On Education

For years I have championed public school. Perhaps in a hardheaded way, because I am a product of public school. Notwithstanding the wonderful memories and relationships that public school afforded me, I would like to take an objective look at the education system.

Wesley started the first grade this year. The pandemic has caused his school to implement some resources that we have known were available, but never thought we’d actually have to use; namely virtual learning from home. Our experience with the first couple of weeks of virtual learning has caused me to do some critical thinking about education. For years I have championed public school. Perhaps in a hardheaded way, because I am a product of public school. Notwithstanding the wonderful memories and relationships that public school afforded me, I would like to take an objective look at the education system.

One of things that I still like about public school is that a child will be exposed to peers in their community. I do think it is good for children to learn how to interact with other children who are being raised with different values, beliefs, and traditions. After all, this is how life will be as adult. The simple principle Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself still takes quite a bit of practice and I think it is best taught to practice as a child.

Exposing a child to the peers in their community is also one of the things I dislike about public school. In my public school experience-especially in Middle School-much of the class time was spent disciplining children who had no desire to learn. I imagine that this is one of the greatest challenges for a teacher. Some of the same troublemakers that I watched purposefully disrupt class are now troublemakers in society. I see them from time to time when they make the news for criminal activity. So the time taken away from my education to discipline an incorrigible student was essentially wasted for everyone. On the other hand, learning how to deal with difficult people has come in handy many times in my adult life.

Perhaps there is an advantage in attending a smaller school. My wife is always surprised when I recall any of my teachers. She attended a much larger school than I did, and remembers her teachers as impersonal if she remembers them at all. There were only about 45 students in my graduating class and I had known most of them since kindergarten. So our teachers-I am related to a few of them-had a better chance of getting to know the students, which I think is a good foundation for a quality education.

It is unfortunate that public education is entangled in politics. Often decisions are made by bureaucrats that probably would be better made by teachers and even parents. You can read Year-Round School for a good example of that.

As a parent I am thankful for the opportunity to enroll my children in our Church’s Christian School. This was not an option for me as a child. In the last couple years of his life, my dad had the chance to work with Cornerstone Christian Academy. He was impressed by the curriculum-Abeka– and the freedom the administration had in organizing the school.

I am currently chipping away at my college education a couple of online classes at a time. It has taken this long because I have never been keen on going into debt for a degree that may or may not land a quality job. Even before the pandemic, online classes were really my only option. After reading some of the posts from my fellow students on the class discussion boards-a common assignment in online courses-I am strongly convinced that online classes are not working for everyone. It is painfully clear to me that many of the concepts being taught are not making sense to some students. More than likely these students will still pass the class with an imperfect understanding of the subject. Which is ultimately a failure.

No doubt we’ve all encountered people like this who may have eventually earned their degree. My dad used to tell a story of a college graduate at work who had made a really boneheaded production decision that cost the company a lot of money and time. Anyone with any kind of sense should have known better. In response to this error, one particularly perplexed blue collar worker shook his head and said, “He been to college though.”

To some degree home schooling is not much different that online college classes. Fortunately, most parents that I know with ambition enough to home school their children care enough to make sure their children are getting sufficient understanding of the subjects. Much can be said about the presence of a teacher who is genuinely interested in the education of a student.

Maybe the highest level of quality of education comes from a private tutor, or someone who is focused on only one student. This would be quite expensive. In many ways I think that this is where a parent is responsible for a child’s education. There are some things that are best learned from a father or a mother.

I grew up in a house where reading and discussion were valued. The arguments we had at the kitchen table were hardly ever about personal matters, but history, science, art, literature, or culture, and often could be solved by referencing the dictionary or the encyclopedia. To hear “Look it up” in a confident tone meant that you were about to lose an argument and be schooled. Even so, we never dwelt on who was wrong, but moved on to the next subject. That, I think, is how to create a culture of learning in the home.

Buffets

If Shoney’s was a country backroad, The Golden Corral was a five lane highspeed freeway.

