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.

Wrasslin’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I wish instead they bomb BOAZ!”

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

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

BB Guns

“I sent Wesley a package for his birthday. I figured it would be easier to tell you after I sent it. It’s a BB Gun. I only got him 1,500 BBs, so you’ll need to get him some more pretty soon.” This is what Dad told me. 

I can remember my first BB gun. Zach and I each got one on Christmas morning when I was about four years old. Mine was a Daisy Red Ryder model. “Don’t shoot any song birds.” Dad admonished us. Zach had his gun rights recalled about half an hour later when he shot a blue bird off of the play house. 

Between the two of us, we kept the squirrels at bay. Our reasoning was they ate too many of our pecans. But we didn’t like picking up pecans anyway. We did eat what we shot though. I’ve never had much if a stomach for skinning squirrels. Or rabbits, deer, and fish for that matter. Shoot, my wife baited my hook the last time we went fishing. I know my limitations. 

The coolest BB guns that we ever had looked just like a Colt Peacemaker and Winchester lever action rifle. We would run out of BBs shooting at the Comanches and resort to shooting rocks and sticks through them. Eventually the hammer broke off the pistol and it’s hard to play cowboys and Indians when your new BB gun looks like a Colt 1911, so we shot BBs, rocks and sticks at the Germans and Japanese. 

I think that we wore out more BB guns than the average boys. It’s probably a good thing too, because I shot the girl next door with a BB gun. I don’t remember why I did it. it doesn’t matter anyway, nothing worth shooting someone over. The real reason was meanness. “Watch your legs!” I yelled as she ran across her yard. I aimed through chain link fence and got a lead on her before squeezing the trigger. I hit her right in the knee. I can’t imagine what kind of damage that could have been done if I’d have had a proper working firearm, but I’m glad I didn’t. I’m also glad her dad was a church going Christian, because he might have killed me if he wasn’t. After my mom nearly beat me half to death, I had to apologize to Tiffany, and her dad. “I don’t accept your apology!” She screamed. She was as ill as a hornet. I can’t blame her. On top of that, I had my BB gun priviledges revoked for a few years. 

Tiffany, if you’re reading this, I hope that you’ve forgiven me. Because I can’t tell you how sorry I am. 

After opening Wesley’s birthday present, I learned that Daisy has dialed back the stopping power on these newer models considerably. For that I am grateful. Well, a little bit anyway. 

Barbecue, Barbeque, BBQ

It’s that time of year. Barbecue season. I’ve always struggled with how to spell that, but WordPress autocorrect just informed me that the proper spelling was “Barbecue”. I bet they won’t tell that to Golden Rule Barbeque in Irondale, which has been around at least hundred years longer than autocorrect. They probably won’t tell Fat Man’s Bar B Que in Pell City either. Or Full Moon Bar-B-Que. Anyway, I’m still not sure how to spell it, because I “ain’t never eat no” BBQ that WordPress cooked. But even if I can’t spell it, I can define it. At least I’ll give it a try. Defining barbecue is like defining women. You’ll excite half the people and offend the rest.

First off, barbecue is a noun. I think it’s pork. Mainly Boston Butt’s, but if you want to throw some ribs on the grill while we’re waiting for the butts to get done I’ll still eat them and call it barbecue. I eat so many ribs one year when I was a boy that it was several years before I had another one. If you want to get deep and go to the root meaning of the word barbecue, it means “cooking a whole hog on a wood fired grill”. Which is where we get the term, “Whole Hog.” Which means that you go all out doing something. I’ll use it in a sentence so you’ll understand it better.

“Zane is taking this writing thing seriously, I heard he’s going whole hog and trying to write a book.”

