Camping

My earliest memories of camping were Dad taking Zach and me out to Black Jack, a vast wilderness owned by the paper company I think. We would set up a little dome tent and build a fire. Dad would let us play in the fire with a stick, probably the best part for a little boy. We always camped in the fall, no sense in camping with mosquitoes and rattlesnakes. 

Most of the time we roasted weenies and marshmallows, but one particular time Dad went all out and made some barbecue chicken quarters over the fire. He seasoned the chicken, wrapped it in aluminum foil and placed it on one of those flimsy folding metal grills that set over the fire. We sat patiently around the fire on our five gallon buckets staring into the flickering flames.  Just before the chicken was finished cooking it began to rain. First softly then a steady drizzle, then we retreated into the tent as the bottom dropped out of the sky. The water began to rise as we sat huddled in our sleeping bags hoping for the rain to subside. After about a half an hour and half an inch of rain in the tent, Dad decided to abandon camp. We loaded our essential belongings into the truck and headed home. We ended up leaving the tent to retrieve another day, but the saddest part was that we never even got to try the chicken. I don’t think we ever camped at Black Jack after that.

From then on we camped on some relative’s property that had a small lake where we often fished. Looking back now, I realize how little I was, out of diapers, but not in school. It was Dad’s rule that you had to be out of diapers to go camping. In the mornings, we would go hunting not far from where we had camped. I would sit against a tree with Dad while Zach sat by himself a few yards away. He probably had a better chance of killing a deer by himself, because I was making too much noise playing with action figures. I never did catch the hunting fever like my brother, but I still like to go camping, and it just doesn’t feel right to go camping without a gun.

Zach and I camped with Jared and Creed once on the back border of their Dad’s property. Mr. Sherwood McDaniel, their father, had cleared the perimeter and it was here that we spent many hours playing. Zach and Creed were old enough to work at the store, so Jared and I were supposed to tend the fire until their shift was over. The gainfully employed older brothers had gone shopping before hand and brought some provisions for that night. I’m sure they got some good food but what I remember is the knock off Grapicos, they were nasty. We, the keepers of the flame, discovered that a can of Coke, knock off or genuine, will explode with a tremendous noise if you place it in the fire and forget about it. Creed and Zach were not as impressed.

While Zach was still in high school it was not very hard to talk him into camping. We’d often make the decision ten minutes before the store closed and then rush to set up in the dark. I can’t tell you how many times we camped like this as teenagers. 

The older we grew, the less sleeping we did when we went camping. The most miserable part about camping is waking up about half frozen and filthy with smoke, your breath tastes like you been eating dirt all night, and then having to clean up all of the camping gear. There was a point when we stopped fooling with bringing a tent and just stayed up all night. This made it easier to camp at the drop of a hat, all we really had to pack was food. Food is the best part of camping when you’re a young man.

One night it snowed on us, a rare occasion in Alabama. It didn’t last long, but it was probably one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. A big bright moon shining on freshly fallen snow, a few guys sitting around a campfire not fully appreciating the moment. 

I do not recommend taking your wife camping on your first anniversary.

This morning the air was crisp and cold, and full of that certain smell that comes with fall, a cool damp fragrance that almost burns. These are the conditions in which to camp. 

Last year my church organized a men’s camping trip. We had two fires, one to play in and one to cook in. It drizzled rain on us all night, but the little boys that went hardly seemed to notice. I still enjoy playing in the fire, and you better believe that I still enjoy eating around the fire, but as an adult, what I like most about camping is the comradery. There is something significant about the gathering together of men for the sole purpose of fellowship.

2018 Men & Boys Camping

“We’re going camping on November 1st Wesley.” I told Wesley a week ago.

“Do I need to start packing?” He replied.

J. L. Parker

“You hang in there like a hair in a biscuit.”