Shoney’s was probably my introduction to buffet restaurants. It was the same idea as the family Barbecues of my childhood; you could eat all you wanted. Instead of barbecue and all the orthodox fixings that go with it (potato salad, macaroni and cheese, baked beans, deviled eggs, etc.) Shoney’s had a little bit of everything. I mainly got fried shrimp. The first few times I ate shrimp I got sick with clockwork accuracy. It was a shellfish or iodine allergy. We were at Shoney’s once with a bunch of people from church when Bro. Oliver Murray prayed for me before we commenced to eating. I haven’t been sick from shrimp or any other shellfish since that night. God knows I’ve had plenty of chances because I still love shrimp.

Shoney’s had a Salad Bar. My siblings and I would make a salad with croutons as a base. Then we’d pile on diced ham, and bacon bits, smother it with ranch dressing and eat it with those club crackers that come in packs of two. Eventually we started adding lettuce to the base, but it took a long time. I still credit the salad bar as my introduction to green leafy vegetables. To this day I am a sucker for a salad bar, but now I prefer blue cheese dressing.

I remember distinctly the first time Mom and Dad took us to The Golden Corral. It made the Shoney’s buffet look like a snack bar. If Shoney’s was a country backroad, The Golden Corral was a five lane highspeed freeway. The very entrance put you in mind of standing in line to ride a roller coaster at Six Flags. There was even one of those people counters that you have to walk through to enter the dining area. I imagine it was hooked up to a bell in the kitchen that alerted the kitchen commander. DING DING DING DING DING “Family of five just came in! Drop some more fried chicken and throw some more rolls in the oven.”

Ahhh! The rolls. Quincy’s had the best rolls. The waiter brought them out to your table hot and with a buttery sheen on them. I could eat two of them right now. I think the rolls were a tactic to get you to eat less food from the buffet. It never worked with me. There aren’t many things that I’m good at, but I am confident in my ability to eat. I was made for buffets. “Clean your plate.” This is how I was raised. My parents only had to tell me a few times because the idea caught on very early. They were training me to become a heavy weight buffet champion. We even had a piece of furniture in the kitchen called a buffet.

Don’t misunderstand me, I like all the buffets. But if I could only choose one it’s probably going to be a Chinese Buffet. Our family used to go to Happy China in Childersburg after church. It was in an old KFC. My Dad would get that Hot and Sour soup that looks like they dumped all the buffet leftovers into the dirty dishwater and served it up by the gallon as soup.

“It’s good.” He would say as he slurped it out of one of those round soup spoons that you only see at restaurants and rich people’s houses. We have one at our house but we only use it for special occasions. Like when all the other spoons are dirty.

Now there are some purists out there that are probably turning their nose up at the very thought of a buffet. They’ll say the quality of food is better when you order it a la carte. Snooty people are always using French phrases like that to make you feel dumb. They’ve got a point. But ordering off the menu is so restrictive, and I’m not good at making decisions in Chinese. The wonderful thing about buffets is you don’t have to choose! You can eat it all! Although I probably won’t eat those whole baby octopuses. But it is nice to be able to poke them with the spoon to help you decide.

The last place I ate before the pandemic lockdown was a Mexican buffet. What a way to go out. Since then I’ve been worried about the future of buffets. Will buffets become like The Piccadilly Cafeteria where someone fixes a plate for you behind a sheet of plexi-glass? Will you just have to hope that they pick right piece of fried chicken? That won’t do. I pray that I’m wrong, but I’m afraid that we may have seen the last of the all-you-can-eat buffet.

The Last Buffet

That is why I feel compelled to write about buffets. My kids and future generations need to know that at one time in America you could walk into a buffet and fix a plate of pizza, brown gravy, macaroni and cheese, fake bacon bits, sweet potato casserole, and gummy bears and no one would say a word to you.

Wrecks of the Week

They happen so fast; wrecks. In the blink of an eye, one careless motion can change someone’s entire life.

I got behind a UPS truck pulling doubles this morning on the way to work. Ordinarily I would have passed him, but after watching him weave back forth into the fast lane and then all the way onto the opposite shoulder a few times I decided it would be prudent to follow a good way behind until the interstate widened to three lanes. These are the kind of drivers that cause accidents. After a while I watched the truck driver run merge into another lane, running a pickup truck off the road and onto the shoulder. I blew the horn because I felt I needed to do something. It could have been a nasty wreck.

They happen so fast; wrecks. In the blink of an eye, one careless motion can change someone’s entire life. In the time it takes to check a text message someone could brake check you and you’ll be checked out for good.

