Yesterday I received several emails after I mentioned my guardian angel, Bud, in a recent column. One of the emails read: “Are you joking about your angel, or are you for real?” Another read: “Tell us about Bud!” And yet another urgent email read: “Cure male pattern baldness in 30 days! GUARANTEED!”

So let me set the record straight. Yes. I have a guardian angel, and yes, his name is Bud. I never intended to talk about him publicly. But I will tell you about him.

It all started with my granny, who was an extremely bossy woman. And I mean very bossy. EVERYONE obeyed my granny. And I mean everyone. That’s just how she was.

When she wanted a 14-metric-ton birdbath moved, it was moved. When she told you to take your shoes off the coffee table, you did. When she told my retired grandfather to quit loafing around the house, he found a part-time job faster than you could say George Beverly Shea.

My grandmother died on a

sunny day, attached to a ventilator. The commanding four-foot-eleven woman with the lazy eye was only 69 when she entered Glory. Cancer is a vicious killer. The Winston filter-tips didn’t help, either.

My mother left the funeral service without speaking. She drove straight across town to my granny’s vacant single-wide trailer. She started cleaning furiously to keep herself from crying. In a few moments she was scrubbing baseboards and beating rugs, but it didn’t work. Tears dripped from her chin.

The mobile home was filled with faded Bibles, religious leaflets, mounding ashtrays, and embroidered scripture wall-hangings. One of these hangings read:

“Angels shall bear thee up in thy hands lest thou dash thy foot against a stone…”

A few days later, my mother was holding that embroidered piece when she told me she was going to give me a gift. She made me sit still and explained that she was…

The big November holiday is one week away. My wife has officially bought a turkey and has initiated the preliminary planning for next Thursday.

So I think it’s high time I made my annual Thanksgiving list:

First and foremost, I am thankful for my guardian angel. My mother gave him to me when I was 2 years old by saying a short prayer. My angel is invisible. Nobody has ever seen him, not even me. But he’s definitely there. How else could I explain surviving three totalled vehicles? Also puberty.

When I was 13 years old, I named my guardian angel “Bud.” I still talk to him often, especially when it’s tax season. Although I don’t talk to him in public anymore for fear that they will lock me in a padded cell and take away my basic human privileges. I’m thankful for Bud.

I’m thankful for Jocelyn, my editor, who performed a miracle and gave me self-confidence. Who made me believe I wasn’t a hack. Who found a way to somehow polish

the world’s sloppiest manuscripts, possibly by using a gasoline powered bench grinder.

And for Stephanie, also my esteemed editor. Who once tracked me down in Decatur, Alabama, just to tell me that she believed in me. You don’t forget things like that. Not for as long as you live, you don’t.

To Julie, yet ANOTHER of my editors. A woman who has, put, up, with, my, incessant, comma, usage, even, when, it, makes, her, crazy. And she also tolerates all those little annoying ellipses… I often use… They’re just so beautiful… I can’t... Stop…

For Alex. He knows why.

I am thankful for the friendship I shared with a bloodhound named Ellie Mae. She lived to 13, and died in the arms of my wife. Her loss almost ruined me. I never knew you could grieve for an animal like that. She was a main character in…

Sheila got a new Labrador mix from the animal shelter where she lives in Georgia. The dog is black. She named him Yogi.

I asked if she named him after the famous New York Yankees catcher, Yogi Berra, but she said no. Sheila named him in honor of all those who practice yoga.

Well, I would like to humbly submit that she make her dog’s middle name “Berra” in honor of the late national treasure: the scrappy catcher from Saint Louis, who dropped out in eighth grade to support his family; who served on a gunboat during the Normandy invasions and was awarded a Purple Heart; who went on to play in more World Series games than any player in Major League history.

“Never heard of him,” said Sheila.

Anyway, the reason Sheila got Yogi was because her therapist recommended it. Sheila is single, 54-years-old, she does yoga, eats right, goes to church, and each morning she makes healthy smoothies that taste like lawn clippings. In short, she has a nice life.

And Sheila

is clinically depressed.

The reasons aren’t important. Because the truth is, you can’t control how you feel. Nobody can. The idea that we can control anything in the world is laughable. We are but vehicles, riding on the Interstate of Existence. And stuff happens. Stuff like COVID.

You can do all the right things on the Divine Freeway of Life, follow all the rules, use your turn signals, and still get T-boned by a guy who is busy texting while driving. Next thing you know, your mental health is a wreck.

That might be an oversimplified example, but it’s not my example. That anecdote was given to me by Sheila’s doctor, who I interviewed this morning.

After a recent column I wrote on depression, Sheila’s therapist was very jazzed up to tell me about a unique kind of depression treatment.

“Get a dog,” said the therapist.

I am sitting on the sofa, answering emails tonight. I get a lot of emails. There’s no way I could answer them all, but I still try to read every word.

This past year most of these emails have centered on one topic. I’ll let you guess which topic. Hint: it rhymes with MOVID-19.

A lot of these messages come from children, which surprises me. The idea that a child would voluntarily write a guy like me, who doesn’t floss regularly and still watches “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” just shows you how upside down the world is.

