Last night the windchills in Texas were below freezing. The electricity was out. And 83-year-old Cindy sat in her den wearing a parka.

Surrounding her were two cats, a kerosene lantern, a popping fireplace, and her grandchildren, clad in winter caps and double socks. And they were all singing.

Cindy made everyone sing because her grandkids were getting panicked about what was happening. And singing is how Cindy’s own mother used to calm the family during dire moments like this.

So the old woman draped blankets over her babies and taught them the lyrics to “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy,” “This Little Light of Mine,” and “Rock of Ages.”

She could see their breath vapor rising in the darkness.

Right now, 3 million Texans have lost power and are covered in snow crust. And, if that’s not enough, another 100 million Americans are braced for more oncoming ice and snowfall. Record temperatures have been recorded from Minneapolis to Galveston.

Texans are getting pommeled. Without electricity, some hospitals are losing water pressure.

Carbon monoxide poisoning has become another local problem for those trying heat their homes. Harris County alone had 200 people suffer carbon monoxide poisoning.

Some Texans have frozen to death. Others are hungry. Most are just worried.

I’m told the overwhelming quietness outside is weird. In some places it’s a new level of silence that many have never experienced before. There are no ambient noises to cut the stillness. No heat pumps churning, no idling air compressors, no refrigerators humming, no distant TVs, no appliances running. And there’s hardly any traffic noise.

Elderly Cindy takes it all in stride. “My daddy was a farmer. He used to say the only difference between an adventure and an ordeal is how you look at it.”

Her father, the third-generation Texan, was like most men of the southern Plains in his time. He raised a family during a Great Depression. He…

To the 2 million homes in Texas without power right now. To the millions covered in snow, who cannot keep their houses warm during freezing temperatures.

To Karen and Joe, in North Texas, who can see their breath vapor while lying in bed; who are eating cold cans of tuna in the dark, covered in blankets; who are constantly telling their anxious children, “Everything will be okay.”

To Lynn, the single mother with a 6-month-old who was so cold last night she crawled into her idling car parked in the driveway; who cranked the heater and cradled her child; who stayed there until three in the morning until her vehicle ran out of gas.

To elderly Miss Susan, who invited 14 neighbors into her house to share the warmth of her fireplace. She turned it into a party with games, music, and everything.

To Rod, the 32-year-old in Houston who opened his home to three homeless guys he found on the street. Rod welcomed them into his

living room and showed them to his gas fireplace. Rod gave them new clothes, hot showers, then fired up his outdoor grill and barbecued a rack of Saint Louis ribs. They ate supper by candlelight.

And to those same long-bearded men who slept in Rod’s living room last night. They were men who, just yesterday, had snow encrusted whiskers and ice-covered eyebrows. As I write this, they are asleep on Rod’s floor, buried beneath a Pikes Peak of quilts, nestled beside a glowing hearth, enjoying full stomachs.

To the 27,229 homeless men and women in the state of Texas who are lost tonight. Most of them are people who have no family ties. Some are mentally ill. Each one is lonely. Almost all have been forced to huddle against buildings, in ditches, or in tents, simply to overcome below-zero wind chills.

To the emergency workers, the EMTs, the sheriff departments, the police officers,…

I had a dream. It was a vivid dream. It was sunny. I was in my childhood Sunday school classroom, alone. It was like nothing had changed.

The paned windows were slung open. It was a magnificent day outside. The daylight was so bright it hurt your heart. The sound of starlings came from the trees.

It was your typical church classroom. There was a flannel board, with paper Bible-story characters stuck to the felt. I stood to examine the storytelling board for old time’s sake.

Apparently some kids had taken Sharpies to the cutout characters because Paul and Silas were defaced. Paul was smoking a cigarette, and Silas had a tattoo of a woman on his forearm. The kid responsible for this would be sentenced to hard time mowing the church lawn until he was forty.

My attention moved from the classroom when I heard a sound. A melodic noise coming from the other room. People singing. I knew this song. I can still remember the words.