It is rare that I do not see at least one accident per week on my commute. I have spent hours parked on the interstate behind countless accidents, making me late for work, and more importantly late for home. In April of 2019, I was late for work because of a wreck in Birmingham. As we crawled past the scene I snapped a quick picture with my phone, mainly as evidence for being late. When I finally got to work and had a chance to look at it I was struck by how powerful the image was. Since then, I’ve tried to capture a photograph of every wreck I’ve seen. I’ve captured quite a few over the past year, but I don’t even get half of them. Sometimes it just isn’t safe to try take a picture.

My first wreck photograph. I’ve often wondered about that phone conversation.

It is easy to forget that an inconvenience in schedule for thousands may be fatal for one. While someone is furious about being late to a place that they would rather not go, someone else will never get to speak to a loved one again. I try to think about this when I see a wreck.

I share all of the wreck photos on Instagram. They don’t get a ton of likes. I think because people may feel uncomfortable liking such horrible subject matter. Nevertheless, whenever I meet one of my social media friends in person they always bring up the wreck pictures. It is human nature to want to gawk at calamity, that’s why we rubberneck on the highway, even if we don’t smile about it.

I’m not sure how you look at art, but I like to imagine what is going in the picture. These images all tell a story.

I had a flat on the way home from work. I hope that this is the only time I’m ever featured on Wrecks of the Week.

You can find more wrecks of the week on my Instagram account. As always, thank you for your support.

Grilled Onions

Nobody ever waded through a crowd of people at the fair because they smelled a snow cone.

You know are an adult when you start ordering grilled onions on your cheeseburger. You may have suffered from alliumphobia as a kid, but sooner or later you’ll grow up. The smell is what gets you. You can trick people into thinking that you’ve been working up a storm in the kitchen by simply putting an onion in the oven. If you’ve ever been at an outdoor festival, it’s the smell of grilled onions at the polish sausage stand that draws you over. Nobody ever waded through a crowd of people at the fair because they smelled a snow cone. It’s the caramelized onions that draw you.

I hated onions as a kid. I am still not the point where I can take a bite out of a raw onion like Ronnie Spates. Perhaps I’ll work up to that someday. Right now I tolerate raw onion and cilantro that they serve at the taco place, and the occasional slice of onion that comes on that turkey sandwich from Costco. I’m still not overly fond of raw onions, but I am talking about it so that is part of the healing process. Onions are ingredients, not stand alone food. People don’t just walk around eating flour or baking soda do you? I do remember people walking around at Smith’s Grocery eating starch out of the package. The kind of starch you iron your clothes with. “It’s great!” They said. “But my doctor tells me not to do it.” I never understood that. Eating raw flour might make more sense. Do you know any starch eaters?

I remember sitting in the buggy and eating raw hamburger meat straight out of the package at Food World. It was before Lindsay was born, so I guess I was under two years old. It seems like I was mesmerized by the shiny shrink wrap around the ground beef. I poked it with my finger. After a while I made a little hole in the shrink wrap and started eating the raw meat one little nibble at a time. It was the cashier who noticed that the package had a hole in it. Mom frowned at this discovery but never suspected me. I told her a couple years ago. And I just told all y’all. If you are wondering I’m fully recovered. Anyway, I was telling you about grilled onions.

It all started in Winchester, VA. There was a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant called The Snow White Grill. It had been open since the 30s and they were known for tiny little hamburgers. Imagine Krystal burgers, but good. The burgers are-perhaps were, I haven’t been in a while-made from fresh local beef on a flat top grill. They make about forty patties at a time, and they finish them with grilled onions. They take pride in their grilled onions. There is not an option to have a burger without onions and if you ask for no onions they will look at you like you ate the Lord’s supper.

The Grilled onions on the Snow White Grill cheeseburger is what got me. It was a completely new way to experience a burger. Like seeing your childhood neighborhood in a different city. One with a Chick Fil A. It’s like going from arithmetic to quantum mechanics. Or Perhaps just algebra. I’m not entirely sure what all quantum mechanics entails. Grilled onions on your cheeseburger makes it deluxe. Like the familiar standard model, but way better.

