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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Tragedy and Memory

What is it about tragedy that makes the memory so poignant?

I suppose that every generation has an event that is cemented in the collective conscious memory. Ask anyone old enough and they’ll tell you minute details about where they were when they heard the news about the President Kennedy’s assassination. A generation later would remember the Challenger disaster. My generation remembers the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001.

Watching the second plane hit the tower. Seeing desperate people jump to a preferred death to escape death. Watching the towers fall almost in slow motion. These are vivid images that you and I cannot escape. The memory is so vivid that I call smell the English classroom where I was sitting. What is it about tragedy that makes the memory so poignant? Your memories testify with mine, and are intensified.

September 11th is one of those events that would be horrifying to forget, but is agonizing to recall. Maybe that’s why we tend to describe where we were and what we were doing at the time, instead of the sickening helpless feeling we felt watching thousands of people die.

“Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.” -J.R.R. Tolkien.

Oh I wish that I could remember pleasant times as vividly as I could remember the tragic times.

The Southern Simile

Do you have a favorite Southern saying?

You could hardly call me a well traveled man. I have been to Washington D.C. though, and that’s got to count for something. In the course of my limited travels I have taken note that Southerners, especially those who have traveled less than even me, are unique communicators. They have ways of describing things that are marvelously effective. In short, Southerners are masters of simile. 

For instance, “Heavy as a widow’s heart”. Instead of giving an exact measurement, you get an idea of something with an unfathomable weight that also speaks to your emotions. Most of the Southern story tellers I know have enough of these pithy descriptions to sink a ship. It’s usually this aspect of their tales that draw the greatest reaction from a listener. I’ve done my best to curate a short list of my favorite similes to help those who might want to exercise the poetic nature of language.

-Ugly as pootin’ in church. It doesn’t get much uglier than that.

-Mean as a snake.

Mean as a striped lizard. Be sure to pronounce striped with two syllables.

-Broke as a convict.

-High as a cat’s tail.

-Nervous as a cat in a room full of rockers.

-Colder than a mother-in-law’s love. To be fair, my Mother-in-law is great.

-Cold as a well rope.

-Hot as blue blazes.

-Crooked as a dog’s leg.

-Naked as a jay bird.

Strong as half an acre of garlic.

Tough as woodpecker lips.

-Goofy as an eight day clock.

Crazy as an outhouse rat.

-Poor as Job’s turkey.

-Wild as a team of goats. This is something that you say about children.

-Screaming like a coon hunter.

Slow as molasses.

-Rough as a cob. Takes on a new meaning given the fact that corn cobs were once used as toilet paper.

Hang in there like a hair in a biscuit. 

-Dark as a sack of black cats. 

Pretty as a pair of new shoes.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of similes, they sometimes only come to me when I need them. I’m sure some are coming to you right now and I’d like to hear them.

Thank you for reading. If it made you laugh, or cry, or remember someone that you love please share this with a friend. -Zane Wells

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Mexican Food and Mariachi Bands

“Every once in a while even the cook needs a break.”

Going out to eat when I was a child was a treat. There were no restaurants in the town that I grew up in, so most of the time Mom cooked. But every once in a while even the cook needs a break, and occasionally we’d take a trip as a family to a restaurant. When it was decided that we were going out to eat,
Dad, not being very high maintenance was always ready to go before anyone. He would make his way to the van as soon as he was ready and sit behind the wheel, expecting everyone else to be just as ready as him. Generally the rest of us kids followed after him as the bathroom became available.

“There’s three bathrooms in this house, why do y’all insist on using mine?” Dad would lament. I never had a good answer for him. We’d go sit in the van and wait with Dad. If someone, most likely Mom, but occasionally a child, was lagging behind, Dad would send one of us in to check on their progress. “Go tell them to hurry up.” He would say.

We’d all watch toward the door in hopes that the late person would appear so that we could go. Sometimes Mom would walk out the door and down the steps before turning around to go back inside, giving us a false sense of hope. Other times she’d tidy something on the porch as she was leaving. “What is she doing?” Dad would ask in an exasperated voice. When everyone was finally loaded up it was time to debate about where we were going to eat. I’ll spare you that ordeal. I was never disappointed when we decided to go to the Mexican Restaurant.

The Guadalajara in Pell City: The Mexican Restaurant. I was half grown before I realized that there was more than one Mexican Restaurant. On Friday nights they had a Mariachi Band that would go from table to table in full regalia and play requests for tips. Besides a bunch of Spanish Songs that I have no way of identifying, their repertoire included various Elvis tunes along with Wooly Bully, Foggy Mountain Break Down, Tequila, and my personal favorite, In the Yungle the Mighty Yungle . The whole family would laugh. That was genuine entertainment.