“O there’s sunshine,
“Sunshine in my

“Blessed sunshine,
“Blessed sunshine in my soul…”

It’s been a while since I’ve heard this standard. Heck. It’s been a while since I’ve seen that many people in one room, singing, smiling, exchanging germs.

But in my dream, it was olden times. I wandered into the tiny sanctuary. The sight made my insides turn to Jello. Just seeing those recognizable faces, the battered pews, the towhead children holding hymnals.

I saw the whole gang. There was elderly Mister Dan, balding, with a crown of white fuzz around his head. He was red faced, because he was bad to drink.

And old Miss Eleanor, wearing her weird hat. I think they buried her in that hat.

And look! There’s my cousin! He’s so young! Look at him, standing next to my aunt. And who is that standing beside… Wait! That’s me! There I…

I have here an email from Mason, a 13-year-old in Buffalo, who writes:

“I hate my hair color… I am a redhead and people make fun of me and I am afraid I’ll never get a girlfriend because I’m red haired, how do I get girls to like me?”

This has got to be the best letter I’ve ever received. And as a fellow redhead, I can relate to this question, Mason.

It is hard being a redhead. And it’s especially difficult when you’re young. But I promise things will get easier once your hair finally turns white.

As a kid I hated my hair. My head looked like a mint penny, I had buckshot freckles, pale skin, and fainting spells. Redheads are prone to fainting: something in our genes.

My mother says people in the supermarket would ask if they could rub my copper head for good luck. She always obliged them, although I don’t know why. Many times in the produce aisle there would be a single file line of strangers waiting

to fuzz my hair violently and make a wish. By the time I was three I was nearly bald.

Also, when you’re a redhead you’ll find that you stand out in pictures involving flash photography. Poorly lit photographs will transform your unique hair into the orange flames of Satan.

My friend Johnny Paul said this was because all redheads were secretly witches. His remark really hurt my feelings so I boiled him alive in an iron kettle.

I disliked my hair so badly that I tried dyeing my hair once. I heard that shoe polish worked. I spent an entire afternoon rubbing Kiwi “oxblood brown” shoeshine into my hair to make it brunette. When I finished, my mother was mortified. She vigorously washed my hair, but the tint was permanent. For six months thereafter my hair was burgundy.

But if you ask me, one of the…

We were newlyweds, living in a grungy apartment.

Each morning, I would wake before her. I would pass my morning hours writing poetry on a yellow legal pad, sipping coffee.

Mostly, I’d write the kinds of god-awful things you’d expect newlyweds to write. I’m talking painfully corny stuff. I’d leave these poems on slips of paper scattered throughout our apartment for her to find.

One such poem read:

“Together, the two of us,
“In thought, and deed, and breath, and heart,
“Shall never be lacerated apart.”

Gag me with a number-two pencil. “Lacerated?” What kind of a dork uses that word? In fact, I’m not certain this verb works in this particular case.

LACERATE [verb: las-uh-reyt] lac·er·at·ed, lac·er·at·ing
1. to tear; mangle; rip. Example: “Hey dude, that poem you wrote really freakin’ lacerated.”

My wife saved all my crummy poems in a shoebox, and today they reside in a storage closet.

Anyway, when we first married we lived in an apartment that smelled like dead squirrels, and I am not being figurative. I mean our apartment

actually had a nest of decomposing squirrels in the attic above our master bedroom.

The place was tiny, about as ugly as homemade underpants. The tenant before us had painted the walls black and greenish-gray. Sherwin Williams officially titled this color “Seasick Granite®.”

When we moved in, we made the place our own. We painted the walls brown and khaki. We bought a used coffee table and some scented candles.

My friend, Chubbs, found an old console television on the side of the road. I was lucky enough to claim the TV before the garbage man came.

The thing was heavier than a dead man, but we got it up the stairs. Chubbs, however, would suffer from severe disc degenerative problems for the rest of his life.

