My first gig was at an all-you-can-eat crab leg joint, in Florida, where I’m from. I was a boy. This was shortly after the close of the Civil War.

I owned a guitar, but that was as far as my musical talent went. Even so, my uncle asked me to play my little guitar alongside him at a joint where he played on Mondays.

So one night, he drove me to the seafood joint on the beach. We rode in his beat-up Ford Ranger, with its three mismatched tires, missing windshield, no passenger door, and a little hula girl on the dashboard who was missing her grass skirt. And her coconuts.

We pulled up. This place was an authentic Florida dive bar. The real thing, such as you cannot find in Florida anymore. They served seafood, yes. But they also served beer. They even had an authentic malfunctioning neon sign which read “COLD EER.”

My mother would have killed me if she’d known I was here. And I am not speaking figuratively, but worse.

Metaphorically. She would have brained me with a 1611 King James Bible and buried me in my christening gown.

My uncle shut off the truck. “Welcome to heaven,” he said.

“This is where we’re playing?”

“Si, señor.”

I asked my uncle what kinds of songs we were going to play.

He slapped my back and said, “The kind that earn tips.” The he smiled. “Watch and learn, son.”

It was your basic Florida seafood joint. Sandy parking lot. Big deck, constructed of rotting wood and rusted tetanus nails. Waitresses stood outside, puffing Virginia Slims. The dumpster smelled bad enough to affect the weather.

My uncle sidled up to the bar and ordered a “cold eer.” I ordered a chocolate milk.

Then, my uncle plugged in his guitar to the PA system, sat on a stool, and announced, grandly, to the joint that his nephew would be…

Dear God:

It’s been awhile since we last talked. And I know you’re busy. But I have something I’d like to ask, if you have a second.

Please—and I really mean this—let the kid I saw in Walmart play baseball this year. You know the kid I’m talking about. He was wearing a surgical mask. He is small and bony.

He’s not well.

I heard him ask his mother about playing baseball.

His mother answered, “The doctor says you gotta wait until you’re better, sweetie.”

“Please, Mom,” he said.

Listen, I know there are droughts, famines, wars, and one billion people suffering from pop country music. But that boy wants to play ball, God. He was almost begging.

Please. Just do some magic. Make his body work again. If you could just surprise him. That’s all I ask.

Also, bless every person who feels unloved. Bless each soul who feels alone. Bless the ones who feel overlooked. And thank you that the Atlanta Braves don’t suck this year.

Baseball, God. That’s what I’m getting at. You know how much it meant to me

over the years. After my father died, baseball is one of the things that kept me going.

A few more things: help Miss Bonnie. Her husband of forty-nine years was everything to her before he died. She’s a wreck. Look in on her if you get a chance.

Help Skittles, the dog, find an owner. She was found behind Piggly-Wiggly. But then, of course, you know the story already.

Thank you for cheese. What a great idea that was. And for my friends—even the ones I haven’t met yet.

Thanks for Daddy. I only knew him twelve years before he ended his own life, but I feel lucky to have known him at all. Some kids never know their fathers.

And for my mother, who raised us on a shoestring budget, without the help of her late…

Today I read an article my friend sent to me. The article was something that went viral on social media. When I finished reading it, I felt so bad that I had to take some Pepto-Bismol and lie down.

It was depressing. The writer complained about nearly everything. Politics, religion, pollution, crime, taxes, pesticides, SUV’s, pop stars, the price of gas.

And worse, thousands of people agreed that this world is a terrible place.

Well, who am I to say that it isn’t? Nobody, that’s who. Even so, all that reading left me asking myself an important question:

What about chocolate?

Can this world be all that bad as long as we have milk chocolate? Have you ever had a Hershey’s bar when it’s room temperature? It’s a little soft, and it tastes sweeter than a Gaither Homecoming DVD.

It’s hard not to believe that everything is going to be okay while you’re eating chocolate.

And how about pimento cheese? Has the writer ever tried homemade pimento cheese? If he hasn’t, he ought to. Today, my wife

just made a fresh batch. I took one bite and I started shaking my leg like Elvis at a revival.

What about daylilies? Or peonies? Or tulips? The colors of summer are almost overwhelming. A pink peony is reason enough to believe life is good.

And there are also the mystical things of life. Things so beautiful that they are hard to name because they are too vast, too immense, and too wistful. Namely, I am speaking of beer.

Have you ever tasted a Budweiser after spending an afternoon mowing your lawn? Mowing the lawn in the heat is brutal and will make even the strongest person weak. But suddenly, here comes your wife with a beer that’s cold enough to crack your teeth. She hands you a beer and you say “Thank you, sweetie. Thank you for mowing our lawn.”

