The Chickamauga Battlefield. It is a January day, the leaves are dead. The sky looks like dull aircraft aluminum.

This U.S. national park sits in the northwest corner of Georgia, at the base of Lookout Mountain. Technically, we are in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. But most people will tell you this is Chattanooga.

The visitor’s center looks like a Greek-Revival mansion with big columns and a gracious porch. If it weren’t for the Columbiad cannons parked out front, you’d never guess this was a Civil War memorial.

Inside the welcome center are tourists. It’s a weekend. And people visit national parks on weekends. There are different languages being spoken all around me.

The clerk in the giftshop tells me Chickmauga is an international tourist hotspot.

“I’ve probably met people from every country,” the clerk says. “You can always spot the foreigners, they’re the ones who say please and thank you.”

I meet a couple from France. They appear to be having a marital argument in rapid-fire French. The female of the couple asks if I am American.

I tell her yes, I am. She asks if I can settle their argument.

“Was Elvis from California?” she says. “My husband says he was.”

Far be it from me to interject into a matrimonial spat. But duty calls. “No, ma’am,” I say. “Elvis was not from California.”

She shoves her husband and says, “See? I told you he was from Milwaukee.”

We learn a lot on our tour. The American Civil War, a ranger tells us, is the most written about subject in the world, second only to writings about Jesus. There are throngs of books, monographs and dissertations written about this subject. Daily.

To give you an idea of what that means: There is approximately one book or dissertation written about the Civil War for every 5 people who died in the war itself.

Chickamauga turns out to be your typical National…

The kid is an artist. He stands behind the flat top grill, flipping eggs.

I am at your quintessential American eatery. It’s raining. But it’s warm inside. And I’m happy here.

The kid wears the emblematic tiny paper hat. He is maybe 25. He cooks my breakfast with thy tender care, treating my bacon like it’s made of spun gold.

Meantime, he is responsible for the meals of 11 other customers. I don’t know how he does it. But he never misses a beat.

He plates my eggs and fatback. The steaming platter arrives in perfect form. My eggs are just right.

And belive me, I am funny about my eggs. The yolk of an over-easy egg should not run, it should merely creep. This kid nailed it. On a four-star rating system, I give the boy 13 stars.

“How’d you learn how to cook like this?” I ask.

He shrugs. “My mama showed me. First thing she taught me was how to make eggs. I learned to cook eggs every single way.”

“I can only think of four ways.”

“Oh, no, there’s more

than that.”

“There are?”

He starts counting fingers. “Yep. You can cook them sunny, over easy, over medium, over hard, scrambled, omelets, poached, hard boiled, soft boiled, and you got some other weird ways.”

“Such as?”

“You got eggs shirred.”


“Google it, man. You also got basted eggs.”

“What’s a basted egg?”

The young man is now cooking waffles with his right hand, preparing hash browns with his left, and using his feet to stir the grits. He’s a real talent.

“Basted eggs,” he goes on, “are what all the old timers want. It’s how my mom liked her eggs best.”

In his limited spare time, he demonstrates a basted egg.

The cook removes a skillet, tosses a pat of butter into the pan, then cracks an egg, one-handed. Then, he walks to the ice…

There is a special way the light hits the Smoky Mountains at sundown. I’m looking at mountain grandeur right now. The view is nothing short of cinematic.

I am on a vacation, here in the arresting glory of Appalachia, and I’m wondering about where our country is going.

I wonder things about our nation. Such as, why, in America, do hotdogs come in packs of eight but hotdog buns come in packs of 12?

Why do Americans leave expensive cars parked outside, but use their garages to store worthless junk?

Why does Walgreens make sick people walk to the back of the store to buy prescriptions, while healthy people can buy cigarettes up front?

Why do Americans insist on calling them “apartments,” when they’re all stuck together?

Why does my American wife have to open her mouth to put on mascara?

These are just a few of the pressing issues facing this nation that I’m wondering about.

I’m also wondering about an old man, from Sacramento, who was in the grocery store one afternoon, buying—of all things—bananas.

Whereupon he noticed

a young Latina woman in line ahead of him. The woman’s name was Isla. Isla emailed me this story.

Isla had her four kids in tow. She was still wearing her maid’s uniform. She was counting exact change. Crumpled dollars. Loose nickels. But Isla came up short.

So the old man paid for her groceries.

Isla thanked him and began to cry. The man followed her into the parking lot and loaded her groceries. She asked if she could repay his kindness.

He smiled. “Don’t worry about it.”

But Isla insisted. She invited him for supper. He arrived at her house. He wore a nice shirt. She was welcomed into her home, which was a glorified shack. She introduced him to her dying father whom she was caregiving for. And her elderly mother, who had dementia.

That night, Isla made…

It’s is a big day for you, Mac. You’re turning 13. You are officially a teenager! Congratulations! Wear deodorant!

Seriously. If there is one piece of practical advice I have, it’s that deodorant is important for teenage boys.

This is especially true when you think you don’t need deodorant. Because chances are you probably do.

Boys, you see, have a hard time being objective about the aromas emitted from their own personal armpits. This is because male noses are less sensitive than female noses.

Take my wife. She can smell spoiled milk in the refrigerator of the International Space Station. Whereas, each morning I sniff my dirty shirts to see if I can get a few more days out of them.

So wear antiperspirant. That’s all the wisdom I have. The rest of your life will take care of itself.

