We probably don’t know each other, but I love you to death. I swear it. I just have a feeling that you need to hear that today.

I was going to write something else, but I changed my mind. And I know this is corny—believe me, I know—but I love you.

No, It’s true. We probably don’t know each other, but I love you to death. I swear it. I just have a feeling that you need to hear that today.

Anyway, if you do, I’m your guy.

You know what else I love? The cashier in Winn-Dixie. Her name is Linda, she’s from North Alabama, and she talks like it. She and her husband moved here for his job.

She showed me cellphone photos of her parents, brothers, and sisters. She wears a strong face when she talks, but I know homesickness when I see it.

“My mother is coming to town,” she told me. “For vacation, on Monday.”

She was so excited it was blasting through her green eyes.

I love the boy selling magazine subscriptions at my front door. I didn’t want to buy magazines, but that kid deserved a few bucks for being brave enough to knock on a stranger’s door.

I asked why he was

selling them. He told me it was because he wanted to earn enough to buy a cutting-edge smartphone.

For his grandmother.

I love Brigette. You’d like her, too. She’s a four-foot-nine stick of dynamite with silver hair.

Her husband has Alzheimer’s. Brigette is his caretaker. She gives everything to him. It’s just who she is. She gives until she’s dry. Then gives more.

I love the white-haired man I saw today. He sat at the intersection with a backpack and a cardboard sign which read: “Going to Tallahassee.”

His name was Gary. His skin was sun-darkened. His son lives in Tallahassee.

I love my neighbor’s dog. The dog has liver cancer. She’s named Libby. Libby has been alive four years longer than the vet predicted.

Libby takes a short walk every day, by herself. Sometimes I see…

They began a new life. It wasn’t much, but theirs was a happy house. She washed laundry in tin tubs. Her kids didn’t wear shoes unless company came over.

The early fifties. Her high-society parents had her future already planned. She was supposed to attend a good school, marry a respected boy, she would be a success.

Success. That’s what good little girls were supposed to want.

She grew up taking piano lessons, going to parties, learning to eat with the right fork.

She got pregnant.

She was sixteen; he was sixteen. He was a boy who cut down trees for a living. He was tall, skinny, big ears. No high school.

Her uppity friends shunned her. Her parents forbid her to see the boy. Her father threatened to send her to a boarding school.

Then. Late night. Her mother woke her. She told her to get into the car—nightgown and all. They drove dark highways through the woods. Neither of them speaking.

They stopped.

There was a man waiting outside a laundromat, smoking a cigarette. He wore a white lab coat and carried a medical bag.

“He’s gonna take care of your pregnancy,” her mother said. She insisted it was for her daughter’s own good. Insisted that her

very success depended on it.

The girl jumped out of the car. She ran through the woods. Crying. She hitched a ride to town.

And she would never forget this night.

She moved in with her boyfriend’s family. Her stomach grew bigger. She gave birth in a bedroom with the help of a white-haired midwife. A sweet woman who told her how much God loved her.

They became friends. The midwife took her to a country church. The girl started playing piano during weekly services. She married the skinny boy, he gave her two more girls.

They began a new life. It wasn’t much, but theirs was a happy house. She washed laundry in tin tubs. Her kids didn’t wear shoes unless company came over.

She hadn’t spoken to her parents in years. Her old friends quit calling. People can…

I once visited a Norman Rockwell exhibit. I drove to Birmingham to see it. I was first in line at the museum. The lady who took my ticket said, “Oh, you’re in for a real treat.” 

I love flea markets and antique stores. This is because I like old things for which there is no use.

Antique pocket knives, porcelain cowboy figurines, hundred-year-old snuff tins, arrowheads, and tin coffee pots.

I am holding one such coffee pot. A percolator just like this used to sit in my father’s garage workshop on an electric hot plate.

I had my first coffee from a tin pot. It tasted like ditch-water and aluminum. But it didn’t matter because in that garage my father and I talked about things.

Things like: fishing, batting stances, the proper way to clean fried chicken bones, and God.

“Is God real?” I once asked.

He smiled. “Have you ever seen a little sign from above? Something that just sticks out, and seems like it means something?”

I shrugged.

“Well I have,” he said. “I see’em everywhere, every single day. Once you start looking for them, you see all sorts of little things that prove there’s someone Upstairs.”

I miss his simple explanations.

At this flea market, I find a Norman Rockwell compilation book.

You probably won’t care about this, but as a boy I had this exact book. My father gave it to me.