Maybe you already know this and have been putting grilled onion on everything from cheeseburgers to ice cream for years. You probably eat raw onions too. But some of y’all have never tried grilled onions on your cheeseburger, and if you’ve read this far so you might as well go do it. Just be sure it’s at a reputable hamburger place. I recommend Hamburger Heaven or Milo’s. And let met know about it.

Bacon Cheeseburger with Grilled Onions from Hamburger Heaven

Thanks for reading, sharing and supporting.

-Zane Wells

Rabbits

The rabbit was not living up to it’s image on the lawnmower throttle.

Wesley just chased a lethargic rabbit halfway around the garden and up the fence line behind the barn. The rabbit was not living up to it’s image on the lawnmower throttle. He must have doubted Wesley’s accuracy with the bamboo javelin he had poised for throwing. It looked a bit like a Road Runner cartoon in slow motion.

I have seen rabbits run a lot faster. Like the time we were working in the hayfield and had just stopped to get a drink of water to keep from dying from exhaustion in the sweltering heat. Up sprang a little rabbit. My brother jumped up chased him halfway across the hayfield before catching him in dive. He was parallel with the ground, arms stretched out in front of him. The rest of us watched cooly from the shade of the truck and sipped the ice cold water from little dixie cups. Zach panted triumphantly back to the truck and held out a tiny rabbit that was visibly throbbing from adrenaline and fear.

“You boys ain’t tired if you can still catch rabbits.” Pop said as he stirred us back to work, as if I had been out there chasing rabbits along with Zach.

Not surprisingly, the best rabbit story I can offer comes from my Dad. Back during the Reagan administration, my parents and Uncle Tony were setting on the front porch of the house were I was raised. Dad was leaning against the column and drinking a Pepsi from a glass bottle when someone noticed a rabbit out next to the kudzu. That’s about thirty yards away, depending on the last time the grass was cut. Kudzu can grow about a yard a day. Uncle Tony tried to hit the rabbit with a rock, but he missed. Which is not surprising since his glasses are as thick as mine. The rabbit tensed up and sat frozen while Dad took the last swig of his drink. Then he held onto the post with one hand and leaned out into the front yard and casually lobbed the empty glass bottle over a crepe myrtle tree in the general direction of the rabbit. The bottle struck the rabbit square in the head and killed it graveyard dead.

I’ve never intentionally killed a rabbit. Even when I was conned into going hunting in the back yard with Dad and Zach. I don’t remember what exactly we were hunting, but I jumped a rabbit in the sage patch and watched him bounce away while I held my shotgun on my shoulder.

“Hey, there goes a rabbit.” I said proudly.

“Why didn’t you shoot it?” My Dad laughed.

Now that I have a garden, I can relate a lot more to Farmer Brown and Elmer Fudd than Peter Rabbit and Bugs Bunny. I’m almost ready to start intentionally killing rabbits. I’ve taken the first step by giving Wesley a slingshot and a sack of marbles.

Thanks for reading, sharing, and for your continued Support.

Zane Wells

Mr. Lee

Every old man needs a younger man in order to carry out their plans.

I was a teenager before Pop started hanging out with Mr. Lee. They were both retired and needed each other. Their idea of playing usually meant work for me and especially Dad. Every old man needs a younger man in order to carry out their plans. And to more or less babysit them.

Mr. Ronnie Lee was a tall man, maybe 6’2″. And about 160 lbs if I’m being generous. He wore glasses and-like so many other old men-a mesh backed hat that sat on top of his head. I have a hard time visualizing Mr. Lee without a hat. He also always had a cigarette.

“I can’t tell you how many times an old man with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth has saved my bacon.”

Bo

Mr. Lee had a saw mill and a planer. I remember helping dad plane enough saw-cut lumber to panel the inside walls of the lake house Mr. Lee had built. It was interesting work and typical of the type of stuff that Dad did for Mr. Lee.

“How do you want me to do this Mr. Lee?” Dad would ask as he was about to tackle whatever oddball task Mr. Lee had assigned.

“You do it just any old way you want to Perry.” Mr. Lee would say through his nose, his mouth being occupied by a cigarette. “Just however you think is best.”

Dad would commence work upon the task at hand with purpose. Dad would be knee deep into the work when Mr. Lee would come back around and check on progress.

After looking around for a moment Mr. Lee would remark, “I don’t know if I’d have done it that way Perry.” Much to the frustration of my Dad.

