“My daddy was the kinda man I wish I could be,” says John. “Getting him out there on the water that day, I just wanted to say, ‘Daddy, look at us, we’re the beautiful family YOU made.’”

He was every old man you’ve ever met. And he wanted to go fishing. Doctors said it was a bad idea, but his son disagreed.

“Doctors don’t know everything,” says his son John. “Daddy wanted to fish, so by God, we took him.”

You should’ve seen it. A sunny day. Four men escorting an old man down the dock. They lowered him into a 14-foot camouflage boat.

The old man held them for support. He mumbled something to them. Nobody understood. The strokes had slowed his mouth down.

The men used ratchet straps to make an improvised seatbelt for him. And away they went.

The old man had been fishing here ever since the invention of red mud.

“Feesing heah wuh mah bess gurl,” the old man said through a contorted mouth.

His daughter translated for her kids: “Granddaddy says he used to fish here with his best girl.”

Granny. His “best girl.” When she was alive, they came here. The old woman loved fishing as much as he did.

The old man wanted a beer. He demonstrated this by reaching

for the cooler. His daughter held a can to his mouth. Beer ran down his chin.

Everyone cheered.

“Don’t tell Daddy’s doctor about this,” John said.

The boat was in motion. The motor trolled. The old man was smiling. Familiar feelings were in the air.

“I remember when Daddy took my middle-school boyfriend out here,” his daughter said. “I knew how to bait my own hook, my boyfriend didn’t. Daddy got a kick outta that.”

She also remembers a senior who once came calling on her. He drove a muscle car and wore too much leather. Her father greeted the kid on the porch, polishing his iron.

“Reckon you’d better keep a’driving, son,” her father told the kid.

The old man was something else. He was funny. He was clever. He was the best our land had to offer.…

If you were to ask me what I am, I’d probably tell you I’m a drywall specialist, a flooring man, a trim carpenter, or an eleven-year community college student who studied hard to consistently maintain straight C’s.


I don’t get it. Are you a Christian writer or not? I just want to know once and for all.

I read what you write about God sometimes, but then you’ll turn around and cuss and it’s rather incongruous.

Sorry, but I’m just saying what everyone's thinking. And from all of us who feel this way, I just want to say to you, pick one side and stay there!

Please don’t be offended,


I’ll start by saying, “Thank you.”

Thanks for calling me a “writer.” You have no idea how much that means. It's taken me a long time to call myself that.

If you were to ask me what I am, I’d probably tell you I’m a drywall specialist, a flooring man, a trim carpenter, or an eleven-year community college student who studied hard to consistently maintain straight C’s.

But a writer? No.

Writers use big words, go to art exhibits, and wear facial expressions common to frustrating bathroom experiences.

Well, not me. The only big word I know is sesquipedalianism—which I believe is an island off the coast

of Tulsa. And, my mother warned me to never attend art exhibits because they don't have altar calls afterward.

Anyway, I grew up in a blue-collar household. My father had a blue-collar tongue. You should’ve heard HIS stories.

With a limited palette of only two cuss words and one Miller High Life, that man could paint the Sistine Chapel of tales.

And I miss him.

Now for the Christian thing:

After my father passed, we were messed-up people. Perhaps “flagellated” people would be a better way of saying it—I had to look that word up.

The details don’t matter, but during that period, I needed to feel like someone gave a damn about me. And nobody was applying for the job.

Pardon my use of a strong word, but if I’m going to tell…

The night after my father’s funeral visitation I was still wearing my Sunday best. She wore a black dress with lace collar.

She was small enough to fit in your pocket. Blonde hair. Big eyes. Button nose. On the day she was born, I was a child—still wearing cowboy hats and cap guns.

My mother handed her to me and said, “This is your sister. Be careful with her.”

I had never seen anything so pretty.

A few years later, we were at my aunt’s house. A big barbecue. I was eight, eating dangerous amounts of pulled pork.