Barbecue also has to have some sauce. My Uncle Johnny was always the self appointed grill master at all of our family get togethers in the summer. Not without good reason though, he is an excellent cook. He would crupper up his own sauce recipe using Kraft Original as a base. “Cattleman’s tastes too much like ketchup, don’t use it.” He would say. When the meat was done, he would pull it apart or chop it up, put it in a deep pan and pour enough sauce over it that it would  almost simmer and bubble as it sat on the grill. He always made two pans, one regular and one hot. He liked it hot. He didn’t have any teeth and chewed tobacco. I don’t think that affected his taste buds though. Once he ate breakfast with us and drank the tomato juice out of the serving plate. I watched him in wonder as he slurped the juice, set the plate down and lick his lips. He sat there a moment enjoying his draught. Then he said,”There was a bad tomato in there.”  Anyone with taste buds that sharp wouldn’t have been inhibited by tobacco juice. Anyway, Uncle Johnny liked his barbecue hot. He liked everything hot. He made gravy so hot one time that the cats wouldn’t eat it. As a kid, my mom would warn me about the hot pan of barbecue. “It’s hot baby, you won’t like it.” I grew up thinking that the hot pan of barbecue was going to burn through my esophagus. When I was finally old enough to fix my own plate, I tried some. It was delicious.

I’ve rambled a little bit here. We were defining Barbecue and I’ve already offended all the Texans and Carolinians. It’s probably just easier to tell you what barbecue ain’t, and that’s hamburger and hot dogs. You’re supposed to fry hamburgers in an iron skillet and roast weenies in the fall around a fire. If you get invited to a barbecue and they’re cooking hamburgers and hot dogs, I’m sorry, but those people have misled you. I’m sure they’re nice people and all, but I wouldn’t let them watch my kids if I were you, next thing you know they’ll have them playing soccer or something crazy like that. 

A Barbecue (see how I capitalized it) is also defined as a sacred feast for Southerners, where pork is cooked on a wood fired grill outside. This feast usually lasts about three days.

In general, we had about four or five Barbecues a year. We did have the official family reunion at my Great Uncle Freddie’s on the river, and sometimes we barbecued there. But all the same people came to the barbecues at my Aunt Edna’s, just up the hill from Pop’s, on Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day. And whenever Pop deemed it was angood time to have a Barbecue.  Since the location, menu, and people were the same each time, the only way that I could tell a difference in all of those holidays was that we shot bottle rockets on the Fourth of July. To me, these summer holidays were simply Barbecues.

The Barbecue would start on Friday night. “We’ll serve dinner on Sunday at noon.” Pop would say. Up until then, we feasted. We might have a fish fry while the barbecue was slow cooking. Somebody might through some Cornish game hens on the grill and eat them while we were waiting on the main course. One time my Uncle James put a Boston Butt on the grill and then left. He come back about six or five hours later and his meat was about half gone. He singled Uncle Johnny out, “You done eat all my barbecue Johnny.”

“I can’t eat t’at James, I ain’t got no teeth!” Uncle Johnny retorted.

“Yeah, but you kin bite a railroad rail in two with them gums of yores.”

Barbecuing a whole hog is a lot of work, but man is it worth it. There is nothing like slicing the meat off of a hog and eating it around the grill. All it needs is a little bit of salt.

This is the grill that Pop & Uncle Johnny used throughout my childhood. You can see the front peice is on the ground. You can cook whole hogs or just use the grill to cook Boston Butts and ribs. 

When Sunday finally rolled around, we would eat, not just barbecue, but we had a buffet of sides that was five tables long under Aunt Edna’s carport. It was also about fifty yards from the grill. I’m not writing about sides though, I’m writing about barbecue.

When I close my eyes and work up a hankering for barbecue, I still see my family sitting outside around a humongous oak tree. Many of them have passed on now.  I envision myself as a little boy with thick glasses walking to the grill down by the tree line. They were pine trees. Uncle Johnny pulls the front of the grill open to throw a couple of pieces of hickory wood on the fire. Sparks fly everywhere. I walk in front of all the old men sitting around the grill and ask Uncle Johnny to dip me out some of barbecue on my bun. “No sir, I’ll have the regular.” I say. I take a bite of that barbecue sandwich, and blink to get the smoke out of my eyes. That’s really how I define Barbecue.

That giant oak tree finally died and they had to cut it down before it fell on Aunt Edna’s house. I’m sure they used some of that wood for a barbecue. Uncle Johnny showed my brother how to barbecue a coon’s age ago. He wanted to pass it on to the next generation. Although Zach learned on the other grill, I feel like he mastered this one. I’m going to get one of these someday. 

