What I Liked About My Dad

I got a message this week from one of the ladies at church.

Would you mind sharing with me what you liked about your dad, for Father’s Day presentation?

This is the answer I gave her.

I suppose I would be lying if I said I liked everything about my dad. There are the things that he and I share in common that I have to constantly keep in check and I wish I could change. But these kind of things, and more importantly how we deal with them, are a part of what makes up a person’s character. Thankfully, the shortcomings alone of a man are not what define him.

The characteristics that I admire most about my Dad are as follows:

Faithfulness

Most will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find? Proverbs 20:6

I never wondered where my Dad was. He was faithful to his wife, his family, his church, and his God.

Love

He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chaseneth him betimes. Proverbs 13:24

Now that I am trying to raise my kids I can relate to the frustration Dad had trying to raise me. I realize now that the driving force behind everything he did was love.

Integrity

The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him. Proverbs 20:7

As an adult I realize now how rare integrity is.

Love for Truth

Through wisdom is an house builded; and by understanding it is established: and by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches. Proverbs 24:3-4

Dad had a deep love for truth. He was always quoting Proverbs 23:23 Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding.

Communication


A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. Proverbs 25:11

Dad may not have necessarily been a powerful orator, but he was an excellent communicator. A critic once accused Mark Twain’s work as water compared to the fine wine of higher literature, mark Twain replied, “But the people drink water.” Dad was a master at the art of conversation. He could talk to anybody.

Maybe this was more than she was wanting, but I have been thinking about Dad more than usual this week and I didn’t want to give her a generic answer.

These are some of the characteristics that I am striving to master in my own life. More importantly, I want to instill them in my children.

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.

Pecans

Pecan pie may be what every pecan aspires to be.

I have two pecan trees in my yard. Hurricane Zeta knocked all of the pecans out at one time. They’re good pecans too. We picked up half a five gallon bucket just off the porch. I’ve tried to inspire the children to pick up pecans, but I don’t think they’ve caught the vision yet.

I grew up in the remnants of a pecan orchard. At one time there were probably thirty or forty trees behind our house and the next three neighbor’s houses. By the time I was a kid there were only about seven left. Over the years some of those pecan trees were blown down in different storms. We’d play on a fallen tree for days until someone came over with a chainsaw and hauled it away. Dad used a lot of that wood to grill and barbecue.

Very ofter Dad required us to pick up a five gallon bucket of pecans before we could go gallivanting around town with Jared and Creed. I can’t lie and say that picking up pecans is fun, or has ever been fun. But we did it. We would sell them to the local grocery store Smith’s, where I’m sure some grandmother would buy them, shell them, and make with them a delicious pecan pie. Nowadays we would have marketed them as handpicked, and it would’ve been true since we threw the pecans with wormholes into the kudzu patch.

Pecan pie may be what every pecan aspires to be. I used to think that it was the only pleasant way to eat a pecan. Fresh pecans cracked in your hands- take two pecans in on hand and squeeze with all your might until one of them cracks-have always had a slightly bitter taste to me. I still do it out of nostalgia though, and to impress my kids, but pecans are ingredients, not stand alone snacks.

Pecans need some love, or sugar as we say in the South, to really come alive. Candied pecans, praline pecans, cinnamon and sugar pecans-they all taste great even though I’d be hard pressed to tell you how to make them.

For all they’re bitterness, I still love pecans. It makes me think about being a kid. I also think pecans are pretty with their dark streaked shells and their orange to yellow meat inside. I like the smell of pecans, and the oily feel of the fresh meat.

I think I finally understand why Dad wanted us to pick the pecans up. The harvest was just laying on the ground, all we had to do was pick it up. As an adult, waste bothers me. So I’ve been picking up pecans when I get a chance. When I get an afternoon where I don’t have a deadline approaching I’m going to figure out how to make something sweet out of those bitter pecans.

Thanks

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I think that it is wonderful that there is a day dedicated to giving thanks, giving thanks to God. I have so much for which to be thankful.

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
‭‭1 Thessalonians‬ ‭5:18
‬ ‭

Everything good thing in my life is because of Jesus Christ. And I have a lot of good things in my life.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. James 1:17

Time would fail me to list everything that I am truly thankful for. So I have chosen to write about what is dearest me.

I am most thankful for the gift of the Holy Ghost. It is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I cannot understate the joy and the peace that the Holy Ghost has brought to my life.

The next best thing that has ever happened to me is my beautiful wife Sarah. I am so blessed. My children are so blessed to have her as a mother. I am so thankful for my wife.

Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord.
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭18:22‬ ‭

I am thankful for the Word of God. I have never had a question in life that the Word of God could not answer. My sincere prayer is that I may have a deeper understanding of the God’s Word.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭119:105‬ ‭

I am thankful to be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven. I love my church. I love my pastor. I do not want to live any other way.

The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.
‭‭Luke‬ ‭16:16‬ ‭

I am thankful for my children, Wesley, Miriam, and Hollynn. Oh what joy!

Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭127:3-5‬ ‭

I am thankful for my brother Zach and sister Lindsay. We’ve always been close, but I value our relationship more than ever now.

I am thankful for a godly heritage. My parents have passed on to their reward, but I think about them every day. I was truly blessed to have Perry & Sonja Wells as parents.

Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭6:2-3‬ ‭

I am thankful for dear friends, kindred spirits.

Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭27:17‬ ‭

There is something that happens inside of me when I begin to sincerely thank God for his blessings. It is refreshing to my soul. God has been good to me.

Thanks to everyone who reads, shares, and comments on my blog. I am always in wonder when someone mentions to me that they read it. I hope that it brings you joy.

Mind Your Manners

One of my favorite things about a being a parent is having someone to listen to my accumulated trivia. Lately, I have reached the point in parenthood where my children are beginning to pose questions that sometimes stress my intellect. For instance, “Dad, what is manners?”

I usually try to give a clear and concise definitions.

“Well, manners are the principles that govern proper social behavior.” I replied.

I sat back in my chair and smiled, feeling satisfied with my quick thinking without consulting the dictionary.

A moment later the child asked, “Dad, what’s principles?”

This is what I mean by testing my intellect. I’m afraid their curiosity is about to outpace me. At any rate, I am going to attempt a more thorough answer to the original question, because some things require not only clarity, but elaboration.

Manners, best-beloved, are what my Mom and Dad taught me little by little and day by day about how to act around folks.

– Keep your elbows off the table

– Say ma’am and sir

– Keep your feet off the table

– Don’t talk with your mouth full

– Don’t interrupt someone

– Hold the door open for a lady

– Stand up and let a lady or an elder take your chair

– Don’t invite yourself anywhere

– Don’t cuss

– Use your blinker

– Cover your mouth when you cough, sneeze, or yawn

– Don’t smack (chewing with mouth open)

– Don’t ask someone how much money they make

– Don’t ask someone how much they paid for something

– Wipe your feet

– Don’t wear a hat indoors, unless you are a lady and the hat is classy

– Don’t yell inside

– Answer when someone speaks to you

– Don’t stare

– Don’t pick your nose

– Don’t take the last piece of chicken

– Don’t scratch

– Don’t spit

– Don’t reach over someone’s plate

– Don’t grab or snatch

– Don’t talk about gross things at the dinner table

– Don’t tell dirty jokes

– Don’t laugh at dirty jokes

Now this is not an exhaustive list, best-beloved, and we’ll add things as we come to them, but we have to start somewhere. If you follow these guidelines, when you come something you are unsure about you’ll probably make the right decision. Just do what your Mother would do and you’ll be ok.

The Google Reviews I Haven’t Left

Here are a few bad reviews that I didn’t leave, but wanted to.

I only leave five star Google reviews. If a restaurant or business isn’t worth a five star review they certainly aren’t worth my time to give them a lower rating. While some people might “Cause a scene” as my Dad would say, I try to avoid confrontation. If service or the experience is bad, I just won’t go back. Which is part of the reason why I only really like to go eat at about three places, Hamburger Heaven, Taquiera Las Cebollitas, and you guessed it, Chick Fil A.

Hamburger Heaven, my favorite restaurant.

But sometimes I get worked up enough to want to say something. Here are a few bad reviews that I didn’t leave, but wanted to.

Three Star Grocery Store

At best this place is a compromise. People don’t shop here because this is a great grocery store, but rather to avoid going to town. Unless you are getting a rotisserie chicken-which are pretty good- or it is an absolute emergency I would avoid trying to shop here. They also picked the worst possible music to play too loud, which always puts me in a foul mood. How am I supposed to find the pectin while some grown man is whining and mumbling-I’ll not call it singing-about his feelings?

Two Star Home Improvement

The only thing this place has going for it is that there is no other competition in town. Which is a shame, because our town would benefit from having options. In theory having competition would make the current store sure up their customer service. More than likely though all these workers would just jump ship to the new store because they look pretty miserable now.

