And, God said, “Let there be kudzu.” I love kudzu. I planted some in my backyard in hopes that one day it would swallow my house. Everything looks better swallowed in kudzu.

Entering Conecuh County. That’s what the little green sign reads, off Highway 31. I’m going north, passing through a small sliver of the county. I love Alabama.

A few weeks ago, I was driving to Birmingham, I listened to an audio book. The narrator spoke with an accent like a New Jersey paperboy. He pronounced Conecuh as “Koh-NEE-koo.”

That hurt.

Now entering Butler County. Wingard’s Produce Stand. B&H Cafe. Dollar General. There’s the McKenzie water tower.

And, God said, “Let there be kudzu.” I love kudzu. I planted some in my backyard in hopes that one day it would swallow my house. Everything looks better swallowed in kudzu.

Georgiana is eight miles away. I love it, too. I’ve visited the Hank Williams boyhood home in Georgiana too many times.

Anyone who knows me knows I love Hank. It goes back to childhood.

My father’s workbench. A radio. Hank, blaring from a small speaker while he changed the oil.

My favorite part of the Hank museum tour is the underside of the house. Miss Margaret says Hank used to practice his guitar

there.

“It was cool down there,” says Miss Margaret. “He’d sit on an old car bench-seat to avoid the heat.”

Miss Margaret. I love her, too. She is old. Half her face is paralyzed. Her accent sounds like a Camellia garden on the Fourth of July. I wish she would adopt me.

Georgiana also has Kendall’s Barbecue joint. “Love” is a weak word for Kendall’s. I WOULD tell you more about this place, but someone wrote me an ugly letter last week, saying:

“You talk about Kendall’s TOO MUCH! I'm from Texas originally… I KNOW good barbecue, Alabama barbecue SUCKS, man!”

I understand Texas is beautiful this time of year. I’ll bet they’d throw a nice party if you went back.

I’m passing the Greenville and Pine Apple exit. Greenville is a town like Mayberry. I love it. Pine…

It was a grand affair, with steak for supper. There was singing, joyous voices in the den, card games. The kid’s mother made a cake. The room went black, the candles were lit.

He was just a kid. Not an adult. And even though he’s a man now, even though he has a family, he’ll always be a kid when he tells this story. I can see it on his face.

The kid had a father—a man who was forty-one. Tall. Handsome.

That Sunday, the kid’s family threw his father a birthday party. It was a grand affair, with steak for supper.

There was singing, joyous voices, card games. The kid’s mother made a cake with blue icing. The room went black, the candles were lit. He took one breath and blew them out.

Monday was sunny. The kid’s father loved yard work. He lived for it. So, by God, they did plenty. The kid mowed near the barn. His father changed a belt on the tractor.

Tuesday, the kid’s father came home late from work. A blue collar man, he put in long hours. Overtime. Then worked more.

The kid noticed his father’s face had changed. Something behind the eyes. The

kid will never forget this. How can a kid know a father his whole life—really know him—but not know him? How?

But then, he was just a kid.

There was a fight. A big one. The kid says he remembers how bad it was.

His father’s mind was not working normally. His mother pleaded. The father screamed things that weren’t making sense. The forty-one-year-old tossed furniture against walls. Spit frothed at the corners of his father’s mouth.

The kid tells me he does not want to talk about this anymore. Because after all, this was not the kid’s father. This was a sickness.

The kid’s baby sister was terrified. She buried herself in the folds of the kid’s clothes. The man they called “Daddy” lost his mind.

There are too many things that happened on that night. Far too many.…

Long ago, we had men who raced to the door to prove that their mothers had raised them right. They were men who wouldn’t use a four-letter word in the presence of long eyelashes, not even if you threatened them with soap operas.

I’m at the bank. I’m standing in a line that is one hundred miles long. I’m in the rear. The line is not moving.

I would rather have open heart surgery administered by Howdy Doody than wait in line.

Through the doors, I see a woman, walking across the parking lot. I’m trotting toward the door to open it for her.

This is because I was raised by women. Polite behavior was beaten into me with hairbrushes and unabridged King James Bibles. I believe in opening doors for anyone you’d refer to as ma’am, miss, or Mama.

But someone beats me to the door.

A boy in line. He is twelve, thirteen maybe. He’s here with his mother. He swings it open.

