This is an engagement party at the Cuthbert farm. There are country people here of every shape, accent, and denomination. Salt-of-the-earth people.
On the buffet line they have every home-cooked casserole you can imagine. Jugs of tea. Coolers of beer. Cheap wine. And a coonhound roaming free.
I recognize this hound. She came with me. And she’s supposed to be my date tonight.
The hound is following a boy who’s as tall as a longleaf pine. The boy is sixteen. Tallest thing at the party.
“Don’t know how he got so stinking tall,” says the boy’s daddy—a roofing man. “He was a normal-sized kid until last year. Then, BOOM. He was Michael Jordan.”
The kid is a baseball pitcher. He can pitch fastballs that shatter sound barriers.
“When he’s standing on that mound, he’s freaking awesome,” says old Dad.
I meet a forty-three-year-old woman, wearing a scarf around her bald head. She’s eating bacon-wrapped venison. The woman is on her last round of cancer treatment. She is aunt to the bride-to-be.
She says her disease was a blessing.
“A blessing?” I ask.
“People all came together for me. You can’t imagine the support these people give you when you’re sick.
“When this many people love on you, it makes you realize that life’s a gift.”
They tell me this woman might not make it.
I meet Miss Bonnie—mid-eighties. She has reddish-white hair and smells like Youth Dew.
She is a passionate little thing.
“Back in the day,” she says. “My girlfriends and I wanted to march with Doctor King, but my Daddy forbid it. Told me it was too dangerous.
“Daddy was a good man. He ended up driving three old country preachers and their wives all the way to Selma for the march.”
I meet a ten-year-old. His name is Jake. He’s a novice welder. He takes lessons from his father after school.
“He’s getting pretty good,” says his father. “We weld small things, simple projects.”
A mailbox. A headboard. Iron wind chimes.
Jake’s father is teaching his son to weld because good welders make better money than some folks with MBA’s.
“I know guys who want their sons going to top-notch colleges,” he says. “Welding’s kinda the same thing. Best gift I can give my son is teach him to make a good living.”
At the end of the night, my dog and I are walking to my truck. I am carrying several foil-covered plates they sent with me. My stomach is full.
I have spent three hours with the salt of this earth, and I feel better for it. There’s a hound beside me. She’s ready for bed.
I dig in my pocket for my keys. I catch a glimpse of a six-foot-seven teenager, pitching a fastball toward his daddy—who holds a bat.
They’re standing in the empty field, the sun is setting.
The woman with the scarf on her head is watching them. She’s bundled in blankets, sitting on a truck bumper. She applauds each pitch.
My God. I see it.
I see it, and it’s downright magnificent. I’m sorry I don’t stop and pay attention to it more often.
Life is a gift.
And people are beautiful.