Caroling and Such

Merry Christmas

We used to go Christmas Caroling when I was a kid. A group of us from the church would pile into a trailer filled with hay, wrap up in blankets and drive all over the town surprising elderly people with a few Christmas Songs. It was a lot of fun.

Pop and Marion used to have a couple of Percheron horses, Hawk and Holly. Aside from the occasional parade, I think their sole purpose was to pull Santa Claus in a wagon around Vandiver and Sterrett. Santa Claus would hand out candy to children. If you still believe in Santa Claus I’d like to warn you to skip the next sentence. The last year they did this I’m pretty sure my brother had to be Santa Claus, and he was pretty sulky about it too.

I still like to sing Christmas Carols, without or without a hayride, or hot chocolate to burn your tongue. Every song is better when someone sings it with you. I’m fortunate to have a little songbird for a daughter. This year we sang together at the Christmas Concert at our church, Cornerstone Revival Center. I know my parents would’ve been proud. They’d have loved to be there holding Hollynn while they listening to Miriam lay that vibrato on thick.

I wish I could pull up to your house in a horse drawn wagon and sing you some Christmas Carols, but this is the best I could manage this year. Oh Beautiful Star of Bethlehem.

Merry Christmas from my family to yours.

Parades

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas, and Thanks

92670027From my family to yours, Merry Christmas and thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog, it means a lot to me. In a world where we are conditioned to digest 140 character thoughts, and fifteen second videos, you have carved out time to read 1500 word ramblings of my childhood. If anything I’ve written has been able to make you laugh, or has brought back your own fond memories, then I count that as success. Perhaps you’ve cried, please don’t hold that against me, I’m a bit sentimental myself at times. Thank you for sharing Mostly From Memory with your friends and family.

Thanks to my Dad, Perry Wells, who has always been my biggest salesman. If you’re reading this because he told you about it, thanks for taking his advice. I hope I’ve lived up to the hype.

Earlier this year, I decided to withdraw myself from FaceBook because I felt that I wasn’t using my time as wisely as I could. And after I disabled my account, I realized just how much time I had been wasting there. About the same week that I unplugged, I had bizarre experience at work that was too in depth to tell orally,  and too fantastic to merely gloss over, so I decided to type a lengthy email in the form of a story and send it to my wife and siblings. I was surprised to receive such a positive response about my story, so I decided to write Hauling Hay and share it with a few more people, and got an even better response. After a few more similar stories and encouragement, I decided that a blog was the best platform for sharing these stories with anyone that cared to read them. I linked the blog to Twitter, which means it shares the link to every new post I make.  In a happy accident, I found out that my Twitter account is still linked to FaceBook, so when I post on here it automatically posts on Twitter and FaceBook. I said all of that to say, leaving FaceBook inspired this blog, and I don’t think I can bring myself to reconnect in that platform. So if you’ve posted kind things, or mean things for that matter, on FaceBook and been frustrated at my lack of response, it’s not because I am being aloof, I just didn’t see your comment. However, I do see anything that you post on WordPress.

As a Christmas gift to you, I would like to share the bizarre situation that I endured at work, and what became my first story. This is an account of a real life experience, only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

                                                   The Endorsement Page
                                                           By Zane Wells
It was in early August when Michael asked me out of the blue, “Did he call?”
Perhaps I was just coming back to work from a day off, because Michael looked surprised when I looked up nonchalantly and asked, “Who is he?”
“Kwa.”
I searched my memory, surely I would have remembered a name like that. “No. What would he want?”
“He wants to rent a gym, tell him that he must have the insurance before he can make a reservation.”
“Ok sounds, good.”
 
It seemed that Kwa was a gentleman who wanted to host a basketball tournament in one of the county gymnasiums, a sure fire way to not make any money, mainly due to the rigid and costly insurance requirements in place to keep groups like his from destroying the facility. Apparently, Kwa was having a little trouble getting his insurance in order to make such a reservation, a telltale sign of someone trying to cut a corner.
 
Later that week I started noticing a strange name on the caller ID, Kwabena. The first time or two I think Sue, my coworker, must have answered the phone, because by the time I got talked to him, he was already frustrated from calling to no avail. The conversations were pretty cyclical, Kwa would call and ask for Michael, who would usually not be in the office, and I would send him to Michael’s phone. Kwa would call back without leaving a message for Michael, I would pick up the phone, he would ask about the status of his insurance endorsement, I would tell him that we haven’t gotten anything. He would then ask to talk to Sandra who verifies all insurance forms, Sandra would tell him that we have your insurance, but no endorsement.
 
This went on until the day before his reservation. By that time, Sue and I cringed whenever we saw his name on caller ID, or even worse, when he came in person. The details are a little fuzzy but eventually he did get his certificate of insurance and endorsement-the day before his event if I recall correctly-so he was able to actually make his reservation. He paid for it with cash out of his shoe.
 
