3711 - The Happiest Day of My Life


Do You Know the happiest you’ve ever been? Can you think of the moment? If you can’t narrow it down, I bet you have a Top 5 or 10 that you could get to pretty easily.

I have a client, who interviewed a woman who sat down to write a list of the happiest moments of her life, and she stopped writing when she got to 102. I don’t know if I could get that high on my list, yet anyway. But, I am confident of the happiest moment of my life. I am absolutely aware of where I was, and if you give me long enough, I could likely still name everyone that was there with me.

It’s today, as I release this story, just 6 years ago. The day I married my wife and the love of my life, Kelly Anne Johansen. She wore a dress that I’d helped her pick out, and a simple veil tied into her beautiful curly hair. We were married in the backyard of the home we lived in at the time, under a gazebo wrapped in flowing white cloth with an antique chandelier hanging and the ceremony was officiated by one of my best friends and our eventual daughter’s godfather.

Our friends sang and played us in, then played as we danced to celebrate after “I do”.

We laughed and joked with friends until the early morning hours and then just stepped inside to enjoy our home together for the first time as husband and wife.

I am so thankful that Kelly IS my wife. Life is hard for anyone, even when you’ve been handed a million opportunities and advantages as I have been. The road is long, it always seems to be walked alone, even when you’re in a crowd and simple daily expenditures can often wipe your emotional banks clean. I have found a reservoir that lives here in my house. She fills me up, and fills my sails and pushes me to try it all again tomorrow without the heavy heart that I am so prone to. She’s brought me closer to my children, closer to my God, and closer to the truth of who I am in this world, and what my purpose is in it.

She’s the reason I ever started a single podcast, which is now my livelihood and my public identity in so many ways as well as the way that you’re taking in this very story now. So, let’s all just nod and say, ‘Thanks, Kelly!’ (whether that be in earnest or sarcasm for you individually).

The first time I ever met her, she was breathtaking. She stole my heart immediately, so it wasn’t very surprising that I stole her away from her current boyfriend. I didn’t know when I met her that this would be my story, that she was my future, but I knew she was for me. Kelly was a burning light in the middle of a fog that filled my life at the time. I could not help but hover around it, ever nearer to it, though I was terrified that it would burn me in the end.

It didn’t though. It just set me on fire too. Kelly restarted my flame in a way that I didn’t even know I needed. Everything I have created since I met her (including our daughters) is directly a response to her, and the light she shone on my life. She is my love, my Beautiful, my Honeybun and my wife, but I don’t believe I tell anyone enough, including her, that she is also my Muse.

When people tell you that I walk to the beat of my own drum, it is absolutely true. But the rhythm is all Kelly.

Thank you, Beautiful, for six years of marriage, almost eight years of love, and a lifetime of music to share with The World. I’ll keep at it, you just keep on lovin’ me, Babe. Happy Anniversary, from me and all these weirdos listening. For now, that’s our story, or part of it anyway. Thanks for listening.

My Father's Son - 3710


Growing up in the 80's it seemed that everyone's parents were divorced. Well, not everyone, but an alarming number of my friends had houses and families that were much different than mine. Mom, Dad, sister...oh, and a half sister and brother that were grown and stayed with you sometimes. Wait, what?

Having a father that had been married before he met my mother, married her and had us, NEVER connected for me with the stories of all my friends whose parents were now married to OTHER people. What the heck is a stepmom, anyways?

I pride myself on my intelligence, and always have. I've always been a precocius, interested child that was as happy or happier at the grown-ups table listening and sharing stories as at the kids table coloring and cutting up. But this issue of divorce is one that I was just plain dumb on. I very specifically remember asking my mother once around 5 or 6 if Carol (the woman my father had married in his early 20's before divorcing as he entered his 30's) was my stepmom, or could she be, since everyone else seemed to have one.

I knew she was my older brother's mom and my older sister's mom, and that seemed an awful lot like the relationships my classmates had thanks to these divorces.

Mom scoffed at first, then laughed, then warmed into a smile and spent quite a bit of time explaining the vagueries of modern American marriage. Dad met and married a woman when he was younger. They ended up divorced because that happens sometimes and marriage is hard, and then later Dad met Mom, and they fell in love and after a lot of thought, they ended up getting married and had me and my baby sister, and that's how our family looks. It's okay, it's not just like everyone else's but it's not "weird" either. And no, my Mom and Dad aren't getting a divorce. Ha.

That was my own personal after school special somewhere around 1987 while parked outside the Hughes Quik Stop to get an icee after school.

For years, I very specifically said that this was a part of Dad's life I wasn't going to copy. I knew better than he did, so surely I'd pick perfectly on that first mate and not complicate my life story and my children's lives with this step and half nonsense.

But I am my Father's son. And as bright as I am, or as righteous of us Sharpton's may be, we're are every single one of us human. And that comes with a whole lot of "I probably should've"s.

Jimmy Sharpton is a wonderfully gifted singer, with a natural ear for music and an innate ability to harmonize, riff on a melody or even imitate fairly closely an original take on something he's heard just once or twice.

His song is his joy, and an expression thereof, as he has spent more of his life whistling, singing or humming than silent or talking. This is a trait that he very thankfully passed on to me. The music is in my heart, because his blood flows through my veins.

He's a silly old man, and has been for my entire life. Full of peccadillos and quirks that would drive anyone other my mother insane after sharing a home and house with him for 40 years and counting. He clears his throat constantly and bangs his spoon against his cereal bowl incessantly and wipes down his drinking cups to clear off the condensation obsessively.

He spends hours on end watching old western serials that he's already seen, which is a mirror of the hours on end he'd spend watching hunting videos and tv shows when I was a kid.

He's got a sweet tooth, and an eye for pretty ladies and decent taste in both arenas. He loves my mother in a way that I have always appreciated, even when I didn't understand it. He loves her for her humor and her intelligence and her supreme ability to run a household, but he CRAVES her too. He longs for her presence, it calms and sustains him and I have spent my whole life hoping I'd find a love that lights me up like his love for her charges him like a duracell. I'm so glad I have found it. Even if it took me two tries as well.

