I had a video conference call with Mrs. Soto’s fourth-grade class this morning. I wore a tie for old times’ sake. Although I have always looked ridiculous in neckties.

I discussed the art of creative writing. I covered topics like essays, grammar, and how I learned to use a manual typewriter in Mister Edmund’s typing class back in 1807.

Eight-year-old Akin raised his hand and asked, “Wait. What’s a typewriter?”

I found myself smiling, loosening my necktie, because at this moment I felt about as old as the Giza Pyramids.

“You’ve never heard of a typewriter?” I asked the Future of America.

Most kids hadn’t.

I couldn’t believe this. Which got me thinking about all the other things Mrs. Soto’s kids probably never heard of. For instance, Garfunkel.

And what about Rand McNally maps? I’d like to know where those went. You can’t even buy them in gas stations anymore.

I believe maps are superior to GPS systems. Maps never recalculate, never screw up, there are no batteries, no connective errors, no robotic voices that sound like Jacques Cousteau on horse tranquilizers.

Sure with paper maps people often got lost in the wilderness, but only a small percentage of these people actually died.

So it was hard for the fourth-graders to believe that I still use an archaic device like a typewriter, but it’s true. And for anyone in Mrs. Soto’s class who is reading this column (for extra credit), I will tell you why.

For writers, the typewriter serves a sound professional purpose. And I’ll illustrate my point by telling you exactly how I wrote this column:

First, I sat down.

Next, I fired up my laptop, which is connected to the vastness of the internet.

I ate Fritos.

Then I cracked my knuckles. I started typing with greasy fingers.

Before I finished my first paragraph, I already had a problem because I knew I wanted to talk about…

A few years ago. She was in the supermarket parking lot when I saw her. My old English teacher. I was enraptured.

“Enraptured” is one of those words writers often use because it contains three full syllables. And also because it’s not a word people use in everyday conversation.

You see, occasionally as a writer you find yourself going for big words that aren’t common words. There’s a sound reason for why you do this: so people will think you’re smart.

“Behemoth” is one of these big words—it means “big.” Another word is “shibboleth,” which is not a cuss word for agricultural fertilizer, but an actual word that means “common belief.”

So if you’re a new writer, and you’re trying to sound like a big shot, sometimes you consult your big bag o’ words and pull out some doozies. Although this is a waste of effort. Because a writer ought to just say what they mean.

At least, that’s what the woman in the parking lot taught me.

I was her adult student. And she was

a beacon. A great tutor.

She taught writers there was no need for fancy words to describe beauty. In fact, this is one of the beautiful things about beauty itself. Beauty is simple. So simplicity is your best way to go.

Short words. Easy sentences. She taught that sparse elements were prettier than excess. In her opinion, the notion that writers must use complicated, flowery phrases was nothing but a big pile of shibboleth.

When I first started my community college career, I didn’t know many big words. I never considered myself to be particularly smart. I lack many educational qualifications. School was always hard for me. I believe I might have a mild form of dyslexia, but don’t quote me on taht.

All I know is that when you put me in a roomful of people at a cocktail party, I’m the guy…

I hope you have a sunny day. No matter who you are, no matter where you live. I hope the sun shines. I hope you wander outdoors and let the sunlight overtake you like chickens on a junebug.

Yes, I know sunlight won’t cure all problems. But it’s a good place to start.

I say this because I know how sad you get sometimes. Also, I know how this feels because I get sad, too. Which is why I can safely say: you’re not fooling anyone when you claim you’re doing okay. I think you and I both know this is wholesale-grade malarkey.

You’re in the dumps. Admit it. Sure, you keep a brave smile nailed to your face, but it’s plastic. This is a pandemic. You are having a hard time right now. Believe me, I get it.

Pandemic-wise, one of the most difficult things for me is bumping into friends who pretend that this year hasn’t been hard. They say they’re doing fine. They shrug off all problems and insist that the last 300-some

days have been a day at the goofy golf.

