“But it didn’t matter,” she goes on. “My family don’t want me. My parents couldn’t handle me marrying Guatemalan.”

A Mexican restaurant. Suppertime. I’ve been traveling. Earlier today, I spoke to a roomful of Presbyterians.

They were emotionally stiff. Only one gentleman in the audience laughed. His name was Davidek. Davidek is from the Czech Republic. Davidek laughed because he doesn’t understand English.

In fact, he only knew two English words: “Thank you.” Davidek shook my hand and said “Tankyou tankyou, tankyou,” nearly nine hundred times.

I pull off the highway. This joint is small. It borderlines on a dive. The stool cushions are torn. There’s a funny smell. A television above the bar.

My waitress is not Mexican. She is from North Tennessee. Her drawl is so mountain-thick it’s music. She has red hair and freckles. She is twenty-two.

It’s a slow night. Servers are playing on phones. The cooks are bored. My waitress is a talker.

“Where’re you headed?” she asks.

“Lake Martin,” I say.

“Oh dude, I LOVE it there, that’s where we went on our honeymoon. I SO wish we could move there.”

“You’re a long way from

Tennessee. How’d you get this far South?”

“Oh, we been here three years. We came after my husband got laid off, I was pregnant. My husband needed a change of scenery.”

“What’s your husband do for a living?” I ask.

She points to the kitchen. “Right now? He works here. That’s him, cooking in back.”

The Hispanic man waves a spatula at me.

She laughs. “He’s one semester away from being an engineer. We’re so proud.”

“He must be smart. I can’t add more than two numbers at once.”

“He is. And I just started college, too, end of last year. Only taking a few classes ‘cause I’m busy all day with my daughter.”

She removes a cellphone. She shows me a photo of a toddler with a ribbon on her auburn head, a feeding tube…

Then, I saw him fingerpick the tune, “I’ll Fly Away.” And even though I never knew this man, I knew him. Just like I know all the verses to this song. It’s a melody which sounds like a hymn, but isn’t. It’s more than that.

You probably never met Ricky Edenfield. But you would’ve liked him. He played a banjo downtown, Crestview, Florida. He was a big fella, thick-bearded, with a personality so jolly he made Santa look like a jerk.

I saw him play. I remember it like it happened a few days ago:

“Whatcha want me to play?” he asks a few kids.

Somebody’s mother asks, “Do you know ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken?’”

“Know it?” He laughs.

He knows it. And he plucks through it like a man whose beard is on fire.

That’s my memory of him. He played this music like he belonged in a different world. An older one.

The world your great-grandparents came from—long before twenty-four-hour news channels and cellphone-based entertainment.

He was homeless for a long time, and it was hard on his body. He used a wheelchair. Once, he even died on the operating table from a collapsed lung.

But he was a cheery son of a banjo.

He had a way of looking at you that made

you feel seen. And you’d wonder about things for a few minutes while he played. Big things. Universal things.

Like: why are people homeless? And: is anyone truly without a home?

“I ain’t homeless,” Banjo Bear once told me. “Got me a mansion. A nice one. It just ain’t down here.”

Then, I saw him fingerpick the tune, “I’ll Fly Away.” And even though I never knew this man, I knew him. Just like I know all the verses to this song. It’s a melody which sounds like a hymn, but isn’t. It’s more than that.

It’s a rural church, with wood floors. Where preaching is more like shouting, and the pastor rolls up his sleeves to pray for folks. Where miracles happen, but not the big kind. The little kind. Everyday miracles like babies, marriages, and second chances.


Lady is brown, with long floppy ears and a calm face. She is reserved, and she is thick in the middle. She has white around her snout, and two eyes that seem wise.

The woman was walking her dog on the sidewalk. I saw them. She had a Cocker Spaniel, it was wearing a red vest. The dog was well-behaved.

I love Cocker Spaniels. Long ago, I had one.

“Her name’s Lady,” the woman said. “She used to be a service dog, but she’s not anymore. She’s retired.”

