Home Remedies

img_3339“Have hemorrhoids? Try siting on a potato.” My cousin Anthony read aloud from Gram’s home remedy book. Now a person who had not experienced the power of home remedies would have only found humor in this statement. I still laugh when I think about how silly it sounded, but I as I recall, Gram only smiled a little and then looked pensive before she asked, “Do you need to cook the potato?” I guess she wanted to get the recipe right before trying it out, or more likely, before she recommended it to someone else.

Home remedies almost have a mystical element to them, like magic spells. My Great Grandmother could talk away burns. She would whisper some kind of incantation and the burning would stop. Her husband would buy warts. You had to wait till the next full moon for them to go away. He said they wouldn’t go away if you gave them to him, he had to pay for them.

“I cut myself one time with a knife while I was pealing potatoes. Granny washed the sliced finger real quick and rubbed ashes from the fireplace on it, then wrapped a bandage around it.” Dad recalled. I remember him reflecting, “I don’t know if the remedies actually worked, or if people just needed to believe in something. As often was the case, professional medical attention was simply unaffordable.”  This is probably true, but when you’re in pain I guess you’ll try anything. I once sprayed WD-40 on a severe case of psoriasis on my foot. This medical experiment failed, and I wouldn’t recommend it. But the home remedy of peeing on my feet in the shower had failed me and I was at the point of desperation.

Home remedies come in a wide spectrum, and can’t all be ruled out as kooky. The range of the spectrum is significant. On one end you have remedies like this: “Tie a match behind your left ear and drink a pint of buttermilk to help with indigestion.” On the other end you have common sense. Anytime we had a headache, stomach ache, or just about any ailment that was not inflicted by a rowdy sibling or cousin; Nonna would look over her glasses and ask us, “Did you bo-bo today?” Bo-bo should be a good euphemism-a lady like expression for a man sized fact- for defecate, but it isn’t. It puts you in the mind of being constipated in a public restroom with single ply toilet paper that didn’t fully get the job done and now you need to change underwear. But, usually this home remedy worked.

Another case of an effective home remedy was when Dad had the flu or a severe cough. Granny pulled out a jar of moonshine with some sort of root sitting in the bottom (perhaps sassafras). “It was like drinking fire.” Dad said. “I don’t know if it helped me with my sickness, or just put me to sleep.” Either way there was relief.

If you called Gram today and told her you had an ingrown toenail, or perhaps an ear infection, she would recommend a buttermilk poultice. Essentially, you mix up biscuit dough; flour, buttermilk, and a little lard, and put it in a plastic bag an stick your toe or whatever is ailing you in it and keep it over night. In the morning the poultice will have turned a dark green color. “It will pull the infection out.” She said. Or grow bacteria, I’m not really sure which. But I remember Dad, Zach, and Lindsay trying it out before Zach and Lindsay lost faith and went to the podiatrist.

From rubbing Clorox or tobacco juice on a bee sting, the virtues of coconut oil, and drinking apple cider vinegar for just about any ailment; the list of home remedies is a mile long. I’d like to hear your home remedy experiences. You can leave your comments at mostlyfrommemory.wordpress.com

Thank you everyone for reading and sharing my blog. I hope it makes you smile. 

Zane Wells

Portrait of a Southern Gentleman, or Things I Learned From My Dad

I was brushing my teeth this week, and while I generally do it every day, I can’t remember which day, so, I was brushing my teeth this week. I look in the mirror while I’m brushing my teeth. I was taken off guard to see that my forearms have grown considerably since I’ve been working in a more strenuous environment. For a moment, I thought that I was looking at my Dad’s arms.

I think my earliest memories of my father is of him splitting wood in the back yard. His forearms swelling as they gripped the maul. I was watching from my upturned five gallon bucket chair. Now I see him open the chicken pen and feed the chickens. Now I am standing on the back porch watching Dad wade through the flooded back yard in the pelting rain with a chicken under each arm. I watch a chicken snake as long as a fishing pole swim between his legs. I remember him killing the snake with a hoe. I remember him loading a rusty wood stove with the wood that he split. I remember riding around in his red Mazda. Mostly, I remember him coming home from work just about every day. Because my Dad is a faithful man.

Proverbs 20:6 Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?

My Dad did not teach me how to be faithful, he showed me. He has been faithful to his wife. He showed me the importance of loving your wife.

“In 1936c King Edward VIII of England abdicated the throne to marry a woman from the United States. He would rather marry that woman than be the king of England. I don’t know what it’s like to be the King of England, but I do know what it’s like to love a woman.” -Perry Wells at the dedication of Wesley Wells.

