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.

March 30, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wesley Zane Wells
March 31st, 2014

On Fatherhood

“God could have chosen to call himself anything, but he chose father.” -Bishop Nathaniel Wilson

A dear friend recently sent me a text message. “Got any advice for a soon to be father?”

I once heard someone say in jest, “One of the wonderful things about having kids of your own is that now you’ll be able to try out all those things you’ve been wanting to try out on other people’s kids.”

I did not give him this reply, but the casual nature of text messaging allowed me to give him a very brief answer. I told him the best advice I could give was to pray a lot. But I misspelled best because I was busy doing something else. Ordinarily, I would have been satisfied with this answer and moved on, but the question kept bugging me for quite a while.

I finally came up with something I liked a little bit better. “Being a father is one of the best things that ever happened to me. Enjoy every minute. Squeeze that baby every chance you get.”

This response made me feel better in a Hallmark Card sort of way, but I am still not satisfied. Perhaps in part because I want to know the answer myself. More likely though,  it is because I feel a very real weight of responsibility as a father. Fatherhood is not a role in which a man should casually enter. There are fewer roles with more grave responsibility, and it is something that I take very seriously.

 “God could have chosen to call himself anything, but he chose father.”

Bishop Nathaniel Wilson

What does it take to be a father? As simple as it sounds, the first requirement is you have to be a man. There is no substitution. Perhaps another day I will write about being a man.

Aside from being a man, there are quite a few other ingredients that come together to make a father: Love, protection, wisdom, provision, wit, discipline, humor, ingenuity, dedication, patience, knowledge, resolve, and fortitude. This is not an exhaustive list, and I have left out amounts because each father is unique, and learning to balance these elements is what fatherhood is all about. One of the key ingredients is faithfulness, which is what keeps the whole thing together.

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

Without faithfulness, there is no guarantee that the father, or even the family, will last.

Growing up, I had a healthy fear of my father. A cluttered, messy house never failed to frustrate my dad. Whenever the house was a wreck, he usually started with this speech. “Y’all are killing your momma. Just look at this house.” He would say in exasperation. 

“Let’s go outside so we can see it better.” I smarted off once.

It is only by the grace and mercy of God that I am alive today, because I thought my Dad was going to kill me. He talked to me like a man that day, which was far worse and scarier than the whipping that I received afterward. There are some things that only a father can say to a child. A hardheaded teenage boy may need some verbal encouragement from a father that would send a social worker into lockdown mode.

The role of a father demands hard love, and discipline. The Bible says it much plainer and with greater authority than I can.

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

Fathers must be willing and able to discipline their children. There are some aspects of fatherhood that frankly are not fun. I must confess that knowing when and how to discipline is a something that I have prayed earnestly for wisdom and understanding. I cannot say that it would be easier to not discipline my children. If I really love my children, I will discipline them.

I Corinthians 4:15 For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.

Fathers are a rare. Fathers are irreplaceable. With a scarcity of fathers in today’s postmodern society, I frequently hear the term Father Figure used by people who did not grow up with a father. Sometimes I hear it from parents who are raising children without a father, many times in reference to a teacher. Webster’s definition for Father Figure is, “A person often of particular power or influence who serves as an emotional substitute for a father.” I’m not certain that there is a substitute for a father. Without discounting the influence of a teacher, there is a role that only a father can fill. Although in context of faith, the scripture indicates that there is a ratio of 10,000 teachers to not many fathers.

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For better or for worse, parents are the greatest influences on a child’s life. Whether a father is actively fulfilling his role in a child’s life, or neglecting his duty, the child feels the influence, whether positive or negative. It is a sad reality that many people grow up without the presence of a father in their home. Perhaps even worse than a father being absent, is an abusive father being present.

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. James 1:27

The Bible uses language that grates the nerves and feelings of modern American culture. Fatherless. It is a sad word. There is an implication that there are two categories of children: sons and daughters, and fatherless. Furthermore, the fatherless are afflicted. Fathers are irreplaceable. Fortunately for the fatherless, there is the church.

I would like to revisit the original question: “Got any advice for a soon to be father?” I do not claim to be an authority on fatherhood, but God did bless me with one of the best fathers that ever lived. That may not be your story. You cannot choose your father, but you can decide what kind of father your children will have. Be the best father that you can be.

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Doris McDaniel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Men & Boys Camping

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

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

Mexican Food and Mariachi Bands

“Every once in a while even the cook needs a break.”

Going out to eat when I was a child was a treat. There were no restaurants in the town that I grew up in, so most of the time Mom cooked. But every once in a while even the cook needs a break, and occasionally we’d take a trip as a family to a restaurant. When it was decided that we were going out to eat,
Dad, not being very high maintenance was always ready to go before anyone. He would make his way to the van as soon as he was ready and sit behind the wheel, expecting everyone else to be just as ready as him. Generally the rest of us kids followed after him as the bathroom became available.

“There’s three bathrooms in this house, why do y’all insist on using mine?” Dad would lament. I never had a good answer for him. We’d go sit in the van and wait with Dad. If someone, most likely Mom, but occasionally a child, was lagging behind, Dad would send one of us in to check on their progress. “Go tell them to hurry up.” He would say.

We’d all watch toward the door in hopes that the late person would appear so that we could go. Sometimes Mom would walk out the door and down the steps before turning around to go back inside, giving us a false sense of hope. Other times she’d tidy something on the porch as she was leaving. “What is she doing?” Dad would ask in an exasperated voice. When everyone was finally loaded up it was time to debate about where we were going to eat. I’ll spare you that ordeal. I was never disappointed when we decided to go to the Mexican Restaurant.

