Assignments

At the time, I did not fully appreciate how much group projects were preparing me for the real world.

There are three school assignments from my childhood that still haunt me. They don’t haunt me in a sense that I lose sleep over them, I just remember them vividly. Did I do my very best? Yes, there is no doubt about that. The real question is did I do right?

Art was one of my favorite classes in elementary school. Holding our thumbs behind our backs, we would walk single file through the maze of halls to Mrs. Newton’s art room in the back of the school. The sun would shine in through the high windows, casting a ray of light made visible by the dusty air. I loved Art.

One day, my class made the trek to the Art room only to find a substitute teacher. In some situations this may have been welcome, but it was a disappointment for Art. The teacher had big blonde hair and wore lots of make up. I’m sure she was stylish at the time, and possibly even now if you are going for the 80’s Country Singer Sweetheart look. As pretty as she may have been, in my seven year old mind it seemed that she wasn’t very aware of what was going on; like she was a sentence, or maybe a paragraph behind the rest of the adults we were accustomed to at school.

“Mrs. Newton left you an assignment.” She said as we all settled into our chairs.

“She wants you to make a picture using letters.”

I completely understood the assignment. Mrs. Newton had shown us examples in a previous class. She held up a picture of an acoustic guitar that a high school student had drawn. At a distance, it looked like an ordinary picture, but upon closer examination you realized the picture was composed of letters, even words, in varying sizes. I thought it was the dumbest thing we had seen so far in art class.

So I sat there for a moment contemplating this outrageous assignment. I could waste my time and labor on a piece that I detested, or I could put my talents to better use and create something from the heart, something worthy of my signature. I drew a battleship. It was a splendid World War II era battleship with more gun turrets than the Yamato. I was proud of it. Even so, I failed the assignment.

In Fifth grade, Mrs. McManus instructed us to draw a word in a way that enhanced the definition of the word. I was assigned the word “Fat”. Someone who had followed the instructions for the assignment would have drawn the letters F, A, and T with fat rolls. Once again, I fully understood the assignment, but I felt that this was a waste of my artistic ability: I drew a fat man in a tank top and Bermuda shorts. It was magnificent. Not only did I fail the assignment, I realized that my teacher thought I had not understood the assignment.

I took a class called Media Arts in High School, because I had already taken all of the other art classes. Mr. Williamson assigned us a stop motion film group project-which sounds like a good indie rock band name. For the most part, I’ve always loathed group projects. At the time, I did not fully appreciate how much group projects were preparing me for the real world. The idea of a stop motion film was very inspiring, but we utterly failed at creating an interesting plot. There were three characters: A comedian, an old man, and a chef with an unidentifiable foreign accent. In the film the old man is sitting in the audience listening to the comedian try to tell jokes. The old man mumbles a response at each joke before finally ordering a pizza from the chef.

To our credit, the artwork was good. I think we still made an exceptional grade, but we wouldn’t have won- nay, even been nominated for- an Academy Award in the short film category. For some reason, this assignment still bothers me the most. From time to time, I come up with better plot ideas and I think back to that project.

In a sense, life is about following instructions and working with people. There are some areas in my life that I wouldn’t dream of not following instructions; principally, my faith. On the other hand, I have often scoffed at any attempt to set boundaries on creativity. Furthermore, I have a hard time completing an assignment that fails to inspire me, but if I find the work inspiring I’m hardly ever satisfied with my efforts.

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.

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.

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.

“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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