Yeah, well, I am blessed. Not because of what I own, but because of where I am. This country is part of me. It's where my great grandparents were born. Where I was baptized.

Once, I saw an old man stumble on the curb. It happened outside a Mexican restaurant. He fell hard and cut himself. A waitress ran to help. He was bleeding on the pavement.

"First-aid kit!" she yelled.

He had a gash. She stitched him up with a needle and thread.

"Where'd you learn to do that?" the man asked.

"I was an Army medic," she said. "Used to practice on tomatoes all the time."

When she finished, he embraced her and got blood all over her shirt. He cried. She didn't.

Army girls.

Listen, I don't care how many election signs pepper the landscape. I don't care how many horrid disagreements there are. I love this country. Every bit of it. The good, the bad, and the Army medics.

I also love single mothers. The young man who unloads trucks at Winn Dixie. The woman standing outside the hair salon, smoking. The kids holding bake-sales for breast cancer. And anyone strong enough to go down swinging.

Tracy—who got out of jail a few weeks ago. She saw her

kids for the first time in two long years.

Arnold, my pal who left his fancy marketing job to drive a semi. His wife goes with him. He sent me postcards from the Grand Canyon. They just found out his wife is pregnant.

I like Pat, who wants to be a welding teacher. The supermarket employee with Downs syndrome who told me, “You have a colorful face, sir.”

Nobody's ever told me that before.

I like Roger—wounded Afghanistan veteran with mangled hands. Who said, “My therapist says I need to start living my life. So, I'm learning guitar."

You beat all, Roger.

I love Minette, whose husband is in critical condition. I love the South American woman who dug through her purse for exact change.

I love the man who paid for my lunch. I don't know him, but he told me…

One day, a man in town stopped by the restaurant. She was on shift. He was taken with her. He tipped two fifty-dollar bills, leaving them under his plate.

His biological father beat his mother. But after eight years of busted cheekbones, she hit the road. In the middle of the night, she and her four kids left.

It took two days to drive from Tennessee to Alabama.

"Mama was from the old world," he said. "Didn't even know how to drive. So I drove the whole way."

He was thirteen. He sat atop suitcases and pressed the pedal with his tip-toes. When his younger siblings got fidgety, he pulled over so everyone could make water.

It was a new town. They were foreigners. They moved into a drafty farmhouse with cheap rent. She took a waitress job. He worked at a hardware store after school.

Once, he remembers not having enough to pay the power bill. They went without lightbulbs for six months. If you've ever wanted to hear about hard living, he's your man.

"Folks didn't like Mama," he goes on. "Especially other women. It was a different time. In a small town, a single pretty girl, with kids... People talked about her."


day, a man in town stopped by the restaurant. She was on shift. He was taken with her. He tipped two fifty-dollar bills, leaving them under his plate.

When she saw the money her temper flared. She stormed over to his house to give it back.

“I don't need no charity from nobody,” she insisted.

Skull of iron, that woman.

So, the man offered to pay her to clean his house on Saturdays. It made good sense. He was a bachelor, she'd been skipping suppers to save on groceries. She accepted.

He overpaid.

They became friends. One thing led to another. He asked her out to movies, picnics, church socials, lunch dates. People gossiped—said they were mismatched. Maybe they were.

Then it happened. The man didn't get down on his knee to ask—after all, they weren't kids anymore. She said yes.

"Mama went…

...we just elected the President. It was an ugly campaign. Both groups played dirty pool.

I'm watching the election results. The red and blue states look like a weather map—only more patriotic. The man on television points to the Southeast. He places his hand on top my house. He calls this the Bible Belt.

We're famous.

I guess he's right. When I was six, the preacher patted me on the back, saying, “Congratulations, son, you're born again.”

To celebrate, Mama took me out for ice cream. I ordered three scoops of vanilla with crushed peanuts. I went down for salvation the next three Sundays in a row.

My people have lived in The 'Belt a long damn time. We're feisty. And we share a particular fondness for certain man whose name we write on billboards, bumper stickers, neon signs, and barns.

But he's no politician.

Folks even use his name in fistfights. Once I saw a fight in a beer-joint. A fella landed his fist on the jaw of a young man. The kid went down like a sack of yams.