“No way!” they say. “This year hasn’t changed me.” They insist they’ve kept smiling. They’ve had fun. They’ve installed a deck. Rented a blow-up bouncy house. I find myself privately wishing for extremely committed door-to-door evangelists to visit their neighborhoods.

Because this year HAS been hard. You try to be cheerful. But no sooner have you convinced yourself to be upbeat than you wander into the supermarket and things just get weird.

Sometimes it feels as if your every movement is being narrated by Rod Serling. Employees wear hazmat suits. Cashiers in welding masks take your temperature with radar guns.

Although by now you’re used to this. It’s not nearly as bad it was when the whole pandemic started. Boy howdy. Remember those first few months? Those were a shock to the old cardiovascular muscle,…

I receive a lot of personal questions via email. Many of these are common questions while others are downright bizarre. I have compiled the most frequent questions and answered them using the Q and A format.

I’ll quit wasting time:

Q: Hi, Sean, I am an angry religious person and I want to know why you mention beer so often in your writings. It’s offensive and it sets a bad example.

A: Hi, friend. I freely admit that I like beer. Always have. I also frequently enjoy the company of Episcopalian priests who drink beer with me. Reverend Peter Wong, I’m looking at you.

Q: Where is home for you?

A: The Florida Panhandle. A place which used to be a rural fishing village but is now a spot where tourists come to hear beach-bar guitarists sing Jimmy Buffet songs about Key Largo even though we are located 794.8 miles away from the Florida Keys, a distance greater than the combined width of two average Midwestern U.S. states.

Q: Where exactly in the Panhandle? I mean, what’s your address?

A: Slow

down, you haven’t even bought me a beer yet.

Q: I want to be a writer, how can I do that?

A: Just write. I know it sounds simple, but you would be surprised at the people I meet who want to write a book, but haven’t gotten around to it. Just start moving your pen.

Q: But what if my writing sucks?

A: As you can see from this column, this never stopped me.

Q: Speaking of columns. What do you call this? A blog? A column? Essays? Stories? Articles?

A: Yes.

Q: No, seriously.

A: You can call it whatever you want. I like the name “column” because it has nine letters whereas blog only has five.

Q: Are you really as in love with your wife as you claim?

A: My wife and I have been…

Our story takes place on a bright Sunday morning. It was a story told to me, by the 48-year-old granddaughter of an anonymous Alabama woman.

It happened long, long ago, during an era which, to you and me, seems ancient. It was an age when homes were lit with gas lanterns. The Civil War had been over for several decades. The automobile was becoming a thing.

And on this particular Sunday morning, a poor blond girl in a rural Alabama town found something lying near a church sidewalk.

The orphan girl was outside playing. She wore a rag dress. Her shoes had dollar-sized holes in them.

She came from unfortunate circumstances. Her parents died, she was being raised in a loveless, poverty-stricken home by a drunk uncle. It was a house full of violent people. Her uncle made her sleep in a chicken shed whenever he wasn’t smacking her around.

Beside that church sidewalk she saw something glittery, lying in the grass. A golden pendant. She lifted it into her baby hands.

It was the prettiest thing she had ever seen. It must have belonged to someone in the church house.

It was an African-American church, and the place was busy that morning. Crowded to capacity. Because, like I said, it was Sunday morning.

The girl, with her torn dress and unwashed hair was not dressed for church, but she figured someone inside was missing a necklace. So she marched up the steps and into the clapboard meeting house.

The first thing she realized was that the chapel was HOT. People were fanning themselves. Women wore hats, men wore sweat-stained suits. And everyone seemed so happy.

She searched for an adult to return the necklace to, an usher maybe? Perhaps a minister?

But service was already underway. People were snug in their pews. The music began. Everyone stood. People sang loudly and clapped in rhythm.