We thought that was all behind us and this was a one-time event. We were wrong.
 
Only about a week after his first reservation in late August, Kwa came in to make a reservation for another date. I double checked and his insurance was still good, but his endorsement had expired, it being only good for the first reservation date . So the cycle began again. He would call, I would transfer, they would not answer, he would not leave a message, he would call…The only thing that could break the cycle was for him to bring in the endorsement page, and he was having a real hard time doing that.
 
After this went on for about three weeks, he came in on one of his routine checkups on a nonexistent insurance endorsement. As we were finishing up the cycle-I can’t remember if it was “He’s not here”, or “I’m sorry, we haven’t received anything”- he casually chanced to ask if the date was still good for his reservation. My heart sank as I realized that he was going to have to stay at my desk until the elevator came back around, our elevator being a bit stuffy and somewhat less than immediate. I quickly got over this shock and checked the date and astonishingly someone had booked the gym for the date that he wanted. He let out a dismal sigh and set down on the park bench that sits at a 45 degree angle beside and behind my desk.
 
I can honestly say that this isn’t the first time that a grown man has cried in my office, but that’s another story.
“I’ve been promoting this for month.” He mourned. “I thought we had it reserved.”
Kwa could not understand that he only had a reservation if he paid for it, and he could only pay for it if he had the endorsement page. I quickly rang Michael to come talk to Kwa.
 
I was expecting the cycle to begin again, but Michael said, “I tell you what, we have another gym, and I’ll let you book it today, without the insurance, and we’ll refund you if you don’t have the endorsement by the reservation date.”
“If you pay with cash, we’ll have to refund you from finance, which might take a month.” I chimed in, remembering the sweaty shoe bills and hoping he would not pay with cash again.
“I don’t have the money on me, but I can go get it.” Said Kwa.
 
We all agreed that it was a very good deal. Kwa finally got on the elevator and left. Michael looked at me and said, “He’s not coming back today.”
And he didn’t.
 
He did however come nearly every other day for the two weeks leading up to his reservation.
“I’m just checking on the status of my endorsement.”
“I haven’t gotten anything.”
I don’t know why it never occurred to him that he was badgering the wrong institution, he should have been calling the insurance company. Perhaps he did. God help them.
 
On a Friday, the day before his reservation we had still not received his endorsement. The first time Kwa came in that day, I was able to evade him as I opened the janitor’s closet for Terry who had just broken a bowl in the kitchen. Kwa came in and went through the cycle with Sue. At this point we were still in hopes of the mythical endorsement page, but had decided against letting him reserve the gym without it, as the reservation was the next day.
 
I’m not sure how the conservation went, but when I got back Kwa was gone.
 
Michael gave us clear instructions as he left to work off site for the rest of the day. “Kwa’s insurance isn’t right, I can’t staff anybody for tomorrow, do not make any reservation for him. The deal is off.”
 
I prayed quietly that I would be on lunch break whenever Kwa came in to check on his reservation and endorsement again. God answered my prayer and I noticed that Sandra was at my desk talking to Kwa whenever I began to make my way back from down the hall where I take my lunch break.
“…And we won’t be able to staff it at this point even if the endorsement came in right now.” I heard Sandra say as I ducked into the bathroom to hopefully avoid contact.
 
To my shock he was still sitting on the park bench whenever I came back to work from loitering longer than usual in the restroom.
 
Kwa sat there for ten minutes. I busied myself with answering the phone. Kwa sat there for twenty minutes. I replied to all the emails in my unfinished box. Kwa sat there for twenty five minutes, looking at his phone and occasionally receiving a text message. I got up and went to the copy room to fill the copier with paper. While I was up,  I decided to scan some documents into our database. I finished in about fifteen minutes. When I came back to my desk, Kwa was still sitting there on the park bench.
 
“Is there someone else I can talk to? Maybe Michael’s manager?” Kwa asked, with a frown on his face.
“Sure I’ll go get Sandra.”
“I’ve already talked to her too.”
“Well Jeremy is in a meeting right now, he’s the Director. He’s due to be out of the meeting at 3:30.”
“I guess I’ll be back at 3:30 then.” Kwan retorted triumphantly and whirled around to punch the elevator button.
He was back at 3:00. I was on the phone when he walked in, so he went ahead and flopped down on the park bench. We didn’t say much once I got off the phone.
 
