Willie Nelson is on my radio. He is singing one of my favorite songs.

“In the twilight glow I see her,
“Blue eyes crying in the rain,
“When we kissed goodbye and parted,
“I knew we’d never meet again…”

I turn it up because I am a sucker for this tune. Though, I’m not sure why. When I was a boy, the lyrics never made sense to me.

After all, nobody with blue eyes ever cried in the rain for me. And I certainly didn’t have blue eyes. My eyes are gray. My mother used to say my eyes were the color of our pump shed.

Even so, there’s something about this tune that moves me. I can close my gray eyes and go back in time.

And I see my father’s work bench in the garage. A radio sits beside a chest of mini-drawers that is filled with bolts, nuts, screws, washers, and rubber grommets.

Crystal Gayle is singing “Don’t it Make my Brown Eyes Blue?”

Then Willie begins playing over the speaker.

My father turns it up.

“Love is but a dying ember,
“Only memories remain,
“Through the ages, I’ll remember,
“Blue eyes crying in the rain…”

And I am holding a GI Joe doll, watching a tall, skinny man work on something beneath a shop lamp, holding a screwdriver.

He does all his own repairs, this man. Because he believes it is wasteful to hire people to do work you could do yourself. Just like it’s disgraceful, and even unforgivable, to throw away refrigerator leftovers.

The people I come from are proud and self-sufficient, and they are not above eating ten-week old meatloaf that has turned Sea Foam Green. They cut their own hair. And their own lawns.

When I started travelling a lot for work, I hired a yardman to cut my grass. It only made sense. But it felt…

He was born in 1924. America was very different from today’s world. Today we have flying cars, laboratory-grown chicken, and a computer program called ChatGPT that will write your essay, term paper, novel, or newspaper column for you.

But in 1924, people in the country were still using corn cobs to wipe their most cherished body parts. The world moved much slower.

Calvin Coolidge was president. The White House still occasionally used horses and buggies. The Model T was still a teenager. The hit song was by George Gershwin.

The boy was born on a cold, frosty morning in the mountains of the Carolinas. He was delivered in a clapboard shack. By firelight. His mother developed maternal sepsis two weeks after he was born. She died.

He was raised by a nearby elderly farmer, and the farmer’s wife. The farmer had already raised several children, he was supposed to be retired. But sometimes God has other plans.

The boy wanted to be a writer. That was where his talents

were. Words. He was good with sentences. But writers weren’t needed in such an era. A Great Depression was on. People were starving. A farming family was doing good just to stay alive. Who needs words and sentences?

America did not need words. Politicians gave the world plenty of words. Soon, America was at war, and what Uncle Sam needed was soldiers with strong lumbar muscles. So that’s what he did with his life.

He was tall for his age, so he enlisted. He told the recruiters he was 18, although he was 16. They knew he was lying, of course. Namely, because he was so skinny he would have had to stand up ten times just to make a shadow. But this was war.

He was in basic training when he met a woman at a USO dance. She was beautiful and young. He asked her to dance, but she…

The Carolina mountains are covered in a down quilt of fog. It’s summer, but the temperature is a biting 55 degrees.

The distant mountaintops look like blue humps in the hazy foreground. There are trees everywhere, trees so green they look fake.

The mountain highway winds back and forth like a half-inebriated copperhead, climbing upward, constantly twisting, turning, dipping, whirling, then doubling back. The Western North Carolina the scenery couldn’t get any more beautiful if it were made of golden bricks.

We pass a steep mountain pasture, not far from Mount Mitchell. The grass is so richly verdant, it’s lime green. The hillside is peppered with goats of all colors, grazing in haphazard formation. The goats are surrounded by a wooden fence that was at one time white, but is now weathered wood.

There is no traffic on this old highway. If you were to pull over, you could lie down in the middle of the road for half the day and live to tell the story.

It’s quiet out here.

There are no vehicles. No overhead commercial airliners. No noisy A/C unit compressors. No ambient music. No nothing. Just the bleating of goats. Choirs of woodland birds. Light percussive rain, pitter-pattering on the leaves of the forest. And your own heartbeat.

I was reared in the country. Long before I moved to the city, it was the sticks that were my home. I was not raised in the mountains, but this place sort of reminds me of those early days.

My wife and I stop at a mountain gas station. The joint has seen better times. I’m not even sure whether this station is actually open for business, or whether it remains here as shrine to the days of yore. The pumps are old, with spinning numbers. No credit card readers. No overhang.

I fill up the van. I go inside to pay. A bell dings overhead. Randy Travis…

It’s a long story. My cousin was over for dinner; we got to talking about mayonnaise. One thing led to another. The conversation got heated, and eventually we were shouting.

“Hellmann’s Mayonnaise is the best!” my cousin insisted.

“Nuh-uh!” yelled his wife, Julie, “It’s Kraft!”

“Gag me!” hollered my wife. “It’s Duke’s, or everyone pukes!”

It’s a wonder the police weren’t called.

The next day, my cousin and I found ourselves wandering local supermarkets, buying dozens of jars of mayonnaise, spending upwards of $100 on egg-yolk-based protein emulsions.

We are grown men, we have mortgages, careers, and quasi-decent automotive insurance. And our carts were full of mayo. Also, Budweiser.

When we got to the checkout lane, the cashier gave us a funny look. “You must REALLY like mayonnaise,” she said.

“We’re having a taste test,” we explained.

The cashier smiled at us in much the same way you might smile at someone who had just soiled their pants on purpose.

Soon, we were in my kitchen, engaging in a highly scientific, officiated mayonnaise taste comparison. The testing

was conducted by seven judges:

My wife, my cousin Ed Lee, his wife Julie, me, our neighbor Jake, his wife Rena, and their 9-year-old daughter named Jordan.