The boy crawled onto his feet. With a mouthful of blood,

he quoted the Red Words. Then, he offered the other side of his face.

The other man glared. Then he started crying.

So did I.

In rural Alabama, I once attended a revival service. It was a place where folks handled snakes. I didn't think places like that existed. They do.

A twelve-year-old yanked a snake out of an aquarium and held it. I nearly soaked my britches.

A woman beside me said, "Relax, honey. It ain't got poison fangs no more. Besides, God's bigger than snakes."


Just a few months ago, I attended the funeral of a friend. He was a hospital chaplain. Within his thirty-year career, he'd held thousands of dying hands.

A young girl cried over his open casket. She placed a leather-bound book inside. I introduced myself.

She was an ex-drug-addict. She'd almost died once. He'd sat beside…

“I moved to the beach to relax,” she said. “But I don't get to. Too busy working."

She took my vitals in the exam room. She was in her sixties. Rough skin, a laugh that sounded like unfiltered Camels.

She unstrapped my Velcro cuff and said my blood pressure was good.

Then she high-fived me.

“So," she said. "You got foot problems, huh? I got bad feet, too. You must work long hours."

Not really.

I've been lucky. Men like my daddy worked long hours. My grandfather: self-flagellated.

She's a lot like them. She's worked since she age ten. At this stage, she's supposed to be enjoying the easy life. It's not working out.

“I moved to the beach to relax,” she said. “But I don't get to. Too busy working."

Her daughter is in her mid-twenties. She was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. It made her slow. If that's not enough, the girl also has heart trouble—undergoing open heart surgery twice. She is also half deaf.

Life hasn't exactly been hopscotch.

“I've prayed a lot," she said, "When she was a baby, I'd say, 'God, if you want Rachel to live,

she will.' He must've known I needed her."

Must have.

Times were tight. She worked as a mail carrier in middle Georgia to make ends meet. Then, a friend suggested she get a job as a medical tech.

"I worked at Emory for years," she said. "Loved it. It helped us get ahead, moneywise."

And then, a vacation to the beach changed everything. Nowhere before had the two felt so at home.

"My daughter was like, 'Mom! I wanna live here, it's so beautiful!'"

So, she sent out resumes. She got a job half a mile from the Gulf. Life was still hard, but at least now it was pretty, too.

“High school was a challenge," she said. "College was worse. She has to work harder than you'n me. Sometimes I wanted to intervene. But, I knew she needed to learn…

If he would've lived long enough, he might've been one of those old timers who told the same stories over and over.

I watched the World Series with a ghost. He sat beside me cussing at the television. He threw his hands up. He degraded umpires.

And when the game went into rain-delay, he told me to get him a beer.

“But, you're a ghost,” said I.

“Then you'll have to drink it for me,” he said.

If he would've lived long enough, he might've been one of those old timers who told the same stories over and over.

“I ever tell you,” he'd begin, “the time I pitched sixteen innings against the Catholic team?”

Only a hundred and seventy times.

He'd go on, “There were nuns in the stands...”

I know. They trash-talked worse than sailors, and called you sugar-britches.

“Them nuns talked trash worse'n a bunch of sailors, they called me...”

Daddy auditioned for a double-A ball club, long ago. He made it. But he only lasted a hot minute. They cut him. His dreams were dashed. He said it was the best gift God ever gave him.

“Cocky folks don't get nowhere in life," he said. "I was young. I needed

to be humbled, never played another game after that.”

And as far as I know, he didn't.

Even so, he coached Little League. He'd chew Juicy Fruit in a dugout and praise fifteen uncoordinated, moderatlely pathetic boys.

He'd shout things like, “Good hustle!”

The highest praise a chubby boy can get.

We played catch nearly every night during summer. He threw light and easy.

When the sun would low, he'd say, “We'd better go inside or we'll be eating fastballs.”

I didn't think he could throw fastballs.

But before he died I saw him pitch to my uncles. He threw lightning. He stood in our alfalfa field firing the ball like I'd never seen a grown man do up close.

My uncle caught and remarked, “Hot almighty, I think that fool broke my damn hand.”

The only time…

He had long hair, a yellowed beard. He was wiry. He smelled like the backend of a poultry truck. His breath could knock over a two-bedroom house.

