Easter, 2023. I have a few things to share.

First off, today the Escambia County Jail was alight with smiles. The inmates celebrated Easter early this year. Sheriff Heath Jackson arrived at the jailhouse this afternoon in a good mood.

The lawman was dressed in civilian clothes. Blue jeans and boots. A true South Alabamian. He was on a mission along with his employees and constituents.

Namely, the sheriff was serving fried chicken to inmates.

“We started this tradition five years ago,” said the sheriff. “After taking over the facility [we wanted] to provide a good meal and prayer for those [inmates] who wanted to participate.”

Each year the sheriff and his employees don food-safe latex gloves and serve inmates saturated fat from paper boxes. The Easter short thighs come directly from Popeyes in Brewton, Alabama.

The inmates eat as much as they want. Then, they are then led in a chorus of hymn singing. Those who want prayer can receive it. Those who need someone to talk to get just that. It

can sometimes be an emotional day.

I personally have a family member in the Escambia County Jail. For me, to know that this is the kind of treatment he receives humbles me.

“Jesus loves us all,” said Sheriff Heath. “Even when we make bad decisions.”

Meantime, in Enterprise, Alabama, young Jimmy Holcomb is celebrating the life of his father, Reverend James Holcomb Junior.

You might have known the Reverend. Everyone did. Although he’s been gone five years. Five years ago today to be exact. He was a good man. Well-loved.

Exactly five years ago, Jimmy’s mother called and said, “James, your daddy just died.” The year was 2018. It was a crushing blow to Jimmy.

Life for Jimmy has taken a lot of turns since then. Since then, Jimmy has changed career paths. He’s decided to follow in the old family business. He enrolled in seminary. He…

They were calling for rain. But no rain came. Yet.

The umpires stood on the field, clad in clerical black, staring at the sky, palms facing upward. Modern-day soothsayers.

The sky was the color of a battleship. The air was damp and sticky.

“It is definitely going to rain,” I said.

“Not necessarily,” said an old man nearby. “This is Georgia. Our weather changes its mind quicker than our politicians.”

Meantime, the ballpark was slammed with fans. Young and old. Male and female. The johnny-come-latelys, and the clinically deranged zealots. We were all waiting to see whether the opening day of baseball in Atlanta would be delayed by Mother Nature.

Opening day in Truist Park is an event not unlike a typical papal installation.

Braves fans wander the park in chaos. There are team jerseys galore. Suburban dads wear T-shirts that read, “I am a Braves-A-Holic.” Suburban mothers wear shirts that said “I am married to a Braves-A-Holic.” Everyone has a beer.

“I was 20 years old when the Braves first came

to Atlanta,” said the old man. “I was in the Army.”

The old man was leaning over a guardrail, overlooking the Braves’ bullpen. He was vaping, although this is against park rules. He wore a Braves ballcap that predated the Mesozoic era.

“It was 1966,” he said. “I was living in Fulton County when they said we were getting a baseball team.”

The Milwaukee Braves made their debut in Atlanta one sunny day in mid-April. Lyndon Johnson was in the White House. There were 500,000 troops in Vietnam. The top grossing movie was “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

The man attended opening day at Fulton County Stadium along with 50,671 other spectators. He remembers it well. The Pittsburgh Pirates were the visiting team. Not a seat was vacant. The air was pure cigar fog. It was a Tuesday.

“Tony Cloninger was pitching,” he said. “That man…

I had a dream last night. It was a vivid dream. I was in a perfect place. A realm of unspeakable beauty. It was the kind of dream where anything could happen. The kind of dream where anyone could show up.

Anyone, such as, for example, Will Rogers.

I know this will sound stupid, but Will Rogers was in my dream last night. I’ve never seen Will Rogers in person. Never met him. He died 40-odd years before I was even a glint in the milkman’s eye. And yet here he was.

He was chewing gum, hands in his pockets, he wore a Stetson Open Road, slightly pushed back. He had an easy smile. He was sun-weathered.

This couldn’t be happening, I was thinking. Nobody even remembers Will Rogers anymore. Rogers, America’s favorite vaudevillian. Rogers, who predated the Great Depression. Rogers, America’s foremost syndicated columnist. Hollywood’s highest-paid actor. A lasso twirler. A jokesmith. A comedian.
He was the man.

At least that’s what my grandfather thought.

Not that you care, but William Penn

Adair Rogers was born in 1879 in what became Oklahoma. He was a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He got into performing because he was quick with a one-liner. He was good with a lasso. He was a comedian.

Soon, Rogers was touring the vaudeville circuit, kicking hides and taking names.

He was a guy who wrote his own epitaph when he said, “I joked about every prominent man of my time, but I never met a man I didn't like. I am so proud of that, I can hardly wait to die so it can be carved.”

My grandfather adored Will Rogers. He saw him in person twice. You know how people today make a big deal about how they once saw the Beatles, or Elvis, or Barry Manilow in concert? That’s how granddaddy was about Will Rogers.

“I saw Will Rogers perform,” Granddaddy would…

We’ll call her April. But that’s not her name. She sent me a letter which arrived in my mailbox on April 1. Hence, the pseudonym.

“I am 15 and I just had a baby…” the letter began.

I paused to get my reading glasses.

“…And my mom is angry and my dad is a preacher, they kicked me out… I’m scared and I have nowhere to go.”

Which isn’t technically true. April lives with her aunt in rural Virginia. She is still in high school, and she’s doing okay. Although she is fast losing confidence in herself.

“...I wish I could take back my mistakes, but I can’t…

“Why won’t my parents love my child? My daughter is not to blame for my sins. She is a beautiful girl. Can you offer me any words?”

