I got a letter from Mona, who writes: “Sean, will you write more about food? It makes me feel better during these scary times.”

Mona, as it happens I am looking at a cookbook right now. 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…

We Southern Baptists had an expression growing up which was: “You cannot be a deacon if your waist is less than 38 inches.”

The idea is that nobody can trust a skinny deacon who doesn’t understand the finer points of fried chicken, which is the basis for fundamentalist religion.

We also had a cute expression in our church that went: “If you dance at a wedding reception you will rot in hell.”

Ha ha! We Baptists sure were a fun group. This is why many of us still see therapists on a weekly basis.

But our deacons really did have large waists. One of my childhood deacons was a big man named Brother Willie. Willie sold insurance, hunted deer, and did not go to wedding receptions unless they had fried chicken. He was a chicken fanatic.

Willie was always first in line at potlucks. He would cut in front of everyone, including kids, elderly people, and brittle diabetics. Without the slightest shred of humor, he’d say, “Excuse me, ma’am, official chicken gizzard

inspector.”

At first, most people thought he was joking. But you should have seen the way Deacon Willie ate gizzards. It was anything but comedy. It was more like a steamy romance.

But I’m getting off track here. Ever since my wife and I have been self-quarantining due to the COVID-19 outbreak, my wife has been cooking a lot. And I mean all day. There is not a moment when she is not flouring counters or warming the butter by placing the butter dish on the clothes dryer.

She’s been cooking so much that our walls are covered in a film of pure grease. If you trace your finger along our ceiling you’ll find a centimeter of peanut oil and atomized chicken sludge.

We have been eating tons of fried chicken. Not only because my wife and I were both raised Baptist, but because we have been stuck…

I am walking my dogs. They are dragging me along the road. My shoes make skid marks on the pavement.

Walking my dogs is like trying to walk a herd of caffeinated water buffalo. My dogs exert so much pulling force that my shoulders pop from their sockets. When this happens, I generally say bad words. Neighbors who happen to be nearby glare with disapproving faces. But I am used to these kinds of scowls because I was raised Southern Baptist.

Right now, I’m taking the dogs to the bay. There’s a spot near the water where everyone from nearby neighborhoods visits. It’s beautiful. There is something enchanting about our bay.

If you visit this secluded spot at sunset, you will see lots of people who had the same idea you had. Husbands and wives. Kids on bicycles. A happy young couple. A teenager with a fuschia mohawk and multiple facial piercings.

It wasn't always crowded. Long ago, my wife and I would visit this spot and we'd be alone. Then word got out. Today, everybody

and their brother knows about it, so at sunset it’s a Gaither Homecoming.

But tonight it’s empty. There is nobody here except me and some lady. We’ve met before, but nothing more than a few neighborly greetings. I don’t know her name.

She is late sixties maybe early seventies. She sits on a log, overlooking the big water. Our bay is 127 square miles of brackish blue and, like I said earlier, there is something enchanting about it.

The woman’s head is bowed, she doesn’t look like she wants to be bothered. I keep quiet.

Then again, I have enough of my mother inside me that I have to ask questions. I am nosy. There is nothing I can do about this. I don’t even try to fight it anymore.

“Ma’am, are you okay?” I ask.

She opens her eyes. And I feel bad…

Thank you. That is the​ purpose of this column. I want to say “thanks.” I don't know you, but I believe in the good you do. Especially right now.

In public, I used to see you sometimes and think to myself: "I wish someone would thank them." But I never do because if I did, you’d think I was a complete nut job.

Maybe I am a nut job. But I’m allowed to be that way. After all, I am a columnist—sort of—and that means my proverbial box is missing a few crayons.

Long ago, I used to deliver newspapers with my mother. We used to deliver to a fella who would answer the door in pajamas. He had messy hair and a bushy white beard. He always gave me a five-dollar tip.

He was generous. If he wasn’t home one day, he would pay me ten bucks the next day. He was a columnist, my mother told me. And that’s why he was such a weirdo in weird pajamas. Even his house smelled weird.

I suppose I ought to thank him while I am at it.

Also, thanks to the man I saw in the gas station who bought a lottery scratch-off ticket. Who won thirty bucks, then turned around and gave the cash to a woman behind him in line. What a guy.

The woman thanked him in a language that sounded like Russian, but he didn't seem to understand, so he answered: “Alright.”

Thank you, Cindy—the woman who translated one of my speeches in American Sign Language for the front row​. She told me I talked very fast and now she has problems with her rotator cuff.

She also taught me how to cuss in sign language.

Thank you to the seventy-year-old man who went back to school to get his GED. And his forty-six-year-old daughter, who tutored him.

And you. You deserve thanks, but you don't…

I hear them talking through the trees. They are my neighbors. On a calm night like tonight, I can hear their whole conversation.

