An elderly man was bagging my groceries. He had white hair and liver spots. I’m guessing mid-seventies. He noticed my Braves cap. And I noticed the familiar look on his face when he said, “You think the Braves can do it this year?”

I am listening to baseball on the radio. Two dogs are sleeping around my feet. The New York Yankees are battling the Boston Red Sox in the division playoffs.

Chances are, you don’t care about baseball—and I don’t blame you. But this column isn’t about baseball.

Tonight, I promised myself I wouldn’t write about baseball. Too many people already write about it.

Sure, I grew up with baseball. It was in my drinking water. My father ate, breathed, and read about it. And when autumn rolled around, I remember him listening to October baseball like some men listened to preaching.

My father would park his truck in the driveway. We sat in the front seat, listening to a radio. The sun was high. Crickets whined. My father explained plays while sipping beer. And I felt like the most important human on the planet.

But like I said, this isn’t about baseball.

I remember the fall evening when he said, “One day, you’ll listen to these games without me.”

And silence filled the truck.

His eyes became glassy after he said it. Then, he tousled my hair. And I’ll never forget this: he offered me his beer.

To the rest of the world I was a child. But that night, in his eyes, I was a man. I held the can with both hands. I took a swig. It tasted like frog urine. I almost gagged.

He laughed. “When you’re older, it won’t taste so bad.”

I am sipping a beer right now, listening to WCCM 1940 AM radio. The Sox are fighting. I don’t particularly care about the Sox, and I care even less for the Yanks. But anxieties are high. The championship is riding on their shoulders. Thusly, I require another can of frog pee.

Earlier today, I went to the grocery store for tonight’s supplies. Namely: Chili Cheese Fritos,…

The man looks at the boy. He hugs the boy and messes up the kid’s hair. I’m no Spanish major, but I know what the word “gracias,” means.

A woman pushes her cart through a grocery store. Her son is with her. He holds the cart, following behind her. He is small, lean, and his eyelids are closed tight.

He is blind. He lets go of the cart and soon he is lost. His mother is a few feet ahead of him. She stops. She watches.

“Mom?” he says.

“I’m over here,” she says. “Follow my voice.”

The child wanders toward her with unsure steps, arms outstretched. He finds her. She hugs him.

“That was good,” she says. “You’re so good at finding me.”

She kisses him on the mouth. She stares at his clenched eyes. “I love you so much, Peter Pumpkin Eater. Don’t ever, ever, ever forget that.”

He nods. Peter won’t forget.

A woman drives an old model Nissan. She has two dogs in her vehicle. Labradors, I would guess. She is in the parking lot, loading groceries.

A man sees her. He offers to help load groceries for her. Something you don’t

see much anymore.

“Pretty dogs,” he remarks.

She’s smiling at him. He’s grinning back at her. She hands him a business card. He says he’s going to call her sometime.

And you know the tune: first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage. And then comes health insurance premiums stiff enough to squeeze blood from a block of granite.

A gas station. A man with a little girl on his shoulders leaves the convenience store. The little girl is eating a candy bar. She gives him a bite. He takes a bite, then hands it back.

I can’t hear their full conversation, but I do hear: “Love you, Danica.”

“Love you, Dad.”

Same gas station. Two Hispanic men near a pump. One is old. One is a teenager. They are speaking rapid Spanish,…

There are holes in his shoes. He found these sneakers in a sporting-good-store dumpster. Buck estimates he’s put nearly eight hundred miles on them.

He sits on the steps of the Shell Station. A backpack beside him. His skin is rawhide. His beard is white.

His name is Buck. He’s from North Carolina. He fought in Korea, and completed two tours in Vietnam.

He’s not here begging, he’s resting his feet.

“My old feet hurt more’n they used to,” says Buck. “It’s hard getting old, buddy.”

There is a half-smoked cigar next to him. He dug it from an ashtray. It still has life in it, he says.

He’s sipping coffee.

