Over my bed hung the painting of a mother and son, saying grace at a crowded cafe table. It was right beside my all-time favorite painting: elderly musicians, playing music in a barbershop.

I love flea markets and antique stores. This is because I like old things for which there is no use.

Antique pocket knives, porcelain cowboy figurines, hundred-year-old snuff tins, arrowheads, and tin coffee pots.

I am holding one such coffee pot. A percolator just like this used to sit in my father’s garage workshop on an electric hot plate.

I had my first coffee from a tin pot. It tasted like ditch-water and aluminum. But it didn’t matter because in that garage my father and I talked about things.

Things like: fishing, batting stances, the proper way to clean fried chicken bones, and God.

“Is God real?” I once asked.

He smiled. “Have you ever seen a little sign from above? Something that just sticks out, and seems like it means something?”

I shrugged.

“Well I have,” he said. “I see’em everywhere, every single day. Once you start looking for them, you see all sorts of little things that prove there’s someone Upstairs.”

I miss his simple explanations.

At this flea market, I find a Norman Rockwell compilation book.

You probably won’t care about this, but as a boy I had this exact book. My father gave it to me.

My father handed it to me and said, “Old Norm sees the world in such a happy way. I think you’ll like old Norm.”


After my father died, I cut out the pages of that book and tacked them to my bedroom walls. They were reminders of who my father used to be.

Over my bed hung the painting of a mother and son, saying grace at a crowded cafe table. It was right beside my all-time favorite painting: elderly musicians, playing music in a barbershop.

I once visited a Norman Rockwell exhibit. I drove to Birmingham to see it. I was first in line at the museum. The lady who took my ticket said, “Oh, you’re in for…

The woman who cleans our room this morning brought her daughter to work with her today. Her daughter is in sixth grade.

Guntersville—we are hurricane evacuees in upper Alabama. The destruction from Hurricane Michael is all over television. It’s sobering to see. If the storm would’ve moved a few miles west, it would’ve ruined our home on the Choctawhatchee Bay.

The woman who cleans our room this morning brought her daughter to work. Her daughter is in sixth grade.

“My name’s Samantha,” says the girl. “I’m helping my mom clean today.”

Samantha holds a basket of cleaning supplies. I introduce myself, but before I can finish talking she says in a shy voice:

“I already know who you are. My friend reads your books.”

And it takes all I have not to cry in front of this sixth-grader. Maybe it’s becasue I’m a softy. Or maybe it’s because of the storm. Or maybe it’s because in this child’s eyes I am a writer.

A real writer.

About me: I wanted to be a writer ever since before Samantha’s age. And it was a ridiculous idea for a kid like me to hold.

After all, I didn’t have the confidence God gave a

turtle. I was shy, lazy, slow, I made terrible grades in school, and I was a lousy first-baseman.

As it happens, Samantha and I have a few things in common. My mother was a cleaning lady many years ago. She toted vacuums, carpet cleaners, laundry bags, and spray bottles by the metric ton.

She scrubbed toilets, washed windows, mopped floors, and emptied crumbs from toaster ovens.

My mother was our family’s champion. She was a college graduate; a hard worker; she could grow anything in container gardens; she could make quilts from old clothes; she could bake fresh bread that attracted people from four counties; she could read an entire novel in two sittings; she could memorize entire passages of scripture—mostly pertaining to being nice to your sister.

She was above no task, and beneath no one. She taught me…

When my haircut is finished, I bid these men goodbye. I wish I had a good joke to tell them, or a good story, but that would only spoil it. Today, I am here to listen.

I’m in North Alabama, far from the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. Long stretches of the Gulf Coast are trashed. But by a divine miracle, my family is safe, alive, and accounted for. So are my friends and neighbors. A miracle.

So I’m getting a haircut.

I almost went for a haircut yesterday, but I couldn’t pull myself away from the televised hurricane coverage. It was high adrenaline stuff.

Gone are the days of sedate news reporters who look like your father’s dentist, seated behind news desks. Today, we have a breed of brave journalists, fearless, with the courage to risk their lives for breaking news, public safety, and six-figure incomes.

Yesterday, I watched one such reporter stand on a beach, enduring gale force winds that were strong enough to ruin most reproductive organs.

He screamed into the camera: “It’s windy out here, guys! Super, super windy! Back to you, Bob!”

I shudder to think of what could’ve happened if he hadn’t told us that.

Anyway, my mother texted me

today and told me the lethal storm passed over her home yesterday. Today, she is enjoying sunshine, crocheting a scarf.

Like I said, a miracle.

So getting back to the barbershop. When I enter the shop, a bell on the door announces my arrival. This is your average clip joint. There is a barber’s pole out front.

Inside are men who gather for no particular reason. They pause their conversation when I enter.

I greet them. They are quiet. But soon, they go back to telling stories like before.

I am grateful for their stories. I’m tired of hurricanes, storm surges, and reporters with death wishes. I need something to take my mind off the anxieties of Hurricane Michael. And that’s exactly what I get here.

Soon, I am sitting in a barber’s chair overhearing stories of all kinds.

Nobody says a word at first. Not because we can’t think of anything to say, but because we are strangers.

Hurricane Michael is making its way onto shore while I write this. Michael is 350 miles across, 90 miles in diameter, and very ugly. This is a storm that’s roughly the size of South Dakota, arriving on Floridian soil like an unwanted houseguest.

I am miles away, watching a television while this storm batters Franklin County, Gulf County, and Bay County.

The big TV in the corner of this restaurant is tuned to the Weather Channel. The joint is nearly empty, the lunch rush is over. A few people gather around the screen, arms crossed, eyes unblinking.

We are a varied lot of strangers.