As I've grown, I've learned that Dad really did have a whole life before he met Jamie and I came on the scene. Imagine that? 34 years can hold a lot of living, as my 37 reminds me when I bend over too fast. Just this year, I learned, for instance, that Dad rode the rodeo circuit for a period. That may have even caused some head trauma that he's seeing the effects of now, though that's a bit of a long shot.

I didn't know about the rodeo, but I did grow up hearing stories about his tournament fishing days (there were patches and some awards around the house when I was small), his move to deer hunting and how it CRUSHED all his other hobbies and interests outside carpentry.

I had heard the stories about how he missed Vietnam because he'd been water skiing in early March and his physical showed spots on his lungs (pneumonia that he didn't know he had yet). How he tried college, but ended up shooting pool more than going to class and dropped out after one semester. How he worked with his father during high school and was making more than hired mill hands when he graduated so he just went into business and started building houses.

I remember how hard he pushed me to do something else with my life. Use my head and sit at a big desk and push papers or ideas instead of hammering nails. Where I ended up isn't where he wanted me, but I do know that he's proud of where I am. I know because he tells me.

My Dad wasn't and isn't perfect. But he always showed and shared his love. He hugged us, and kissed us and held us when we cried, even when it was him that had made us cry. He always told me he was proud of me, not just my achievements or abilities, but me. And he means it too.

Jimmy Sharpton is a complicated man, who I have disagreed with more than anyone else on earth most likely just because I've been confronted with so much of him over the years. But there is no one I'd rather call my father. There is no one I'd rather see beside my mother, and no one I'd rather have my children call 'Opa' (Dutch for Grandfather).

So much of who I am is a direct result of who he is, and for that I am eternally thankful. Even my rough edges remind me of where we came from and how far we can go from there when we put our incredibly hard heads to it.

Today, Dad turns 72 and is enjoying some of those sweets he likes so much, and almost definitely watching a western. I can't be with him, but he is always with me, flowing through my veins, echoing in my ears and pushing me to use my head while I'm being led by my heart.

I love you, Dad. Happy birthday from me and all these weirdos listening.

For now, I'm Joel. That's my story, or one of them anyway. Thanks for listening.

3709 - My Baby Sister

My younger sister and I grew up with two friends, both the daughters of one of our Mom's friends from childhood. One sister was JUST older than me. One sister JUST older than my sister, Jena. These two made natural playmates and we're all still friendly to this day, though none of see each other as much as we'd like.

The younger sister had some reading difficulty when she was in school, and at age 16 was recounting her experience of taking the driving test with assistance to my sister, Jena.

The friend said that she'd had the written portion of the test read aloud and because of that she wasn't worried at all about how she'd done as that one went on. She felt confident in every answer. My sister was flabbergasted. "They'll read the test out loud to you?" she said. The friend answered, "Sure, if you need it."

Jena, my genius of sister, and I say that without humor at all, she really is brilliant, answers back settling it in her own mind.

"Of course they'd have to read the driver's test out loud. At least for the blind people, you know?"

This has been a joke retold and short-handed for laughter amongst the family ever since. It's Sharpton mythology now (although she really did say it. It took her a few moments to realize her mistake even). It's one of the first stories I think about when I think of her, and I've told all my children and made them promise they'll tell it at her funeral one day a million years from now.

What do you say about your first best friend? Your oldest confidant? The one that covered for you with mom and commiserated with you about dad and helped you soak up all the spoils that nana and papaw laid out?

Jena is the bomb, to the use the parlance of my time. The bomb dot com even. She's got decent taste in music and great taste in men (Hey, Sam!) and two of the cutest nephews I could ever wish for.

She and I were roommates for 3 years in college and she's by far the neatest roommate I ever had (if not the friendliest all the time). She put up with bad girlfriends and bad breakups and bad odors from my end of the house, all with only the minimal necessary "tsk, tsk'ing" and "You should know better"ing.

I've learned a million lessons from and through Jena, but the one I wish I had a better grasp of is the magic trick that she started when we were both children.

We'd get birthday money, or Christmas money or maybe money for mowing the yard or house chores, and mine would immediately feed the 80's or 90's north Louisiana economy through purchase and commerce. Jena's meanwhile, was sunken. Buried at the bottom of one of her chest of drawers. Then, suddenly, she'd want to go shopping, or there would be a big sale at the mall or some event she got invited to and boom, she'd bring out this fat stack of cash from the magic money multiplying drawer. She's still pretty good about that, honestly. And she never taught that trick to big bro. Hint, hint!

She did teach me that patience is often better than pressure. "Bless you" can be as mean as "F you". Jenga is a game that is about more than just rebuilding the tower over and over. That when you lose someone you love, as long as you remember them, they're never gone.

She taught me that Jena has one N, a soft E and one of the biggest hearts I've ever known.

Thanks for being my sister, my sidekick and occasionally my shoulder to cry on. I hope I was at least occasionally good at paying that back, even if I never paid back the cash. Happy happy birthday, seester. I hope it's a great one.

For now, I’m Joel, this is my story or one of them anyway, thanks for listening.

3708 - The First to Call Me 'Daddy'


11 years ago as I record this, I had just won the jackpot of fatherhood with my eldest son, Judah. I have often said that Judah fell out of the womb taking care of himself, and while the meaning (Judah has always been a very self-sufficient and easy-going child) is true, his arrival was anything but easy.

I was telling him just last night, that last night a decade and one more year ago, his mother and I hurried to the hospital to check in just after midnight, expecting a kid no later than mid-morning. When midnight came again and still no Jude the dude, we were perplexed. Also, we were trivia-less. Everyone knew the celebrities born on January 22nd, and world events thereof.

Judah was a ninja from the beginning. He snuck in behind us, then hid in the canopy until we weren’t expecting him anymore. SNEAK ATTACK!

He has all the good looks of his mother’s family and mine, and all of the emotional empathy of both sides combined. He’s like the emotional Captain Planet for our extended squad, “With your powers combined, I am CAPTAIN UNDERSTANDING!!”

He’s slow to anger, quick to deescalate a situation and always up to cheer on the team, especially when the rest of the team doesn’t feel like cheering. I’ve watched his interests and abilities expand and shift as he’s edged and then fallen full on into his preteen years. He is literally a joy to me, and while I know I tell him, I sure hope he knows it’s true.

