Peggy was married when she was 18 years old. Her parents weren’t in favor of the wedding, but Peggy was in love. Hopelessly in love. He was a good man. He called her “babydoll.” She called him “love nugget.”

The two love nuggets moved to northern Alabama. He got a decent job. So did she. They were the poster children for their generation. They listened to Perry Como, drove enormous cars with big tailfins, ate congealed salads. It was a good marriage all the way. They didn’t just love each other, they truly liked each other.

The first obstacle, however, was having children. The doctor told Peggy she was barren. That’s the exact word old-time doctors used.

There weren’t any modern infertility treatments. In those days, a family doctor would merely tap his unfiltered Camel over his medical-grade ashtray and tell you that you were barren.

So Peggy planned to adopt. She was not daunted by the news about her infertility, not even remotely. She is tough. And she was not

about to pass her lifetime without holding a tiny love nugget in her arms.

Peggy would find her nugget many years later, one summer afternoon, by way of a civic women’s group meeting. She remembers the exact day it happened.

She was in a school assembly hall. She was sitting in a metal fold-up chair. These were the kinds of rusty metal folding chairs every church, civic league, and PTA once used in America.

Peggy recalls this chair with vivid clarity because when someone at the meeting told Peggy about an abandoned newborn at the local hospital who needed adopting, Peggy stood abruptly from her chair and announced, “Take me to the hospital right now.”

But when Peggy shot to her feet she heard something rip. Her skirt had become stuck in the inner workings of this folding chair, and now it was torn. It took three women to…

The first rule of bloodhound ownership is do not ever let a bloodhound lick your face. Bloodhounds commonly eat things found in litter boxes and drink openly from toilet bowls, you don’t want this stuff on your face. So never—I repeat, never—let a bloodhound lick you above the neck.

This is easier said than done. My bloodhound is always trying to lick me, and sometimes I can’t prevent it. Her tongue is nine feet long and capable of seeing around corners like a U-boat periscope. She licks everything.

One time I came home to find that my dog had stolen the mail from our counter and licked it all. Mind you, she didn’t chew the mail, neither did she attempt to eat the mail like normal dogs, she licked it until the ink smudged. Try explaining this to the IRS.

Truthfully I can’t come up with a rational reason for dog ownership. I have owned many, many canines throughout my life and every time I try to explain my reasons to non-dog

people, they laugh at me then begin plucking dander off my shirt.

Sometimes I start to wonder why I love dogs. After all, when you own a dog your life pretty much becomes about two things: (a) food, and (b) other people’s food. These things are all your dog cares about. Although squirrels come in as a close third.

Oh, and walks. The most important event in your dog’s personal life will be the doo-doo walk. This is never a leisure event with my bloodhound. Because of my dog’s powerful nose, whenever we go for walks we’re always on tactical military missions, sniffing for missing persons.

My bloodhound follows unseen scent trails on high-alert, dragging me on the other end of her leash. She darts back and forth with such force she almost dislocates my shoulder. One of these days someone is going to see my dog running…

In my front yard is something beautiful. Something living. Something that sometimes reminds me of my mother.

You might not notice this particular something. In fact, most would probably walk by and never truly see it. But trust me, it’s there. It is a tree, about eighty feet tall, with a gnarled trunk, long limbs, and thick waxy leaves.

When we were building our little home, some twenty years ago, a hapless workman with a chainsaw tried to cut this tree down. I rushed to its rescue and stood between his chainsaw and the tree, shouting, “Turn that thing off!”

Later that day I tied a pink nylon ribbon around the trunk, reminding all workmen not to harm this beautiful thing.

On cool mornings I often sit beneath these branches, reading, sipping coffee. This softwood is home to many local creatures like neighborhood cats, squirrels, lizards, butterflies, ladybugs, moths, and 52,349 birds who twitter above me and occasionally drop air-to-surface poop artillery onto my hair.

Don’t get me wrong, this tree

is not exceptional looking. Actually, it’s average as trees go. Its bark is peppered with scars, knots, and blotchy steel-colored freckles. Its oval leaves are stiff, the size of a grown man’s hand. The boughs are wild and unruly, like a mother’s arms, reaching for her child.

It’s not especially old, either. This particular tree is pushing 50 years old, although the one in my backyard is closer to 120. Still, many of these tough trees have endured droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, and the devastation of real estate development.

The older ones have lived through eras of war, stock market crashes, the ragtime age, the jazz age, the disco age, and these trees will survive the veritable hell that is the pop country age.

When I look at my tree I am fascinated by its tenacity. I am told that these things are hard to kill. They won’t die as…

I recently saw a man in a gas station scream at a cashier. The cashier was a young girl. She made a mistake and overcharged him for gas. The man lost it. I watched the whole thing happen. He stormed out of the convenience store and sped away, leaving skid marks.

She was embarrassed.

“Oh, man,” she said. “I really screwed up.”

“No you didn’t,” said a nice man standing in line. “He did.”

Be nice. That’s what my mother always told me. And I never knew her to be wrong. This was her highest aspiration for my life. She wanted me to use a soft voice, good manners, and to treat people the way I’d treat Pope Francis.

Admittedly, I have failed her many times. There was the time I was watching the Iron Bowl at a tavern in Columbus, with friends. I was seventeen, but I managed to sneak into the joint.

There was a man at the bar in an Auburn T-shirt who kept shouting ugly things to my pals. When he tossed

a glass of beer into my friend Arnold’s face things went crazy.