It was a blind taste test. The way it worked was: Various condiment cups contained globules of unidentified mayonnaise. We tasted each brand. Then, using official scorecards, made from real legal pads, we rated each brand on a scale of 0 to 10.

We tasted a lot of mayonnaise, but I’ll hit the highlights.

Kroger Real Mayo ($2.99). This mayonnaise earned an average score of negative 6. “It tastes cheap,” said one judge. “Gross,” said another. And: “Are we eating furniture polish?”

Next: McCormick Mayonnaise ($3.98). This brand claims to be the number-one brand in Mexico. They manufacture their “mayonsea” with “real lime flavoring!” The judges’ comments were as follows: “Too tart.” “Yuck.” “Not impressed.” And…

It’s a quiet night in Avondale. The sun is low in the western sky. The air is lit with lightning bugs. There are a few neighborhood kids, playing in front yards, trying to catch them with Tupperware.

And the memories are getting so thick you have to swat them away like gnats.

I remember the first time I ever heard a lightning bug called a “firefly.” I was 11 years old. A kid from California had recently moved into our neighborhood. He got excited when the front yards were alight with summer lightning bugs.

He said, “Look, fireflies!”

All us kids looked at the new boy as though his cheese had slid off his cracker. Fireflies?

“They’re not fireflies,” said Margaret Ann. “They’re LIGHTNING BUGS.”

Truer words have seldom been spoken.

“No they’re not,” he answered. “They’re FIREFLIES.”

“What the [expletive] is a firefly?” said my cousin, Ed Lee.

“They’re bugs that light up.”

We howled with delight. My cousin Ed Lee almost peed himself. “Californians!” my cousin remarked.

Then the Californian went on to tell us he’d never seen lightning bugs

before. He said they didn’t have them in the Golden State. We were aghast. No lightning bugs? That was like not knowing Jesus. Or Dale Earnhardt.

“You’ve never seen lightning bugs?” we said in disbelief.

The Californian shook his head stating that, no, he’d never seen anything like these bugs with the iridescent hindparts.

Which gave us great pride. Because, you see, ever since this Californian had come to our school, he immediately became the hippest kid in our hillbilly class.

Namely, because he had wavy blonde hair, a skateboard, and he knew what tofu was. And one time, for Show and Tell, the kid declared that he had gone surfing. The girls in the class went crazy for him and indicated that they would be interested in bearing his offspring someday.

But he’d never seen lightning bugs.…

About a year ago. I met her in a hospital room. I arrived early, with my Scrabble game in tow.

I’ve owned this particular game board since my youth. My mother owned it before me. Her mother before her. This game is older than Methusala’s fixed-arm mortgage. The date on the box is 1949. It’s one of my most prized possessions.

I come from word-people. My grandmother was a voracious reader. My mother read Michener novels the same way some people pop Tic Tacs.

Often, in my family, we played Scrabble for money. Meaning, if you were to play Scrabble against the women in my household, you would have quickly found yourself humiliated, in financial debt and—in many circumstances—naked.

I knocked on the hospital room door. The girl was lying in a bed. She was 16 and lovely. Her head was bald. Her body was weak and lean. I’ll call her Ariel.

She began suffering from headaches a few days after her 16th birthday. It was glioblastoma. The prognosis was bad.

“She’s good at Scrabble,” her mother told

me in an email. “She read in one of your columns that you liked Scrabble, too. She would love to play a game with you.”

So I brought my game board.

But here’s the thing. In 20-odd years, I had never been beaten at Scrabble. Except once. And it was my wife who beat me.

Don’t mistake me. I’m not saying I’m “good,” per se. I’m only saying that, in many circles, I am a legend.

I set up the board. The girl opened with “cosmic.” A 24-pointer, and she used almost all her letters. Not a bad beginning.

“Your turn,” said Ariel.

Everyone thinks Scrabble is about large words and triple-word scores. Not true. The trick to the game lies in the two-letter words. Words like: “Aa,” “oe,” “id” “ka” and “xu.” You lay an “xu” down in just the right…

I was a little boy. I was in a bad mood. My mother sent me to my room before supper.

“You march upstairs, mister,” she told me. “You go count your blessings.”

“But MAMA!” I said.

“Count’em one by one, young man, make a long list, or you don’t get any meatloaf.”

I’m thirty-some-odd years too late, but my wife is making meatloaf tonight.


My wife—because she loved me first.

And boiled peanuts. Just because.

And dogs. Every dog.

And people who stop four lanes of traffic to save dogs. And people who adopt dogs. And people who like dogs. And people who spend so much time with dogs that they start to think like dogs.

And saturated fat. Pork. Smoked bacon, cured hams, and runny yolks in my fried eggs.

And cotton clothes that just came off a summer clothesline.

And the sound wind makes when it makes its way through the trees. And the smells of fall. And rain. Garlic.

Old radio shows. As a boy, a local station used to play radio reruns of Superman, the Lone Ranger, Little Orphan Annie,

the Jack Benny Show, Abbott and Costello, and the Grand Ole Opry. I lived for these shows.

And the girl I met in Birmingham—she’s lived in fourteen different foster homes.

The child in Nashville—whose feet are too big for her sneakers. She can’t afford new ones.

Every soul at Children’s Hospital, Birmingham. Doctors, nurses, janitors, cooks, staff, and patients.

Every child who will be fortunate enough to see tomorrow morning. Every child who won’t.

And tomatoes. Tomatoes remind me of things deeper than just tomatoes themselves. They remind me of women who garden. Women like my mother, who suffered to raise two children after her husband met an untimely end.

Mama. The woman who made me. The woman whose voice I inherited. Sometimes, I hear myself talking on the phone and I realize I sound…