Since I’ve moved to Virginia, I haven’t been to a proper Barbecue in over a decade. Perhaps that’s why I’ve expanded my definition of barbecue to include Brisket, chicken, and dry rub. I even like that old nasty vinegar stuff they try to pass as barbecue down in the Carolinas. No matter what barbecue I try, nothing is quite the same as those summer Barbecues of my childhood in the blazing Alabama heat. It’s hard to capture that whole experience in a restaurant. 

It seems like every year when the weather changes I get invited to someone’s place for a barbecue. I’ve learned to be polite and go, but I know it’s going to be hamburgers and hot dogs.

Devil In The Ditch

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been whooped for playing Devil In The Ditch. It was my favorite game to play at church. Now before you think that I’ve been involved in the occult, let me explain the rules of this sinister sounding game. If you walked out of the front door of our church, turned left and walked about twenty five feet, you would come upon a ditch running parallel with the road for the full length of the church property. This was “The Ditch”. At the back of the church property it was shallow and got deeper as it reached the front where it made a sharp angle in the fork of the road. At it’s deepest, the ditch was about three feet deep. The rules of the game were fairly simple, whoever was in the ditch was the devil, everyone else had to jump the ditch without being tagged by the devil. If you were tagged, you were the new devil.

It was great fun. Part of the fun was knowing that you weren’t supposed to be playing in the ditch, namely because it was probably the most dangerous thing that we could have done. That’s the way with people, the more dangerous and risky, the more likely we’ll engage in it and call it fun. The other part of the fun was having to sneak to do it. Sneaking was pretty easy though, you know how parents get to talking to everybody after church. We had better chances of getting to play Devil In The Ditch if we didn’t stay inside and pester the adults. As long as we weren’t whining and interrupting conversations they didn’t miss us. It wouldn’t be until the first crybaby ran inside to complain to their parents that someone was cheating, or that they didn’t want to be the devil, or that they had sprained an ankle, that all of the parents would come barreling out of the air conditioned church into the sweltering heat to retrieve their miscreant children who had been busy ruining their Sunday clothes in the filthy ditch. Punishment would be doled out heartily to some children and sparingly to others, and it seems like not at all to some of the worst offenders.

As children we never gave a single thought to how dangerous this game was, we were only concerned about having fun. Since the ditch was about a foot from the road, any one of us could have been hit by a car. Although this was highly unlikely because there was hardly any traffic on that road. Aside from getting grass stains and mud all over our church clothes, we could have easily broken a limb as we tried to jump the ditch, which was quite wide in the deeper places. Fortunately, I don’t remember any major injuries sustained while engaging in this game.

After more than a decade in Youth Ministry, I’ve noticed that the thrill of the dangerous doesn’t go away as we get older. Now that we’re all grown, I doubt we are tempted to ruin our church clothes playing a silly game like Devil in the Ditch. But the games that we are tempted to play as adults basically all have the same concept as Devil in the Ditch. But the adult version is far more dangerous.

 

Kindergarten

I cried when my mamma left me at school on my first day of kindergarten.

I cried when my mamma left me at school on my first day of kindergarten. “Look Zane, there’s a little boy with red hair.” She tried to comfort me as she pointed to Scottie, a boy with flaming red hair and a rat tail. Eventually I quieted down and took my seat directly across from Corey, a boy with a flat top haircut and perpetual drool on his chin. Miss Whitehead, our teacher, must have told him to wipe his chin at least six times a day for the rest of the school year, because I can still hear the frustration in her voice. Once all of the little children settled down and stopped sniffling a boy named Blake threw a bottle of glue across the room. As if on queue, the entire class stopped what they were doing and said, “Ooooohh”. This was the standard instinctual reaction for anything out of the ordinary for the next six or so years.

Miss Whitehead was a petite lady and was still in the early years of her teaching career. She had one of those bob haircuts that we popular in the early nineties, and she wore stirrup pants. It also seems like she wore a lot of horizontal striped shirts. I’m sure she was pretty trendy at the time. She must have gotten married and moved away because I only remember her being there for the first year of Elementary School. I did not move away, and neither did most of my classmates, Jordan, Ashleigh, Amanda, Stephanie, T.J., Maurice, Bexter, and several others. We would make memories together for the until we graduated thirteen years later.

