A New Job, Manias, and Writing

For the most part, my job at Frederick County Parks & Recreation as Registration Specialist was to set at my desk all day and wait for the phone to ring. The other part of my job was to make sure that the website was up to date and people could do everything they needed on the internet without having to call me. It seemed like all of the people that had their act together were able to find whatever information they needed and register online. I talked to everyone else. I’ve had  quite a few interesting phone conversations. There is an art to talking to an angry person on the phone, perhaps it translates into real life. Stay calm, don’t raise your voice, and don’t be afraid to pause in order to the first two things. Most of the people I talked to weren’t angry though.

This is what I said whenever I answered the phone.

“Frederick County Parks & Recreation, This is Zane, how can I help you?”

This is what I’ve been called in response to that.

Hector

Eddie (4x)

Andrew (5x)

James (12x)

Zach (Thrice)

Shane (10x)

Ayne (4x)

Dane (14x)

Dame

Blaine

Andy  (Thrice)

Rain (Twice)

Damian

Ames

Lane (Twice)

Zade

Zachary

Dave

Shay

Wayne

Sam

Wade

Benny

Rob

Lance

Jamey

Dean (x2)

Ade

Cade

Alan

Zay

Zeke

Vance

Ben

Nane (X2)

D’Wayne

Jane (X4)

Zion

Zang

Jason

Danny

Zan

An honest mistake I know. Zane is not that common of a name. But I started this list out of boredom, not to hold a grudge. I also started writing out of boredom. Accidentally. In the downtimes when the website was running smoothly and the phones were silent I would work on this blog. I really enjoyed it.

My last day at Parks & Recreation was March 31st. I am now working as Church Administrator at the church where I’ve been the bi-vocational Youth Pastor for eleven years. I’m now able to tackle all of the things I daydreamed about doing when I was at Parks & Recreation.

View from my desk at Parks & Rec.

Like J. Thaddeus Toad, I am a man given to manias. I have tracked the cycle and it usually lasts around one to three months and I’m then I’m over whatever it was that I was crazy about. In the past year I’ve gone through film photography, mid century modern furniture, wanting to build a lap steel guitar, and bicycles. I’ve learned that something is not a mania if it lasts longer that six months. Writing is not a mania.

I wrote all of this to tell you that I am in the process of writing a book. And to thank everyone for reading this blog. Please forgive me for getting out of rhythm posting the blog, I’m not quitting, I’m just focusing on the book.

 

 

Cussing

Cussing was never acceptable in our home. I’ve been whipped for most of the cuss words that I’ve said. That’s not to say that we didn’t hear any cussing living in our community. Between hanging out with Bargain Town, riding the school bus,  and working with Pop, we got our Hollywood prescribed daily dose of obscenities even without a television. Bargain Town cussed at least twice every sentence, and I haven’t met many grown men that could out cuss some of the kids on my school bus, and I’ve worked on construction sites. Pop only cussed when he was angry, excepted when he accused us of not working fast enough, or “asslin'” around, which if it were a word it would probably be a cussword. His cuss words sounded like they tasted bad in his mouth.

There was a season in my life when it seems like we went camping every other weekend. Many times it was an impulse decision. On good days we’d plan ahead and have at least twenty minutes of daylight to set up the tent. But most of the time we planned a camping trip with just enough time to get to the store before it closed at 9:00pm. Once you start planning ahead to camp, you realize how miserable and tedious camping can be and you’ll talk yourself out of it.

Sometimes we, Zach and I, camped with our cousin Anthony. Anthony was about eight years older than me. He usually had a big mangy dog and an even mangier friend that would tag along on our camping expeditions. Without adult supervision, teenagers that cuss tend to use foul language a bit more freely. Anthony was a proficient cusser even around adults, so expletives abounded on the camping trips that he attended. If another cusser was present, usually in the person of the mangy friend, it was a contest to see who could out do the other. The contest would last into the wee hours of the morning.

It was on one of the nights that Anthony, the mangy dog, and the mangy friend, “Swamp Rat”, were camping with us that I had crawled into the tent to go to sleep. I laid there for a long time in the twilight of wakefulness, listening to the cussers compete. When finally the contest was waning and the older boys crawled into the tent, Anthony’s huge dog lay down on my feet and went to sleep. I woke up the next morning to Anthony asking, “Did that dog $#!+ in here?” The dog had broke wind and it smelled like someone had bombed the paper mill. In my hazy half sleep, realizing that the dog was sleeping on my legs now, I said angrily, “He better not have $#!+ on me!”

Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. Although not a cusser myself, I had been around it all night and in a dazed moment I participated. Anthony, who still knew what he was doing was wrong, was disappointed in me. Perhaps he just let on like he was just to torment me. Either way he made me go out in the woods and repent. I wasn’t mad at him though, I was planning to do that anyway.

Funerals & Wakes

I come from a long line of religious Birmingham News subscribers. Growing up, I read the comics everyday. My parents worked the crossword puzzle everyday. My grandmother, Nonna, Nola Wells, read the obituaries every day. If she remotely knew someone who had passed, she would call up her sister, Shelby Jean and they would go to the viewing. “Don’t you remember him? He married Mark’s second wife after they split up. He came to the Barbecue one year.” I’m pretty sure on more than one occasion they didn’t know the person at all. I’m also fairly sure no one noticed, and the family wouldn’t have been upset anyway. I went with her a couple of times, but I knew the people that had died.

Funerals and wakes were time honored rituals in the deep south. People used to take the body home for the viewing, that’s what a wake is. But it was more than a viewing, it had all the trappings of a normal family get together, like food, laughter, games, story swapping. And of course the body. You had to have the body. How rude would it be to have a get together celebrating someone’s life and not invite that person? People took it so seriously that they would set up with the dead all night long. How disrespectful would it be to leave Granny in the funeral home all by herself? Most of the time, the wake would just last til way into the morning, that way no one had to stay up by themselves.

One night in about 1968, Nonna and her mother, Granny, Ila Clementine Brasher, had been to a late night wake for Uncle Doss, in Sylacauga, a good fort five minutes from where they lived. Granny was wearing one of those big fur hats that you see ladies wearing in old movies. Wakes were formal affairs. Oddly enough they weren’t even related to Uncle Doss, but that didn’t matter, they knew him. It was late, about three in the morning when they finally got on the road. A police officer pulled them over because it wasn’t often that you saw a couple of  nicely dressed ladies driving through a rough neighborhood at three o’clock in the morning. “Ma’am, is everything ok?” Said the concerned officer. Nonna begin to explain that they were on their way home from a wake when Granny, in her big fur hat, leaned over from the passenger seat to make eye contact with the policeman and said with authority, “Young man, we have been setting up with the dead.” This was all the explanation the police officer needed.

 

 

Biblical Rock Band Names

I’ve composed a list of band names taken from the Bible.

I’ve composed a list of band names taken from the Bible.

  1. Wounded in the Stones
  2. Balaam’s Ass
  3. Kicking Against the Pricks
  4. Strange Fire
  5. The Fleshpots
  6. Pestilent Fellows of the Baser Sort
  7. The Whited Walls
  8. Jannes & Jambres
  9. The She Bears
  10. Dead Men’s Bones
  11. The Bloody Husbands
  12. Sons of Korah
  13. The Privy Members
  14. Wilderness of Sin
  15. The Lame Men
  16. Chaff
  17. Backsliding Heifer
  18. Gate of Sodom
  19. The 10 Plagues
  20. Hole in the Roof
  21. Golden Calf
  22. Pillar of Salt
  23. Forehead Bald
  24. The Italian Band
  25. Tombs of Gadara
  26. Noise of the Viols
  27. Hands Against Every Man
  28. Sepulchre Throat
  29. Plain of Ono
  30. Fire of Molech
  31. Sons of Belial
  32. The Peeping Wizards
  33. Ostrich Mother
  34. Dart in the Liver
  35. Golden Emerods
  36. Nehushtan
  37. High Places
  38. Riotous Eaters of Flesh
  39. Leave Us Alone!
  40. The Slow Bellies

Bad Influence

“I better not catch you playing with them boys across the railroad tracks, they’ll be a bad influence on you.”

“I better not catch you playing with them boys across the railroad tracks, they’ll be a bad influence on you.” I can’t tell you how many times I heard my mother say this. Not that I ever did play with the boys across the street, we mainly just hurled rocks and insults at each other. I’m pretty sure that they wouldn’t have been too bad of an influence on me though, I could have whooped them all if it ever came to that. I was always able to identify bad influence after I got a whipping for being influenced. It’s amazing how clear your thinking is after the rod of instruction has driven foolishness far from you.

