I love flea markets and antique stores. This is because I like old stuff for which there is no use.

Antique pocket knives, porcelain cowboy figurines, hundred-year-old snuff tins, arrowheads, and tin coffee pots.

I am holding one such coffee pot. A percolator just like this used to sit in my father’s garage workshop on an electric hot plate.

I had my first coffee from a tin pot. It tasted like ditch-water and aluminum. But it didn’t matter because in that garage my father and I talked about things.

Things like: fishing, batting stances, the proper way to clean fried chicken bones, and God.

“Is God real?” I once asked.

He smiled. “Have you ever seen a little sign from above? Something that just sticks out, and seems like it means something?”

I shrugged.

“Well I have,” he said. “I see’em everywhere, every single day. Once you start looking for them, you see all sorts of little things that prove there’s someone Upstairs.”

I miss his simple explanations.

At this flea market, I find a Norman Rockwell compilation book.

You probably won’t care about this, but as a boy I had this exact book. My father gave it to me.

My father handed it to me and said, “Old Norm sees the world in such a happy way. I think you’ll like old Norm.”


After my father died, I cut out the pages of that book and tacked them to my bedroom walls. They were reminders of who my father used to be.

Over my bed hung the painting of a mother and son, saying grace at a crowded cafe table. It was right beside my all-time favorite painting: elderly musicians, playing music in a barbershop.

I once visited a Norman Rockwell exhibit. I drove to Birmingham to see it. I was first in line at the museum. The lady who took my ticket said, “Oh, you’re in for…

Breakfast time. A mediocre hotel. The continental buffet features food that is only a few notches above prison-camp food.

A youth soccer team forms a line at the buffet. They are filling paper plates with dry bacon and shoe-rubber eggs. I am standing behind them, waiting for my gruel.

I didn’t sleep well last night because of minor back pain.

Long ago, my mother used to say that each naughty thing I ever did would come back to haunt me in the form of back pain. I never believed her as a child. Now I do.

I find an empty table. I am eating breakfast in peace when an old woman asks if she can sit beside me.

And all of a sudden, I’m eating with a stranger.

We are quiet for a few minutes. What should strangers say over breakfast? Conversations about the weather would be shallow. And I’m not any good at discussing politics.

“I’m having a hard time waking up,” she finally says. This starts the conversational ball rolling.

“When you’re my age,” she goes on, “you don’t sleep good, you’re

lucky if you get a few hours. How about you?”

“I had back pain last night.” Then I tell her what my mother used to say about divine back punishment.

She laughs.“You musta been an ornery child.”

“I had moments.”

We are joined by a boy in a soccer uniform who sits beside the woman. She uses sign language to speak to him. He moves his hands in response.

“This is Aaron,” says the woman. “He’s my grandson.”

A girl makes her way toward us. She is older than the boy, tall, lean, with blonde braids. She carries a full plate. I count four biscuits.

If I ate four biscuits, I’d nap like a bear that’s just been shot with a tranquilizer dart.

“This is his sister, Emily,” says the old woman.

Emily shakes my hand.

I remember going to see the Grand Ole Opry as a boy. My father drove through the busy city of Nashville. I was five, he was thirty-six.

“Daddy,” I said, “Do you think that there will be anyone famous there?”

“Do I?” he said. “You better know it. There’s always famous people at the Opry, and famous ghosts, too.”

“Ghosts? Really?”

My daddy always was good with a ghost story.

“Why sure,” he said. “The ghost of Hank Williams, for one thing. And Hank Snow, and Lefty Frizzell... There’s always ghosts at the Opry.”

“Are they nice ghosts?”


“Depends on what?”

“On if you’re a nice little boy or not.”

“What happens if I’m not a nice little boy?”

“A ghost will swoop down from the rafters suck out your soul, and send you to Hell and make you listen to classical music for eternity.”

Daddy’s ghost stories always were a little offbeat.

Then he would laugh. My father had a laugh that sounded like Mister Ed.

My father and I walked into the amphitheater and were greeted by the smell of

hotdogs and popcorn. I had the greatest evening of my life.

Men in ten-gallon hats. Women in rhinestones. Steel guitars, dueling fiddles, the sound of Keith Bilbrey's silky announcing voice.

We were suspended from the real world for a while. It was a star-studded dream, wrapped in a beehive hairdo, with a guitar strapped to its chest. Onstage we saw Jerry Clower, telling jokes.

My father laughed, slapping his armrest. And there was that Mister Ed laugh again. His odd laugh was funnier than any joke that ever inspired it.

But the height of our evening was not the music, nor the laughs, nor the sparkling rhinestones. The apex of this memory happened after the show.

We made our way to the lobby. There was a horde of people waiting in line. We couldn’t see what they…

I am on the beach alone. I am watching the sun lift itself high above the horizon, driving the dark away. The blue-purple morning becomes a sudden electric orange.

I remove my phone and start texting someone.

Long ago, my mother used to force me to watch the sunrise whenever her fretful little boy was feeling anxious. Because a sunup is one of those things that beats away anxiety, even if only for a few merciful minutes. All mothers know this.

I needed all the help I could get in the anxiety department. I was a worrying child. I was one of those annoying kids who always needed his Mama. And Mama was always there to ease his worries, touch his hair, or place her mouth upon his little belly and blow flatulence noises.

When I was 9 years old my mother gave me a dog named Goldie. She selected this particular high-spirited animal because our family was going through hard times and I developed a stomach ulcer, and she knew

her fearful son needed a friend.

