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…

I received a letter from a reader named Patrick, in Montclair, New Jersey. Patrick is twenty-three and married to Amy, who is from Dothan, Alabama.

Patrick writes: “I cannot understand my wife when she talks! She actually uses the word ‘yonder.’

“But the weirdest thing for me is that whenever my wife leaves a store or something, she says farewell to the clerk by saying: ‘Ight now, be good.’

“WHAT IN THE WORLD DOES THAT MEAN? Help me learn Southern English, Sean.”

Patrick, you’ve come to the right person. I can help you. The first thing to do is sit down, relax, eat something with saturated fat, and listen to a Gaither Family record.

The first thing to know about Southern English is that it is all about syllables. In this part of the world, single-syllable words can become fifteen, sometimes sixteen-syllable words.

For instance, you might have heard the word “chair” pronounced as a one-syllable word in New Jersey. It’s alright, there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Your wife, however, likely pronounces this word as “CHAY-yurr.” Southerners add these extra syllables to words because this is America and you can’t tell me what to do, sucker.

Other words with extra syllables would be:

“Floor” (FLO-wurr), “tail” (TAY-yull), “God” (GAH-wud), and the name “Bill” (Willie).

Also: “Bed” (BAY-yud), “fan” (FAY-unn), “him” (HEE-yulm), “sand” (SAY-yend), “Todd” (TAH-wud), “it” (EE-yit), “leg” (LAY-yig), “Fred” (FRAY-yed), and “piano” (panner).

Keep in mind, these are not strict rules. Pronunciations may vary from region to region. One glaring exception that comes to mind would be the word “tire.”

Residents in Lower Alabama, for instance, pronounce “tire” with two syllabes (TIE-yurr). Whereas if you were to visit the Sand Mountain region, they would pronounce it as “tar” then throw a rattlesnake at you.

We also have compound words which fall under the classification of “please-repeat-yourself” words. Linguistic scientists call…