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Ghost Stories

“The true mark of success in ghost story telling is if someone’s mom has to come pick them up from a sleepover in the middle of the night.”

I’ve heard a good many ghost stories in my life, some of which kept me up all night. If you’re interested I’ll give you the tried and true formula for telling the perfect ghost story. This works 100% of the time, if you’re in the third grade. Once you know the formula, you can take turns making up ghost stories on the spot with your friends the next time you have someone “spending the night” with you. If you’re a grown up it’s probably too late since you lost most of your imagination somewhere before you started caring about the opposite sex and after you realized that using deodorant and brushing your teeth might not just be for the weekends.

Rule number one for telling a good ghost story is establishing when the story happened. You don’t want your audience to be so worried about when the story might have taken place that they miss major plot developments.  For a solid opening, I like to use “Once upon a time.” After vaguely establishing the time, it’s good to pause for a dramatic effect before coming in more intensely with where the story might have happened. I usually go for “In the deep dark woods.” I’m getting scared just writing this right now. Now that we’ve created the perfect spooky setting your audience should be sufficiently hooked and want to hear the rest of your story, now it’s time to real them in with the details. For our next line we need to establish who or what the story is about. A ghost story is only as good as it’s villain. You might try a line like “There lived a man.” You might even throw an adjective in for good measure, “There lived an old man.” The more time you spend on describing the villain the better your villain will be, but don’t spend too time with details, you want to make them wonder. We’ll give him long bushy eyebrows, a lazy eye and bad leg that causes him to limp. Now would be a good time to practice your onomatopoeia as you describe the sound made when he walked across the dirty floor in his decaying cabin. For extra credit you can describe how he received the bad leg, “In a gunfight”, or “on the railroad”, are always good choices if you get stumped. Our next step requires action, what did the old man do? Did he collect toenails, kidnap dogs and cut off their ears, or just knock on doors and run away? Whatever he did, it needs to be something that relates to all of your audience. We’ll go with “Turned off the lights whenever you went to the bathroom.” Now you can wrap up your story with, “And if you’ve ever been in the bathroom and the lights go out, you’ll know it was the old man!” Maybe throw in a little scream at the end for good measure. It helps if later during the sleepover you can cut off the lights while someone is going to the restroom.

It seems humorous writing about it as an adult, but I remember being genuinely scared of improvised ghost stories, even if I was the one telling them. It’s good to know when to stop telling ghost stories and go to bed so you won’t be too scared to sleep. My rule of thumb is to stop whenever I start getting scared at my own story telling. The true mark of success in ghost story telling is if someone’s mom has to come pick them up from a sleepover in the middle of the night.

I remember being quite upset by a ghost story on the 5th grade field trip to a camp in North Alabama. The camp counselor told us that the cabins we were sleeping in were built on Indian Burial mounds that had to be excavated before they were able to start building the campgrounds. During this excavation they found a skeleton that was missing a hand. No one knows for sure, but they think that this hand was lost during initial excavation when they discovered the burial mounds. The counselor told us that every once in a while they saw a skeleton hand, supposedly searching for the missing body. Every time that they had seen the hand they had also heard the Chickasaw Death Whisper. The counselor had been gradually lowering his voice and we were on the edge of our seat with anticipation. He said, “This is how the Chickasaw Death Whisper goes,” and after a slight pause he yelled at the top of his lungs.

A little unconventional, I know, because he deviated from the usual ghost story formula, but I was so scared that night that I eventually got in the bunk with my friend and I didn’t care what anybody said. Perhaps my imagination was a little over active from not having a television in our home. Many of the other students laughed harder than they had screamed once they got over their initial fright. Feel free to tell this one some place I’ve never been.