The Guadalajara in Pell City: The Mexican Restaurant. I was half grown before I realized that there was more than one Mexican Restaurant. On Friday nights they had a Mariachi Band that would go from table to table in full regalia and play requests for tips. Besides a bunch of Spanish Songs that I have no way of identifying, their repertoire included various Elvis tunes along with Wooly Bully, Foggy Mountain Break Down, Tequila, and my personal favorite, In the Yungle the Mighty Yungle . The whole family would laugh. That was genuine entertainment.

One time the band leader and trumpeter handed me an egg shaker during an upbeat number. “Shake amigo! Shake!” He exhorted. So I guess I can say that I had a short stint in a mariachi band.

Once I spilt tea in Zach’s lap almost immediately after the waiter brought our drinks. Which kind of ruined the night, at least for Zach. It was the only bad experience that I can remember having at the Guadalajara. The staff got him cleaned up pretty quick though, which confirms my belief that Mexican restaurants have some of the best service out there. We laugh about it now, so I guess we can’t really call that a bad experience.

As I grew older my order changed from cheeseburger (hey it was good), to quesadilla, to tacos. I’ll eat just about anything now. Except raw tuna eyeballs, or stuff like that. The Guadalajara, despite any effort to Americanize their menu, was my introduction to exotic cultural food. I suppose it starts with chips and queso, that’s the gateway food. Then one day, maybe because all the queso is gone, or perhaps you’re just curious, but you try chips and salsa. The next thing you know you’re ordering fajitas and stinking up your Sunday clothes with the greasy smoke that billows off the sizzling plate. Face it, you’re hooked. You don’t even go to Taco Bell anymore.

Since my tastes have been refined, I usually look for authentic food, whether it’s Mexican, Chinese, Thai, or Barbecue. These restaurants are out there if you look. They may not have the best façade or marketing, but the food is genuine. And genuine food is best food. I guess the only thing better is eating just about anything with your family. And perhaps a mariachi band.

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.

Bicycles

I will say that I do not recommend taking a bicycle on the railroad tracks.

You probably remember when you first learned to ride your bike. Maybe your Dad had been running behind you, holding on to the banana seat, and you looked back to see that he was standing twenty feet back with his hands on his hips grinning at you. You panic and then crash. This is repeated until you don’t crash, and that’s how a lot of people learn to ride their bike. Others never started out with training wheels, and were told to just go ride it. My Uncle Tony taught me to ride without training wheels at Gram’s house. It was a faded blue bike with gummy white rubber grips on the handle bars that left a tacky feeling on your hands. He was running behind me as I peddled, until he wasn’t, and I kept right on going. I’ve only met a couple adults who never learned to ride a bicycle. It’s difficult to imagine childhood without bicycles.

It seems like I wore out and outgrew bikes like I outgrew shoes. It probably didn’t help that we left our bikes laying in the yard to get rained on. My Dad would just shake his head when he saw this. When you got a brand new bicycle for Christmas it was easy to haul it up onto the porch and use the kickstand, but the new wore off pretty quickly after one good winter mud puddle. It never occurred to me to clean my bikes. The only maintenance I ever thought about was air in the tires and oil on the chain. Dad would catch the spent motor oil in an old kitchen pot with only one handle whenever we changed the oil in the family vehicles. After crawling out from underneath the truck or van, he would tell us to fetch our bikes. He flipped the bikes over and we would work the pedals as he poured the gritty black oil over the moving chain. You could feel the whole drive train working more smoothly as the lubrication was applied. This usually made a glorious oily mess as much of the oil splattered all over the rest of the bike. We didn’t mind though.

I had a bicycle with cement tires. It was already old when I got it as it refused to be worn out. Not many people I’ve talked to have heard of cement tires. There is a reason cement tires never caught on. Imagine riding on a pothole riddled road in a car without shocks at full speed. That almost gives you the same feeling as riding that bike.

Not content with standard issue, every boy in our neighborhood felt the need to modify his bicycle. The junkyard of worn out bikes at each house usually supplied us with adequate parts. Sometimes, probably most times, the modification did not make the bike any easier to ride or better. It was the feeling of seeing an idea come to life that gave us satisfaction. Adam Bryant put a go cart steering wheel on his BMX style bike. It was the hardest thing in the world to steer. Zach and I put bicycle tires on a scooter. It went a lot faster, but the bigger tires raised the platform to an uncomfortable height for anyone who actually wanted to reach down with a foot to scoot. Jared and Creed put roller blade wheels on a pair of two-by-four studs and pulled them behind their bikes. I’m not sure why, and when I talked to Creed the other day, he still wasn’t sure why. But they did it, and when they rolled up into our yard each with a makeshift trailer rattling behind them, their face shown with pride because of their ingenuity, and they wanted to share their success with us.

I will say that I do not recommend taking a bicycle on the railroad tracks.

We rode bikes everyday until one of us got a car, and our bikes sat out in the rain and rusted until one day a man that Dad knew came and picked them up for scrap metal. We didn’t realize it at the time but as I watched him drive away a chapter closed in my life.

To combat the sedentary nature of my desk job, I recently purchased a proper adult bicycle. I’ve ridden 225 miles since I started three months ago. The changing temperatures that you feel as you ride through the shade and the hollows of Alabama takes me back to being a child on a bicycle. Having a wreck on a bike as an adult however, is a completely different experience.

I’ve tried sporadically over the last year to teach Wesley how to ride his bicycle without training wheels. At times I’ve felt like a failure as a Dad because I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to devote to this task. Other times I felt like he almost had it, but he stopped short. A few days ago while I was at work, he got on his old smaller bike, and told his mom, “I’m going to practice riding my bike without training wheels.” Without any help on that particular day, he figured out how to ride his bicycle.

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