“Thank you,” the woman says, grinning.

Two more women are strolling through the parking lot. The boy flies into action. He opens the door.

They thank him. They even call him “sir.”

He likes this.

Here comes another. She’s waltzing toward the door, talking on her phone. You ought to see the surprise on her face when the kid pulls the Open Sesame trick.

She giggles. “Aren’t you sweet?”

Yes, he is.

And I remember a time when most men were. “Gentleman,” my granddaddy would’ve called them. “Polite,” Mama would’ve called it.

I call it being considerate. And I believe in it.

Long ago, we had men who raced to the door to prove that their mothers had raised them right. They were men who wouldn’t use a four-letter word in the presence of long eyelashes, not even if you threatened them with soap operas.

But those days are evaporating. And I don’t like saying it, but the world has changed.

Even so, some of us still remember our Mama, reminding us to treat every girl, woman, and granny better than the Queen of England.

I asked the boy’s mother how her son became such a knight in…

The problem for me was, of course, my mother believed in the Gospel According to Khakis. She ironed my slacks with so much starch the creases could slice cantaloupes.

DEAR SEAN:

How do I get a girl to like me? I am a 7th-grader who goes to (blank) Middle School and I really want her to think I am cool even though I’m not one of the cool kids… I am a little chunky, but I’m really nice.

Please write me back with advice,
UNCOOL-IN-THE-7TH-GRADE

DEAR UNCOOL:

Let’s take a look at “coolness.” First, when I was your age, coolness was dependent upon a surprisingly short list of criteria.

1. Did the child in question own, or have sufficient access to, and was thereby able to use at will, without administrative or parental restriction, a Sony Walkman radio?

Secondly: Did this kid wear dorky khaki pants?

It was that easy.

The problem for me was, of course, my mother believed in the Gospel According to Khakis. She ironed my slacks with so much starch the creases could slice cantaloupes.

Thus, while other kids wore blue jeans, I wore khakis that had been—and this is very hard for me to say—purchased from

Sears.

AND…

These were not just pants. They were “Husky” pants. You might not know what that is. They were pants designed for boys who loved church potlucks.

I looked like a khaki-colored Butterball ham.

So anyway, there was this girl. Her name was—never mind, it doesn’t matter. I thought she was wonderful. She was one of the “cool” kids. I wanted her to notice me.

More importantly, I wanted her to notice me AT THE ROLLER RINK.

Now, I know what a kid from your generation might be thinking: “What’s a roller rink?”

I’m glad you asked. Long ago, after the dawn of the electric lightbulb, we had big buildings that were dimly lit and smelled like body odor. We would skate for hours to such unforgettable hits like: “Do the Hustle,” “Love Train,” and “Tico Tico.”…

The Bible is red, cracked, and old. Remember? It was originally Mama’s Bible from her teenage years. She gave it to you when she bought a new one.

I wanted to be the first to wish you a happy birthday today. I hope you’re doing well. Life is pretty good down here. Things have been going great.

And hey. You know what? I’m going fishing today, in your honor. I thought you’d get a kick out of that. If I catch something, I’m going to throw it back. That way people won’t mistake me for a good fisherman. We don’t want that.

It’s too bad we can’t get together and catch up. That would be fun. I think you would like the adult me. I think I’m a nice guy.

Let’s see, what else? I live a simple life. I have a small spot in the woods, a workshed, a bass boat that has seen better days.

And, I have a little office for writing. In fact, that’s where I’m writing now. In my office camper.

The camper is a ‘52 Yellowstone. It was cheap, and ugly as homemade soap. I spent a year gutting her and

fixing her up. It’s still ugly. But it’s mine.

Inside I have a desk, a kitchenette, a bed, a small shower, several books, a few mounted bass, knick-knacks on shelves.

I also have several of your things, situated near my desk.

I am looking at your barometer, for instance, which used to sit on your garage workbench. I have a Hank Williams record, an old watch, your baseball bat, your Bible.

The Bible is red, cracked, and old. Remember? It was originally Mama’s Bible from her teenage years. She gave it to you when she bought a new one.

There are highlighted verses, dog-eared pages, and notes in the back. The notes are yours. They date back to God-knows when.

I remember when you’d sit in church. I can still see you, dressed in your pressed clothes. You’d doodle on…

I’m here early, before the first pitch. I came to this ballpark because rumor has it that this is where God lives.

