For one hour, three grown men would teach a twelve-year-old how to play the game. They cheered for him. They taught him how to wear his hat backwards, and how to make noises with his armpits.

Randy was at a Little League game, watching his nephew play. Only, he was not paying attention to his nephew. He was watching the dugout.

A boy warmed the bench. He was all alone.

Maybe it was the way the kid held his head that made Randy feel so bad. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they hold their head. The kid sort of drooped his chin.

The game was in the eighth inning. The boy wore his uniform, it was spotless, no dirt. He sat beside the water cooler. Head down.

Randy made his way to the dugout and introduced himself. Randy asked why he wasn't playing on the field.

“‘Cause,” the boy said. “I ain't no good at baseball.”

“Don’t say ‘ain’t,’” Randy said. “It ain’t proper.”

This was a course of habit. For Randy’s whole life, his mother had corrected him for using the word “ain’t.”

“Aren’t,” Randy suggested. “Say ‘aren’t‘ instead.”

“Aren’t?” the boy said. “I AREN’T no good at baseball?

That ain’t right.”

Randy had to think long and hard. He couldn’t find the right word to say in place of “ain’t.”

The boy looked at Randy like the man’s wheel was spinning but the hamster was dead.

“Well,” said Randy. “It ain’t a real word, so don’t say ‘ain’t.’”

And so it went.

Randy told the kid his life story. It wasn’t a long tale, but it was a sad one. His father walked out on his mother when he was five. He had to grow up on his own, his mother worked two jobs.

The boy had a similar story. He was alone in this world, warming a bench.

But nobody needs to hear a hard luck story when they have one of their own. So Randy offered to help the kid improve at…

In this book you will find the exact deviled eggs approved by the Methodist church.

The cookbook I am holding is old. It is every hometown recipe book you’ve ever seen. Spiral bound, thick, stained, and there is a sketch on the cover featuring stately oaks draping over a shaded street.

Inside are the four gospels: church food, wedding food, funeral food, and congealed salads.

You won't find many things holier than these recipes. They are American history, described in standard measurement form.

I once knew an old Sunday school teacher who made buttermilk pie that made grown men loosen their neckties. Once, at a Fourth of July supper, she gave me a slice and told me:

“God wants all his children to be a little soft in the middle.”

And I’ve always believed that.

This particular cookbook I am holding, however, comes from the Brewton Civic League. The recipes within are everything you need to find a happy life.

Cheese grits, Squirrel D’ete, Congealed Cantaloupe Salad, mint juleps, Miss Paula’s pickled shrimp, and Coca-Cola salad—whatever that is.

None of them use the word “margarine,” but “Oleo.” And in this book, you will

also find the secret to perfect fried chicken—peanut oil and Jesus.

You will discover that measurements are open to loose interpretation. A “handful” here, a “passel” there. A “dash,” a “pinch,” a “dusting,” or a “touch.”

Also, there are a dozen variations of chicken-broccoli casserole. Though, the only discernible differences are the varying amounts of cheese.

In this book you will find the exact deviled eggs approved by the Methodist church.

But anyway, I have a long history with homemade cookbooks. In fact, the article you’re reading was typed on a manual typewriter that once typed a similar cookbook.

Many moons ago, I typed 418 recipes using only my index fingers. The recipes were then fed through a Xerox machine which resided in the church office.

After that, the finished recipes were placed into position based on pure favoritism according Mrs. Bellmaker.…

I’ve never known what I am. I’ve had an even harder time figuring out WHO I am.

I went to a dinner party at a nice house. The house was in a slick part of town with manicured lawns and sidewalk lighting.

It was the kind of neighborhood where a guard at the gate gives you a disapproving look before he lets your noisy truck into the community.

I helped construct the house where the party was held. A long time ago, I worked in construction when this subdivision was being built.

The irony is, the people I come from don’t use words like “subdivision.” Furthermore, my people have a hard time understanding why anyone would pay association dues when covenants and restrictions prohibit Uncle Bill’s Winnebago from being parked in the driveway.