I remember telling ghost stories with our neighbors, Jared and Creed numerous times. Jared and Creed had a popup camper that they would take on vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains. I know they went to the Great Smoky Mountains because while they were gone I fed their Blue Tick hounds and I still have a pack of Great Smoky Mountain playing cards that Jared brought back as a thank you gesture. I’m sure Mr. McDaniel appreciated the break from his shift work for Alabama Power at the Logan Martin Dam. There was a leak in the dam and his job was to pump concrete into the hole. He’d been pumping concrete for about 30 years. Whenever they got ready to go on vacation, they would air out the popup camper in the basement and this was the perfect place to tell ghost stories. We all four piled into the camper and began the time honored swapping of improvised ghost stories. Zach told one and we all laughed, he was always to jolly of a story teller to be all that scary. Creed told one and it must have been pretty scary, because Jared moved to the back of the camper where Creed and Zach were, leaving me in the front. Now it was Jared’s turn to tell a story. I think he was still doing character development on his villain when I decided that it would be a little safer on the other side of the camper with the other three boys. As I crossed over to the other side the trailer tipped swiftly backwards and the tongue banged against the ceiling of the basement right beneath the living room where Mr. McDaniel was trying to catch up on his sleep in the recliner. Mr. McDaniel was jarred awake by the commotion in the basement and stormed downstairs. We were more afraid of Mr. McDaniel than any ghost story villain our imaginations could drum up, mainly because Mr. McDaniel was real, and at the moment, he was “real mad”. He looked at each of us in turn as we were piling out of the camper, then he said to Zach and Me, “Boys, it might be a good time for y’all to go on home.” We quickly obliged him. I hope his vacation brought his blood pressure down.

In the rural community that I grew up in legends were still very much alive. These legends spawned grown up ghost stories that were terrifying to children. What’s even scarier than that is that many adults still whole heartedly believed that they were true. One example that comes to mind was the legend of The White Thang. I’m sure I should spell it “Thing”, but that isn’t how I heard it spoken. The White Thang was a fantastic white creature that lived on the mountain and terrorized the community. Sort of. No one ever fully saw the White Thang, they just described it as a flash of white. What people were able to describe in detail was the ear splitting noise that the creature made. Some said is sounded like a woman screaming, or a panther. It was taken so seriously by the community that I remember it making the newspaper at least three times in my life. There isn’t much to tell, maybe that’s why it was so widely believed and what makes it so scary, the fear of the unknown. All of the stories about the White Thang were pretty similar. Someone was on the mountain hunting and they heard a scream like a woman and saw a flash of white, or someone was fetching wood late at night and heard a wild screech and saw a flash of white. It may have been an albino panther or mountain lion. There was never enough moon light for anyone to get a good glimpse of the creature. More likely there was too much moonshine. Whatever it was, many people of Sterrett, Alabama swore up and down that it was real and they had heard it and seen it, or at least a credible relative you had seen it. The White Thang might be more believable than some people’s credible relatives.

I haven’t told or heard a good ghost story since the last time I went camping as a teenager. I think I finally realized that I don’t like being frightened. These days I shy away from ghost stories in general because real life is scary enough.

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Mind Your Manners

One of my favorite things about a being a parent is having someone to listen to my accumulated trivia. Lately, I have reached the point in parenthood where my children are beginning to pose questions that sometimes stress my intellect. For instance, “Dad, what is manners?”

I usually try to give a clear and concise definitions.

“Well, manners are the principles that govern proper social behavior.” I replied.

I sat back in my chair and smiled, feeling satisfied with my quick thinking without consulting the dictionary.

A moment later the child asked, “Dad, what’s principles?”

This is what I mean by testing my intellect. I’m afraid their curiosity is about to outpace me. At any rate, I am going to attempt a more thorough answer to the original question, because some things require not only clarity, but elaboration.

Manners, best-beloved, are what my Mom and Dad taught me little by little and day by day about how to act around folks.

– Keep your elbows off the table

– Say ma’am and sir

– Keep your feet off the table

– Don’t talk with your mouth full

– Don’t interrupt someone

– Hold the door open for a lady

– Stand up and let a lady or an elder take your chair

– Don’t invite yourself anywhere

– Don’t cuss

– Use your blinker

– Cover your mouth when you cough, sneeze, or yawn

– Don’t smack (chewing with mouth open)

– Don’t ask someone how much money they make

– Don’t ask someone how much they paid for something

– Wipe your feet

– Don’t wear a hat indoors, unless you are a lady and the hat is classy

– Don’t yell inside

– Answer when someone speaks to you

– Don’t stare

– Don’t pick your nose

– Don’t take the last piece of chicken

– Don’t scratch

– Don’t spit

– Don’t reach over someone’s plate

– Don’t grab or snatch

– Don’t talk about gross things at the dinner table

– Don’t tell dirty jokes

– Don’t laugh at dirty jokes

Now this is not an exhaustive list, best-beloved, and we’ll add things as we come to them, but we have to start somewhere. If you follow these guidelines, when you come something you are unsure about you’ll probably make the right decision. Just do what your Mother would do and you’ll be ok.