John Wayne was a bad influence on me. I got a whipping one time for repeating a few choice words that I’d heard The Duke holler at some outlaws right before he rode out into the open prairie with the reins in his teeth and rifles in each hand, to blast them away. For whatever reason, my brother was staying after school in the fourth grade to work on some project. While Mom and his teacher were conversing, I went outside with Zach and one of his friends. Perhaps I was trying to show the friend how tough I was, perhaps he was picking on me, I can’t say for sure, but I called him a dirty name, or rather I called his mother a dirty name, and he told on me.

“Zane Daniel Wells!” My mother said, then she bit her tongue. I knew she was mad cause she always bites her tongue when she gets mad. It’s a wonder she didn’t bite it off  while raising my sister. I also knew it was serious because she used my middle name.

“Where did you learn that phrase?”

“John Wayne.”  How could my childhood hero let me down like this?

Mom was not happy. If I’d have known that I wasn’t going to get to watch any more westerns at my grandmother’s house for a while I’d have said that Zach taught me that phrase.  Mom wouldn’t spank me at school, she waited till we got to my grandmother’s house.

The influence of determined parents and a belt or switch was greater than any bad influence I was exposed to as a child, but I could never get away from the bad influence of my brother Zach, who is four years older than me. We used to make bows and arrows out of green saplings and fishing line. They were crude, but good enough for Robin Hood and his merry men. One day Zach decided that we ought to play William Tell, inside. It had to have been raining, or else we’d have been outside. Rain was the only thing that would have kept us inside since this was before we got the air conditioner. As I recall, we decided that the living room was the best place to play William Tell.

“Go stand over there across the room.” Zach ordered me. He of course, got to be William Tell. If I would have known the story of William Tell, I would not have complied so easily, but this is a story about bad influence. Bad influence sounds like fun until you’re already in too deep. I stood there with my big glasses, watching Zach as he drew back his bow.

“Be still.” Zach said closing one eye. I was starting to realize that this might be bad influence.

Thwang! The greenstick arrow flew across the living room, right into my lip. I remember being so young that I couldn’t properly express to Mom what happened, and I don’t think that Zach got a spanking, but I got a band aid that did not help the cut on my gums.

It was probably hard to be an active little boy who loved the great outdoors and have a much younger half blind brother as your only playmate. Not only was Zach four years older, but he was always big and strong for his age. This didn’t stop him from expecting me to play up to his level no matter what sport he forced upon me. He taught me a lot about sports. At football I learned to run fast or get tackled, but it was a long time before I could outrun Zach. What I learned about all the sports was, play until you get hurt and then Zach will leave you alone. We used to box at my grandmother’s house with my cousins boxing gear. Zach would knock me down over and over until I got a bloody nose. I never knocked him down, but it wasn’t because I didn’t try.

Another thing I couldn’t do no matter how hard I tried was catch the ball. It didn’t matter if it was football, baseball, or basketball, I couldn’t do it. In retrospect, I probably just couldn’t see.  “Don’t be afraid of the ball!” They would say. Who isn’t afraid of an unseen fastball? I would close my eyes, look away and hope for the best. Since I was such a terrible catch, most of the time Zach would throw the baseball on the roof and catch it as it rolled off. In one of the rare events that I played catch with him, Zach knocked me out with a baseball to the forehead. I laid there for a second wondering if I was still alive. When I got up I wobbled around and stumbled into the kitchen where Mom discovered the knot on my forehead the size of a new potato. Zach went outside and started throwing the ball up on the roof. I gave up sports then, I don’t even follow football.

After we realized that bad influence would be met with swift and painful discipline from our parents, we learned to identify it from afar and avoid. Sometime in my childhood a shift happened, and we went from being influenced to being influences. I am sad to say that we weren’t always good influences. I don’t think that we were intentionally mean in most of these cases, we were just children. For example, we had discovered through years of cutting grass that you can take the hose off of the spark plug and if you hold that spark plug while pulling the start cord, it will shock you. We learned that this is the scientific way of knowing if your spark plug is bad, sort of like licking a nine volt battery. We used to take turns holding the spark plug until somebody chickened out. It was great fun. One day our neighbors were babysitting a couple of boys a bit younger than me, and since the neighbors had three girls, the boys made their way over to play with me. I thought it would be fun to play the lawn mower game, but they had never played. I probably could have explained the rules a little better, because when I snatched the start cord and he received the unexpected shock, he didn’t want to play anymore and went back to the neighbors.