Our building sat across the street from a Waffle House, a Chick-fil-A, and an…


I am 67 years old and I hate myself for not having seen my son in 30 years, and it is my fault we drifted apart, I’m to blame. I’m a horrible dad. But this weekend I’m going to meet him and try to ask forgiveness, and hopefully begin to correct some of the numerous wrongs I have made. But is it too late? I thought I’d ask you, I doubt you’ll have time to answer this message.



My mother used to say: “Tomorrow is a day with no mistakes in it.” And I cannot tell you how many times this phrase has gotten me through hard times.

Just knowing that tomorrow is blemish free, like clean notebook paper, makes me feel better. And believe me, sometimes I need to feel better about myself because...

I’m a human being.

That’s right. Like you, I'm a biological creature programmed to be self-preserving and self-centered at all costs. Many forget this little tidbit about ourselves. Take me, I often forget how human

I am. My wife, however, is always eager to remind me. Although sometimes she’s too eager.

The thing is, some people imagine that our species is more than merely mortal. Some actually think we are enlightened, advanced, or insightful creatures. But the truth is—and I don’t mean to be crude here—we are biped mammals who go potty.

Since the Stone Age our species has been hardwired to think only about Number One. And so far, that’s what mankind has done.

Go thumb through a social studies textbook. Throughout recorded history the most aggressive and destructive civilizations weren’t societies comprised of turtles. The truly brutal cultures have always been people. What swell guys our caveman ancestors were, impaling each other with sharp sticks so they could own more real estate.

I realize this is a dim view of humanity. Of course not all…

I was on my way home. I was taking the scenic route from Alabama to Florida because I love backroads. I can’t stand interstates. Interstates scare me.

I’ve been in an interstate accident exactly once. My truck looked like a smashed Weltmeister accordion when it was over. I never felt the same ease on major highways after that.

Besides, there’s something lyrical about old faded roads that lead you home. People write songs about these ancient roads.

I doubt whether anyone writes songs about Interstate 65.

It was on one such rundown highway a few days ago that my phone rang. It was the voice of a kid.

“Hello?” said the voice. “Is this Sean?”

I was taken off guard. I get a lot of solicitor calls, but never from kids. “Yes, this is him.”

“Your wife gave me your number, is this a bad time?”

“Uh—no. Wait, my WIFE gave you this number?” She hadn’t told me anything about this.

“Yessir, Mister Dietrich.”

“Oh, no. Please don’t call me Mister Dietrich. Mister Dietrich died about 30 years ago. Call me Sean.”

Our conversation

went from there. It wasn’t awkward. In fact, it was nice. He was a boy who had read one of my columns and wanted to call and meet me.

At first I was confused, but then I kind of got into the spirit of our conversation. We became fast buddies, and covered all topics.

“What’s your favorite movie?” the kid asked.

“Toss up between ‘Lonesome Dove,’ ‘Music Man,’ or anything with Abbott and Costello.”

“I like Dumbo.”

“Dumbo is a good movie.”

“I like how he can fly.”

“Well said.”

And this is pretty much how the discussion went. There was no objective to it. No real point. Truthfully, I had no idea what was going on, neither could I understand why my wife would give my number to strangers.

Even so, I like kids. Always…

The old timers in my childhood often used a word I never understood. The word was “Providence.” My people could not articulate the meaning of this particular word because it had more than two syllables.

Also, it really is a difficult word to define. Even now, when researching this column I couldn’t find a concrete definition of Providence. One dictionary said one thing, another website called the word “archaic.” Today the term is so outdated that if you’re a younger person reading this I’ve probably already lost you.

So I’ll explain it’s meaning by telling you how the word was invoked by the rural people of my youth.

Okay. Let’s say there was no rain, the world was crackling and dry, and no farmers were making money from crops. It wasn’t “bad luck.” It was all part of heavenly Providence.

And when the rain finally began to fall; also Providence.

When two people fell in love? Providence.

If someone got cancer and died, people prayed for the family to receive solace in Providence.

Job promotion? Providence.


$20 in your coat pocket? Major Providence.