The house is a four-bedroom-four-bath, and it was one of the first I ever helped build. I was a kid, I still had plenty of freckles, and I was slow at reading a measuring tape.

Anyway, the dinner party was nice, if you’re into that sort of thing. It was catered

by a chef who had a lot of class.

The appetizer was tomato aspic. The main course was quail, topped with soy glaze and mint. This marks the first time I’ve ever had quail that wasn’t retrieved by my uncle’s Labrador.

The portions were microscopic—Barbie could lose weight on meals bigger than this. But then, I was too busy to eat. I was looking at the ceiling.

The sheetrock had a nice orange-peel texture. I hung that sheetrock.

The chef cleared his throat. Fourteen high-society people wouldn’t stop talking long enough to listen. So he rang a little bell. A hush fell over the table.

The chef explained exactly what we would be eating. He used lots of culinary words that went miles over my head.

After his speech, I excused myself to the restroom. I was impressed by the tile-work in the…

Blue Lake Methodist Camp is a beautiful place. The compound sits nestled in the wilderness, surrounded by longleafs, live oaks, and still water.

I am here tonight to deliver a speech to a room of elderly Methodist ministers and their wives. I have to remind myself to behave, and not tell stories about my Methodist friends. Which is hard for me to do.

It will take all I have not to tell the story of my friend J.L., whose mother woke him up one morning before church shouting, “Get dressed for church, J.L.! You’re gonna be late!”

“I’m not going!” he shouted.

“Why not?” she said.

“Two reasons, Mama. One, because I don’t like anyone in that roomful of obnoxious jerks. And two, because they sure as shoeshine don’t like me.”

His mother replied, “Well, I’ll give you two reasons why you ARE going, J.L. One, you’re forty-seven years old. And two, you’re the pastor.”

Blue Lake’s main building is a plain-looking structure, built in the early ‘50’s.

The cinder block walls, the fluorescent lights, the linoleum floors, it reminds you of every municipal building you ever saw.

The beauty of this place lies beneath the surface.

I walk the hallway of dorm rooms. Many doors are slung open. Inside each room are three single beds, side by side. Lord, at the memories.

I have done my share of camping here. Sometimes in dorms, sometimes in cabins. I was not raised Methodist, but sometimes we Baptists used these facilities.

Once, I shared a dorm with Billy Sheldon and his grandfather who was a Primitive Baptist minister. The old man snored so loud that we placed bits of toilet paper into our ears.

This did nothing to dull the sound. So the next night, Billy and I tried wet cotton balls instead. It still didn’t work.

We were about to…

My cousin’s son is in town for spring vacation this week. He texted me yesterday to see what I was up to. He is twenty-two years old, and his texts were hard for me to understand because he abbreviates everything.

It is Spring Break, 2019. That means we are all going to die.

I’m serious—sort of. A spring break in Lower Alabama, and Northwest Florida, means that a simple drive to the grocery store is a deadly tactical maneuver. Spring breakers are on the highways, and they are too busy texting to drive a car.

They steer with their knees, glancing at phones, avoiding eye-contact, texting such vital sentiments as:

“LOL! IKR?”

Today, I passed three car wrecks on the way to get my dry cleaning. Outside the vehicles stood young men and young women who were crying on officers’ shoulders, traumatized by the horrifying reality of coming scarily close to almost losing their cellphones.

Things have changed. Last week, I was in Nashville, using the public restroom in a crowded place. I entered the mens’ room to find every stall occupied.

There, standing before eight urinals were eight young men who were—I am sorry to get too personal—using their cellphones.

That poor janitor.

Sure, I know society has become technologically advanced, I’m

no fool. Still, I miss the days when a fella could visit the bathroom without waiting for the guy ahead of him to finish writing an email to his boss.

My cousin’s son is in town for spring vacation this week. He texted me yesterday to see what I was up to. He is twenty-two years old, and his texts are hard for me to understand because he abbreviates everything.

“How R U,” he texted—no question mark.

“Hey!” I wrote—I took the time to add an exclamation point because that is the kind of guy I am.

He texted in reply: “WYD?”