We had another friend that we could talk in doing just about anything, from jumping out of trees, to swimming in the creek in February. I don’t think it was so much our influence as his vulnerability to anyone’s influence.

Bad influence can be disguised as good advice. I once gave my friend Jared the worst good advice I think I’ve ever given.  We were at his house on the back deck at the time. I was watching Jared futilely try to chop a D cell battery in half with a rusty meat cleaver. It was just before supper time and I was about to head to the house, so in order to speed the process up I suggested that Jared use the maul instead of the cleaver. The thought had not occurred to him and he was grateful for the suggestion. He rubbed his hands together, grabbed the maul, hit the battery as if he was splitting wood, and instantly dropped the maul and grabbed at his eyes with his hands. He was hollering like a stuck pig. His parents heard the commotion and rushed out onto the deck. When he moved his hands there was black battery acid all over his face and hands. I ran home as they all piled into the vehicle to go to the emergency room, probably not the way that his parents wanted to spend the evening. I’m not sure if it was because of his injuries, but not long after that Jared started wearing glasses.

Now that I am grown, I’m reliving the cycle of trying to break bad influence, but this time in the role of a parent. Right now I know that my children are very impressionable and susceptible to bad influence. I’m careful about who they play with and what they watch. In a world where bad influence abounds at every turn, I believe that parents, for better or for worse, are the single greatest influence on a child’s life. My parents set clear boundaries and gave clear warnings. More importantly, they followed up with loving admonishment, even if my mother was about to bite off her tongue.

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Ghost Stories

“The true mark of success in ghost story telling is if someone’s mom has to come pick them up from a sleepover in the middle of the night.”

I’ve heard a good many ghost stories in my life, some of which kept me up all night. If you’re interested I’ll give you the tried and true formula for telling the perfect ghost story. This works 100% of the time, if you’re in the third grade. Once you know the formula, you can take turns making up ghost stories on the spot with your friends the next time you have someone “spending the night” with you. If you’re a grown up it’s probably too late since you lost most of your imagination somewhere before you started caring about the opposite sex and after you realized that using deodorant and brushing your teeth might not just be for the weekends.

Rule number one for telling a good ghost story is establishing when the story happened. You don’t want your audience to be so worried about when the story might have taken place that they miss major plot developments.  For a solid opening, I like to use “Once upon a time.” After vaguely establishing the time, it’s good to pause for a dramatic effect before coming in more intensely with where the story might have happened. I usually go for “In the deep dark woods.” I’m getting scared just writing this right now. Now that we’ve created the perfect spooky setting your audience should be sufficiently hooked and want to hear the rest of your story, now it’s time to real them in with the details. For our next line we need to establish who or what the story is about. A ghost story is only as good as it’s villain. You might try a line like “There lived a man.” You might even throw an adjective in for good measure, “There lived an old man.” The more time you spend on describing the villain the better your villain will be, but don’t spend too time with details, you want to make them wonder. We’ll give him long bushy eyebrows, a lazy eye and bad leg that causes him to limp. Now would be a good time to practice your onomatopoeia as you describe the sound made when he walked across the dirty floor in his decaying cabin. For extra credit you can describe how he received the bad leg, “In a gunfight”, or “on the railroad”, are always good choices if you get stumped. Our next step requires action, what did the old man do? Did he collect toenails, kidnap dogs and cut off their ears, or just knock on doors and run away? Whatever he did, it needs to be something that relates to all of your audience. We’ll go with “Turned off the lights whenever you went to the bathroom.” Now you can wrap up your story with, “And if you’ve ever been in the bathroom and the lights go out, you’ll know it was the old man!” Maybe throw in a little scream at the end for good measure. It helps if later during the sleepover you can cut off the lights while someone is going to the restroom.