The girl was immediately captivated…

There was a book on her nightstand the evening she died. A novel. She was halfway finished. Chapter eleven.

The old woman was a great reader. Reading was her thing. Her tranquilizer. Her therapy. The old woman’s bedroom was littered with mass-market paperbacks. Adventure novels, romances, humor, cheesy books that no literature buff would be caught dead holding in public unless enrolled in the Literature-Persons Protection Program.

The old woman was an English teacher. But that’s not how her love of reading began. Her journey began during a poverty stricken childhood, when the only things to do were to read library books and play cards.

As a girl she did plenty of that. She played LOTS of cards. She knew every card game in the book. They tell me she was vicious at the poker table. Each of her adult children still owe their mother roughly $7,000,000.

When the old woman was a girl, she helped raise her family after her mother died. Those were very different times, she was the

oldest daughter. No, it wasn’t fair. But it’s what people did.

Still, she never quit reading. She kept up her education by visiting libraries. Daily visits. And when her last sibling left home, the girl enrolled in college, availing herself to a much larger university library.

On her first day of college, she took an English course. It was love at first sentence. The woman knew she wanted to become a steward of the most beautiful, most audibly pleasing, most confusing, hardest to grasp, most ridiculously illogical language known to man.

After graduation, she taught English in high school. She hated it. Most students were more interested in pinching one another’s butts than they were in Shakespeare. She got a job teaching at a junior college for a little while. She hated that, too. So she quit.

She got married, made a family. But she couldn’t stay away from…

I’m watching TV with my elderly mother-in-law “Mother Mary.” I’m writing this column during a commercial break. So I don’t have long.

But I just wanted to pass along an important message Mother Mary wants America to know. Here it is:

“People should have more fun.”

Currently, Mother Mary is drinking a vodka gimlet to prove what a dedicated fun lover she is. This is a woman who looks like a Methodist granny, sipping a drink powerful enough to make a dog go bald. She is a fun expert.

Mother Mary raises her glass during the commercial break and speaks words of wisdom: “F-U-N. I want you to tell people I said FUN is the point of life.” Then she giggles and adds, “Put that in your column and smoke it.”

Now, let me be clear, Mary is NOT suggesting that alcohol is the source of fun. I can already envision the emails I will get tomorrow. So please do not misunderstand, we in this household do not believe libation is necessary for genuine fun

unless of course a national championship is involved.

No, the kind of fun Mary is hinting at is much more elusive.

The sad thing is, the older we get, the more we are discouraged from fun. If you’re a young person, this unspoken message will hit you from every angle. “Quit horsing around!” people will say. Your shift supervisor is only one example.

And so far this has been the basic motto of our modern culture. “Don’t have fun!”

Maybe this is why today you see elementary-school kids on their way to class dragging heavy rolling airline suitcases that are roughly the size of the Jefferson Memorial.

Last week I asked one such kid what made his case so heavy. He shrugged and said, “I have a lot of homework.”

Homework is not fun. Homework sucks. I’m not saying kids shouldn’t do homework. They should.…

The house where I was born was trimmed in roses. It was a clapboard home, previously owned by a retired World War II veteran. The old soldier was crazy for roses.

The story goes that after returning from the War, the soldier spent weeks turning his humble yard into a Victory Garden. Over time the backyard became a veritable explosion of reds, pinks, whites, and vivid colors.

The central attractions of the Victory Garden were, without doubt, the “Peace” roses. Ivory white with crimson fringe. They were heart stopping.

And it was among these roses where I took my first infant steps. My mother was deadheading flowers. It was summer. And I was hobbling beneath dappled sunlight, surrounded by an old soldier’s Peace roses.

Of course I don’t remember much from this early period of life, except that I habitually filled my onesies with poop. But for some odd reason, I do recall Peace roses.

There are some things you just don’t forget.

