I'm sitting with my Methodist mother-in-law in the living room. We are replaying old memories like worn out records. There is a ballgame playing in the background. Braves are winning.

She sits in her wheelchair, nursing a nightly glass of Metamucil. I am sitting in a fold-up rollator walker, drinking one of her Ensure meal replacements. Chocolate.

The white-haired woman gets a sly look on her face and says, “Do you remember that one time…?”

There is mischief in her voice. And I already know where she’s going with this. Even so, I prod. “What ’one time?’”

“Oh, the time I came over to your house, unannounced, several years ago…?”

I knew we were going here.

“You mean the time you saw me naked?”

She laughs and sips her fiber supplement. “That would be the instance of which I speak.”

I might as well tell you the story now that we’ve brought it up. And I'm sorry if this is offensive because I consider myself a sincere gentleman. I mean it. I open doors for ladies, watch my language, and

I don’t slouch.

But the truth is—and I can hardly say it—my mother-in-law has indeed seen me wearing nothing but the Joy of the Lord. And I mean the full biscuit.

Don't make me repeat myself.

It happened years ago. And the violation occurred right in my own house. I'm forever traumatized. In fact, just writing about this causes unpleasant feelings to start swimming inside me, some of which date back to middle-school gym showers.

I can't really explain how it happened. All I know is that one moment I'm waltzing across my empty house after a shower, enjoying the invigorating springtime air, then (WAM!) a peeping Thomasina is standing in my kitchen.

“Mother Mary!” I squealed—but in a masculine tone. “How'd you get in here?”

“I have a key, ding-a-ling.”

"Please don't use that word."

She handed me a…

The old woman is lying in a hospital bed in her living room. The hospice nurse sits in the corner keeping an eye on her. Today is a big day.

“Is he here yet?” asks the patient.

“He’s coming,” says the nurse. “Your daughter said he texted, his plane just landed.”

“How much longer?”

“You know how traffic is.”

These are the final stages of her life. She was an English teacher once. She taught high-schoolers to read Hemingway, Clemens, and Steinbeck. And how to love them.

Local students said her class was the best thing about their one-point-five-horse town. Especially when she used to get students to reenact “Huckleberry Finn.” The English teacher always played the part of Huck while wearing cutoff overalls, straw hat, and painted freckles.

The old woman says, “What time is it now?”

“Same time as when you asked thirty seconds ago. Relax, Miss Adeline. He’s coming.”

She is hazy from medication. “What if he changed his mind?”

“Miss Adeline.”

Forty-three years ago the English teacher’s husband was unfaithful. He had been having a relationship with her

best friend for years. It ruined her. Their marriage shattered like plate glass and their family split in two. The Leave it to Beaver image died. And June Cleaver traded in her pearls.

“Miss Adeline. How’s your pain level? You comfortable?”

The old woman tries to swallow. “I’m thirsty.”

“I’ll get you some water.”

The nurse leaves. And the old woman is left with memories. Some good. Some not. She never remarried. She never spoke to her ex-husband again, either. Not once.

She never used his name, never acknowledged him. She moved to a different part of the state. He moved across the country. They have been strangers for four decades. But that was a long time ago. And pancreatic cancer has changed her perspective.

Then a doorbell rings.

“That’s him,” says the old woman. “Maybe this was…


I’m afraid cause its my schools dance party and what should I do about a boy who I like? I dont think hes even going to ask me about the party if no one does something quick.

We are supposed to have are dance partners all ready but I don’t. So should I wait so he can ask me, or can I ask him since I’m a girl?

My grandma said ask you since my parents are not alive anymore.



You have a crisis on your hands. This is serious. But before I say anything else, let me first clarify what your letter says so I can make sure I understand correctly:

1. You are 10 years old.
2. There is a school dance.
3. You want to go.
4. With a cute boy.
5. And you want him to invite you.
6. But he’s a guy.
7. And guys are too busy picking belly-button lint to realize what’s going on.
8. Which is

exactly how I spent my entire school year when I was 10 years old.

All this has you conflicted. On one hand, you want to go to the dance with this boy. On the other, girls don’t traditionally ask boys to dances—although this rule never made sense to me.

So basically you’re stuck.

Well, the first thing I can tell you is try to get used to it. Because it won’t be the last time.

I stress this because when you get older you’ll be tempted to feel bad about yourself when you get confused about romance. Someday your heart might get broken and you’ll want to point the blame at yourself.

I don’t know why, but we tend to blame ourselves when something doesn’t work out. And when we’re lonely, it’s easy to think we’re not good-looking enough, or popular enough, or wearing…

This isn’t my story, it’s his. He talked, I listened. And I tried to quiet the skeptic who lives inside my brain.

The tale takes place at night. There are hardly any cars on an old two-lane highway near the Louisiana-Texas line.

He is a middle-aged ironworker, walking the shoulder with a sack over his back. An army duffle bag, olive drab. The same pack he’s been carrying since Korea.

The steelwalker’s personal life is a mess. He’s left his home and his kids. He cries a lot. He has pushed away his family. He’s isolated himself. And he’s tired. Tired all over. Tired of being alive. Tired of… Everything.

But he likes to walk highways. And he particularly loves the Milky Way, which is his travel companion this evening.

In most cities you can’t see the “River of Heaven,” as it was known in ancient Japan. There’s too much skyglow in urban places.

Last year when he was working the iron in Detroit, he never saw the Milky Way, the bright city lights obscured it. He did a stint walking

skyscrapers in Tulsa, too. Couldn’t see stars there, either.

