I was a little boy. I was in a bad mood. My mother sent me to my room before supper.

“You march upstairs, mister,” she told me. “You go count your blessings.”

“But MAMA!” I said.

“Count’em one by one, young man, make a long list, or you don’t get any meatloaf.”

I’m thirty-some-odd years too late, but my wife is making meatloaf tonight.


My wife—because she loved me first.

And boiled peanuts. Just because.

And dogs. Every dog.

And people who stop four lanes of traffic to save dogs. And people who adopt dogs. And people who like dogs. And people who spend so much time with dogs that they start to think like dogs.

And saturated fat. Pork. Smoked bacon, cured hams, and runny yolks in my fried eggs.

And cotton clothes that just came off a summer clothesline.

And the sound wind makes when it makes its way through the trees. And the smells of fall. And rain. Garlic.

Old radio shows. As a boy, a local station used to play reruns of Superman, the Lone Ranger, Little Orphan Annie, the

Jack Benny Show, Abbott and Costello, and the Grand Ole Opry. I lived for these shows.

And the girl I met in Birmingham—she’s lived in fourteen different foster homes.

The child in Nashville—whose feet are too big for her sneakers. She can’t afford new ones.

Every soul at Children’s Hospital, Birmingham. Doctors, nurses, janitors, cooks, staff, and patients.

Every child who will be fortunate enough to see tomorrow morning. Every child who won’t.

And tomatoes. Tomatoes remind me of things deeper than just tomatoes themselves. They remind me of women who garden. Women like my mother, who suffered to raise two children after her husband met an untimely end.

Mama. The woman who made me. The woman whose voice I inherited. Sometimes, I hear myself talking on the phone and I realize I sound just…

It’s hard to believe we are entering the second year of a pandemic. I can hardly wrap my head around it. I wake up every morning hoping to find myself in a different era. But it never works out.

You can’t forget about things like pandemics and simply move on with your life. Because whenever you wander into public the pandemic is waiting for you. When you watch TV, there it is. You’re reminded of COVID every time you see facemasks, sanitizer jugs, and people doing obligatory fist bumps instead of handshakes.

Centuries from today the history textbooks will call this “The Era of the Obligatory Fist Bump.” People even do fist bumps at mortgage closings now.

This has also been the era of snail mail. I personally have received more letters, emails, and postcards during this pandemic than I ever thought possible.

One of the most moving letters I received during the lockdowns was from Francie, which is not her real name. Francie lives in Virginia and had been estranged from

her mother for 26 years.

Her mother is elderly now, and lives alone. They have always had a strained relationship.

But when the pandemic hit, Francie swallowed her pride and called her mother in California only to discover that her mother had contracted COVID and was in ICU.

The guilt swelled like bile within Francie when she heard this. That same night she drove across the United States to see her mother. And on the day they brought Francie’s mother home, it was quite a reunion. When mother and daughter saw each other they broke down.

Francie says her first embrace with her mother totally melted away 26 years’ worth of grievances in a nanosecond.

Francie’s mother reportedly rose from her wheelchair to embrace her daughter tightly and say, “Oh, I knew something good would come out of this mess.”

Eight weeks later her mother died. Francie was…

I pull into the designated parking space at the supermarket. My vehicle is idling. This is what you call “touchless” grocery shopping.

This pandemic has brought a lot of heartache and misery. But, let us never forget, this pandemic also brought us touchless grocery shopping, wherein store employees magically fill your car with groceries while you listen to Willie Nelson on the radio. It’s quite wonderful.

My back passenger door opens.

“Can you pull forward a little, sir?” says the happy young woman in the surgical mask.

Sir. I hate it when people call me sir. Especially young people. It makes me feel like Fred Mertz.

I inch my vehicle forward until she says stop. She is late twenties, long dreadlocks, and the personality of a cherub. “You just want them in the back seat, sir?”

“In the back will be perfect,” I say.

She gets busy loading. “You having a good day so far, sir?”

“I’m alright. How about you?”

“Oh, yes, sir. I’m having maybe my best day ever.”

“Best ever? You only get one of those.”

“Well, I’m

pregnant,” she blurts out. And I get the feeling she just needs to tell someone. “I just found out a few hours ago, before work. My boyfriend and I are gonna have a baby. I’m so happy.”

She loads several more bags onto my floorboards. I am observing her through my rear view mirror. I can tell by her squinty eyes that she’s smiling.

“Congratulations. You must be so excited.”

“Oh, you have no idea, I wasn’t supposed to be able to get pregnant. I was told I’d never be pregnant. I have a bunch of medical issues.”


She bear hugs a sack of dog food that weighs about as much as a government helicopter. I suddenly wish this pregnant woman wasn’t lifting such heavy things. My reflex is to lift these things for her, but she instructs…

It was my twelfth birthday. I blew out the candles and made a wish. If you would have asked what I wished for I might have told you: (a) to meet Jim Varney, and (b) to be a columnist.

I fell in love with columnists when I was young. For extra money my mother and I used to throw the newspaper at 2:30 A.M. each morning, and as a result I read the newspaper religiously. I came to idolize old-school newspaper men.

I bring this up because today is the birthday of this column/blog/whatever-you-call-it. And it has me feeling nostalgic. I’ll never forget when a small newspaper in Texas told me they were going to actually run a few of my columns, I got so excited when they sent me copies in the mail.

“This makes you a real columnist!” insisted my wife, waving the paper like a street-corner newspaper hawker.

