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.


We crawled out of the passenger side, into the ditch. My ears rang, my shoulder was a mess, my eyes wouldn't focus. The two of us sat in the tall grass, silent.

The last thing I remember before the wreck was Jamie singing along with Garth Brooks on the radio. She gave it all she had. I watched her belt out lyrics while I drove along the interstate. Her singing voice: a mixture between Gomer Pyle and a 1953 Buick Skylark.

It was sunny, it felt like the whole world was on fire. We'd just finished camping in Pelham, Alabama. And, after a small spider had found its way onto Jamie's bedroll, she swore off tents for good. And sleeping bags. And husbands.

So, there we were on the interstate. The truck hit us from behind. My wife choked on

the Garth lyrics and flung toward the windshield. I lost control.

He hit us again. On the side.

We spun.

The impact crushed my side of the cab. My windshield turned into shaved ice.

This sent our vehicle sliding into oncoming traffic. It took a quarter of a millisecond for my wife to glance out her window and see a semi-truck honking at us. We screamed, since that's all we could do.

Garth Brooks kept singing.

To tell you the truth, I don't remember much else except a baseball-bat-type sound, accompanied by…