Last week, I played music and spoke to a room of white-haired women. It was a dim-lit bar, with decent onion rings, heavy burgers, and waitresses who call you “sweetie.” Not exactly the place you’d expect to see the White-Haired Beauties of America.

But they were here. Ladies from all walks of life held glasses of beer and wine. A few had canes and walkers. A few got too loud. I was entertainment.

Eighty-two-year-old, Jo, approached me first. She wore a white blouse with houndstooth scarf. She asked if she could buy me a beer. I yes-ma’ammed her.

“Don’t yes-ma’am me, boy,” she said. “I’m trying to hit on you. Ruins the excitement.”

We sat at the bar together. She fired up her vaporizer cigarette.

“Doctor says I shouldn’t smoke,” said Jo. “But still I smoke two a day. One in the morning, one at night, and I vape until my throat’s raw.”

Jo is an M-80 firecracker. She is from rural Alabama and she sounds like it. She is a writer, a poet, an artist, and

a shameless flirt.

She told stories, of course.

Her words were a trip backward on the timeline. Suppers on church grounds, childhoods with calloused feet. Chicken pens, hog roasts, cotton-pickers, fish fries, front porches.

By the time she had worn out her butterscotch vaporizer, she was talking about her husband.

“I miss him so much,” she said. “He was a precious man, the best thing in my life. You look a little like he did.”

There was another woman. Ella.

She was eighty-nine. She asked if the band would play “Tennessee Waltz.” We played it at an easy tempo.

She slow-danced with her son. He was careful with her. When he dipped her, she was nineteen again. That’s when he blew out his back.

Ella’s husband died when she was forty. She never remarried.

“Always had me a few boyfriends,”…

Today is an important day. Maybe one of the most important of my life. I have been looking forward to this day since childhood, and now that it’s here I don’t know how to feel.

Today is National Cow Appreciation Day.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You didn’t even know there was such a holiday. But it turns out there is. And in honor of this day, my wife’s 2003 Dodge Durango died in the post office parking lot with us inside it.

It was ninety-eight degrees outside. I tried to flag someone for help. Many of these people simply waved at me, then pointed to their wristwatches, and drove away.

So that’s where I am now, waiting for a tow truck, writing to you on my phone.

But like I said, nothing can bring me down today. Nothing. Because you know what else today is? The Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

That’s right. All year, we baseball fans have been waiting for our

favorite players to form the All-Star team.

These are professional athletes who play the sport purely out of love. And also, because they make millions of dollars and sometimes throw huge parties on their yachts wherein partygoers drink so much champagne they push the piano overboard.

But.

That's not why today is special, either. No, sir. Today has nothing to do with cattle, or baseball, or Dodge Durangos that are as dead as iced catfish.

Today is important because of an orange hardback book, stolen from the Nashville Public Library in the early 1980’s.

Let me explain:

This old dusty book dates back to my late father, who was an avid reader. He was a blue-collar man who worked on steel every day of his life, and he read two or three books per week.

I remember him reading this exact book when I…

A boy will do almost anything for ice cream.

I wasn’t going to write this, but I have to. Not only for me, but for the good of our children, and our children’s children. No matter how hard it is to address. I’m talking, of course, about the highly controversial issue of homemade ice cream.

Ice cream wasn’t always under scrutiny like it is today. It used to be okay to eat ice cream. But then, suddenly it wasn’t okay, and lots of companies started coming out with healthy frozen yogurt.

A few years later, news reports claimed frozen yogurt was just as bad as ice cream. So they came out with “sugar-free” frozen yogurt, made with “aspartame.” And the world as we knew it fell apart.

Aspartame is actually a lot of fun to say. It seems like a dirty word, but isn’t. You can use it in social settings and it’s acceptable.

EXAMPLE: “Have you seen traffic today? It’s a real pain in the aspartame.”

So Americans were eating sugar-free yogurt sludge by the gallon, hoping

to live to be one hundred, and doing step aerobics. Life was all right again.