I look back in regret at how much I hated nap time. I’m fairly certain that I never went to sleep anyway, although I did enjoy faking going to sleep so that the child assigned to wake everyone up would have to shake me. There was one kid that went sound asleep everyday and always woke up slightly dazed and grumpy. I might have been Corey, the drooler. I do recall Miss Whitehead calling me out for not being quiet during nap time. I had gotten some cowboy action figures, which Mom wouldn’t let me bring to school, but I had cut the trading cards out of the back of the cardboard packaging and I kept them in my pocket. Miss Whitehead caught me red handed playing with my cards instead of napping. I was upset with her for confiscating them, but I eventually forgave her.

We were mesmerized by the water fountain. Each of us waited out turn to get a drink of the cold water, all ignoring the exasperated pleas of Miss Whitehead to “Keep your mouth off of the water fountain!” Looking back, I think we all thought that she was talking to everyone else. I must admit that most of the water fountains I’ve experienced look ergonomically designed for your mouth. It wasn’t until she yanked my head off of the spout that I realized that I had been putting my mouth on the water fountain for as long as I had been drinking at water fountains. I try to avoid water fountains in general know that I’m an adult.

You learn a lot about change in kindergarten. About midway through my kindergarten year, we switched classrooms. We were all led en mass down to the new classroom so we wouldn’t get lost when the move finally happened. For whatever reason, Mom was late dropping me off to school on the day that we finally moved. I went straight to the old classroom only to find the door locked and the lights out. I wandered back to the front of the school to try to find the new classroom, but I couldn’t remember which door. I peered through the door windows of each classroom on the new hall, but didn’t see any familiar faces. I made the trip back to the old classroom before looking into another strange new room. Eventually someone from the office found me and took me to my new classroom.

Story time was my favorite part of kindergarten. We would all gather around Miss Whitehead’s chair and sit “Indian Style” on the floor. This was back when we sat Indian Style, today they call it criss-cross-apple-sauce, which confuses the kids. Anyway, we would sit there as Miss Whitehead would read to us from a book, holding it open so we could see the pictures, the most important part. It was during one of these sessions that Keisha, a mouth breather, stood up with he skirt dripping. It’s one thing to have an accident, but another to have an accident in public. “Why didn’t you tell me you had to go?” Miss Whitehead said with a tender voice although she was visibly frustrated. Keisha just stood there and shrugged, breathing heavily. The entire class remained completely silent and stared open mouthed at Keisha, each one of us grateful that we had not been the one to have an accident. There is nothing quite as intimidating as the kindergarten stare. We were old enough to know what was going on, and pure enough to hold anyone’s gaze unflinching. In many ways it was worse than the entire class saying in chorus, “Ooooohhh!”

 

 

 

Nursing Homes

I was probably too young to go, but my parents were committed, so I went to everything.

I don’t remember whose idea it was to take small children to sing at the nursing home, probably some adult who did not take into consideration how terrifying elderly wheelchair bound people can be to a five year old child. I was probably too young to go, but my parents were committed, so I went to everything. The nursing home we chose was a dismal place. The residents looked completely defeated, the staff had a martial air about them and the whole facility gave you the feeling of complete hopelessness, more like a prison than a care facility. Perhaps the one we visited was simply outdated, but I’ve visited others as an adult and I get a similar feeling.

I was too young to read so I was only obligated to sing from memory. My brother Zach, and Corey Barber did not get off of the hook so easily, since they were capable of not only reading, but counting too, which enabled them to use the Sing Unto The Lord hymnal. Sis. Vivian, Corey’s grandmother sat at the piano with her back to us and called out the page numbers to the each hymn as she played. In our church, we hardly called a song by it’s name, but rather used it’s page number. “Please turn to page 315.” Page 315 was Jesus Hold My Hand. Page 94 was Amazing Grace. As Zach and Corey turned the right page, Sister Vivian would play  an intro on the piano, and by then we were ready to sing. I’m sure our mothers enjoyed it. I think the residents might have just enjoyed seeing some small children, even if they had trouble hearing us. I did not enjoy it. I wasn’t miserable, I just wanted to play.

