The day before New Year’s Eve. I was stuck in Birmingham rush hour. A ten-mile line of standstill traffic stretched before me. It looked like I wouldn’t be getting home until sometime around the next papal installation.

The Dodge truck beside me towed a gooseneck horse trailer. Inside was a white horse, staring at me from her open window, chewing a mouthful of alfalfa.

You might not care about this, but as a boy I was obsessed with horses. I grew up around horse people. I rode some; I wasn’t any good.

Even so, I was always thinking about horses, drawing pictures of quarterhorses in notebooks, reading novels like “National Velvet” and “My Friend Flicka.”

“The Black Stallion” was perhaps one of the greatest horse movies ever made.

All these memories came back to me while looking at that horse. She ate her dinner of legume hay, sniffing the Alabamian breeze, cheerfully watching the passing eighteen-wheelers, the UPS trucks, the public transit busses, the Porsches, and the giant SUVs which were roughly the size of rural school


And I fell in love with her right there.

The horse had other admirers in traffic, too. There were teenagers in the Nissan ahead of me, rolling down their windows to greet her.

“HEY, HORSEY!” they howled.

Soon, everyone in traffic was staring at these obnoxious teenagers who tried wildly to get the horse’s attention.

After watching the teenagers for a few minutes, I decided that I had never seen behavior so ridiculous and immature in all my life, and I wanted to be part of it.

So I cranked down my window and joined them.

And do you know what? No sooner had I rolled down my window than I discovered other adult motorists were doing the same thing I was doing.

An older man in a nice suit, driving a Land Rover Defender, was speaking to the horse.

A young…

My phone vibrated. The first birthday text of the day came from the old man who coached my Little League team after my father died. He made a real impact on me during a time when I was most vulnerable.

“Happy birthday, Samuel!” he texted.

I was so moved. And although, technically, my name is not Samuel (it’s Sean), it is still nice to be remembered.

The next email I received was from a guy in Mayfield, Kentucky. He’s busy helping with the relief efforts after the devastation from the tornadoes.

“Happy birthday, Sean…” the man’s letter began. “I love you.”

I could not believe that in the midst of a veritable ground zero, this man took the time to wish me a happy birthday. This time, I cried.

Later, my phone vibrated again. An old friend who is currently undergoing cancer treatment in California messaged.

“Happy birthday, Sean…” was the gist of the email she sent during her chemo treatment.

This woman who is undergoing the worst trial of her lifetime paused to wish me well.

My cup runneth all over the place.

Throughout the day, the phone rattled in my pocket nonstop. My mother texted. My sister. Old coworkers. My cousins. My uncles. My old employers. Someone with important information about my vehicle warranty.

And I got a text from my pal, Guillermo.

Ah, Guillermo. I met Guillermo in a Walmart parking lot many years ago. My heap-of-junk Buick had broken down. Guillermo saw me from across the lot, struggling. He fixed my engine although he did not speak a lick of Norte-Americano.

That night, I figured out that Guillermo was living in his car in the Walmart parking lot. He was camped there until he got enough money to fix his Honda’s transmission.

And since I speak fluent hand gestures, I asked him if he wanted to come live with me and my wife.

I will never…

Erin has a guardian angel. A real one.

This supernatural cherub was a gift from her mother, long ago. It all started when Erin was six years old. Her dying mother called Erin to her sickbed, said a prayer, and gifted her daughter an angel. Simple as that.

After her mother passed, Erin was raised by her grandmother in a ramshackle house near the railroad tracks. Times were not easy. Her grandmother was a single parent, and kids ain’t cheap. Simple as that.

“We ate a lot of Hamburger Helper,” said Erin. “And we shopped at thrift stores.”

But an angel is worth a lot more than greenbacks. Especially an angel like hers, who has made himself evident at pivotal moments throughout her life.

There was the time in elementary school when Erin fell off a low balcony at her friend’s house. When she opened her eyes, she was in no pain. The doc couldn’t believe what he saw. Not a bone broken.

There was the time in high school when she was driving on

the interstate. A voice inside Erin said, “Take the exit, and wait at the gas station.”