One time the band leader and trumpeter handed me an egg shaker during an upbeat number. “Shake amigo! Shake!” He exhorted. So I guess I can say that I had a short stint in a mariachi band.

Once I spilt tea in Zach’s lap almost immediately after the waiter brought our drinks. Which kind of ruined the night, at least for Zach. It was the only bad experience that I can remember having at the Guadalajara. The staff got him cleaned up pretty quick though, which confirms my belief that Mexican restaurants have some of the best service out there. We laugh about it now, so I guess we can’t really call that a bad experience.

As I grew older my order changed from cheeseburger (hey it was good), to quesadilla, to tacos. I’ll eat just about anything now. Except raw tuna eyeballs, or stuff like that. The Guadalajara, despite any effort to Americanize their menu, was my introduction to exotic cultural food. I suppose it starts with chips and queso, that’s the gateway food. Then one day, maybe because all the queso is gone, or perhaps you’re just curious, but you try chips and salsa. The next thing you know you’re ordering fajitas and stinking up your Sunday clothes with the greasy smoke that billows off the sizzling plate. Face it, you’re hooked. You don’t even go to Taco Bell anymore.

Since my tastes have been refined, I usually look for authentic food, whether it’s Mexican, Chinese, Thai, or Barbecue. These restaurants are out there if you look. They may not have the best façade or marketing, but the food is genuine. And genuine food is best food. I guess the only thing better is eating just about anything with your family. And perhaps a mariachi band.

Sorghum Syrup

My brother has asked me to write about the time we made sorghum syrup.

“I wasn’t there.” I told him.

“Yes you were,” He said, a little hurt.

“I know that I wasn’t there Zach.”

“You were too! You helped me load the cane in the mill. That mule almost kicked you in the head. We drank the juice straight from the tap.”

“That was you and someone else.”

“You was there Zane! We went with Pop. Twice!”

I wasn’t there, but I don’t think that discredits me from being able to take you there. After all, Mark wasn’t there and we count his book as Gospel. This is not a work of fiction, although I was not a firsthand witness. Either that or it was such a bad experience that I’ve suppressed it in my memory.

Most of the time when Pop picked us boys up we were going to work. There were a few occasions where Pop picked us up for an event that maybe he found entertaining, like a parade, or making syrup. No matter what mask of entertainment these activities donned, Zach and I had been around enough to see through the thin disguise and identify work. Alas, we hadn’t much say in the matter. So when Pop picked us up to make Sorghum Syrup, we were not under the illusion that we were going to merely observe the process of making syrup. We were going to be very much involved in that process.

Sorghum is a naturally growing plant in the South. If you cultivate enough of it, you can make sorghum syrup. I think it yields about three gallons to the acre. Sorghum syrup is a very thick and dark syrup with an acquired taste. There is a process for getting the syrup from the plants. First you need to gather the plants, or cane. Then you put the whole cane into a mill, which presses out the juice. You cook the juice which gives you syrup. As long as the syrup doesn’t burn, you can mix it with equal parts butter and put it on your biscuits and it’s delicious. Well I think it’s delicious, but I also eat Lengua and Cabeza at the Taco Truck. Zach thought it tasted like burnt motor oil.

The process sounds pretty straightforward, until you find out that you have to manually load the cane, or even worse be the mill engine. Fortunately, someone had already gathered the stalks into a trailer. All we had to do was feed it to the mill. Do you remember in Sunday School when you learned about the blinded Samson grinding at the mill? That’s what Zach had to do. At first there was a mule hitched to the mill walking in circles, but it almost kicked Zach’s brains out while he was feeding cane to the mill. In the end Zach ended up walking in circles to power the mill like a medieval serf. They did let him drink some of the pure sweet juice that was running out of a tap on the side of the mill.

This juice flowed through an open channel over a heated metal plate a few yards long. By the time it made it to the end of the line it was sufficiently cooked enough to be canned. They used what looked like old coffee cans to package the syrup. I’m sure it was great fun to Pop and all the old men that were sitting around at the end of the line talking and laughing while Zach worked like a borrowed mule. At the end of the day Zach was exhausted and grimy with sweat and dust after doing the work of a mule. As a token of their gratitude, the old men in charge gave him a can of syrup. I think I ate most of that syrup, but I know that I wasn’t there.