He’s the first kid to call me ‘daddy’. He’ll be the first I have to get used to being on his own. The first that lives somewhere else full time. The first that has a house of his own, with rules of his own (as I so often remind the four kids they can have one day, if they just grow up and get jobs). He’s the first that I got to know as a “person” outside of being my child.

That line is mysterious and different for every child, and obviously everyone has personality from the beginning. But, there’s a moment when you realize “This little clone of mine, is actually NOT just me, or even some stew of what I am and what his mother is, this is another person. And he’s going to have likes, dislikes, thoughts and opinions on almost everything that might have nothing at all to do with my own.” That’s a scary moment, the monster is loose from the dungoen. But, also, it’s a triumphant moment when you get a glimpse of the future when you and the next link in your personal chain of humanity can share notes on what the hell this has all been about, and where do we try to swing it from here.

Someone to talk to. Someone to play games with. Someone to go to the movies with. But no matter how they’re alike or how they differ from you, you’ll know ALL the backstory on this one. You’re there from the ground floor. Which makes every new discovery amazing. And makes every old story a new discovery.

I cannot wait to show him films like Jaws (his young heart still can’t take it but he’s going to love those characters all so much when it can), The Godfather (He’s so much Michael in the ways Michael is meant to be and could be a hero that the tragic fall will hit him as hard as it ever did me, even if he doesn’t love the films as much as I do), and funnily enough, The Big Lebowski. 1st. It’s my favorite film, which he’s asked about a few times, and every one should be given a chance to fall in love with it. But also 2nd, because he’s one of those kids who both understands the useful application of profanity (and the inherent comical nature of it when properly applied), but also the kind of kid you don’t have to worry about repeating everything he hears or finds funny. This movies use of the more colorful parts of language will blow his (let’s say, 16-18 depending?) year old mind!

In the last year and a half or so, we've already taken advantage of this. Kelly will share the occasional 'not so child-friendly' meme or video with him alone. He'll laugh and enjoy it with us, but the real tickle is watching him crack himself up thinking about it later, while everyone else is doing something else entirely. Or even better yet, one of the other kids makes a comment that references the video, but doesn't know it and Judah will catch mine or Kelly's eye and then burst out into laughter. It. Is. The. Best.

He loves movies, and family movie nights, and even when the rest of the kids have given up to play some game (or all the games at once) upstairs, he’s still right there on the couch with me and Kelly, or even by himself if we’re doing housework, engaged and enraptured in a good story well told.

I don’t know whether he’ll end up being a storyteller in his own right, but I do know he’ll have stories to tell. No matter how he reveals them to us. I also know that I am beyond priviledged and humbled to share in the first parts of it. I hope I’ll see as much of it as is at all reasonable, and then that his story continues on for longer than mine ever would or could. I can guarantee you Judah’s story is a good one.

Happy birthday, from Dad, and all these other weirdos listening.

For now, I’m Joel, that’s his story. Or one of them anyways. Thanks for listening.

3707 - Wrasslin’


If you make a list of historical events I lived through, moments that I can not only recall the event, or what was said, but just how I felt about it at the time, there are big ones like 9/11 in my third year of college. the inaugurations of George H. W and George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. I remember the OJ trial in high school, I remember when the Starr report was released during high school, but the one that I go back to in my mind most frequently and with the most fondness is the moment that Hulk Hogan picked Andre the Giant up over his head and then threw him down to the mat, eventually winning the WWF Championship belt.

It was 1987. I was 6, and my grandfather and I watched it live on Pay Per View while the rest of the family were at Sunday night services. It was the greatest thing I'd ever seen, and even now, watching it on YouTube or the WWE Network app can give me chills.

Hulk Hogan is far from my favorite wrestler at this point. Even when I had a subscription to the network (I don't have an active one as I release this episode), I don't generally watch new events, I watch the old stuff and the documentary series about the old stuff. I'm not what you would call a wrestling fan, by almost any stretch of the imagination, at least in my current life. But, I will forever love the squared circle, and all the chicanery that two (or more) big, burly men can get up to in and around it.

Wrestling was for me at 6 a real life version of the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon I so loved at the same time. Real life giant good guys and bad guys, exploding out of my screen and into my heart. I had action figures, and "wrasslin' buddies" and video tapes and Papaw and I would buy at least 3 or 4 pay per views every year.

The WWF was basically just for TV, but the WCW actually visited our area and Papaw and I were there in person to see Sting and the Steiners and Ric Flair and a host of others, slugging it out and stomping for emphasis on the punches and selling the angle and pushing the face over the heel, almost every single time.

I love Hogan and Savage and Warrior and Rhodes. I love Flair and the Firebirds and Steamboat and Stinger.

When the "sport" was reborn with the Attitude era, I was there, flipping back and forth every Monday night. I followed the Outsiders, the NWO, Mick Foley and more. I also found an even better way to watch Pay Per View, as a buddy had a hacked satellite dish and a desire to host folks on Sunday nights. I spent at least two Sundays a month at Clarence's house with a rotating cast of friends from high school cheering for this good guy or that heel and loving every single minute of it.

Why do I still hold this fondness for wrestling? Why do these moments mean so much to who I am?

They were morality plays performed in a manner that made them impossibly pleasant to swallow whole for a boy my age, learning to be the person I’d grow to become. When Hogan was at his height, I did need to take my vitamins, say my prayers and work hard. When Nash and Hall “destroyed” the WCW, I was driving for the first time, applying to colleges and trying to wrap my head around moving out of my parent’s house to become “a grownup”. When The Rock became Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson and better known for The Fast and the Furious than the People’s Elbow, I was having kids and happy to get to see my idol once a year instead of every Monday night (plus one Sunday a month).

As my kids reached the age where they might need a simple good vs. evil story to drive something home (and also really enjoy a properly performed moonsault), the WWE Network was there to give us affordable Sunday PPV’s, but also an easy forum to show them my favorite moments and memories from a lifetime of loving these larger than life superstars.

Wrestling taught me how to put on a show, how to show up every night, and that no matter how tired you are or how long the road trip has been, some kid is always watching you. So give them what they came for.

For now, I’m Joel, this is my story or one of them anyway, thanks for listening.