I also receive a lot of physical stuff in my postal mailbox from kids. Right now, there are several handmade pictures stuck to my refrigerator, all from children who I’ve never met.

One of my favorite pictures reads: “Mister Sean! Luv U!” The drawing shows a bearded guy (me) riding an elephant, carrying what appears to either be a bazooka or a telephone pole. I’m not sure what that’s about.

But amazingly, the overwhelming majority of emails come from people who

suffer from depression. In fact, that’s why I’m writing this. Because depression is something few people talk about. In fact, you probably don’t even want to be reading about it right now. I don’t blame you.

When I was a kid, nobody ever talked about depression. I don’t even think it was in the dictionary. It certainly wasn’t said out loud.

But depression is a real disease, just like colon cancer, or Parkinson’s. And looking back, I realize that I indeed had it. I won’t go into my life story, but depression is what killed my father, and it sort of hangs around.

So I was a gloomy kid after he passed, and I spent most of my teenagehood beneath a cloud.

One time I remember standing in the corner of a crowded party, watching other teenagres mingle, laugh, and dance like spastic…

My wife is putting up the Christmas tree and we haven’t even rounded the corner toward Thanksgiving yet. But then, this holiday season can’t arrive quickly enough for us.

My wife is ready to get this show on the road. After a long year of sheltering in place, social distancing, sterilizing hands, and making curbside grocery pickups in hazmat suits, I’m surprised she didn’t put the tree up in July.

Not only is she erecting our tiny plastic tree, she is cooking butterscotch cookies, lighting scented candles, and diffusing festive 50-dollar essential oils into the air. Our house smells like a Yankee Candle suffering from an identity crisis.

Our corny Christmas decorations are making an annual appearance, too. We have porcelain figurines strewn on every surface, little glass people skating on mirrors, decorative salt shakers, a Norman Rockwell advent calendar, and of course, Christmas scarves for our dogs.

Yes. Scarves.

And music. You cannot put up a tree without music, it would be wrong. We play only the classics in this house.

Because whenever Christmastime rolls around I prefer to travel back to a time when singers wore tuxedos, drank martinis on national television, and slurred their words in the company Foster Brooks.

The old melodies are drifting through our home like ghosts of Christmas Past. Nat sings about Chestnuts. Der Bingle is singing in Deutsch. The Vienna Boys’ Choir sings in Latin. Willie sings in Texan.

And I am lost in a fog of peppermint and plasticized Christmas paraphernalia. I have already traveled backward in time, deep into my childhood.

When I was a kid, my parents did not give many Christmas presents. Oh, we decorated and did trees, but our evergreens were fake, and our decorations were cheap.

On Christmas morning I would receive three or four sensible gifts and that was about all. Because we were fundamentalists. My mother didn’t believe in elaborate gifts. So I never…

I’m walking around someone’s musty garage, wearing a surgical mask, browsing junk that’s for sale. I stopped here because I cannot resist yard sales. Half my house is secondhand refuse.

We have so much junk that my garage, for instance, qualifies as one of Earth’s great natural landmasses. It contains half the stuff in the known solar system, including armoires, radios, Mel Torme records, crockpots, sombreros, and fondue pots.

And books. I’m big on used books. I own millions. Maybe gajillions. I place these ratty books all over the house so people will see them and think I’m smart. Visitors pick up old books and say, “Huh. Is this book any good?”

And even though I’ve never read it, I will always say, “Meh.”

This makes me appear cultured. I learned this from my father. Who was a professional junk shopper.

One time my father and I were on a walk through a neighborhood when he saw a man’s garage open, with all sorts of knicknacks. My father became sweaty and his pupils dilated. My father worked in junk

like some men worked in oils or clay.

“Look at all that junk,” he said.

In a few moments we were digging through boxes in some guy’s garage.

Finally he asked the old man, “How much for this porcelain kettle?” My father, who was no shrinking violet, didn’t even let the man answer. He said, “I’ll give you two bucks.”

The man stammered and hesitated but eventually accepted.

My father removed the cash and it was only then we discovered this was no yard sale. This guy was simply organizing his garage.

So my father did the decent thing. He asked the man to gift wrap his kettle.

We did this every Saturday. It would always go the same way. He would wake me up at 4 a.m., he’d cook his signature breakfast of blackened potatoes and carbonized bacon, and away…

Mara, you are going into surgery today. Your mother told me that this might be one of the last things you read on your phone before you visit the operating room.

So before I write anything else, I want to say something important. Even though this is an overused phrase, and you’ll probably think I’m just throwing it around, I’m not. I actually mean this: God be with you.

In the letter, your mother told me how terrified you’ve been after you got your diagnosis. What if something goes wrong with treatment? What if you don’t wake up from surgery? You’re worried about these things.

So I wanted to write and tell you that, even though I am a novice at life myself, I know one thing: it’s all right to be scared.

This life scares everyone. Big and small. Old and young. The brave and the weak. It especially scares me.

This is a poor example, but I remember when I was about to start second grade. I was very scared. We had this

teacher who seemed like the world’s most cantankerous, hateful, mean old biddy.