He drank too much. I knew that about him. Other than that, I didn't know much more than his first name.

Which was Tom.

He had long hair, a yellowed beard. He was wiry. He smelled like the backend of a poultry truck. His breath could knock over a two-bedroom house.

Occasionally, his breath smelled minty.

Tom told me once, with a hoarse laugh. “I sip mouthwash sometimes. In a pinch, it'll give you a good buzz, but it burns like hell.”

I'll bet.

He frequented a restaurant I worked at, looking for handouts. He only visited when certain employees were on shift.

He knew which workers gave out free food or money, and which ones told him to get lost.

He carried a duffel bag. Olive green. He wore the same camouflage shirt. He didn't know a stranger.

And nobody knew his full name.

I visited that restaurant a few weeks ago. It's been a long time. I asked the waiter if they ever had any homeless loiter nearby.

He called the manager over.

“You mean Tom?” the manager said.

“He used'a come around a lot. But, well, he..."

I had a feeling.

He went on, "One day Tom walked in and said he couldn't get a deep breath. I wasn't working that day."

An employee took Tom to the emergency room. He had pneumonia. Bad. They hospitalized him. The infection killed him. The county got his body. What happened to his remains, nobody could say.

I never thought I'd write about him. Truthfully, I don't think he would've cared for it.

But this is the South, and we have a longstanding tradition. We write obituaries for our departed, honoring them in print. A few sentences is the privilege of every man—be he rich, poor, or vagrant drunk.

Tom deserves his.

And so:

"Tom was heralded into Glory March, 2015. Nobody remembers his full name, or where he came…

He was clumsy. The same as I was during childhood. It took some practice, but underneath all his baby fat was a natural.

He was two-foot tall, happy faced, chubby. He had the gift of gab. He stood at the public boat ramp eating Cheetohs, holding a cheap rod and reel.

The little fella's first words to me were: “I guess fish hate me."

Welcome to the club, Tex.

We talked about things. About life. The weather. It doesn't take long to make fast friends with chubby, chatty kids.

I should know, I was one.

That weekend, his mother bought him a fishing rod, wrapped it in a red ribbon, and left him a note reading: "No more video games. Go fishing today. Love, Mom.”

He rode his bike to the public boat launch and that's where he met me.

The truth is, there were better teachers. I'm a mediocre fisherman at best. Even so, I did my utmost to show him how to tie knots, how to cast, and how to yank a popping cork hard enough to frighten millions of innocent sea creatures.

He was clumsy. The same as I was during childhood. It took some practice, but underneath all his baby

fat was a natural.

He caught a trout. It was his first one. Tiny.

He shouted, "This is the greatest day of my LIFE!!"

And he meant it.

We drank gas-station Coca-Cola and ate potato chips. He did all the talking.

He carried on about fighter jets, rifles, and his runaway father—who left earlier that year. Who never picked up the phone thereafter.

I told him I was sorry.

He shrugged, saying, "Aw, it's okay, I don't even care about my old man."


Before he bid me goodbye he reminded me it was indeed the greatest day of his existence.

That was a lifetime ago.

Yesterday, I wouldn't have recognized him. He's a grown-up. He had a toddler with him. She was fidgety. She tried to say my name, but the task proved insurmountable.

He pumped my hand…

I hope you find money today. It doesn't have to be much. Just a little. Few things are better than finding an unexpected twenty in a coat pocket. It's the universe's way of saying, “It's gonna work out, pal.”

And I believe this.

Of course, I don't know how it will work out. But I believe it will. And I believe it's going to happen sooner than you think.

When you find your cash, remember that.

I had a friend who could find money wherever he went. It was an unusual talent. He could spot quarters, nickels, dimes, and pennies in any parking lot, sidewalk, or covered garage. I wish I could do that.

Believe me, I've tried.

Once, he found a fifty while walking into a theater. Another time: a hundred-dollar bill in a sewer. Another time: he found a woman's wallet stuffed with three thousand bucks.

He took the wallet to the sheriff's. After a few days, a woman claimed it. The deputies said the owner was a widow with three kids.

To show her thanks, she left a hundred dollars at the police station as a finder's prize.