This story has become part of my family’s literary reference library; a readymade punchline to be quoted like ancient Greek mythology.

March 30, 2014

Six years ago today was a Sunday. It was a dark blustery night. So windy that my hat blew off my head as I was locking up the church for the night. I chased my black fedora down into the retention pond where I sunk my wingtips in ankle deep mud. I walked home. When I say I walked home it gives the story depth, but our house was closer to the church than most of the open parking places at Wal Mart are to the entrance.

It had been a great service that Sunday. One of those blow out services when you need to take your suit to the cleaners. We had been at it all day and it felt good to lay down. I was about to go to sleep when Sarah slapped me in the arm and said,

“We need to go to the hospital, my water just broke.”

We called our friend Sharon who was going to help us in the delivery room. Everyone needs a friend like Sharon.

It was our first baby, so we already had a bag packed with things that the lady teaching the first time parents class at the hospital said we might need.

  • Exercise Ball
  • Pillow
  • Laptop to play soft music
  • Hoodie

Maybe you’re about to have a baby. Maybe you have been to a class at the hospital where they dim the lights and talk in whispers and make you lay down in the floor and breathe together. All you have to do is be able to breathe. Cause she’ll forget. Then she’ll blame you for not reminding her to breathe. Then you’ll tell her how to breathe when the next salvo of contractions come and she’ll jerk on your arm and tell you that your breath stinks cause you went and made yourself a cup of coffee even though you don’t drink coffee but it’s four o’clock in the morning and you feel like a jerk for being tired. So you’ll go brush your teeth, and she’ll forget how to breathe while you’re gone. Anyway, you don’t need no stinking laptop, all you need to do is remember how to breathe.

We were up all night. I thought Sarah was going to pull my arm out of socket a few times. Sarah didn’t want to take any anesthesia.

You can call me a wuss. You can call me a pansy. I don’t really care. Going through labor was one of the most exhausting things I have ever done. By the next afternoon I could have slept on the floor of a truck stop bathroom and been happy to have a place to lay down.

Before the doctor came in to deliver the baby a nurse asked us if it was ok if a class observed him. So in they came with their clipboards and scrubs. Sarah was pulling my arms off and I was telling her to breathe. Then they told her she could start pushing.

I was crying. Sharon was crying. The nurse was crying. I was speaking in tongues. The medical students were so confused. It was the hardest most beautiful thing that I have ever gone through with my wife. Our relationship changed from merely husband and wife, to mother and father.

We had been on the fence about a middle name. I wanted Amos, Sarah wanted Zane. I said lets wait till we see him to decide.

I looked at that little bundle of joy and thought, “There is no way I’m going through all that work and not naming him after me.”

Wesley Zane Wells
March 31st, 2014

Shakespeare: Poet & Playwright

Truth is independent of belief.

I would like to consider myself a mild mannered man. Someone who exhibits self control. A man of temperance and longsuffering. In short, I strive to be a gentleman. But every once in a while something stokes sufficient righteous indignation in me to take some sort of action. I may not be mad enough to “bust some windows out”, as my father would say, but I am concerned enough to take up my pen.

The matter which has inspired me to write was a discussion board assignment for my Theatre Appreciation class.

Check out the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition’s website under the Activities folder, and read the Declaration.  Based on the information provided, do you think that the man we know as William Shakespeare wrote the plays of Shakespeare?  If no, who do you think may have written the plays? 

Here is the link the text if you are so inclined to read it. If not, suffice it to say that this is a link to an organization that doubts that William Shakespeare wrote the plays ascribed to his name. This is not a new movement, and it’s not really what bothers me. Anyone who is above average will have their critics. As a convinced Christian, I am accustomed to the doubting crowd. Truth is independent of belief. 

This was my response on the discussion board.

I have no problem believing that the man William Shakespeare is the author of the plays and sonnets ascribed to his name. Some of the reasons given for doubting his authorship are absurd. For instance, spelling in the English language was not standardized in Shakespeare’s time, which accounts for the variant spellings of his name. Doubters also point out that Shakespeare was uneducated, or received minimal education at best. This, I believe, is the heart of the controversy: how could an uneducated man from a small town in the country write some of the most highly revered masterpieces of English literature? This testament to the human genius is difficult for many academic minds to comprehend.