My father handed it to me and said, “Old Norm sees the world in such a happy way. I think you’ll like old Norm.”

Norm.

After my father died, I cut out the pages of that book and tacked them to my bedroom walls. They were reminders of who my father used to be.

Over my bed hung the painting of a mother and son, saying grace at a crowded cafe table. It was right beside my all-time favorite painting: elderly musicians, playing music in a barbershop.

I once visited a Norman Rockwell exhibit. I drove to Birmingham to see it. I was first in line at the museum. The lady who took my ticket said, “Oh, you’re in for…

I hope you think about the simple things they gave us. A hamburger with pickles. Whittling. Will Rogers. Baseball games. Pajamas. Smacking ketchup bottles. Hank Williams music playing on kitchen radios. Childhood porches.

I hope you have a good day. The entire day. Start to finish. Not the Best Day Ever—that’s too much excitement crammed into twenty-four hours.

No. Just a plain-old, good day.

I hope you wake up to smells you love. Like: donuts, bacon, a fireplace, or halitosis from a kitty-litter-eating bloodhound.

I hope you have nothing pressing to do. No schedule. No appointments.

We do too much, you know. Long ago, our ancestors practiced the noble art of being worthless. A lot of folks won't do that anymore.

Today, I hope you’re as worthless as a waterproof dishrag.

I hope you remember your ancestors. Your grandparents, and their grandparents—even if you’ve never met them.

I hope you think about the simple things they gave us. A hamburger with pickles. Whittling. Will Rogers. Baseball games. Pajamas. Smacking ketchup bottles. Hank Williams music playing on kitchen radios. Childhood porches.

I hope you close your eyes and recall the best pieces of childhood. The days when you played hard, and the best games happened in backyards.

I hope your smartphone quits working—just

for a few hours. I hope the absence of a digital screen takes you outdoors. I hope you hear the sounds of the earth all at once.

I hope you sit for hours with nothing but a cold drink and your best ideas.

I hope you meet someone who inspires you. A kid who’s had kidney cancer. A girl who got pregnant too young, who just finished nursing school.

A woman who lost her husband to an overdose. A child whose daddy is in prison. A hillbilly who put himself through the GED course. A homeless woman, selling parched peanuts. An EMT. A school custodian. A lonesome grandmother. Anyone who’s adopted a child.

I hope you look at them and feel proud. After all, they are the only ones worth being proud about. People like them. People like you.

Heroes aren’t…

Jamie's Mother—“When Jamie was a girl, we’d shop for school clothes in Pensacola. She was such a tightwad, even back then, she only wanted clearance clothes. She also loves to eat.”

Today is my wife’s birthday. For her special day, I’ve gotten anyone I could find to say something about her.

Here’s what I have:

Her Mother—“When Jamie was a girl, we’d shop for school clothes in Pensacola. She was such a tightwad, even back then, she only wanted clearance clothes. She also loves to eat.”

John Finklea—“Once, when Jamie was a kid, we’s on a church youth trip, I loaded up the van and left town without her. Oh son, I felt so bad about that. Had to turn back around and get her.”

John Parker—“I'm not sure what I like most about Jamie, her absolute despisement for pretentiousness, or her humility and eagerness to help others—maybe it's the way she laughs. Whatever it is, I'm glad she's my friend.”

Katie Huelsbeck— “Jamie is an old soul, one of those people you connect with immediately and feel like you have known forever.”

Jamie’s Dentist—“That woman has a very sensitive gag-reflex.”

Shannon Lease— “Jamie is authentic and whip-smart. There’s a gentleness to her that’s close to the surface. Oh, and like my mother, she talks

faster than most people, which makes you pay close attention.”

Kelly Webb— “The girl with the biggest heart, loudest voice, tastiest cookin.”

Joni Boyd—“When I think of Jamie, I think of savoring slow food, the warmth of Southern hospitality, and conversations full of laughter and drawl that you never want to end.”

Kandi Reeves—“Jamie makes the best ‘nana pudding you ever had in your life.”

Waitress at Cracker Barrel—“You want a birthday quote from ME about someone I don’t even KNOW? Well, uh, she seems nice, I guess. I dunno, this is making me feel so frickin’ weird.”

Lanier Motes—“She made the best biscuits for my birthday—I won't even attempt to reciprocate. Also, I can speak from personal experience on her impressive Karaoke-duet abilities.”