3706 - Mama


In recent years especially, the concept of income inequality has become something that more and more people are aware of or concerned about. As a raging liberal myself, it's something I consider often. But, as a lover of justice, I’m also worried about a more burning issue confronting the whole of humanity, not just our particular geo-located region of it, and that’s an inequality in Mothering.

I am the sad bearer of the news that every single one of you listening to this has been suffering from a significant lack of mothering. I know this, because I had the very best one. And while she was and is generous with her time and affection, she's only mother to four of us anywhere, and the rest of you are just SOL.

Jamie Lynn was born in Mer Rouge, Louisiana. She graduated from Prairie View Academy, then Louisiana Tech University and sent my sister and I on to both once it was our time.

Funny and fiery and faithful and always up for a fight when she sees her babies or her friends and family wronged, Jamie is more than I deserve as a Mom. She's been my confidant, and my cheerleader, my bankroll and my boss. She never gave up being my parent in order to be my friend, but she also never let being my parent get in the way of treating me like a human being.

She is the best role model I could ever have for raising these four children of mine.

She finished college (the first in her family to do so) in just three years. Then began a career in the public school system. She taught my older brother's generation, and mine ten years later and was still there as an administrator and support staff when my sons started to school. She poured her blood, sweat, tears and lots of disposable income into the hearts and minds of the children of Morehouse Parish for the better part of 40 years, so if any of them are you, you're welcome.

But you still didn't get all of my mama.

You didn't get the snack cabinet, full of so many different kinds of goodies that every friend I have that spent any time in my house as a child STILL talks about it.

You didn't get the sleepovers and slumber parties where she’d ring-lead the games or card playing, but then disappear appropriately to the back so the kids could talk freely about their parents and their teachers and the trashy movie we were inevitably watching on mom and dad’s TV.

You didn’t get counsel, like more than one friend of mine did when they went through a pregnancy scare and couldn’t talk to their own parents, but knew they could count on my mom. I’ve always counted on my mom.

She beat lupus and the Louisiana Board of Education and more than a couple bosses who were sure they didn’t need a Jamie Sharpton in their way. She has slowly trained my father into a very decent human being to live with (of course she finished this job after my sister and I no longer lived with him), and has turned into quite a decorator in her retirement as they’ve remodeled the house from one end to the other.

Her greatest achievement though is in the 4 children she helped raise, the now 9 grandchildren she’s helping spoil and the innumberable students she’s helped mold during her time in and around the classroom. And unless your name is Jena or Angie or Jason, you didn’t get all that in your mama. And for that, I’m a little bit sorry.

Again, none of this is a swing at your mom, I’m certain she’s a wonderful human being, but when the bar is set as high as mine was, there’s not a lot left to worry about except who comes in second place.

I don’t call enough, I don’t visit enough, I DID give her plenty of grandchildren, so I’m square on that front at least. I do know that she’s proud of me, often even when she’s confused by me, and I find that less confusing the older my kids get.

If your mom is still alive, and she’s not a psychopath, because God and I both know, the role of motherhood doesn’t exempt anyone from that possibility, then even if she isn’t Jamie Lynn, you should call her today. You should visit her the next chance you get. Because I’ve already watched my mom say goodbye to hers for the last time. And I’m not taking any of those chances for granted.

And now that you’re already crying, I love you, Mom. Happy birthday.

For now, I’m Joel, this is my story or one of them anyway, thanks for listening.

3705 - Strip Battleship


If you're telling the story of your life, it's likely that there will be at least a chapter or two about love. I've already told you these stories aren't coming in order of importance, but no matter which order I tell them in, there are inherently going to be a few stories about women that aren't currently married to me. One way to mitigate any potential issues with that? Talk about your wife first.

I'm not ready to tell the whole story of Kelly, and God knows she's more than one chapter in this narrative, but I do have an aspect of our relationship that I'd like to share with you now.

When I met Kelly I had been separated for over a year. January to January again and then on to May. I had also already rushed into a relationship with someone badly matched for me that had broken my already badly wounded heart. I was not interested in a serious relationship.

Every single "rule" I made to slow down or impede mine and Kelly spending time with each other, I almost immediately broke. Panicked at my growing feelings for her, I even tried to chase her off once (something she occasionally, lovingly reminds me of still).

But I was unsuccessful in my attempts to shake loose of this fiery redhead, not because she chased me down but because I am preternaturally and uncontrollably drawn to her. I cannot help but want to be around her, and it has been this way since the moment I first saw her.

I want to hold her hand, and stroke her hair. I want to smell her and kiss her and squeeze her. I want to be below her and above her and inside and around her. It's an all-encompassing desire that I'm only recently coming to understand can be completely overwhelming for Kelly too. Imagine that?

Mind you, it’s not just a physical thing. It’s at least as much pschological and emotional as physical. I feel better when she’s around. I am agitated and uncomfortable when she’s not. I am a real mess when we’re fighting and actively avoiding each other.

Am I in general a very touchy person? Not especially, although I've always been physically affectionate in a romantic relationship. But the draw for Kelly is deeper and more powerful than that natural inclination. I don't just want to "pet" her, I want to be WITH her, always. Because of this, (and her awareness of my ailment) it's basically impossible for me to stay angry with her. There is (so far) no level of frustration or miscommunication that she cannot instantly disarm with a kiss, or a squeeze of my butt, or even a ribald joke or saucy wink.

Does the nuclear disarmament extend both ways? Not at all. In fact, a butt pat during an argument coming from my direction is liable to escalate not dissipate hostilities. It's really no fair at all.

To her credit, more often than not she indulges my interest and generally finds my attention flattering rather than a nuisance. And perhaps because of this she’s very capable of surprising me, even 7 years after we met, and surprise me she does all the time.

A perfect example is the night we unpacked a box from my old closet at Mom and Dad’s and found an Electric Battleship game set. Kelly immediately suggested we play. I scoffed, "Battleship? You and me are gonna play Battleship together at 10:30 at night?"

Her eyes twinkled, and her mouth curled into a smirk as she answered, "Yeah. Strip Battleship!"

I've loved playing games my whole life, from Solitaire and War that my Papaw taught me before I could count, to Monopoly when no one else in the family could stand to sit through a game, to Canasta which my Nana taught me how to cheat at, to Settlers of Catan with my buddies Josh and Richard for the last few years, I've always loved games.