Companies started going bonkers and making bizarre frozen yogurt flavors like Blackberry-Garbanzo Bean, and Coffee-Bubble Gum, and Toenail.

Then, reports came out with new information claiming aspartame was deadly.

One report stated: “Aspartame turns your bodily fluids into formaldehyde, side effects include: Numbness, tingling, and profound interest in Jazzercise.”

All of a sudden, journalists were telling mankind to stay away from anything that even remotely looked like sugar-free frozen yogurt, and for mankind to eat quinoa instead.

Which is probably why a few months ago, I found two fifty-pound bags of red quinoa in our pantry. It wasn’t long before we were eating what looked like chicken feed for every meal until sometimes—especially if we sat in one place for too long—grade-A eggs would start appearing beneath our…

It’s hard not to get excited about a group of hometown American girls from places like Salina, Kansas, Fayetteville, Georgia, Saint Louis, and Cincinnati, beating the pants off the whole world

The women’s U.S. national team won the Women’s World Cup. I watched it on TV with my wife. We cheered like fools. My wife crushed an aluminum can on her forehead and shouted “GIRL POWER!”

I am not usually a soccer fan. In fact, I barely know how the game is played, but I watched the World Cup, and I hollered.

It’s hard not to get excited about a group of hometown American girls from places like Salina, Kansas, Fayetteville, Georgia, Saint Louis, and Cincinnati, beating the pants off the whole world.

The whole world.

Long ago, I dated a girl who played soccer. She was tough as nails, and drank raw egg yolks for breakfast. We were not a love connection. Primarily, because I am a baseball man myself. Plus, this girl could bench press a ‘63 Buick Skylark, and she scared me.

Anyway, my wife got very excited about all the raw girl-power being displayed during Women’s World Cup. So excited that when she

high-fived me, she dislocated my shoulder.

You’d like my wife. When we first married, she had no logical reason to be with a guy like me. I was a high-school dropout who had worked construction since age fourteen. She was a college grad.

But she married me anyway—against the advice of some very smart people.

My wife helped me enroll in, and finish community college. And it was my wife who tutored me through collegiate math classes. It’s a wonder we stayed married after Algebra II. Because it took me three semesters to figure out that a coefficient was not a geographical land mass.

So she’s no world-class athlete, but she is a chef de cuisine.

When I first met my wife, she’d just graduated from culinary school. She worked in fancy-schmancy joints with menus that were overpriced, and European.

The names of the…

Have you ever been to one of those barbecues where some guy is name-dropping all over the place? He’s talking about the big things he’s done, and everyone flocks around him because some people are actually impressed by this?

And when the food is served, the host asks this guy to say grace, or toast, or whatever.

The guy answers, “Oh, no. I couldn’t possibly.”

But he does anyway.

He makes a big speech, drops a few more names, tells a few more grandiose stories, and you need a seasickness bag.

But in truth, you hardly notice him all night because throughout the party, you are in the corner talking to an old woman—let’s call her Maddie.

Maddie is the mother of one of the guests. She is wearing slippers and a nightgown, but her mind is sharp. She looks out of place at this party, but you like out-of-place people because you are one.

Maddie survived the Great Depression, and she never talks about this

in public. It’s too painful. But tonight, her meds are kicking in, and she’s talking with you because she’s high as a weather balloon.

And you fall in love with her. You even contemplate kidnapping her to be your own private granny.

The more she talks, the more you want to tell everyone at the barbecue how incredible Maddie is, but everyone is too head-over-heels about Mister Name Dropper, who is telling a story about how he once ran into Kim Kardashian in an elevator in Toledo.

So the party ends, and Maddie goes to bed because she has chair yoga in the morning. And that night, you go home and feel so inspired that you start writing a novel.

And that’s how the book begins.

It’s a tribute to an old woman you met. Only, the more you write, the less it…

But that is not what I remember most about those camping trips. What I remember was an old man named Brother Willie.

It was summer. I didn’t want to be camping, and neither did my wife, but there are some church obligations you must keep.

