Minneapolis. Just south of downtown. The Powderhorn Park community is a vibrant place, lying east of I-35W. Home to the Minneapolis Institute of Art museum, the Hennepin History Museum and a host of Latin eateries serving food potent enough to curl a grown man’s toenails.

You’ll also notice all the George Floyd pictures in the area. The Floyd portraits are painted on vertical surfaces, mounted on walls, hanging everywhere. That’s because George Floyd Square is located just down the road.

“Powderhorn has a homelessness problem,” says one local resident. “It’s a real issue in Minneapolis.”

Which is an understatement. Recently, one of the many homeless encampments in Powderhorn Park was recently shut down because it was home to some 300 tents. And that’s just one camp. There are more. In fact, there are nearly 20 homeless shelters within a five mile radius.

Which leads us to Miss Linda.

Seventy-year-old Miss Linda Taylor has been living in this area and volunteering with homeless shelters for upwards of 19 years. People know her as “The

Soup Lady,” from her years spent sweating in the trenches called soup kitchens.

She is every little old woman you’ve met. She lives in a little two-story bungalow with a modest garden out back. She’s the kind of woman who names her houseplants and sings classic rock as she waters.

She has raised five kids. A passel of grandkids. And now she is helping raise a flock of great-grandkids.

Miss Linda wears a perpetual smile, and within her smile lines you can tell what kind of life she has lived. A life of service.

So you can imagine what a cruel blow it was when The Soup Lady got news that she was about to be evicted. The news came with no forewarning, no apologies, just a notice informing her that her fundaments were about to be tossed onto the cold Minnesota asphalt.

So she went to…

Westminster, Colorado. Before school ended a few weeks ago, 12-year-old Brody Ridder did what every kid does at the end of the school year. He took his yearbook to classmates and asked them:

“Will you sign my yearbook?”

It’s a humbling question for a sixth-grader to ask. In fact, it’s a humbling question at any age. Because what if the person turns you down? What if they reject you? Frankly I’d rather try to sell someone Amway.

Getting signatures in your yearbook has always been a big deal. When I was in sixth grade, the year before my father died, I remember when a history teacher wrote into my yearbook:

“You have no idea how high you will fly, young man. You will fly not because flying is easy, but because you’re Sean Freaking Dietrich!”

Her comment really stuck with me.

So while everyone in school was cheerfully signing yearbooks, Brody joined in and asked people to sign his book. To his horror, almost all students refused to sign it.

At first it seemed like everyone was

playing a collective joke. But no, it was no joke. Students simply didn’t care about Brody’s yearbook. Most just ignored him. The few that did sign his book just halfheartedly scribbled their names, nothing more.

He got two, maybe three autographs.

Brody went home with empty pages and a hollow heart. To make himself feel better, the 12-year-old wrote himself a note in his own yearbook, then signed it himself. It read:

“Hope you make some more friends.—Brody Ridder.”

His mother saw the note and it broke her. Cassandra Ridder could hardly believe kids would refuse to write in a 12-year-old’s yearbook. Moreover, why? Brody has been bullied in the past, but this was a new low. What is this world coming to?

Have we gotten so mean spirited as a culture that our children are numb to the basal needs of others?…

I have here a letter from a friend which reads, “My beagle of fourteen years has died. I don’t know what I should do. Tell me what I should do. I know you love dogs, so I thought you’d understand.”

Well, I can’t tell you what to do. What I can tell you is that the day my bloodhound died I was away in Birmingham for work. Ellie Mae was thirteen, she’d been sick the morning before I left town.

We‘d taken her to the ER. They gave her meds, stabilized her, and it looked like she would make a full recovery.

The next morning, I kissed Ellie’s long face and left for Birmingham to tell stories and jokes to a roomful of a few hundred folks.

It was a nice day. I remember it well. I drove along the highway, humming with the radio. The sun was shining. By the time I reached Camden, I got a call from my wife.

“Ellie’s not right,” she said. “Something’s wrong.”

