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.

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…

Anyway, yesterday morning was a beautiful sunrise. I woke early. I watched the colors over the highway. I drove to meet my cousin at a breakfast joint.

Montgomery, Alabama—it was late afternoon, the grocery store was busy. It was a big weekend, hurried customers played demolition derby with shopping carts.

I saw two young men shopping together. Their basket was overflowing with bachelor food. Microwave dinners, hotdogs, potato chips, Michelob Ultra, spray cheese.

The youngest man was wearing cargo shorts. His right leg was disfigured. Below the knee, his leg was mostly shinbone without any visible muscle, covered in scars.

I followed the men around the supermarket because I am a writer, and writers are odd people.

When they reached the self-checkout lane, I was a few customers behind them in line.

An old man approached the men. They had a brief conversation. I tried to listen to their words but their voices were too quiet.

The only thing I heard the elderly man say was: “Where were you stationed?”

“Afghanistan,” the young man answered. Also, I heard the words, “ambush,” “explosion,” and “physical therapy.”

When the young

men finished scanning items, I will never forget what happened next. The old man removed his wallet and swiped his credit card.

The young men tried to stop him, but they were too slow. The man replaced his wallet, then winked at them and said, “You snooze, you lose, fellas.”

I can still see that old man when I close my eyes. Some things stick with you, I guess.

Just like the time I saw an elderly woman in Franklin, Tennessee. Her car wouldn’t start. Three men from inside the gas station rushed to help her.

They were large men with long beards, dirty clothes, and work boots. They crawled over her car until they figured out the problem beneath the hood.

“It’s her serpentine belt!” one man finally shouted.

That was all it took. They leapt into their truck and left. After a few…

Line workers like these men invade disaster zones like armies. They work from dawn to dusk.

Just outside Chipley, Florida, three wooden crosses stand beside the highway at the intersection of Highway 77 and Talton Drive. I pulled over to look at them.

Neon-colored vests hang from a pinewood crossarm, which resembles an electrical utility pole.

Beneath the crosses are hardhats, American flags, and handwritten notes. The roadside monument was built to honor three line workers killed in a hit-and-run accident in Washington County.

You might’ve read about it. It happened months ago when a vehicle left the road and struck workers who were restoring power to an area affected by Hurricane Michael.

I am interrupted by the sound of tires on gravel.

A truck pulls beside me. The driver kills his engine and rolls his window down. I see a man with tanned cheeks and lines on his face.

He doesn’t introduce himself, he only says:

“Them lineman were working seventeen-hour days. They came from all over the nation after the storm, worked like dogs. They were good,

good men.”

Good men.

Line workers like these men invade disaster zones like armies. They work from dawn to dusk. They survive on light sleep, caffeine, and text messages from their children.

“I’ll tell ya,” the man says, “losing one of our own was harder on folks in Chipley than the storm was.”

Chipley is a town with a main street so short you could roll a bowling ball through it without much effort. The community is so tight it holds water.

When I was sixteen, I once dated a girl who lived in Chipley, she pronounced it “CHEE-yip-lee.” She was from a family who still shelled peas on the porch before supper.

After the hurricane, utility workers came by the hundreds, they blanketed Northwest Florida. In this part of the world, you couldn’t drive 10 feet without seeing cherry-pickers beside utility poles, and men working…

Dear Katrina,

Thanks for the story you sent me. I read it twice because it was so good. I especially liked the part about the magical princess falling in love with the NFL player. Love stories are the best.

From your letter, it sounds like this year has been hard on you. Not only did your parents get divorced, but you’ve relocated to a new state.

You asked me a question:

“I don’t have friends at my new school, how do I get everyone to like me?”

That’s a tough one, Katrina. I don’t really have an answer.

But, judging by your well-written letter, and your three-page story fairytale romance, this is not going to be difficult. You are a very bright ten-year-old with a unique talent.

I know this because in your story you used the word “exquisite” when you described your main character.

Most girls would’ve chosen a different word. They would’ve used the word “beautiful,” or worse: “pretty.” But not you. You went for the gold

medal. That shows real smarts.

When I was your age, I also had an usual talent. I could memorize song lyrics after only hearing a tune once or twice.

My father thought this ability was wonderful. He would turn on a radio, let me listen to a song, then flip it off to see if I could remember the words.

Usually, I could sing almost every verse.

At school, however, I was an outsider. I wasn’t a natural athlete, I wasn’t a good student, I had an overbite, and I was chubby. I didn’t have many friends.

But that all changed one fateful day. Our class had an after-school party. I don’t remember what we were celebrating, but I remember cake.

The kids ate so much sugar it made them insane. Especially George Walborsky. And if you knew George Walborsky, like so…

We were newlyweds, living in a grungy apartment.

Each morning, I would wake before her. I would pass my morning hours writing poetry on a yellow legal pad, sipping coffee.

