A busy lunch joint. Seated beside me is a man reading a newspaper. I glance at a sobering headline that reads: “Pandemic Rages On—Again.” The man with the paper sighs, and folds it closed.

Meanwhile, the television above the bar rolls shocking footage of a shooting. This is followed by reporters talking about more bad stuff. Then come pharmaceutical commercials by the dozen. Followed by legal commercials on how to sue the pants off pharmaceutical companies.

The waitress looks at the TV and says, “Lordy mighty, they never tell you anything good anymore, do they?”

She flips the channel. The TV shows a riot. She flips again. A televangelist in a silk suit is weeping. Flip, flip, flip. On the screen are two newsmen shouting at each other with spittle flying. She flips again. The news announcer says: “And now for more COVID updates…”

Mercifully, she turns the television off.

A man at the bar says, “Thank you.”

Another man raises a coffee mug. “Amen.”

The mood improves considerably. Pretty soon the waitress is playing music overhead. It’s George

Strait, singing about Amarillo. And color is being restored to the world. Thank you, George.

The waitress warms up my coffee and I’m feeling a lot better now.

It’s been a hard few weeks for my family. And certainly, I know the universe is full of cruddy current events—as seen on TV. But isn’t there anything good happening out there?

The answer is yes. And as it happens, I have one such item of good news to share. A few months ago, I met a man who told me about angels.

“Angels?” I asked skeptically.

“Yes, angels,” he said.

The man was white-haired. He looked like your favorite granddaddy. He spoke with a thick Georgia accent and wore enough plaid to cover a Plymouth.

“I was driving home late,” he began. “Crashed into a log truck.”

His wife held one of…

“Look at that water,” says Mary in a raspy, weakened voice. “Oh, have mercy, it’s so pretty.”

The dying woman in her bed glances out the window at the pristine bay. And in a rare moment of mental clarity she actually sees it.

“The water,” she says, stretching out a hand that is mangled with arthritis. “Beautiful.”

My mother-in-law’s outdated brick home sits on the edge of the great Choctawhatchee Bay. The bay of my youth. The same bay where I have wasted thousands of dollars in fishing lures. The same bay where I have watched many of my outboard motors go to be with Jesus.

A man can find joy within these brackish waters if he looks hard enough. It’s out there.

In Mary’s backyard is a little wooden pier. We’ve logged many hours on that pier. Each sunrise I have viewed from that dock has been a van Gogh. Each sunset a Monet.

People have visited from as far away as France to behold these sunsets and have often found themselves uttering,

“Wow.” Although it came out more like, “Weaux.”

Long ago, I remember my mother-in-law, my wife, and I used to sit on this rickety pier at dusk. We did this almost every evening. The mullet would jump. The herons would fish. A distant trawler would flip on its running lights.

And we would simply watch.

Watching is a bygone American pastime, you know. It is such a simple act, and yet so few will do it anymore. Our ancestors were great watchers. They spent idle hours on front porches engaged in the sacred craft of counting cars, waving at neighbors, or watching kids play catch.

But the art of watching ended when, somewhere along the way, architects moved the front porch to the rear of the American home. People quit waving to neighbors. Nobody counts cars anymore.

But on this bay you watch. And you listen.…

Today at the store I watched a young guy hold the door open for a mother of three. He trotted ahead and threw open the door with a grand flourish as if to say, “After you, mademoiselle.”

The woman stopped cold in her steps.

She had a baby on her hip, a toddler holding her hand, and her oldest child was bringing up the rear, finger shoved in his nose. The woman was young, her clothes had food stains on them, and she looked like she hadn’t slept since the last papal installation.

“Thanks,” she said. And her face was bright red.

What I want to know is why.

Why did this young man perform this small act of goodwill? After all, I’m sure the kid has a chaotic life just like the rest of us. I’m sure he was in a hurry. He had important stuff going on, places to be, people to text. So why did he take 12 seconds out of his day to help a stranger?

Furthermore, what purpose did this

nicety really accomplish within the grand schematic of existence?

Let’s be honest here. Did this woman need help opening a door? Not really. We are talking about a woman with perfectly functional opposable thumbs. She had plenty of options when it came to opening a door for herself.

She could have (a) set her kid down and simply opened the door. Or she could have (b) told the oldest kid to quit digging for nasal gold and open the door. And of course there’s always (c) using her foot.

The hack journalist in me was curious, so I approached the kid and asked why he opened the door.

His first reaction was embarrassment. Then he added, “Aw, it was really nothing, man.”


Astounding. Because it didn’t look like nothing. If this act was indeed nothing, then why did it make me feel good all…

There were no available tables in the swanky Italian restaurant. My date and I were waiting in a huge crowd of hungry wolves who all held those little buzzers that light up when your table is ready.

I was a mere boy.

I approached the hostess desk, I added our names to the waiting list. My voice squeaked like I’d just gone through the fourth stage of puberty. I was given a buzzer.

My new girlfriend and I were on one of our first dates. This was a girl I really liked. She had a great sense of humor and a thunderbolt mind.

It’s funny how certain you can be about somebody so early in your relationship. I’m not the sharpest spoon in the drawer, but I knew this gal was special.

I first realized this when, earlier that evening, a cop pulled us over for speeding and not only did this girl charm our way out of a ticket, but the patrolman practically invited us over for Thanksgiving.

