I have here a letter from a young woman who will remain anonymous.

“Sean, I’m in a very rough place—the man I love and was supposed to marry ended our engagement and kicked me out of our shared house unceremoniously. A lot of days, it’s hard to see the point in continuing. I don’t know what’s going to happen in my future, and I don’t really want to make it much further into the future these days… But your stories give me something to look forward to every day.”

Well, you’re in luck. Because I have a story for you. This is a story about a young woman I am going to call Becky.

I have known Becky since she was 8 years old. As soon as I received your letter I called Becky for permission to share her story.

Becky and I weren’t close, but we used to be in church choir together. Although, saying we were “in church choir” is laughable, inasmuch as Becky and I would often skip choir practice to

catch frogs in the creek and act like hellions while all the nerds were busy learning about obscure Biblical figures such as “Ehud,” and learning how to sing “shape” notes.

Becky was a tomboy. She taught me how to smoke my first cigarette. I’ll never forget it. We were sitting on a rock. She removed a carton of her mother’s Marlboros and I was terrified that we would end up in hell. Becky assured me that smokers didn’t go to hell unless they smoked more than one pack per day.

I choked and gagged and Becky laughed until she almost drowned in her own sputum.

Becky’s mother died when she was 10 years old. The woman fell down a flight of steps and died of a brain injury.

Her father turned into a shell. Immediately. And Becky became unofficial mother to her two brothers. She was…

I drove out of Birmingham a little ways to meet my friend. I watched the interstate give way to pine trees. Pine trees gave way to farmland. Farmland gave way to cattle pastures.

Somewhere deep in the sticks, my GPS went to be with the Lord.

It was Sunday morning. I found the little building just where my friend said it would be. He was standing in the parking lot waiting for me, leaning against his car, reading a newspaper.

Families were crawling out of mud-covered vehicles. Little girls wore dresses. Young men wore sport coats.

“Thought you’d never get here,” my friend said.

“I lost phone reception,” I said. “My GPS quit working.”

“Welcome phone purgatory,” he said with a smile. “Why do you think I’m reading a paper?”

We walked inside together. It was an old building. There was no microphone, only wooden ceilings, wooden floors, wooden walls, and wooden pews. America was founded in wooden rooms like this.

I have been to Philadelphia and toured the ancient wooden rooms that hosted

talks between men who were traitors to the Crown. The talks that began a nation, indivisible, with liberty and free online shipping for all. Those rooms looked like this one.

I sat in a pew. I placed my hands in my lap.

Most people in the chapel were white-haired. We sang songs from old hymnals. My friend, his daughter, and I shared a hymnal which was bound with duct tape. There were crayon drawings in the front pages from some hapless hand that doodled in this hymnal long before Calvin Coolidge was born.

After the singing, a 12-year-old girl played the violin for the “message in song.” She played “Shall We Gather at the River?”and did a nice job. Although, the girl’s mother leaned and whispered to me that when her daughter practices each evening the neighbors usually call the authorities to report a dying feline…

Fourteen-year-old Hayden from Maryland, sent me a letter asking what my favorite food is. Hayden says that her personal favorite food is apple pie with melted cheese on top.

All I can say is: Hayden, you can enjoy that pie all by yourself. Because I’d rather lick a mule between the ears than put cheese on apple pie. But then, who am I to judge? Someone wise once said: “Just because we can’t agree doesn’t mean that you’re not a complete wacko.”

Anyway, to answer your question, Hayden, my all-time favorite foods have changed over the years. When I was a baby, my mother said that I would eat entire blocks of cheddar while in my high chair. My mother, who thought it was adorable to see a child gnawing on a brick of cheese, would take photographs of me, thereby documenting the origins of my longtime childhood weight problem. But I eventually grew out of the cheese fascination and I moved onto:

Mashed potatoes.

The women in my family make

delicious mashed potatoes using an ancient family recipe:

—1 potato.
—80 sticks of butter.
—Accidental bits of cigarette ash.

Also, my mother did not whip her potatoes with electric mixers like the pagans. She had an actual hand masher, covered in rust so that it looked like a tiny tetanus-covered farm implement. I would always lick the masher when she finished. This explains a lot of my developmental problems.

Also, I love collards. And the only way to cook greens is with the ugliest, most deformed ham hock knuckle you can find.

And, bacon. I do not believe that all bacon is created equal. The bacon I like is the hand-cut kind your granddaddy would spend his hard earned money on.

Let the record show that I also love fried chicken. Throughout certain periods of my life, this food was the only reason why I remained a…

My phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number, so I answered. I expected to be greeted with an automated voice, delivering exciting information about my auto warranty. Instead, it was a young man. I’ll call him Fred, although that’s not his name. I’d forgotten I was expecting his call.

“Where do you want me to start?” said Fred.

“Start wherever you want.”

He was calling from the third-floor of the oncology unit. Thirteen years old. When he told me that he was dying, I lost the air in my lungs.

“Are you still there?” he said.

“Yeah,” I answered.

At first, I was tempted to ask if this was all some kind of elaborate prank. Cynical, I know. But it’s not every day you meet a kid like Fred.

He went on. “I just wanted to tell you what I’ve learned on my personal journey. I thought maybe you could write about it.”

Big words from a young man. I couldn’t even answer.

“Are you still there, Mister Sean?”

“I’m here.” I fumbled for a pencil. “Go ahead, Fred. I’m listening.”

I could hear his mother in the background urging him to speak. And I got the sense that I was involved in a deeply personal family moment. I felt like an intruder.