Mostly, I’d write the kinds of god-awful things you’d expect newlyweds to write. I’m talking painfully corny stuff. I’d leave these poems on slips of paper scattered throughout our apartment for her to find.

One such poem read:

“Together, the two of us,
“In thought, and deed, and breath, and heart,
“Shall never be lacerated apart.”

Gag me with number-two pencil. “Lacerated?” What kind of a dork uses that word? In fact, I’m not certain this verb works in this particular case.

LACERATE [verb: las-uh-reyt] lac·er·at·ed, lac·er·at·ing
1. to tear; mangle; rip. Example: “Hey dude, that poem you wrote really freakin’ lacerated.”

My wife saved all my crummy poems in a shoebox, and today they reside in a storage closet.

Anyway, when we first married, we lived in an apartment that smelled like dead squirrels.

I am not being figurative. I mean our apartment actually had a nest of decomposing squirrels in the attic above our master bedroom.

The place was tiny, and about as ugly as homemade soap. The tenant before us had painted the walls black and greenish-gray. Sherwin Williams officially titled this color “Seasick Granite®.”

When we moved in, we made the place our own. We painted the walls brown and khaki. We bought a used coffee table and some scented candles.

My friend, Chubbs, found an old console television on the side of the road. I was lucky enough to claim the TV before the garbage man came.

The thing was heavier than a dead preacher, but we got it up the stairs. Chubbs, however, would suffer from severe disc degenerative problems for the rest of his life.

Our building sat across the…

My family was represented by three. My mama, my sister, and my uncle. Mama’s mascara was running. My sister was in a dress.

I’m on I-65, just outside Birmingham. I’m in the passenger seat, writing. My wife is driving.

It’s early. The sun is still low. In the last three days, we’ve been in four different cities. We just ate breakfast at Cracker Barrel.

Now, more driving.

I remember the day we married. I was standing in the groom’s dressing room. I wasn't nervous until I unzipped the tuxedo bag.

Then, my body got cold. My forehead developed a thin film of sweat.

There was a knock on my door. It was my future father-in-law.

“I’m here to tie your bowtie,” he said.

I stood before this man, rocking on my heels while he secured my neckwear.

Then, he slapped my shoulder and said, “Couldn’t ask for a better looking son, if I do say so myself.”

Son.

The preacher arrived. He straightened my collar and whispered: “I have to say this to every groom: it's not too late to change your mind if you’re not sure...”

I told him he

was wasting his time. Granted, I might not have been a smart man, but I’d never been more sure of anything.

“Alright,” he said. “Let’s go make history.”

And we did. I stood in a small chapel. Half of Brewton, Alabama, had driven an hour and forty minutes to watch the putz in a monkey suit marry one of their town’s fair daughters.

My family was represented by three. My mama, my sister, and my uncle. Mama’s mascara was running. My sister was in a dress.

The doors swung open. A woman walked the aisle.

I would tell you that she was beautiful, or that she took my breath away, but that would be selling her short. She was more than that.

She was everything.

She wore her trademark smile. The same smile she wears today. When…

DEAR SEAN:

I really enjoy your daily postings, but it bothers me when your grammar is incorrect. I don’t know if it is on purpose to be more folksy? Dumbed down? or what, but someone who is a writer should really be more cognizant of how his words impact the reader.

When I read a sentence with blatant incorrect usage, it is jarring and lessens my respect for what you are saying—and I’d rather that didn’t happen...

THANKS-FOR-LETTING-ME-SAY-MY-PIECE

DEAR SAY-MY-PIECE:

You’re absolutely right. I have terrible grammar. I’ll admit it like a man. When I first learned this about myself, I was in community college. I was in my late twenties.

My English professor had cotton hair, and every word she uttered sounded like rural Mississippi.

I remember my first class. I was nervous. I had just left work, I was wearing sweaty clothes.

Underneath my breath, I talked to myself. “You’re not a stupid man, Sean,” I was saying. “You’ve got this.”

Sometimes, I have to remind myself that I am

not a complete ignoramus.

One trick I’ve learned is to remember the people who believed in you.

My fourth-grade teacher, for example.

She encouraged me to write stories. My grammar was atrocious. I was the son of an ironworker, and I was born naked at a very young age. My sentences read like they were written by a plain hick.

Example sentence:

“I once seen Johnnie Andrews with a big old kite fixed to his back, and Lord, he jumped off the dang roof! He broke his ankle and everything!”

My teacher would correct my paper in red ink, then hand it back to me. At the end of every draft, she would include a note that read:

“YOU’RE MY FAVORITE WRITER, SEAN!”

These simple words are actually code for “I love you.” And they inspire me.…

When she saw the turtle nestled among the tall weeds, she noticed red nail-polish writing on his shell. Two initials which read: L.B.

“I’ll bet you’ve never written a column about a turtle,” said Mary, sitting across from me at the coffee shop.