It seems humorous writing about it as an adult, but I remember being genuinely scared of improvised ghost stories, even if I was the one telling them. It’s good to know when to stop telling ghost stories and go to bed so you won’t be too scared to sleep. My rule of thumb is to stop whenever I start getting scared at my own story telling. The true mark of success in ghost story telling is if someone’s mom has to come pick them up from a sleepover in the middle of the night.

I remember being quite upset by a ghost story on the 5th grade field trip to a camp in North Alabama. The camp counselor told us that the cabins we were sleeping in were built on Indian Burial mounds that had to be excavated before they were able to start building the campgrounds. During this excavation they found a skeleton that was missing a hand. No one knows for sure, but they think that this hand was lost during initial excavation when they discovered the burial mounds. The counselor told us that every once in a while they saw a skeleton hand, supposedly searching for the missing body. Every time that they had seen the hand they had also heard the Chickasaw Death Whisper. The counselor had been gradually lowering his voice and we were on the edge of our seat with anticipation. He said, “This is how the Chickasaw Death Whisper goes,” and after a slight pause he yelled at the top of his lungs.

A little unconventional, I know, because he deviated from the usual ghost story formula, but I was so scared that night that I eventually got in the bunk with my friend and I didn’t care what anybody said. Perhaps my imagination was a little over active from not having a television in our home. Many of the other students laughed harder than they had screamed once they got over their initial fright. Feel free to tell this one some place I’ve never been.

I remember telling ghost stories with our neighbors, Jared and Creed numerous times. Jared and Creed had a popup camper that they would take on vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains. I know they went to the Great Smoky Mountains because while they were gone I fed their Blue Tick hounds and I still have a pack of Great Smoky Mountain playing cards that Jared brought back as a thank you gesture. I’m sure Mr. McDaniel appreciated the break from his shift work for Alabama Power at the Logan Martin Dam. There was a leak in the dam and his job was to pump concrete into the hole. He’d been pumping concrete for about 30 years. Whenever they got ready to go on vacation, they would air out the popup camper in the basement and this was the perfect place to tell ghost stories. We all four piled into the camper and began the time honored swapping of improvised ghost stories. Zach told one and we all laughed, he was always to jolly of a story teller to be all that scary. Creed told one and it must have been pretty scary, because Jared moved to the back of the camper where Creed and Zach were, leaving me in the front. Now it was Jared’s turn to tell a story. I think he was still doing character development on his villain when I decided that it would be a little safer on the other side of the camper with the other three boys. As I crossed over to the other side the trailer tipped swiftly backwards and the tongue banged against the ceiling of the basement right beneath the living room where Mr. McDaniel was trying to catch up on his sleep in the recliner. Mr. McDaniel was jarred awake by the commotion in the basement and stormed downstairs. We were more afraid of Mr. McDaniel than any ghost story villain our imaginations could drum up, mainly because Mr. McDaniel was real, and at the moment, he was “real mad”. He looked at each of us in turn as we were piling out of the camper, then he said to Zach and Me, “Boys, it might be a good time for y’all to go on home.” We quickly obliged him. I hope his vacation brought his blood pressure down.

In the rural community that I grew up in legends were still very much alive. These legends spawned grown up ghost stories that were terrifying to children. What’s even scarier than that is that many adults still whole heartedly believed that they were true. One example that comes to mind was the legend of The White Thang. I’m sure I should spell it “Thing”, but that isn’t how I heard it spoken. The White Thang was a fantastic white creature that lived on the mountain and terrorized the community. Sort of. No one ever fully saw the White Thang, they just described it as a flash of white. What people were able to describe in detail was the ear splitting noise that the creature made. Some said is sounded like a woman screaming, or a panther. It was taken so seriously by the community that I remember it making the newspaper at least three times in my life. There isn’t much to tell, maybe that’s why it was so widely believed and what makes it so scary, the fear of the unknown. All of the stories about the White Thang were pretty similar. Someone was on the mountain hunting and they heard a scream like a woman and saw a flash of white, or someone was fetching wood late at night and heard a wild screech and saw a flash of white. It may have been an albino panther or mountain lion. There was never enough moon light for anyone to get a good glimpse of the creature. More likely there was too much moonshine. Whatever it was, many people of Sterrett, Alabama swore up and down that it was real and they had heard it and seen it, or at least a credible relative you had seen it. The White Thang might be more believable than some people’s credible relatives.