As we were waiting, Marv, the curmudgeonly Superintendent of Parks, came down the hall and asked Kwa if there was anything we could do for him.
“I’ve got a situation with my insurance. He sent it to y’all and now y’all are saying you don’t have it.” Kwa said vaguely.
Marv who was already aware of the Kwa’s position and had only asked to dig a little, replied. “We can’t do a reservation without the endorsement page, and we can’t staff an event on such short notice.”
Kwan said ok, knowing he still had Jeremy as a trump card, and Marv sidled back to his office no doubt giggling inside.
 
Kwa looked over to me with an angry frown and said. “What does he mean staff? We didn’t have staff last time.”
“If you had a reservation with us, then our staff were there.” I said, with reservation.
“No they wasn’t. I didn’t hire any staff, I had my own referees.” He said in confusion.
“The facility staff was there to let you in the building and to clean up.”
“Then where are all the staff for tomorrow?” he demanded angrily.
“They’re at other facilities tomorrow.” I said.
“Oh.” Kwan pondered for a moment. “If I had had the endorsement page this morning could I have had the tournament?”
“Possibly.” I said,
“I don’t understand why I could done it this morning, and not now.”
“Normally we only take reservations five business days in advance. Michael was just really trying to help you out by waiting till the day before, but we never got your endorsement page.”
“I sent it!” Kwa tried to start the cycle again as I was answering the phone. We didn’t pick the conversation back up after I finished the call. Thankfully.
 
After a quarter of an hour of awkward waiting, the meeting dismissed and the board members poured loudly down the hall. Since I was on the phone, Sue got up to go brief Jeremy of crisis. I assured Kwa that she would bring Jeremy out soon. He very hopefully said thank you.
 
After about ten more tense minutes of waiting, Jeremy walked slowly down the hall, jingling his keys in his pocket. The entire time that Kwa was sitting on the bench, he had been busying himself with his noisy cellphone, sending texts and leaving voice messages for what seemed to be the shadiest insurance company this side of Wall Street. When Jason arrived at my desk, Kwa had just placed a call and asked for Melanie, he quickly hung up and stood up to meet Jeremy.
 
“Glad to meet you, I’m Jeremy.” Jeremy said as he extended his hand.
“Kwabena.”  Kwa said.
“Cabana?”
“Kwa-Bena.” with more emphasis added.
“Cavana! What can we do for you?”
“Well we have a situation with my insurance. It’s exact same insurance that I sent for the last time I did this, and they sent the endorsement page, but y’all don’t have it.” Kwa was a bit hard to follow.
“What is your event?”
“A basketball tournament.”
“For kids or adults?”
“Adults.”
“So we don’t have your endorsement page, and we’re bound by that. And at this point we don’t have staff for an event tomorrow.”
Kwa sat down and elbows on his knees and his head in his hands.
“I’m sorry. I wish we could…” Jeremy said consolingly as he fumbled with his keys.
“Man I’ve been promoting this thing for a month.” Kwa moaned. “I’ve got referees coming from Ohio, a team from Pennsylvania, teams from out of state.”
“I wish I had better news to give you.” Jeremy said.
 
After standing for a moment, shifting his weight from heels to toes, Jeremy walked back down the hall to his office. Kwa didn’t move. I could tell that this was a person who was now completely without hope, totally broken. He was in the depths of despair and had finally given up on trying to move, much less having a tournament. He sat there for ten minutes. Not much to do when you don’t have any hope left. He had finally realized that there would be no tournament on Saturday.  
At last he looked over at me and said. “Can I bring the endorsement page Monday?”

 

 

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Christmas Traditions

I’ve always loved Christmas time, it’s just like Thanksgiving but you get presents.

I’ve always loved Christmas time, it’s just like Thanksgiving but you get presents. For our family, Christmas season began whenever Mom let us put up our meager Christmas decorations consisting entirely of a wooden toy barn where we placed the beloved porcelain Nativity set, in flat white, and a hand woven tapestry from Peru which was a souvenir from when a relative adopted a child from there. My siblings and I would fight over who got to put baby Jesus in the barn, I’m sure he was flattered at all the attention. These modest Christmas decorations stand out vividly in my memory and they were precious to my siblings and me. The decorations grew each year. Mom added some hand painted camels to the Nativity scene and once the house was renovated and stairs were added she strung garland on the handrails. Finally, she added one of those miniature porcelain villages replete with real powdered snow that proved a grave temptation to the toddlers that followed after we had reached adulthood.