No. I can’t say that I have. And I’m not sure I want to break a lucky streak.

Then Mary told me a story.

She was a thirteen-year-old when she found L.B. in her mother’s flowerbed. She was a tomboy in jeans, with scraped knees, dirty fingernails, and a bad case of freckles.

L.B. was a terrestrial box turtle.

Her parents had just divorced. Her father left town with his new girlfriend. He couldn’t have moved any farther away if he’d left planet Earth.

Life was sad. Her mother was always in a bad mood, her older brother started spending time away from home.

Most nights, she fended for herself, eating TV dinners, watching television, and waiting for her mother to get home.

When she saw the turtle nestled among the tall weeds, she noticed red nail-polish writing on his shell. Two initials which read: L.B.

He was a gentle creature, he didn’t squirm or

snap. She noticed something wrong with his shell, and blood smears on his wounded back leg.

Her first move was to call her father for advice.

“Dad!” she said into the phone. “I found something in the yard!”

“Sweetie,” he said. “We’ve been over this, you can’t keep calling long distance every fifteen minutes, I have a job, I’m very busy.”

“But Dad,” she said. “I just found a tur—”

A dial tone.

So, she took the turtle to her elderly neighbor, Miss Stanley. People said the old woman was a little crazy, and this might have been true.

Miss Stanley had dozens of animals wandering her place—dogs, cats, an iguana, exotic birds. But if anyone would’ve known how to fix L.B.’s leg, it was her.

The old woman invited Mary inside. She…

Aunt Irma was sniffing so hard that I handed her a Kleenex. She hooked arms with me and said, “You know, you’re very cute.”

A few years ago, I went to a friend’s wedding. I arrived at the chapel early. I sat in the front pew while the piano played.

It was the best seat in the house. I wanted to see my buddy’s expression when he stumbled over the words “I do.”

The chapel was adorned with white flowers and greenery. The woman seated beside me was the elderly aunt of the bride.

“My name’s Irma,” she said, presenting her white-gloved hand. “How do you know the groom?”

“We grew up fishing together,” I said.

She looked at me like I had cockroaches crawling out of my eye sockets. “Really? I thought he hated fishing.”

That’s when I had a feeling something was wrong.

And I was correct. When the young groom took the altar, I realized I’d never seen him before in my life.

I started having chest pains. I was at the right church on the wrong weekend.

Soon, the pianist played the familiar chords of

matrimony and the congregation stood. I was going to sneak out the back, but I was too late. The rear doors swung open.

The bride walked the aisle, wearing a gown that was elegant enough to break your heart.

Beside me, Aunt Irma was becoming emotional. “Doesn’t she look just radiant?”

“Does she ever,” I said. “I hardly even recognized her.”

We took our seats. The minister asked who gave the bride away. A white-haired man said, “Her mama and I!”

But when the old man sat alone in his pew, I began to wonder where the mama of the bride was. I almost asked Aunt Irma about it, but I didn’t want to pry.

Anyway, it was a beautiful ceremony. The bride and groom recited vows they’d written themselves.

The groom read a sonnet so eloquent it made most…

I am here today to track down Gomer Pyle. I am looking for glimpses of a world inhabited by Andy, Barney, Opie, and Aunt Bea.

Sylacauga, Alabama—this is your quintessential American town. Old buildings, lots of Baptist churches, and Mama Ree’s restaurant, which serves fare so good you’ll wonder if Granny isn’t in the kitchen.

This is the hometown of Jim Nabors, better known as Gomer Pyle from the Andy Griffith Show.

Earlier today, I toured the city. There is a lot to see.

There’s the Comer museum on Broadway Avenue. They have a room dedicated to Nabors memorabilia. There you can see photos, news clippings, and costumes from the town’s own native son. Up the road is the high school Nabors graduated from.

And of course, Sylacauga is known for more than just Gomer Pyle.

Firstly: it’s one of the only places in the world that produces bedrock marble so pure it was used in the construction of the Lincoln Memorial, and the United States Supreme Court Building.

Sylacauga also boasts the first documented case of an outer-space object falling onto a human. It happened one autumn day in

‘54. A meteorite the size of a grapefruit crashed through a farmhouse roof and hit Mrs. Ann Hodges, who was napping.

It didn’t hurt her too bad, but they say she was fussy for several days thereafter.

Don’t get me wrong, I love meteorites and marble as much as the next guy. But I am here today to track down Gomer Pyle. I am looking for glimpses of a world once inhabited by Andy, Barney, Opie, and Aunt Bea.

The truth is, Andy Griffith raised me. After my father died, we lived with my aunt and my cousins in Georgia. Back then, I was a redhead boy, trapped in a house with six females and 1.5 bathrooms.

Every month, for a span of three to five days, these women would become very grumpy—AT THE SAME TIME. Then, they would gang up on me, threatening to behead and…