My date and I

sat together in the restaurant waiting area. We were still in that phase where you’re not sure how to act around each other.

Do you sit close together? Or is that pushy? Do you put an arm around her? Or is that creepy? Is she going to think you’re Fast Eddie if you hold her hand? Does she carry pepper spray?

So we sat with exactly nine inches between us, curtly smiling now and then. So polite.

Her hair was chocolate. Her skin was the smoothest I ever saw. She wore a powder blue blouse. Her perfume was called “Sweet Pea.”

In the foyer beside us was an old man, slumped in his wheelchair, attached to oxygen. He was dressed in an old suit, his feet were clad in ratty house slippers, and his tie looked like it had spent the last four months crinkled in a…

The Grand Canyon at sunrise is God’s private playground. The colors are unnameable. The light is bewitching. The vistas will break your heart.

My wife and I have visited the Big Ditch several times over the years and it never gets old. We visited after her father’s funeral. We visited on her 40th birthday. We visited after I got fired because my previous boss had short man’s syndrome.

Yes, I realize that Grand Canyon National Park has been commercialized to the point of being gaudy. Yes, this park is visited by 5.9 million annual tourists, all of whom are currently in the gift shop with screaming toddlers.

No, the restaurants aren’t anything special. In fact, the food sucks. And yes, sometimes you encounter annoying tourists, such as loud-talking guys from Arkansas who flick cigarette butts into the gorge and threaten to jump off the edge to impress their girlfriends. Which, let’s be honest, at this stage would be fine with the girlfriends.

Even so. The place has a strange spell over me.

When I was

in fifth grade, my old man took me to the Canyon on a camping trip. One sunset he stood at the precipice and was so overawed by the unending beauty that he removed his hat and threw it like a Frisbee into the vast gully.

We watched the hat sail downward.

“Why’d you do that?” I asked.

He shook his head, but his face was bone solemn. “No reason.”

Beauty will do that to a man.

He died nearly a year later. I think about that hat every time we visit.

Our last vacation to the Canyon was a few years ago, my wife and I needed a getaway. We stayed in a rundown cabin, and ate cheap tourist food until our digestive tracts turned to stone. We went for many walks and watched lots of sunsets.

It had been a hard year. My wife…


Your mother-in-law must be a great person, and I’m so sorry about what your family is going through while losing her, but can we please hear about other stuff? Can you please write about something else?

I mean no disrespect,


My family and I appreciate your extremely thoughtful and heartfelt email during this time. Frankly, I’m surprised you haven’t been approached to start writing for Hallmark cards.

Nevertheless, I freely concede. Yes. Over the last week I’ve been pretty obsessed with my mother-in-law (boy, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write).

This is, of course, because my mother-in-law is dying. I don’t know if you’ve ever lost anyone close to you, but when people you love are passing, you make lots of promises to them.

When the hospice nurse first told us Mary didn't have long, I stood beside her sickbed and promised her that I would dedicate many, many columns to her.

These mediocre stories I’ve been writing for the last nine years—which probably take ninety seconds out of your entire day to

read—were often the highpoint of Mary’s entire month. Especially the stories I wrote about her.

Mary spent the latter portion of her life as a shut-in. She would sit in her wheelchair, holding an iPad, chuckling at things I’d written. This brought me a lot of joy.

So when I told a dying Mary Martin last week that I’d dedicate a bunch of columns to her, her face broke into a wide grin. She took my hand, stared at me, and tried to speak, but couldn’t. We shared a profound moment, although no words passed between us.

Also, what you probably don’t know is that Mary was one of the few people in my life who actually liked being written about. When I started this blog/column/naval shipwreck, I was surprised to learn how many people don’t want you writing…

Hurricane Ivan was trying to suck the Gulf Coast off the map. Our family was holed up in a little house in the woods. The power was out. It was night. My mother-in-law, Mary, and I were drinking coffee in the dark kitchen, listening to destruction happen outside.

“Do you hear that noise?” I said. “It sounds like a freight train.”

Mary took a sip of coffee. “Probably just tornadoes.”

“You think?”

“Yep. That's what everyone on the Weather Channel always says after a tornado, they say it sounds like a train.”

Now I was freaking out. “You really think a tornado is out there?”

Mary shook her head. “No. I said tornadoes. With an S.”

The rain was horsewhipping the house. You could hear windows groan beneath the weird air pressure. The roadways were flooded.

I checked my hands. I was trembling like Barney Fife at a bank stickup.

“Are you scared?” she asked.


She smiled. “Don’t be.”

“What about you? Aren’t you worried?”

“Me?” She shrugged, then raised her coffee mug in full salute. “My cup runneth over.”

The house

shook with thunder. Pictures fell from walls. The lightning flashes outside were now set to “disco strobe” mode.

“Try to calm down,” said my mother-in-law, the woman who had, perhaps, the most soothing Alabamian voice I ever heard. She began to tell a story:

“When I was a girl,” she said, “I once had this little duck. Daddy gave her to me. He let me keep her outside in the shed with his minnow tanks. I named her Gertrude.

“Oh, I loved her. She was such a cute thing, so sweet. White feathers, yellow bill. She’d waddle around and eat bugs, sometimes she ate frogs, she made me so happy.”

Lightning. A heavy crash outside. My heart was pounding in my neck.

“Anyway, I’d sell Gertrude’s eggs. Duck eggs went for a lotta money ‘cause they’re so…