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.

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.

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.

The Liar’s Bench

Does your local gas station have a bench out front?

Back when I was in the hay and fence building business with Pop, we would often stop for fuel and refreshments at Watson’s Grocery in Vandiver. There were a couple of good reasons for that. First, the base of operations, or “Barn”, was located half a mile from the store. Second, and perhaps more important, Watson’s Grocery was the only store in town.

We often frequented the store at the crack of dawn when working men filled trucks with diesel and filled cups with black coffee, and while old retired men sat on a bench outside to fill everyone’s ears with their good natured banter. My Dad told me that was called the Liar’s Bench. He said it in an official way, as if it were an elected office.

Anyone could sit on the bench, but not everyone could operate from the office of the bench. Similar to how having your picture taken sitting in your congressman’s big leather desk chair does not give you authority to lower taxes. In order to fill the office of Liar’s Bench, and not merely occupy a seat in front of a gas station, I believe that there were a set of unwritten requirements. It seemed like you needed to be an old man. You had more credibility (if indeed there was any credibility on the Liar’s Bench) if you were retired. It also didn’t hurt to have a nickname, like Jitter, or Buddy. If you couldn’t swing a nickname, an informal prefix like “Big” would do.

You also had duties, you couldn’t just sit and not talk. You had to be willing to engage every person you saw come to the store with a chiding remark about getting a late start or something like that, but not in a mean manner. You had to have a laugh rate of at least 90%. If the customers were clearly out of towners, it was ok to just nod your head at them. When people came out of the store you had to engage them again, this time with a heartfelt inquiry about their family, like “How’s ye mom’n’em?” This is when you found out who was in the hospital, who got fired, who got arrested, who had a heart attack and important things like that.

Above all, you had to be an entertaining talker to occupy a place on the bench. Some of the best hunting and fishing lies were told there along with ancient jokes. Every once in a while you meet people that can read the phone book in an entertaining way. Such were the men of the bench. As Jerry Clower said, “They didn’t tell funny stories, they told stories funny.” I found myself grinning and chuckling just overhearing these men talk.

I think they became great talkers because they didn’t sit on the bench to seek solitude, they sat on the bench because they wanted to talk to someone. Perhaps it was loneliness that got those old men up at the crack of dawn to sit in front of a convenience store and stare like puppies at the work trucks pulling in to fill up. They’d brag about being retired when they saw the weary looks of the working men on Mondays, but I think there was something in them that wished they could pile in the truck and go to work. Just like there was something in those working men that wished that could sit on the bench and waste the day away.

These worlds met briefly each morning and communed together at the Liar’s Bench. It was the Roman Forum of the community. A place where the local news and gossip were disseminated. I strongly doubt there were many original ideas, or great breakthroughs in ingenuity ever developed on the bench. But you might get a different answer if you drive out to Vandiver and ask one of the men who currently hold down a seat on the Liar’s Bench.

Support

$5.00

The Cow Sale

One of my only surviving and most vivid memories of my grandfather Tinker Reynolds is of him taking me in his old blue Ford Ranger to the Cow Sale in Ashville, Alabama. I’m only assuming it was Ashville, I could not have been more than two year old. I’m pretty sure Dan-Dan, which is what we called him, wore a plaid shirt that day. We stopped at the grocery store and I picked out some of those nasty orange circus peanuts and probably a Grapico. It seemed like Dan-Dan knew everyone at the cow sale, talking and laughing with old men who were similarly dressed.

I didn’t go to the cow sale again until I was grown and living in Virginia. It was always fun, and the food at the little cafeteria was good. It got even more fun when I was able to start taking my son Wesley, who never wanted to leave. We would call my dad after each trip, and Wesley would give him the highlights of the sale, always most excited about the bulls. “Poppy, there was a big ole’ bull with really looong horns!” Poppy would laugh and we would talk about going to the cow sale next time he was in town. We never got the chance.

There are some things that are more easily introduced by a grandfather. Such is the cow sale. I still enjoy taking Wesley to the Cow Sale, but I am an outsider and it shows. I’m not wearing boots or a denim shirt. My hat is wrong, and I show up at the wrong time. But Wesley doesn’t realize this yet, he’s just making memories.