But until you've sunk a battleship and then been rewarded not only with the electric alarm of an early 90's microchip recorded voice but also with the woman of your dreams and the love of your life slipping out of her skivvies, friend, you haven't played anything.

I lost the game in the end, by the way. But if you're playing with the right person and playing for your clothes, are there ever really any losers?

It's not all naked board games and drive-thru daiquiris around here. Most of the time, we've got our hands full raising four rambunctious kiddos and building an empire to support the six of us. But it's nice on a random weekday morning, between a grocery run and carline pickup to spend an idle moment or two remembering that long after the kids are grown and gone, and the bills are all paid and the job is done, your love will be right there beside you, ready to sink your battleship all the way through retirement.

For now, I'm Joel. This is my story, or one of them anyway. Thanks for listening.

3704 - The House on Haynie


From 1982 to 1995 my family and I lived in one house. Haynie Avenue, a little yellow three bedroom one bath with a separate two car covered carport (with laundry room attached).

When I think about the house a FLOOD of images come over me. The first one is the back door. Glass, roll out slats over a screen. We perpetually seemed to have a broken slat or two. I’m sure I was never the cause of any of those breaks.

I think of the front porch, my weird porcelin dog sculpture that sat there until it literally turned to dust one day, the giant church pew repurposed as a bench for Grandma to sit and widdle on or Mom to sit and watch us play in the front yard.

I think about the basketball goal and the countless hours of badly played hoops it saw from me and dad and my brother and sisters. I think about the “junk room” that was my brother’s bedroom when he joined us again on occasion. I remember the roll out bed under my sister’s daybed that I’d sleep on more often than not, because I couldn’t stand to sleep alone.

I remember the recurring nightmare I had of drumming on the roof of the carport while sitting on a giant stool, only for the stool to disappear and me to tumble to the ground. Waking up just before the fall would have killed me for sure. It’s weird what a house means to you decades after the fact. The things you recall and the things you’ve forgotten.

I remember the hole in the wall in my bedroom paneling, the bunk beds and the water bed and million promises, bribes, threats and otherwise to get me to stay in my bed no matter what shape it took.

I remember watching Die Hard with the family on VHS, and buying a new TV and VCR because the old ones looked terrible when we tried to watch Die Hard 2. I remember hidden Frito Lay chips in Dad’s underwear drawer, the toddler potty that got used occasionally until my sister and I were in junior high (because we were a family of sometimes six with one bathroom!). I remember Micah’s house behind us and Mama Rushing across the street and Ellie and Jenny next door. I remember mowing Ms. Dean’s yard, and biking to buy her a carton of cigarettes and I remember a time when a 10 year old buying smokes for the old lady next door sounded like a nice guesture and not child abuse of some sort.

I remember the built in shelves that seemed to overflow with toys (and the envy and awe on friend’s faces when they saw it). I remember good times, and laugh and love and a little too much family togetherness for those 13 years. I remember my home.

But, as a reminder that all is transient and nothing is permanent, I also remember that my mom and dad suffered for the first three weeks or so that they lived on Haynie Avenue as baby Joel cried and screamed because he missed the “old home”, one that adult Joel doesn’t even recall. Home is where you make it, and we made a hell of a home on Haynie.

For now, I’m Joel, this is my story or one of them anyway, thanks for listening.

Grandma sewing on the front porch pew, and weirdly enough my porcelain dog statue in the background. 

Grandma sewing on the front porch pew, and weirdly enough my porcelain dog statue in the background. 

3703 - Grandma Sharpton


Bertha Jewel McWaters Sharpton gave birth to four children from the time she was 17 until after she turned 40. I waited a decade after her to have my first son, and if you confronted me with the prospect of us having a new baby three years from now, I’d confront you with a swift kick in the teeth.

My point is, Bertha has my admiration before we ever begin to dig into who she was and how she did all that was required of her to bring those four children into the world and carry them through the 20th century safe and sound far enough to leave behind a sprawling family tree with roots and branches across the country and fruit too numerous to count.

Born on the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor, just 31 years early, Grandma Sharpton was a firecracker from birth. She loved poetry and remembered into her final days the poems and songs they taught her in school,

“All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wondeful the Lord God made them all”

She also remembered the longest word in the dictionary (and how they’d taught her to spell it sylabically), “an-anti-antidis-antidises-antidisestab-antidisestablish-antidisestablishment-antidisestablishmentary-antidisestablismentarian-antidisestablishmentarianis-antidisestablishmentariansm. Good Lord, class must have been long.

She knew the Bible, and could quote it which wasn’t really surprising since as long as I knew her it was all she ever read. And she read it sooooo much. My father had always “run references” as he called it reading the Bible and comparing notes in different commentaries, dictionaries and biblical encyclopedias. But Grandma just read the bible. Like it was the daily paper, her favorite novel and roadmap for her next journey all in one. And, you know, she would have said it was. That it is.

I loved Grandma for one thing more than anything else and I don’t mind telling you even now years after her death. The woman made the best biscuits that have ever been made and while my culinary tastes are not extensively broad, they are DEEP with knowledge and experience in a few avenues and I know biscuits.

Cathead biscuits is what Grandma Sharpton made. Big, ugly, delicious. with muscadine jelly or moonshine syrup or a big pat of butter or (if you were like me) just plain jane hot and fresh out of the oven, literally as many as you could stand to eat before they got cold or your stomach betrayed you. If I was on death row and had a last meal, my Grandma’s cathead biscuits is really what I would want, no matter what the kitchen might be able to provide. When I get to Heaven, one of the things I’m most looking forward to is being able to eat those cathead biscuits without the stomach pains or the poor substitution that my own cooking has been for the nearly 20 years she’s been gone.

My point is these biscuits were good, friend. You know why? Lard. None of that box crap, Grandma didn’t need a mix. She’d be in the kitchen, 20 or 30 minutes before anyone else was awake, mixing up a giant bowl and beating out those biscuits by hand. And God bless her for it.


Dad was allowed in the kitchen to cook the biscuits, or more precisely to manage the insertion to and removal from the oven. But the prep was all Grandma. She put more than lard into them of course. There was buttermilk and flour and lots and lots of love. And that’s the ingredient that I can’t find at the grocery these days. I sure do miss it, and her...and those biscuits.

