Funeral Processions

This came as a surprise to me when I moved away as an adult: not everywhere allows funeral processions. Even some places in Alabama have given up on this tradition.

Uncle Barry and Gram made the trip up to Cullman a few Saturdays ago. We ate at my sister’s house and just visited. It was good to see both of them. Uncle Barry was having open heart surgery the next week. He had had a heart attack earlier this year. After they amputated his big toe, they told him that he needed to have open heart surgery, but he wasn’t strong enough to handle it just yet.

I had to struggle to reconcile those words “not strong enough” relating to Uncle Barry. When I was a kid I didn’t think there was anyone stronger in the world. He once picked up a headache ball with one hand. I wasn’t exactly sure what a headache ball was, or how much one weighed. So I imagined it as a wrecking ball used to tear down old buildings, and I gave it the satisfyingly immense weight of 300lbs. A real headache ball weighs at most around 100lbs, and is used to keep the cable on a crane from flying around in the wind.

I watched Uncle Barry lift up Jacob Wray onto the roof the church so Jacob could fetch the keys that he had thrown on the roof. I can still see the panicking women and the grinning men watching the spectacle through the clear church windows.

Before I was born, Uncle Barry and Uncle Tony came over to Dad’s house to help level an ancient building in the back yard. An old neighbor came over to watch the men work because that is what old men do. Uncle Tony, ever the prankster, told the old man that Uncle Barry’s name was Charles Ray. Uncle Barry single handedly lifted up the building so Uncle Tony and Dad could sure up the foundation with cinder blocks.

“Y’all killing Charles Ray!” The old man protested not knowing Uncle Barry’s herculean strength. This saying has survived in our family and is used whenever one person seems to be doing all the work.

Every Christmas Uncle Barry gave me a pocket knife. Even after I was grown he wanted to know what I was carrying. Or maybe he just asked that because he really wanted to show me what he was carrying.

The last thing I did with Uncle Barry was pray with him.

He came through his surgery fine the following Wednesday. I was glad to hear that. I am always amazed at how quickly heart surgery patients bounce back.

But then Friday came. My sister told me early Friday Morning that Uncle Barry didn’t make it. That was July 1st. It is one thing to know that death is imminent and another when death comes suddenly. I am still trying to sort out having seen him laughing and carrying on less than a week before his death.

My Nonna died on July 4th. It took me by surprise, but it shouldn’t have. The last time I went to see her I felt like the little boy that Dad was taking to visit a bedridden relative that I really didn’t know. I was always amazed at how he could carry on a conversation and laugh with someone who was barely awake and incoherent. Now I realize that he was probably saying goodbye to a shell of a person who used to be so full of life. That was Nonna, full of life. And laughter.

She was always laughing. Or rather cackling. I love laughter. I wish I had a laugh track from her house circa 1995. Starring Aunt Shelby, Uncle Ferman, Cindy, Dad, and Nonna. I would listen to often. Who am I kidding? I can hear it right now.

We used to go to Pop & Nonna’s every Monday night and party. They’d be enough food to feed half of Sterrett. We ate everything from chicken and dressing-a dish normal people may only get at Thanksgiving but we might get in August-to humble kraut and weenies. I don’t remember ever really running out of food. My brother said the Lord must’ve helped her. She made some of the best cakes. Twinkie Cake was my favorite.

Nonna had two refrigerators and two freezers. I believe that her and Pop might’ve been hungry as kids and they didn’t want that to ever happen again. Not to them, nor their children or grandchildren.

Nonna was also a card shark. For the first part of my life they, the adults that is, played Hand & Foot, a variation of Canasta. I never played that. But I did play Rook. We played a lot of cards, but there was no gambling. There was never any alcohol either. Nonna sure new how to party.

Nonna died of congestive heart failure. Similar to Uncle Barry, her heart just quit.

“I’m just so tired. I don’t want to take any more medicine.”

So we had two funerals in one week. I have to confess, that I much prefer weddings to funerals. There is never any punch at funerals. And there is a lot of crying at funerals. But there is also a lot of comfort at funerals.

After Uncle Barry’s funeral we rode in funeral procession from Sylacauga to the Vincent City Cemetery, just a kudzu patch and a magnolia tree away from the house I where I was raised. Funeral processions passing right in front of the house was a regular occurrence when I was kid. Just like the passing trailers packed with cotton on their way to the Cotton Gin were normal. Mom and Dad had taught me that it was rude to keep playing when the funeral procession passed.

“You need to stop what you are doing out of respect for the dead.”

This came as a surprise to me when I moved away as an adult: not everywhere allows funeral processions. Even some places in Alabama have given up on this tradition.

I got off my bike and stood at attention in my dirty jeans and sweaty glasses and watched countless funeral processions to that cemetery. Even then I could feel the heaviness of this custom. Uncle Barry’s was the first one to that cemetery I remember riding in. It was really moving to see old men pulled over on the side of the road, standing out in the heat with their hats over their hearts, and shirtless young men who stopped in the middle of weed-eating a fence to show respect for the dead. It made me proud to be from Alabama.

Two deaths in the family in such a short time has caused me to do quite a bit of thinking in last few days. Both of these relatives died of heart disease. Heart disease runs in my family on both sides. I am not a cardiologist, but it also seems like heart disease and good cooking run in the same families.

“Uncle Barry, what did the doctor say you need to do about your heart?” I asked him the last time I saw him.

“Don’t get up over 300lbs. Eat regular.”

“I’ve been eating pretty regular all my life! I should be fine.”

