I wasn’t going to write this, but I have to. Not only for me, but for the good of our children, and our children’s children. No matter how hard it is to address, some things must be done. I’m talking, of course, about the highly controversial issue of homemade ice cream.

Ice cream wasn’t always under scrutiny like it is today. It used to be okay to eat ice cream. But then, suddenly it wasn’t okay, and lots of companies started coming out with healthy frozen yogurt.

A few years later, news reports claimed frozen yogurt was just as bad as ice cream. So they came out with “sugar-free” frozen yogurt, made with “aspartame.” And the world as we knew it fell apart.

Aspartame is actually a lot of fun to say. It sounds like a dirty word, but it isn't. You can use it in social settings and it’s acceptable.

EXAMPLE: “Have you seen traffic today? It’s a real pain in the aspartame.”

So Americans were eating sugar-free yogurt sludge by the gallon, hoping to

live to be one hundred, and doing step aerobics. Companies started going bonkers and making bizarre frozen yogurt flavors like Blackberry-Garbanzo Bean, and Coffee-Bubble Gum, and Toenail.

Then, reports came out with new information claiming aspartame was deadly.

One report stated: “Aspartame turns your bodily fluids into formaldehyde, side effects include: Numbness, tingling, and profound interest in Jazzercise.”

All of a sudden, journalists were telling mankind to stay away from anything that even remotely looked like sugar-free frozen yogurt, and for mankind to eat quinoa and kale instead.

Which is probably why a few months ago, I found two fifty-pound bags of red quinoa in our pantry. It wasn’t long before my wife was feeding me what looked like chicken feed for every meal until sometimes—especially if I sat in one place for too long—grade-A eggs would start appearing beneath my haunches.

But mankind…

Thank you for holding the door for an old woman at Cracker Barrel. You must’ve been fourteen, you were with friends. You were laughing and carrying on when you saw the old woman, pushing a walker. You jogged ahead. You beat her to the door. You held it open.

She thanked you. You yes-ma’amed her. And you made my day, kid.

My whole day.

And thanks for giving money to a homeless man in Birmingham, Alabama. You don’t know me, but I watched you. I was at a stoplight. You were outside UAB School of Medicine campus. You wore green scrubs, and carried a backpack. You gave money. Then, you gave a cup of coffee and a fast food to-go bag.

Thanks for sitting with that young girl after work. She was seated on the sidewalk outside the bar. She was waiting for her ride. It was two in the morning. She didn’t need to be alone at that hour. So you sat with her. You might not think you did much, but you did.


you for filling that backpack with food, then leaving it in a tenth-grader’s locker—anonymously. You know who you are.

Thank you for working at Children’s of Alabama Hospital. Each one of you.

Thank you for picking up a hitchhiker outside Anniston, Alabama. Even though modern wisdom warns against this, you followed your heart.

When the hitchhiker stepped into your car, you could tell he had mental illness. But you didn’t try to fix him, you didn’t try to be a hero, you didn’t try to do anything major. You were just nice to him. And he appreciated that.

Thanks for driving a kid named Peter to baseball practice. After his father died, his mother has been working double shifts. Peter has been babysitting and cooking supper for his sisters since his mother started working longer hours.

Peter had to drop out of baseball because…


How do I get a girl to like me? I am a 7th-grader who goes to (blank) Middle School and I really want her to think I am cool even though I’m not one of the cool kids… I am a little chunky, but I’m really nice.

Please write me back with advice,


Let’s take a look at “coolness.” First, when I was your age, coolness was dependent upon a surprisingly short list of criteria.

1. Did the child in question own, or have sufficient access to, and was thereby able to use at will, without administrative or parental restriction, a Sony Walkman radio?

Secondly: Did this kid wear dorky khaki pants?

It was that easy.

The problem for me was, of course, my mother believed in the Gospel According to Khakis. She ironed my slacks with so much starch the creases could slice cantaloupes.

Thus, while other kids wore blue jeans, I wore khakis that had been—and this is very hard for me to say—purchased from Sears.


These were not just pants.

They were “Husky” pants. You might not know what that is. They were pants designed for boys who loved church potlucks. I looked like a khaki-colored Butterball ham.

So anyway, there was this girl. Her name was—never mind, it doesn’t matter. I thought she was wonderful. She was one of the “cool” kids. I wanted her to notice me.

More importantly, I wanted her to notice me AT THE ROLLER RINK.

Now, I know what a kid from your generation might be thinking: “What’s a roller rink?” I’m glad you asked. Because long ago, after the dawn of the electric lightbulb, we had big buildings that were dimly lit and smelled like body odor. We would skate for hours to such unforgettable hits like: “Do the Hustle,” “Love Train,” and “Tico Tico.”

If you were worth your salt, you asked…

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…