“You’re gonna have to be a little more clear.”

“LOL! It means ‘What are you doing?’”

“I’m texting a twenty-two-year-old.”

“#Lifegoals.”

“#Whatdoesthatmean?”

“LOL! IKR?"

Give me strength, Lord.

I didn’t want to ask,…

I was raised by a church lady. My mother was a woman who lived on coffee and the Bible. And you could find her each morning, on the sofa, before work, holding both.

“Go upstairs and shower,” she’d say when she saw me walking downstairs in the mornings. Then, she’d take a sip and go back to reading.

And I would take a shower because you always do what a church lady tells you. Always.

My mother gave me my first taste of coffee when I was a 5-year-old. I was over the moon. She couldn't have picked a worse beverage to give a hyperactive child who could not sit still through an entire episode of Gilligan’s Island.

I was so grateful to her, coffee was an adult pleasure that seemed illicit somehow.

My mother always made her coffee the same way. She used a Corningware percolator on a stovetop, like church ladies have been doing since Adam and Eve attended the first Billy Graham crusade. When her coffee was ready, it

would be hot enough to rip the flesh from the roof of your mouth and scald your liver.

That first morning, she gave me half a cup. It steamed. It smelled beautiful.

“How do you want it?” she asked.

“In a cup, please.”

“No, how do you take your coffee?”

“By mouth.”

“No, sweetie, I mean what do you want in your coffee?”

“I don’t know.”

“Let's make it pretty.”

“Pretty?”

“That just means extra cream and extra sugar.”

Soon, my cup sat before me, fixed pretty. It was the color beige.

My mother grinned and said, “This is kinda nice, I don't ever have anyone to sit and drink coffee with. Your father doesn’t drink coffee, he drinks Coke instead.”

And that’s the story of how I became my mother’s drinking buddy.

It meant…

Sometimes, my memory can be foggy. But sometimes it can be remarkably clear. On rare occasions I can remember everything.

I went to the mailbox today and found a package. Before I opened the parcel I already knew what was inside. And it brought my whole life back in a moment.

Sometimes, my memory can be foggy. But sometimes it can be remarkably clear. On rare occasions I can remember everything.

Like the first time I went to the fair. My old man took me to ride the carnival rides with my cousin. We paid our tokens. The glorious rides only lasted a blazing ninety seconds. They were so surprisingly short that you felt cheated at the end.

Or the way I once told Eleanor Nelson I liked her, by giving her a ceramic sculpture I made in art class. A figurine of two people paddling a boat.

“What’s this?” said Eleanor.

“It’s two people in a boat, what else?”

“Is that supposed to be me?”

“Maybe.”

“I look like I fell into a bee’s nest.”

“You mean a hive.”

“Huh?”

“Technically, bees don’t have nests, they have hives.”

“You’re a dork,

you know that?”

“I do.”

I remember my first taste of corn liquor—and I’m not making this up. My friend's father let me take a sip at a Church of God barbecue. I was visiting. The old man’s name was Mister Travis, but everyone called him Big T.

After one tiny sip, I knew why Big T always spoke in tongues at Little League games.

My wedding ring, I remember buying it. We went to the jewelry store to pick out rings. The man behind the counter had white hair and an accent that was pure Alabama. He greeted us with:

“Well look at this pair of lovin’ younguns.”

Now there’s a little gem of a phrase.

The honeymoon my wife and I took, I’ll always remember that. It was one for the books. I had never…

My father took me to his jobsite one day. The automotive plant was almost finished. He explained the ins and the outs of ironwork to me, but his words were miles above my head.

The General Motors Plant is closed today. It’s a Sunday. The parking lot is empty. The air is chilly. The way the sun hits the sheet-metal makes it look almost beautiful.

My father spent two years building this plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, not long before he died.

My father’s white welding truck would sit parked out front. Hoses dangling from the back, a clipboard on the dashboard, a welding mask in his front seat. Always a welding mask.

You would’ve liked him, everyone did. He was a foreman on this GM plant. Being a foreman in Tennessee was big news for him. Before, he’d always been just a welder. But a foreman, that meant he was more than just a worker bee. He was some body.