I haven’t told or heard a good ghost story since the last time I went camping as a teenager. I think I finally realized that I don’t like being frightened. These days I shy away from ghost stories in general because real life is scary enough.

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Hauling Hay, My Introduction to Work

“I haven’t found many things more disconcerting than picking up a bale of hay only to feel a snake crawl down your leg.”

The first job I ever had was Hauling Hay with Pop, my paternal grandfather. We called him Pop, but everyone else called him Slim. Or Slee-um, as we were in rural Alabama. Hardly anyone knew him by his real name, Dan Theo Wells. He was tough and strong, and I never heard anyone say a bad word about him, and if they did they would have been lying. I don’t remember exactly when I started working in the hay field with Pop, but I think it was sometime around the 1st or 2nd grade. I earned $5.00 per hour driving the manual transmission truck since I was not big enough to pick up a bale of hay.

Hauling hay, for those not familiar with this worthy vocation, involves a tractor with three or four different attachments, the cutter, the rake and the baler, and a truck and trailer to gather the finished product. You usually let the hay grow about a foot and a half then wait for a dry day and you cut it with the cutter, which is similar to a lawnmower but causes the hay to lay flat instead of being strewn all over the field. Then you allow the hay to dry for about a day before you rake it into windrows. If the hay isn’t sufficiently dried, you’ll need a fourth tractor attachment called a fluffer.  The final step before you can load hay on the truck and trailer involves running the baler along the windrow where it compacts the hay into a square bundle about 18”x 36” and binds it with two strands of baling twine. Square bales of hay can weigh anywhere from 40-75 lbs depending on what type of hay, how wet, or how many fire ant beds are in it. Fire ants have a peculiar strategy of holding their fire until they have enough troops on the ground for an entire regiment to fire a volley. You learn to notice if you feel anything crawling on you before they have a chance to take aim. You also learn to kick hay over before you pick it up to carry it to the truck. Other animals can take to the refuge of a square bale in the field or barn, field mice, rabbits, and worst of all, snakes. I haven’t found many things more disconcerting than picking up a bale of hay only to feel a snake crawl down your leg.

As I got older I graduated from the air conditioned cab of the truck to the position of stacker. I would stand on the trailer or truck and stack each bale of hay in an alternating pattern five bales high, so in the end the stack would have 20 bales each. Then I would tie down each stack with a rope so they wouldn’t fall over on the high. If you’ve ever had to restack a load of hay because someone stacked it poorly in the beginning then you will know how important the job of stacker is. And if you’ve ever stood 20 feet high in a barn in an Alabama August with dust flying as your big brother throws bale after bale of hay up for you to stack you will know how uncomfortable the job of stacker is.

Once I moved up to stacker, Pop would have Henry McGloughlin drive. I don’t know how old Henry was, but I remember going to his funeral once I was in High School. Henry wore overalls, had the same glasses since 1978, and chewed tobacco. The tobacco juice ran out both sides of his mouth, which made it a little awkward if you lost your Styrofoam cup at the community water keg, you didn’t want to have to drink after Big Henry.  Henry also had an allergy to deodorant, I think, so you didn’t want to have to ride in the middle of the truck when Henry was driving either.

One of the nice things about being the stacker was you didn’t have to walk on the uneven ground.  You could just ride on the trailer as the truck pulled you across the rough hayfields. Eventually, I gained enough strength and height to walk alongside the moving truck, picking up the bales and stacking them from the ground, only getting on the trailer to straighten and firm up the loose bales. My brother was so strong that once he threw a bale clean over the loaded trailer and onto my head on the other side of the truck, knocking me down.

We not only would load the hay in the field and unload it in the barn, we also delivered hay, which meant we loaded it our barn, or chicken house, and unloaded it in someone else’s barn. Pop was not just feeding his cattle, he was running a hay business. We delivered to people with cows, people with horses, people with all manner of livestock, construction companies, and even the county for building roads. What this meant was early mornings loading the trailer while the barn was cool and then a long drive to our delivery location. Pop was not much of a talker and we hardly listened to the radio when on these long trips. It was not an awkward silence, I think Pop was enjoying spending time with his grandsons, and I cherish the memories of those long truck rides with him.