My Dad has been faithful to his family. He loves his kids. He has shown me how to love my children. How to speak kind and lovingly. Dad never talks to babies like babies, he talks to them like they’re grown people. I think that may be why children love him so much.

Dad went to work every day because he was faithful to his family and to his job. He only took vacation time to take us to camp meeting, and Alabama Revival Conference, and Men’s Retreat, and Youth Explosion and Back to School Rally. Dad’s family was his top priority and the best thing he could do for us was to take us to church.

My Dad has been faithful to his God. We missed about two Sunday services in my life to go the family reunion at Uncle Freddy’s place on the river. There was never any question of whether we were going to church. Even when times were strange. Not to say it couldn’t have happened, but I never once remember thinking that my Dad might backslide. Dad didn’t just attend church, he lived it at home.

Dad would have been an excellent candidate for college, but he did not have the opportunity. He started working in a foundry right out of High School. And so he worked all of my life, getting promotions as I grew older. I remember Dad buying a set of World Book Encyclopedias from a door to door salesman. I read through them about twice. A year. For the next thirteen years. Dad gave me a hunger for learning and an appetite for literature. Dad values learning in a way that I hardly saw in the public education system. He is a voracious reader, and because of this, there is hardly a topic that he isn’t at the very least conversationally knowledgeable.

Which brings us to conversations. I’ve never met someone that Dad couldn’t have a conversation with. My Father can talk to anyone about anything. Whenever Dad found out that Pastor Dillon was considering me for a Youth Pastor position in Winchester, Virginia, Dad called him up and talked to him like they had known each other for years and as if Pastor Dillon had been expecting the call. Dad has always been my biggest salesman. Perhaps you’re reading this blog because he forced you to read about a town drunk. Thanks for reading. And thank you Dad for being my biggest fan.

My Dad is a music lover. He would drive us boys around in the truck and we’d listen to Motown and British Invasion on the oldies station. He loved to sing along with the radio. I love to hear him sing at church too. My favorite selection from his repertoire is House Of Gold. I can’t imagine any voice but his singing…

Some people cheat, they steal and lie
For gold and what it can buy
But don’t they know that on the judgement day
Gold and Silver will melt away?

What good is gold and silver too
If your heart’s Not pure and true?
Oh sinner heed me when I say
That gold and silver will melt away

I’d rather be in a deep dark grave
And know that my poor soul was saved
Than to live in this world in a house of gold
And deny my God, and doom my soul

After he realized that I didn’t like hunting or fishing, and after I played the broom for two years, Dad bought me my first guitar. It was a sacrifice at the time, but Dad sent me to Mars Music and I picked out the Squier Strat Pack, “Rock N’ Roll in a box, everything you need is right here.” The salesman said. Dad also paid for my lessons with Marky Vincent. I still play that guitar everyday. I keep it out so it’s easily accessible, I think about my Dad every time I play it. Sometimes I play his favorite requests and imagine him listening in, bobbing his head and singing along, even though he is so far away. House of the Rising Sun, My Girl, Every Breath You Take.

Dad showed me how to tell a story. That’s why you, dear reader, have made it this far reading an essay that you will not be graded on. Dad knows how to captivate your attention and get you genuinely interested in a story. He sometimes leaves you hanging on the edge of your seat wondering what comes next while he shakes his head and rocks back and forth laughing so hard that he cries and loses his breath. Dad knows how to flavor a story with colloquialisms, short sayings that are stories in themselves, sometimes bizarre but still relatable. Growing up I thought everyone’s dad was as good of a communicator as my dad. The older I got the more I realized that Dad is a naturally gifted bard. Here are a selection of my favorite of his colloquialisms.

“Dangerous as doo-dooing in a well.”
“Heavy as a widow’s heart.”
“Goofy as an eight day clock.”
“Wild as a team of goats.”
“Ugly as pootin’ in church.”
“Mean as a snake.”

It was September 11th, 2017. I was vacuuming the church in the altar area, listening to Dragnet on my headphones when I got a call from Mom. She was crying. “I got some bad news. Dad has cancer.”

Cancer. I’d heard of it. A terrible disease that happens to other people and their family members. Cancer takes on a new meaning when it happens to you or someone you love.

Dad’s response was, “If God heals me, I’m going to live for God. If He doesn’t heal me, I’m going to live for God.”