The Google Reviews I Haven’t Left

Here are a few bad reviews that I didn’t leave, but wanted to.

I only leave five star Google reviews. If a restaurant or business isn’t worth a five star review they certainly aren’t worth my time to give them a lower rating. While some people might “Cause a scene” as my Dad would say, I try to avoid confrontation. If service or the experience is bad, I just won’t go back. Which is part of the reason why I only really like to go eat at about three places, Hamburger Heaven, Taquiera Las Cebollitas, and you guessed it, Chick Fil A.

Hamburger Heaven, my favorite restaurant.

But sometimes I get worked up enough to want to say something. Here are a few bad reviews that I didn’t leave, but wanted to.

Three Star Grocery Store

At best this place is a compromise. People don’t shop here because this is a great grocery store, but rather to avoid going to town. Unless you are getting a rotisserie chicken-which are pretty good- or it is an absolute emergency I would avoid trying to shop here. They also picked the worst possible music to play too loud, which always puts me in a foul mood. How am I supposed to find the pectin while some grown man is whining and mumbling-I’ll not call it singing-about his feelings?

Two Star Home Improvement

The only thing this place has going for it is that there is no other competition in town. Which is a shame, because our town would benefit from having options. In theory having competition would make the current store sure up their customer service. More than likely though all these workers would just jump ship to the new store because they look pretty miserable now.

Two Star Home Cooking Restaurant

The pandemic has not been kind to this restaurant. The problem with chain restaurants is many decisions that should be made locally are made in some corporate office a thousand miles away, or in this case 167 miles away. The last time I ate here I’m glad we had a gift card, because I would have been mad if I would have had to pay for rock hard mashed potatoes.

Four Star Italian Restaurant

I really wanted to leave a five star review because my food was excellent. But there is more to a restaurant than good food, and unfortunately the service fell short. The teenage waiter was friendly enough, but frankly he forgot about us and we waited a long time for our check. Which made me wonder why we waited a long time to be seated.

Perhaps I’m turning into a cranky old man who fusses about paying first class money for second class service. Kind of like my dad. As a kid I remember thinking he was making a big deal about something trivial, but now I begin to understand his frustration.

We perpetuate the decline of quality when we continue to accept lesser quality at the same price. If I have a bad service experience at a restaurant but still go back, I’m likely to have another bad service experience the next time and the restaurant will think that I’m ok with it. Or I could just start leaving bad reviews.

Tater-Tot Poisoning

Sarah fried tater-tots the night before a doctor’s appointment the other day. They were so good that she decided to fry some more right before the appointment. I did not know this, or rather, I do not like to retain this in my knowledge, but fried potatoes and more specifically salt (which every self-respecting person knows must go on fried potatoes) can elevate your blood pressure. Which kind of unnerves doctor’s.

“I’m not telling you this to scare you, and don’t rush down there, but because your blood pressure is elevated (along with some other factors) you probably need to go to the hospital to be monitored. It could be nothing, but you could be having a baby tonight.” This is what the doctor told her.

So we pawned the kids off on my sister and headed to Birmingham. We stopped at Hamburger Heaven in Gardendale in case it was the big one. The hospital has a tendency to starve you half to death when you are in labor. We went ahead and got burgers and fries because we wanted to make sure her blood pressure would still be elevated so the hospital trip wouldn’t be in vain.

After about an hour or so hanging out in the hospital room, they told us we could go home. Which was a relief, because I had forgotten my eye drops and my contact lenses have a 100% chance of drying out if I plan on staying up all night reminding Sarah to breathe. It was a good practice run anyway.

Last week Sarah went to two appointments and even without tater-tot poisoning, her blood pressure was still high. Anyone trying to raise two children probably needs to check their blood pressure. So the doctor wants Sarah to be induced.

So I’ve written all of this to let you know that we are having a baby this week. Our other children weren’t this predictable. We let them decide when they wanted to come-Sunday night after we’d been at church all day and Christmas morning respectively. Unless it happens before, we should have a baby this Thursday, October 1st, 2020. I can’t wait to meet this little tater-tot.

Ready or Not

“If you waited till you could afford to have kids you’d never have them.”

We are about to have another baby any day now.

“Are y’all ready?” I get asked this a lot.

I usually reply, “We think we are ready.”

It is sort of a funny question. Perhaps there are people that are adequately prepared to have another baby-it’s never been us. No one is ever truly prepared for a baby, you just get sufficiently prepared. The baby is coming whether you are prepared or not.