It was during one of these fidgety moments, probably about the third song, that I decided to pinch Zach on the rear end. He whipped around mid chorus of I’ll Fly Away and gave me a mean look and probably would have hit me but everyone was watching. In the midst of all this the music and the singing never stopped. Mom came and grabbed me by the hand led me to the side of the makeshift auditorium. It was really more of a wheelchair parking lot. Barring this incident, the show kept right on going. As Mom focused on singing I wondered around on the fringe of a crowd.

As we were about to leave, Mom went up towards the front to do something, possibly sing and I was left alone in my seat. One of the residents, an elderly lady in a hospital bed, pointed to me with a crooked finger and said in a weak voice, “Come here to me little boy.” Rear end pinching aside, I was an obedient little boy and I went straight over to her and said, “Yes Ma’am.”

She took my hand and put it on the back of her neck and said, “Scratch here.”

I would like to pause here and give some advice. If you are ever in a strange place and an elderly lady in a hospital bed asks you to scratch her neck, don’t do it. It’s a trap.

No amount of preliminary lecture on my behavior could have prepared me for a situation like this. There I was, not even in Elementary School, in a nursing home, doing the very thing that my parents had spanked me for not doing, minding my elders. As I was scratching the lady’s neck, a nurse rushed over and took my hand away. “Don’t touch the patients.” She said firmly. I didn’t get a chance to explain myself as she led me to Mom.

I’m glad to report that during my subsequent visits to nursing homes over the past twenty five years I behaved myself much better, although a lot of time I still get that same dismal feeling. I will also add that unless you’re playing like Merle Travis or Chet Atkins, don’t bring your electric guitar to the nursing home.

 

Your New Pickup Truck

Congratulations on the purchase of your new pickup truck!

Congratulations on the purchase of your new pickup truck! You’ll realize how many friends you didn’t know you had once they start asking you to borrow it. Now that you have a man’s vehicle, you’ll be asked to do manly jobs like hauling mulch for your great aunt, or hauling manure for your Dad’s garden, or helping your coworker pick up a couch that they found on Craigslist. You’ll pick up lawn mowers, haul away trash from your friends bathroom renovation, and help family members move into a new home. Before you know it you’ll have people that have come to depend on you. Or maybe they’re just depending on your truck.

I have always loved pick up trucks, the most masculine of vehicles. I wouldn’t want to try to haul fifteen sheets of plywood in a fancy convertible sports car, no matter how fast it could go. Growing up, I remember all the men having pickup trucks, cars were for rich men. And women. That’s only partially true, rich men could afford new trucks.

Some of my fondest childhood memories come from riding in pickup trucks. When Saturday rolled around, my Dad, my brother and I would pile into Dad’s red Mazda pickup and go “rambling”. Like fishing, rambling always involved stopping at the BP, or Smith’s Grocery to get a bag of chips or a candy bar, and a coke. Zach would get a Dr. Pepper, Dad would get a Pepsi, and I would get a Grapico, or a Mt. Dew. Once we had the proper snack, we’d turn on the radio and listen to British Invasion bands, Motown, or the Braves baseball game as we drove no where in particular. We might find ourselves at the Logan Martin Dam watching the water churn while it’s force generated electricity. Or we might find ourselves visiting a distant relative, or people with odd nicknames like Big Apple and Caveman. We weren’t really concerned with where were going, as long as we were going together. I was always impressed with Dad’s driving skills. Shifting gears seemed like an impossible task to a four year old, but Dad did it without thinking. He would even hold the steering wheel steady with just his thumbs as we zipped through the winding roads of highway 25, which impressed me as much as if he could have played the steel guitar with his teeth.

