And on the day her daughter found her sobbing on the kitchen floor, she extracted the truth from her.

Rural Florida. The Depression was alive and kicking.

This was a time when folks sat on porches, swatting gnats. Fathers gave out bottle-caps for allowances, mothers canned anything with seeds. Ketchup was six cents a bottle.

She was a striking seventeen-year-old with honey-blonde hair—like her mother. She was dating the son of a wealthy man—an arrogant, rowdy kid.

One night, the boy got half tight and broke into the girl's house. Only, she was out that night. He forced himself on her young widowed mother. He violated her. He broke her collar bone.

Her mother didn't tell anyone.

It wasn't long afterward, her mother started noticing morning nausea, and her clothes got tight.

Her mother decided to end the pregnancy. After working up the courage, she drove to visit the amateur doctor on the edge of town—a man who fixed things.

She sat on a wood table with her skirt off, crying too hard to go through with it. She left. And she hated herself for even considering it.

Months went by, her mother developed a tummy. People in

town punished her with words like, “hussy,” and, “whore.”

And on the day her daughter found her sobbing on the kitchen floor, she extracted the truth from her.

They left town for a fresh start, rented a city apartment. Menial jobs paid the bills. Sometimes, chicken soup looked like saltwater—provided they were lucky enough to have salt.

Those were merciless days, and they got worse.

Her mother had complications during labor. She bled to death. And because she was destitute, the county classified her as a, "necessary burial."

She got a pinewood box. No marker.

With her mother gone, she claimed her newborn brother as her son. She met a man while working in a cotton factory. And with the help of the new husband, she raised the boy everyone believed was hers.

When the economy improved, so did lives.


“I asked about adopting her. I was afraid I's gonna offend her, but she just said, 'I've been praying you'd ask me that.'"

Her husband left her with two boys. And since money didn't grow in the backyard, she worked more than one thankless job.

One morning, she found a stray dog on her porch, stealing food from her cats. She tore out the door and shouted. A man came out of the woods to fetch the dog. He was bearded. Dirty. Homeless. He apologized profusely.

The next morning, she found a brand new bag of food on her porch.

She got to know the man, introduced him to her boys. The next thing she knew, she'd put him up in her guest bedroom. She took him to a barber, helped him get a job, even let him use her car. After a few months, he found an apartment.

One that allowed pets.

"Couldn't believe how fast it happened," she said. "I realized, 'Hey, you ain't gotta be rich to make a difference in someone's life.'"

That's when she started volunteering at the local rescue mission with her boys. They started serving meals, washing dishes, rocking babies to sleep. Soon,

she volunteered more often than she worked her regular job.

“Was a real eye-opener,” she went on. “So many addicts, crazy folks out there, and kids, too."


One of the children she's talking about was a toddler who I'll call Briana—whose mother was dying from drug-related problems. The two shared an instant connection.

“I just knew I had to do something for that girl.”

So, she approached Briana's dying mother with a proposition.

“I asked about adopting her. I was afraid I's gonna offend her, but she just said, 'I've been praying you'd ask me that.'"

She paused to wipe an eye. "She died a few weeks later.”

Briana got her own room—decorated in green, which is her favorite color. Her closet was loaded with new clothes and shoes. Her bed had Disney sheets. As it happened, Briana had only ever slept…

Immediately, you'll get reminded of all this food. Maybe you'll have warm memories of your aunt—and how superstitious she was. Remember how alone you felt.

My father died on a Wednesday. On Thursday morning, my aunt was already in the kitchen cooking.

Pound cakes, fried chicken, smothered dove, enough gravy to be a felony.

My aunt also covered our mirrors with blankets. I asked why she did such a thing.

She said, “Same reason I'm cooking, it's what we do.”

Well, nobody tells you death and food go hand in hand. When someone dies, an explosion of casseroles follow. Our front porch nearly buckled from the weight of the covered dishes.

We received food of all kinds. The man down the road delivered bullfrog legs. One lady brought tomatoes in jars. Someone even brought a garbage bag of green peanuts.

I wish I could tell you how it all tasted. But I can't. After daddy's funeral, everything was bland.

Anyway, my wife cooks for funerals, too. I've seen her whip up enough to fill two city blocks.

A few years ago, a man died. She broke her back making more food than I've ever seen. She slaved for days in the kitchen—popping Advil.

When all was finished, our galley looked like a grease pit.

That night, we loaded coolers into my truck. She sat in the passenger seat, balancing casseroles on her lap. When we made the drop, a boy met us at the door, which took me off guard. I didn't know the man had kids.

The boy eyed the dishes.

I forced a smile past the lump in my throat.

His hair was redder than mine.

Later, he and I sat on the porch. He didn't have much to say. When he eventually did speak, he said, “Why'd you bring so much food?”

I couldn't answer.

The truth is, I'm not sure why. God knows, he wasn't going to enjoy it no matter how much he ate. And that's a shame—my wife makes exceptional biscuits.

But, I've thought about it a lot since…

...While I write this the news is playing on television. The announcer reads headlines. Shootings, stabbings, rapes, racism, pressure-cooker bombs. He's using a polished, monotone voice.