I could tell you about how Hershel married her at 16 after only finishing the 9th grade and how in later years when he’d ask if she ever had wanted to go back to school, she’d smart back, “Well, Hershel, if I had I wouldn’ta never married you!”

I could tell you about the time Grandpa cut a tree down on her (she was fine mostly), I could tell you about the time she told Hershel he was about to get his finger bitten by a giant rabbit (and he did). I could tell you about the time right before she passed away, when she introduced me as her son and my mother as my wife and told us all about the bus ride she was on to Oak Ridge (hundreds of miles and decades in the past at this point in her life).

But the story I want to tell you is about how the same mountain that killed Grandpa Sharpton, the mountain he and Grandma had been born on nearly a century before, tried and failed to kill Grandma too. Because that’s just how bad a b*$%# Grandma was.

After Grandpa’s death in 1982, Grandma discovered a whole new world. She learned how to drive (though she didn’t continue that for very long afterwards), learned how to balance a checkbook, run her house and affairs etc. She lived on her own throughout the 80’s and 90’s visiting family often for extended periods but always returning to Chandler Mountain. One Sunday after church, she made lunch, collected her scraps and went outside to throw them off the ledge as she always did. But it had been misty that morning, her slippers were slick on the moss and rock and maybe her footing not as sure as it was in her youth. No one was with her, so we’re not exactly sure what happened, but to hear her tell it, her feet just went out from under her and she went off the cliff.

That would have been the end of Grandma, just as it was the end of Grandpa, but fate and a forgotten trash dump had other ideas in mind. There was a “burn barrell” an empty metal barrel used to burn trash since garbage pickup wasn’t as common up on the mountain, that had outlived its usefulness and been dropped over the side was wedged between two outcroppings of rock. Sitting solid side up, this half of a barrel was like a metal saddle just waiting there to catch Bertha on the way down.

And it did. She was bruised and battered, shocked and in the end suffering from a shattered leg that had been pulled back behind her a bit unnaturally. But alive, and amazingly, unshaken. Bertha waited for hours for her eventual rescue, and it was only her regular church attendence with some friends that in the end meant she was found at all. They pulled in to pick her up as usual, found her absent, and after seeing her clothes laid out on the bed, and other things “undone” around the house conducted a thorough search outside and found her, hollering up that if they’d help her she was sure she could climb out.

When the rescue workers arrived later to climb down and pull her up, once again she suggested that if they’d straighten her leg out she’d be fine.

She wasn’t in the end. The leg healed slowly and not completely, age and dementia eventual set in as she rounded her 90’s and in the end she never moved back fully to Chandler Mountain after that. The house has been sold and sold again since then, it’s no longer in our family or even a friend of the family. But the neighbors are still friends and every few years we happen by there to say hi to Grandma and Grandpa.

You might think for someone who nearly lost both his grandparents to the mountain it would be a place of dread or fear. But it never has been. Anytime I stand there on the cliff now I think of what Grandma told her friends when they asked what she’d done while she waited for rescue there, hanging off the edge of the cliff on that piece of a barrel.

"Well, I sang some, and prayed a bit, she said and sighed. But more than anything it was the birds that kept me company. They came and sang me to me while I waited.”

Grandma Sharpton was a tough old bird. But on the side of Chandler Mountain that day we discovered she’d been a Disney princess all along too.

For now, I’m Joel, this is my story or one of them anyway, thanks for listening.


3702 - Grandpa Sharpton


My Grandpa Sharpton was the kind of mythological creature who could only exist pre-video cameras. There may be some 16 mm film out there somewhere in a cousin's attic rotting that holds the moving image of my paternal grandfather, but I doubt it, and I definitely haven't seen it.

He died in 1981, months before my 1st birthday. I met him, but I don't remember him. So, why I am telling you stories about him? Because the myth of the man, is as foundational to me as any biological imperative thrust upon me by my father's father and his father before him. The stories of the man are not only an imperfect reflection of who he really was (as distilled by those family members with more actual exposure to him and more grey in their temples than me to show for it), but more accurately, those stories tell me what my family wants us to be about and made of it. The story of where we hope we came from (or of what we hope we can do in a lifetime, perhaps).

My grandfather was born, Hershel Sharpton, he has another name but he liked it so little that he begged my father to keep it from his headstone, so I'll keep it out of this podcast too. The world of Alabama in the 1890's is about as hard for me to imagine as the world of Columbus or Aristotle for that matter. Nevermind the computers on which I am sending this message to you and earn my daily bread, but space travel, planes even automobiles weren't a reality when my father's father reckoned first what his place in the world might be.

His place, was that of a sharecropper, or so I'm told. Eventually rising to foreman and running other sharecroppers (mostly poor white farmers like Hershel, but also the occasional African-American farmer and family making their way in the post-reconstruction, Jim Crow era south). Imagining the relationship between the sons of former slave owners (my family doesn't have any record of slave ownership, but Al Sharpton's last name suggests some branch likely was involved in the illicit trade somewhere), and the sons of former slaves (or former slaves themselves) to be anything other than contentious is pretty hard. The historical records and reports I've read from the time, suggest "contentious" would be the kindest and gentlest way you could describe this era.

What kind of a man was Grandpa? A son of a bitch, to hear just about anyone tell it. An alcoholic, a fighter, a woman abuser when he had the chance (my grandmother held her own more often than not and prevented what would have surely been more serious incidents). Grandpa Sharpton was a hard man in a hard time.

A story for illustration, to make you laugh probably, but also to ensure that we don't think too highly of Grandpa, at least for the here and now.

Hershel had spent a night carousing and filling his liver when he was literally carried through the door of his home by his slightly less inebriated companion and long-time friend. Grandma Sharpton, Bertha Jewel McWaters Sharpton, all 5'2" of her stood there just inside the doorway in the dim light of the kitchen.

"Bertha, is that you?" the friend asked, struggling now under Hershel's weight. "Let me in the house. I'm gonna put Hershel in his bed for you."

"No, you're not." comes the answer from Bertha. "He's drunk and he'll piss the bed. I'm not gonna have it. You can let him sleep it off right there on the floor." She stood her ground.