But in quiet parts of Texas, the ribbon of the Milky Way eases through a pristine purple sky and puts on a perfect show. Yes, tonight is a perfect night.

And if all goes according to his plan, this will be his last night alive.

A truck stops beside him. The brake rotors grind, blue exhaust coughs from a tailpipe. A white-haired guy in a crushed cattleman’s hat kicks open the door and says, “Need a lift, pal?”

“Nah thanks, I’m alright.”

“You sure? Be glad to carry you somewhere.”

The ironworker thinks about the stranger’s offer. His feet are sore. His knees aren’t what they used to be. He glances at the sky one last time. “Hell... Why not.”

He throws his bag into the bed and crawls into…

Eighteen-year-old Abby Bosarge is on TV. Channel 13, the news station out of Biloxi, WLOX. Your source for Gulf Coast updates, severe weather information, and Pat Sajak spinning the Wheel of Fortune at 6:30 P.M.

I turn it up.

Abby is looking right into the 6 o’clock news camera, smiling at heaven knows how many thousands of us in the viewing audience who are awaiting another nightly episode of Pat and Vanna.

I’ve never met Abby, but I find myself feeling nervous for her because, hey, it’s a big deal being on TV. Especially for a kid.

But Abby doesn’t look nervous, although God knows she has every right to be. Gazing deeply into a 50mm lens is brutal. For the unbaptized, staring at a TV camera is a lot like a possum staring at the high beams of a Peterbilt semi.

Abby wears a floral print dress. She is lean, with fair complexion. She wears a Gilligan hat to cover her recent hair loss. There is a bandage on an exposed area

of her skin. She is beautiful. Blindingly beautiful.

I turn up the volume again because Abby talks quietly.

She tells the world about how her life went downhill recently. About how once she was a high-school athletic phenom, receiving offers from Division I schools. And about how recently the doctors told Abby she was dying.

Acute myeloid leukemia.

AML is an axe. This year about 20,240 people in the United States will be diagnosed with AML. It’s rare, but it’s wicked stuff. The five-year overall survival rate for AML patients is about 27 percent. Or you can think of it like this: only 27 percent of folks who hear the words: “You have myeloid leukemia” will live long enough to pay their doctor bills.

The treatments for such diseases are hell. If the cancer doesn’t kill you, the therapy will.

So the TV journalist is asking Abby…

This morning there were two dozen homegrown tomatoes on my doorstep. I arrived home to see Piggly Wiggly bags hanging from my doorknob, and I almost lost control of my lower extremities.

It’s a little early for tomato season, but this is Florida, and apparently someone got an early jump on the horse race.

I come from country people. And country people regard tomatoes as holy things. We get excited about items like tomatoes. Deeply excited.

We are the kind of people who show our love in non-obvious ways by using things like vegetables, casseroles, love notes, Dairy Queen products, saturated fat, and passive aggression. Sometimes we use all six.

I saw no note attached to these tomatoes, which struck me as odd. A secret tomato-admirer, perhaps.

I brought the bags inside. I opened them. There were tomatoes of every shape and color. Yellows, greens, reds, and even rich purples the color of eggplants.

Purple tomatoes, my mother once told me, are magic tomatoes. “You’ve hit the tomato jackpot,” my mother would say,

“if you come across a tomato so full of magic that it’s turning purple.”

Well, I have a thing for tomatoes, magic or otherwise. I’m crazy about them. My mother used to grow them in the summers of my youth. If I close my eyes I can still smell the greenery in her garden. Her small patches of tilled earth were surrounded by chicken wire and human hair clippings.

The clippings were mine. Back in those days, my mother used to cut my hair with dull scissors on our back porch. In fact, this was a primary reason for my traumatic childhood. Because my haircuts were a cross between Bozo the Clown and a regulation cue ball.

Often, people at school would say things like, “Hey, who cuts your hair? Ronnie Milsap?”

Directly after my weedwacker haircuts, my mother would gather hair clippings into a dustpan and…

“Tag! You’re it!”

I’m watching several kids play tag in a neighborhood. Eight children scream: “Jon’s it! Jon’s it!”

Jon is “it.”

Their high-pitched laughter is followed by the sounds of tiny feet running upon grassy earth.

Jon is a second-grade redhead who chases his friends like his reputation is on the butcher block right now. Because in Kid World, it is.

I was walking my dog when I came upon them. But now I’m a spectator at this fracas, along with two moms who shout idle threats between their conversations.

And I’m remembering when I was “it” during boyhood games of tag.

When I was in fourth grade I had red hair and I looked like Danny Partridge with a serious carb addiction. Our games of tag were intense. SEC rules. It was a full-contact sport.

One time, Katrina Hoskins was “it.” Katrina was three feet taller than the entire fourth grade. She could pick me up and twirl me overhead like she was a shooting guard for University of Kentucky.

Katrina thought I was cute and often proclaimed that she

was going to marry me. But when I told Katrina that I was keeping my nuptial options open, she used an Encyclopaedia Britannica to dislodge my jawbone during a game of tag. She selected “Volume 3: Bolivia—Cervantes.”

“Tag! Jon’s it!”

“Am not!”

“Are too!”

Someone starts crying.

“Hey!” shouts a mom. “Don’t hit your brother, or so help me, I will come over there and...!”

I wasn’t lucky enough to have kids. We wanted them. We tried for them, but it didn’t happen. Even so, I always imagined what my own children would be like.

I had it all planned out in my imagination. If we had a boy, he would’ve been named Lewis. If it were a girl, I would have remortgaged our home to spoil her and make her queen of the United States. And she…