If there is someone that you need to make memories with, or perhaps more importantly, if there is someone that needs to make memories with you, I know just the place. More than likely, there is a livestock auction within driving distance of where you live. Just show up and act like you know what you’re doing, but be sure not to make any sudden movements during the bidding

Support

Your patronage is greatly appreciated.

$5.00

On Government

It was with high ideals that I first learned about our government. Having read about it in our hoard of books at home, and with my father’s voice guiding me through each page, I held the founding fathers and the men who fought for us in the American Revolution in high regard. These weren’t mere men, a foreign concept to many in today’s society, but they were great men. Men with conviction. Men who lost fortunes for freedom.

Learning about government in school was quite a different experience. I was always puzzled by the role of the legislative branch. Why did we need new laws? Did people not understand right from wrong? It became apparent to me as a child that not everyone in my class, and maybe even a couple of teachers, had not grown up with a set of Encyclopedias and bookcase in every room of their home. In classes like civics, and government, I heard some the most bizarre ideas articulated and espoused that I am still more than a little concerned to know that those people are now voting.

I was chosen by our faculty to attend Alabama Boy’s State during the summer before my senior year of High School. Boys State was founded in the 1930’s to combat the Hitler Youth programs. Each year, schools all over the country send a select group of boys to a week long camp where they will create a miniature model of their state government. This mock government is complete with Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Judges, and all of the various commissioners and elected offices that make up the bureaucracy of their given State. At the end of the camp, two representatives, usually the elected governor and lieutenant governor, are chosen to attend Boys Nation, were a model of the Federal Government is created, and delegates get to meet the President of the United States. The boy that was elected governor of Alabama the year prior to my attendance was elected President of Boys Nation. Judge Pete Johnson, the Director of Alabama Boy’s State, had been a Boy’s Nation delegate and had met President Kennedy. While Everything I had learned about the government so far had been theory, Boy’s State was practice in every sense of the word.

I arrived at the University of Montevallo and upon registering was assigned a “City”, or Dorm. Each City was named for former Boy’s State Director. For that week, I lived in the City of Fann, which was the second floor girl’s dorm. We were also assigned one of two parties, Nationalist or Federalist.
I was a Nationalist.

In our first party meeting. We were tasked with establishing a party platform, and choosing candidates. As most of the large crowds I have been a part of had been at church, it was unnerving to be in such a starkly divided crowd trying, or not trying in many cases, to find common ground. The issues that we could not agree on, much like today, were Abortion, Gay Rights, and the Lottery. We argued for so long, that fearing we would run out of time, some adults intervened. They advised us to ignore these hot topic issues. We followed this terrible recommendation and developed one of the weakest party platforms in history, only rivaled in shallowness by that of the opposing Federalist party.


Looking back on the process we used to elect candidates that we did not know is quite comical, until I realize that it is also how it is done in real life. Anyone who felt so inclined was given two minutes and a microphone to convince the party why he should represent all of us. There were some vulgar remarks, quite a bit of silliness, and a hand stand by a snooty soccer player. In the end, we were able to narrow it down to the popular kids in each city, at which point there was another round of convincing with slightly extended microphone time and an admonishment to not pound the podium, the adult supervision not having ever heard a Pentecostal Preacher. At last we, brimming with patriotism, elected a boy from England to run for “Lufftenant” governor. Ultimately, he won the election and when it was discovered that he was a noncitizen, Judge Pete Johnson, being a member of some kind of naturalization or immigration board, pulled some strings and the boy was naturalized in front of the whole delegation at general assembly. It was quite moving and he cried a little bit. I’m not even sure why he was there if he wasn’t a citizen, but I’m also not sure why I was chosen, and I was born here.

