A frozen yogurt joint. I’ve just finished supper. My belt is tight from eating too much pizza.

There are too many yogurt flavors to choose from in this place. Triple Dark Peruvian Fudgesicle, Very Berry Quite Contrary, Oreo Delight, Midnight Mudpie in Mississippi—shut my mouth. Of course, the Orange Julius flavor doesn’t taste too shabby, either.

Then again, artificial orange doesn’t always set well with me. When I was a boy, the doctor gassed me with orange-flavored laughing gas just before tonsil surgery.

All I remember after that is hearing nurses play Righteous Brothers music through a transistor radio while I breathed in orange fumes. Ever since then I have detested Sunkist, orange-flavored bubble gum, and I can’t hear “Unchained Melody” without breaking into a nervous sweat.

So I’m sampling yogurt flavors, and that’s when I see her. She’s twelve, maybe thirteen. She’s with her family. She is small, with red hair. I have a soft spot for redheads since God accidentally made me one.

The girl is feeding her little brother with a spoon. The boy has a

cast on one arm and a sling on the other.

“He fell,” the boy’s father explains. “He was climbing our gutter on the porch.”

“The gutter?” I say.

“The gutter.”

He broke one arm and injured his other shoulder. No sooner had he hit the ground than his twelve-year-old sister came running to the rescue. And as the story goes: she carried her brother indoors, over her shoulder. Big Sister has been caring for Little Brother ever since.

“I love taking care of people,” the girl tells me. “I’m gonna be a nurse one day.”

The girl’s mother says that her daughter has always wanted to be a nurse, from Day One. And earlier this year, before Little Brother attempted his solo flight across the Atlantic, the girl actually got her chance to be a real nurse.

It happened when her…

She reads the Bible every morning. She also smokes off-brand cigarettes. For an old-school Methodist like her, the two go hand in hand.

She’s eighty-four and frail. She digs a cigarette from a carton, her daughter lights it. The doctor says she shouldn’t smoke, but the Good Lord understands.

She tells a story.

“After my husband left us,” she begins, “I was raising my kids, doing all I could to survive. He left me with eighteen bucks in our bank account—no lie.”

Then, the worst happened. One day, she walked into work and her boss fired her.

Instead of crying, she lost her temper. She attacked him. She threw a lunch bucket at him. She landed several good slaps to his face. Her friends pulled her away. This woman, in case you’re wondering, is a regular barrel of gunpowder.

That night, she loaded her children into a station wagon and drove straight for her sister’s in South Carolina. Radio blasting. Cigarettes burning.

“I was crying,” she says. “And worried about everything, I was just sick.”

Her car

broke down somewhere outside Athens, Georgia, at two in the morning. An empty highway. Not a soul for miles.

Her station wagon sat in a ditch. Her children were in the backseat, asleep. She leaned against her steering wheel and the tears came freely. This was officially rock bottom.

Her sobbing was interrupted by the sound of transfer truck brakes, when a big rig pulled behind her with its Earth-shaking engine. Headlights blaring.

A man stepped out of the cab and walked toward her.

She recalls: “Here I was, a young woman, in the middle of nowhere, and this man comes walking up. I was pretty scared.”

He was tall. She remembers this very clearly. And older. He asked if she needed help. She told him what had happened with a nervous voice.

His smile put her at ease. He said, “Pop the…

It happened long ago, when this writer was just a kid. And even though the writer is a grown man now, even though he has a family, he’ll always be a kid when he retells this story.

The kid had a father. The father was forty-one. Tall. Handsome. Red hair. One Sunday, the kid’s family threw his father a birthday party. It was a grand affair with steak for supper. There was singing, joyous voices, card games, redneck music on a boombox, and laughing.

The kid’s mother made a cake with blue icing. The room went black, the candles were lit. The kid’s father took one breath and blew them all out. Everyone seemed so happy.

The following Tuesday, something was off. The kid noticed his old man’s face had changed somehow. Something behind the eyes was different. It was like the kid didn’t know this man anymore. How could it happen so quickly? How could the utter joy be replaced with The Blackness?

There was a fight between his father and mother. A big one.

A nuclear fight. The Hiroshima of Mom-and-Dad fights. Violence ensued. Threats were shouted. His father’s mind was not working normally. Something had snapped inside the man’s mind.

The kid’s mother pleaded. The father screamed things that weren’t making sense. The forty-one-year-old tossed furniture against walls. He hurt people. Spit frothed at the corners of his father’s mouth. The kid’s world was coming apart. All that was missing was Chicken Little.

“Daddy’s lost his mind,” was all the kid could tell his baby sister who screamed into the folds of his T-shirt.

“Call 911” shouted the kid’s mother.

There are too many things that happened on that night to write here. And besides, the goal of this writing is not to bring you down, I merely want to talk about a sickness.

The sickness I speak of is a sickness of the mind, but an…

Dan Lovette became an usher at the Baptist church on Easter Sunday, March 26th, 1961. He stood at the door shaking hands, passing out bulletins. He got a lot of funny looks because nobody knew Dan.

Weeks earlier, Pastor Lovette had introduced Dan as his older brother. Dan was a tall man with a soft voice, and rough skin. He wore a brown suit that was too small. He hardly spoke to parishioners.

He sat on the front row during sermons. After service, he smoked cigarettes behind the church. People asked the pastor questions about Dan, but the preacher was quiet when it came to his older brother.

Over the years, folks saw a lot of Dan Lovette. He could be seen pushing a mower, changing the church sign, painting the clapboards, passing out bulletins on Sundays, or cleaning the sanctuary on Monday afternoons.

Dan lived in a back room of the church, behind the choir loft. His earthly belongings amounted to one cot, a hot plate, a coffee pot,

a transistor radio, a shaving kit, and one brown suit.

Nobody can forget the Sunday that the pastor announced he would be baptizing Dan after service, this surprised people. Most fundamentalists thought it was quite strange, scandalous even, that the pastor’s own brother had never been baptized.

Even so, sixty-four church members stood near the creek, watching the tall man wade into shallow water behind his younger brother, the preacher. It was a simple ordeal. Down Dan went; up he came. Applause. Bring on the banana pudding.

But life was not all pudding and baptisms. In 1974, tragedy hit the church. The pastor was in a car accident on his way home from Montgomery, doctors thought he’d had a stroke while driving.

For weeks, Dan sat beside his brother’s hospital bed without sleep or food. He lived in a hospital room.

And on the next Sunday, Dan Lovette took the…