“If you waited till you could afford to have kids you’d never have them.”

If babies waited until parents were truly prepared, they’d never come. That’s part of what is wonderful about a baby. Babies come to disrupt the comfortable and organized lives of sweethearts-ready or not. And how wonderful are they when they get here?

There are many other wonderfully disruptive things in life that we may never truly be prepared for. Unlike babies, these things sometimes may be put off until a more convenient season. As a result, there are some things that will never happen if we wait until we are prepared. More often than is comfortable we are prepared for nothing, but nothing is not the best option.

It is a curious thing that we often have to make some of the most important decisions in our life when we are least prepared to make them. Career paths, spouses, and friends all come to mind.

“Anything worth doing is probably not going to be easy.”

How many times have I pushed back against an opportunity because I could not accurately predict how it would change my organized life? I’m ashamed to say.

No, I’m probably not prepared for this next baby, but I am ready.

On Education

For years I have championed public school. Perhaps in a hardheaded way, because I am a product of public school. Notwithstanding the wonderful memories and relationships that public school afforded me, I would like to take an objective look at the education system.

Wesley started the first grade this year. The pandemic has caused his school to implement some resources that we have known were available, but never thought we’d actually have to use; namely virtual learning from home. Our experience with the first couple of weeks of virtual learning has caused me to do some critical thinking about education. For years I have championed public school. Perhaps in a hardheaded way, because I am a product of public school. Notwithstanding the wonderful memories and relationships that public school afforded me, I would like to take an objective look at the education system.

One of things that I still like about public school is that a child will be exposed to peers in their community. I do think it is good for children to learn how to interact with other children who are being raised with different values, beliefs, and traditions. After all, this is how life will be as adult. The simple principle Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself still takes quite a bit of practice and I think it is best taught to practice as a child.

Exposing a child to the peers in their community is also one of the things I dislike about public school. In my public school experience-especially in Middle School-much of the class time was spent disciplining children who had no desire to learn. I imagine that this is one of the greatest challenges for a teacher. Some of the same troublemakers that I watched purposefully disrupt class are now troublemakers in society. I see them from time to time when they make the news for criminal activity. So the time taken away from my education to discipline an incorrigible student was essentially wasted for everyone. On the other hand, learning how to deal with difficult people has come in handy many times in my adult life.

Perhaps there is an advantage in attending a smaller school. My wife is always surprised when I recall any of my teachers. She attended a much larger school than I did, and remembers her teachers as impersonal if she remembers them at all. There were only about 45 students in my graduating class and I had known most of them since kindergarten. So our teachers-I am related to a few of them-had a better chance of getting to know the students, which I think is a good foundation for a quality education.

It is unfortunate that public education is entangled in politics. Often decisions are made by bureaucrats that probably would be better made by teachers and even parents. You can read Year-Round School for a good example of that.

As a parent I am thankful for the opportunity to enroll my children in our Church’s Christian School. This was not an option for me as a child. In the last couple years of his life, my dad had the chance to work with Cornerstone Christian Academy. He was impressed by the curriculum-Abeka– and the freedom the administration had in organizing the school.

I am currently chipping away at my college education a couple of online classes at a time. It has taken this long because I have never been keen on going into debt for a degree that may or may not land a quality job. Even before the pandemic, online classes were really my only option. After reading some of the posts from my fellow students on the class discussion boards-a common assignment in online courses-I am strongly convinced that online classes are not working for everyone. It is painfully clear to me that many of the concepts being taught are not making sense to some students. More than likely these students will still pass the class with an imperfect understanding of the subject. Which is ultimately a failure.

No doubt we’ve all encountered people like this who may have eventually earned their degree. My dad used to tell a story of a college graduate at work who had made a really boneheaded production decision that cost the company a lot of money and time. Anyone with any kind of sense should have known better. In response to this error, one particularly perplexed blue collar worker shook his head and said, “He been to college though.”

To some degree home schooling is not much different that online college classes. Fortunately, most parents that I know with ambition enough to home school their children care enough to make sure their children are getting sufficient understanding of the subjects. Much can be said about the presence of a teacher who is genuinely interested in the education of a student.

Maybe the highest level of quality of education comes from a private tutor, or someone who is focused on only one student. This would be quite expensive. In many ways I think that this is where a parent is responsible for a child’s education. There are some things that are best learned from a father or a mother.