I remember my father, standing near the grill. My mother was beside him. I was supposed to be watching the girl, but pulled pork has bewitching powers over my delicate mind.

There was a pool at the neighbor’s house. The girl wandered off to look at it, but I was too busy smearing pork all over my face to notice.

By pure chance, I spotted her from across the yard. But I was one moment too late.

She was staring downward into the pool. She fell in. Nobody saw it happen but me.

I dropped my paper plate. I ran so hard

my legs burned and my lungs hurt. I jumped in. She had already sunk by the time I reached her.

I placed her tiny body on the grass. She coughed up mouthfuls of water. The adults came running. Lots of hollering.

The girl looked at me with weary eyes. “Let’s do that again!” she said.

When she turned five, our world turned sour.

The night after my father’s funeral visitation I was still wearing my Sunday best. She wore a black dress with lace collar.

A crowd was in our den, eating funeral food, saying things to each other like, “He was a good man.”

She was outside, knees against her chest. Numb. I sat beside her.

We spent the rest of the night, sitting in a walk-in closet, playing Candyland by flashlight. I slept on the floor beside her bed for…

He was broke. We’re talking flat busted. He had forty-three bucks to his name. Single dad. Two kids. Life was a mess.

He found twenty bucks at a gas station. The bill was sitting on the pump, weighted with a rock. A Post-It note was stuck to the bill.

“God bless,” the note read. “Pass it on.”

About him:

He was broke. We’re talking flat busted. He had forty-three bucks to his name. Single dad. Two kids. Life was a mess.

He’d been looking for work for months. He’d taken small jobs, whatever he could find.

His family ate dried beans and rice. They’d been living in a friend’s camper. He worked every task he could drum up. Power-washing driveways, delivering papers, scrubbing toilets.

His friend’s sympathy ran out. They were evicted. He searched classifieds, filled out applications, begged employers.

They left for the city to find work. His car was on “E" before he even hit Clanton. He stopped to use the only forty-three dollars to his name. He prepaid for gas and almost vomited.

Then, it happened.

He was filling his tank. He saw twenty bucks. He tucked it into his shirt pocket. He coasted into Birmingham on fumes.

The first day

in town, he walked into a restaurant with his children. He talked to the owner. He offered to wash dishes in exchange for feeding his kids. The owner agreed.

The things a parent will do.

They slept in their car, eating from Styrofoam boxes.

The next day, he visited construction sites, hat in hand. He was met with “I’m sorry, sir."

That night, he washed dishes until midnight. His hands were pruny, his energy was spent.

He met a young Hispanic waitress. She was worse off than he was. Tips were bad, she had no husband, and four kids.

Before she left, he handed her the twenty dollars with the sticky note.

She read the note aloud. “God bless. Pass it on.” And she cried.

His two children huddled beside him in the backseat that night. He cried…

She was the light of his life. The voice of reason in a world of idiots wearing tool belts. The woman who married a snuff-dipping foul-mouth and turned him into a decent human.

I almost didn’t write this, but I changed my mind.

It all started when I dialed him by accident. His number is still in my phone. I haven’t spoken to him in years.

“Who’s this?” the voice said.

We laughed. We called each other by old nicknames. We spoke about his kid, his life.

I asked how his wife was.

Silence. The heavy kind.

“Don’t guess you’ve heard,” he said in a low voice. “She passed away, man.”

A gut punch.

She was the light of his life. The voice of reason in a world of idiots wearing tool belts. The woman who married a snuff-dipping foul-mouth and turned him into a decent human.

I was at their wedding reception, long ago. He was skinny. She was out of his league. They paid for the party themselves and held the shindig in a bowling alley.

Pitchers of beer, billiards, nachos. You should’ve seen the bride bowl in her wedding dress. I lost a lot of money betting playing pool that day.

We whip-creamed his truck and tied tin cans to his bumper.

They moved to Atlanta. He got a decent contracting job. They lived in a peach-colored house with a nice backyard and a porch swing.