My friend didn't want a reward. He used the cash, and a few hundred dollars more, to buy a Pizza Hut gift card. He hand delivered it.

“Why would you do that?” I asked.

“Because, I'm a single dad,” he said. “Cooking for kids every single night is Purgatory. Every kid likes pizza.”

Anyway, maybe you cook every night. And maybe you're not sure anyone realizes how hard you work. You've been running hot for so long, with such little recognition, sometimes you feel like wet toilet paper on a public restroom floor.

Feeling invisible can be the same as dying.

Or: you might feel alone. God forbid. I can't think of anything worse than loneliness. It sucks the energy out of a man. I wouldn't wish this feeling…

...this isn't religion. This is my heritage you're lifting your leg on. And as a card-carrying member of the Little Brown Church in the Vale, I'm obliged to tell you:

He wore a sign on his chest that read: “God hates fags.” He paced the sidewalk, waving a Bible like it was a firearm.

The street-preacher zeroed in on me. He fired several ugly words in my direction. And true to his sandwich-sign, he was downright hateful.

I told him God didn't hate anybody.

He told me to go to Hell.

From the looks of it, he was leading the way.

The first thing you should know is that I was raised in church. My people are the rural kind who believe in covered dishes, homecomings, and canned-food drives at Christmas.

The truth is, I don't talk religion. I remember the words of Grandaddy, who said: “Don't talk politics or religion in mixed company—and always carry toilet paper in your glovebox.”

Sound advice.

Even so, I cannot abide rudeness. My people have come too far to be represented by Eddie the Evangelical in a plywood jumpsuit.

Besides, he's got it all wrong. And it's not fair to let him tinkle in our tea.

It's not fair to Anne Miller—a seventy-year-old widow

who adopted a teenage prostitute, then raised her crack-addicted baby.

It dishonors the legacy of Terry Johnson—with his weekly barbecues for fatherless boys. Who taught hundreds how to throw footballs, crank fishing reels, and swing Louisville Sluggers.

I don't care what the hand-painted sign says. This kid's never met Sister Caroline—a lesbian nun who started a women's halfway house in an auto garage.

Or: Penny Dugan—mother of three. Whose husband said he'd been cheating on her with a man. He explained he was HIV positive. Penny nursed him until his death, then she cared for his dying boyfriend—and thousands more AIDS victims thereafter.


Dammit, this isn't religion. This is my heritage you're lifting your leg on. And as a card-carrying member of the Little Brown Church in the Vale, I'm obliged to tell you:

God isn't hate.


“I had to do something,” she said. “Or else I knew he'd be another statistic.”

He wasn't a bad kid. He just acted out in class. His teacher knew something was wrong at home, but she didn't know what to do. So she went easy on him.

Rookie mistake.

"Nicer I was," she said. "The more he acted out. He wanted attention.”

So she gave him the positive kind. She moved his desk, praised him for hard work. She even gave him rides home.

When she dropped him off, she noticed his mother wasn't around.

"Where's you're mother?" she once asked.

"She's getting clean-o-therapy," he said. "It makes her cancer better."

That's when her heart broke. She did what any God-fearing woman would. She rushed home and cooked up a whirlwind. Cookies, cakes, cornbread, and casseroles.

She stopped by the following day. His mother was napping. So, she snooped around his house. The place was a hog pen. No toilet paper, no snacks, and the refrigerator was a wasteland.

"When I met his mother," she went on. "She was in a bad way. Her hair was gone. No wonder she didn't have food,

she could hardly talk."

The teacher asked her Bible study group for help. They raised money, bought groceries. A handful of ladies cooked suppers. Some donated money.

His mother died suddenly.

The family couldn't afford a funeral. His grades dropped. His uncle moved in. He started skipping school.

“I had to do something,” she said. “Or else I knew he'd be another statistic.”

She began spending time with him. She carried him to waterparks, movies, malls, church parties, you name it. She celebrated his birthdays, Thanksgivings, Christmases, and all other occasions. He even lived with her for six weeks when his uncle was out of town.

She wedged herself into the kid's life and didn't let go.

Then he moved away. They lost touch.

A few dozen years have passed by. She doesn't look like the young photograph she showed me. Her…