I grew up in a house where reading and discussion were valued. The arguments we had at the kitchen table were hardly ever about personal matters, but history, science, art, literature, or culture, and often could be solved by referencing the dictionary or the encyclopedia. To hear “Look it up” in a confident tone meant that you were about to lose an argument and be schooled. Even so, we never dwelt on who was wrong, but moved on to the next subject. That, I think, is how to create a culture of learning in the home.

You Are My Brother

What constitutes a brother? The same hair style? The same color eyes? The same likes and dislikes?

by Perry Wells

I grew up in a small country home. I would like to emphasize the word small. It was four rooms and that was not four bedrooms by today’s standard. I had a brother who was a year younger than me. My other brother is fourteen years younger than me. My mom gave him to me for my fourteenth birthday and I have been bearing children since then.

I have had a brother for as long as I can remember. I did not choose my brother, he just came along.

What constitutes a brother? The same hair style? The same color eyes? The same likes and dislikes? No. A brother has the same father and mother. Everyday my dad worked and came home in time for the evening meal. He had a problem in that he thought he owned our little house and the inhabitants who resided in it. He insisted that we all be at the supper table when he came home. This did not mean in close proximity to the table, but seated at the table.

After supper we had to give him an account of the activities of the day, which mostly consisted of school and chores. Farming was an all day job and performing chores could last into half of the night.

Our mother won every fight my brother and I had. She would settle all of the differences we had before my dad came home. It was important to her. She knew he was coming home and everything needed to be taken care of before he arrived. You can believe me when I say we did not want to bother dad with the differences we had encountered!

Now that I am grown and on my own and paster a wonderful church with wonderful people, I have a new set of brothers and sisters. We all have the same Father, who is Jesus Christ. We have the same Mother, which is the Church. And we have all be baptized into One Body, which means we all share the same last name. We need to settle our differences with our Mother as the mediator before our Father comes home. By the way, our Father is due any minute!

You are my brother. Is everything right between us? If I have wronged you, I am sorry. If you have done wronged against me, I forgive you.

We are all brothers, I love you, keep up the good work!

Dear Mom,

Zach just called me and told me that you were unresponsive in the ICU. They are letting four of us come in and see you. I can’t come because I have COVID-19. So I’m writing you a letter.

Zach just called me and told me that you were unresponsive in the ICU. They are letting four of us come in and see you. I can’t come because I have COVID-19. So I’m writing you a letter. My sincere prayer is that you recover miraculously and get on to me for treating you like a dying person. Nevertheless, I think I will not regret this letter.

Since you’ve been sick I’ve missed talking to you on the phone every day after work. You helping me weave together how I’m related to all my relatives. Talking about food and recipes and getting hungry. Talking about Dad and laughing. Talking about church and rejoicing.

I’ll never forget the night that you pulled me aside crying after a couple friends from college, Sarah and Kelly, stopped by the house on their way back to St. Louis.

“Zane, every time I’ve dreamed that you got married, Sarah was the girl in my dreams.” You had never met Sarah before.

Sarah and I weren’t even dating at the time, but you sure got that one right. That hasn’t been then only time over the years that I’ve trusted your intuition, or rather your discernment, and come out the better for it. Thank you.

Some of my earliest memories are of you kneeling down in the chair and praying out loud in the living room while I played. It’s hard to cut up when you hear your mom praying. Thanks for letting me hear you pray when I was a teenager. Thank you for showing me how to pray fervently on my own and how to intercede.

Remember when Zach and I come to you one morning before school when we were little kids?

“Me and Zane been thinking. We want real food for breakfast.” Zach said as I stood there beside him in my big old glasses. He was the spokesman. Apparently pop-tarts or cereal were not cutting it. Both those things have never been able to satisfy me, even when you buttered the pop-tarts. From then on you made us bacon and eggs for breakfast. Or ham and cheese omelettes. Can anyone make a ham and cheese omelette like you? Or those sausage, egg, and cheese “Whop” biscuits. Or when times were tough, a piece of bologna with cheese and eggs on top, or a fried weenie. Thank you for feeding me real food.

You’ve always had a gift at making a place feel like home. And a way of making people feel welcome. And your food was always delicious. I think Lindsay has gotten a lot of that gift from you. I’m really proud of her. I’m sorry that Lindsay and I fought so much as children. She started it though. We really do love each other now. And we love you.

