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 often 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 one 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 their 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.

The Churn

It’s just in human nature to use things against the manufacturer’s recommended use.

We had an old churn in the kitchen. I can’t remember it not being there. Our churn was never employed to make butter or anything like that, it just kept the refrigerator door closed. It’s just in human nature to use things against the manufacturer’s recommended use.

There was a big indoor yard sale at the Cullman County Ag Center a while back, and they had a churn just like the one that I remember from growing up. I say remember, but until I saw the one at the yard sale I hadn’t thought about that churn since we got a new refrigerator in 1997.

The yard sale made me think of the churn. This kind of thing happens to me all the time. Something will trigger my memory and I don’t just remember, I’m there. I think that’s why I like to go to yard sales and and thrift stores.

The churn took me back to the kitchen with it’s ancient white and black tile in a curious pattern. There was the refrigerator with it’s faux wooden inlays on the handles. Inside the fridge was the mystery Country Crock containers that Mom used for leftovers. Once she sent a bunch of them full of Mexican Cornbread (or something like that) to work with Dad so he could share with coworkers. One poor man opened his container to find actual Country Crock. I think we used Country Crock instead of butter because my grandfather had died of a heart attack.

The new refrigerator door stayed closed, so the churn was retired to the mud room. We were too emotionally attached to it to get rid of it, ugly as it was. The lid was long gone and it the finish was cracked and chipped, but because it had been with us so long it had earned a permanent spot on the register of Wells Home Furniture: we were not getting rid of it. It’s funny how you can become attached to a thing no matter how useless it has become.

When I was a teenager, we had an extended guest who broke the churn after carelessly moving it. I think my Mom cried. Because it had outlived it’s original use and it’s ad hoc use we didn’t replace it, its only function was sentimentality, a curio relic from a bygone era.

It would have been impossible to replace it anyway. It would be like replacing a family member. Shopping for a new one would have only made you sad about the one that you lost.

Look at that. I’m tearing up about a churn. I didn’t buy that churn at the yard sale. But I did just buy a new refrigerator the other day. It’s got an alarm that dings at you if the door is open.

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.

Film Photography

Do you remember taking photographs on film?

I love yard sales. Previously loved merchandise. Everything you never knew you couldn’t live without can be found at a yard sale. Part of the fun of a yard sale is digging through the junk to find the treasure. Sometimes it’s only digging through junk. Even when you do find treasure, it sometimes only seems like treasure because the junk makes it look better. This is how I got back into film photography.

I have a recurring dream that I find a cache of treasure (usually guitars) for sale dirt cheap at some yard sale or thrift store. From time to time it comes true. Like the time I found a bunch of pocket knives at an estate sale. Today I’m thinking about the time I stumbled upon the motherlode of film camera equipment at the church yard sale. The yard sale itself had a half acre of merchandise spilling off of tables and onto tarps. There was an entire table full of lenses, filters, flashes, and bulbs. On the edge of the table was whicker basket full of film cameras. My mind went back to photography class when I spotted a pristine Canon A-1 Camera with a 50mm lens. I picked it up and instinctively focused the lens on one of the yard sale characters walking around. I advanced the film lever and clicked the shutter release button. There was the unmistakable whir of a shutter quickly opening and closing. A sound that even kids born in the 21st century will recognize from their iPhone camera.

I was hooked. Camera in hand, I walked over to Sis. Tina Updike, who was running the cash register that day. “How much for the camera Sis. Tina?” I asked. She frowned at me like she’d never seen a camera before she asked, “Is $10 too much?” I quickly paid for the camera before I had a chance to talk myself out of taking up a new hobby. I also went and scooped a couple of lenses, another SLR camera, and an enlarger so I could develop my own film.

As I fiddled with the camera and did a little bit of research to refresh my new found venture in to film photography, I began to think abstractly how film photography is more like life than the convenient digital photography that has cemented it’s place in our culture over the past twenty or so years. There was a time when cameras were investments, now they are just features on our phones. Camera phones have made us all photographers.

Think about when you were a kid. Unless you don’t remember having to take pictures with a camera, take your undeveloped film to Wal-Mart, shop around for an hour until you could finally pick up an envelope of actual pictures. Not only did you have to purchase film, but you had to pay for the pictures before you could decide that you were a terrible photographer. You kept the pictures anyway, and couldn’t wait to show them to your friends. The next time you had company, you’d pass around your pictures and you’d all laugh at the ones that didn’t come out like you wanted. The few pictures that came out great got an elevated frame or refrigerator status.

The first roll of film that I shot with my Canon A-1 was interesting. There were 24 frames. It made me stop and think before I snapped the shutter. I had to manually focus each picture. I had to wait a couple of weeks before I could see the fruit of my labor. Long enough to almost forget what I’d shot. Opening that first envelope of pictures was quite emotional. I sat down and looked through them with my wife. Like any roll of film, there were some duds. An image with uninteresting subject material, a poorly focused shot, or improper exposure. Even so, there were few really good pictures that I framed.

A photograph is frozen moment in time. Henri Cartier-Bresson spoke of the decisive moment, or the perfect moment to freeze in time. You can’t retake the same picture, because time will move forward. You’ll stop and refocus, changing the composition. Life is much more like a roll of film with a set amount of frames than a digital phone camera where we can take endless pictures in order to capture an image of how we think we should look. It’s a sobering thought, time.

Mostly From Memory is me sharing with you my life’s roll of film. Sure, I get to edit the pictures a little bit to make the subject material shine, but I can’t go back and take more pictures. Neither can you. Each season in our life is a frame of time on a limited roll. I wish that we could simply “delete” some pictures in life because of uninteresting or embarrassing subject material. Or a poorly focused shot. Or improper exposure.

I have a strong desire to make each season in my life count.

I can’t remember if I was thinking along these lines as I loaded the second roll of film into my now beloved Canon A-1, but I did know that I hoped to make every shot count. I think I took a few pictures of my kids, who wouldn’t be still to for anything in the world. The next day I took my camera to work so I could take pictures of downtown Winchester on my lunch break. There was one shot that I planned on taking. Every day I looked out from the fourth floor of the parking garage across the alley to the fire escape of the George Washington Hotel. The metal staircase against the backdrop of brick formed a perfect Z.

Z for Zane. I focused my camera on the target, but to get the composition just right required me to stand on the concrete barrier a foot from off of ground and lean against the railing with my knees. I took my time focusing and double checked my exposure before I firmly pressed the shutter release. Satisfied that I had not wasted a frame of film, I stepped back from my perch into reality. I was a hair higher than I expected and when my foot didn’t reach solid ground I grabbed for the rail, which was only barely above my knee. I panicked. In my desperation to regain my balance, my prized camera slipped from my hand. I watched it tumble through the air from four stories up. It fell for a long time, almost in slow motion, getting smaller and smaller until it smashed into the concrete and burst into pieces that fled the impact. I stared at the wreckage for quite a while before I realized that I could never take another picture with that camera. Then I walked down the stairs and picked up the pieces.

My busted Canon A-1. A testament to fragility of life.

The Liar’s Bench

Does your local gas station have a bench out front?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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