A church lawn. The middle of nowhere.
He’s old. He’s wearing high-waisted trousers, a pressed shirt, and a fedora. So help me, a fedora. Seeing him is like seeing nineteen hundred and fifty-two.
My dog, Ellie Mae, follows this man.
There aren’t many folks here, maybe fifty. Kids are playing with fidget spinners. Girls wear summer dresses. Young men wear boots. Middle-aged men in khakis.
This is dinner on the church grounds.
Behind the building is a hayfield, recently scalped. A few boys hop the fence.
Tables are lined with casserole dishes. Plastic pitchers of tea. Behind the church is a grill. It’s the sturdy kind made from a two-ton iron pipe.
The smell of pecan smoke makes the world seem happy.
Abe is cooking ribs and chicken. His name isn’t really Abe, he admits. It’s Danny. He was the youngest of eight brothers and sisters. He was an incurable tattle-butt. His mother nicknamed him “Honest Abe” to cure him of his habit.
The name stuck.
“Any hotdogs?” asks a kid.
“You want HOTDOGS?” Abe remarks. “Instead of RIBS? What’s wrong with you, child?”
I’m next in line. I ask for a little of everything.
Honest Abe tells me greediness is a vice worse than gluttony.
The evening kicks off with a gospel quartet. The high-tenor is outstanding. He sings notes only Gabriel could reach.
On our blanket: two adults and ten empty plates. My coonhound is nowhere in sight. She has made friends with the old man in the fedora. They are across the lawn.
The unfaithful animal.
The quartet sings “Moving Up To Gloryland.” The baritone is singing so low, it looks like he’s about to lose consciousness.
The adults finish eating. The sun is almost gone. Kids are in the hayfield. And it looks like—if my eyes are correct—they’re playing Red Rover.
As I live and breathe.
I haven’t played Red Rover since fourth grade. Greg Campbell popped a rotator cuff when his big brother plowed into him.
The kids are a nearly a half mile away, unsupervised. The parents aren’t worried. This is rural America.
The sun is down. The gnats will not quit. If I’ve swatted one, I’ve swatted every gnat in South Alabama.
The quartet is still at it. The grand finale is a big finish. The high-tenor is going to need an IV drip when he’s through.
Applause. Standing ovation. Time to clean up and go home.
One woman embraces me, then says I’m welcome in her guestroom any time I visit. Another man invites me fishing tomorrow. A six-year-old girl insists I take her fidget spinner as a gift.
The old man in the fedora kisses my dog on the snout before bringing her to me. He tells me to take care of his new girlfriend.
Yeah. I know.
The world is a mess. People are angry, and the cost of living is up. But when folks tell me this world has gone to hell, I think about what I saw here.
I just don’t buy it.