It’s been a rough few months. A hard time. I’ve cried a lot. I’ve prayed a lot. There are a lot of things I don’t understand. I don’t know why my Dad got cancer. I don’t know why the first doctor missed it nearly a year ago. I don’t know why we found out so late. I don’t know why the medicine doesn’t seem to be working. I don’t know why God hasn’t healed him. I don’t know why…but this I do know:

Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

For the duration of my adult life, I’ve called my dad just about every day. He was there to give council. He was there to comfort when we had a miscarriage. He was there when the money was tight. I’ve been able to share a lot with my dad over the years. Every time I hit a major milestone in my life he would rejoice with me, then he’d quote this scripture:

III John 1:4 “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”

It’s not an easy thing to think about passing from this life into eternity. Recent events in my life have caused me to reassess my priorities. When I weigh what it is important in the light of eternity it is sobering to think that what most men are breaking their back and neglecting family to obtain does not even make the list of important things. But I don’t want to be like most men, I want to be a faithful man.

Thank you Dad.
Thank you for showing me how to walk in truth.
Thank you for being a man’s man.
Thank you for whipping me when I smarted off to you.
Thank you for being faithful to Mom. Thank you for loving her and honoring your vows. Thank you for sticking together through hard times, through hellish times.
Thank you for being faithful to God. I know that you loved the book of Job, but I didn’t think that you were going to have to relate to it on this level. Thank you for not charging God foolishly.
Thank you for taking out a second mortgage to send me to Bible college. Thank you for raising me to follow the will of God even though it broke your heart when I moved eleven hours away to pursue God’s will.
Thank you for living what you believed.
Thank you for making me get a haircut.
Thank you for buying me my first guitar.
Thank you for buying me my second guitar.
Thank you for giving me my first vehicle, the purple Tacoma.
Thank you for teaching me how to drive a manual transmission.
Thank you for giving me my second vehicle just in time for college. The old Plymouth Grand Voyager.
Thank you for paying for all the times that I went over my minutes talking to my future wife.
Thank you for showing me how to be a man.
Thank you for teaching me how to work.
Thank you for listening to me flesh out all the sermons I preached over the years.
Thank you for loving me.
Thank you for being a faithful man.

Parades

My family and I recently moved to Cullman, Alabama. It’s not necessarily important that you know that, but I thought I’d get it out of the way, and use it as an excuse for not blogging in over a month. Anyway, I thought the best thing that I could do as a new member of the community was to attend the Cullman Christmas Parade the weekend after we arrived. Sarah and I got the kids all bundled up and we traipsed downtown in the frigid 50 degree weather to get some hot chocolate and cookies, and to stand on the sidewalk to watch the parade. It was a disjointed affair because the parade route crosses a major highway that can’t be closed, so there were several ten minute gaps as the high school marching bands, politicians, and fire trucks waited at the red light. As if seeing Mickey and Minnie Mouse, a live church band playing on a trailer, Batman riding a motorcycle, a real live member of the state legislature, some real estate agents square-dancing, and cousin Eddie walking behind his Winnebago wasn’t enough, we got the added excitement of getting to walk as a mob on the road as we made our way en masse over to the park to see the Christmas Tree lighting. There is something exhilarating about walking down the middle of the road, It’s a lot wider than it seems when you’re in a vehicle.  When we got to the park, we all sang Silent Night as a community, which was really quite moving. Then we listened to the Christmas Story, the real Christmas story read straight out of the Bible by a City Councilman. Wesley missed the actual tree lighting part of the ceremony because he had to make an emergency bathroom break in the shrubbery.

The most dangerous and entertaining part of the after events at Christmas Parades is the speeches. When I was a kid, back before the internet, the whole town would come out for the Christmas Parade. They’d stand on the street and watch it coming and going. Then we’d walk to the parking lot in front of the City Hall/Police Department and listen to a choir sing on the portable stage that had been hastily brought out of it’s storage place behind the Water Board. The choir was amplified by a single microphone in hopes of combatting the steady flow of traffic that had been waiting for the parade to finish. After this, there were usually speeches by local dignitaries. It was on this stage that one of the most memorable speeches in the history of Vincent, Alabama was given by the drunken Honorable Judge Jimmy Sharrbutt. I’m sorry to play it up so much, because I only remember two lines, but they have become colloquialisms in the language of my family.

“When I saw the lights under the bridge, I cried.”

“Oh. And anotha’ thang. One of them Hassett boys broke my arm.”

When you’re a kid, a lot of times you don’t notice when someone is drunk. As an adult you can recall their behavior, speech, and countenance and clearly see that they were drunk.