The main thing is not to worry about life stuff. Our culture is very into worrying. This is why being a teenager in today’s world is far more difficult than it was for your dad and me.


long time ago, when your father and I were born, beneath the John Quincy Adams administration, there was very little worrying going on.

Our parents didn’t worry about dangerous things. We didn’t wear bicycle helmets or seatbelts, or catcher’s masks. We ate refined sugar, gluten, cholesterol, and we played lawn darts.

Lawn darts, for crying out loud.

We had no internet. No Whole Foods. No Disney Plus. Our televisions only received six channels, and we had to watch all the commercials.

We used old-school rotary phones which—I know this is hard to believe—did not even shoot good video. The most high-tech device my family owned was a crockpot with a timer.

Also, we had to learn cursive. In school, we would practice cursive for upwards of six hours each day at knifepoint. This is why every child in the American Public School…

Dear Anonymous,

You wrote me a letter. I know you’re going through a hard time. You emailed me from a hospital room, and I know that you’re about to crack from stress.

I don’t know how to respond. I wish I did. I know you want me to say something like: “It’s going to be okay.” But how can I say that?

Your daughter is dying in the ICU. Your life is upside down. You need real comfort. But alas, I am just a guy who maintained a 1.24 GPA in school. I can’t see the future. If I could, believe me, I would have become obscenely rich from last year’s World Series.

Still, although I’m no Stephen Hawking, I know what NOT to say in times of trouble. I’ve been through plenty of rough times in my own little life.

Without a doubt, the last thing you need is one of those B.S. clichés. “It’s gonna be okay.” Or “Trust in God, it’s all going to work out.” Blah, blah, blah.

This is the kind of nonsense

people always quote like parrots when you’re going through heartache. I know this because after my father’s suicide, people said this to me right and left. They walked through the funeral reception line and said things like:

“God has a plan.” “Trust in Jesus.” “Don’t worry, everything will work out,” “It’s going to be alright.”

What fertilizer.

I have a friend, for instance, who has been stuck in the hospital for 5 months. He’s going to die. The doctor is telling him he has a 2 percent chance of living. His organs are shutting down. His heart is wearing out. Are you going to tell HIM “it’s going to be okay”?

Or what about the young woman, Sierra, who is dying of kidney failure in the ICU, as we speak, in North Dakota? Her family emailed me this morning. A dozen people…

Live Oak, Florida. Population 6,843. A tiny town in north central Florida, the county seat of Suwannee County. There are oaks everywhere, hence the name. Each limb is drapes in Spanish moss, which, ironically, is neither.

Meet Quiet Will Carpenter. He’s a soft spoken kid. He doesn’t talk much. He is your all-American college kid. Honey brown hair. Honest smile.

Last year, he was a freshman at the University of Central Florida. A fierce swimmer, a competitive fisherman on the UCF Bass team. Will is also a football fanatic and pulls for the Jacksonville Jaguars—but hey nobody’s perfect.

He was studying mechanical engineering. A sharp kid like Will is talented enough to be designing space probes for NASA. Classic overachiever. This kid is going places.

He doesn’t talk much, but he’s the genuine article.

Last year, on Christmas Eve, Will had a sinus infection. No big deal. His lymph nodes were pretty swollen so his mother took him to the hospital. They were on the way to Christmas dinner with family when they made

the detour to the emergency room.

The doctor looked him over. It was no run-of-the-mill sinus infection. It was worse. Much worse. They never made it to Christmas dinner.

Within days, Will had already left school and began hardcore treatment. The mild mannered fisherman was subjected to the systenatic that is American Healthcare. He underwent all the usual oncology stuff. He was exposed to chemo, meds, and obscene amounts of daytime television.

His family survived on vending machine food. Slept in waiting rooms. Waited on test results. They cried. They prayed for miracles. Doctors ran more tests.

Will received radiation treatment on his face, spine and shoulder. He was administered every drug you’ve ever heard of, and many you haven’t. And recently, he was fitted with a gastronomy tube, simply so he can eat.

To say this past year has been “hard” is like saying World…

The dusk is reflecting off Douglas Lake. I am nestled in the French Broad River valley, seated on the porch of a log cabin, watching the Great Smoky Mountains continue to be Great.

I am playing the mandolin with some friends. There is an upright bass, a flat top guitar, and a Deering banjo. I have known these fellas since I was a kid. They are bluegrass musicians, passing through Tennessee on the way to a gig. We are playing a few old tunes.

We are all outside. On the deck of my rental cabin. The distant blue mountains are laced with wisps of low-hanging fog. The trees are leafless and stoic. God was showing off when he made Appalachia.

The tune we play is called “Old Joe Clark.” We sound about as good as a dump truck driving through a Steinway factory. But that’s not the point. The point is, we’re having fun. And that’s what this New Year is all about.

Today is the first day of 2023, and the keyword

of this current year is “fun.”

This past year, I didn’t have nearly enough fun. The reasons don’t matter, but this upcoming year is going to be different for me. This year, I am making a fresh start. This year, the F-word is going to be my go-to experience.


Last April, I wrote a column about a 100-year-old woman in a nursing home located in rural Virginia. I traveled to interview her in a rundown elderly care facility that looked like a condemned shack. Her name was Miss Lorena. She was in bad shape. She received two insulin shots during our interview.

She passed away before the column ever ran in the local papers. She never read what I wrote about her. Still, her parting words have been lodged in my brain.

“In all my years,” she said, “I’ve finally discovered the meaning of life.”