She did. On that same highway, on that same night, an auto collision occurred involving an eighteen-wheeler. Four people died.

There was the time when Erin was engaged to a young man whom she thought she loved. The wedding was fast approaching, but something inside her said, “This is wrong. Do not marry him.”

She called off the ceremony, simple as that.

Erin gave back the wedding gifts. She returned the ring. And many years later, Erin realizes she made the right call. The man she might have married has already been remarried thrice.

Another time, she was in an apartment building visiting a friend. There was a man in the hallway who looked suspicious. He was standing too close to her.

When Sarah brushed past him, the man’s…

I don’t know how it started. But somewhere along the way people started sending me angel stories. So I started sharing them. Which only meant that I began getting more stories.

Currently, I still receive bundles of angel stories in the forms of messages, emails, and letters. As we speak, the spiders living in my USPS mailbox are getting squashed by angel stories that keep arriving.

Truthfully, I didn’t set out to be a writer of angels. In fact, I wanted to be a humorist. I began my career telling funny stories, trying very hard to make the occasional reader pee themselves.

But if there is one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s this: You must go where the angels take you.

Which brings me to my story. I was in a bookstore recently when I saw two Latina women shopping. They were in the same section I was in. In fact, they were looking at the same book I was looking at. The book was about angels, and it happened to be

in my hands.

I was thumbing through the pages when I noticed two five-foot women breathing down my collar.

Finally, the younger woman asked if I was going to purchase the book. I said, yes, I planned on it. Then I asked why she wanted to know.

“Because,” she said. “My mama wants this book. She is using it for research.”

Research? This got my curiosity piqued. I am a writer, and it is my job to get piqued. Sometimes I get piqued three or four times each day. It just relaxes me.

I asked what exactly the old woman was researching.

The old woman spoke in a booming voice not unlike the voice of Vincent Price from the 1953 film “House of Wax.”

“Los Ángeles,” the old woman said.

Then the elderly woman went on to tell me her tale. She spoke in Spanish and…

It was the night after Christmas, and Birmingham was quiet. I was on a walk through a neighborhood, watching street lights wink on at dusk.

The sunset was neon pink. There were sirens in the far-off. A distant train sounded its horn; two long, one short.

There were people walking dogs, old ladies watering ferns, and children riding scooters. And there were six kids playing a game of Wiffle Ball in their backyard.

“Heybatterbatterbatter…!” shouted the sweaty kids in the infield, punching their little hands.


The boy at the plate golfed one into right with his plastic bat.

“Throw him out!” shouted someone’s mom.

The throw was good.

“YOU’RE OUT!” shouted six kids in ecstatic unison.

The runner made the long walk of shame back to his mom’s lap and cried tears of sportsmanship.

Funny thing about Wiffle Balls. Not long ago, the State of New York declared that Wiffle ball, along with kickball and freeze tag, posed a “significant risk of injury” to kids. New York legislature decreed that any summer camp that included these activities

would be subject to government regulation.

Meanwhile, back at Wiffle Ball Inc. headquarters in Shelton, Connecticut, Wiffle employees probably thought this legislation was a prank.

Wiffle Ball dangerous? Wiffle Ball Inc. has been around for over half a century and has never—not once—been sued over safety issues. They have doled out over 60 million plastic balls since they opened their doors. There are Wiffle Balls on nearly every continent.

So people across the U.S. were ticked off about New York’s decision. They were vocal about it, too. They made a big stink, and they won. New York legislature finally removed Wiffle Ball from its list of regulated high-risk activities along with other allegedly dangerous sports like dodgeball, knitting, and Algebra II.

Anyway, as I walked past the kids playing Wiffle Ball, a stray plastic ball rolled onto the sidewalk and stopped only…

It was just the two of us, seated at dinner. Alone on Christmas night. Dressed in our Sunday best. Candles on the dining table. Choral music playing.

“This is weird,” said my wife, slicing her turkey. “Not having Mother with us.”

“I know.”