After the speech we would light the giant Christmas Tree, the largest live Christmas tree in the State of Alabama, that stood by the Norfolk Southern railroad. This tree, along with the giant red and white plaster Christmas bells from the 70’s, for me are the epitome of municipal Christmas Decorations.

There is a timeless feeling that comes with a parade in a small town. It’s something that’s left over from centuries past, when people were not afraid to come out and see their neighbors. Parades are a lasting ritual from the time before television, the internet, and smartphones made the world a much smaller and less enchanted place. The wonder of technology has nearly stripped us of the wonder of the moment. Parades are one of the last remaining purely community gatherings. I’m glad my kids got to experience a genuine small town Christmas Parade, even if there were no drunk Judges.

Fall

Fall, when you are freezing in the morning so you wear a coat, then leave it at school because it warmed up in the afternoon. When you are roasted by the sun in your car and then shiver as you pump gas. Fall is listening to college football on the radio while your dad grills steaks. Fall is the only time that playing football seems like a pleasant idea. Fall is when I usually start listening to Christmas music whenever the temperature gets below 50 degrees. Fall is my favorite season.

“Whenever it frosts and you can see your breath then we’ll go camping.” I used to love to go camping. Staying out all night around a fire, roasting weenies with a stick that you cut down yourself with your hatchet and sharpened with your pocketknife. Getting melted marshmallow all over your coat sleeve. Playing in the fire with you weenie roasting stick until it’s too short to hold near the fire. Drinking half a case of Mountain Dew. Finally going to sleep in your freezing cold tent. Waking up in your freezing cold tent with camping breath, matted hair and reeking of smoke. I had a lot of fun camping as a little boy and a teenager. However, I don’t recommend taking your wife camping on your one year wedding anniversary.

Camping is the ultimate Fall activity, but it takes a lot of commitment. Frankly, the older I get the more important it is for me to sleep in my own bed. As an adult, I like everything about camping except the sleeping part. Mainly because you need a day to recover when you wake up looking like Ronnie Spates, the resident wild man from my hometown, and smelling like campfire ashes. Ronnie Spates, curtesy of Google Earth.

Another great Fall activity is the weenie roast. It’s like Camping Light, similar experience but shorter recovery. Some people call them bon fires not knowing any better. Weenie roasts are like camping for those who are still in diapers, and women. Weenie roasts are when you have a small fire in the back yard, or front yard it doesn’t matter, and roast weenies for hot dogs. Hot Dogs are the finished product, so you wouldn’t roast hot dogs, unless you wanted to burn your bread. Then again, some people burn their weenie on purpose. I can tolerate a blackened weenie, I mean you’re already eating a hot dog, so your standards are pretty low, but I can’t tolerate a burnt marshmallow. I like to toast my marshmallows until they are a golden brown and form a slightly crunchy shell on the outside. You’ll know your marshmallow is done when this shell will slide ride off and leave the melted gooey part on the weenie roasting stick.

I love the colors in the fall. For just a couple of weeks every year, leaves are allowed to show their true colors before falling to the ground, forced there by the wind and rain leaving the naked trees to wait out the cold damp winter. Fall is a fleeting season and never seems to last quite long enough. Perhaps that’s why the memories of fall activities are that much sweeter.

Wrasslin’

When I was about three years old, I convinced Mom to get me a Deluxe Hulkmania Workout Set, complete with a set of dumbbells, jump rope, hand gripper, a headband, a Hulk Hogan poster, and a cassette tape of Hulk Hogan giving a forty minute inspirational speech and walking you through a workout regimen, not to mention some pretty sweet 80’s hair metal music. I thought Hulk Hogan was the strongest man in the world.

Dad taught us how to wrestle when we were just barely old enough to walk. He’d lay in the floor and we’d climb over him. It was great fun. For the most part, Zach dominated me in the wrestling ring. He was overgrown for his age, I think he might have been born with a full set of teeth. The only time that I got the best of Zach in a wrestling match was when I wiped a booger the size of cornflake on him.

It took a few years for me and my brother to realize that professional wrestling was entertainment and the wrestlers were acting. If you suplex somebody for real, it hurts. Every week my family would have supper at least once at my grandparents, that’s where Zach and I would watch wrestling on their television. To a little boy there are not many things cooler than a man with painted face and baseball bat dropping out of the ceiling by a cable to fight a man who had 24 inch biceps who had just ripped his shirt off.

During the commercial breaks, Zach would try out any new moves that he had learned. On me. We’d usually wrestle until we knocked a whole in the sheetrock, or I got a bloody nose. It’s a wonder that we didn’t tear the house down.