I would never again sleep in a bed that was not covered in hair.

Then there was the time I was taking a math class in college, and not doing so hot. Mama helped me there, too. I was an adult, and I was borderline failing the course. All I did was worry about passing that dumb class.

My mother was the one who finally told me, “Whenever you start to worry about college, Sean, think about it like this: you’re paying for your own college. That makes you the professor’s employer.”

Mama knew exactly what to say to ease my anxiety. I looked at my teacher in a new light after that. And it worked. I quit worrying about everything. That semester, after not worrying one iota about math class, do you know what happened? That’s right. I got an F.


Before we got married, my wife and I had to take a mandatory church marriage class. The church would not marry anyone without it.

The idea was: After eight weeks of rigorous marriage training, couples would receive an official certificate, trimmed in gold, with their names on it. And this certificate would prove to the world, without a doubt, that couples were spiritually prepared to stand at an altar and combine auto insurance policies.

Keep in mind, this certificate wasn’t a marriage license. This was a “Baptist pre-marriage class certificate,” from the back of the “official Baptist marriage workbook,” purchased for $24.99.

Within the Baptist tradition, you see, you can’t do anything without first obtaining a certificate and unanimous committee approval. Even Sunday greeters are required to attend a four-week class that teaches them the correct way to say: “Here’s your bulletin, sir.”

Thus, my future-wife and I arrived at the fellowship hall each week to participate in courses that prepared us for cohabitation.

These courses featured many important games which the

workbook termed “marital building exercises.” Many of which were developed by professional marriage book authors—some of whom had been married to the same person for as long as three to four years.

One such exercise was the Egg Test.

In this game, the future-bride (Jamie) balances an egg on a spoon clenched between her teeth. She wears a blindfold and walks across a room.

The future-husband (me) stands on the opposite side of the room (over by the piano). He uses ONLY his words to guide his future-wife through an obstacle course made up entirely of folding chairs which represent the confusing Maze of Life.

On the chairs are Post-It notes, labeled with various day-to-day marriage problems like: “car trouble,” “bills,” “career,” “children,” “chapter 11 bankruptcy,” “sharing the covers.”

In this exercise, the woman stumbles over chairs, spoon held in her mouth. She is thus forced to either…

Morning on an American interstate. A caravan of large bucket trucks travels southward. There must be a hundred of them. Maybe more. These are utility workers.

Hurricane Ida plowed into Louisiana like a Peterbilt semi yesterday. These trucks are heading to ground zero to join the 25,000 other utility workers who are already in the Bayou State restoring power.

The trucks’ running lights are on. Their hydraulic lift buckets wobble from highway speed.

The men and women behind the wheels are preparing for weeks of sleepless nights, mechanical failures, possible accidents, wet weather, convenience-store suppers, cheap hotels, and video calls home—provided there is cell service.

A little boy in the backseat of a passing minivan with Florida tags waves at one of the truck drivers. The lineman waves back.

The boy’s mother cranes forward. She mouths the words “Thank you” in hopes that the utility worker can read her lips.

He can. He replies with a thumbs up.

And the convoy of trucks never stops coming. One by one they come. And

one by one they should be thanked.

I live on the Gulf Coast. Hurricanes are part of our life. When Opal hit, for instance, it crippled us. And yet, amazingly, it only took 24 hours for hordes of electrical workers to arrive in our town and restore our power so we could all get back to watching daytime television.

The workers came from far-off places like Maryland, Texas, Ohio, or Pennsylvania.

My aunt was so grateful to the linemen working on her street that she brought them sandwiches each morning. Other neighborhood ladies made cookies and deviled eggs. Elderly Miss Elaine made her infamous Green Jello Salad of Death. I would have warned the lineworkers not to eat the stuff, but it was too late.

And I’ll never forget when Hurricane Ivan smashed into our area a decade later. I was a newlywed, living in a one-bedroom apartment.…

To the nearly one million people in Louisiana without power tonight. To the countless souls in Mississippi, whose lives are going underwater. To all on the Gulf Coast, submerged in rainfall and storm surge from Hurricane Ida.

To families trapped in homes, who will be surviving on prayers, spit baths, snack crackers, and adrenaline fumes for the next several days.

To young parents who will be spending tonight reassuring anxious children that there is nothing to fear, even though they doubt their own words.

To anyone living in a flood zone.

To all whose entire lives were contained in a mobile home.

To the young man, Eric, who emailed me from Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, who is still trying to reach his sister, Sharon, but hasn’t been able to contact her.

To the hordes of families in New Orleans shotgun homes, who never wanted to imagine that something like this might happen a second time.

To anyone living in the middle of a tornado-affected region within the Southeast, who is sheltering in a walk-in

closet or a pantry right now, scrolling their phone to keep from going into shock.

And especially to the children. To all children of the Bayou State, the Magnolia State, the Camellia State, and the Sunshine State, who have been awake tonight, huddled in bathtubs alongside their sweaty siblings while 150-mph winds threatened to rip their world apart.

To the scared toddlers who are reading Golden Books, playing board games, or watching iPad movies to keep from freaking out.

To the souls in Grand Isle, Louisiana, who need rescue and don’t have phones. To people in Jefferson Parish, whose cars are flooded, overturned, crushed, demolished, or lie beneath 100-year-old pines.

To the elderly, the shut-ins, and those with mobility problems, who have been watching the Weather Channel for 24 hours with clammy hands until, boom, their world suddenly went black.

To my friend, Anderson, who emailed from…