Thank you for loving Dad and showing us what a healthy marriage looks like. What I thought was a normal home-life turned out to be incredibly rare, and I cherish it dearly. It takes a lot character, integrity, and commitment for a marriage to last. You and Dad had what it took. Thank you both for giving us the best home that any parents could offer.

We went to Apostolic Truth Tabernacle in Talladega one time and Pastor Jimmy Huggins said, “I feel led in the Holy Ghost to tell somebody that your mom is your ace in the hole. Be nice to your mom, she’s got your back.” Do you remember that? I feel like he was talking directly to me. And he was right. I can’t begin to count all the times you’ve been in my corner. Thank you.

We thought we were going to lose you when Wesley was born.

“I had to fight a bear to keep your Momma at home. She wanted to come up here and see that baby so bad.” Dad said. We were all so worried about you when you were sick in 2015. But God took Dad first and raised you back up to give us five more years with you. I hope it does it again, but I trust it just the same.

Shall not the judge of all the Earth do right?

Gran meets Welsey

When Miriam came you were well enough to leave that morning, Christmas morning, and drive the eleven hours to hold her.

Gran meets Miriam

I think what me hurts me most is thought of Hollynn not getting to meet you. I’ll do my best to tell her how wonderful you and Poppy were, but I know words are going to fail. We’ll just try to love her as much as you would.

I know Zach and Linds used to tease you about me being your favorite child. Boy you sure did make me feel like I was your favorite. I guess thats a mother’s love: making all your kids feel like they are the most important.

I didn’t know that life would so full of death as an adult. I miss being a little kid and you being able to fix everything with a prayer and hug and a kiss. My heart is hurting right now.

I remember when Sarah and I lost our first baby. That’s about how bad I’m feeling right not thinking of losing you. You called me and quoted scripture.

“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.”

I found great peace in that scripture. The longer I live the more I find answers for everything in the Word of God. Even so, there are still a lot of things I’m just going to have to understand better by and by.

We were talking about you the other day and the very real possibility that this may be the time when God decides to call you home. Zach, still the best spokesman, said, “Ultimately death doesn’t mean to God what it means to us.” I believe that with all my heart.

I Corinthians 15:50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.

51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,

52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.

55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin in the law.

57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

I’m going to miss you so much. I feel like a child who isn’t done having company, but it is time for the company to leave. I have so many plans for you and the kids. I will always love you.

Love your favorite child,

Zane Wells

P.S. Give Dad a big hug for me.

P.P.S. Give our first baby a hug too.

The First Vehicle I Drove

This truck was huge. Imagine an old dump-truck with a flatbed.

“You remember the old blue truck?” Uncle Jason asked me the other day on the phone.

Do I remember the old blue truck? Do you forget your first kiss? Do you forget your first dog? Do you forget the first time you accidentally used buttermilk in your cereal?

The old blue truck was an old Chevrolet that had been converted to run on propane. I’m not sure if that conversion would be economically sound with today’s fuel prices but in the early nineties it made a lot of sense. This truck was huge. Imagine an old dump-truck with a flatbed. It was built before commercial driver’s licenses were a requirement, but I doubt you could drive a modern equivalent without a CDL. That’s how I remember it anyway. I’m sure some automobile enthusiast could tell you a lot more than you’d care to know about it. For years I thought it was an International.

I was either in the second or third grade when Pop was waiting for me when I got off the school bus. I had enough time to drop my school books off and “get into my work clothes” before being whisked off to the hayfield.

It was Uncle Jason who showed me how to drive Old Blue. Basically I was given a crash course on shifting between neutral and low. The only pedal I was authorized to touch was the clutch. No gas pedal or brake needed. I couldn’t even fiddle with the manual choke. Just clutch, steering wheel. I didn’t worry about anything else.

And go easy on that clutch, we don’t want this hay falling, but push it in as far as it will go.

Just hold the steering wheel steady and don’t run over any hay bales.

Press that clutch in when you hear us holler, but don’t stomp it.

The instructions always came with an addendum.

Dad showed up at the hayfield around the time he normally got home from work. It was before cellphones were common. So I am imagine there was a message waiting for him to come meet us in the hayfield.

After surveying the operation Dad asked, “Who’s driving?”

“I’ll never forget the look on your Dad’s face when he saw you in the driver’s seat.” Uncle Jason tells me over the phone. I hear him pause to make a facial expression that somehow I can still see clearly, although it is on my Dad’s face and not Uncle Jason’s. It’s a look of shock mixed with pride.