From time to time, Mom would go to the grocery store leaving us at home with strict instructions to behave. We’d give her about five minutes to get down the road before we moved the coffee table out of the way and set up a wrestling ring. The living room had everything you needed for a wrestling match, a couple of comfortable chairs, an ottoman, a couch, and forty-‘leven pillows to help soften the landing as your brother pile drived you. There were always a bunch of decorations that we’d have to move too, like the ducks. Mom had about half a dozen wooden ducks that contributed no practical purpose to the functionality of the room. Over the years, we broke the head off of every single one of those ducks while we were wrestling. We’d spend about five minutes wrestling, and twenty five minutes in veterinary surgery supergluing duck heads back on. She didn’t notice either. We finally told her after we’d gotten married.

My great grandparents went to Boaz, Alabama to a live wrestling event at the National Guard Armory, because that’s what classy people did for entertainment in late 50’s. I think that armory was about the only thing in Boaz, but I might be wrong. Even today, it’s hard to imagine driving to town like Boaz for anything. The main wrestling event involved Tojo Yamamoto, a Hawaiian born American wrestler whose real name was Harold Watanabe. The wrestling company capitalized on the strong anti-Japanese sentiment that was still very much alive in the decades following the war, especially in the South, and Tojo played the bad guy.

Tojo Yamamoto was booed and heckled as he entered the ring. In the microphone, he indicated that he wanted to “Make aporogy.”

“My country, they bomb Pearl Harbor. I so sorry.” The arena went deadly quiet as he continued. “It wrong thing to do. I so sorry.” Now the crowd began to cheer

“I wish instead they bomb BOAZ!”

I grew up hearing this story every so often and it always produced uncontrollable laughter in a few of my kinfolks. Mainly my dad, who often has a hard time finishing a funny story once he gets “Tickled.”

The fact that this story has survived and still produces a strong reaction gives me hope that my ancestors understood that there was a strong element of show business in professional wrestling, and I’d like to believe that they went to the wrestling match for the humor.

Vanity

Mr. Lowe was the sole music teacher at my elementary school. I think he may have been involved with the music at his local church, but as I did not attend his local church this claim cannot be substantiated. I can tell you with certainty that he was bald. He kept what straight brown hair that remained on the sides and back of his hair neatly combed. I often thought that his hair had a distinct rounded puff like quality to it. I’m told he rode a motorcycle, but again, I never saw him on a motorcycle, or any other car for that matter, but I can imagine very easily that he did ride a motorcycle. He had a very resonant baritone voice and always taught setting down, which in later years I learned is not the best way to sing.

Mr. Lowe’s music class was held in a single wide trailer on the western side of the school. You had to walk outside, in a single file line with your mouth closed while you held your thumb behind your back, in order to reach the classroom. By the time all of us had filed into the trailer, the cool air had rushed out of the room, and we sat for the next hour or so listening to the window unit air conditioner work overtime as Mr. Lowe rambled about cows eating grass and good boys finding.

Music was taught in an odd fashion in elementary school. All of us, more or less, showed up on our first day at Kindergarten with at least good conversational English. For the next five years we were taught vocabulary, grammar, and composition. But with music, we were thrust almost immediately into music theory before we had any experience on a musical instrument. If we excelled in theory, we might then be encouraged to take up an instrument.

I enjoyed music time. Mr. Lowe introduced us to all of the least practical instruments for playing the type of music that I was exposed to at home and at church. He showed us maracas, sand blocks, guiros, and my personal favorite, the bells. I vaguely remember a piano, but no guitars. He would sometimes let us “play” these instruments. I don’t think any of us were very proficient at these odd instruments.

Mr. Lowe taught us the Peanut Butter Song.

First you take the peanuts and you dig ’em

You dig’em dig’em dig’em

Pea-nuuut, pea-nut butter, and jelly…

Mr. Lowe introduced us to Jerry Lewis in the movie Cinderfella. Before we started the movie, Mr. Lowe to pains to make it very clear that Jerry Lewis was not a sissy. Being a sissy was about the worst thing that anyone could call you. Mr. Lowe’s preliminary speech didn’t convince me.

Mr. Lowe tried his best to teach us about sharps and flats, rhythm, melody and harmony, but like many of my teachers, he spent far too much of his time trying to get the attention of children who’s only desire was to do anything but learn.

In about the fourth or fifth grade, Mrs. McManus sat our class down for a speech before we were to go to music class. We all prepared for another, “Y’all better learn how to act or we’re putting you on silent lunch” orations. What followed caught us off guard.