“First cup’a Joe I had in a week,” he tells me. “Fella gave me a quarter, few minutes ago. Piled my coins together to buy me a cup.”

A quarter.

When Buck went inside to buy it, there were only cold dregs left. He asked the cashier if it were possible to brew a fresh pot. She told him to get lost.

So, he’s drinking dregs—for which he is grateful.

There are holes in his shoes. He found these sneakers in a sporting-good-store dumpster. Buck estimates he’s put nearly eight hundred miles on them.

His bloody toes poke through the fronts.

His middle toenail is missing.

Buck explains, “God says, ‘Don't worry what you’ll eat drink or wear.’ That's hard sometimes. Specially when you ain’t eaten.”

I walk inside the gas station on a mission. I ask the aforementioned cashier to brew a fresh pot of coffee—for me. I am very nice about it.

She smiles and says, “Sure, sweetie.”

Ain't she sweet.

I buy a hot cup, an armful of snacks, and a pack of Swisher Unsweetened Mini-Cigars. I give them to Buck, and I tuck a bill into his hand. I wish I had something bigger, but I don't.

Buck starts crying.

And the truth is, I’m embarrassed to even be telling you this. Because this story isn’t about me—it’s about Buck.

“Did you know that I see God in…

He bows his head. Twelve men bow, too. I bow. And he says nothing. Not even a word. The music in the restaurant is still playing overhead. Don Williams is singing about Amanda. People are eating. Clinking plates.

The men’s breakfast. I am here with twelve unsupervised elderly men. Baptist men who all tuck their shirts into pressed slacks.

Baptist men always wear tucked-in shirts with pressed slacks. Even when they go swimming.

I give Baptists a hard time because I descend from them. But they are magnificent people, with kind hearts, tender spirits, and they know all the words to the fourth verse of “Amazing Grace.”

I’m here today because Larry invited me.

“This is Sean,” Larry announces to the group.

Many of these men are hard of hearing. One man calls me “Shane” when he shakes my hand—which is a common mistake. Another man calls me “John”—also a common mistake. And one man with two hearing aids pumps my hand and says, “Thanks for coming today, Dominick.”

A waitress takes our orders. One man orders fruit and oatmeal. Another orders pancakes. The man next to me, Ron, orders a double meat breakfast with extra bacon and cheese grits.

“My wife has me on a diet,” Ron


I order eggs over medium, toast, and coffee.

When food arrives, no man touches his plate. Larry, rises to his feet and asks for prayer requests.

One man asks for prayer regarding kidney stones.

Men offer their condolences.

Another man asks, “Would y’all remember my son, today? He’s gonna be starting a new job, he deserves to be happy. We love him so much.”

And one old man removes his ball cap. The man has a gentle smile. He glances at his lap and says, “Please pray for my dog, he’s finally old enough for us to tell him he’s adopted.”

A mushroom cloud of laughs.

You have to love Baptists.

Another man speaks up: “I don’t have anything to pray for. I’m just filled to the brim with thanks.”

“Me too.”


He hugged me one more time. His mother took his arm, they walked away. The boy walks with a pronounced limp, holding his mother for balance. And I can’t quit thinking about him.

He was tall, lean, and young. When he approached me, he hugged me. Then, his mother hugged us both. A three-person club sandwich.

He must’ve been a foot taller than I was. His voice squeaked with adolescence. His skin was freckled. He had a long neck.

He recognized me.

“I liked your books, sir,” he said, through a nervous stutter.

Sir? No way. Such titles are reserved for men who wear penny loafers when fishing.

“I read all your books when I was in the hospital,” the boy said. “I kinda got to know you, and it was kinda like we were friends.”

His mother tells me his story. It’s a long one, and it’s not mine to repeat. He has the determination of a saint, and a long road ahead of him. He suffers more than other kids his age. And he might not survive his struggle.

Before he walked away, he told me: “I list ten new things I love every day. I write’em on

paper. My dad told me to do that.”