I almost turned the truck around, and maybe I should’ve. But I didn’t.

By the time I reached Selma, the vet was on

the phone delivering bad news. When I reached Maplesville, my wife and I were already discussing sending her to Heaven, and my gut churned.

“I don’t want her to suffer,” said my wife.

“I don’t either,” I said.

“You think we should… I can’t bring myself to say it.”

“Me neither..”

“I don’t want her to suffer.”

“Me neither.”

“I love her so much.”

(Sniff, sniff.)

“So does that mean we should put her out of her misery, then?”

“I can’t do it.”

“Me neither.”

“But she’s in pain.”

“I know.”

“What do we do?”

“I don’t know, but I don’t want her to suffer.”

A few minutes later, my wife video-called me. I pulled onto the shoulder of Highway 82, outside Centreville. On the cellphone screen, was…

Several years ago I went to a friend’s wedding. I arrived at the chapel early. I sat in the front pew while the piano played. It was the best seat in the house. I wanted to see my buddy’s expression when he stumbled over the words “I do.”

The chapel was adorned with white flowers and greenery. The woman seated beside me was the elderly aunt of the bride.

“My name’s Irma,” she said, presenting her white-gloved hand. “How do you know the groom?”

“We grew up fishing together,” I said.

She looked at me like I had cockroaches crawling out of my eye sockets. “Really? I thought he hated fishing.”

That’s when I had a feeling something was very wrong.

And I was correct. When the groom took the altar, I realized I’d never seen him before in my life. I started having chest pains. I was at the right church on the wrong weekend.

Soon, the pianist played the familiar chords of matrimony and the congregation stood. I was going to sneak out the back, but

I was too late. The rear doors swung open.

The bride walked the aisle, wearing a gown that was elegant enough to break your heart.

Beside me, Aunt Irma was becoming emotional. “Have you ever seen her look so radiant?”

“Hardly even recognized her,” I said.

We took our seats. The minister asked who gave the bride away. A white-haired man said, “Her mama and I!”

It was a beautiful ceremony. The bride and groom recited vows they’d written themselves. The groom read a sonnet so eloquent it made most women in the audience feel moderately disgusted with their own choice of life partners.

When the bride read her vows, they were so sweet and heart-wrenching that half the congregation was dehydrated afterward.

Aunt Irma was sniffing so hard that I handed her a Kleenex. She hooked her arm on mine. I…

NASHVILLE—Nathan is 12. He is on his way to soccer practice. His mother is driving. He is in the backseat of the car. He sees something.

“Pull over, Mom!” says Nathan.

She does.

It’s a family, walking along the shoulder of the road. They are Latino. A woman pushes a stroller, two young boys walk behind her. None of them speak much English.

But this is no problem. Nathan has been taking Spanish in school. Nathan translates. He tells his mother that the family’s car has broken down.

So, his mother calls a tow truck. While they wait, Nathan’s mother treats the family to supper. They carry on choppy conversations in broken tongues. Nathan translates the best he can.

By the end of the night, two families have become friends. And to shorten a long story, today Nathan is a grown man who can say things in Spanish. For instance, Nathan tells me in an email: “Did you know that ‘bondad’ means ‘goodness’ in Spanish? It’s my favorite word.”

Qué excelente, Nathan.

KATY, Tex.—She is an EMT student. She doesn’t

know whether she wants this for a career. She’s been on ride-alongs, sitting in ambulances, watching emergency workers. She has seen some terrible scenes. She’s just not sure.

“The first accident I ever saw,” she says, “was so traumatic, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for months. I just didn’t know if I was cut out to be a paramedic.”

One night, she is walking into a movie theater. She sees an old woman leaving the theater. The woman stumbles on the curb and falls onto her face.

Blood. Broken bones. Hollering. It is a mess.

The EMT in her kicks into action. The staff brings her an emergency first-aid kit. She dresses the woman’s wounds, just like she’d been studying to do. She immobilizes the woman’s neck. She keeps everyone calm.

