Doris McDaniel

She wore pearls and drove a Cadillac; a great big gold Cadillac.

Mrs. Doris McDaniel spoke with an old Southern accent. An accent not easily imitated even by Southerners; Hollywood always gets it wrong. She dropped her R’s which made her sound like 19th century southern aristocracy. She also wore pearls and drove a Cadillac; a great big gold Cadillac. This certainly encouraged my childhood idea that Mrs. McDaniel had descended from royal stock. I thought she was the richest woman in Shelby County. She may also have been the sweetest.

Already in her 70’s when I was a child, she still owned and ran an old store right in the middle of Vincent. Prime real estate which set the halfway mark for the Christmas Parades. I don’t know how long she had the store, it was just always there. Kind of like her: a fixture in the town. As long I could remember, she kept odd hours at the store. People knew the store was open if her Cadillac was parked out front. The store was the only place in Vincent where you could buy a set of snow skis. It was like a permanent indoor yard sale. I think she kept the store open just to get out of the house, and to see people. People always made her smile. I think people came in to see her too. They certainly weren’t looking for snow skis.

Mrs. McDaniel was Jared and Creed’s grandmother. They called her Granny Mac. She would watch them sometimes during the summer. Whenever we got a little rowdy, she would say things like, “Oh my! Boys, that’s not nice.” She had a way of sort gasping the “Oh my”, and stretching “Boys” out to have an extra syllable. Even so, I never saw her lose her composure: She was a lady.

We would hang out at her store sometimes; stopping in to say hello and to feel the air conditioning for a moment. It was usually a checkpoint before we went gallivanting down the railroad tracks. She was always happy to see us, or anyone else that came in. She treated everyone that came into her store the same way.

The last time I saw her I was an adult. “My, my, my! Look how you’ve grown.” She said energetically. I had never noticed how petite she was until I was grown.

I introduced my wife. “How are are you hon?” She reached in for a hug.

“She is beautiful Zane.” She had a way of throwing an extra syllable in my name too.

Mrs. Doris McDaniel passed away on January 11th, 2020 at the age of 95.

If you ever drive through the town of Vincent, Alabama, you’ll probably take the old parade route: Highway 231. You’ll know you’re in town once the speed limit drops to 35 miles per hour, but you really aren’t downtown until you drive under the railroad overpass. The Christmas Tree will be on your left and Florey St with all the municipal offices on your right. There is a building on the right with a big sign that reads Doris McDaniel. Just know that one of the sweetest ladies that ever lived used to run that old store.

If that sign isn’t still there, it ought to be.

My wife and I window shopping at Mrs. McDaniel’s store.

The Semicolon

Now who is going to tell Mr. Dickens that perhaps the most powerful sentences in English literature is a run on?

Typewriter: It’s the longest word that you can spell using just the top line on the QWERTY keyboard. I’m going from memory here (just like everything else I write on here). In this case I can’t blame it on a fuzzy recollection of an event that I experienced back when the internet sounded like a Looney Tunes factory and gas was a quarter; I’m just too lazy and rushed for time to do any research on this topic. The QWERTY keyboard was developed so that the mechanical keyboards of the 19th century wouldn’t jam. The design worked, so it stuck. I mean we are still using the QWERTY keyboard almost a century and a half later even though the risk of jamming is no longer an obstacle. What is interesting to me when using the QWERTY keyboard that your right pinky rests on the semi colon: the most underused punctuation mark.

When I read one of my favorite 19th Century English authors, Charles Dickens, I’m not surprised that the semicolon made it on the main line of the keyboard back then, if in fact the key jamming prevention arrangement is true. I’ve always been fascinated by the Mr. Dickens’ mastery of the English language, and his paragraph long sentences made possible by the semicolon.

Even so, the opening paragraph of A Tale Of Two Cities is a single sentence that does not contain a single semicolon.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way-in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

Now who is going to tell Mr. Dickens that perhaps the most powerful sentences in English literature is a run on?

If you were impressed by Charles Dickens’ sentences, try reading one from the Apostle Paul: the undisputed heavyweight champion of the semicolon. I’m sure he’d be flattered at that title, but since he wrote in ancient Greek, which has no punctuation, he wouldn’t know what a semicolon was. Jacobean translators commissioned by King James had to do their best framing the complete thoughts of one of the greatest minds in history.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved.

In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, accord to the riches of his grace; Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; eve in him: In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.

In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: In whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:3-14, Apostle Paul

My wife has nearly given up hope editing my blog. “I know you like long sentences, but you really could just put periods instead of commas.” She’s right. I do like long sentences. I was taught in elementary school that a sentence is a complete thought. I was always a little puzzled when my teachers got onto me about run on sentences when I was trying to put a complete thought into words. Perhaps we should have spent more time learning about semicolons and less time learning about Johnny Appleseed for the fourth year in a row.

There was one English teacher that tried to help me with my run on sentences; she wanted me to use transition words like, but, therefore; I didn’t want to. She also told me to not end sentences with a prepositions. What she never mentioned was semicolons. (Perhaps she did and I was drawing pictures of guitars) Now I must be forthright with you: I was not a, shall we say, motivated student; but I don’t remember any teacher spending much time teaching about semicolons; and I may be using them wrong; but this is all one thought, and it is my blog.

In short: I’d like to see more semicolons from all of you. Which is a tall order these days with the abbreviated language of text messaging. Rather than express our thoughts and feelings through spelling, we’ve almost reverted back to hieroglyphics with emojis.

I believe that people are capable of having, writing, reading, and comprehending complex and profound complete thoughts. Think big, and don’t let anyone tell you to think smaller.

