Time went on. Peter got married. Daryl moved away. Daryl and Peter lost touch. Peter made a family. Earned his share of wrinkles.

"We were childhood friends," said Peter. "Daryl and me. From birth. Our mamas were best friends."

Peter—which is not his real name—has white hair, broad face, and hands like baseball mitts. I saw pictures of him as a young man. He looked like a defensive tackle. Only, his daddy kept him too busy in their auto garage for football.

“At first,” Peter said. “I loved working in that garage. Ever since I's a kid, I wanted to to do what Daddy did. But when you get older, you get tired of it.”

Before I go any further, I should tell you about Peter's childhood friend, Daryl. They were best friends. They did all the things rural Alabamian boys do. Catching lizards, climbing trees, playing in the river.


“When we got to seventh grade," said Peter. "I knew Daryl wasn't like us boys. He wasn't much for girls. I'm ashamed to tell you how mean other kids were to him. In high school, Daryl even tried to commit suicide.”

And, Daryl's daddy was even meaner—a hunter,

and fisherman. He was hard on Daryl, angry that his only son didn't appreciate camouflage, or pin-up calendars.

But Peter didn't give a dime how different his best friend was.

Peter said, “Minute I heard someone call Daryl the F-word, I kicked their ass. I whooped a lotta loudmouths on Daryl's behalf. I loved him like my brother."

Time went on. Peter got married. Daryl moved away. Daryl and Peter lost touch. Peter made a family. Earned his share of wrinkles.

No one ever heard from Daryl.

And then, one July Sunday, when everyone was at church, Peter was alone in the auto garage. He laid beneath a 1960 Ford Falcon. It was routine maintenance. He could do this kind of thing in his sleep. The vehicle sat suspended, on a bottle jack.

He slid beneath the car.

The jack slipped.

The car fell.

If you have enough guts, you can visit a crowded place and ask people how they feel about the idea of supreme beings. Your old journalism professor will hate you. You'll get odd looks, too.

“If you wanna be a dummy, write about God.” That's what my journalism 101 professor said. He was a short squatty man who smoked too many cigars, and smelled like cats.

“A journalist's job” he went on, “is to REPORT, not speculate.”

Thank God I ain't no journalist.

Thomas, age 5: “I think God's really, like, nice, and makes people, do stuff to each others. And he gives you stuff. Lots and lots!"

Joey, 10: “I don't know, God's maybe, a big thing, who just kinda, makes everything happen. Like the world turning and stuff.”

Lisa, 39: “My dad's a Latin teacher. The word God

comes from the same Latin word meaning, 'good.' So, I think God's, basically, kind of, goodness.”

Phillip, 20: “I don't know if I believe in God or not. I mean, look at all the bad in the world. It's nuts. I don't know, man. I'm sorry.”

Catherine, 48: “I see all the $#!& in the news, it makes me sick to my stomach. If there's a God, where is he? And what's he doing while all this is happening?”

Chuck, 85: “Men my age say, 'there ain't no such thing as atheists in foxholes.'…

Her daughter shakes her head. “I just don't know how she does it. I wish I could cook like that.”

I counted the number of white-hairs in the little fellowship hall, then counted the number of plastic-covered dishes.

If I had to guess, I'd say heaven will be a long buffet line. I can't think of anything more fitting for the afterlife than a Wednesday night potluck. Especially something like the one I ate at last week.

I counted the number of white-hairs in the little fellowship hall, then counted the number of plastic-covered dishes.

Same number.

These church ladies have every virtue known to mankind. They slave in the kitchen selflessly, show patience, dedication, and they do not know how to tell a lie. Maybe I'm overdoing it. But I don't think so.

Take, for instance, Verna. She's got white hair. But don't let that fool

you. She can outcook any young woman in the church something fierce.

Her fried chicken is well-known around the region. The man in line ahead of me almost made a gold brick in his pants over this chicken. But that's nothing compared to Verna's creamed corn—which is above description. And her biscuits.

Jesus help me.

Her children have tried to duplicate her biscuits. They can't do it. Her daughter tells me she once followed her mother's recipe—let the dough sour, and used real lard—but she still couldn't seem to make them…

My friend was long past crying about it, and I knew exactly how that felt. My father had passed two years earlier. There comes a moment when you've wept as much as you ever will. Anything after that is just for show.

Now this is a pretty night. Not at all like a normal one. This is the kind you can only see when you're standing in the middle of nowhere.

I've seen folks raised in the city stand on fifty acres and say, “Lord, I had no idea there were THAT many stars up there.”

There are.

I remember hiking along the pond bank with my friend. His father died when a piece of sheetmetal cut open his leg. He bled to death and left three kids behind.

My friend was long past crying about it, and I knew exactly how that felt. My father had passed two years earlier. There comes a moment when you've wept as much as you ever will. Anything after that is just for show.

