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.

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.

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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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.

Ramblin’

Ice cream with your Dad. If that’s not entertainment, I don’t know what is.

In a town with one red light there wasn’t much in the way of entertainment. There was Smith’s, or to the locals, “Smiss”, the grocery store, but even if you were really taking your time and got stuck behind somebody’s grandmother who was shopping for a family reunion, you could see the whole store in less that ten minutes. Come to think of it, I’m not really sure what entertainment means. I suppose that it’s what you do for fun whenever you are caught up with all the chores at home. So when all the grass was cut, or there were no pecans left to pick up, Dad would take us what he called Rambling. It was Dad’s form of entertainment. Essentially, my brother Zach and I would pile into Dad’s red Mazda pickup truck and drive around back roads for the better part of the day.

It was always a surprise to go rambling, not something that we worked up to, like fishing, but something that could be done rather quickly when you discover that you’ve found time, but not made time. I never knew where we were going, although I was relatively certain that we’d stop at the store to get a cold “drank”. Dad would get a Pepsi, Zach a Dr. Pepper. I would get a Grapico. We’d set in the truck and enjoy our drinks. After the policeman pulled Dad over because he saw one of us standing up right next to Dad, we had to start wearing our seat belts. Being the youngest, I had to set in the middle with both legs hanging over into the passenger floorboard, so as to be out of the way of Dad shifting the gears. I remember being really worried about learning how to drive as I watched Dad press the clutch and shift the gears in that little truck. How was he so coordinated? How did he know when to shift them?

“You can listen and the motor will tell you when to shift the gears.”

I would do my best to listen to the motor through the hissy static of the AM radio broadcasting the Braves game. I was so intent that I would hum along to the pitch of the engine as he accelerated through the gears after stopping at a lonely stop sign on some back road. I was mesmerized by Dad’s ability to drive with only his thumbs.

There were various destinations although I don’t recall guessing, I was just along for the ride. We’d often go to the Logan Martin Dam and climb across the guardrail to peer down to the rocks amongst the stench of dead fish where the men cast out into the churning water hoping for a catch. There was an old man there named Mr. Bird. He was always there, but if he wasn’t fishing, you might as well pack up your tackle and go home.

Sometimes we went to visit a distant relative who removed an oxygen tube to take a drag on a cigarette. I only remember these people because Dad took me to see them. They would have never been able to make it to the barbecue at the next major holiday. But I remember them, if only faintly through the eyes of a child. They’re gone now, and I wonder how many stories with them.

We would visit ancient cemeteries so Dad could point out where a great grandfather was buried. I could barely read then, but I wish I would have taken better notes. It was interesting to see the graves of people who had been born in the 18th century. Dad taught us proper cemetery etiquette: don’t holler, and don’t step on anyone’s grave.

We ate a few times when we went rambling. I remember going to Jill’s restaurant in Leeds one day. Dad came walking back from the counter with two ice cream cones half a foot high. Ice cream with your Dad. If that’s not entertainment, I don’t know what is.

Through rambling, Dad immersed us in the art of looking out the window while you’re riding in a car. He taught us how to spot a Red Tailed Hawk, and where to look for a Great Blue Heron. It’s still a thrill to be able to point out a herd of deer on the side of the road, or a redbird on a fencepost. You can always tell when you’re riding with someone who never did any recreational riding. They won’t appreciate your superior observations skills, and will usually complain about watching the road, or make some remark about traffic before looking back down at their phones.

I go rambling sometimes with my two kids now that Sarah is letting them both ride in the truck. We drive slowly by the waterfall, neither of them can argue that it’s not on their side since everyone is on the same row. Wes usually rides in the middle with his feet over in the passenger floorboard so I can shift gears. I’m still a little wary of these new automatics. We’ll get some ice cream and I’ll point at the hawks.

Rambling 5/25/2019

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