It was at Youth Camp that I was first introduced to Brother JL Parker. He had white hair, a friendly countenance, and an expressive tongue, verbally and physically. He had a million one liners, but he also had a way of running his tongue out of his mouth that conveyed a lot more information than any words could. I was still a teenager and I could not resist smiling when he was around. He was the Sunday School director at his church and had brought a load of teenagers to camp and stayed around as a counselor to make sure they all behaved.

I was playing guitar at that Youth Camp, probably rather poorly, but I was giving it all I had. After that first service Bro. Parker came up to me and talked about guitar. As a young person it was encouraging. 

“I’ve got a Gibson The Paul guitar at the house.” He said.

“A Les Paul?” I asked, not familiar with the The Paul model. 

“No.” He shook his head. “The Paul, baby.” He stuck his tongue out a little bit.  

The next night as I was playing guitar, he made eye contact with me from the back of the sanctuary, and made a motion like he was playing guitar.

There was a girl that I was interested in that week at camp. When you’re a teenager, you think you’re being sly and no one notices who you like. Let’s be clear about this: old people know. Bro. Parker caught me that week right after I left off having a conversation with that girl. 

“I just want you to know that I’m pulling for you son. I’m on your side, you just hang in there like a hair in a biscuit, she’ll come around.” After I was through laughing, he switched gears on me. “But let me tell you something, y’all better not be playing licky face!” 

JL Parker had the unique ability to be the most affable person in the room without losing the respect of the people he was leading. He was serious about things that were important, and was not afraid nor ashamed to let you know it. 

“I made up my mind a long time ago that I was going to be the friendliest person that I could be. If someone meets me, I want to be the nicest person that they met on that day. If you do that, you won’t have any trouble making friends.” 

I moved back to Alabama in 2017 and began attending church with Bro. JL Parker. He was so full of energy, so funny. He had lost his wife a year or so earlier. “I loved that woman.” He told me more than one time. “It’s really hard to imagine losing someone you’ve lived with for forty years. I miss her every day. Being lonely is hard.” Bro. Parker could just say the facts.

JL Parker

For the past year or so his health has been rapidly declining. He shook my hand one night after church,“I need you to do something for me.” he said. There are some people that you are willing to do anything for. 

“Yes sir.” I said, with ready ears.

“I got that old The Paul, I want you to put some new strings on it. I’ll pay you for the strings, it don’t matter what kind, your preference.”

“I have a pack at the house that won’t cost you a dime if you let me play that guitar at church one night.”

“You got a deal!”

The following Sunday I was playing the newly strung and serviced guitar during service when Bro. J.L. Parker walked across the platform during the middle of a song.

“You like that guitar?” He asked in my ear.

“Yes sir, this thing sounds great.”

“Well you can have it!” He said as he walked off.  

There are few times in life where you laugh and cry at the same time. This was one of those times. If this was him showing me how much he loved me, the message certainly got through. He had a way of doing things in a big way. I glanced back to where he was now standing, and he stuck his tongue out and played a little air guitar.

The guitar and corduroy strap that JL Parker gave me.

Bro. JL Parker passed on to his reward today. It’s a tall task to convey the character of a man like JL Parker in any amount words, but if I could only use one it would have to be: Faithful.

JL Parker was my friend and I loved him. And I’m going to miss him.

Mule Day

Pop used to have a couple of Percheron draft horses named Hawk and Holly. They were huge, I think Hawk weighed over a ton. He used to take them to events like the Homecoming and Christmas parades in Vincent. I love a good parade. The coolest parade by far that we ever participated in was Mule Day .

Mule Day happens in Winfield, Alabama every year on the Fourth weekend of September. It’s a festival that includes all manner of equestrian culture, but focuses mainly on Mules, hence the title. Aside from the parade, I think there are no less than a million things to do.

