivisions were once pinewood poverty shacks full of starving kids—was peanuts compared to this.

Maybe the Second World War—60 million deaths worldwide—was a walk in the park compared to your Facebook feed.

Maybe.

But does that mean I should ignore those like Kiera Larsen? She died shoving a toddler out of the path of an oncoming SUV. She ran in front of the vehicle, screaming. The toddler lived.

Kiera was 10 years old.

Or: Lourdes Sanchez, the black newborn whose drug-addict parents left her in a dumpster. She got adopted by a Mexican-American…

Long, long ago, in a land far away, there was a chubby little first-baseman who enjoyed sourdough biscuits and fried fish. Like you, his family changed. His daddy disappeared.

DEAR SEAN:

We just moved to Clovis, New Mexico. I really miss home and all my family are in Florida. I am nine years old… My parents are divorced. And I am a very good artist.

I was wondering if you could tell a story about our situation. ...If you don't mind, I would like you to use words kids understand (but still a make it funny and emotional).

Your friend, KAYLIE

DEAR KAYLIE:

I have a story.

Long, long ago, in a land far away, there was a chubby little first-baseman who enjoyed sourdough biscuits and fried fish. Like you, his family changed. His daddy disappeared. And when that happened, the first-baseman’s world turned black.

One day, this boy went walking in the woods—for it is well-known that first-basemen love forests—and he found a creek near the river.

It was filled with magic catfish who talked to him in small voices, saying:

“No fishing poles you use,
Nor trotlines will ever work,
You will never catch us,
You chubby little jerk.”

This made the boy angry. For who were catfish to talk

this way? The first-baseman had been fishing since before he played first base.

So, the next day he visited with a fishing rod. But as it happened, the boy had lost all faith in himself after his daddy died. Because of this, he caught no fish.

The catfish teased:

“Try and try,
You dumb pup,
You'll catch us never,
You've already given up.”

Their singing displeased the first-baseman, for he knew the mystical scum-suckers were wrong about him.

So, the next day he fished again. Nothing.

And the whisker-fish sang:

“Fish, ye, at sundown,
Fish, ye, at sunup,
It won't work, ye young fool,
Because you’ve given up.”


Now the boy KNEW the fish were…

You're probably WAY too old to believe in magical things like Santa, Easter Bunnies, Saint Francis, or Nick Saban. But this is serious. I’ve seen angels with my eyes.

DEAR SEAN:

There's a murderer on the run in Baldwin County and that's where I live. And he’s killed three people... My mom is at work and I'm home with the flu. My aunt and I are locked in the bedroom watching TV and the weather’s getting really bad, too.

...I’m actually scared so much my stomach is truly, literally hurting. My aunt told me I should write you to take my mind off it...

SCARED IN BALDWIN COUNTY

DEAR SCARED:

I'm glad you wrote me. I have a feeling that as soon as I write back, authorities will have caught this joker and none of the following will apply.

Even so, here's what you should know:

There’s no way in hell the peace officers in lower Alabama are going to let anything happen to you. Because they have guns.

And I know men from Baldwin, Escambia, and Santa Rosa County. These boys have been shooting dove, deer, duck, and wild turkey since they were old enough to say, “Look, Mommy, I make poopy.”

This dude's in trouble.

But never mind. You asked for help getting your mind off this topic. So I'll tell you what my mama told me when I was terrified.

There are angels around you.

Big ones. I know. You're probably WAY too old to believe in magical things like Santa, Easter Bunnies, Saint Francis, or Nick Saban. But this is serious. I’ve seen angels with my eyes.

Once, we wrecked in North Carolina. Mama hit a deer. It was late at night on a very dark, empty road. A stranger from nowhere helped us. He even knew my name.

Then he disappeared.

Another story: I know a woman who went swimming in the river with her friend. They got swept into the current. They nearly died. A man swam to them and pulled them ashore. Then he vanished.

You want more? Fine.

Listen, one day your world won't be this dark, darling. It might happen when a worthy person comes along. It will be someone smart enough to look in your eyes and see more than your eyes.

She wrote a letter to me.

She started by saying, "I know you're probably too busy to answer..."

Then, she explained that her parents are getting divorced, that her father's been cheating. Before he walked out, he got mad.

He called her and her mother "a couple'a fat pigs."

She closed her note, saying:

"You wrote once about losing your confidence, and I think I'm losing mine, too... I'm sixteen, and I really do feel fat and ugly. And I just needed to tell somebody...

"...And you actually seemed cool. I feel like I can trust you. If you share this, please keep my identity secret."

Well.