There is a woman with her hand over her mouth, watching TV. Her name is Ellen. Her mother lives in Gulf County, and she can’t get a hold of her.

Gulf County is a war zone right now. The live-coverage proves this. And Ellen is a mess. The TV shows palm trees bending forward, 100-foot waves swallowing boardwalks, flooded highways.

Mexico Beach is devastated. Port Saint Joe is waterlogged. Apalachicola is covered.

Between reports of tribulational destruction, the TV rolls commercials which advertise: Metamucil, Capital One credit cards, chocolate-flavored laxatives, Quaker Oats, and how to get a good deal on a reverse mortgage.

But when the commercials are over, we who gather at the television remain silent while the monster makes landfall.

I recognize the places shown on TV. One reporter is perched only fifteen miles from my front yard. I can sympathize with Ellen, worrying about her mother. In fact, I have been sick about my own mother—who decided to stay behind and weather out the storm.

I texted my mother a few minutes ago.

She texted back: “The wind has gotten bad, we’ve moved to the back room, but we’re okay. I love you.”

Then, I texted my sister—who also stayed behind. She wrote: “I’m scared, please pray for us.”

So while I write…

With eyes still closed, he says, “I’m gonna make this coin turn from heads to tails by resting my hand on it.”

Waffle House is full of people who are fleeing a hurricane. While I write this, Hurricane Michael is circulating in the Gulf like a Margarita in a cheap blender. I’ve seen TV footage of this storm filmed from outer space. This sucker looks angry.

Hurricane Michael slowed down last night, but meteorologists tell us he’ll get meaner when he hits warm Gulf water.

Satellite images on the national news projected the eye of the storm making landfall around 7:00 PM. Then, computer models estimate that Michael will gain strength and run directly into my garage door.

So this is what everyone's talking about at this interstate Waffle House. This one-room building is alight with nervousness in the air. We are all evacuees, eating waffles and hash browns.

“You think the storm will hit our house, Mom?” says a boy behind me. He might be six years old.

His mother is tall, lean, and wearing a service uniform. A hotel maid, maybe. Or perhaps she works in dry cleaning.

Her hair is a mess. Her eyes are baggy like she hasn’t slept in ten years.

“Hush,” she says. “And eat your dinner.”

But the boy is becoming anxious. He’s hardly touching his waffle. “What about our house?” he says to his mother. “What’ll happen to it?”

“Eat, I said.”

“When will we be able to go back home?”

“I don’t know, now quit worrying and eat.”

“I’m scared.”

Join the crowd, kid. You and two million others. Michael is a storm that threatens to suck our houses from the foundations and launch them into orbit somewhere near Jupiter.

Behind the boy is an old man seated on a stool at the counter. The man wears a cap with “Massey Ferguson” embroidered on the front. He overhears the boy and his mother.

The man wipes his mouth, leans over the divider,…

I consulted the Weather Channel. Things weren’t looking good. The TV rolls footage of mudslides, floods, torrents, and frightening commercials advertising Preparation H.

We have evacuated Florida, and my wife managed to fit all our earthly possessions into a midsize SUV.

We are travelling with 2 large dogs, 57 pieces of luggage, 6 boxes of wedding pictures, 10 years of past income tax records, and a glass cake dome my aunt Eulah gave me for a wedding gift.

Our evacuation decision happened this morning. I opened the paper to find a headline which read: “Hurricane Michael: Everyone is Going to Die: Continued on Page A5. ”

Then, I consulted the Weather Channel. Things weren’t looking good. The TV rolled footage of mudslides, floods, torrents, and frightening commercials advertising Preparation H.

The weather woman announced:

“Hurricane Michael could be the MOST devastating storm in history, ladies and gentleman. Right now, we go to Danny McDannyson, who’s live on location, bringing NON-STOP coverage of this devastating disturbance.”

Then the camera cut to a man wearing a Naval issue windbreaker, standing on the beach somewhere off the coast of Hiroshima.


“Thanks Danny, any recent developments?”


“Thanks Danny, I understand the National Weather Service issued an update on the storm’s position, can you tell us more about this?”


“How about the National Weather Service’s spaghetti models, Danny, what do you make of them?”…

And I’m thinking about the lead car. I know what the family inside it is doing. They’re doing the same thing my mother and I did once. We were too stunned to even cry.

It’s overcast. I’m with my wife and my bloodhound. We are on a wide porch of a rental house. This is the main road which cuts through town. There are sounds of kids laughing, playing. Easy traffic.

This is an old porch. The kind my father used to sit on. I can see him in my mind, shirtless, reading baseball box-scores. Or carving a pine stick.

My wife is asleep in a rocking chair. My dog snores beside me.

I see vehicles. Lots of them.

The first car is a police cruiser—blue lights flashing. Another cruiser follows. Then comes a slow-moving long black car—with curtains, and chrome fenders. It’s followed by the world’s longest line of cars. A million headlights.

The cars are flanked by a railroad crossing.

The train is running. The funeral procession comes to a halt at the flashing railroad-crossing lights.

There’s a man on the porch of the house next to me. He's within spitting distance from me.

“A funeral,” I hear him say to his wife.

They step off their porch together to stand in the yard.

This is

what we do.

A few other folks in nearby houses do the same. It seems like a good idea. My dog and I walk off our porch to stand by the mailbox.

Across the street, a woman in an apron holds hands with a little girl. An old man is in his driveway, holding a wrench. Watching. Kids stand beside bikes.

A few cars pull to the side of the road.

We've all stopped what we're doing.

And truth be told, I don’t even know why we do it. Of course it’s a gesture of respect. But why? Why respect a stranger we’ve never even met?

I guess it's just how we do things.

The string of cars is impressive. There are models of all kinds. Fords, Nissans, BMW’s, a few work trucks. A motorcycle.