Montgomery—it’s a quiet evening. I’m at Riverwalk Stadium, the sun is already low. The sky is pink. This is nice baseball weather.

I’m here early, before the first pitch. I came to this ballpark because rumor has it that this is where God lives.

I’m not joking. They tell me He hangs out over in section 105 sometimes. They say He’s a committed fan who attends every Biscuits game. And he’s seen the Major League greats come through this Minor League park. David Price, Jonny Gomes, B.J. Upton, and Evan Longoria.

You can’t see Him, they tell me, but He sits in row 2, right behind the third-base line.

“Where you wanna sit?” the ticket clerk asks me.

“Section one-oh-five,” I tell her.

“You know there ain’t no net over there.”

“Yeah, I know.”

I pay her. I enter the stadium. There is organ music playing overhead—sort of like church.

The first man I meet is old. He uses a walker and shuffles toward the hotdog vendor. On the

back of his jacket are military patches. Special Forces badges, Army badges, a badge representing the Purple Heart. He is something to see.

I order the same thing he does. Our onions hiss on the hot steel. The server places dogs in buns. I dress mine with too much mustard and kraut—the way my father taught me.

The ball players are warming up on the grass. They touch toes, twist backs, roll shoulders, loosen neck muscles.

I take my seat.

Section 105 is nearly empty. I’m looking for signs of the rumored Big Man Himself—long white beard, sandals, shepherd’s crook. After all, I’m a writer. A writer’s job is to chase down rumors.

There’s the first pitch.

The smack of the catcher’s mitt is so loud it makes my hand sting.

This sound brings back every…

Even though he had no proverbial pot to tinkle in, he had the whole world. He had a transistor radio, a burger, and a smile.

A few years ago, I had a very bad day. Very bad.

It doesn’t matter how it happened, but I’d lost my wallet. Inside the wallet was a lot of money. More money than I usually carry. It was a crummy day if ever there was one.

And because I am human, it made me feel despondent. When I get despondent I need saturated fat.

That afternoon, I stopped at a fast-food joint for a burger. I saw a man outside the eatery. He had a large duffel bag and stringy hair. He was young, but he looked old.

Around his neck, a miniature transistor radio was blasting music. In his hand was a foil-wrapped burger. In his other hand was a turtle.

I asked if he needed help.

He answered: “Nah, we’re just looking for a place in the shade. It’s hot out.”

“Why not eat inside the dining room?” I asked.

“Don’t think they want guys like me inside. I’d scare people away.”

Well, he

didn’t scare me. We talked in the parking lot. He ate.

“I’m a lucky man,” he said with a mouthful. “The whole world’s my home, dude. I go wherever I want.”

My new friend was happy and upbeat. He did odd jobs when he needed money. In Columbus, for instance, he helped an elderly woman enclose her porch. He built a fence for an eighty-year-old man in town. He’d slept in the man’s guest bedroom for a few days.

“I can’t be indoors very long,” he said. “Makes me all weird.”

He told some of his story. His father abused him. His family kicked him out long ago. He said he’d been homeless, off and on, since his twenties.

“My mom wanted me to be a preacher,” he went on. “She wanted me to do something big with my life, but…

Thus, my future-wife and I arrived at the fellowship hall each week to participate in courses that prepared us for cohabitation.

Before we got married, my wife and I had to take a mandatory church marriage class. The Baptist church would not marry anyone without it.

The idea was: after eight weeks of rigorous marriage training, couples would receive an official certificate, trimmed in gold, with their names on it.

And this certificate would prove to the world, without a doubt, that couples were spiritually prepared to stand at an altar and combine health insurance policies.

Keep in mind, this certificate wasn’t a “marriage license.” This was a “Baptist pre-marriage class certificate,” from the back of the “official Baptist marriage workbook,” purchased for $24.99.

Within the Baptist tradition, you see, you can’t do anything without first obtaining a certificate and unanimous committee approval. Even Sunday greeters are required to attend a four-week class that teaches them to properly say: “Here’s your bulletin, sir.”

Thus, my future-wife and I arrived at the fellowship hall each week to participate in courses that prepared us for cohabitation.

These courses

featured many important games which the workbook termed “marital building exercises.” Many of which were developed by professional marriage book authors—some of whom had been married to the same person for as long as three to four years.

