Dothan, Alabama—It’s been quite a night. The Milwaukee Brewers beat the Braves like rented mules. I was eating jalepeño cheese dip in a sports bar, watching the game. Afterward, I went back to the hotel to pout. My stomach started churning. It got worse.
I have food poisoning.
I haven’t had food poisoning since I visited Dallas with my buddy, Chubbs. We were there for the Mesquite Championship Rodeo. I ate some tripa tacos that didn’t settle well.
For two days thereafter, I hugged a motel toilet.
My faithful constituent, Chubbs, vowed to take care of me on my deathbed. I sent him to the supermarket for emergency supplies. He returned with Gatorade, Velveeta cheese, and Hellman’s mayonnaise.
“What’s the Velveeta for?” I asked.
“For nutrition,” he said, blowing a bubble in his gum.
“Where’s my Pepto Bismol?”
“I got mayonnaise instead.”
“Hello? In case you want a mayonnaise and Velveeta sandwich.”
More toilet hugging.
I missed the rodeo that year. The next year, we visited again and I got my picture with a Dolly Parton impersonator.
Anyway, this case of food poisoning isn’t nearly as bad as Dallas. But I can’t sleep, so I’m reading emails.
I got a letter from a young woman named Paulette. It was a sad letter.
“Dear Sean,” writes Paulette, “my husband left me… I am twenty-two and I have a son who’s too young to even know what’s happening…
“It’s hitting me slowly, I’m numb inside, I don’t even know why I’m writing, I mean why should you care about some stranger’s divorce? Tell me a story.”
Paulette. I wish I had something valuable to share, but I don’t. All I can tell you is that you emailed a man whose insides are falling out.
But because I have a few hundred more words left to go, and time to kill, I’m going to tell you about the time my mother took me to a nursing home after I lost the regional spelling bee.
I was a boy. I was in a horrible state of mind after losing the contest on the word “purple.” That’s right, purple.
I spelled it with one too many p’s. The word still haunts me today. Sometimes I spell the word before going to bed, just to prove I still can.
So my mother took me to a rest home. We wandered the halls, passing white-haired people who slumped in chairs.
One man hollered to me: “Jacob! Son! It’s me, Dad!” Then he started crying.
A woman touched my arm and said, “Oooohh, I love little boys with freckles.” Then, she cackled like she was going to eat me.
I was terrified, but Mama insisted I go into the recreation room without her. I almost had a nervous breakdown when the wheelchairs encircled me. But after a few minutes, all fear disappeared and I fell in love with white hair.
That’s because elderly people, you see, tell stories. Beautiful, simple, sweet, good stories.
I’ll never forget the man who saw Babe Ruth play. The REAL Babe Ruth. He recounted his tale in such vivid detail, I was practically with him in the ballpark.
And the woman who got pregnant as a teenager. She was kicked out of her home. She lived in an orphanage, with her baby. She eventually became the first female preacher I ever met. She could also tear the keys off a piano—which she did.
Those are the only stories I remember. I wish I could remember others, but if you’ll recall, I’m currently dying from jalepeño cheese dip poisoning.
When my mother drove us home, I didn’t have much to say. I was busy thinking about the stories I’d heard. I’d heard everything from tales of the Great Depression, yellow fever, the Dust Bowl, and the boll weevil.
My life hasn’t been a cakewalk. My mother was a single mother, times weren’t exactly easy. But stories do something to me. They make me feel less alone.
So Paulette, listen. I don’t know much, but I know you’re going to make it. And one day, when your hair is white, maybe you’ll tell someone your story. I believe the most beautiful thing you will ever get in this lifetime is your story.
So I’ll have to end things here—for reasons I’d rather not disclose. Remember to stay away from jalepeño cheese dip. And know that I am thinking about you.