The Grand Canyon could not look any better. The colors of morning shine on the rocks and make purple shadows.

My wife and I stand at the rail and overlook one of the best things ever forged.

A family from Shanghai stands beside us. The Chinese man asks me to take their picture by speaking in fluent hand gestures.

His family poses.

“Say CHEESE!” I shout.




Close enough for American.

I have been to the Canyon a handful of times because this was one of two places my late father loved most.

Years ago, I came here to camp and hike by myself. I had gone through a rough patch and I was here to clear my head. I slept in a tent, I lived on canned food and warm beer. It was great.

One night, I camped beside an older man named Jerry. He was from Oklahoma. Jerry was a Church of Christ deacon. And even though I wanted to be

alone, Jerry started tagging along on my hikes without invitation.

After one full day of walking together, we shared supper. Beans and bacon cooked over a fire. When I cracked open my can of warm beer he got upset.

He said, “You’re not actually going to DRINK that are you?”

“Of course not,” I said. “I prefer to guzzle.”

I took one sip and wished I hadn’t. The next thirty minutes were filled with a bona fide sermon about beer. I started to feel so bad that I emptied my can on the campfire and apologized for offending him.

The next morning, I tried to sneak away from camp before Jerry awoke, but I was not quick enough. Jerry was already up with the chickens.

He was wearing a tucked-in shirt, khakis, and his backpack.

“Hurry up,” he said. “We have…

I was embarrassed. No. Embarrassment doesn’t even begin to describe it. I was pathetic.

Tallahassee—The hospital volunteers luncheon was well attended. In the dining room were white-haired beauties who donate their time to suffering strangers without expecting anything in return.

These are saints. They visit those undergoing chemo. They smile at the downtrodden. They hold the hands of the infirm.

And they are always on the job.

The buffet was fried chicken, potato salad, and string beans. Flower arrangements lined the tables. The entertainment was me.

I had been running ahead of schedule. So, before the luncheon I found myself wandering Tallahassee, admiring the local sites.

I had forgotten how pretty it was. The Spanish moss in the oaks is like something from a postcard. It’s hard to believe I used to dislike this town.

It’s a long story. I’ll give you the short version.

I lived in Tally for a hot minute. And by this I mean for a couple weeks. I rented an apartment not far from Florida State University, and I planned to attend.

A little

about my boyhood education:

I was a high-school dropout. I quit school because of reasons that don’t make much sense now. Later in life, I completed my education as a grown man.

I felt pretty ashamed about this for a long time.

After I finished community college, I applied and got accepted to FSU, and I was over the moon. I bought curtains for my new apartment. Scented candles. Throw rugs.

But my excitement was short lived. As it happened, I had not been accepted. A clerical error had been made.

I was formally rejected a few days before classes started. And on that disappointing day, I sat in my truck watching teenagers scurry to class, and I felt like the world’s biggest flunky.

I’ll never forget seeing a teenage boy on a skateboard who wore pajamas. He was on his way…

Montgomery—I’m sitting beside Judge Jimmy Pool at a baseball game. He’s wearing a ball cap. We’re talking during the third inning.

“Montgomery’s downtown wasn’t always this alive,” he says. “The downtown used to be dead in the water.”

I remember those days, back when tumbleweed rolled down Coosa Street and shop windows were vacant.

My cousin and I came here long ago to visit some friends. The downtown felt empty. A man wearing a trash bag asked if we had a few bucks. My cousin gave him a five. The man thanked us, then showed us a dandy little knife.

“How about a little more?” the man said.

My cousin gave him the rest of his cash. I gave him all my pocket change, a rubber band, some plastic-wrapped Saltines, and an expired Florida Lotto ticket.

The downtown is very different now. It is hip, and vibrant. The Hank Williams statue stands near the river, overlooking bustling streets and nice barbecue joints. Acoustic music comes from a sidewalk


“I can tell you exactly when this town changed,” says Judge Jimmy. “It was when Mayor Bobby Bright said, ‘I’m gonna bring baseball to Montgomery.’”

And so it happened. Fifteen years ago, the quaint stadium became a reality. And that, by God, was that.

Locals voted on a mascot. Lots of choices were offered, but the buttermilk biscuit logo won by a country mile.

“We’re really just a big small town,” says Jimmy. “And the Biscuits bring that out in us, we’re like family at this park, sometimes this stadium is my living room.”

I see what he means. In this small park, I am lost in the bygone era of our grandparents. Maybe it’s the gruff voices of umpires, the smell of stale beer, or the sounds of children laughing.

The food isn’t bad, either. Here they serve Conecuh Sausage.…

When we got closer, I saw her. It was Minnie Pearl. The price tag on her hat dangled from the brim. Her voice was unmistakable.

I remember going to see the Grand Ole Opry as a boy. My father drove through the busy city of Nashville. I was five, he was thirty-six.

“Daddy,” I said, “Do you think that there will be anyone famous there?”

“Do I?” he said. “You better know it. There’s always famous people at the Opry, and famous ghosts, too.”

“Ghosts? Really?”

My daddy was good with a ghost story.

“Why sure,” he said. “The ghost of Hank Williams, for one thing. And Hank Snow, and Lefty Frizzell... There’s always ghosts at the Opry.”

“Are they nice ghosts?”


“Depends on what?”

“On if you’re a nice little boy or not.”

“What happens if I’m not a nice little boy?”

“A ghost will swoop down from the rafters and rip your face off, suck out your soul, and send you to Hell and make you listen to classical music for eternity.”