Sometimes we would spend the night with Pop so to get an early start before the sun came up, beating the Alabama heat as best as we could. This often meant eating a bowl of cereal at Pop’s or on special occasions, going to a restaurant and getting a biscuit.

We had some cousins that would occasionally work with us, but never on a consistent basis. Pop said they “was a different breed”. What I think he meant was they were lazy, and wild. They had not enough of the strong work ethic that Pop was so steadily instilling in us. I remember the last time that they worked for us, one of them hit me in the head with a rock. I told Pop and I never worked with those particular cousins again. One of them turned out just like Pop said he would, “Sorry.” He said it like it tasted bad in his mouth.

I had another cousin that was a chronic complainer and hated working in the hayfield. One day my Dad said to him, “You are Slim Wells’ grandson, this is not just what you do, it’s who you are. You don’t just haul the hay, you are in the hay business. It’s who we are, get over it.”

In all of the years of working with Pop, whether we were delivering a load of hay or planting potatoes, quitting was never an option. Even if we were doing something as uncomfortable as castrating bulls, leaving the job never crossed my mind. I’m thankful for the work ethic that I gathered from Pop. Pop also helped build my confidence.  He never made me think that I couldn’t do something, he just told me to do it. I also thought he was the strongest person I had ever met.  I believe that he got a much needed confidence boost when he was drafted into the Army.

Pop was also a champion of education and was so proud of my brother Zach and me when we graduated high school and went to college. I often wonder how different he would have been if he didn’t have to drop out of school in order to help make ends meet around the house. Pop was extremely mechanically inclined and could fix just about anything. Perhaps he would have been an engineer. One thing he was not was a patient teacher, but he “learned” me a lot of things in his own way.

The older I got the more I could anticipate what Pop was trying to say. Perhaps it was from years of trying to decipher his hand signals while backing the truck, or from his tractor across the field. He didn’t say it much but he told me I love you in a lot of different ways, from getting me jobs, to creating work so that I could have some spending money when I went to college.

The only real regret that I have from working with Pop is the one time I refused to retrieve the truck from about half a mile away. It wasn’t so much the distance, but the difficult truck. The White Truck as we called it, an ancient F-150 that had a tricky transmission. The fact that it was a standard made no difference as that was all I knew how to drive until I was about 13 and we loaded a customer’s truck in the field. I hopped in the cab to pull the truck up and didn’t know how to stop it sense there was no clutch. The deal with the White Truck was that I could never get it started, I always dumped the clutch, and it was embarrassing. On this day, we had just finished loading the trailer and needed to go get the White Truck for some reason, I don’t rightly remember. At any rate, I told Pop that I didn’t want to go get the truck, and he got up and went to get it himself.

It wasn’t very long after that event that I was riding in the middle seat of the truck with Pop driving and Zach in the passenger seat, we were delivering a load of hay. I noticed that Pop’s right hand was shaking as he had firm grip on the steering wheel. I didn’t say anything about it, but a few weeks later Pop let us know that he had been to the doctor and had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. From that day on I noticed a gradual decline in Pop’s range of motion and his face became more and more grave.

After I was grown I chanced to watch some old VHS tapes of Pop leading me around on one of his mules. I must have been about two years old in the video and Pop was as fit and peppy as I ever remembered him in the hayfield. It wasn’t for nothing that they called him Slim, he was around 6’1” and lean but muscular. In this video Pop was beaming with joy, you could tell that he was showing off his grandchildren. It’s hard to believe that he is the same man since Parkinson’s has taken a toll on him.

Now that I’m grown and work a sedentary office job, I often reminisce about working with Pop. I’m glad that he taught me about work and I hope that I am able to instill a work ethic into my children, although they may not have the opportunity to work on a farm. Work is more enjoyable when you love the people that you are working with. I remember one Sunday morning around 6:00am Pop, Dad, Zach and I were about to unload around 1,000 bales of hay before church for Mr. Terry LaDuke, the local blacksmith. Zach and I were still wiping the sleep out of our eyes and quietly grumbling about having to work on the Lord’s Day, although, I don’t remember us grumbling much while hunting after church on the Lord’s Day. Mr. LaDuke said in sarcastic manner, “Boys, this is quality time.” And it was.

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