Two Star Home Cooking Restaurant

The pandemic has not been kind to this restaurant. The problem with chain restaurants is many decisions that should be made locally are made in some corporate office a thousand miles away, or in this case 167 miles away. The last time I ate here I’m glad we had a gift card, because I would have been mad if I would have had to pay for rock hard mashed potatoes.

Four Star Italian Restaurant

I really wanted to leave a five star review because my food was excellent. But there is more to a restaurant than good food, and unfortunately the service fell short. The teenage waiter was friendly enough, but frankly he forgot about us and we waited a long time for our check. Which made me wonder why we waited a long time to be seated.

Perhaps I’m turning into a cranky old man who fusses about paying first class money for second class service. Kind of like my dad. As a kid I remember thinking he was making a big deal about something trivial, but now I begin to understand his frustration.

We perpetuate the decline of quality when we continue to accept lesser quality at the same price. If I have a bad service experience at a restaurant but still go back, I’m likely to have another bad service experience the next time and the restaurant will think that I’m ok with it. Or I could just start leaving bad reviews.

Tater-Tot Poisoning

Sarah fried tater-tots the night before a doctor’s appointment the other day. They were so good that she decided to fry some more right before the appointment. I did not know this, or rather, I do not like to retain this in my knowledge, but fried potatoes and more specifically salt (which every self-respecting person knows must go on fried potatoes) can elevate your blood pressure. Which kind of unnerves doctor’s.

“I’m not telling you this to scare you, and don’t rush down there, but because your blood pressure is elevated (along with some other factors) you probably need to go to the hospital to be monitored. It could be nothing, but you could be having a baby tonight.” This is what the doctor told her.

So we pawned the kids off on my sister and headed to Birmingham. We stopped at Hamburger Heaven in Gardendale in case it was the big one. The hospital has a tendency to starve you half to death when you are in labor. We went ahead and got burgers and fries because we wanted to make sure her blood pressure would still be elevated so the hospital trip wouldn’t be in vain.

After about an hour or so hanging out in the hospital room, they told us we could go home. Which was a relief, because I had forgotten my eye drops and my contact lenses have a 100% chance of drying out if I plan on staying up all night reminding Sarah to breathe. It was a good practice run anyway.

Last week Sarah went to two appointments and even without tater-tot poisoning, her blood pressure was still high. Anyone trying to raise two children probably needs to check their blood pressure. So the doctor wants Sarah to be induced.

So I’ve written all of this to let you know that we are having a baby this week. Our other children weren’t this predictable. We let them decide when they wanted to come-Sunday night after we’d been at church all day and Christmas morning respectively. Unless it happens before, we should have a baby this Thursday, October 1st, 2020. I can’t wait to meet this little tater-tot.

On Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J. L. Parker

“You hang in there like a hair in a biscuit.”

It was at Youth Camp that I was first introduced to Brother JL Parker. He had white hair, a friendly countenance, and an expressive tongue, verbally and physically. He had a million one liners, but he also had a way of running his tongue out of his mouth that conveyed a lot more information than any words could. I was still a teenager and I could not resist smiling when he was around. He was the Sunday School director at his church and had brought a load of teenagers to camp and stayed around as a counselor to make sure they all behaved.

I was playing guitar at that Youth Camp, probably rather poorly, but I was giving it all I had. After that first service Bro. Parker came up to me and talked about guitar. As a young person it was encouraging. 

“I’ve got a Gibson The Paul guitar at the house.” He said.

“A Les Paul?” I asked, not familiar with the The Paul model. 

“No.” He shook his head. “The Paul, baby.” He stuck his tongue out a little bit.  

The next night as I was playing guitar, he made eye contact with me from the back of the sanctuary, and made a motion like he was playing guitar.

There was a girl that I was interested in that week at camp. When you’re a teenager, you think you’re being sly and no one notices who you like. Let’s be clear about this: old people know. Bro. Parker caught me that week right after I left off having a conversation with that girl. 

“I just want you to know that I’m pulling for you son. I’m on your side, you just hang in there like a hair in a biscuit, she’ll come around.” After I was through laughing, he switched gears on me. “But let me tell you something, y’all better not be playing licky face!” 

JL Parker had the unique ability to be the most affable person in the room without losing the respect of the people he was leading. He was serious about things that were important, and was not afraid nor ashamed to let you know it. 

“I made up my mind a long time ago that I was going to be the friendliest person that I could be. If someone meets me, I want to be the nicest person that they met on that day. If you do that, you won’t have any trouble making friends.” 