“I was cool under pressure,” she says. “It…

My wife and I were in Wisconsin several years ago, staying at a bed-and-breakfast, which was also a fully operational sheep farm. It was an interesting getaway. I had never been around sheep before. Come to think of it, I’d never been around Wisconsinites, either.

Luckily, I found both sheep and Wisconsin folks to be pretty cool. Although truthfully I was not enthused about my wife’s idea of vacationing on a sheep farm.

I suppose the idea of a winsome barnyard with cascading green pastures seemed romantic to my wife. But, I can honestly tell you, there is nothing remotely “romantic” about the smell of hundreds of sheep.

Still, it was a great weekend.

One of the things I liked most was watching the sheep dogs. It was amazing to see canines herd hundreds of sheep. The dogs were always on duty. They herded the lumbering animals into different locations, constantly patrolling the outskirts of the farm, always making sure the sheep were safe.

There were several times during the night when we

would awake to the sound of dogs barking like maniacs. The farmer told us this was usually the dogs alerting him to the presence of a poisonous snake entering the pasture.

“Do your dogs know the difference between poisonous and nonpoisonous snakes?” one of the guests asked the farmer.

The farmer proudly nodded. “These dogs know a lot.”

Another time, one of the dogs spotted what might have been a coyote or some other predator. The dogs went into primal defense mode. They circled the flock, emitting low growls, occasionally yelping to alert the farmer to danger.

Eventually, the farmer came cruising up on his all-terrain golf cart and scared the would-be coyotes away, and everything went back to normal again.

But by far the most interesting thing about that weekend was hearing a story about when a few of the sheep went missing.

One evening, the…

DEAR SEAN:

I have been going through a hard time since losing my mom and don’t know what I believe anymore. I’m not sure whether I believe in God or any of that stuff. I’m so lost. What do you believe in?

ANONYMOUS

DEAR ANONYMOUS:

You’ll have to pardon me. I’m writing this from my sickbed. Currently, I am sidelined with COVID and my body feels as though it has recently been assaulted with the wrong side of a pool cue.

As far as my beliefs, for starters, I am now a big believer in washing one’s hands thoroughly.

Also, I believe in fried chicken. The kind made by every granny you’ve ever known. The kind fried in black iron skillets.

I believe it is powerful stuff. Which is probably why you see it at funeral receptions, baby showers, and church socials.

I also believe in hand-rolled biscuits made from flour, fat, salt, baking powder, and buttermilk. To add additional ingredients to this mix would be like drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

I believe in teaching young men to

clean fish. I believe in kids who ask too many questions. And I believe in girls who are gutsy enough to be themselves.

I believe girls have it harder than boys. And I’m sorry for that.

I believe in giving money to the homeless—not once or twice, but every time I see someone down on their luck. Every single time. I believe in giving more than I should.

I believe in old-time country dances. Long ago, before TV’s, smartphones, and twenty-four-hour news channels, I believe people threw more parties.

I believe in bowing heads to say grace. I believe in crickets, loud frogs, and places where you cannot hear busy highways.

I believe in magic tricks. And in teenagers who haven’t found themselves yet. I believe in all golden retrievers, Labs, bloodhounds, some Jack Russels. And marriage.

I believe…

I’m sick. I am writing this from my bed with a thermometer in my mouth. My wife is making chicken soup, I have a fever, and every bodypart hurts. And I mean every bodypart. The good news is, it’s not a constant pain. I only hurt, for example, whenever I move.

We thought it was the flu, but then my wife tested me for COVID and the results came back positive. Although judging by the way I feel right now, we can not rule out bubonic plague.

So anyway, all this got me thinking about my own funeral.

I am not kidding. I have too many friends who have died unexpectedly over the last few years from various maladies, and in many cases, their families had no idea what their final wishes were.

And since I FEEL like I’m dying, I figured I’d take this opportunity to make some final requests.