“Students.” Mrs. McManus began in a grave manner.

“Today when you go to music class, Mr. Lowe is going to look different. He’ll have hair.”

She paused for a moment to see what our reaction would be. We were so taken off guard that not a word was spoken. She took advantage of the silence and proceeded.

“Mr. Lowe has decided to wear a toupee.” Here she went into detail about what a toupee was, our french not being what it should be. After she was convinced that we had been thoroughly educated on what a toupee was, how it staid on, why you would want to wear one, and what it was made of, she made it very clear that we were not to “Stare, ask questions, or even acknowledge that anything was different about Mr. Lowe.” Now this is a lot to ask a group of rowdy fourth and fifth graders, but aside from one or two well meaning compliments, we acquiesced to this strange demand from our pedagogue.

This absurd experience made a bigger impact on me than all of the musical knowledge that Mr. Lowe tried to impart. We had seen Mr. Lowe every week for five years and now he was going to be radically different and we weren’t allowed to talk about it. That’s the way with vanity: we spend a lot of effort trying be something that we’re not and hope that it comes off as normal.

Icees

Getting an Icee at Watson’s Grocery in Vandiver, AL was one of the only treats that we ever got to experience while working for Pop in the hay business. Partly because Watson’s was the only store in Vandiver, which was where the hay business headquarters were located. There were three flavors of Icee: Red, Blue, and Coke. The proper names were actually, Tropical Punch, Blue Raspberry, and Pepsi, but since I had my first Icee before I had my first reading lesson, I never let these small details bother me.

You have to be careful drinking an Icee while you’re working outside in the blistering Alabama summer, there is a tendency to drink the sugary slush too fast, which results in a painful medical condition called “Brain Freeze.” My little cousins, Kyle & Chase, had a strong affection for Icees. Kyle would put his lips to the straw and would only turn loose when he got brain freeze, at which point he would grimace and grab his head until the episode passed and then he would repeat the process until the cup was gone.

Kyle and Chase were working with us before they were old enough to go to kindergarten when we’d stop and get an Icee after unloading a trailer full of hay in the barn. I remember one particular exchange my Dad had with these little fellows after we were driving back to the field after stopping to get an Icee.

“What flavor did you get Kyle?” Dad asked.

“Trocipal punch Uncle Perry.” Kyle replied, struggling over the polysyllabic adjective.

“Yeah, Red! My fravorite!” Piped up Chase.

Red was the best. As a child, it was extremely disappointing to have your hopes up for an Icee, only to find out that the only flavor available was Coke. Of course, you’d get it anyway, and suck it down until you got brain freeze. As you get older you realize that Coke is actually the better flavor.

I passed by the Icee bear this week and he brought back a flood of memories as he waved his cup full of frozen delight in my face. I almost got one, but they were out of Red.

Pyromaniac Tendencies

Every once in a while I get the urge to set something on fire. It started young, before Lindsay was born and when Zach was still in elementary school. Mom took me to a flea market and I got to pick out a toy shot gun. It was tan and brown with an orange cork that made a noise as you pumped it out of the barrel, POP. I played with it all afternoon, brandishing it at my brother as we picked him up from school. Sometime between getting home from school and the weenie roast that night, I broke the gun. I was disappointed.

My parents had invited “company” over to a have weenie roast, I think. Maybe they just had a fire.  While the adults were sitting outside in a few lawn chairs, I walked over to the fire. I stared into the flames for a few moments before I threw the broken toy into the fire. That’s the first time that I remember understanding what regret felt like. It wasn’t just regret, it was instant regret. I watched the gun begin to bubble as the heat melted the plastic. It was over in about a minute. I came crying to Mom and perhaps my vocabulary could not accurately describe my feelings, because she put me to bed. I don’t think I’ve burned anything that I was attached to since then.

Setting things on fire is part of a boy’s scientific method. It’s often the final step after an object has passed the claw hammer test and the water test. It’s a good idea to perform these scientific experiments outside, because some things burn at a quicker rate than you might be expecting. For instance, toilet paper. Toilet paper burns very fast. Carpet doesn’t so much burn as melt and discolor. You have take the scissors and snip out any burnt carpet and then rearrange your bedroom to cover up the burn sight. Or I’d imagine that’s what you have to do. 

We set fire to a plastic hunting bow case once. The flaming plastic fell of into little drips of fiery napalm giving a distinct whistling sound as they fell into the fire ant beds that populated the ground around our house. I have never been able to duplicate that effect, but every time I get something plastic I give it a try. 