A Husband's Guide to Christmas Shopping

My wife is a very reasonable person, an admirable characteristic, but there sometimes a gift must exceed the limits of practically and reach into frivolity and extravagance.

My wife is a very reasonable person, an admirable characteristic, but sometimes a gift must exceed the limits of practically and reach into frivolity and extravagance. You might could push your luck with a new appliance, but no woman wants to open a Christmas present and find a broom or mop.

I’m sure there are many things that I don’t do well, fortunately for my self esteem I’m only aware of a couple of them: chiefly, giving gifts. Especially to my wife. It’s a whole lot easier to just tell her, “I’ll take care of the kids this evening, why don’t you go out by yourself and go shopping?” She’s never disappointed to hear that and I think it helps keep her from losing her mind while she’s raising our kids. I pride myself on being able to pick up on subtle clues that she needs a night out. Like when she says, “I need to go out by myself soon.” I don’t plan to stop doing that, but let’s face it: that’s going to be a pretty lame Christmas present.

“A good gift should be something you really want, but won’t buy for yourself.”- Zach Wells

As I begin my Christmas shopping for my wife in earnest, I’ve decided to put together some of shopping principles for husbands who struggle to buy gifts for their wives.

Wives like gifts. They might tell you, “Oh don’t worry about getting me anything for Christmas.” But let’s be clear on this, no one wants to watch other people open presents and not have something to open on their own.

Clothes are dangerous. Picking out clothes for your wife could be disastrous unless you know exactly what they want and know their size. Furthermore, if you are a real red blooded man, you probably aren’t even hip to men’s fashion, much less ladies fashion.

Pajamas are safe. My wife did inform me that I was allowed to pick out some pajamas for her. Which is to say that she doesn’t mind me getting her clothes that she doesn’t have to be seen wearing.

Other articles of clothing you are allowed to get include: gloves, sunglasses, socks, house shoes, scarves, hair thingies, and earmuffs. Buy any other article of clothing at your own risk.

Candles. Unless your wife has respiratory issues, you’re probably safe to buy her a candle. Be prepared to be overwhelmed when you walk into the candle store though. It’s going to smell like a the fire department is trying to put out a spice factory fire with perfume. Instead of sticking your nose down in the jar and huffing until you get a headache, just go by the name. I recommend something with “Pie” in the name. No one really knows what a Zanzibar Clove is supposed to smell like, but everyone loves pie. I’ve been informed that those candles do not taste as good as they smell.

Pictures. If you want to really make your wife smile on Christmas morning, then make sure she unwraps a picture. It’s never been easier to print digital pictures, and if you know someone who is handy with photoshop, your wife might be getting a picture of you crossing the Delaware with Washington, or playing guitar with Elvis. If your wife doesn’t have a good sense of humor you could always just go with one of your favorite wedding photographs.

If any of you are still confused, here’s a short list of hot items that are sure to excite any wife this Christmas.

1. New House. Husbands who give their wives a new house for Christmas get a lifetime achievement award from NAOH (National Association of Husbands).

2. New Car

3. Fix that thing she has been telling you to fix.

4. Rain Head for the shower. Don’t tell her about this, just install it and leave in on the hard setting so she’s sure to notice.

5. Dishwasher. If your wife doesn’t have a dishwasher, she’ll appreciate this.

6. Spa package. I’m not sure what all goes on at the spa, but women seem to enjoy it.

7. New guitar

Since I’m running out of ideas, this is about all the advice that I can afford to give you. Like I said, I’m bad at this. I’m sure that you’ll do great this Christmas. Hopefully some wives will pitch in with some gift idea suggestions in the comments. They might be willing to help someone else’s husband, cause their husband ought to know.

The Churn

It’s just in human nature to use things against the manufacturer’s recommended use.

We had an old churn in the kitchen. I can’t remember it not being there. Our churn was never employed to make butter or anything like that, it just kept the refrigerator door closed. It’s just in human nature to use things against the manufacturer’s recommended use.

There was a big indoor yard sale at the Cullman County Ag Center a while back, and they had a churn just like the one that I remember from growing up. I say remember, but until I saw the one at the yard sale I hadn’t thought about that churn since we got a new refrigerator in 1997.

The yard sale made me think of the churn. This kind of thing happens to me all the time. Something will trigger my memory and I don’t just remember, I’m there. I think that’s why I like to go to yard sales and and thrift stores.

The churn took me back to the kitchen with it’s ancient white and black tile in a curious pattern. There was the refrigerator with it’s faux wooden inlays on the handles. Inside the fridge was the mystery Country Crock containers that Mom used for leftovers. Once she sent a bunch of them full of Mexican Cornbread (or something like that) to work with Dad so he could share with coworkers. One poor man opened his container to find actual Country Crock. I think we used Country Crock instead of butter because my grandfather had died of a heart attack.

The new refrigerator door stayed closed, so the churn was retired to the mud room. We were too emotionally attached to it to get rid of it, ugly as it was. The lid was long gone and it the finish was cracked and chipped, but because it had been with us so long it had earned a permanent spot on the register of Wells Home Furniture: we were not getting rid of it. It’s funny how you can become attached to a thing no matter how useless it has become.

When I was a teenager, we had an extended guest who broke the churn after carelessly moving it. I think my Mom cried. Because it had outlived it’s original use and it’s ad hoc use we didn’t replace it, its only function was sentimentality, a curio relic from a bygone era.

It would have been impossible to replace it anyway. It would be like replacing a family member. Shopping for a new one would have only made you sad about the one that you lost.

Look at that. I’m tearing up about a churn. I didn’t buy that churn at the yard sale. But I did just buy a new refrigerator the other day. It’s got an alarm that dings at you if the door is open.

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.