I was so proud as little boy to have driven that big old truck, and to have gotten paid for it. There is a feeling that you can only get by having done work. It is one of the best feelings in the world and it gives you a sense of pride and satisfaction. I did something worth doing today.

Zane Wells, age 7, professional hay truck driver.

“How could I forget Old Blue?” I replied to Uncle Jason.

“Well I passed it the other day on 278, not far from your house.”

“You sure that was it?”

“No doubt in my mind.”

I believed him. But I went and checked just to make sure.

Old Blue
I remember the bed of this truck being taller than me.

Buffets

If Shoney’s was a country backroad, The Golden Corral was a five lane highspeed freeway.

Shoney’s was probably my introduction to buffet restaurants. It was the same idea as the family Barbecues of my childhood; you could eat all you wanted. Instead of barbecue and all the orthodox fixings that go with it (potato salad, macaroni and cheese, baked beans, deviled eggs, etc.) Shoney’s had a little bit of everything. I mainly got fried shrimp. The first few times I ate shrimp I got sick with clockwork accuracy. It was a shellfish or iodine allergy. We were at Shoney’s once with a bunch of people from church when Bro. Oliver Murray prayed for me before we commenced to eating. I haven’t been sick from shrimp or any other shellfish since that night. God knows I’ve had plenty of chances because I still love shrimp.

Shoney’s had a Salad Bar. My siblings and I would make a salad with croutons as a base. Then we’d pile on diced ham, and bacon bits, smother it with ranch dressing and eat it with those club crackers that come in packs of two. Eventually we started adding lettuce to the base, but it took a long time. I still credit the salad bar as my introduction to green leafy vegetables. To this day I am a sucker for a salad bar, but now I prefer blue cheese dressing.

I remember distinctly the first time Mom and Dad took us to The Golden Corral. It made the Shoney’s buffet look like a snack bar. If Shoney’s was a country backroad, The Golden Corral was a five lane highspeed freeway. The very entrance put you in mind of standing in line to ride a roller coaster at Six Flags. There was even one of those people counters that you have to walk through to enter the dining area. I imagine it was hooked up to a bell in the kitchen that alerted the kitchen commander. DING DING DING DING DING “Family of five just came in! Drop some more fried chicken and throw some more rolls in the oven.”

Ahhh! The rolls. Quincy’s had the best rolls. The waiter brought them out to your table hot and with a buttery sheen on them. I could eat two of them right now. I think the rolls were a tactic to get you to eat less food from the buffet. It never worked with me. There aren’t many things that I’m good at, but I am confident in my ability to eat. I was made for buffets. “Clean your plate.” This is how I was raised. My parents only had to tell me a few times because the idea caught on very early. They were training me to become a heavy weight buffet champion. We even had a piece of furniture in the kitchen called a buffet.

Don’t misunderstand me, I like all the buffets. But if I could only choose one it’s probably going to be a Chinese Buffet. Our family used to go to Happy China in Childersburg after church. It was in an old KFC. My Dad would get that Hot and Sour soup that looks like they dumped all the buffet leftovers into the dirty dishwater and served it up by the gallon as soup.

“It’s good.” He would say as he slurped it out of one of those round soup spoons that you only see at restaurants and rich people’s houses. We have one at our house but we only use it for special occasions. Like when all the other spoons are dirty.

Now there are some purists out there that are probably turning their nose up at the very thought of a buffet. They’ll say the quality of food is better when you order it a la carte. Snooty people are always using French phrases like that to make you feel dumb. They’ve got a point. But ordering off the menu is so restrictive, and I’m not good at making decisions in Chinese. The wonderful thing about buffets is you don’t have to choose! You can eat it all! Although I probably won’t eat those whole baby octopuses. But it is nice to be able to poke them with the spoon to help you decide.

The last place I ate before the pandemic lockdown was a Mexican buffet. What a way to go out. Since then I’ve been worried about the future of buffets. Will buffets become like The Piccadilly Cafeteria where someone fixes a plate for you behind a sheet of plexi-glass? Will you just have to hope that they pick right piece of fried chicken? That won’t do. I pray that I’m wrong, but I’m afraid that we may have seen the last of the all-you-can-eat buffet.

The Last Buffet

That is why I feel compelled to write about buffets. My kids and future generations need to know that at one time in America you could walk into a buffet and fix a plate of pizza, brown gravy, macaroni and cheese, fake bacon bits, sweet potato casserole, and gummy bears and no one would say a word to you.