In order to make better time next morning, Zach and I spent the night with Pop. I don’t even think that Pop told us what we were going to do, we just assumed it was work. The next morning Pop woke us up before the chickens, “Boys it’s time to get up and eat some breakfast.” We rubbed our eyes and wondered where we were, staring blankly out the window into the darkness, before trudging into the kitchen to eat some cereal. I don’t ever remember my hunger being satisfied by cereal.

When we got to the barn and began loading the horses onto the trailer, I realized that we weren’t going to be hauling hay, and wished that I had picked out different clothes. The drive to Winfield was two hours long, and I remember fighting sleep. For some reason I thought Pop would be disappointed if I fell asleep in the truck; so I toughed it out and stayed awake.

By the time we got to Winfield the Sun was up and I was almost fully awake. I wasn’t prepared for the magnitude of the event. There were thousands of people. There were stage coaches, a glass hearse, horse drawn fire wagons, buggies, and covered wagons. Imagine what a classic car show would have looked like circa 1860 and you’ll get the idea.

After combing Hawk & Holly’s shiny black coats and manes, we spent an hour or so talking to Pop’s friends who had brought their Mules. There was a man named Big Jerry, who had a pair of mules named Jesse and Jackson. It made me think of my grandfather, Tinker Reynolds, who was want to name cattle and pigs after people that he knew. He had a cow name Joann, whom he had purchased from Aunt Jo-who makes extraordinary dressing at Thanksgiving. He also had a pig named Penny. I don’t think it’s a great honor to be named after a pig so I won’t tell you her last name.

Pop’s wagon was equipped with car tires. Which, while not historically correct, made for a much smoother ride when pulled through modern streets in a parade. This comfortable anachronism may have something to do with why the local Varsity Cheerleader Squad was placed in our wagon; which caused more than a little distraction if Pop was depending on Zach to help him.

It’s one thing to watch a parade, and another to be in the parade. Nothing quite compares to being in a parade with a wagon full of cheerleaders pulled by two of the biggest horses in the world. It was amazing how many people waved at me that day.

It was a full day. On the way home I leaned up against Pop and didn’t even fight sleep.

Sports Page

I’ve always thought it was a strange to ask the losing coach what happened after an upset.

When I was growing up, the comics section was sometimes located in the Sports Page of the Birmingham News. Which created a bit of tension as the funnies were the most valuable part of the whole paper in our household: everyone read the comics. Added to their desirability was the fact that the crossword puzzle was attached to the comics; and Mom and Dad loved to work “The puzzle”, as Dad called it. It was a nice activity to exercise mental prowess and created a welcome diversion from a busy day.

The Sports section was only read by Dad and Zach. From time to time there would be something interesting in the Sports Page. Like when Perry Hodge shot a thirteen foot alligator not far from where we used to go fishing. Or the time an eleven year old boy killed a wild hog that weighed over half a ton and had five inch tusks. He shot it with a pistol. That kind of stuff is interesting, but the rest of the sports page I found pretty boring.

A friend recently sent me a job posting for a newspaper publisher. Not for the Birmingham News, but a smaller paper. I guess he thinks since I’ve been writing for a few years that I’m qualified to be a newspaper publisher. Do you ever wish that you believed in yourself as much as your friends do? Not that I hate my job, but I am for hire. All the happiness in the World can’t buy you money.

So I’ve been entertaining the thought of being a newspaper publisher. It must be something in my romantic nature to rally for dying causes like film photography, and print newspapers: and I like to day dream. The first thing I thought about was what would I do with the Sports Page? I mean, there has got to be a way to make it more interesting. If nothing else, it would confuse the tar out of a few old men who look forward to reading a football article every weekend.

Something fresh that I’m certain would get people’s attention would be to publish the half time marching band set from the lowest ranked football team in the wrong division. That article would need to be on the front of the sports page. I’d also like to get some post game analysis from some of the inebriated fans as they were leaving the stadium after their team lost. I’ve always thought it was a strange to ask the losing coach what happened after an upset. What kind of journalism is that? Did they not watch the game?