I moved back to Alabama in 2017 and began attending church with Bro. JL Parker. He was so full of energy, so funny. He had lost his wife a year or so earlier. “I loved that woman.” He told me more than one time. “It’s really hard to imagine losing someone you’ve lived with for forty years. I miss her every day. Being lonely is hard.” Bro. Parker could just say the facts.

JL Parker

For the past year or so his health has been rapidly declining. He shook my hand one night after church,“I need you to do something for me.” he said. There are some people that you are willing to do anything for. 

“Yes sir.” I said, with ready ears.

“I got that old The Paul, I want you to put some new strings on it. I’ll pay you for the strings, it don’t matter what kind, your preference.”

“I have a pack at the house that won’t cost you a dime if you let me play that guitar at church one night.”

“You got a deal!”

The following Sunday I was playing the newly strung and serviced guitar during service when Bro. J.L. Parker walked across the platform during the middle of a song.

“You like that guitar?” He asked in my ear.

“Yes sir, this thing sounds great.”

“Well you can have it!” He said as he walked off.  

There are few times in life where you laugh and cry at the same time. This was one of those times. If this was him showing me how much he loved me, the message certainly got through. He had a way of doing things in a big way. I glanced back to where he was now standing, and he stuck his tongue out and played a little air guitar.

The guitar and corduroy strap that JL Parker gave me.

Bro. JL Parker passed on to his reward today. It’s a tall task to convey the character of a man like JL Parker in any amount words, but if I could only use one it would have to be: Faithful.

JL Parker was my friend and I loved him. And I’m going to miss him.

Sorghum Syrup

My brother has asked me to write about the time we made sorghum syrup.

“I wasn’t there.” I told him.

“Yes you were,” He said, a little hurt.

“I know that I wasn’t there Zach.”

“You were too! You helped me load the cane in the mill. That mule almost kicked you in the head. We drank the juice straight from the tap.”

“That was you and someone else.”

“You was there Zane! We went with Pop. Twice!”

I wasn’t there, but I don’t think that discredits me from being able to take you there. After all, Mark wasn’t there and we count his book as Gospel. This is not a work of fiction, although I was not a firsthand witness. Either that or it was such a bad experience that I’ve suppressed it in my memory.

Most of the time when Pop picked us boys up we were going to work. There were a few occasions where Pop picked us up for an event that maybe he found entertaining, like a parade, or making syrup. No matter what mask of entertainment these activities donned, Zach and I had been around enough to see through the thin disguise and identify work. Alas, we hadn’t much say in the matter. So when Pop picked us up to make Sorghum Syrup, we were not under the illusion that we were going to merely observe the process of making syrup. We were going to be very much involved in that process.

Sorghum is a naturally growing plant in the South. If you cultivate enough of it, you can make sorghum syrup. I think it yields about three gallons to the acre. Sorghum syrup is a very thick and dark syrup with an acquired taste. There is a process for getting the syrup from the plants. First you need to gather the plants, or cane. Then you put the whole cane into a mill, which presses out the juice. You cook the juice which gives you syrup. As long as the syrup doesn’t burn, you can mix it with equal parts butter and put it on your biscuits and it’s delicious. Well I think it’s delicious, but I also eat Lengua and Cabeza at the Taco Truck. Zach thought it tasted like burnt motor oil.

The process sounds pretty straightforward, until you find out that you have to manually load the cane, or even worse be the mill engine. Fortunately, someone had already gathered the stalks into a trailer. All we had to do was feed it to the mill. Do you remember in Sunday School when you learned about the blinded Samson grinding at the mill? That’s what Zach had to do. At first there was a mule hitched to the mill walking in circles, but it almost kicked Zach’s brains out while he was feeding cane to the mill. In the end Zach ended up walking in circles to power the mill like a medieval serf. They did let him drink some of the pure sweet juice that was running out of a tap on the side of the mill.

This juice flowed through an open channel over a heated metal plate a few yards long. By the time it made it to the end of the line it was sufficiently cooked enough to be canned. They used what looked like old coffee cans to package the syrup. I’m sure it was great fun to Pop and all the old men that were sitting around at the end of the line talking and laughing while Zach worked like a borrowed mule. At the end of the day Zach was exhausted and grimy with sweat and dust after doing the work of a mule. As a token of their gratitude, the old men in charge gave him a can of syrup. I think I ate most of that syrup, but I know that I wasn’t there.