Camping

My earliest memories of camping were Dad taking Zach and me out to Black Jack, a vast wilderness owned by the paper company I think. We would set up a little dome tent and build a fire. Dad would let us play in the fire with a stick, probably the best part for a little boy. We always camped in the fall, no sense in camping with mosquitoes and rattlesnakes. 

Most of the time we roasted weenies and marshmallows, but one particular time Dad went all out and made some barbecue chicken quarters over the fire. He seasoned the chicken, wrapped it in aluminum foil and placed it on one of those flimsy folding metal grills that set over the fire. We sat patiently around the fire on our five gallon buckets staring into the flickering flames.  Just before the chicken was finished cooking it began to rain. First softly then a steady drizzle, then we retreated into the tent as the bottom dropped out of the sky. The water began to rise as we sat huddled in our sleeping bags hoping for the rain to subside. After about a half an hour and half an inch of rain in the tent, Dad decided to abandon camp. We loaded our essential belongings into the truck and headed home. We ended up leaving the tent to retrieve another day, but the saddest part was that we never even got to try the chicken. I don’t think we ever camped at Black Jack after that.

From then on we camped on some relative’s property that had a small lake where we often fished. Looking back now, I realize how little I was, out of diapers, but not in school. It was Dad’s rule that you had to be out of diapers to go camping. In the mornings, we would go hunting not far from where we had camped. I would sit against a tree with Dad while Zach sat by himself a few yards away. He probably had a better chance of killing a deer by himself, because I was making too much noise playing with action figures. I never did catch the hunting fever like my brother, but I still like to go camping, and it just doesn’t feel right to go camping without a gun.

Zach and I camped with Jared and Creed once on the back border of their Dad’s property. Mr. Sherwood McDaniel, their father, had cleared the perimeter and it was here that we spent many hours playing. Zach and Creed were old enough to work at the store, so Jared and I were supposed to tend the fire until their shift was over. The gainfully employed older brothers had gone shopping before hand and brought some provisions for that night. I’m sure they got some good food but what I remember is the knock off Grapicos, they were nasty. We, the keepers of the flame, discovered that a can of Coke, knock off or genuine, will explode with a tremendous noise if you place it in the fire and forget about it. Creed and Zach were not as impressed.

While Zach was still in high school it was not very hard to talk him into camping. We’d often make the decision ten minutes before the store closed and then rush to set up in the dark. I can’t tell you how many times we camped like this as teenagers. 

The older we grew, the less sleeping we did when we went camping. The most miserable part about camping is waking up about half frozen and filthy with smoke, your breath tastes like you been eating dirt all night, and then having to clean up all of the camping gear. There was a point when we stopped fooling with bringing a tent and just stayed up all night. This made it easier to camp at the drop of a hat, all we really had to pack was food. Food is the best part of camping when you’re a young man.

One night it snowed on us, a rare occasion in Alabama. It didn’t last long, but it was probably one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. A big bright moon shining on freshly fallen snow, a few guys sitting around a campfire not fully appreciating the moment. 

I do not recommend taking your wife camping on your first anniversary.

This morning the air was crisp and cold, and full of that certain smell that comes with fall, a cool damp fragrance that almost burns. These are the conditions in which to camp. 

Last year my church organized a men’s camping trip. We had two fires, one to play in and one to cook in. It drizzled rain on us all night, but the little boys that went hardly seemed to notice. I still enjoy playing in the fire, and you better believe that I still enjoy eating around the fire, but as an adult, what I like most about camping is the comradery. There is something significant about the gathering together of men for the sole purpose of fellowship.

2018 Men & Boys Camping

“We’re going camping on November 1st Wesley.” I told Wesley a week ago.

“Do I need to start packing?” He replied.

The Liar’s Bench

Does your local gas station have a bench out front?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Go Carts

A set of powered wheels is something that most boys dream about. He thinks of ways to power his bicycle, perhaps with a weed-eater motor. He numbers the days until he can get his learner’s permit and start driving. “You don’t need a license to drive.” My dad used to say. “You need a car.” Although I got plenty of driving time in the hayfield, it was still work. There was no freedom. My Dad eventually got Zach and me a riding lawnmower, but we were unappreciative. What we wanted was a go cart.

Jared and Creed had a blue one. Creed, unsatisfied with the lack of speed recommended by the manufacturer, was smart enough to remove the governor which made the go cart dangerous enough to be really interesting. Due to a combination of rough terrain and hard driving, their go cart was frequently out of commission, and more frequently out of fuel. When it was operational we would race wide open around the perimeter of Mr. McDaniel’s property, getting slapped by the briars and brush that had obstinately sprouted since the last time the land was cleared. We would ride it until someone wrecked it, or we ran out of fuel. There was only room for two, one steering and one holding on for dear life. The other two stood and waited impatiently for their turn, hoping that the fuel would hold out and the cart would come back in one piece.