We had one job, and that was to prevent the Baptist youth group from committing sin. Teenagers have the natural ability to sin on camping trips. It is in their genes.

Teenagers can commit any one of the top-ten sins before breakfast. I’m talking classic sins like envy, malice, greed, or replacing the cream filling in a Twinkie with Colgate toothpaste.

And if kids can’t commit one of these, they invent new sins.

One such sin would be shining a flashlight into the chaperones’ tents and saying, “Oooooo.” Which is supposed to be frightening, but it isn’t. It’s not even remotely scary to hear a pre-pubescent voice say, “Oooooo” after dark.

If I were a kid, and I really wanted to annoy my youth chaperones—and I’m just thinking out loud here—I would empty a jar of honey into their shoes and let the sugar ants

engulf their sneakers like a hellish scene from a B-movie horror film. Not that I’ve ever done that.

When we were kids, my Little League team took lots of camping trips. On one such trip, my cousin brought an entire gym bag full of illicit items.

Because this is a family column, I won’t tell you what he actually brought. So let’s just say he brought cans of A&W root beer and some gospel magazines.

The problem was, my aunt was also on this camping trip. Do you remember the sadistic warden in “Cool Hand Luke” played by Strother Martin, who abused Luke because of a sick, twisted compulsion? My aunt was like him, only she was a Freewill Baptist.

She would make randomized tent visits. And on that particular night, she discovered her son’s tent was filled with the whole team.

She barged…

After surgery, she almost cancelled this Florida trip—which she has been wanting to take for ten years.

The grocery store is packed with tourists. And I mean packed. There are hundreds of them.

And I am stuck in a cluster of middle-aged men who wear neon-colored swim trunks and flip flops.

You could say that I’m here against my will. My wife sent me on a very important shopping mission to buy:

1. Salsa.
2. Neosporin.

And because no household can survive for more than forty-eight hours without salsa or the miraculous properties of Neosporin, here I am.

The middle-aged men in the checkout line are laughing and carrying on. They are wearing Margaritaville T-shirts, and their skin is a deep reddish-tan.

I can spot a Beach-Tourist-Dad tan a mile away. It’s all in the nose region.

Middle-aged male tourists, you see, rarely apply sunscreen to their noses—don’t ask me why. Thus, on a typical beach vacation, a Beach Dad often resembles the captain of Santa’s sled team.

As it happens, it’s a good thing Beach Dad isn’t ACTUALLY steering Santa’s sleigh because Beach Dad also drives like a clinically insane stuntman.

Sometimes, you can see Beach

Dad weaving his minivan through heavy traffic while singing along with a Jimmy Buffet greatest hits album, nearly causing ten-car pile ups.

But getting back to the grocery store. There’s a small boy standing in the checkout aisle behind me. He’s pushing a wheelchair with a woman in it. The woman is mid-seventies. She has a cast on her ankle.

There is also a teenage girl with her. The three-person clan is a nice-looking one. And because they are only buying sodas and popsicles, I insist they cut in line.

The boy wheels the woman ahead of me. The older woman thanks me.

I ask where they’re from.

“Arkansas,” she says. “These are my grandkids. We’re down here for two weeks.”

She tells me that she is still recovering from ankle surgery. Her injury happened a few weeks ago…

Soon, I hear the sound of glass casserole dishes on their porch. And the happy chatter of voices. This is a cross-section of the Great America Pie to me. Casseroles and laughter.

On my kitchen counter is a pound cake, sitting on a pedestal, beneath a glass dome.

Pound cake is the food of summer. It can make or break the entire season. A summer without pound cake is like church without singing. Or Monet without color. Or Andy without Barney.

When I was a younger man, my soon-to-be wife and I went through mandatory marriage counseling at our church. It was miserable. The minister was so uptight that he could have carried a corn cob without using his hands.

The pastor asked me what my “love language” was.

“My what?” I said.

“Your love language,” he said. “How do you receive love?”

“Come again?”

“Food,” my wife interjected. “Sean’s love language is pound cake, and so is mine. We speak Food.”