My brother bought his first truck from my Great Uncle Johnny Wells. It was a golden brown 1982 Chevrolet S-10. I think it had about 380,000 miles on it, but I might be mistaken. It drove like it did anyway. Zach had the hardest time getting it to start. I always had to give him a push so he could pop the clutch. I think I must have pushed it about thirty miles during the time he had it. We probably pushed it more than we drove it. It leaked oil pretty bad too. After about a case of 70 weight oil, Zach ended up returning it to Uncle Johnny, because he could never get the blasted thing started. Uncle Johnny fired it right up and drove off like it was nothing. They were old friends, Uncle Johnny and that truck. He had learned to drive on trucks without power steering and that you had to double clutch, so driving that old S-10 was a breeze.

My cousin Kent’s first truck was an old Ford F100. It was primer blue and rust, but you didn’t have to pop the clutch. J.L. Parker offered to buy that truck once. “I’ll give you $100 for it if you’ll put a new tire on it and fill it up with gas.” I don’t know why Kent didn’t sell it on the spot.

Somehow or another, Bro. Darryl Freeman sold our church youth department a large storage unit full of merchandise from a wrecked tractor trailer. There were free weights, toys, household items, electronics, cell phone accessories, and basically just about anything useless that you could imagine. The idea was to have a massive yard sale to raise money for Sheaves For Christ, the annual fund raiser for Youth Department of the United Pentecostal Church. Kent and I were tasked with hauling all of that junk from Birmingham to Vincent, a good forty five minute drive. We did that for about a week or so that summer. Sometimes we took Jacob Wray with us, the more the merrier. On the way back one day from picking up a load, I was holding a bottle out of the window and letting it whistle. We were laughing like that was the funniest thing in the world. Things were funnier before smart phones. While we were laughing Kent bent down get something out of the floor and the truck veered off the road. I barely had enough time to get my arm in the window before Kent obliterated a mailbox with my humerus. I had glass in my arm from the rear view mirror and huge bruise from the mailbox. Fortunately I didn’t break any bones. The worst part about the whole deal was I had to get a tetanus shot.

I still drive a pick up truck today, and a manual at that. I love to listen to the engine rev, letting me know when to shift gears as I accelerate. I don’t mind people depending on my truck either, that’s part of the reason I got one in the first place. It feels good to be able to help people. And whenever Saturday rolls around, I pile Wes into my truck and we go rambling.

Play Houses and Tree Houses

When I was three or four, my Dad built a small playhouse in our back yard.

When I was three or four years old, my Dad built a small playhouse in our back yard. It was about eight by eight feet, complete with a door, window facing south and a tin roof. This playhouse was also a tool shed for all the shovels, axes, mattocks, sledgehammers, and various other garden tools. There was a shed on the back where we kept the lawnmowers out of the rain. I can remember the day that Dad leveled the concrete blocks and framed up this one room house. I was probably in the way, but it was pretty fantastic watching the building come together. Once the building was up, Mom painted the floor white and then let Lindsay, who was just a toddler it seemed, dip her hands and feet in different colors of paint and walk around on the floor. Really, this play house was intended for Lindsay, the lawnmower shed was for Zach and me. All the same, we all enjoyed playing in the playhouse for those first few weeks. After that, a colony of wasps invaded and Mom and Dad spent the rest of my childhood keeping Raid in business and the wasps at bay.

Later on, my parents added some cabinets to the playhouse and used it for storage. They put everything in there, yard sale furniture that my mom planned on refinishing, salvaged building supplies for the coming remodel, the old kerosene heater, and various other items that were not of immediate use inside of the house. At one point there were large sacks of dried pinto beans. One day, Lindsay and I were playing in the play house when I noticed that Lindsay was being really quiet. I looked around to see her sitting in a pile of the spilled pinto beans with a funny look on her face. Her face was contorted as she wiggled her nose like you do when you have a cold and you’re trying to breathe. “Did you stick a bean up your nose Lindsay?” I asked. She nodded yes. I ran to the house to let Mom know what she had done, not that I was overly concerned about my Sister, but I wanted to make sure Mom knew that I had nothing to do with it. Mom tried unsuccessfully to get Lindsay to blow her nose, and Lindsay screamed like a wildcat as Mom drove the bean farther up into her sinuses as she tried to retrieve it. After this, we all piled into the van and drove to my grandmother’s house to perform the minor surgery that was required. Gram, my grandmother, held Lindsay down as mom poked a sewing needle into the bean and pulled it gently out while Lindsay screamed the entire time. I don’t think she’s ever done anything like that since.