Uncle Tony offered Zach and I the deal of a century, $50 for a faded red go-cart with a fighter pilot steering wheel and a dirt dobber nest in the engine. We went in 50/50 at $25 a piece. We loaded her up in the back of Dad’s truck and stopped by the BP to fill up the tires and the fuel tank on our new rattle trap go cart. We couldn’t wait to get home and give her a spin. Somehow I got to drive the go cart first. We pulled the starting cord and the old engine coughed out grey smoke. I climbed into the driver’s seat and gripped the steering wheel, this was living. I gunned the cart down the hill and toward the cemetery. I reached the agreed upon turnaround point and whipped the little racer around without giving much thought to traffic, which was virtually nonexistent on the cemetery road. As I began up the hill the engine begin to whine, then choke and sputter, I was losing power. My brother was waving his hands frantically and running toward me. I couldn’t hear him over the unmuffled roar of the malfunctioning engine, I pushed the accelerator all the way to the floor. By the time that Zach reached me the engine died and I slowly started to slide backward down the hill. We pushed the disabled go cart up the hill to give Zach a turn. The go cart started up, but wouldn’t budge. I had burned out the clutch before Zach ever got a chance to ride it.

We ended selling it to a man in our church for about what we paid for it. I don’t know if he felt sorry for us, or just wanted to fix it up. I really didn’t think about go carts again until I was grown, and only then because one of the kids in my youth group got a brand new one. It had a roll cage on it. I thought that was neat, but I bet Creed would have figured out how to remove it to reduce drag. The excitement of driving a vehicle without a license was missing once driving became a chore. I guess some things are meant to stay in your childhood, and go carts was one of them.

I got a phone call from my Dad around that same time. He had just seen a two grown men pull up to the red light in the middle of town in a little blue go cart. It was Jared & Creed.

Things That Matter

Isn’t it funny that baby animals learn so much faster than we do? A baby deer will be up and on it’s feet within a couple of ours of being born, but it could take a child more than a year to learn to walk. It is a curious thing. It’s not that humans are unintelligent. More than likely you are reading this on a handheld device with more computing power than the technology NASA used to put men on the moon. How can we be so intelligent, yet so vulnerable? Such were the musings of my dear friend. Admittedly, I’ve never heard a rhetorical question that I didn’t think needed answering, but there is an answer to this existential pondering.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. Genesis 1:27

There were a lot things created in the first chapter of Genesis. No, all things were created in the first chapter of Genesis, but only mankind was made in the image of God. Before there was government, before there was a church, there was a family. God has a high view of the family. Nathaniel Wilson said that, “God, the almighty, could have called himself anything, but he chose to call himself Father.” With the knowledge that as a Father I am responsible for teaching my children everything, there also comes a sobering weight of responsibility.

At my baby dedication, my pastor and grandfather, Brant Douglas Reynolds, summed up the complex role of parenthood, admonishing my parents to, “Teach him to brush his teeth, but teach him have clean speech. Teach him to comb his hair, but teach him to keep his mind pure.” As a parent, I’m responsible for feeding my children natural food, but also food for their minds. I’m to help them learn to walk, but also to show them how to conduct themselves in society.

In the information age, we have to be selective about what we are going to teach our children. Not only because there is false information, but because vast amount of information available, it isn’t possible to learn everything that can be learned. As parents we are the curators of the ideas and skills that we want to instill in them.

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

I would do my children a grave disservice if I trained them up to do something in their childhood and then expect them to do something completely different when they become adults. What a tragedy it would be to learn that what seemed all important in your childhood was now completely irrelevant in adulthood. As sad as that is, it’s far worse to learn that what you did in your life had no weight in eternity. I want to concern myself with matters of eternal significance. I want to teach my children about the eternal kingdom of God.

In my journal, I often write my clearly defined beliefs on things. I do this in order to practice articulating ideas. But I also have a fanciful idea that my children will pass the journal down and it may come into the hands of a relative that I have not met. My prayer is that they will read these journal entries and the ideas and beliefs will not be foreign to them.

I have compiled a short list of things that matter that I feel a grave responsibility to teach my children, and am not willing to leave to chance. I want teach my children to have good manners. I want them to know how to treat people with respect. I want to show my children how to be a good father, and a good husband. I want my children to be good citizens. These are all honorable aspirations, but there are a few things that are even more important than these.

The Word of God is Infallible

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: II Timothy 3:16

As much as I would love to just give truth to people, especially my children, they must make that investment themselves.

Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding. Proverbs 23:23

There is Only One God

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine hear, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thing hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9

It’s easy to put this at the top of the list, because God makes it a priority throughout the Bible.

Jesus Christ is God Manifested in Flesh

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. Colossians 2:8-9

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, ) full of grace and truth. John 1:14

To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us word of reconciliation. II Corinthians 5:19

You Must Be Born Again

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. John 3:3

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. John 3:5

Jesus is talking to Nicodemus about baptism. I was once at a funeral where the officiating minister quoted this scripture with the addendum that ,”being born of the water was natural child birth.” I instinctively cried out, “No!” If I don’t teach my children that baptism is important, someone else is going to tell them that it isn’t necessary.