Being “somebody” isn’t the same as being “some body.” That single space between the two words makes all the difference.

You might run into “somebody” at the supermarket. But if you run into Jimmy Carter at the supermarket, you’ve just met “some body.”

My

father took me to his jobsite one day. The automotive plant was almost finished. He explained the ins and the outs of ironwork to me, but his words were miles above my head.

He talked about footers, joists, girders, column splices, and I can’t remember what else. All I remember is the welding mask, sitting on his front seat.

When the big project was finished, my father took his wife and boy to Nashville for a celebration meal. It was a fancy restaurant with white table cloths. My French fries were reddish-colored and spicy.

I’d never seen fries look so unnaturally colored before.

“What’re these?” I asked, poking at my plate. I expected a tentacle to slither from beneath the fries and steal my fork.

“Those’re seasoned fries,” my father said. “All the big cities have seasoned fries.”

“What’re they…

Fifteen years ago. I had longer hair, skinnier features, and the same truck.

I saw him outside the Mexican restaurant. He was nosing behind the dumpster, looking for food. I’ve seen that look on a creature before. It was desperation.

He edged away from me, but not quickly. He didn't know if he could trust me, and I couldn’t blame him. It’s a rough world out there.

He wasn’t wagging his tail, so I took the same posture my father used to take in the presence of feral animals. I squatted and held my hands outward.

It worked like a charm. The old boy came right to me.

I was thrilled. There is something about stray dogs that awakens the dog whisperer in me. I whisper; and they run like hailfire.

But this dog didn’t run. He was black, with white spots, he had a chunk missing from one ear. He was timid, but he had a sweet demeanor. He found a special place in my heart

from the beginning.

I have always had a thing for strays. This probably goes back to the day my mother first brought home a chocolate Lab named Cody. She was a dog with a warm personality that could melt a block of ice.

Cody wore a purple collar and licked me raw upon our first meeting. She became my fast friend. She was not only beautiful, she was the luckiest dog I ever knew.

There was something about her. Once, she was bitten by a copperhead, and survived. Another time, she was poisoned by a farmer with a grudge. She was sick for days, but she survived.

There was the time she fell off a fishing boat without anyone knowing she was missing. She almost drowned. But she didn’t. Somehow she made it to shore. That dog must’ve swam five hundred yards.

Later in my…

Newnan, Georgia— The downtown is pretty enough to make a grown man cry. The old Alamo Theater building has been standing, since 1890.

The large neon sign glows red in the night, and the lettered marquee is perfect. In this theater, Chubby Checker himself once twisted the night away.

Some writers become inspired by Faulkner, Tolstoy, or Thoreau. Others draw inspiration from an old theater marquee.

My aunt went on her very first date at the Alamo. I understand the boy she was going with was Catholic. My aunt was raised Deepwater Baptist. This was a scandalous affair because Catholics are allowed to dance.

On North Court Square is a 20-foot-by-40-foot mural of Alan Jackson, Newnan’s native son. In the painting, Jackson sits atop a motorcycle, wearing a leather jacket and aviator sunglasses. He couldn’t get any cooler if he tried.

The newspaper in Newnan is also world class. Always has been. The Newnan Times-Herald, as I understand, is one of the few

small-town papers still kicking tail and taking names after 150 years in the business.

You might not know this, but all I ever wanted to be was a small-town newspaper man. When I was a kid, my friends were dressing up as Army men, firemen, or doctors. Not me. I wore my father’s old fedora, with a slip of paper in the hat band reading: “PRESS.”

I wanted to cover earth-shattering local news items and write cutting-edge editorials like:

—The baby shower Miss Arnette threw for her daughter-in-law, Irma Ann, was an alleged success. One female visitor remarks: “I had a delicious time and appreciated myself.”

—The Little League game between Slocumb and Fadette on Friday went into extra innings. One man in the stands says, quote: “Fadette got smeared worse than spit on a windshield.”

—The Saturday chili-cornbread potluck social at the Presbyterian church was well attended. Miss…