Anyway, that night, we were supposed to be doing boy things. Gigging frogs, wearing our headlamps, chatting about girls, sneaking beer from the fridge. We did nothing of the sort.

In fact, we hardly spoke. Neither of us felt much like talking about childish things.

I waited for

my pal to speak, but he just flipped off his headlamp and watched the sky. So, we stood there in the dark. And that's when we saw it. It shot from one end of the sky to the other. It moved so fast it looked like a long white streak.

“You see that?” he asked.

I did.

As it happens, it was the first shooting star I ever saw. Daddy told me about them, that if you wished on one, you'd get what you asked for. But since I'd never seen one, I didn't make a wish.

My friend did.

“What'd you wish?” I asked.

His face got serious.“Something for you."


"Yeah. I wished all the folks in the world, who're like you and me, wouldn't feel sad no more."

I didn't have the heart to tell him that it doesn't work…

She's hell with a quilt. She gives them as gifts. We've never been able to talk her into selling them. But I do not believe a single newborn within ten-miles of her has ever gone quiltless.

She produced so much child-sized cowboy finery, she learned to do it without patterns.

My wife cleaned out our closet. On the top shelf, she found an old pair of cowboy chaps. Next to it: a faded quilt which I retired many years ago. Once, the quilt was dark brown and forest green. Now it's khaki and celery-colored.

I smelled it and took in a lungful of dust. I remember when Mama made it for me, and how long it took her.

As a girl, she made her own clothes. She'd walk into town, peek into the Weaver's shop window, then go home, fire up the sewing machine, and duplicate them.

During my own childhood, half my wardrobe was handmade. A lot of my closet was Western wear. She'd use discarded bolts of fabric to make costumes which would become legendary in three counties.

She produced so much child-sized cowboy finery, she learned to do it without patterns. She could close her eyes and whip up a pair of wooly chaps (snap) just like that.

But it was more than this. She did nearly

anything she thought would make me happy. Namely: biscuits. After working two back-to-back shifts, she'd get home in the wee hours, smelling like commercial disinfectant. She'd cook the biggest breakfast you ever saw and watch me eat myself sick.

Then, after doing dishes, she'd fall facefirst onto the bed and sleep straight through supper.

But her sewing. The woman has sewn everything for everybody. She's taken in tuxes, let out dresses, made denim quilts from blue jeans, and even made Barbie clothes. She's rescued wedding dresses from ruin, and sewn the split crotch of an eighty-year-old Baptist minister's trousers.

While he wore them.

Throughout my life, she's altered millions of my slacks—since God made my legs too long. When I hit college, she mended my scuffed work clothes, knitted hats to keep me warm, and even darned my socks. When I got married, she upholstered chairs, beds, sofas, pillows, and…

I've sat in Bryant-Denny stadium and gone deaf. I've visited nursing homes and heard stories from the elderly—who know exponentially more than I do. I've laid good dogs in the dirt...

Obnoxious loud-talkers who sit at bars, rank right up there with dogs who lift their legs on your welcome mat.

Take, for instance, the fella at the bar beside me. He launched into a well-rehearsed speech about his world travels. First, the Alps. Then, Belgium, France, Italy, South Africa, Timbuktu.

By then, people at the bar had cleared out.

He asked me, “You done much traveling?”

I shook my head and said, "No, but I've woken up in a cattle pasture."

Loud-Talker rolled his eyes. “See?” he went on. “Now THAT'S your problem. You can't find your true-self unless you TRAVEL!”

So, I paid my tab and traveled my true-self


The truth is, I've never owned a passport, never stepped foot in Canada, and the closest I've come to self-discovery was South Texas in July, where I saw a real mirage.

I'm uninteresting on paper. I concede. But I regret nothing.

My life hasn't been bad. After all, I've known exceptional people. Like my friend who I'll call, Alan. Alan has no face. Nothing but eyes and pink flesh. This happened when he woke up in a burning mobile home. Pieces of the smoldering ceiling fell on his face…

I'm writing to the haves and have-nots. To the waitress in Waffle House who rushed her mother into the hospital last week, but was too late. Heart attack. The girl took out a loan to pay for the funeral.

I'm writing to the man I saw muscling his child into a carseat in the parking lot. His boy must've been eleven or twelve, but wasn't able to walk. The man lifted him from a wheelchair and buckled him in. The boy drooled all over the man's shirt.

When the man finished, he kissed his son and said, "How about some Ben and Jerry's?" To which the boy commenced to pitching an ever-loving fit.

The good kind of fit.

I'm also writing to the employee standing in front of Piggly Wiggly, her face in her hands. I have no idea what she's crying about, but it must've been important enough to clock out for it.

To the drunk man in the gas station, hollering at the clerk. The police officer showed up to manage the situation. The drunk fella started crying, “My wife, she's run off with my BEST FRIEND! What're my kids gonna do?”