Lady is brown, with long floppy ears, and a calm face. She is gentle, and she is thick in the middle. She has two eyes that seem wise.

Lady’s quite an animal. Her previous owner passed from a stroke in 2017. Lady was eleven when it happened. This woman has owned Lady ever since.

“She’s a good girl,” said the woman. “But she likes to be really doing something, you know, working. I don’t have any jobs for her to do though, so I just invent games for her.”

And at the end of every day, Lady crawls on the woman’s lap. She rests her head on the woman’s tummy while

she reads a book before bed. Lady usually falls asleep before anyone else.

Lady also gets up a lot earlier than the others in the family. But she makes no sound. She only waits by her new mother’s bed, sitting at attention, until everyone else wakes up. Old habits die hard.

This dog looks just like a friend I had once.

My old Cocker Spaniel was just like this one. One day, she just showed up on my porch, covered in knots and burrs. She was one of God’s own saints, sent to earth to show me what it means to slow down, eat more saturated fat, and take longer naps. She was my friend when I needed a friend.

We spent the rest of her life together. She would wait for me in the windowsill every evening. Whenever my truck would pull into the…

She helped the girl find herself. She helped the child become a woman. She helped the woman become a mother.

She was a pretty girl. A teenager. Dark skin. Black hair. And alone. She was standing in the canned soup aisle of the supermarket. Scared.

Miss Wilma—which isn’t her real name—was an elderly woman, reaching for a can of chicken broth from the top shelf.

She was going to make chicken and dumplings. It was a recipe that had been passed down from her great grandmother. It was a recipe which, women in her family claimed, could cure yellow fever, and croup. And on one occasion in Mount Dora, Florida, 1969, it prevented divorce.

The girl reached the top shelf for the old woman. She was a tall girl. Seventeen, almost eighteen.

A pang in Wilma’s gut told her something was wrong. There was something in the girl’s face. The girl looked terrified.

She started talking to the girl. Their conversation led Wilma to ask where the girl’s mother was.

“I don’t know,” the girl admitted. “I think I lost her.”

But the girl hadn’t lost her. The mother

had left.

The girl’s mother had disappeared from the state, and left her daughter in the supermarket. The girl had been looking for her mother for hours.

“Why haven’t you asked for help?” asked Wilma.

“Because I don’t wanna get my mom in trouble,” the girl said.

Wilma was going page the woman over the supermarket intercom, but the teenager begged her not to.

“But,” said Wilma. “What’ll you do? How will you get home?”

The girl shrugged. “Ain’t got no home.”

The girl was from Jacksonville. But truthfully, she was from everywhere. She’d been living in a car with her mother, roaming highways since her early days. Her mother had a talent for falling in with the wrong people—which is how the woman had kept a drug habit going. Motels, RV parks, public shelters, those were her homes.…

At club meetings, members store cellphones in a locked safe. Their mothers serve pimento cheese sandwiches and juice boxes. And the kids talk about, say, Leo Tolstoy.

The sun rose over the Alabamian highway, and it was pure majesty. The sound of birds was music. I was on my way to speak to a book club.

I don’t usually speak to book clubs, namely because I’m no good at it. I’ve found that avid readers are smarter than I am. Most often, it goes like this:

A man in steel-rimmed glasses stands and asks a question like: “What was your subjective motivation within the pretext of the outlined apparatus of your—dare I suggest?—almost quasi-static prose?”

I usually just mumble something about current tax laws, take a sip of water, and say my closing remarks:

“It’s been a bona fide treat, folks. A bona fide treat.”

Then it’s off to KFC for some bona fide supper.

This book club, however, is different. These are thirteen-year-olds.

A girl named Claire emailed me several weeks ago. She told me their group of friends formed a club that reads books instead of playing with phones.

At club meetings,

members store cellphones in a locked safe. Their mothers serve pimento cheese sandwiches and juice boxes. And the kids talk about, say, Leo Tolstoy.