As you may know, WD-40 is highly flammable. We read that on the can, but we just wanted to be sure. If you hold a lighter with one hand and spray the WD-40 into the flame with the other, it gives off the closest thing we could find to a flamethrower. But be careful to do this in small bursts, otherwise the flames will follow the stream back into the can. Actually, don’t do this.

There is nothing more fun to a boy than playing in the camp fire. That’s still my favorite part of camping, poking around in the fire with a stick. But camping was a special occasion and sometimes you need a fire when it’s not a special occasion.

“You boys pick up all the sticks in the backyard and put ’em in a big pile and we’ll have a fire.” Dad would bargain with us, using fire as a reward if we cleaned up the yard. Sometimes we’d burn off the kudzu patch in front of the house and shoot field mice with a .22 as they ran out of the burning, tangled kudzu. It was great fun.

My Uncle James Brasher enjoyed these kind of fires more than anything. He was always setting fire to the brush patch and then leaving it unattended. It adds to the excitement. He once set fire to a brush pile and then headed to the grocery store. While he was there, the volunteer fire department was roused and he decided to help them. He followed the fire truck all the way back to his own house, where his brush pile fire had gotten out of control.

Zach and I decided one day to burn off some of the kudzu patch next to our house without any adult supervison. In a drought. On a windy day. At it’s peak, the flames were at least thirty feet tall. It’s quite an exhilarating feeling to dial 911. After about three hours and two acres of ashes later the volunteer fire department finally showed up in the fire truck and the driver smarted off about missing his sister’s wedding or something. Volunteer work, it just doesn’t pay. By that time, we’d already contained the fire anyway.  Dad was more upset about the fire truck driving over the field lines than the acres of scorched earth next to our house.

Gun Safety

Zach and I used to beg Dad to let us help “Clean the Guns”, a ritual where we all would crowd around Dad’s closet and he would carefully lubricate and clean each firearm with a tin can 3-In-One oil. “Don’t touch the metal. You’ll get fingerprints all over it.” That’s rule number one of gun safety. I still make a conscious effort to not touch the metal on a gun any time I’m handed one to inspect.

Before he started wiping the firearm down, he would set the stock on his knee with the barrel pointed towards the ceiling, and we would all look at it in wonder. Each gun had a story. “I traded a bird dog in 1970 for this 12 gauge Remington 1100. I’ve killed a few deer and ain’t no telling how many birds with this thing.”

He was also prone to shooting dogs. We lived in an old house that was built on blocks. Before Dad installed underpinning, or had me and Zach install, stray dogs used to get under the house and break the water lines. One time Dad got caught up in the moment and shot under the house. Another time he chased a dog out of the yard for waking him up by barking. Dad had been working late nights and when he came to himself, he was standing out in the front yard in his underwear and work boots, holding shotgun yelling at a dog, at ten o’clock on a Sunday morning. But he didn’t usually tell those stories while we were cleaning the guns.

He would then pass the 1100 to Zach, who would put to his shoulder and aim across the room as if he was getting a lead on a dove. POW, he would say under his breath, letting it reverberate a little bit as if he had shot a bird on a cool still morning in the Alabama wilderness.

“Watch where you’re aiming that thing!” Dad would say as he reached to take the shotgun away from an eight year old boy who had just nearly hit him in the head with a shotgun. “You have act like every gun is loaded.” That was rule number two of gun safety.

Dad would then hand the shotgun to me, who had been waiting impatiently to hold a shotgun that was taller than my brother. When you’re that small, you are doing good just to be able to hold the gun without dropping it, let alone stressing about proper form and aiming. My Uncle Johnny remedied this by sawing about four inches of stock off of a single shot Harrington & Richardson .410. I still remember him bringing it over to our house.

The most mystically firearm in our modest arsenal was Dad’s lever action Marlin .30-30. A genuine cowboy rifle, replete with a gold trigger. Zach & I would work the action from hip, pretending we were Tell Sackett. Dad had shot a deer with this rifle that didn’t quite die. As he was walking toward it, the deer jumped up and began to run by him, Dad leaped off a stump like Tarzan and cut the deer’s throat with a pocket knife. This story added to the mystique of the cowboy rifle.

It didn’t take long to clean oil all the guns, but the ritual of “Cleaning the Guns” also involved looking at all of the pocket knives. Dad bought us a bunch of cheap, made in Pakistan knives because he knew that we would end up losing them anyway. And he was right. I lost a Frost Cutlery Royal Flush at Mrs. Yvonne Clinkscale’s house as I was climbing a tree while my brother endured his piano lesson. I probably climbed thirty feet up into that tree.