The earliest fossilized evidence of roses dates back to

the Cenozoic Era. Your high-school biology textbook will tell you roses are 35 million years old. These flowers predate nearly everything, including the Cascade Mountains, the dinosaurs, and “Gunsmoke.”

Roses were a big deal in ancient China, ancient Greece, and pretty much everywhere else too. In ancient Rome they were the flowers of the gods, a concept later inherited by ancient Christians. There’s a reason they call it “praying the Rosary.”

I tell you all this not to bore you until you experience brain death, but because this particular flower is intertwined with the history of our species.

Americans have been obsessed with roses for generations. When colonists came to these shores, one of the few luxuries many immigrant women brought with them were clippings from heirloom roses back home.

Although those colonists were in for a treat because this continent was already doing just fine in the…

I recently read an article that said, “the days of backyard barbecues are over.” Another heartbreaking item said: “The pandemic killed potlucks.”

Say it ain’t so.

As a boy I was a perpetually chubby redhead with rosy cheeks and a T-shirt that never quite covered his belly. My favorite place in the world was a covered-dish supper at the Methodist church, Baptist church, holy roller church, or any congregation where people pronounced “Lord” as “Lowered.”

Oh, I miss tiny potlucks held in old community halls. When I close my eyes, I can still see linoleum floors, water stains on the ceiling, and I can still hear 50-some people talking over each other.

I can see the card tables, draped in red-and-white gingham. I see crockpots of chicken and dumplings, Mrs. Martin’s Chicken Divan casserole, and Mrs. Wannamaker’s godawful ambrosia.

I could talk about the food all day, but I won’t. I’ve already covered potlucks in approximately 126,498 columns. Because I am smitten with them. Also, because there is a lot more to potluck than

mere food.

Such as the seating arrangements. Have you ever noticed how people find their seats at a church social? It’s a beautiful process. There is no class hierarchy, and no seating chart at a potluck. Everyone just finds a chair.

Nine-year-old girls sit next to 89-year-old men. A young widow sits next to the preacher’s wife, who sits beside a construction lawyer, who sits beside a pipe welder, who sits beside a random fourth-grader, who sits beside an elderly man who once did time in Draper, who sits beside a chubby redhead whose T-shirt doesn’t cover his belly.

That’s what I miss.

I also miss the way people made money trees for special occasions. Have we forgotten money trees? A money tree was for when someone got married, graduated, or retired. It was a barren hickory branch, standing upright with clothespins on its twigs. People…

They were good together. That’s what everyone said about them. Their schoolmates said it. Their friends said it. Their parents even said it: “Those two are so good together.”

And they were. It was the 1940s, a different world. Girls wore ringlets. Boys pulled their slacks up to their sternums. Teenagers went to dark dancehalls, traveling in packs, necking in the backseats of Buicks, Plymouths, and Packards.

Our two lovers began as dance partners, and friends. Then Uncle Sam shipped him to France to fight a War. She wrote him every day. Sometimes three times a day. She prayed for him every night, every morning, and moments between.

Then the War was over. Young men were coming home, but everything was so bizarre. Many men seemed haunted; others had crippling shellshock.

He was one of the latter.

From the moment she greeted him at the train station he was quiet. Withdrawn. He was no longer interested in dancing. He never spoke of what happened, but it was spelled on his face. It was beneath every word

he said.

Oh, but they were still good together. And more importantly, he truly needed her. She was balm to him.

Often in the mornings he would simply appear on her porch, dressed in tan pants, crisp white shirt, hands thrust in his pockets. He was a tall glass of water with a forlorn face.

Most times he wouldn’t knock on the door, but just stand in her yard for hours, his back facing her house, gazing at the street, counting cars, waiting for his gal to awake.

She’d awake, peek out her window, and find him silent on her steps. She would trot outside wearing her robe.

“What on earth are you doing here so early?” she’d say. “Are you alright?”

He’d look at her with heavy eyes. He’d simply say, “I went for a walk and ended up here.”

So her mother…