This street is lined with dozens of houses decorated with Christmas lights in mid-November. I wish you could see them. There is a whole row of homes, glowing multicolored in the night. My wife and I are on a joyride hunting for lit-up houses this evening.

Decorations abound. We see plastic Santas in front yards with electronic arms waving at us, which is creepy. There are enormous plasticized snow globes with artificial blizzards. Fiberglass reindeer, grazing in yards. And oh, the bright, twinkling, blinking, flickering lights.

I never knew Christmas lights in autumn could bring me such joy. Never.

That’s 2020 for you.

People are doing festivities earlier this year. Everyone’s getting in on the action. I know a guy who put up his tree three weeks before Halloween. And I know a lady who let her kids open some of their presents this week.

This pandemic has changed everything. And everyone.

Take me. When I began writing this column years ago, most of my writings were intended to be funny. I love

humor. I was always the clown in school, and I could make milk exit the nostrils of even the most hardened fourth graders.

But then along came a pandemic and I turned into a big sack of blubbery emotion. Being humorous just felt irreverent in light of mounting death tolls, mortality rates, and sad headlines. It would have been like bringing a whoopee cushion to a Saturday night prayer meeting. Which I have never done.

The COVID era changed me as a human being. But also as a writer. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. And I shudder to think about what my current critics might say about that last sentence.

Because, heaven knows, that’s another thing that’s changed in this world. Some people have become hyper-critical. I receive a handful of nasty emails each morning from disgruntled people I’ve never met who, for some…

Leah is not her real name. But I like that name, so let’s call her that. She is a single mother of three boys with a full-time job. She lives in a rural Tennessee neighborhood with several kids on her street.

Family is important to Leah since she didn’t have many family ties growing up. Today she has her kids and her dogs, and that’s about it. To her, family is everything.

A few months ago, a little girl moved into the neighborhood. Leah’s elderly neighbors adopted their young niece. It’s been a hard situation for the girl. Her aunt is sickly, and her uncle, bless him, does his best to be a full-time caregiver, cook, and housekeeper, while also raising a little girl.

Leah didn’t know the child’s backstory, but somehow she knew that this old double-wide trailer was the girl’s last stop. Her heart went out to the child. Each evening at sunset, when Leah would get home from work, she’d pass the girl’s home and see her sitting on the front stoop,

counting cars, looking lonely as a cloud.

And that is where our story begins.

It was last week. The weather was getting cooler, signaling the arrival of the holiday season. Leah’s neighbors had all started putting up Christmas decor early even though it wasn’t yet Thanksgiving because, as you have probably noticed, 2020 sucks.

Leah walked to the end of the street and invited the child over for tea and sandwiches. She brought a handwritten invitation and everything. She told the girl she would be delighted if she would join her.

The girl got excited. She ran inside and asked her uncle. In a few moments the girl was accompanying Leah home and it was a real treat. While Leah’s three heathen boys ran around the backyard, playing, breaking bones, and shouting obscenities like boys do, Leah and the little girl sipped Early Grey.


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…