The friend, now flabbergasted (and increasingly exhausted) shouts, "Bertha, this is Hershel's house, and that's his bed. Now I'm gonna put him in it and you're gonna get out my way."

Bertha raised what was now clearly a shotgun in her hands, pointing at the friend and answered, "No you're not. You're gonna lay him right there on the floor or I'm gonna shoot your balls off."

And, as Grandma confirmed to me many times in the years since when family would tell the story, she would have too.

That's the kind of woman it took to be married to Hershel in those years. She gave him two daughters early, and a daughter and son later, my father being the baby boy.

Alright, while we're all chuckling about Grandpa pissing the bed, and the friend pissing his pants thanks to Grandma's reserve and steady aim. The most important thing in my telling you that story isn't that it happened or not. I don't know to be honest. but it's a part of the myth that a family tells about a man. The "before" to the eventual "after".

So, what came after the booze, and the bumbling and the beast that was my grandfather once he hit the ripe old age of 40? A no-foolin' Damascus Road full-on conversion experience. Hershel Sharpton found Jesus, or more accurately, Jesus found him. And the only reason it happened, I remain convinced, is because my Grandmother was standing beside him shining the world's biggest lighthouse to ensure her Lord found her husband, and vice versa.


And, seemingly, it took. Not only did he stop drinking and fighting and beating on whoever might earn his wrath, but Hershel even surrendered himself to the call of the ministry and spent the rest of his life, building churches physically and from the pulpit.

A carpenter, a preacher and a hard-nosed man even in redemption, Grandpa left a big family and a bigger legacy. But he left enough broken memories and bad habits to cause complications for generations to come too. Thus is the way of father's, and thus our curse extends.

If there is Karma and the above story of the sharecropper is true, Grandpa paid his share, however late. In 1981, he and my grandmother were living in their retirement atop Chandler Mountain. Helping hang gliders was a common past-time of grandpas and one of his greatest joys in life. The activity itself was beyond his physical capacity, but watching humans take flight was still something that fascinated the man born before the airplane.

He was helping that day, as a group of hang gliders went off the cliff to the valley below. Finishing preparation for the next flight, he just ducked down instead of moving away completely as the glider went off. But it was windy. Unusually windy. Too windy to fly, probably but fly they did.

The glider went off the cliff but dipped to the side first, snagging my grandfather’s shirt, dragging him off the cliff as well. He was aware though, and actually grabbed a hold of the glider frame, balancing with the man strapped in and they actually might have succeeded in making it to the ground, but there was a tree in their path 20 or 30 feet from the cliff’s edge. They hit it, my grandfather came loose. The glider crash landed, breaking the pilot’s legs. Hershel Sharpton fell to his death.

I never knew the man. Which is strange as I carry on his name, give it to my children and dream of theirs someday far off in the future carrying that same simple name. Thus is the way of families, I suppose. Branded with our families deeds and misdeeds both culturally and genetically.

Frankly, I don't know how much the man that died in 1982 would have liked the man I am 36 years later, but I do imagine he'd have been impressed with the grinding wheels of time on his own tendencies and traits. What would he see that had lasted through the generational cycles? And what would be totally foreign? How much of my “myth” would he see in the man he’d meet in me?

I didn’t promise you answers, or neatly wrapped drops of knowledge in this series. I just promised you me. So for now, I’m Joel, this is my story or one of them anyway, thanks for listening.


3701 - Me and Mom’s Grand Prix


My name is Joel Eutaw Sharpton. Eutaw with an E at the front a W at the end and a long story behind it for another day. I was born in Morehouse Parish General Hospital on the morning of September 21, 1981. 37 years ago today as I release this podcast episode.

I am, and have always been a poor southern red-faced white boy. I’m the son of a carpenter and a school teacher, the grandson of a preacher and a cafateria supervisor. I’m a podcaster, a writer a father of four and twice-married husband of one beautiful redhead. I love Jesus and justice and Lebron James.

I like Nintendo, and I love Nina Simone and I NEED to watch The Godfather series at least once every couple of years. I grew up on Alfred Hitchcock on Nick at Nite and 80’s comedies on HBO and country music on my parent’s radio. I love K.T. Oslin and Ricky Skaggs and Elvis singing gospel and it’s my Nana’s and Daddy’s and Mama’s faults respectively.

3 years ago I started my own business, 3 years from now I’ll be 40. To say I’m in the thick of it, is an understatement. But I love my life as much now as ever before, and every day is an exciting discovery.

I’ve been writing publicly since 2004, podcasting since 2012 and I never shut up. I’ve told my story a bunch of ways to a bunch of people but I’ve never told all of it, and I’ve never told it like this. I want my own voice, my own story for my own recollection if nothing else. Maybe someday my kids will enjoy the ability to stroll through dear old dad’s mind, in this snapshot in time.

So, here’s what you’ll get, if you’re along for the ride. 37 stories of me. One for every year so far and all before I celebrate another trip around the sun. The people who made me, the things I love, and how I got to where I am, in my head, in my heart and my home. 37 Sharpton Stories, Joel flavored, every one. And all starting now.

When I think of “my mom’s car” I picture two, no matter what she’s driving currently. I think of a Mitsibishi Expo “the marshmallow” which I might have a story for another day, and I think of the Grand Prix.

It was gold. Or champagne, or sickly yellow depending on who you’re asking or what picture you’re looking at. It was a two door, and it was (in my memory) roughly 30 feet long. In reality, I think it was a bit less. An early 80’s model, 81 or 82, it was Mom’s pride and joy before her loving children destroyed it slowly with “love” over the rest of the decade. But the destruction started that very first year, with my head and the dashboard trim.

I of course remember none of this, but I retell it as a reminder that I (and most or many of you likely) grew up at time when such a thing could happen.

Mom was carrying me (carseats weren’t mandatory) in the front seat (airbags didn’t exist) of the grand prix when she and dad had an accident and baby Joel was flung into the dashboard. Thankfully, driving while holding a baby was frowned upon even back then. So, I didn’t encounter the steering wheel. The dashboard of the early 80’s Pontiac Grand Prix was expansive, faux wood grain in this model and broken up only by a thick shiny silver plastic piece of trim right down the middle horizontally. My noggin, cracked the plastic trim dead center of the passenger side.