He had a freezer in the garage, deer hunts on weekends. She had girls trips to New Orleans. Theirs was the all-American dream—complete with throw pillows from Target.

She got pregnant. They obsessed over names. Their baby was healthy. Their nursery was bright-colored. Their life was pure sunshine.

The company promoted him; more money. They moved to a nicer house; all hail square-footage. His daughter was learning the alphabet. On a whim, his wife went to the doctor for an exam.

Breast cancer.

The details don’t matter. But it spread fast. She was gone almost a year after diagnosis. Their life together was an afterthought. He was sleeping alone in a king bed. His…

Her funeral was not well attended. She didn’t have time for friendships during life. She wasn’t a churchgoer, a country club member, or a PTA mother. She was rough hands, high morals, and low on sleep since 1972.

The newspaper didn’t say much about her. It listed visitation times and the year she was born.

It could’ve said more.

It could’ve said that she was a single mother who worked three jobs sometimes. Or that she never missed work.

She’d been a receptionist, a cashier, a waitress, a factory employee, a custodian, a disciplinarian. She’d cleaned houses for cash under the table.

She was above nothing, below no one.

Her skin was dry from too much smoke and caffeine. He hair was wiry. She was beauty wrapped in service uniforms.

There are pictures. Black-and-whites photos of a slender teenage girl who became a mother of three.

A photograph: she’s bouncing a child on her hip, holding the hand of her oldest. She’s wearing a fast food visor.

Another: she’s sitting in a miniature train, it’s Christmas, a baby in her lap. Two older kids are in the picture. Her hair practically screams 1970’s.

That photo was taken just before her husband died.

Her kids don’t remember him. They don't remember the hell she endured after him.

All they recall is her. Her, standing

before a closed casket. Her, pumping hands with a hundred wearing black.

The night they laid him in the earth, the kids slept, but she didn’t. She was up all night, staring at her checkbook register.

She must’ve burned through half a carton, worrying herself.

Before his body was cold, she hustled a job for herself. She walked into a car dealership and begged. They gave her work. She answered phones, made coffee, cleaned toilets, mopped the showroom floor.

It didn’t pay well, so she took babysitting gigs. She worked at a grocery store. She waited tables at a restaurant. She put together CB radio circuit boards on an assembly line. She sewed women’s clothes.

She put her son through college. She bought braces for her daughter. She pieced money together from dry air.


I’m about to walk onto a stage and tell the story of what you just read. There are friends in the audience. My wife is here. She’s been with me fifteen years.

I’m backstage. A small theater. There is a band playing. I am about to go onstage next.

There’s a man in headphones, running a large soundboard which is roughly the size of a ‘62 Buick Skylark. Randy is his name. He will broadcast this on local radio.

I’ll be telling stories to an audience. My goal here is to avoid excessive amounts of audience booing and flying vegetable debris.

I have no idea what the hell I’m doing here.

Six years ago, I was laying a floor for an elderly couple in a single-story house. I was covered in thin-set mortar.

That day, I was cutting tile when my hand slipped. I sliced my index finger to the bone. Blood everywhere. I saw stars.

They drove me to the ER. I sat in a waiting room, holding a blood-soaked towel on my finger.

The doctor was young. He brandished a needle the size of a toothpick.

He said, “You might wanna hum a few bars of your favorite song, pal.”


“Singing,” he said. “Takes the mind off pain, and this is really gonna


The nurse gave me a washrag to bite down on. I explained that it wasn’t really necessary, I didn’t need any—


Twenty-five stitches. I was out of commission. I was miserable. I was going to have to get someone to finish my work, losing money I didn’t have.

The next morning, my wife woke me.

She was wearing work clothes and boots. “C’mon,” she said. “I’m going to work with you.”

I taught her how to use a wet saw. She cut tile; I laid it. Between us, we had three good hands. You’ve never seen a woman like mine.

After work, we ate supper at KFC. And I’ll be honest with you, I was miserable with my own life.

I hated tile-laying, cleaning gutters, and wiring ceiling fans.…