My people, you see, did not believe in good luck, coincidences, or even flashy miracles. It was all Providence.

To them life was like a trapeze act. Mankind was always swinging recklessly from trapezes, back and forth. Sometimes man fell, sometimes he didn’t. Either way, there was a divine reason for everything, good and bad. You weren’t supposed to know the reason. That’s Providence.

Thus we did not believe in accidents, happenstances, mistakes, flub-ups, or oversights. Neither did you merely “bump into a neighbor” at the supermarket. It was all meant to be. Mapped out ahead of time. Heaven was not an indifferent observer, but an active participant in your life. Providence.

The reason I bring this up is because I received a letter from a young woman who I will call Rebecca. She is undergoing…

I am thirty minutes outside Birmingham. In the rural hinterlands. It’s a gray day. The sky is aluminum-colored and dismal. I don’t like gray days. They really depress me. To make matters worse, this is a pandemic.

Sometimes I wake up and wonder if this pandemic has all been some sort of elaborate nightmare; maybe one morning I’ll wake up and the world will have gone back to rock concerts and handshakes. But that didn’t happen today.

What I need right now is breakfast. I’ve been on the road a few days. I need carbs. I need cholesterol.

I pull over at an old joint. It’s the kind of rundown eatery with old music playing overhead and waitresses who can balance 38 plates on one arm and a carry bottle of ketchup in their teeth.

The place is socially distanced, masks are worn by servers. This new world feels foreign to me sometimes. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it.

My waitress arrives holding a notepad, wearing an N95 respirator. She is cheerful,

and dressed in what appear to be high-school colors. She asks what I want to eat. I go with bacon, eggs, coffee.

The coffee looks like tar and it’s strong enough to resurrect a cadaver. Which is good, I need an energy boost today because gray days sap my enthusiasm. They make me exhausted.

So I’m sipping this caffeinated sludge and wincing, since this beverage has roughly the same pH value as hydrochloric acid. That’s when I notice the people at the table a few spaces away from me.

There is a boy. I’m guessing he’s 6 or 7 years old. He is blind, or perhaps visually impaired. The kid sits beside his mother in a booth, his eyes are open, he is staring blankly ahead.

When the family’s food arrives, his mother ignores her own plate of food and begins feeding the boy.

I am in traffic, riding through Birmingham, listening to an oldies AM radio station. Extreme oldies. The music coming through my speakers takes me to an antique world of hi-fis, beehive hairdos, and weird congealed salads.

The radio DJ says, “...And that was a song from Benny Goodman, now let’s hear one from the Les Baxter Orchestra...”

I remember my granny listening to Les Baxter albums. One such album was called “The Primitive and the Passionate,” ala 1962. On the cover was a photo of a woman who could’ve passed for Sophia Loren, dancing in a sultry way, beckoning to all who looked upon her. Even little Baptist boys.

I remember the record playing on a turntable. It was lush and tranquilizing. When you hear music like that, you are immediately transported to an earlier time, sitting on a plastic-covered sofa, watching someone’s dad—usually named Gary, Frank, or Dennis—use a cocktail shaker to make a Manhattan.

I remember another Les Baxter record. “Space Escapade” (1958). On the cover was Les Baxter dressed in

a spaceman suit with spacegirls falling all over him. Keep in mind, Les Baxter looked a lot like your grandfather’s dentist.

But the record was great. An hour’s worth of exotic orchestral music that sounds exactly like being trapped in a department store with your mother while she’s trying on dresses.

“Attention shoppers,” the department store intercom says. “Special on aisle twelve, make your own julienne fries with the new Fry-O-Matic! Fourteen ninety-nine with rebate. Also, ask your sales associate about our sale on boy’s athletic supporters.”

The radio station is now playing selections from the country music vein. Conway Twitty. Hank Snow. Followed by Buck Owens, singing “Together Again.” I turn it up.

If I close my eyes, I’m sitting in front of a Zenith console TV with my father. On the screen: Roy Clark and Buck Owens are surrounded by their “Hee Haw” gals in…