Montgomery, Alabama—the meat department. I stood behind them. They were Mexican. Maybe fourteen. Faded caps. Ratty jeans. Clothes covered in dirt and mortar. Skinny as a flock of number-two pencils.

They ordered a half-pound of beef.

The butcher handed them enough wrapped packages to sink the U.S.S. Alabama.

One kid remarked, “What this? we only ask for half pound.”

The butcher said, “Aw, it's free. I have to get rid of it. Expiration date's today. Freeze it, it'll last for years."

The boys looked like they'd just discovered teeth.

One said, “God bless joo, sir.”

Pensacola, Florida—Cracker Barrel parking lot. I saw a man with his wife. Maybe it was his girlfriend. She was in a wheelchair. She had blonde hair. She couldn't stop twitching.

He rolled her into the restaurant. She dropped her purse. He picked it up.

She moaned, “I'm so sorry, honey.”

He kissed her. “Don't ever apologize to me, silly."


Macon, Georgia— Walmart. A man and his kids stood in the checkout lane. They had a basket with a few things. He swiped his card. It wouldn't go.

The cashier said,

“Sorry sir, this card's denied.”

His face changed. He turned to leave.

The lady behind him stepped forward, removed her wallet, and said, “How much?” She paid for his groceries.

He thanked her.

She answered matter-of-factly, "I'm a single mother, I know what it's like being broke."

How about this one:

Defuniak Springs, Florida—I saw an elderly man with car trouble at the gas station. The clerk—in her mid-twenties—rushed outside to help. She got his car started. The man tipped her ten bucks.

The clerk took the money and said, “You have NO idea how bad I needed this today."

So he dug into his pocket and gave her more bills. Handfuls.

Listen, while I write this the news is playing on television. The announcer reads headlines. Shootings, stabbings, rapes, racism, pressure-cooker bombs. He's…

He began telling stories about the Br'er Rabbit and Tar Baby—the way his mother had once done. And Bible parables.

They say he was a storyteller. A genuine Br'er Rabbit Man. And these days, it's hard to find good storytellers. They keep dying from old age.

When he opened his mouth, you could hear rural Georgia in him. He was lean, tan, with gaunt features.

He grew up on a big-tired Farmall. His father died when he was ten. His brother died when he was thirteen. His mother got sick when he was sixteen—it made her blind. He cared for her until she died.

Saying his life was hard is like saying vinegar tastes like molasses.

He worked as a farmhand, a cotton-picker, and a logger. But most folks remember him as a school custodian. That's the job he held the longest. He got along with the kids. And he'd seen hundreds turn into seniors.

During an English class long ago, a teacher invited him into the fourth-grade classroom. Students were learning how to interview. He was their first victim.

As it happened, he had more to say than they did. He began telling stories

about the Br'er Rabbit and Tar Baby—the way his mother had once done. And Bible parables.

“It became a weekly thing,” one teacher said. “He'd stop in on Fridays and talk for ten or fifteen minutes. It was the highlight of my day. He was so gentle.”

And then he got sick.

Teachers noticed he lost weight. He was having a hard time walking from his diabetic foot pain. His work started suffering, easy tasks took hours to finish.

They fired him. And because insulin isn't cheap, he went downhill. He quit shaving, started spending days in bed.

“Not working broke his heart,” said a teacher. “He loved being around those kids.”

He got sicker. His sister in South Florida offered to let him move in, so she could take care of him. He didn't have the money to make the trip.

So, the kids…

To people. Average ones, who became lost. Who got so intoxicated with their own self-love, it made them sick.

I'm writing to the haters. To the selfish. To anyone who leaves bad tips at restaurants. To politicians. To dishonest bosses, miserable coworkers, and any misguided soul who refuses to wear deodorant in public.

To the man who parked his van six inches from a woman's car. Who flung his door and dented her vehicle, then kept walking.

To the gas station clerk who told the little boy put the Gatorade back because he was nine cents short. To the gal who snapped at the old confused woman in the supermarket saying, “Excuse me, you're standing in my way, lady.”


To the fella who backed into my mailbox and ran over it with his truck. My mailman saw it and remarked, “That thing's deader than disco.”

To the teenagers who drowned a litter of puppies in the creek.

To your jerk-boss, who instead of firing you, cut your hours. To my old boss—who did the same thing. To the cocky supervisor, who docked a single mother's pay when she showed up late.


writing to the kid who smashed my truck window and got my radio. To the stranger from Miami who nabbed my credit card number and bought three-thousand-dollars' worth of Little Ceasar's Pizza.

He could've at least bought some Church's chicken.

I'm writing to the woman who shouted the F-word at the white-haired man in traffic. To the joker who cuts in line.

I'm writing to my friend who wronged me. To the landlord who kicked my mother out, years ago. To the clever business-minded fella who cheated me out of money.

Also: to the teenager who raped and killed a girl. Who when asked about it, said, "life's cheap." To the mother who suffocated her six-month-old. To crooked lawyers. To greedy clergymen. To the high-schoolers who battered their gay classmate.

To those who hurt me on accident. To anyone who's broken someone else's heart on purpose.