They are smart kids. They read authors like Robert Frost, Carson McCullers, Walt Whitman, and one redheaded writer whose truck has needed new brake rotors since 2002.

I arrived in a residential neighborhood of manicured lawns. I wasn’t sure whether I should wear my tweed jacket with the elbow patches. I decided against it.

Their mother invited me inside. I shook hands with kids and parents. A kid named Brad held his hand out and said, “Cellphone, please, sir.”

He locked my cellphone in a fireproof safe with the other phones, then showed me to the den. The living room was full of kids sitting on the floor.

The round table started by discussing the Mark Twain book they’d…

So if you’re still reading this—I wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t—I wish I had more to offer you before you start your day. These stories, plus a dime, won’t even buy you a lukewarm cup of coffee.

I saw a boy with only one hand pitch a baseball in Nashville, Tennessee. I have never seen anything like it. Not before. Not since.

I sat beside his mother in their backyard and watched.

“He don’t even play on a team,” his mother said. “Truth be told, he’s not into baseball. He’s really into Star Wars.”

It all started when his little brother needed help batting for Little League. It was Big Brother who learned how to pitch by watching YouTube. They practiced in the backyard.

The kid turned out to be a good ball player. His mother says this is because he believes he can do anything.

“I mean he REALLY thinks he has no limits,” his mother says. “He’ll try anything.”

You can see it on his face. He is everything I hope to be in when I grow up. And he’s not even twelve.

I asked the boy if I could write about him. He said, “Don’t write too much.”

Then he smiled. “And

can you make my name be Luke Skywalker? Then I can read it at school and everyone will be jealous!”

Fair enough.

Then, he and his brother pretended to sword fight, in front of me.

A few months ago, I watched a man ride a bike half way up Pike’s Peak mountain in Colorado. The man was seventy-two. There was a line of traffic behind him while he pedaled.

His calves were shaped like slabs of limestone. His skin looked like old wood. He rode with a clot of younger cyclists and held his own.

When I talked to him afterward, he smelled like sweat, onions, and a retired jockstrap.

He started biking at age sixty-six when his wife left him.

“I was stuck in the house,” he said. “Couldn’t find the willpower to go anywhere. I was just eating crap,…

I finished college by age thirty-something. Also I have seen Willie Nelson in concert. And, not to brag, but I hold the regional record for eating the most consecutive slices of blueberry pie at last year’s Fourth of July dinner on the grounds.

I am fishing. Hogtown Bayou couldn’t be any prettier if it tried. The clouds over this bay are nothing short of American poetry

The air is salty. The crickets are out. The water is calmer than a monk on Miller Lite.

The Choctawhatchee Bay is the best part of my youth. When I was sixteen, I took Wendy Benton to the shores of Hogtown Bayou. It was a poor-man’s date.

Hogtown Bayou resembles Beulah Land. Not that long ago, forests still stretched for miles. You could find longleaf pines with catfaces the turpentiners once carved on them, long before the invention of cable television.

And, if you fished the right spots, you had to carry a baseball bat to swat the fish away.

Wendy was from Mountain Brook. She was repulsed by this place.

“Fishing?” she said. “Gross. You brought me FISHING?”

“No,” I said. “I brought you to see a magnificent sunset.”

“But, you have a fishing pole in your hands.”

“I do? Well, would you look

at that? How’d that get there?”

I caught a one-pound redfish. Wendy swatted mosquitoes. She never returned my calls. I understand she married an attorney and lives in Toledo.

Years later, I took the would-be Mrs. Dietrich to Hogtown Bayou. Her name was Jamie.

Jamie said, “Do you take all your heifers out here?”

The answer was no.

I told her I wanted to live on Hogtown Bayou one day. I wanted to fish here whenever I felt like it. I told her all about myself. She listened.

She caught a fish bigger than the state of Delaware. I asked her to marry me a few weeks later. We bought a small house a stone's throw from Hogtown Bayou.

Tonight, I caught jack squat. A miniature pinfish, one stingray, and one Mountain Dew bottle. My father, had he been alive, would’ve…