How about…

Someone is impersonating me. This person has created a fake account using my name. They’re going around asking for money on Facebook. And worse: they’re using bad grammar.

And I just think that’s tacky.

For starters, I don’t ask for money. The last time I asked for money I was 16. I was trying to get to Miami Beach for spring break along with my friends Ed Lee and Tater Log.

We told our mothers we wanted to attend a very special Bible camp in Coconut Grove.

“Bible camp?” Tater Log’s mother remarked, doubtfully. “And does this Bible camp also have wet T-shirt contests?”

So we tried my mother next.

I asked Mama for a modest $1,200, which I thought was an honest estimate for travel expenses and gas. Mama laughed so hard she had to be calmed with buttered Saltines.

So anyway, my wife was the first to bring this Facebook scammer to my attention. She thought this person was hysterical. She located the imposter’s Facebook profile and howled with laughter.

“He isn’t even cute!” my wife

announced, cackling at the computer screen. “Look at his cheap haircut and that idiot grin.”

The impersonator, as it happens, is using my actual photo. And it’s a recent photo, too, which features my current haircut and my current grin.

Moreover, it turns out this hoaxer is trying to sweet talk innocent people into giving them personal information and account passwords.

Well, let me reassure you, publicly, I do not want your passwords. I can’t even remember my own passwords, and I have thousands. In fact, remembering all my passwords has become a full-time job.

Whenever my wife and I try to watch TV, for example, our streaming service requires us to re-enter our password each time.

And since I am the tech-guy in our house, it’s up to me to remember this password. At which point I have to don reading…

A nice car stalls in traffic. Horns honk. People shout. Traffic backs up for miles. In the front seat is an old woman.

Four Mexican men leap out of a nearby dilapidated minivan. They push the woman’s broken down vehicle from a busy intersection.

In the front seat is Jocelyn. A 73-year-old lady with cotton hair. When she is out of harm’s way, one of the men says something in broken English:

“Chew need a ride, ma’am? We can take you wherever chew wanna go.”

They drive her home, across town. She offers to pay for their gas. They decline. So she offers to feed them. They accept. They become lifelong friends. They visit often. They help repair her house. They mow her lawn. Compléteme gratis. She always reimburses them with food.

Years later, Jocelyn dies. At her funeral, Jocelyn’s daughter sees a group of unfamiliar Mexican men standing in the visitation line. She’s never met them. They tell her the story I just told you.

Next, meet Chase. He is middle-aged and clumsy. He has the

idea to repair his own roof one day. Bad idea. He climbs on the house while his wife is away. He loses his footing. He trips. The shrubs break his fall—and his leg.

A neighbor’s 14-year-old son sees the accident. The boy calls 911, then performs first-aid. The kid even rides to the hospital inside the ambulance with him. When Chase awakens, there is a boy sitting at his bedside, mumbling a prayer. Chase is confused.

“Who are you?”

“I called your wife,” says the tearful kid. “I found her number in your phone.”

That might not sound like a classic tale of heroism to you. But that boy is an adult now and he is an EMT. And also, he is one of Chase’s best friends.

There’s a girl. I’ll call her Karen. As a child, she was abused by her father.…

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 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 just…

This story is not mine. But it was told to me by a 92-year-old woman who lived it.

She was a little girl. It was the Great Depression. Although nobody called it the Depression back then, inasmuch as nobody knew what depression was. They just called them Hard Times.

And times were sure enough hard. Her family lived on the river. It was a rural life. Times were rough. Money was tight.

There were ducks who came by the river every day. A mama duck and all her younglings. The little girl loved these ducks. She waited for them every day, and she saved bread from breakfast, dinner, and supper so she could feed them.

Every time the little girl would sit at the suppertable, and bread would be served, she would hoard her bread into her pockets and save it. Then, she would go outside, wander to the riverbanks, and throw bread to the ducks.

The ducks were always waiting for her. They would eat the bread all up.

Over time,

she saw the baby ducks grow bigger. And she was feeding them more and more bread. And sometimes she would go into town and buy bread with her nickels and dimes, and scatter it into the water so the ducks could eat.

One day, the girl noticed that there was one duckling missing from the little family. She was so troubled by this that she walked into the woods, combing the banks of the river, looking for the lost duck. It was a fool's errand, of course.

“There was no way I could find a lost duck in those woods,” she said.

But she did.

She found a duck stuck in a little mud pit. The baby duck was hardly moving. But it was still alive. Although barely. So the girl took the duck home. She washed it off. The duck was weak, and would barely breathe.