Tonye Frith—“Jamie is a fast forever-friend that brings true joy to my…

So Joseph works hard for a meager living. Very hard. He barely makes enough. He comes home late each night, wearing muddy clothes. Sometimes he puts in overtime and sleeps in his truck.

The first thing you should know about Joseph is that he isn’t an optimist. In fact, he has no faith in this world.

And he has even less faith in people.

Losing your wife will do that to you. She died and left him with three kids. A small girl. A boy. And a twelve-year-old girl.

So Joseph works hard for a meager living. Very hard. He barely makes enough. He comes home late each night, wearing muddy clothes. Sometimes he puts in overtime and sleeps in his truck.

Joseph’s eldest daughter is half mother and half child. At night, she tucks her siblings into bed. She cooks. She helps with laundry.

At night, Joseph is in bed, thinking of how bad life is. Not only does he miss his wife, he misses the man he was when she was alive. She was taken too early.

How could anyone think this world a happy place when good women die so young?

And the hits keep coming

One day, he’s at his job. He’s exhausted from two night shifts in a row.

He makes a catastrophic mistake while operating the bulldozer. It costs the company big money. They fire him.

Later in the afternoon, he's sitting on his steps, face in hands, crying. His oldest daughter finds him, she sits beside him. She drapes her arm around his shoulders.

“What’s wrong, daddy?” she asks.

He doesn’t want to tell her. He doesn’t want her growing up hating life as much as he does. She’s been through enough.

“Nothing,” Joseph says. “I’ll be alright.”

The next day, he wanders through town, looking for work. He visits local businesses—hat in hand. He's practically begging for a job.

A full week of job hunting, no luck. Joseph is at his bitter end. It doesn’t take much for a man to lose confidence in this world. A few punches, that's all.

One Sunday, he takes…

We stared at police escorts. The blue lights in the distance were frightening and comforting at the same time. We looked out windows, plain-faced.

It’s overcast in Mississippi. I’m with my wife and my coonhound. We are on the wide porch of a vacation rental house.

This is the main road which cuts through town. There are sounds of kids laughing, playing. Easy traffic.

This is an old porch. The kind my father used to sit on. I can see him in my mind, shirtless, reading baseball box-scores. Or carving a pine stick.

My wife is asleep in a rocking chair. My dog snores beside me.

I see vehicles. Lots of them.

The first car is a police cruiser—blue lights flashing. Another cruiser follows. Then comes a slow-moving long black car—with curtains, and chrome fenders. It’s followed by the world’s longest line of cars. A million headlights.

The cars are flanked by a railroad crossing.

The train is running. The funeral procession comes to a halt at the flashing railroad-crossing lights.

There’s a man on the porch of the house next to me. He's within spitting distance from me.

“A funeral,” I hear him say to his wife.

They step off their porch together to stand in the

yard.

This is what we do.

A few other folks in nearby houses do the same. It seems like a good idea. My dog and I walk off our porch to stand by the mailbox.

Across the street, a woman in an apron holds hands with a little girl. An old man is in his driveway, holding a wrench. Watching. Kids stand beside bikes.

A few cars pull to the side of the road.

We've all stopped what we're doing.

And truth be told, I don’t even know why we do it. Of course it’s a gesture of respect. But why? Why respect a stranger we’ve never even met?

I guess it's just how we do things.

The string of cars is impressive. There are models of all kinds. Fords, Nissans, BMW’s, a few work trucks.…

Last night, I tried to scoot my dog’s ninety-pound body from my spot. After trying for ten minutes, I only managed to nudge her two inches. 

It’s that wonderful time of year when dog owners all across this nation pause and ask themselves, “Why am I sleeping on my own God forsaken sofa?”

Take me, for instance. This morning, I woke up on a couch with a stiff back and a TV remote lodged in a delicate region.

This is unfair. I'm a grown man. I shouldn’t be sleeping on a sofa when I have an expensive bed.

A bed which my coonhound, Ellie Mae, stole from me.

I remember the day I bought my bed at a mattress designer store. A salesman with a skinny mustache, who kept using the words “in-CREDIBLY affordable memory-foam” every few sentences, sold it to me.

We agreed on an incredibly affordable mattress-mortgage with zero down and one hundred forty-three percent interest; he delivered twelve hundred pounds of memory-foam to my doorstep.

But it was worth it. The mattress pamphlets explained that this product would eliminate back pain and leave me looking like the leading man from a Just For Men Shampoo commercial.