Then he would laugh. My father had a laugh that sounded like Mister Ed.

My father and I walked into the amphitheater

and were greeted by the smell of hotdogs and popcorn. I had the greatest evening of my life.

Men in ten-gallon hats. Women in rhinestones. Steel guitars, dueling fiddles, the sound of Keith Bilbrey's silky announcing voice.

We were suspended from the real world for a while. It was a star-studded dream, wrapped in a beehive hairdo, with a guitar strapped to its chest. Onstage we saw Jerry Clower, telling jokes.

My father laughed, slapping his armrest. And there was that Mister Ed laugh again. His odd laugh was funnier than any joke that ever inspired it.

But the height of our evening was not the music, nor the laughs, nor the sparkling rhinestones. The apex of this memory happened after the show.

We made our way to the lobby. There was a horde of people waiting in line. We…

One of the first things my mother did after my father’s funeral was take us on a trip to Branson, Missouri. My uncle came along.


My husband died Saturday. The funeral is tomorrow. You have written about your father’s funeral, and the days before and after. Is there anything we can do to make things easier for my ten-year-old son? I know he’ll have a hole in his heart forever. I want to do everything possible to support him.



My mother took me to a therapist after my father’s funeral. Everyone was pretty worried about me because I quit talking.

They tried to get me out of my shell, but I hurt too badly to laugh, smile, or talk. Besides, I didn’t have anything to say.

The therapist’s office was behind a Methodist church and the doctor was a man with a New York accent who never shut up and always tossed a football in the air while he talked.

I guess this was his attempt at being a down-to-earth guy, playing with a football while he explained my father’s suicide. But it didn’t work.

Every time he spoke,

tossing that dumb ball, I kept thinking of how my father used to say, “There’s no better form of birth control than a New York accent.”

And I would start to giggle. But I still refused to talk.

He told me to stop laughing. Then he asked me to try a mental exercise. He handed me an empty mayonnaise jar and a handful of pennies.

“Put a penny in the jar,” he said.

I wouldn’t do it. So we sat for a long time and I held those pennies, thinking about how foolish I felt.

“Those are hurt-pennies,” he said. “And if you put enough hurt-pennies in your jar, one day you’ll have all your hurt in an itty-bitty place, then you can put the lid on and hurl it into the ocean.”

Then he tossed his football in…

My friend pointed to one lady in the congregation. She was slight, with gray hair, and a blue skirt suit. There are some people you don’t forget. She was one of those people.

The things I could write about pound cake. I could go on and on and bore you to death, but I won’t.

After my father died, I remember visiting a Methodist church with my boyhood friend, and he was introducing me to people. He was raised Methodist, I was not. My people were Baptist.

The Methodists were cheerful. My people didn’t believe in cheer. Our pastor preached hard against alcoholism, promiscuity, and narcotics because these things could lead to cigarette smoking.

My friend pointed to one lady in the congregation. She was slight, with gray hair, and a blue skirt suit.

There are some people you don’t forget. She was one of those people.

She had a heavenly glow. People smiled when they passed by her like she was unique.

“Who’s that woman?” I asked.

“That is the Pound Cake Lady,” my pal said in reverence.

After the Methodist service, my friend led me to a downstairs fellowship hall. The Methodists put out a bigger

spread than any I’d ever seen. There was even a special table dedicated to cornbread and biscuits.

It was too much. Overwhelming. I even saw people standing outside the fellowship hall, smoking cigarettes after their meal. It was as though they were unwinding after sin.

The woman in the blue skirt suit placed something on the end of the table. It was golden, fat, hulking, sacred pound cake.

“Hurry and get some,” said my friend, “before it’s all gone.”

He was right. The cake didn’t last four seconds among those chain-smoking Methodists. But when it disappeared, the old woman replaced it with another.

People blessed her name forevermore. Hallelujah. And so did I.

So every church has a pound cake lady. They are young, middle-aged, or elderly, and they are holy. These ladies are messengers, sent to humanity as proof that God is…

Pensacola—A sports bar. The Auburn Tigers were playing the Virginia Cavaliers, and I was the only person in the place not wearing orange and blue.

I am not an Auburn man. I root for the Crimson Tide. My mother roots for the Tide. You cannot change horses this late in life.

Even so, when the Tigers made Final Four basketball history, my Auburn friends lost their minds and nearly set fire to their own hair.

Because that’s how Auburn Tigers are.

One of my Auburn friends called me to say: “I don’t care who your team is, if you don’t come watch the Tigers with me you are a heartless sinner who drinks sugarless iced tea and doesn’t love the Lord.”

Message received. So there we were.

The television above the bar played the game. I sat beside two older women from Mobile. Both had white hair. Both sipped from wine glasses and wore Auburn colors.

“We’ve been friends since high school,” said Carol. “We even finish each other’s sentences.”

“I was gonna say the same

thing,” said Marie.

They cackled. They toasted their glasses.

Marie is an Auburn graduate, and she warned me that if I divulged their ages, I would be singing soprano for the rest of my life.

They have a lot in common. Carol lost her husband some years ago from prostate cancer. Marie lost her husband nine months later from pancreatic cancer.

“I never cared for sports,” said Marie. “It was always my husband who liked them.”

“Same here,” added Carol.

But that changed when their husbands died. Both admit that after the shock wore off, it felt like a vital routine was missing in life. The world was different without their husbands’ tailgating trips to Jordan-Hare stadium, or games blaring on TV.

“Yeah,” said Marie. “I just missed John so bad, I had to do something to keep him alive.”