And although I wanted to believe her, I didn’t. Because columnists, you see, are educated smart guys. They have multiple degrees, career accolades,

and they drive Mercury Grand Marquis sedans. I drove a beater pickup. I typed 12 words per minute using only my index fingers.

Not long after that, I got another job writing short columns in Georgia. Whereupon I drove all the way to Savannah, carrying along a small manual typewriter. I wrote a few 500-word columns about baseball while seated at a KOA picnic table, eating a cold can of baked beans. I can’t remember feeling so happy.

“See?” my wife announced when she held a Georgia newspaper. “Now do you believe me? You’re a columnist now.”

Silly girl. You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken doo.

The hard truth is I’m not much of a writer. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not putting myself down. And believe me, I love writing. But I’m no fool, either. There are artists out there who are true poets.…

The elderly man at the deli counter was undecided. He looked at the lineup of cold salads behind the glass divider with a serious face behind his surgical mask.

It was the kind of face that deep thinkers wear.

“Lemme try a sample of the chicken salad,” he said to the girl behind the counter.

“It’s REALLY good,” said the cheery young woman with the mask and hairnet. “I just made it, it’s world famous chicken salad, at least that’s what my son says. Every time I make it, I just HAVE to take a few pounds home to my son, my son LOVES my world famous chicken salad, he’s the kind of boy who just loves anything with mayo, and I try to tell him, ‘If you keep eating all that mayonnaise, you’re gonna just swell up like a big ole balloon…’”

The man interrupted, “Lemme try the broccoli salad, please.”

“Sure,” said Miss Sunshine, scooping another sample. “Do you know we put CURRY in our broccoli salad? I used to think curry was

gross, but I was wrong, curry’s good, I eat it all the time now—the broccoli salad I mean, not the curry by itself. I don’t think anyone would do that, eat curry by itself, but you never know, people do some weird things...”

The grumpy man cut her off. “That’s nice, Miss, I wanna try the Waldorf salad, now.”

“Comin’ right up,” she said. “It’s funny, all the old ladies come in here and get the Waldorf salad, and I just laugh, they’re the cutest things, they used to come in every week to eat and talk, but if you ask my opinion, I hate Waldorf salad because I don’t like fruit and mayonnaise to EVER touch each other, that’s gross, I don’t know why anyone with half a brain would put mayonnaise and fruit together, but you know what I always say? I say,…

Last night, while America was fast asleep, stuff happened. Lots of stuff.

Take the two college guys named Greg and Blair. They were driving toward Florida, careening along an interstate.

These are your average college age kids. They had loud music blaring, they were laughing, talking about a topic all college boys talk about. Hint: rhymes with “whirls.”

At first glance Greg and Blair might look like typical teens who skip haircuts, wear unwashed clothes, bathe once per presidential administration, and eat pizza six times per week. But they’re so much more than that. They also eat tacos.

When Greg and Blair saw a compact car on the side of the road last night, they stopped to help. The car was owned by a middle-aged woman who was struggling with a scissor jack, lying beneath her vehicle. Her kids were in the backseat, eating from a jumbo-sized bag of Jolly Ranchers. The woman was praying a semi didn’t run her over.

When Greg and Blair pulled behind her, the woman became guarded. This is a dangerous world,

and being a female alone on a major highway in the middle of the night is not exactly an ideal scenario.

Not to mention the boy’s pandemic-style surgical masks made them look like train robbers.

She gripped a tire iron in her hand until her knuckles went white.

“Need any help?” shouted one boy over the din of traffic.

Greg saw her squeeze the iron harder.

“We’re friendly,” said Greg, hands held in surrender.

Her tough demeanor broke. She almost started to cry. She admitted she had no idea how to position a scissor jack. “Thank you.”

The young men got to work. They attached her spare within minutes. When it came time to tighten the lugnuts with a tire iron, rather than ask for her tire iron—which she still clutched in a death grip—Greg retrieved one from his own car.

After the…

The phone rings. I hear a click when the old man answers. But no voice.

“Hello?” I say.

But I only hear rustling on the other end of the line. “Hold on!” says the elderly voice. “I’ve dropped my dang phone in the couch!”

So I wait. And wait. I can swear I hear a hand grasping, searching for a dropped phone. Finally the voice comes through. “Phew! Sorry, my phone dropped between my cushions, and I was trying to put my hearing aid in at the same time. Sorry.”

“Is this Stuart?”

“I’m Stuart.”

“Hi, Stuart. I’m calling because your wife said you had a story for me.”

“Yeah, I got a story. Are we ready to start? Do you have a pencil ready?”

“Actually, it’s a gel pen.”

“You gonna ask questions, or should I just start talking?”

I’m thankful he says this because interviews are hard enough for me as it is. But phone interviews are WAY harder when I have to think up more leading questions while simultaneously taking notes. It’s a lot like trying to walk and chew bubblegum while reading Marcel Proust in

the original French at the same time.

“You know what, Stuart? You just start talking, I’ll listen.”

He clears his throat. “Okay, but you’ll be sorry. My wife says when you pull my string I can talk for hours.”

Then he proves his point.

“You see, it’s a long story. I’s a kid when it all happened. I fell off a patio balcony, almost two stories down, I don’t remember much. All I know’s I was out cold.”

“I see.”

“So then I hear screaming from my mom, and my little brother, and something’s off, ‘cause I can see them, but I’m floating above them.”

“Floating.” I stopped writing.

“That’s right. Floating. Didn’t anyone warn you I was crazy?” He laughs.

What in God’s name have I gotten myself into.