The officer hugged the gentleman.

To the girl who doesn't like her body. The boy who

wishes he were an athlete, but doesn't have the coordination to keep cheese on a cracker.

To the woman whose husband left her with four children. To the kids in the airport, who wear matching yellow T-shirts that read: “Future Farmers of America.” These kids are on their way to Omaha to learn about breakthroughs in animal husbandry. Rena is very excited about this. So is Ted.

Billy told me he doesn't give two flocks about it.

I'm writing to the haves and have-nots. To the waitress in Waffle House who rushed her mother into the hospital last week, but was too late. Heart attack. The girl took out a loan to pay for the funeral.

To my pal, Jake, who had back surgery. To my friend who got wronged by the Methodist church which employed him. To the man on the side of the road, loading a dog…

You feel lucky to have ridden that stupid, god-forsaken, miserable, gas-guzzling, misfiring, ugly, rusted, old, leaky, loud, tractor. Lucky.

I'm watching a boy drive a John Deere, in the distance. At least, I think it's a boy, he's too far away to tell.

I know this kid. I can't see him, but I know what kind of clothes he's wearing, I know how he talks—he uses words like, "ain't," too often. And he gets up early.

I once overheard some folks speculate on why the rural-minded start work so early. One person thought it was to avoid the heat. Another suggested that the Bible commands it.

But if you ask anyone I grew up with, they'd tell you it's because their fathers made them. And these early risers are the kind who say the word, "ain't," too often.

It might go like this:

Before the stars have disappeared, you're still half-asleep, wearing work boots, and you are not a happy customer. It's dark. And since you're too young for coffee, you get lukewarm Coca-Cola.

The barn stinks. The tractor is louder than the Second Coming. And even though you're not old enough

to have a learner's permit, you steer this Ford Model 2N, built during World War Two, until your hindparts go numb.

You watch the morning sky change from purple, to gray, to rose-colored. Then: full sunlight.

The engine makes you deaf. You couldn't hear your own ideas if you had any. You pay attention to the rows you're cutting. Whenever you veer off-line, you cuss yourself.

You look backward at your house. It never occurs to you that one day they'll sell this place. Or that the new owners will let the surrounding fields go to weed.

Then, you grow up, move away. You spend a lot of energy convincing people you aren't a dumb hick—cleaning up the way you talk. You quit saying, “ain't,” and stop slicing the cuffs of your jeans with pocketknives.

It works for a while. You convince yourself you've forgotten that life.…

Five-year-old Miles decided to do something. He donated vitamins and supplements to a local food bank. Other people joined him—so did one health food store.

Mount Pleasant, South Carolina—Jeff found a wiry haired dog. He was blind, deaf, and nosing around behind a Hardee's dumpster. After Jeff took the little fella home, he bathed him, clipped the knots from his fur, and fed him ground beef with melted cheese on top.

Lucky dog.

Later that night, the dog curled up on Jeff's lap while he watched television. Jeff said, “I must've pet that little guy for three solid hours. I didn't even get up to use the bathroom, didn't wanna wake him.”

When Jeff finally got up for bed, the dog's eyes had already rolled back into its head.

“I cried,” said Jeff. “Almost like

I'd owned him my whole life. I'm just glad his last day was a good one.”

Chamblee, Georgia—if you ever see a '77 Oldsmobile that looks like it's two steps from the junkyard, complete with duct-taped interior, it's Rick's car.

“I got this Olds' when I graduated,” said Rick. “They last forever.”

A few years ago, Rick started offering the beater to people who needed help. If they wanted to borrow the car, all they had to do was sign up on a list.

“You know,” said Rick. “Lotta of…

Beautiful. It was an understatement. I'd never seen anything more breathtaking in all my life. Not even a sunrise.

“Hurry up!” Miss June said. “It's happening!”

I came running toward the porch as fast as my chubby seven-year-old legs would take me. “I'll protect you, miss!” I shouted, holding on to my cowboy hat, waving my pistol.

“You don't need to protect me,” she said. “Just hurry, we don't wanna be late!”

I sat in the front seat of Miss June's Cadillac—no seat-belts—staring out the window, my Smith and Wesson holstered around my waist. On my chest: a gold star.

These were the days before iPhone games and juice boxes. If I wasn't wearing a cowboy hat and packing a six-shooter, I was rescuing a maiden from peril, shouting, “I'll

protect you, miss!”

Which is what cowboys do.

Anyway, folks my age might not be as technologically brilliant as today's youth, but we did know how to play dead whenever someone shot us. Which must count for something.

The hospital was a sterile-smelling place. When I walked into the delivery room, I met the smallest thing I'd ever seen—except for frogs. Once, I'd shoved nearly four bullfrogs into my pockets. And then, while sprinting toward the house at top speed, I tripped and fell.

Only one frog survived.