But when

the bed entered my home, I never got to use it. Ellie Mae leapt onto the mattress, walked in circles for eight minutes, collapsed, and has not moved in a decade.

This makes restorative sleep impossible. Because sleeping beside a restless coonhound is like sharing a sleeping bag with three Harlem Globetrotters.

When Ellie Mae hits deep sleep, she begins whimpering, twitching, flailing, and snoring. And there goes the night.

When you consider these facts together, a very frustrating question comes to my mind, as I’m sure it does to most non-dog owners: “What are three Harlem Globetrotters doing in a sleeping bag?”

Anyway, when a dog overtakes your mattress, it's for life. There’s nothing you can do about it.

Last night, I tried to scoot my dog’s ninety-pound body from my spot. After trying for ten minutes, I only managed to nudge her two…

I just met someone. An invisible someone. A man who—despite whatever his problems may be—isn't lost. A man who knows things. Who smokes used cigars. 

He sits on the steps of the Shell Station. A backpack beside him. His skin is rawhide. His beard is white.

His name is Buck. He’s from North Carolina. He fought in Korea, and completed two tours in Vietnam.

He’s not here begging, he’s resting his feet.

“My old feet hurt more’n they used to,” says Buck. “It’s a bitch getting old, buddy.”

There is a half-smoked cigar next to him. He dug it from an ashtray. It still has life in it, he says.

He’s sipping coffee.

“First cup’a Joe I had in a week,” he tells me. “Fella gave me a quarter, few minutes ago. Piled my coins together to buy me a cup.”

A quarter.

When Buck went inside to buy it, there were only cold dregs left. He asked the cashier if it were possible to brew a fresh pot. She told him to get lost.

So, he’s drinking dregs—for which he is grateful.

There are holes in his shoes. He found these sneakers in a sporting-good-store dumpster. Buck estimates he’s put nearly eight hundred miles on them.

His bloody toes poke through the

fronts. His middle toenail is missing.

Buck explains, “God say, ‘Don't worry what you’ll eat drink or wear.’ That's hard sometimes. Specially when you ain’t eaten.”

I walk inside the gas station on a mission. I ask the aforementioned cashier to brew a fresh pot of coffee—for me.

She smiles and says, “Sure, sweetie.”

Ain't she nice.

I buy a hot cup, an armful of snacks, and a pack of Swisher Unsweetened Mini-Cigars. I give them to Buck, and I tuck a bill into his hand. I wish I had something bigger, but I don't.

Buck starts crying.

And the truth is, I’m embarrassed to even be telling you this. Because this story isn’t about me—it’s about Buck.

“Did you know that I see God in you?” Buck tells me through glazed…

Her boyfriend didn’t stick around during pregnancy. She was forced to work. Her job was in a hotel laundromat. She was promoted to a maid last year.

Colatta is her name. She and I are in the elevator together. She is pushing a large cart of cleaning supplies and mini shampoos.

Colatta is short, black, cheery. She’s wearing scrubs. She is pure Alabama. She has an accent that won’t quit, and wears a War Eagle headband.

“Went to Auburn,” she says. “Wanted to be a vet, but didn’t even come close to finishing ‘cause I had my son.

"Man, I thought my life was over, it was just beginning.”

Her boyfriend didn’t stick around during pregnancy. She was forced to work. Her job was in a hotel laundromat. She was promoted to a maid last year.

“Have a good day,” she says to me, rolling her cart down a corridor.

“You, too,” I say.

“Me?” She laughs. “Already HAVING me a good day. I’m so blessed it ain’t funny.”

Colatta. I love that name.

Later that day, I drive two hours east. I stop at a cafe inside a gas station. It’s a hole-in-the-wall.

After eating, I pay at the register. The cashier is older, very skinny. She places a handheld vibrating box

to her throat to speak. Her voice is robotic.

She hands me a receipt. Then, she presses the device to her neck again and says: “Have a good day. Enjoy this nice weather.”

There is a gnarled scar beneath her jaw.

And she's wishing ME a nice day.

7:09 P.M.—I’ve driven all day. I’m eating in a locals-only beer joint. People in this room are looking at me funny. I’m an out-of-towner and they smell it.

There’s an old man with a service dog—a brown Lab named Hershey.

The man wears a ball cap with a battleship on it. He shows me a tattoo on his forearm which reads: “Albert, Daniel, Adam.”

“My three brothers,” he says. “Killed in Europe. I was too young for the Big War, they sent me to Korea.”

That’s…