“I keep waiting for her to call me on the phone. I keep waiting to wake up one morning and figure out it was all a bad dream, and that she never really died.”


Long silence.

“Is this turkey too dry?” she said.

“Are you kidding? This turkey is so good it’s got an R rating.”

“How about the gravy?”

“I could water ski on this gravy.”

“You like the dressing?”

“I want to use this dressing in the shower.”

She smiled. “Do you recognize the plates that we’re eating off of?”

My wife lifted a dish. It had a simple green Christmas tree painted on it.

“These are your mama’s plates?” I said.

She nodded. “We ate on them every Christmas.” Then she inspected the plate and her eyes began to turn pink.

“And,” she said, “do you notice anything about this blouse I’m wearing?”

“Your mom’s blouse.”

Another nod. “Do you

like it?”

“I do.”

“This strand of pearls is hers, too.”


“The perfume I’m wearing, can you smell it?”

“I can. Was that your mother’s, too?”

“Yes. Do you like this perfume? Is it weird that I’m wearing an old woman’s perfume at Christmas?”

“I adore that smell. And there’s no such thing as an old woman’s perfume.”

She covered her mouth. Her head dropped. Her hair fell into her plate. She dropped her fork and her knife, and there was the light sound of sobbing. I stood and went to my wife. I wrapped my arms around her.

“She’s gone,” moaned my wife. “Why can’t I seem to feel that? Why do I keep thinking she’s still here?”

“I don’t know.”

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and the fifth floor of the hospital was quiet. Not a creature was stirring, not even a registered nurse.

The pediatric oncology wing is not always as quiet as it is right now. After all, this is where the miniature party animals of the medical world reside. This department is typically a noisy, active, bustling place.

Usually, there are loud cartoons blaring from laptops, or the occasional video game blasting from an open door at a volume loud enough to shatter industrial porcelain.

This holiday season, however, there hasn’t been much noise on the fifth floor.

Recently, the hospital tightened its visitor policies in hopes of reducing the spread of the virus. Family members, except for Mom and Dad, are asked not to visit. Thus, kids are isolated. And this place has been painfully tranquil without visitors.

But tonight as you read these words, there are actually visitors on the fifth floor.

Special visitors. These visitors have traveled thousands of miles from the uppermost parts of the northern hemisphere. The visitors wear

long stocking caps, candy-striped leggings, and pointy plastic ears purchased directly from Party City.

“We’re not nurses,” says one elf named Sharon. “We’re legit elves.”

“She’s right,” says another elf who bears a striking resemblance to a sixty-year-old LPN named Wanda. “I’m from the North Pole.”

The elves push a large laundry cart through the hallway. The cart is loaded with an Everest of packages wrapped in bright paper and ribbons.

These elves have been gathering presents all month from patients’ families who were unable to visit. Sometimes elves drove across town on their off-days to collect gifts from patients’ loved ones.

“We had to get creative,” remarked one elf. “It took a lot of work, but we don’t mind, we’re Santa’s frontlines.”

The first room the elves enter tonight belongs to a nine-year-old girl. The girl is gently snoring. The girl’s mother…

Christmas Eve night. The mountains of North Carolina were giant silhouettes in the darkness. Sheriff Andy Taylor sat on the bench outside the courthouse, watching the stars.

It had been a hard year. Maybe the hardest of his career. The sheriff was downhearted, which didn’t happen often. But then, sheriffs have feelings too.

When it started to snow, Taylor shoved his hands deep into his coat pockets and slipped into a trance. Christmas morning was only a few hours away, and he wanted to feel cheerful, but he couldn’t seem to make it happen.

His deputy joined him on the bench. The scrawny, high-strung lawman had just finished doing his nightly rounds, shining a flashlight into storefront windows; checking doorknobs. All quiet in Mayberry.

“Whatcha doing, Ange?” said his deputy. “Why the long face?”

Taylor flashed a fake smile. “I’m just looking at stars.”