Covering some of the more odd ball sports out there might be fun. Cycling, fencing, chess, maybe thumb wrestling. Someone once told my brother, “I never knew that eating was a spectator sport until I met you.”

Let’s face it, most people in Alabama don’t even really like football; they just like Auburn or Alabama. Furthermore, I wouldn’t quite classify the attitude toward football in Alabama as a sport. The closest definition of sport offered by Webster that could apply to football is: a source of diversion. You can hardly call year round coverage of a seasonal activity as a diversion.

I’ve often made sport of the football situation in Alabama by referring to it as the State Religion. While I find it humoring, there are many who may wince at this because it hits close to home. During football season, many will not make it Sunday because their god was defeated on Saturday.

So if I ran the sports page, I would do my best to offer a genuine source of diversion. It’s safe to say that at this point in my life I can name more Grand Sumo wrestlers that I can football athletes, whether college or professional. What if the sports page covered Sumo Wrestling? Grand Sumo is a year round sport; but then again, it is also quite literally a religious ceremony. The only difference is that the Sumo Wrestlers don’t hide this fact.

There are something things in this life that I know I will never understand. Maybe the comics and crossword puzzle should always be in the Sports Page.

Boiled Peanuts

Dad used to take me on Saturdays to the Flea Market in Wilsonville. It was a cultural exposition. If you really want to know what life is like in the South, you need to visit a flea market. Flea Markets are what yard sales dream about being when they grow up. It’s a place where you can get everything from live chickens to a leather belt with your name tooled onto the back. We just went for the boiled peanuts.

Stop by most any gas station in the South, not one of the big truck stops with clean bathrooms, but a proper gas station that serves homemade biscuits and has a bench out front. Inside you’ll notice that there is usually a crockpot next the jar of pickled pig feet. The crock pot is full of boiled peanuts. If you’ve never had them before, the best way I can describe them is they taste similar to a roasted chestnut. If you’ve never had a roasted chestnut at least you’ve sang about them at Christmas time. Boiled peanuts have a salty, savory, umami (I learned that word on the radio) flavor. They have a firm texture similar to al dente bean. Trust me, my description is falling short. Boiled Peanuts taste like my childhood weekends.

You can try the gas station peanuts and they’ll probably be pretty good. Be sure to get something to drink because that salt water is going to pucker you up. I’d recommend buying boiled peanuts from a man in overalls selling them on the side of the road from underneath one of those pop up canopies. Even better, just go to the Flea Market. Not only do they have peanuts, but it’s a great place to inhale some second hand smoke and possibly see a fist fight.

The Boiled Peanut booth at the Flea Market in Wilsonville had two huge steel pots of peanuts, Original and Cajun. The man served them up in plastic grocery sacks, double sacked so you wouldn’t get peanut juice all over your car. Which was a nice gesture, but I still made a mess as a kid. The Original were the archetype boiled peanut and set the standard for me. The Cajun were just like the Original with the perfect amount of heat, but there was always a chance of accidentally eat a habanero pepper. Which might not sound appealing to you. But I enjoy adventure, so I always got Cajun.

I could write a lot more about boiled peanuts. Those who have tried them would say amen, but no amount of reading can equal to you trying them. Somethings are meant to be experienced and not just studied. Boiled peanuts are one of those things. You just have to try them. Unless you’re allergic to peanuts.

Happy Anniversary

Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord. Proverbs 18:22

Eleven years ago this week Lehman Brothers collapsed signaling the start of the Great Recession, Hurricane Ike nearly destroyed Galveston and the gulf coast of Texas, and I married Sarah Virginia Wilcox. The wedding was held outside in the sweltering Florida heat. The PA malfunctioned as the Maid of Honor was walking in, and Israel Kamakawiwoʻole only got to sing a few words of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. We paid four dollars a gallon for gasoline on our honeymoon. We were off to a rocky start, but we were and still are madly in love. I have no regrets. Just precious memories and two children.

Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord. Proverbs 18:22

I’m glad I found Sarah. Aside from receiving the Holy Ghost, she’s the best thing that has ever happened to me. I love you Sarah with all my heart. Happy Anniversary. Let’s grow old together.

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Engagement pictures at low water bridge in Strasburg, VA.
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Engagement picture at the walking mall in Winchester, VA.
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Sarah Zane Fire Hall in Winchester, VA.
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The beginning of the happiest days of my life.

“Clean Family Comedy”

Much of what society calls entertainment today is, to use a light term, altogether unwholesome in every way.

I spent the last week in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee playing guitar at the Worldwide Pentecostal Fellowship Summit Conference. It’s always a lot of fun and I’m glad to be asked. For the musicians, it’s a rigorous schedule and I’m usually exhausted by the time the conference is over. One of things that makes this trip special is sharing a cabin with my family and friends. It’s like family camp on steroids. I think there were nineteen people staying at the cabin. My Mom cooked for us so we didn’t have to fight the lines at a restaurant. We attended a show at the end of the week. All twenty-four of us, we picked up some stragglers along the way. We took up a whole row at the Comedy Barn. It was great fun, Kids spilling drinks and eating popcorn off the floor, the way shows should be.

Wesley knows how to enjoy a show.

It really is a good show and I laughed quite a bit. It reminded me of our variety show efforts at youth camp. The routines were funny, but the human interaction on the fly is what makes the show worth attending. Even with all of that, what struck me enough to make me set down and write this was possibly the only serious moment of the whole show. During intermission, a man got up to sell T-Shirts, which come with a life time warranty. If you wear it out, they will replace it for free. It was a novel idea, and I almost got swept up in the moment and purchased a shirt before I remembered that I don’t really like wearing T-Shirts. The man held up the shirt,”The only catch is, you got to wear it. Word of mouth is the best advertising, and when you wear this T-Shirt you’re letting everyone know that you support Clean Family Comedy.” He said it with emphasis and gusto.

This statement resonated with me. One of my goals through essays and videos has been to provide clean entertainment for people of like precious faith. I’d like to make a case for clean entertainment. Much of what society calls entertainment today is, to use a light term, altogether unwholesome in every way. To use a Biblical term, it’s sin. I think the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans sums up the state of entertainment today.

Romans 1:32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. KJV

This is why I don’t have a television in my home, or watch movies and Netflix. This is why I don’t listen to your favorite band. This is why I don’t do a lot of things that are done in the name of entertainment. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy clean entertainment. Much of my audience understands this.

Entertainment doesn’t have to be corny to not be vulgar. Comedy doesn’t have to be a snarky. I think this is where some Christian comedians get it wrong. It’s as if they run out of material and go from being funny to making fun.

I don’t even think entertainment has to be funny. I may play a hymn on the guitar that brings back fond memories to one person and makes another person wonder why anyone in their right mind would have ever sang that song in church. Some of my most popular material has made people bawl, but they still tell me how good it was.

I won’t go so far as to say that entertainment is necessary for good spiritual health, but I do believe that it can be edifying.

Proverbs 17:22 A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones. KJV

There was something else that struck me last week. I was surprised by the amount and variety of people that spoke to me and mentioned my (let’s say efforts in creating safe entertainment because I think blog is such a dreadful word). One particular friend remembered my attempts at entertainment when we were teenagers. Every evening after church during youth camp we had Midnight Madness, a makeshift variety show. She said, “You have a gift. You used to have us rolling. I hope that you are successful in whatever it is you’re trying to do.”

What I’m trying to do is to entertain people. I believe there is a unfulfilled need for safe, godly, clean, edifying entertainment. If you’ve read this far you probably believe it too. Thank you for reading. Thank you for watching my videos. Thank you for sharing and helping get the word out.

If your church or event needs clean entertainment, I’d love to talk to you more about what I can offer. -Zane Wells

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