He tapped his finger against his head. “Gotta keep on thinking ‘bout good things I love. What kinda things do you love?”

I was rendered mute. I couldn’t seem to find words. I noticed a large moon-shaped scar beneath his hair. I tried to say something, anything, but I didn’t.

He hugged me one more time. His mother took his arm, they walked away. The boy walked with a pronounced limp, holding his mother for balance. And I can’t quit thinking about him.

On the off-chance that he is reading this:

1. I love Mexican food. In fact, I have had a lifelong love affair with it. A Mexican man I used to work with with used to make a dish called “chilaquiles verdes.” Before work, he would fry corn tortillas and scrambled eggs, then crumble enough…

We talked about how sad we felt. And about things that made us happy. She liked the Four Tops. I liked Willie. She wanted to be a hip-hop dancer. I wanted write for a newspaper.

Dear Mary,

I got your letter in the mail this afternoon. I read it aloud to my dogs while sipping an iced tea on my porch.

It was a nice surprise, receiving a handwritten letter. I don’t get many.

Even though we are strangers, I was glad to hear about your life. Your new job, your newborn son, and about how much you like Willie Nelson. You’re in good company, Willie Nelson is very special to me, too.

I am sorry your father died. I don’t know exactly what you’re feeling, but I know what it’s like to lose a father. I know you will never be the same.

Not that it matters, but when I was fourteen, I found an ad in the back of a magazine, it advertised a pen pal agency. I responded to the ad, requesting a pen pal.

My assigned correspondent was from Atlanta—keep in mind, this was before the age of the internet. The most advanced form of communication in our day was homing pigeons.

My pen pal’s name was Bee Bee. She was fifteen and wrote in purple ink. She dotted her lowercase “I’s” with little hearts, and I accidentally fell in love with her.

We only wrote each other a handful of times, but we talked about our lives in our letters. She told me about her parent’s divorce. I told her about my father’s suicide.

We talked about how sad we felt. And about things that made us happy. She liked the Four Tops. I liked Willie. She wanted to be a hip-hop dancer. I wanted to write for a newspaper.

She closed each of her letters with:

“Your forever-friend, Bee Bee.”

And well, I’d had never had a forever-friend. Especially not since my father’s death. In fact, I didn’t have many friends at all.

I wished I could end…

I’m thinking about things. I’m thinking about life itself. How precious it is. How brief. Unpredictable. How good.

Walmart. The cereal aisle. I’m browsing a wall of colorful boxes.

I’m interrupted by the voice of a child. A kid is riding on the front of a buggy like Captain Ahab. His mother is driving. His father is following.

The kid is making airplane noises.

The child is small. His joints are bony. His skin is pale. He is bald. There is a half-moon-shaped scar on his scalp. Another scar travels down the back of his neck.

He jumps off the cart. His tennis shoes hit the floor hard.

“Can I buy EVERY kinda cereal?" he asks.

“You’re not going to feel like cereal after surgery,” his father says.

“Let’s wait until surgery’s over,” adds his mother. “Once you’re better, then you can have as many boxes as you want.”

The boy is younger than young. Barely out of toddlerhood. He looks sick. He stares at them and says:

“What if I’m dead after surgery?”

His remark is as sincere as April rain. And it brings hot water to my eyes.

His mother and father scoop him into their arms. I have to leave the aisle.

All of a sudden, I

am in the produce section. I see a Mexican family. They are standing in a huddle, speaking rapid-fire.

The youngest girl—ten years old maybe—is teaching two adult women to speak English.

The girl holds an onion toward them.

“UN-yun,” she says.

They adults say, “OWN-YOAN.”



The girl laughs. The women laugh and say, “Que difícil es inglés.”

I'm still thinking about the kid.

The checkout line is long. There are only two cashiers open.

As it happens, I am a few shopping buggies behind the boy with the scar.

And the people of Walmart become invisible. So do the boy’s parents, the cashier, and the folks in line. I can’t see any.

I only see him.

The boy and I make eye-contact for a brief moment.…