Firstly, I am NOT cool. Case and point: I once tried to eat so much peanut butter that my wife had to get paramedics involved.

Secondly, I might not know you, but I knew someone like you. He looked like you, talked like you. It was hard for him to feel cocky after his father's funeral.

His confidence dried up. He felt like the ugliest, most intellectually challenged dunce God ever had the misfortune of

creating.

But this isn't about him.

Okay. So your father—let's call things what they are—is a lost soul. I'm sorry, but you asked for my ten-cent opinion.

You, darling, are nothing like the world's lost princes and princesses—who have bucketfuls of self-assurance.

People like you and I are bullfrogs.

Try to stay with me.

I believe this big fairytale is full of people who consider themselves royalty. They've got royal confidence, too. Plenty of it.

We're not like them. We have gangly legs and big eyes. We don't think much of ourselves, we walk with bad posture. Big deal.

So you're feeling bad. Don't fight it. Look in the mirror and let those feelings happen. Cry. Cuss. Feel lousy. Let it wash over you.

And once you're finished, don't ever do it again.

Because there's too much living…

I know you're confused about the current state of our world. I am, too. There is a lot of uneasiness right now. Try not to worry about it. Mankind has been fussing like this since the dawn of Duke's Mayonnaise.

DEAR MISTER SEAN:

I'm having doubtful thoughts with everything going on. I'm confused and disappointed. I want to ask you a question. Is God real?

Sincerely, REGULAR TEENAGE GIRL

DEAR REGULAR GIRL:

My God, darling. Why couldn't you have asked me about my favorite brand of mayonnaise instead? I'm an expert in the field of egg-based dressings.

I am not, however, the fella to ask about God. I have few answers on such high-minded matters. I can't even figure out which eleven herbs and spices go into KFC's Original Recipe.

And believe me, I've tried.

Yeah, I know you're confused about the current state of our world. I am, too. There is a lot of uneasiness right now. Try not to worry about it. Mankind has been fussing like this since the dawn of Duke's Mayonnaise.

Once, I saw a fight break out in a Pelham, Alabama, beer-joint. The subject of tension: God.

A loud-talking man claimed that God was nothing but barnyard fertilizer. It offended my friend, whose mother sang in the church choir. Thus, he challenged this man—who was six-times his

size—to a fistfight.

Before we knew it, my buddy went down under the power.

On the ride home, we four teenagers discussed mysteries of the eternal, using our serious voices.

Finally, someone asked, "You think God's real?"

I answered without thinking. And in a sentence, nine-hundred-year's worth of Bible-Belt heritage came out.

I said, "You damn right he's real."

And I sounded like a boy who needed help spelling his name.

The fact is, when some folks talk about God, they're not talking about God at all. They're speaking about miracles, greasy televangelists, faith healers, or a celestial Santa Claus with a white beard. I may be uneducated, but those aren't God.

Nevertheless, you asked me a straight question, so here's my answer: Cassidy.

She's my answer.

Cassidy was nineteen. Beautiful. Her parents died. Her grandmother raised…

I appreciate your honesty. Allow me to return the favor.

DEAR SEAN: A friend of mine introduced me to your writing. I've only read a little, but as a retired copy editor, and author of two books, I think you could use some work.

You write about life. Well, I was married twenty-four years... My husband had an affair with a much younger woman. I know a little about the pain of life.

I've never lived on my own before, I'm in my late-fifties, I've raised two kids, and I'm all alone this year.

Your brand of goody-goody writing represents what's wrong with this country. I'm sorry to be so blunt, your intentions are probably pure, but you're still too ostensibly young to know how hard life is, honey. People don't need more lovey-dovey ignorance crap. Sometimes it's healthy to embrace anger.

Sincerely, JUST BEING REAL

DEAR REAL: I've always wanted to do the Dear Abby thing, so thanks for signing your letter that way. Also: I won't lie, I had to look up "ostensibly" in the dictionary.

I appreciate your honesty. Allow

me to return the favor.

You're right about me. I don't know how hard life is. My father shot himself with a rifle the day he got out of jail. My mother locked herself in her room and cried for years. My family eroded. I was twelve.

I don't want to talk much about it. It's ostensibly difficult.

I hope I used that word right.

What I can tell you is that we lived on a farm. The day Daddy passed, adult-chores fell to adolescent-me. So did the laundry. I was angry. Not just with my father, but with my peers, for having easy lives.

Eventually, we lost the farm. We lost lots of things—that's what happens to poor folks.

Mama cleaned condos, I swung hammers. We delivered newspapers, laid sod, painted houses. We got good at hocking things. Once, I even took a job digging a…