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. Mark 16:16

Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. Romans 6:4

Baptism fulfills the covenant of circumcision.

In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also yea are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. Colossians 2:11-12

Above all, I want my children to be saved. At the birthday of the church, the Apostle Peter answered the direct question about salvation: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. Acts 2:38-39

All of these things matter to me. I’ve got to be responsible for what happens in my home.

And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Joshua 24:15

Playing Church

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

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

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

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

Going to Aunt Lindsay’s

Going to Aunt Lindsay’s

Going to Aunt Lindsay’s in my soul!

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

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

Wesley and Miriam on their way to church.

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

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Roller Blades

For the first eight or nine years of my childhood the road transitioned from asphalt to dirt almost immediately in front of my house.  About the time that roller blades became popular in rural Alabama, they decided to extend pavement all the way to the cemetery, with brand spanking new black top. Fortunately, they didn’t mix in the gravel with the black top for better traction. There is nothing quite like skating on fresh clean black top. All of us kids thought that they had paved that road for our personal use. We probably used it way more than any of the cars. Aside from funeral processions, and a man who visited his twin brother’s grave every Sunday morning, we didn’t see many cars go by.

That first summer we did a lot of skating. I remember wearing out a pair of roller blades. The wheels wore down to a wedge. As the cars began to travel on the freshly paved road they brought little rocks that peppered our skating rink like buried land mines. If you have ever hit a rock with your rollerblades while skating down a hill full speed you probably will not soon forget it. After a few of these wrecks, we began to look for smooth, level concrete. We found it at the Baptist church. It was a wonderful place to skate. Sometimes it was shaded, and there was even a built in water fountain if you didn’t mind bending down and drinking out of the faucet.

But nothing gold can stay. One day I skated full speed into the faucet and knocked it off the wall, water sprayed out in profusion. Jared and Creed attended the Baptist church and got in touch with the church leadership. We all stood around and watched the water spray out of the broken spigot until an adult came by to shut the water off. I think he was more annoyed about missing the Alabama football game than having to fix the broken faucet. I’m not really sure if our skating privileges were revoked, but I don’t remember skating over there anymore. I think I outgrew my worn-out skates not long after than and I never replaced them. I don’t think that I’ve skated very much since then.

Easter Eggs

Last night we dyed Easter Eggs with several kids at Wesley’s birthday party. Just like I remember as a child, I was unsure whether the kids or adults were having more fun. Mom used to get the egg dyeing assembly line ready in the kitchen before she would allow the kids to come in and make a mess, which is what we specialized in. She prepared the Easter Egg baptistries with ceremony, which is always intriguing to a child. She was always doing things with ceremony and making us kids get out of the way. Perhaps she just wanted five minutes by herself, but in any case, children were not allowed to help set up the dye. (Or carve the pumpkins or make the gingerbread house). Although she sometimes let us watch from our barstools as she mixed the magical potion that changed the color of Easter Eggs.

I don’t remember Mom ever getting the plastic eggs filled with candy: Mom is a traditionalist. We had to find the plastic eggs at the Easter Egg hunt in Uncle Dave’s cow pasture. I did not care for hard boiled eggs as a child, so I was always hopeful that Mom would bring some candy and plastic eggs home from the grocery store. I once snuck a package of candy from the Easter Egg preparation pile on the kitchen table, hoping that she had gotten plastic eggs that year. I took the candy to my bed room where I struggled with the wrapper for a few minutes before I opened a pack of the nastiest Sweet Tarts that I had ever tasted. I spit out the one I had tried, I think it was orange, and dropped the rest of the package down a knothole in the floor of my sister’s room. Which was where you dropped things that you didn’t want anyone to know about.

A few minutes later as Mom was preparing the egg dying ritual, she noticed that the dye was missing. After searching around she asked, “Did somebody take some candy off the table?” She looked at each child in the face as she was asking this. She looked and me and I knew she could tell that I took, and also that I hadn’t brushed my teeth that morning. Mom’s have that way of looking at you.

“Yes.” I confessed. “But it was nasty.” Hoping that this would have been punishment enough.

Realizing my mistake, my desire to dye Easter Eggs overcame the fear of getting a whooping and I told Mom that the dye was under the house. To my surprise, there was no corporal punishment, only laughter. Zach was sent under the house to retrieve the dye and ten years worth of LEGO mini figures, army men, and other assorted items and toys that had been dropped to the abyss (probably with ceremony) through the knothole.

This is a happy story. Mom was able to finish dying the eggs, sans orange, and no one got whipped. Each Easter, we remember this story, which has lasted longer than any Easter Egg, hardboiled or plastic. I am still a bit wary of sweet tarts though.