I tried very hard not to be afraid when it was time to go into her class. But the more I tried not to be afraid, the more I dreaded second grade.

Sometimes I would lie awake staring at the ceiling in a panic, thinking about how I would be subjected to the wiles of this madwoman.

She was a short lady, with silver hair, cat-eye glasses, and she barked at students like they were members of a military regiment. Whenever I passed her in the hall she would lock eyes with me, curl her lips, and I would swear I heard a low growl.

The morning before the first day of school I tried faking a terminal illness. When that didn’t work, I finally decided that I would run away. Yes. That’s…

I bought a jigsaw puzzle at the grocery store today. The box features an ornate cathedral with red roses and blossoming foliage. The cathedral is in Germany. The puzzle cost two bucks.

My mother and I used to do jigsaw puzzles. Big puzzles. We did them together. I was no good at jigsaws, but she was an expert.

Long ago, puzzles cost seventy-five cents, and provided hours of distraction. We needed distractions back then. We welcomed anything that took our minds off my father’s untimely death, and the gloom that came thereafter.

My mother looked for distractions that made us laugh, things that made us smile, games, puzzles, crafts, or road trips.

Once, she took us to Branson. She took me to see a Dolly Parton impersonator. The show was spectacular. After the performance, the woman in the blonde wig hugged me so tight she nearly suffocated me with her enormous attributes.

When my mother saw me locked with the buxom woman, she shrieked and started praying in tongues. She yanked me by my

earlobe and drug me away. And I have been a lifelong Dolly Parton fan ever since.

Anyway, my mother loved doing things with her hands. She made large quilts from old T-shirts, she gardened, she did puzzle books, anagrams, crosswords, cryptograms, she knitted, crocheted, and painted.

She played cards with me, sometimes checkers, and she was a Scrabble fanatic. But jigsaw puzzles. Those were our thing.

My mother started each puzzle by saying the same thing:

“We gotta find the corners first, that’s how you do it.”

The idea was that once you found the corners, the rest of the puzzle would come together. Thus, we would sift through twenty-five hundred pieces, looking for four corners. Once we found them, we’d dig for the edges.

We’d place pieces into piles, then link them together. Piece by piece. Section by section. Mama and I could spend a…


I think I speak for many when I ask: What is a church lady? It is a genuine question, I read your recent column about church ladies, and while I understand the the two words, I do have a question. Is there a difference between a “lady who goes to church” and a “church lady?” Or are these the same thing? Is a church lady the one organizing the flowers or something? Please advise.



With everything going on in our turbulent world, I want to stop and personally thank you for bringing this matter to my attention. I’ve been getting a lot of unsavory emails lately from some people who seem upset about life in general. But your message took me back in time, it reminded me of matronly church folks in cat-eye glasses making coconut cream cake.

To answer your question: Yes, church ladies are their own breed. If you ask me, a proper church lady is not one who merely arranges flowers. A

church lady has been chairwoman of the flower-arranging committee since 1938. She also prints the bulletins, runs the prayer emails, and manages to find time to change the oil in the pastor’s Chevy every 3,000 miles.

In my childhood, church ladies were the ones who hugged you so often that your shoulderblades hurt. They were dedicated affection rainmakers. They left lipstick traces on your cheeks. And after one hug, you’d smell like bath powder all week. They were church ladies.

And each day we lose a few more of them.

So earlier when I used the term, I’m sorry I didn’t pause to consider that some might not be familiar. I suppose this would especially be true if you were a fortunate kid who didn’t HAVE to go to church, but were allowed to stay home to watch cartoons, shoot craps, hijack cars, and rob liquor stores.


Marty passed away a few days ago. He went quietly. It happened in the vet’s office. There was no suffering, no pain, he purred until the end. Rebecca Scholand was holding him during his final moments. Hers was the last face he saw.

“Marty was a good cat,” Rebecca says. “He was king of the mountain. That’s what we called him.”

Marty’s mountain happens to be Mount Washington, in New Hampshire. The highest peak northeast of the Mississippi. Marty lived out his entire 12 years at a weather observatory, perched on the summit of the most topographically prominent feature in the Northeastern United States.

This is not your everyday mountain. Mountain Washington stands surrounded by the 750,000-acre White Mountain National Forest. On a clear day, views from the summit extend into Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Quebec, and the Atlantic.

The world looks different at 6,228.8 feet. Very, VERY different. In fact, it doesn’t even look like Earth. Sometimes it looks more like a cross between the North Pole and rear end of the moon.

“Marty loved it here,” says Rebecca.

Rebecca is Summit Operations Manager for the observatory, and she’s been working alongside Marty for a decade. She remembers when he was just a little kitty.

“I lived at the observatory on rotation for four years. And when I first got there, I’ll admit, I wasn’t a domestic cat person. We had barn cats growing up, that’s not the same thing. But Marty changed all that. We became friends, and Marty made that place feel like a home.”

It’s hard to fathom how anyone could feel homey on top Mount Washington. This mountain is where the world’s worst weather occurs—which is not a figure of speech but a meteorological fact.

It was here where the oldest record for the nation’s coldest temperature was set in 1885, when the thermometer dropped to a whopping 50 below.

The mountain also holds…