I hear the young mother saying, “It’s our twelfth day of quarantine, Daddy, what about you?

In response, I hear the digital cellphone-voice of an old man saying, “I dunno, haven’t been keeping count.”

“GRANDPA!” shouts another young voice. A boy. Toddler age.

“Hi!” says Grandpa. “I miss you.”

Their conversation lulls back and forth. Woman, then kid, then old man, repeat. Almost like ping pong.

Speaking of ping pong, I was always a pitiful ping pong player. I don’t know what it is about me, but it’s one of those sports that I just can’t seem to get.

Tennis is even worse. I’ve played tennis only once. I borrowed my buddy’s expensive racquet. I played until I passed out. When I awoke in the hospital severely dehydrated with a slightly torn groin, I swore off the sport forever. But I digress.

“GRANDPA!” says the neighbor boy. “GUESS WHAT!”

“What?”

“I’M NOT IN SCHOOL!”

“Wow,” says Grandpa’s electronic voice.

“That’s right,” says

Mom. “He’s home, twenty-four seven.”

“Lucky you,” says Grandpa.

“Lucky me,” says Mama.

Lately I’ve been wondering how kid-me might have felt about school being permanently cancelled.

When I was young, springtime was intoxicating. I have golden memories of running through fields, splashing through creeks, catching crawfish, and drinking too much Coca-Cola.

But for us, there was always this twinge of sorrow during spring because, in your heart, you knew that you had to go back to school when the break was over. You’d have to write more essays, memorize more stuff about the War of 1812, and learn more about the unique bones that comprise the human nose. So spring was always a little sad.

But if someone would have said, “Hey, guess what? You don’t have to go to school for the rest…

Yesterday I got an email from Ryan, who is depressed about the coronavirus quarantine. Ryan has lost his job, he’s got mounting bills, and he’s been stuck at home with his Mountain-Dew-guzzling children who are driving him nuts.

This is a direct quote from Ryan: “Am I being punished or something?”

And now my conscience is starting to bother me. Because if these hard times are Ryan’s punishment, then what about me? Which is exactly why I need to tell you about the fateful night I surrendered my soul to depravity.

It all started with a chili cookoff. I was a kid. The Baptist chili contest was a big deal in our little church. I don’t know how chili became so popular because it was not typical church food. But it was a celebrated event.

The problem was that the contest was rigged. Everyone knew it. Year after year, the same woman won. But more on this later.

The church ladies were VERY into this chili business. They would take sabbaticals from preparing

their usual fare, which openly flaunted the mandates of the American Heart Association, and cooked competition-style chili.

The way the cookoff worked was this: Competitors set up card tables with chili crockpots. Then, the whole community ate lots of spicy, acidic chili. Deacons judged. And the next morning, everyone in three counties called in sick for work because they were afraid to be six feet away from a bathroom.

We had many different chili varieties. Sister Carolyn, for instance, made pork chili. There was black bean chili. Mister Reginald’s venison backstrap chili was divine. Brother Hooty made a concoction nobody touched because it was either possum, squirrel, or an old Pampers diaper.

But nothing—and I mean nothing—was better than Marilyn King’s turkey chili. Her husband, Carl, was a big turkey hunter, and her chili was a labor of love. One taste was euphoria, like hugging Julia Child…

Your name is Sam, but most people call you “Partner.” You’ve been riding the range all your life. Your old hat is starting to get a little floppy. Your boots are wearing thin, out here in this dry country.

When you started this cattle drive you were fresh, wiry, and energetic. But all the dust storms, the desert heat, the dangerous river crossings, the lonely nights in the middle of the sagebrush, it’s all starting to take its toll. Life is wearing you thin, Sam.

Excuse me. I mean, Partner.

You haven’t shaved in weeks. You caught a glimpse of yourself in the mirror back in Taos. You almost didn’t recognize yourself. Rugged. That’s what you were. Your stubble had turned into an area rug, your skin was sun-worn, like boot leather. You’ve lost so much weight that you resemble a San Pedro cactus. It’s all part of being a cowboy.

A few days ago you went out looking for those mares who busted free from the corral and got away. When you found them,

they were halfway to Mexico. You captured them and were bringing them home when...

It happened.

(Cue melodramatic music.)

You ran into Evil Eddie. He is the most evil outlaw in the West. The fact that Evil Eddie has the same name as your little brother who just stole your LEGO NASA spaceship set is only a coincidence. Make no mistake. Evil Eddie is dastardly, the most fearsome criminal this side of the Sierras.

When you happened upon him, he was even more evil than you thought. He was busy counting stolen money beside a campfire. His gang was with him. He was laughing, and you could see his yellow teeth. That’s right, yellow teeth. Outlaws are notorious for having gum disease.