Too much attention to textual and source criticism degrades the value of the work of art. We may not know much about the author’s life, but we do know that he had a near perfect understanding of human life, and a mastery of the English language.
For more information on this subject, I would suggest reading Will of the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt.

In short, the burden of proof is on the doubters. To date there has been insufficient evidence to dethrone William Shakespeare as a literary genius.

So now you know how I feel about Shakespeare’s authorship. Perhaps I am wrong, probably not. I just believe that ordinary people are capable of doing extraordinary things and being incredibly gifted, even without formal education. Please understand me, I am not against education. This whole article is about something that happened in a college course. Brilliance is not predicated on education. We all know some 

There were only seven other responses to the discussion so far. They were all in doubt of Shakespeare’s credibility, but that isn’t what bothered me. What’s a slobbering hog to a jaybird? What I find alarming is how casually and quickly they came to this conclusion. 

By reading some of their responses I gathered that this was the first time that many of them realized that Shakespeare’s authorship has been in question. It was clear that they had allowed a single article with a decided slant to influence their opinion. Their responses were so casual. Let us remember that this is college discussion board; a rather annoying assignment which very few college students give much thought. 

As an unashamedly fan of the works of William Shakespeare it would be disappointing to find out that he did not author the plays and sonnets which bear his name; but other than cheapening these works of art for me, disproving his authorship has little or no significance in light of the weightier matters of life. My concern is if someone can be swayed so easily on a matter as trivial as the credibility of one of the pillars of English literature, will they be able to find solid ground when it comes to anything of actual importance? Or will they be tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine? 

 

 

 

Assignments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doris McDaniel

She wore pearls and drove a Cadillac; a great big gold Cadillac.

Mrs. Doris McDaniel spoke with an old Southern accent. An accent not easily imitated even by Southerners; Hollywood always gets it wrong. She dropped her R’s which made her sound like 19th century southern aristocracy. She also wore pearls and drove a Cadillac; a great big gold Cadillac. This certainly encouraged my childhood idea that Mrs. McDaniel had descended from royal stock. I thought she was the richest woman in Shelby County. She may also have been the sweetest.

Already in her 70’s when I was a child, she still owned and ran an old store right in the middle of Vincent. Prime real estate which set the halfway mark for the Christmas Parades. I don’t know how long she had the store, it was just always there. Kind of like her: a fixture in the town. As long I could remember, she kept odd hours at the store. People knew the store was open if her Cadillac was parked out front. The store was the only place in Vincent where you could buy a set of snow skis. It was like a permanent indoor yard sale. I think she kept the store open just to get out of the house, and to see people. People always made her smile. I think people came in to see her too. They certainly weren’t looking for snow skis.

Mrs. McDaniel was Jared and Creed’s grandmother. They called her Granny Mac. She would watch them sometimes during the summer. Whenever we got a little rowdy, she would say things like, “Oh my! Boys, that’s not nice.” She had a way of sort gasping the “Oh my”, and stretching “Boys” out to have an extra syllable. Even so, I never saw her lose her composure: She was a lady.

We would hang out at her store sometimes; stopping in to say hello and to feel the air conditioning for a moment. It was usually a checkpoint before we went gallivanting down the railroad tracks. She was always happy to see us, or anyone else that came in. She treated everyone that came into her store the same way.

The last time I saw her I was an adult. “My, my, my! Look how you’ve grown.” She said energetically. I had never noticed how petite she was until I was grown.

I introduced my wife. “How are are you hon?” She reached in for a hug.

“She is beautiful Zane.” She had a way of throwing an extra syllable in my name too.

Mrs. Doris McDaniel passed away on January 11th, 2020 at the age of 95.

If you ever drive through the town of Vincent, Alabama, you’ll probably take the old parade route: Highway 231. You’ll know you’re in town once the speed limit drops to 35 miles per hour, but you really aren’t downtown until you drive under the railroad overpass. The Christmas Tree will be on your left and Florey St with all the municipal offices on your right. There is a building on the right with a big sign that reads Doris McDaniel. Just know that one of the sweetest ladies that ever lived used to run that old store.

If that sign isn’t still there, it ought to be.

My wife and I window shopping at Mrs. McDaniel’s store.