Once our decorations were set up, we would venture out as a family in our Burgundy Chevrolet Astro Van to look at other people’s Christmas lights, a tradition that I still enjoy today, although I think the lights were cooler back then. Mr. Lansford was the undisputed king of Christmas lights in our community. I couldn’t pick him out in a crowd, but I could identify his house. It was the third house on the left once we got on Highway 25 and headed to our weekly pilgrimage to Nonna & Pop’s to eat. We would all look with anticipation to see if Mr. Lansford had decorated his house, another tradition that marked the beginning of the Christmas season, not just for him, but the whole town. Mr. Lansford not only decorated his house, but also made the driveway loop that circled his house into a light display and he encouraged people to drive through. This was when Christmas lights were multicolored and many of the decorations were original. Eventually, Mr. Lansford got up in years and wasn’t able to decorate his home as he had done for so many years. This happened around the same time that multicolored Christmas lights gave way to the colorless trendy new icicle lights. The new all white Christmas lights that have prevailed in the past twenty years are the equivalent of microwavable grits, you still enjoy them, but it’s not the same.

Unlike microwavable grits, my childhood was filled with delicious homemade dishes during the Christmas season, as well as the rest of the year too. I’m not sure if the chicken and dressing that Nonna made on Christmas was any different from the chicken and dressing that she made fifteen other times throughout the year, but it wouldn’t have been Christmas without it. After all, “Dressing”, a dish made from cornbread, is one of the surest ways to tell a true Southerner from an import or an imposter. Southerners eat dressing, and it will confuse us and hurt our feelings if you try to serve us “stuffing”, which is what you put in pillows and homemade dolls, and certainly not something that you eat for Christmas dinner. Christmas dinner in my childhood was an express image of Thanksgiving dinner, with turkey, ham, chicken and dressing, or just plain dressing, chicken and dumplings, deviled eggs, rolls, macaroni and cheese, cranberry sauce (from a can), green beans, sweet potato casserole, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and about a dozen cakes. These were the staple dishes for Christmas, but they were supported by any number of side dishes including but not limited to, fried okra, fried potatoes, scalloped potatoes, slaw, pork and kraut (homemade kraut), butter beans, Lima beans, pinto beans, creamed corn, baked beans, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, boiled potatoes, and potato salad. Perhaps a bit heavy on the starches, but you get the picture. I’m sure I left something out and offended one of my great aunts. We may not have had fancy silverware and fine China, but we made up for any shortcomings in class with heaps of delicious food.

Once Christmas Eve finally arrived, we were on a tight schedule for the next two days. One of the disadvantages to being related to every one in the county, next to trying to date anyone, is that you’re expected to attend as many Christmas get-togethers as possible. We would eat Christmas dinner at Nonna & Pop’s, my Dad’s parents, with about fifty other people in the afternoon, then drive smooth across the county to eat supper with my Mom’s maternal grandmother, then drive back to Nonna and Pop’s to open Christmas presents. Once we got home from a full day, we would beg Mom & Dad to let us open presents early. They eventually caved and it became a tradition, I haven’t been as successful getting my wife to start this tradition at our home. On Christmas morning, we would go to my maternal grandmother’s house and eat breakfast and open presents before we went out into the back yard and shot guns for an hour and a half. It’s because of the many odd traditions like shooting guns on Christmas that Jeff Foxworthy’s You Might Be A Redneck jokes didn’t make much sense to me as a child.

Although this full schedule of family Christmas celebrations was full of delicious food and fond memories, it also exposed us to our stranger relatives. After my brother had a gun pulled on him as he was waiting to fix a plate at my great grandmother’s, my parents decided to change our Christmas traditions slightly so our Christmas Eve schedule wouldn’t be so cramped. It seems like it was around that time that we adopted the new tradition of opening our gifts on Christmas Eve. As an adult, I’ve taken the approach that if it feels like a obligation, it might be a tradition that needs to be replaced. Obligation is no substitute for genuine love, and the Christmas season is too short to spend with anyone but the dearest of friends and family, and to do this, sometimes you need to create new traditions.

What I looked forward to at Christmas more than anything was opening presents. I would start making my Christmas list shortly after my birthday. In April. I enjoy the anticipation of a gift as much as actually getting to open the gift. When I was a child, my parents got me some pretty amazing Christmas gifts. Here are a few that stand out in my memory: a bicycle, Lincoln Logs, action figures, GI Joes, Cowboy LEGOS (Nonna got some of these too), and a Marlin .30-30 rifle. It seems like our parents were able to make Christmas special every year, and even if money was tight for them in certain years, we never knew it. It was during one of these leaner financial seasons that I got one of the most memorable Christmas presents, in addition to all of my cousins hand me down GI Joes, we each got our own personal roll of commercial bubble wrap. You would have thought they bought us each a pony, the way we enjoyed that bubble wrap. It seemed like it lasted for a week. I still think of that Christmas every time I get some bubble wrap. Although my parents were able to work some Christmas miracles and I still have some of those gifts today, I must say that the best Christmas present that I ever got came on Christmas Day 2015 in the form of my daughter, Miriam Vivian Wells. Since her birthday falls on Christmas, I realize that we’ll have to rethink all of our Christmas traditions, but I’ve had some experience already in that area.

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