We rode that car to Alabama and Arkansas and all over Louisiana for more than a decade and the trim was never replaced. Thankfully, my noggin didn’t need replacing and other than a bruise and a minor scratch I was left with no permanent damage...that we know of.

Of course, I’d be lying if that was even the worst time they dropped me on my head! But that’s a different story. For a different episode.

These aren’t in order of importance, so if I don’t talk about you yet, don’t get your panties in a twist, I’m sure you’re coming further on down the road. For now, I’m Joel, this is my story or one of them anyway, thanks for listening.

Episode 17: How to Make Your (Podcasting) Hobby Pay, When Your Show Doesn't

Joel Sharpton speaks at PMx as part of Podcast Movement 2016 at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Chicago about his journey towards independence and how narrating audiobooks is one simple method many if not all podcasters can adopt. Thanks to Ramona Rice, host of The Sports Gal Pal podcast and Community Manager for Podcast Websites, for the introduction. Visit http://joelsharpton.com/pmx/ to download my Tips and Tricks. 

Episode 16: Why I Read Weird - 40 Years of Interview with the Vampire

As a kid I read anything and everything I could get my hands on. My sons both love to read but I wonder sometimes about how much I read when I was a kid versus what they read and how I was able to cram in so much. Then I remember there was no iPad or iPhone. The Gameboy lasted about three hours and took a million AA batteries to do it, and cartoons only came on on Saturdays.

So I read. I remember superfudge and Ramona quimby. Encyclopedia Brown, and the Babysitters club. And, while I was a big fraidy cat, I also loved "scary" books. First Bunnicula and The Celery Stalks at Night, then Goosebumps, then Christopher Pike's "Chainletter" and The Last Vampire.

Those Teen novels were my thing by the time I was ten, so when two summers later I found The Tale of the Body Thief at my aunt's house and read the prologue from Lestat, it made sense that I was instantly hooked.

Lestat was arrogant and impetuous. Powerful and prideful. Exotic and exhilarating. He was my favorite fictional character I'd ever found.

So, I asked my aunt what was up with this book and the French vampire with the funny name. She explained the series, four books at the time and now originally it was Lestat's partner Louis who began it all in Interview with the Vampire.

At the end of my trip to see my aunt, I visited the library back home and promptly searched the card catalog for this Anne Rice and her interviewed vampire. I found the large gold foil wrapped hardback copy and made my way to the desk to check it out.

But I was foiled! The librarian scoffed as I handed her my card and the book, telling me "That's an adult book. You have a child's card!"

What the hell sense did that make? If I could understand the words on the page then what business is it of hers of anyone else's how old I am?

Even now, a father of four myself I really don't get what the big deal was. But I played by the rules and waited until my mother came to pick me up, then got her to check it out for me.

Within a month I'd harangued my mother and the head librarian to get me an adult card of my own so that these sorts of misunderstandings wouldn't happen again.

Now, the whole wide world of fiction was open to me. And I read everything. Science fiction and fantasy. Detective novels and westerns. Classic books and modern pop paperbacks. Occasionally even some historical era would catch my fancy and I'd read a series of biographies to fulfill my curiosity.

But mostly, I stuck with Vampires. I read and read the Vampire chronicles from Anne rice. First checking them out then buying my own paperback copies then inevitably buying new ones when I wore the old ones out.

I'm fully happy with our modern digital world. I buy my movies on iTunes and my books on my ipad and I mostly don't miss the old way of doing things, but sometimes when I think about the way a well-loved paperback feels, folding back the spine to hold it open one handed, rolling the cover completely off the thing, duct tape holding the binding together. That stuff I miss.

As each new book in Anne's series would come out, I would wait in line, drop my money and race through it trying to swallow the new info about Lestat and the Children of the Savage Garden whole. But Anne never wrote fast enough to keep me satisfied. I read Brian Lumley and his Necroscope series, Laurel Hamilton and her Anita Blake series. Even the first three novels in the True Blood series along with roughly a million one off takes on the vampire myth from writers big and small, talented and less than so.

But no one ever replaced Lestat's voice. Not when he "slept" after the events of Memnoch, not when Anne put him away as she chased angels, not even when they made that terrible Queen of the Damned movie. That beautiful brat prince has always been in my periphery, whispering just in the next room, always hinting he'll be back. And then he was. Prince Lestat was a surprise for me when Rice announced it. I really never thought she'd return to this world of these characters and had resigned myself to that.

Was it different after so many years? Absolutely. I didn't wait in any lines, I clicked a preorder button in the iTunes Store. There's no well-worn paperback, just my trusty smartphone and the comforting yellowish glow of the books app keeping me up into the wee hours chasing Lestat once again.

I loved the new book, and can't wait to read the adventures promised by its conclusion. But the reason I'm nostalgically tracing my reading history here is that Interview with the Vampire will have been in print for 40 years this month. So, while we all know our favorite French fiend has been stalking the savage garden for 3 centuries, he's been in our collective conscious for 4 decades now. And I at least will be following his stories for as many more in the future as possible.

Happy birthday, Lestat, and thank you, Anne for all you've given us over the years.

Episode 15: What Makes Me Married

Joel Sharpton talks about his wife, Kelly, on their third anniversary. Check out the show notes to get links for Joel and Kelly's full story.

Modern American Love Story Part One: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/makesmeweird/2015/06/25/mag019-og1--modern-american-love-story-wkelly-sharpton

Modern American Love Story Part Two: http://alwayslisteningpod.com/makesmeweird/modernlovestory2

Modern American Love Story Part Three: http://alwayslisteningpod.com/makesmeweird/modernlovestory3

And Part Four coming someday...

Find more from Joel at http://JoelSharpton.com or follow him on Twitter @therogueslife

Episode 12: Netflix and Joel - an Audio Essay on a Visual Medium

Joel has loved Netflix for a long, long time. Hear him discuss his love affair with the little red envelope and what Netflix means today. Also, a personal announcement! and Teaser for upcoming episodes.

Follow everything Joel does and connect with him for your next voice project at http://JoelSharpton.com

Email the show at makesmeweird@gmail.com and share us with a friend to help the show grow.