One such exercise was the “Egg Test.”

In this game, the future-bride (Jamie) balances an egg on a spoon clenched between her teeth. She wears a blindfold and walks across a room.

The future-husband (me) stands on the opposite side of the room (over by the piano). He uses ONLY his words to guide his future-wife through an obstacle course made up entirely of folding chairs which represent the confusing Maze of Life.

On the chairs are Post-It notes, labeled with various day-to-day marriage problems like: “car trouble,” “bills,” “career,” “children,” “chapter 11 bankruptcy,” “sharing the covers.”

In this exercise, the woman stumbles over chairs, spoon held in her…

Said my friend Louis: “I like cats better than dogs. Dogs don’t judge you, or hold things against you. A guy can be a real jerk and still be a dog guy. But if you’re not nice to a cat, he’ll burn your house down while you sleep.”

“Don’t kiss a girl without being prepared to give her your last name.”

My granny said that.

My father once said this: “If you so much as touch a cigarette, you might as well tear up half your paychecks from now on.”

My mother’s axiom, however, is my all-time favorite: “It’ll be be okay.”

It might sound like a simple phrase, but my mother said this often. Whenever things were running off the rails. Whenever a girl broke my heart. Whenever I lost my job. Whenever I cried.

Whenever I had a common cold I believed to actually be, in fact, tuberculosis. She said this—I needed her to say it.

She also said: “Cleaning your plate means ‘I love you, Mama.’”

And this is why I was an overweight child.

I could keep going all day.

“Don’t answer the phone when you got company over,” my Uncle John once said. “It’s just flat rude.”

This one is from my elderly friend, Mister Boots: “Smartphones have made stupid people.”

My grandfather said: “Anything worth doing is worth waiting until next week to do it.”

My mother once said: “Carry

deodorant in your truck, for crying out loud. You smell like you’ve been roping billy goats.”

Said the man named Bill Bonners, in a nursing home, from his wheelchair: “I never wanted to be a husband, I really didn’t want that. But I just couldn’t breathe without her around me.”

He died four days after his wife passed.

And one childhood evening, I was on a porch with my friend’s father, Mister Allen James—who was whittling a stick—and he said:

“Boys, if you marry ‘up,’ you’ll have to attend a lotta parties you don’t wanna go to. Remember that.”

I never forgot it.

On the day of my father’s funeral, a preacher came through the visitation line and said: “No man ever truly dies. Not really.”

I’ve said this at a few…

I washed the dogs with a hose. My wife sprayed me with a hose. We ate cornbread and pinto beans for supper. We played cards.

I left a funeral. I was driving through the North Florida rain. My dogs were in the seat behind me.

It was a monsoon on the highway. I’m talking puddles the size of Lake Gertrude. Raindrops the size of Coke bottles.

Cars ahead had hazards flashing. Traffic was crawling. I held the wheel with both hands. A man in a truck sped around my vehicle. He almost amputated my side mirror.

The man’s tires kicked up a waterfall. I almost lost control. I couldn’t see. Horns honked. Tires squealed. I pulled onto the shoulder. I was rattled.

I loosened my necktie.

I don’t often wear neckties. But my mother would rather have her toenails removed with tongs than discover her son attended a funeral with an open collar.

My hands were shaking. My stomach was sick. I was lucky to be alive.

I spotted a dirt road ahead—off the main highway. A small pathway, running into the woods. Against my better judgement I took the forest road.

It ran me through the acres of pines, over bumps and rocks.

There were deep ruts in the road. Ruts which had turned into miniature rivers of orange mud.

Thelma Lou (bloodhound) and Otis (alleged Labrador) sat at attention. They are like most dogs; they are connoisseurs of mud.

The desolate roads were unmarked, and I was in no hurry to get back on the highway. So I drove. And drove.

And it hit me: this was fun.

Furthermore, this was high-quality mud. Not that thin stuff that passes for mud on TV. This stuff was top shelf. I started smiling more than a grown man ought to.

That’s when I stumbled upon it. The Mother of All Mud Holes.

It was an empty lot, pristine mud, without tire tracks or obstacles. Only flat, sprawling soup. It called to me.

Thelma howled—which is dog-language for, “Do it, Daddy-O! Do it!” It is a…