Nice Things

My sister came over to the house the other day to help make zucchini bread, because I planted to much zucchini. We hovered around Sarah’s KitchenAid mixer like little kids at a science experiment.

“Is it going to sling zucchini sludge all over us?” I asked as she fired up the mixer.

“No. This is a nice thing.” She said matter of factly, and with a bit of discovery in her voice, as if we-not having grown up with nice things-had just had our first encounter with one.

My family used to play this game called Scattergories. It’s a trivia game where a letter die is rolled and each participant has to come up with an answer-that begins with whatever letter is rolled-for a list of twelve questions in a set amount of time. If your answer is unique you get a point but you do not get a point for duplicate or blank answers.

I’d like to take a paragraph to point out that I just explained how to play a game in two sentences-albeit they might be considered run on sentences. Even so, Think about the last time somebody tried to explain to you how to play a board game. There were 35 people crammed in a living room. Everybody was talking so loud at once that the music blaring in the background would have been indistinguishable save for the two musicians singing along at the top of their lungs. A kid was tapping you on the knee and the least concise person in the room was giving you instructions on a game you didn’t want to play cause you were more interested in the cocktail weenies on the paper plate that you had to hold because the dumb game was taking up all of the space on the coffee table. But you couldn’t have reached the coffee table from the bar stool you drug from the kitchen anyway. The next time in you’re in a situation like that, I hope you think about me.

Anyway, in Scattergories one of the categories is Items You Save Up Buy. I think this is the best way to describe nice things. You tend to treat things that you save up to buy a little better because they are dearer. I saved up to buy a proper guitar for years. Several times, just when I had enough money set aside, I would decide on a whim to reallocate that money for something else. Like a radiator for a Honda Accord, or tires, or a baby carseat. When I finally had enough money to buy the guitar I was so anxious to make the purchase before there was an emergency that I developed a case of the shivers.

I suppose that there are even nice things that rich people save up to purchase. Yachts and airplanes, that sort of thing.

Most of the people I’ve known that had nice things weren’t necessarily rich, they just didn’t have any kids. Or at least any boys. Boys are much to rough to coexist with nice things. Zach and I broke the heads off all the wooden ducks in the living room while wrestling. That was Mom’s idea of nice things: wooden ducks. She had about five wooden geese and ducks in the living room. Some folks are just born with class.

At least once, every mother has probably said to their children in exasperation over a broken lamp or busted window, “Your Daddy works hard so we can save money and try to have nice things, but y’all are barbarians and we can’t have nice things.”

I remember Zach putting a dent in the top of Dad’s brand new Mazda truck with a softball. Dads can give a completely different “Why can’t we have nice things?” speech. It’s just as passionate as a Mom’s speech, but it is usually the audience and not the orator that is moved to tears.

“When you have three kids that’s about all you have.”

Perry Wells

I’m not saying that you can’t have nice things and kids, I’m just saying that most people can only afford one or the other. It’s a tough choice for many people. Children are expensive. It may even be cheaper to not have kids and just have nice things. Just ask your parents. How many times have you been to someone’s house and sat down in the recliner only to be warned that the recliner doesn’t work because Kid A broke it using it as a diving board, and that they didn’t notice that it was broken until they got back from the emergency room. That’s the funny thing about nice things, people tend to hang on to them after the kids have already broken them.

The fact that my parents didn’t follow through with those threats of death after I had just broken something lets me know that they chose keeping me over having nice things.

Nice things are fleeting. The classiest vehicle on the market will be old and out of fashion when the new model rolls out next year. I quit trying to keep up with the phone innovations back with the iPhone 6. Furthermore, these things are guaranteed to expire.

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Matthew 6:19-21

“Children are the only thing that you can take to heaven with you.”

Ultimately nice things are not important. It’s easy to forget that when you’re daydreaming about the next thing you’re saving up to purchase and how happy it will make you. It won’t make you happy. If it does make you happy it won’t last. One day it won’t even matter to you. If you don’t believe me, just visit a thrift store or better yet, the dump. Both of these places are jam packed with junk and trash that someone not to long ago probably saved up to buy.

There are still some nice things I’d still like to have. Perhaps a proper digital camera to take better quality bad pictures for the website store. Maybe I’ll get one some day. I’m not really worried about it. These days I’m more excited about meeting our third child in October.