Well, April, I cannot give you any poignant words because I am not smart enough. What I can say is that you are not the sinner you think you are. At least not any worse than me or, for instance, Pope Francis.

You’re a

human being. That’s what you are. This is not a sin.

I can’t really say anything intelligent here because I don’t know what you’re going through. Neither do I know what you're feeling. Nor do I know what it feels like to be a 15-year-old mother.

What I can tell you is this. I knew a girl who got pregnant at age 13.

You want to talk about a nightmare? My people were strict fundamentalists who did not believe in excess coffee consumption or mixed bathing. We were staunch Southern Baptists, which meant that we not only suffered from clinical constipation, but we actually enjoyed it.

The pregnant girl’s name was Jessica. She was not a bad kid. She was smart. She was funny. She was a straight-A student. She got caught in a bad circumstance, that was all.

She made…

“HOW ARE YOU GOING TO SAVE THIS COUNTRY?!” shouts the talking head on TV.

I’m at an American diner. The kind with fried food and waitresses who call you “sweetie.” There is enough saturated fat in the air to cause a coronary event just by breathing.

My waitress is a middle-aged woman named “Muffin.” I know this because it’s written on her nametag.

There is a deer head mounted on the wall above the stove. There are taxidermied bass fish everywhere. The coffee tastes like bathwater. The eggs aren’t bad. The bacon sucks.

A giant television is mounted just above the bar. The volume is blaring. The talking heads are discussing political things. Controversial things. You get the feeling the commentators are unhappy people. As though maybe these commentators go home each evening and strangle small woodland creatures to unwind.

“THERE IS NO WAY TO SAVE THIS COUNTRY!” says the commentator.

The talking heads are practically shouting at each other. Their voices are so loud that everyone sitting at the breakfast counter has no choice but

to watch two grown men hash it out on national television.

I wish the waitress would turn this malarkey off, but Muffin, like everyone else, has grown deaf to this kind of shouting. This is America. Land of the free. Home of 24-hour cable news channels.

“I HATE THIS COUNTRY!” shouts the guy on TV.

The commentator’s words slap me upside the face.

Sure, I realize they’re just trying to boost ratings. Yes, I get it. They’re just shock jocks. But this doesn’t make sense to me.

I realize I’m old fashioned, but I grew up with World-War-II-era grandparents. I was reared by men and women who remembered the Battle of the Bulge intimately. These were people who bought movie tickets to watch Bing Crosby perform patriotic numbers that lasted roughly as long as dental school. These were people who spoke of Pearl Harbor…

Century, Florida. You’re looking at a town of under 2,000 folks. The hinterlands of Escambia County. A rural place where they pronounce “hill” as “heel.”

Northview High School lost one of their own a few weeks ago. Students returned after spring break and their world was decimated. The teenage security bubble had been shattered.

Senior Kara Santorelli was recently killed on Highway 29. Her car was struck by a vehicle traveling the wrong way. Both drivers died at the scene.

It was godawful.

Kara was strikingly beautiful. Brunette. She was talented. Well-loved. Only a few months away from graduation. Her future was so bright you needed a welding mask just to look at her.

She was your quintessential teen. She loved being on TikTok. She adored her friends and family. And now she’s gone.

Last Saturday night was prom. Her fellow classmates honored her memory by pronouncing her prom queen, posthumously. One of the few times such a thing has ever been done in the United States.

A photograph of Kara stood in the entryway of

the Sanders Beach Resource Center ballroom in Pensacola. A single candle was lit. A tiara was draped over Kara’s portrait.

Prom goers stopped at the portrait, placed their hands on the glass and cried. Many were unable to pull themselves together.

“If you didn't know Kara you missed out on knowing a very special person,” Kara’s friends said.

Meantime, 309 miles north, something happened in Huntsville. Today was the funeral for Officer Garrett Crumby.

You’ve never heard of him, but that’s your loss. Garrett was good people. He worked with the Huntsville Police Department. He was an outdoorsman. He loved hiking, kayaking, and chasing storms.

He was known as the “sweet tooth” guy because he loved his sugar. And he was one of those officers who helped folks even when it wasn’t part of his job description.

Last year, for example, Garrett and two…

Palm Sunday. I went out for breakfast. I landed at an old Birmingham cafe.

The bell dings when I walk inside. “Horse with No Name” is playing overhead. I hate this song. You’re lost in the desert, wandering around. Name the dang horse.

There are nine old men seated around a table. Some kind of coffee group. Ratty clothes. Reading glasses slung around their necks. Hearing aids. One man looks like he hasn’t bathed since medieval times.

I guess they skipped church too.

The waitress is a young woman covered in tattoos. The old men have something to say about her body art.

“When I was a kid, you never saw girls with tattoos,” says the guy.

“I’m no girl,” the waitress says.

“It just ain’t right.”

“You know what they say opinions are like,” she says.

Laughter from the table.

“Wait,” says one old man points out. “Why are you giving her such a hard time? YOU have a tattoo, Virgil.”

“My tattoo is different, I was in the Navy. I earned it.”

The waitress throws out a hip. “Yeah, well, have

you given birth to three children?”

That shut them up.

There’s another table. It’s an older woman and a young boy, he’s maybe 6 years old. The woman is wearing a long skirt and her hair is tied atop her head in a thick bun. She looks devout. Church of God, maybe.

Their hands are folded and they are praying over breakfast. It’s a long prayer. They are stock still. The only thing moving is the woman’s mouth.

I can hear the woman praying for recent tornado victims, victims of the Nashville shooting, and lots of other things. The little boy is closing his eye so tightly it hurts.

When the waitress gets to my table. I give her my order, then I ask a question.

“Why do you let those old men tease you about your…