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.

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