Please have soft serve ice cream at my funeral. I once wrote a column about a sheriff in Geauga County, Ohio, who wanted

ice cream trucks at his funeral, and I think this is a good idea.

Also, I want my wife to know, publicly, that I want to be cremated. I want this for two reasons: (a) cremation is much cheaper than traditional embalming, and (b) you won’t need a permit to light my remains on fire.

Again, I am being serious. I have always wanted my urn placed onto a log raft, constructed of longleaf pines, placed in the Gulf of Mexico, and lit on fire. My childhood Sunday-school teacher, Mrs. Wilkes, always believed I would burn, anyway. So why not.

I know it’s an unusual request, but it’s my funeral.

Before the ceremony, I want everyone to put floral sprays and beautiful objects onto my raft, such as photographs, baseball gloves, cowboy hats, fishing rods, my guitar, and maybe some Atlanta Braves paraphernalia.

Then, I want…

I didn’t expect anyone to know me in Newnan, Georgia. I don’t expect people to know me anywhere. I’m just a guy with an overbite. I’m nobody. I’m a faceless individual who grew up in a home whose most impressive architectural feature was its dual axles.

I won’t say I’m Florida white trash. But I won’t say I ain’t.

We rolled into town early for the literature festival where I was making a speech at the historic courthouse. I drove past the brick storefronts, the stately church spires, the old Alamo Theater, and the charming antique stores selling acres of vintage Dale Earnhardt commemorative plates.

I love it here. Every time I visit Newnan I have vague recollections of youthful days spent here. When we lived with my aunt in Atlanta as a kid, my cousin and I would visit Newnan and go look for creative ways to either blow our money or make the front page of the Newnan Times-Herald. Either by feats of heroism or heathenism.

I’m older and uglier now, whereas Newnan’s downtown hasn’t

changed a bit. It looks the same as it always has, only more so.

When I was walking through the parking lot before my speech, a Black woman approached me. She was middle-aged. Her hair was in Sisterlocks and she was wearing a red sleeveless jumper. She had a ribbon in her hair and lots of bracelets.

“Sean,” she said.

I looked around to make sure she was actually calling my name because you never know. Lots of people are named Sean these days.

When I was a kid, the name Sean was an uncommon name. But as I got older more parents started naming their kids Sean, Shawn, Shaun, Shawnda, or Shawnathan.

Truthfully, I wasn’t crazy about my name growing up. Although, at this age I realize it could have been worse, my mother could have named me Engelbert.

The woman asked…

Moreland, Georgia. Population 382. Unless someone died last night.

I was on my way home from Newnan when I took a detour southward along Highway 29. I had just made a speech at the Southern Lit Fest literature festival at the Coweta County courthouse. I had time to kill, a full gas tank, and the sun was setting over America’s Fourth State.

I’ve been reading about Moreland since I was a little boy, but I’ve never actually seen it.

The first time I ever read about it, I was an 11-year-old kid whose father had just shot himself. I was a lost child without anyone to love me.

One of my father’s friends gave me a book entitled “Kathy Sue Loudermilk, I Love You.” I read it in one sitting. It was funny. It was touching. It changed the trajectory of my life. The author was from Moreland.

That same year, I read every single book by the author at least a quarter million times.

I was an untalented kid. I

was overweight, redheaded, and a straight-C student with dim prospects. Moreover, I came from fundamentalist people who were so tightly wound they suffered debilitating constipation and refused to wave at each other in the package store. Books were all I had.

At age 12, I sent my favorite author-columnist a letter, typed on my typewriter, double spaced and everything. I licked the stamp and mailed my envelope to The Atlanta Journal Constitution, c/o Mister Grizzard, 72 Marietta Street, Atlanta, GA, 30346.

I told him I thought he was amazing. I said I was sorry about the death of his dog, Catfish. I told him that he was my hero. He never wrote back. He was pretty busy.

Ancient history.

So anyway, the sun was shining. I was driving with one finger on the wheel and a Coca-Cola in my other hand. In my center console was a Styrofoam cup…