That preacher looked at us like we had june bugs crawling out our noses. And I never forgot that.

Because my wife was right. We speak Food. Food has always helped me

through life. I use fried chicken to fend off existential doubt. Pimento cheese gives me courage. And pound cake restoreth my soul.

And yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of High Cholesterol, I will fear no egg yolks, for Thou art with me.

Speaking of food, right now I smell steaks cooking on a grill. My neighbor, Tom, is having a holiday cookout and he is speaking my “love language” fluently.

It’s Fourth-of-July week and every house on our street has a driveway full of cars. There are American flags flying on every post, mailbox, and car antenna.

People linger on porches, holding bottles and aluminum cans, eating ridiculous amounts of goodies and laughing a lot.

The sun is low. I hear firecrackers in the distance. They sound like bottle rockets.

If you are, or you have ever been a boy,…

But you don’t always get what you want in life. Sometimes you get what you need instead.

I met new cousins today. Well, they are new to me. These are cousins I never knew I had. Lots of them. They all looked so much like my father that I smiled until I cracked a tooth.

We spent the afternoon on the porch. Everyone who sat around the patio table was fair-skinned, with buckshot freckles, and reddish hair.

“You look just like we do,” said Andy, my new cousin, who I’ve never met before today.

“I just KNEW you were a Dietrich,” added my new cousin, Pat, who is around my father’s age. “I just knew you were John’s son.”

We talked. And talked. And talked.

You might think it’s hard to converse with people you’ve never met before, but it’s not. Not when they are people with happy personalities. And not when one of you is a writer who is chatty enough to make lifelong friends with a parking meter.

When we met, I couldn’t believe all the freckles.

I never knew any family who looked like me. I take after my father’s side, I have red hair, freckled skin, and unnaturally skinny legs that make me appear to be riding a chicken. People used to say I looked like just like Howdy Doody, minus the charisma.

As a young man I was a charity-case kid without much family. I often got invited to someone else’s Fourth-of-July family celebration out of pity. And I hated this holiday because I always felt like I was crashing someone else’s party.

But, over time you develop thick skin. I learned how to be my own man, I learned how to take care of myself, and I pretended not to care whether I had family or not.

I learned how to make conversation with inanimate objects like fire hydrants, house plants, and most models of U.S. manufactured toilets. But it was an act. I…

I visited Andy’s childhood house and left a postcard in the mailbox. I hiked along the river where he fished as a boy. I put a jar of dill pickles on Aunt Bea’s grave in Siler City.

Today, I watched the Andy Griffith Show all day long. I had the day off, so I visited Mayberry.

I started with the very first episode, when Andy welcomes Aunt Bea to Mayberry. I watched a handful of others until it was time for bed. The last episode I watched was the one where Barney joins the choir. A classic.

Over the last twelve hours, I’ve seen it all. I watched the Mayberry Bank almost get robbed—twice. I’ve seen Barney muff things up with Thelma Lou. I tasted Aunt Bea’s god-awful pickles.

And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, Andy taught Opie to stand up to a bully.

During my childhood, the Andy Griffith Show came on the local station every weekday at five o’clock. Our TV only got three channels, and two of the stations came in fuzzy.

So I watched Andy Griffith each afternoon until I’d practically memorized the dialogue, the closing credits, and even the commercials between segments.

Commercials like the one with Coach Bear Bryant advertising for South Central Bell. “Have you called your mama today?” Bear would say. “I sure wish I could call mine.”

And the advertisements which all featured some unfortunate kid named Mikey, eating Life cereal at gunpoint.

And of course, there was the commercial with “Mean” Joe Greene, tossing his sweaty football jersey at an innocent child who offered him a Coca-Cola.

My childhood was not an easy one. After my father took his own life, I was a lonely boy who watched a lot of TV. I think I was trying to escape my own world by living inside a console television set. I enjoyed all the classic reruns.

Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Twilight Zone, I Love Lucy, Gilligan’s Island, Batman, and I pledged my eternal love to Barbara Eden. The Beverly Hillbillies were okay in a pinch. Green…