“I’ve learned that people are great,” he began. “People are nice to you when you need them. But not the people you think will be nice. People I didn’t even think were my friends are now friends and they would probably do anything for me.

“Like, my friend Rachel has come to the hospital pretty much every day this year. Sometimes she sleeps here and we play games and stuff like that. We weren’t even friends before I got sick, she was just in my class. There are, literally, a bunch of people like that in my life right now.”

I wrote it all down, but said…

My wife and I crossed the Alabama line and arrived in the southernmost U.S. State. The cradle of our youth. Our windows were down and the radio was playing. The sky was ultramarine. The welcome-to-our-state sign was adorned with non-native palm trees.


Of course the misconception about Florida is that we are a land of sunshine and Mickey-Mouse ears. Which is patently untrue. We also have Mel Tillis. And frankly, we don’t get as much sunshine as you’d think.

Fact: Florida has more annual days wherein the sun is blocked by 20 to 70 percent cloud coverage.

We also receive 54 inches of rain per year, which is more average rainfall than Seattle. And don’t even get us started on hurricane season, which goes from June to the following June. The tourism council should call us the “I Hope You Bought Trip Insurance State.”

Nevertheless, Florida is my home. It will always be the scenery of my subconscious. Its minerals are in

my blood. It is who I am. Currently, I live far away, but I am a Florida child. And you can’t change who you are unless you are Brittany Spears.

West Florida was a great place to spend a feckless youth. I passed the first portion of life walking barefoot among sandspurs and shattered longneck bottles. It was a quiet time to be alive.

At one time, my home county had a grand total of 30,000 people, which isn’t enough to fill up Yankee Stadium. There was nothing here unless you counted the squirrels and the fundamentalists.

Every night before bed, the crickets would sing us to sleep. Our pine trees were tall and ancient. The Gulf air was so salty it made your skin sting. Our Camaros were perched upon their blocks like works of high art. Our Fleetwood singlewides were exquisite.

You could actually see the Milky…

With all the important problems going on in the world—the war in Ukraine, political upheavals, and Oscar Award winners assaulting each other on live television—I’d like to tell you a few things that happened last week that you might not have heard about.

Such as Janice’s dog, Freddy Fender. Freddy went missing last Thursday in McLennan County, Texas. Janice printed up flyers, she went door to door, she asked people to keep an eye out. She prayed. She cried. She camped in her car, hoping to spot Freddy.

Then, on a whim, she visited her priest, who had an idea.

“Cook bacon,” suggested the padre.

“It was brilliant,” Janice told me. “My priest said the smell of bacon naturally attracts dogs.”

Leave it to the Catholics.

That same evening, her priest came over to help. He stood outside her house, frying fatback on a Coleman camp stove and using a welcoming voice, saying, “Here, Freddy, Freddy!”

Come to find out, when a priest fries bacon in a suburban area, it does more than attract dogs.

It also attracts middle-aged dads, neighborhood children, woodland creatures, feral cats, hitchhikers, escaped convicts, and members of Congress. In a few minutes, Janice’s priest was the most popular human being in nine city blocks.

He cooked one package of bacon and it worked. In a pivotal moment that can only be called “cinematic,” a slightly overweight, 19-pound pug came trotting out of the woods, heading toward the smell of hickory-smoked Roman Catholicism.

“We call Freddy the ‘Prodigal Pug,’” remarked the padre.

Meanwhile, over in Charlotte, North Carolina, a kid named Ryan was given a good medical report. This past year has been traumatic for his family, and the pediatric oncology treatments have been pure misery. Still, after months of medical hell, the therapy has worked.

As of last week, Ryan was given the all-clear by his doctors. Ryan’s family wept so hard they forgot to…

I was staring at a four-ton Idaho potato. The large spud sat on a tractor trailer parked near Mooyah Burgers in Hoover, Alabama. It was an overcast day. The potato was roughly the size of the Jefferson Memorial.

Beside me was a boy named Lonnie who was taking a picture of this titanic tuber with his phone. Lonnie was wearing a Star Wars T-shirt and a cowboy hat. He was maybe 9 years old.

He wore thick plastic eyeglasses that reminded me of drugstore glasses from the early ‘60s. He kept pushing his glasses upward on his nose, spouting off random facts about the world-famous potato.

“It’s over thirteen feet high,” said Lonnie.

“Really?” I said.

“And ten feet wide.”


“The truck is seventy-two feet long.”

“How about that.”

Lonnie also informed me that this potato would be capable of making 20,217 servings of mashed potatoes, or around 3 million potato chips. It would take two years to bake.

“I wonder how many French fries it would make,” I said to Lonnie.

Lonnie pressed his glasses

upward and fell silent. He blinked a few times.

I had stumped the whiz-kid.

His grandmother was behind him, admiring the prodigious potato. She was wearing a portable oxygen tank, seated on her bumper, eating an Almond Joy. Her hair was blazing white, her skin was parchment.

“We need to hurry, Lonnie,” she said. “You said this wouldn’t take long.”

“French fries…” Lonnie whispered privately, thumb-typing something on his phone. “How many French fries…”

The behemoth potato is currently on its tenth cross-country tour. Last week, the potato visited Hot Springs, Baton Rouge, and Mobile. And as soon as the potato left us, it would be visiting the Piggly Wiggly in Sneads, Florida. After that: Texas, Kentucky, Virginia, D.C., the Mid-Atlantic, and the Eastern Seaboard. This potato gets around.

Since its creation in 2012, the meteoric spud has covered over 100,000 American miles,…