The deputy was obviously concerned, but Taylor hardly noticed. He was too busy thinking about all he’d seen during his years serving this sleepy hamlet. He’d seen it all. Or just about.


once seen the town drunk ride a cow down mainstreet. He’d seen a local goat eat dynamite. He’d jailed bank robbers, swindlers, chicken thieves, speeders, escaped convicts, moonshiners, and Danny Thomas.

Life was moving too fast. The world had gone from AM radios to color TVs. He’d watched the tailfins on Chevys and Fords get taller each year. He’d seen skirts get shorter, hairstyles get shaggier, music get louder, and people get meaner. Airplanes gave way to rocketships. A man hit a golf ball on the moon. Divorce was becoming more fashionable than blue jeans.

But this year…

This year was a humdinger. It was worse than the rest. This was the year the world fell apart. People in town were more frightened and skittish than ever before. And sometimes it seemed like nothing in Mayberry was going right.

Taylor looked at the…

The old man on the street corner was asking for money from people who were holiday shopping. Except he wasn’t begging. He was singing songs and dancing.

There is a big difference between panhandling and entertaining.

He was dressed in a red velvet coat and Santa cap. He had skin the color of rich mahogany, and he was as lean as a Q-tip.

In his aged eyes you could tell he’d been around. But in his voice he was Ron Isley.

A few of us holiday shoppers gathered around to watch his one-man show. There we were, carrying large shopping bags from upscale stores, dressed in our nice suburban clothes, drinking designer coffees in eco-friendly paper cups.

And this man had holes in his shoes.

But it was hard not to smile while watching him spin around, dancing like the Godfather of Soul, singing Christmas carols at the top of his voice to people on the street.

He also had a knack for inventing lyrics to songs for which he didn’t know the words.

The following are actual substitute lyrics he

composed, on the spot, to “Joy to the World.”

“Joy to the world,
“Joy, joy, joy,
“Joy… Joy… Joy…!”

It wasn’t exactly Gershwin, but it worked.

I stood in the back of the crowd with others and gladly tossed money into his bucket between each burst of our applause.

“This guy’s good,” said one lady.

“He really is,” said a man.

“I wish I could dance like that.”

“How is his groin still intact?”

Then the man began taking song requests. He smiled at us, and I could see that he was missing several teeth. His face was covered in white stubble, and he was out of breath from exertion. But that smile was one-hundred watt.

A young woman in the crowd said, “Do you know ‘Go Tell It On the Mountain’?”

“You better know I do,”…

Hi Bradley (age 9), your mom told me you were recently asking about the real meaning of Christmas. Allow me to tell you a story:

It all started at midnight. There was a blizzard. The wind howled so hard that it whistled. The motor inn’s neon sign was glowing like a Technicolor lighthouse in the storm. NO VACANCY, the sign read.

In the parking lot were snow-encrusted Packards, Plymouths, Fords, Chryslers, and chrome-bumpered DeSotos, crammed together like hogs at a trough.

Folks had been saying this was the worst snowstorm to hit rural Oklahoma. Maybe ever. And it was definitely the worst year of all time.

There was a global war starting, an economic depression, and dust storms the size of major continents were swallowing entire cities.

Now blizzards.

The Ford pickup pulled into the motel parking lot and eased to a stop. The young man behind the wheel was unshaven and tired. His name was Joe.

Joe glanced at his pregnant wife and forced a weary smile.

“Wait here, Mary,” he said. “Maybe they’ll have a room for us.”

“I think we should keep driving,” said Mary.

“The sign says they’re full.”

“Can’t,” said Joe. “We’re on E.”

The young couple was on their way to California, looking for work. Mary and Joe had tried nine different motor inns that night; all booked.

The motel clerk was an unfriendly little snit. “Can’t you read English, kid?” the man said. “The sign says no vacancy.”

“Yes, sir. But it’s my wife, she’s pregnant.”

“And whose fault is that?”

“Please, sir.”

“I said we’re booked.”

“We’ll pay double.”



“I may have some room.”

In a few moments the clerk led them to a garage behind the inn. The barn had a shingled roof and a Beech-Nut advertisement painted on the broad side.

The clerk threw open the doors to reveal a shed full of chickens. Also, a goat.