You knew where Evil Eddie’s money had come from. You’d heard all about the stagecoach robbery. Evil Eddie robbed the stage and kidnapped…

It’s a long story, but it all starts with red hair. Sort of. She was a redhead, and in love. And 17-year-old redheads in love do impulsive things. It was a different era. Johnson was president.

Her parents were against the romance. His parents were against it, too. But redheads make decisions without consulting the rest of the world. When the young couple found out she was pregnant, they married.

Her father and mother were mad; she had never been so excited. They moved to California. He took a job driving a truck. He was gone a lot, making all-night runs across the U.S., but they were happy.

One lonely night she was rattled awake by loud knocking on the front door. She answered it in her bathrobe. Two patrolmen on her porch said that her husband’s eighteen-wheeler flipped, and he was gone.

She went through pregnancy alone. And on the morning she gave birth, she was unsure about what to feel. She held her boy against her chest and wept

over him with the joyful kind of tears that only widows know.

She worked low-paying jobs. A receptionist in a textile factory. An orderly in a rest home. Finally, she decided to go back to school. The night classes were hard, but she stuck with them for many years. During the same week that her son graduated from 7th grade, she graduated with her teaching certificate, and life was looking up.

First she taught elementary, then high school. She was miserable with both jobs. Children can test a woman’s patience and cause her to use very strong cuss words in public sometimes.

She applied for a position at a junior college, it was only a part-time gig, and modest pay. She loved it. The college kids were much more sincere than high-schoolers who spent the majority of their class period grabbing each other’s butts.

There was one student in…

These past few days, I’ve gotten an unusual amount of emails from people with upcoming birthdays. It seems like everyone is stuck indoors, self-quarantining, and this isn’t exactly a fun way to spend the big day. One such email comes from Abbie, who writes:

“My daughter Emma's birthday is on Sunday. She will be turning 9. She's a typical kid. Hates vegetables. Whines. Says ‘Mommy’ at least one thousand times a day. Usually her aunt and grandparents come over for a birthday lunch. Complete with cake and presents. Not this year.

“This year will obviously be different. I prepared for a breakdown when I explained what a global pandemic is and why we are quarantined. She just looked at me and said, ‘I understand. Can I help you make my birthday cake?’”

“I'm pretty proud of her and the little lady she has become.”

Well, on the off chance that Emma is reading this, I want to be among the first to wish her a happy 9th birthday. What a

great year.

When I was 9 years old, my teacher read “Where the Red Fern Grows” aloud in class. This book became a favorite book. I hope you get to read it one day, Emma. It always makes me feel good.

Consequently, that was also the year my cousin, Ed Lee, ate three worms on a bet. He did it during a baseball game. We boys sat in the dugout watching in pure amazement. When he finished, Ed Lee had earned fourteen bucks, but he had also puked in someone’s glove.

These are the kinds of stunts my generation was famous for. This is probably why the most notable cultural contributions my generation ever made to the Greater Good were: Angry Birds, air-fryers, and Spanx.

Anyway, I know it sounds silly, but did you know that I'm jealous of you right now, Emma? It’s true. Because you’re a kid. You…

I have here an email from a woman named Ella who lives in New York City. Ella writes:

“I turn 76 years old in two days... I’m trying not to lose my mind, but being trapped inside this little apartment and self-quarantining with my daughter and her roommate, I’m starting to go stir crazy!

“It’s been a long two years for me, I have survived breast cancer, and an autoimmune disease, please write something upbeat just for me that doesn’t even mention COVID-19 and take my mind off of it.”

Ella, since we don’t know each other, and since I don’t have your personal details, I guess I’ll just start writing something based on what I DO know about you.

For starters, you’re turning 76. This means that, if we do some basic math… Subtract the six… Carry the two… Divide the coefficient… Take the remainder and shove it up the cosine’s exponent… Made a mistake and kissed a snake, how many doctors did it take...?

You were born in 23 BC.

No wait. That can’t

be right. I’m sorry, Ella. Math has never been my strong suit. Let me try that again. You were born in 1944.

Before I wrote this, I was doing some research on your birth year and found out that ‘44 was a pivotal year. The war was still on, Navy ships were still being attacked, Roosevelt was president, America’s most edgy pop-star was Bing Crosby. There were also several historical figures born that year, such as Diana Ross, Jerry Springer, and of course Boz Scaggs.

Boz Scaggs. Now there’s a name I haven’t heard in ages. Do you remember him? Of course you do, who doesn’t? He was a singer-songwriter who had a big hit from the movie soundtrack “Urban Cowboy,” starring John Travolta. The song was titled “Look What You’ve Done to Me.”

This song was majorly depressing. My friend’s older sister, Sandy,…