Arnold weighed a buck five, soaking wet, and had a stutter, he could not seem to defend himself. It took three of us to pry the man loose.

The rowdy hit me beneath the jaw so hard I bit my own tongue and said a word that is not approved by the Southern Baptist Convention™.

In the heat of the moment, I sat on the man’s chest because I didn’t know what else to do. That wasn’t very nice. My other friends joined me. Three of us sat on him like we were waiting for the three o’clock bus. My mother would’ve disowned me.

The bartender, a graduate from the University of Auburn, splashed a glass of ice water in the man’s face and shouted “You schnoz-whistle! People like you give us…

The expert on television said that post-pandemic life would never return to normal. He insisted that handshakes, crowds, parties, and hugs will forever be extinct.

“The world will probably never go back to hugs,” he said into the camera. “I seriously doubt whether we’ll see people hugging in twenty years.”

I turned off the TV, it was making me queasy. Namely, because I don’t want to live in a world without hugs. I need hugs. I miss hugs. My mother used to say the only cure for crying is a mama-hug.

Usually she would say this to a child who was crying. Then she would demonstrate.

Today I was thinking about all this when I was rifling through old photos. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Have you looked at your old photos lately?

These pictures will shock you because: (a) you used to have more hair, and (b) in every old photo you’re in a crowded place, or with a gathering, or standing in a group with arms slung

around each other, half hugging.

In many of my photos I am seated in a restaurant with others, sharing appetizers, double dipping, graciously distributing my personal bacteria among friends. My glowing face looks like it is made of neon joy.

There were the photos from baseball games in Atlanta. My wife and I were in a stadium with 42,000 other fans. I was eating nachos served in a helmet, cheering alongside strangers, exchanging germs with half of Clayton, Cobb, Gwinnett, and Fulton County.

And there were the photos from a past wedding anniversary. My wife and I went to a fancy Mexican restaurant. The waiters misunderstood when I told them it was our anniversary, whereupon fifteen employees swarmed our table to sing “Happy Birthday” in Spanish.

They placed a sombrero on my head and coerced me to ingest a shot of birthday-boy tequila. I tried to explain that I…

Monday morning. The young animal doctor knocked on the door of the mobile home, reminding himself to “be professional.” Today was going to be a hard day. A little professionalism would go a long way.

“Don’t cry this time,” the young doctor was whispering to himself. “Crying is highly unprofessional.”

An old man in a surgical mask answered the door. The old man showed the doctor into his dingy home. The doc could see right away that this was your typical elderly person residence: two TV trays, two recliners, sticky notes on every surface, prescription bottles, knitting paraphernalia.

“Where’s our patient?” the doc said, trying to sound a little too professional.

“Over here.”

The patient was lying on her dog bed, panting. The dog was honey-colored, the white on her muzzle gave away her age.

The old man knelt beside her. “She turned thirteen last month. She’s a good dog. Loves riding in the car. Ever since my wife died in December she’s been everywhere with me. We eat meals together. She’s my friend.”

Be professional.

The young doctor opened his kit. The physician’s

bag still smelled like new leather. The bag has hardly been used. He hasn’t made many house calls yet. In fact he has only recently graduated.

The doc did a brief examination then re-explained the diagnosis, just in case the man didn’t understand fully. An inoperable tumor was killing the animal.

“I understand,” the old man said.

The sound of the old man’s voice caused the dog’s tail to go THUMP THUMP THUMP.

“She's in a lotta pain.” The doc added.

“Yes. I know.”

“So if you’re ready, we can…” The doc’s voice broke. “She won’t suffer, I promise.”

Quiet filled the trailer like water in an aquarium. A television gameshow played on mute. The hum of a refrigerator. The clacking of a ceiling fan. The old man wasn’t answering.

The doctor glanced at his bag…

Major League Baseball spring training started today. I sat on my porch, listening to a radio. And I was cheering. I mean genuinely cheering.

The Atlanta Braves play the Tampa Bay Rays. The national anthem was played. The umpire used his time-ravaged voice to shout, “Play ball!” I couldn’t help but get excited because it’s been a long year. Too long.

I closed my eyes and visualized the players trotting onto the grass of LECOM Park, greeted by their fans. I could almost see the Dads drinking beer, kids eating nachos, and teenagers taking selfies.

In the theater of my mind the game played beautifully. I could even visualize the occasional kid leaning over the balcony to catch a foul ball—which is one of the great moments of boyhood.

I almost caught a foul-tip once in Fulton County Stadium as a boy. I’ll never forget it. The ball came soaring into the stands and I knew this was my moment. Time slowed down. The eyes of 52,000 were upon me. I stood beneath the ball.

I waved everyone else away.

“I got it!” I shouted. “Gimme room! I got it!”

This was going to be the biggest day of my life. I extended my Mickey Mantle model glove into the air—a mitt my father bought from a yardsale for $1. The ball came down, down, down... “Hey!” I thought, “I’m actually going to catch it!”

But it was not to be.

The ball bounced off the webbing of my glove and landed in the lap of a kid behind me. I heard the lucky bum scream with delight. “I caught it!”

I saw the kid leap. I heard people cheer. The crowd hoisted the kid onto their shoulders for a spontaneous ticker tape parade and the mayor gave him the key to the city.

I still have nightmares about that kid.

Baseball’s spell over me is something I can’t explain.…