While Mom and Gram were extracting the lodged bean, Zach and I were busy playing outside. Gram had a proper playhouse that was built on posts about seven or eight feet off the ground so you could park the lawnmowers underneath. You enter the playhouse through a trapdoor in the floor reached by an angled ladder made of two by fours. It was always a gamble to open the trap door at the top of the ladder, because you never knew what creatures might be waiting for up there. I remember a lizard crawling out onto someone as they open the door and nearly every time that we played in the playhouse, someone got stung by a bee or wasp, but that was hardly enough deterrent to keep us from playing in that stuffy old building made of rotting OSB chipboard. Once the adults saw that there were holes in the floor big enough for several kids to fall through three at a time, they stopped allowing us to go up into the playhouse at Gram’s place.

Playhouses are pleasant, but what most kids want more than anything is a tree house. Our friends down the road, Jared and Creed, each had their own tree house so they wouldn’t have to share. Their tree houses were really just tree platforms, but we didn’t care,  we spent countless hours hiding from the Sheriff of Nottingham’s Foresters, picking off Viet Cong, and ambushing Apache Indians from those tree houses.

All of the trees in our back yard were pecan trees, which are prone to splitting and aren’t a good option for a tree house. We did have some humongous oak trees directly in front of the house, but Mom wouldn’t stand for a tree house in the front yard. The closest thing we had to a tree house at my house was about fifteen nylon straps that we used as seats in the Mimosa tree situated in the middle of the Kudzu patch next to our house. Mom had gotten a roll of thick material to weave the bottom in some kitchen chairs and we cut lengths of it to tie between the many forked branches in that Mimosa, creating a comfortable slingshot looking seat. Mom counted eight boys in that tree one day. My brother had a dog named Sadler who would get up there with us, he could climb about halfway before we had to help him up the rest of the way. It was an easy tree to climb, I even climbed it backwards once while trying to get away from a green snake. We killed the pitiful little snake with the same hatchet that my cousin Kent had almost chopped the limb he was sitting on out from underneath himself. “You know when you finish chopping that limb you’re going to fall about ten feet?”  Someone said, and we all laughed. Kent stopped and looked puzzled for a second. “I don’t guess I even thought about that.” I believe him. I don’t remember doing as much playing in the Mimosa as we did just sitting and talking, planning what we were going to do next. It was our trysting place, and we spent a good portion of time there until the one day one of the straps broke. It wasn’t long after that Zach and Creed got jobs down at the local grocery store Smith’s and we stopped climbing the tree.

We never did fix up the tree house, it went the way of Gram’s playhouse, and our childhood went with it. Even the playhouse Dad had built got another life as a garden shed as Dad got more and more into gardening once I was in High School. The tree houses and play houses bring to my memory a flood of childish decisions that were made there: climbing a tree too high and getting stuck and being unable to climb down, or falling out or a tree only to be saved by your foot being wedged in a forked branch, or losing your favorite pocket knife as you carelessly romped through the woods and Kudzu to the Mimosa. Another thing that comes to mind is how incredibly fast time went by, one moment you’re playing in the play house and the next moment you’re home from Virginia for a weekend and your Dad is showing you the garden beside the garden shed. In some respects childhood is a blur and you need to visit with an old friend to bring events back to your memory. The play houses and tree houses are the old friends that I’ve chosen to visit this week and they represent a time in my life that has faded away as I’ve became a man and put away childish things. It’s easy to gloss over the dumb and dangerous things that you did as a kid and only focus on the fun that you had, on the other hand, it’s hard to forget someone else’s mistake or close call and all too easy to remind them of it. Even when recalled, these embarrassing moments will quickly slip back into their proper rarely visited place in our memories as we focus our thoughts on the transient minutia of the fast paced lifestyle of a responsible adults. The things that are seemingly all important today and quickly forgotten tomorrow cause us to feel like our clocks are working double quick. I just hope time can go a little slower through my kids’ childhood than it did through mine.