Throughout the week we heard a few special speakers. They were mostly politicians who rambled about growing up poor, or growing up rich. One evening before one of these speeches, three boys played their electric guitars in front of the whole delegation. They played Sweet Home Alabama, probably the purest performance of anyone we had heard all week. The speaker was the honorable mayor of Fairfield and future 30th Mayor of Birmingham, Larry Langford. It was immediately apparent that he was the sharpest dressed man in the building. He walked to the podium and called the three guitar slingers back up on stage. “It takes a lot of courage to get up in front of a crowd of this size and give an outstanding performance. Y’all impressed me so much that I’m going to give each of you, out of my personal money,” here he paused to reach into his front pants pocket and pull out a handful of cash, “each of you a hundred dollars.” From the giant roll of money, he peeled off three crisp one hundred dollar bills. He did it with great ceremony and it made quite an impression on the boys in attendance. I recalled this incident when I began to read about Mr. Langford in the Birmingham News for running up a near six figure tab at Gus Mayer. The incident was again recalled when he was indicted and ultimately convicted for bribery.

Although there were many interesting things that happened at Boy’s State, probably the most important thing for me was realizing how the State government actually worked. As a result of a weeks immersion in the workings of the political system, I became disillusioned with government in general. After working in County and State Government for nearly my entire adult career, my views on government have repeatedly been confirmed. It is not the honorable, nor the noble that are elected, but the popular. It is not the faithful men of character that allow their name to run for public office, but the self promoters. Righteous laws are not passed, but popular laws.

Given the world’s current political situation, it would appear that with such a dim view of government I must be a miserable pessimist, or a political extremist. I am neither. Think me not unpatriotic. I am proud to be an American. Proud not in the haughty, raised up sense, but in the unashamed sense, proud. I cast my vote with a feeling of grave responsibility. I believe that our form of government is the best that man can do. After all, it is founded on biblical principles.

“For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us.” – Isaiah 33:22

The problem is not what form of government to which you subscribe, they all work in theory, but once you add people, the key ingredient, the whole thing runs amuck in time.


“…that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” -Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.” Isaiah 40:7

In conclusion, I find it hard to get worked up about something that God gives so little thought.

“All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.” Isaiah 40:17

Playing Church

My brother and I used to play church. He’d stand the toy box up on it’s side and use it as a pulpit. I would receive the offering, testify, and say amen whenever he was preaching. It was just me and the pastor for a long time. Eventually, after many prayer meetings, our church grew and our little sister Lindsay was able to help out with the music ministry. Pastor had his hands full with these two saints. He’d often have to tell us what to do and when to do it. “Alright Sister Lindsay, that’s enough singing. Brother Zane is going to come receive the offering now.

Sometimes we’d have revivals, and our cousins would come over. Zach would baptize anyone who wanted to baptized in the same toy box that was the pulpit. Sometimes he would baptize anyone who didn’t want to be baptized too. “No! No! I don’t want to be babatized!” our cousin Daniel protested.

“Hold your nose!” Zach said. ” I baptize you in the name of Jesus for the remission of your sins!”

Church was, and still is, a big part of our lives, and our play reflected that. I’m getting to watch my kids play church now in very much the same way that we did yesterday when I was young. Miriam, ever the songbird, sings constantly. She won’t be bothered by not knowing the words, she’ll make up her own lyrics as she strums along on a hopelessly out of tune guitar.

Going to Aunt Lindsay’s

Going to Aunt Lindsay’s

Going to Aunt Lindsay’s in my soul!

She hasn’t realized that all music isn’t church music. And if she ever sees anyone singing on video, regardless the setting, she will comment, “That’s a different church.”

Wesley protests when something isn’t just so. “Miriam, you can’t sing that anymore. The conference is over!” He measures his weeks by the church days, hoping for Sunday School the most. From time to time we go to a “different” church for a special service or something like that. He is very concerned that the different church teaches the “whole Bible and not just part of it”, and he will ask me to make sure.

Wesley and Miriam on their way to church.

Really not much has changed as we’ve matured. We’re just not playing anymore, but actually doing it. I’ve traded my broom for a real guitar. Zach really never stopped preaching, and today pastors Christ Temple Pentecostal Church in Jena, Louisiana, although he doesn’t usually baptize people against their will. Lindsay never stopped singing, now she just knows the right words. I pray that my kids never stop either.

Support

Your patronage is greatly appreciated.

$5.00