I had a Barlow pocket knife that I threw at a tree across the road after church one day. I remember thinking that no one would see me if I went around to the side of the church. Somehow Dad saw me, maybe through one of the six windows. Anyway, he must have witnessed the knife fall about fifteen yards short of the desired target and land in the middle of the road, square on the tip, bending it at a ninety degree angle. Dad sent for me to come see him on the back pew of the church, and he pocketed my Barlow.

The only two knives that I have left from my childhood are the only two that matter to me anyway. Dad bought me a yellow handled Case Slimline Trapper when I was two years old. 

I carried that knife for about fifteen years, before I decided to get a new one.

Uncle Jimmy gave me a red stag handled Case Trapper the year after my grandfather died. He would have been 55 years old. This knife is 55 of 110. Perhaps my first introduction to gun safety was when Dad took me out by the chicken pen and sat up a milk jug full of water as a target. He raised his shotgun, drew a bead on the milk jug and BOOM! The milk jug exploded. I was just barely out of diapers looking with amazement, first at Dad and then to where the milk jug had been. Ever the teacher, Dad said, “This is not a toy.” Wide eyed and unblinking I nodded back at him. This is the principle rule of gun safety.

My cousin Kent could have benefited from a demonstration like that.  When Kent was about seven, his grandfather took him hunting. Kent sat down beside him and they waited for a deer to walk by. Which is the part of hunting that seems the least exciting to me. Perhaps Kent felt the same way because his eyes began to wonder from the field over to his grandpa who was watching and waiting diligently. Then Kent’s eyes wondered to his grandpa’s shotgun, which he held directly in front of him, the barrel directly under the bill of his cap. Then Kent’s eyes wondered to the trigger, which was closer to him as he sat the on the ground. Eventually curiosity got the better of him and he slowly and quietly, sneakily probably is a better word, reached over and pulled the trigger. Booom! I can only imagine his grandpa’s surprise as the shotgun fired, blowing his hat off.

This brings us to the final rule of gun safety, in general, one gun is as dangerous as the next, but some people are far more dangerous than others.

Chicken Auction

Eclectic, Alabama. That’s a real place. I don’t remember there being anything like a gas station or flea market that would make it look like a town.  I’ve only been there once and that was to go to the Chicken Auction. That’s the only thing I remember about Eclectic. 

After driving from Tallassee, AL a good little ways out in the woods, you came upon a hand painted sign that read Chicken Auction. We went once, Dad, Lindsay and me. It was basically a chicken house with boat carpet covering the dirt floors. But They had really put some thought into decorating. There were automobile bench seats bolted to the ground and a concession stand in the back. The floors were slightlty sloped to give it a theater feel. There were probably close to seventy people there that night. 

The auctioneer sat in a homemade stand that, if you used a bit of imagination, looked like a pulpit, complete with a microphone and Peavey speaker left over from the 70s. In fact the whole operation sort of reminded me of a church. In front of the pulpit people stood in a line to sell their chickens, rabbits, guineas, and exotic birds. They even sold eggs. The line strecthed outside through a door in the side of the building. 

The auctioneer wore overalls and a collared white shirt. He had snow white hair peaking from underneath his baseball cap. He only took the hat off during the opening prayer in which he prayed for the evening’s proceedings and for several sick parishoners who couldn’t be there that night. Then he started in on anouncements.  He had the Old Southern accent, where the letter ‘R’ is only pronounced at the beginning of a word. 

“This Satu’d’y is the Confederate Flag Parade in Wetumpka. Please come out and bring yow’uh Confederate Flag. If you do not have a Confederate Flag, they’uh will be a venduh they’uh way’uh you can pu’chase one.”

After these preliminaries were out of the way, he began to call each person by name and they would step up and present their merchandise. 

“Jerry Dale, you have a nice Banty Trio here. Who’ll give me $15?.” 

From then on, his auctioneering abilities began to come through, and he went from talking slow, even for a Southerner, to a rapid machine gun speed of syllables. I could still understand him though.

Dad and I were having a great time and we almost went to the concession stand and bought some popcorn. You get caught up in the moment when you’re enjoying yourself. I always thought that the chicken auction would have been a great place to take angirknout on a date. It was a cultural experience tonsay the least, and Dad and I were were taking it in. My sister, however, was not really impressed. But you can’t expect everyone to be cultured.