“Naw!” He laughed, “You got to eat right.”

I am earnestly trying to reverse the trend of heart disease and diabetes in my family. It is a noble endeavor, but ultimately it doesn’t matter how healthy you are physically if you are not healthy spiritually when you ride in your final funeral procession.

For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.

I Timothy 4:8

Ice Cream

I love ice cream. I once received an emergency haircut after I snuck out of bed to finish off the ice cream. I stuck the empty plastic ice cream bucket over my head and licked the sides. There was no hiding the evidence in my hair the next morning on the way to take Zach to school.

My parents had an old Amana ice cream maker that was louder than three holiness preachers. Like so many other appliances from the 80s, it was brown and tan. I am not sure it came from the factory that loud. When you’re a kid you think broken things are normal, like the refrigerator that won’t stay closed. The noise didn’t ever stop us from partying though. And my parents hardly ever made ice cream without it being a party. After all, what you need to have a party is special food and special people. So by that definition, every night was a party at our house.

I suppose the rackety Amana was better than the hand crank ice cream makers that some of my older friends have told me about. I guess you’ll gladly do whatever it takes to have some ice cream. I imagine you could rig up an exercise bike to an ice cream maker if times were tough and you were smart enough. I bet Creed could do it. Anyway, I’m not thinking about engineering, I’m thinking about ice cream.

Like I was saying, the ice cream machine noise was part of the atmosphere of a party. All the adults would be sitting around the table playing Rook. They yelled anyway, but they had to put in extra effort to raise their voices above the electric motor whining away in the kitchen. The kids probably got away with more mischief since the noise was running interference for them. No one ever said anything about the noise until someone turned the machine off.

“Man that was loud.” Somebody would say as if Jesus had just rebuked the sea and the disciples were marveling at the calm.

They always made vanilla and strawberry. Those were the only flavors I thought homemade ice cream came in. Man was it ever good. Strawberry is probably still my favorite, but ice cream has to be real bad for me to not like it. In Virginia they made Grape-Nuts Ice Cream and acted like it was the best thing ever. If you’re not familiar with Grape-Nuts then you probably don’t know about fried bologna neither. It’s a cereal that poor people used to eat instead of food. Just put a little bit of fine gravel in the vanilla next time you make a batch of homemade ice cream and you’ll get the same texture and maybe a little better taste. It tastes bad because you had to grow up eating it for it to taste good.

To someone out there, homemade ice cream with Grape-Nuts in it will bring back a flood of fond memories. It just didn’t do it for me.

Sis. Beane made some lemon ice cream one time at youth camp. She put it three or four times the amount of lemon flavoring that the recipe called for. Bro. J.L. Parker took a big bite and made a sour face. “Sister, that’s the best I ever tried to eat.”

Dad used to tell us about how Pop would ask him and Uncle Melvin what kind of ice cream they wanted from the store.

“Rocky Road!”

“Chocolate!”

No matter what they asked, Pop always brought back Cherry Vanilla.

Dad would laugh about that story.

It was around the time that he knew he was about to die that Dad asked for some Cherry Vanilla Ice Cream. As many times as he told that story, it was the first time that I ever remember seeing it. One of the last things I saw dad eat was Blue Bell Dutch Chocolate. I fed it it to him. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat that flavor again and not think of him.

So I’m thinking about getting an ice cream maker, or seeing if Creed can do the bicycle powered deal. I want to experiment with some different flavors. I think peach ice cream would be good. And apparently they used to make that at Nonna’s, but I just don’t remember it. Or maybe we can use some of these blackberries that grow on the back fence. I mean just about any fruit will be good in ice cream.

“Anything with five cups of sugar in it is bound to be good.”

-Bo

I think I’ll start with strawberry though.

How to Ride 100 Miles on Your Bike

No one is going to be impressed if you tell them, “Today I rode my bicycle.”

Unless you are a child who has never ridden a bike, or just got off of training wheels, there is nothing remarkable about that. Any average adult could’ve done the same thing with little effort and no planning.

But it if you tell someone, “Today I rode my bike 100 miles.” Then you are more likely to get a different response. Some people will be impressed, some will think you are crazy as an outhouse rat. But most everyone is curious about things that require something more than marginal effort. It is that extra effort-work, planning, dedication, etc.-that stands out to people.

Riding 100 miles on a bicycle sounds like a nearly impossible task for some people. But it is really quite simple. It’s just takes hard work and some planning. To a cyclist (I guess I am an official gel eating, ride in the rain cyclist) riding 100 miles, or a Century, is a right of passage. As ridiculous as it may sound, it is something that cyclists work their way toward achieving.

I am not saying that it is not possible to get on a bike without any training and ride 100 miles without a plan. But I am saying that it will be difficult to ride the day after you do that. In fact it will be difficult to do anything the day after. I also can’t promise that you won’t injure yourself.

I’m sure there is someone more qualified to tell you how to go about riding 100 miles, but if you are a regular reader we both know that cycling is not really what we’re actually talking about here. At any rate, this is what I would recommend if this is something you really want to do.

Commit to Cycling.

Unless you commit to cycling and go out and purchase a bicycle, riding a century is going to be like anything else that you would just like to do. There is a commitment beyond simply purchasing the bike: riding the bike. Every day. Something will hurt every day that you ride. You will be out of breath and have to do the walk of shame on some of the hills, pushing your bike up as you wonder if you’ll ever get to a point where this won’t hurt. It won’t quit being hard, you’ll just go faster.

Eventually, there will come a point when that one hill doesn’t whip you any more. This only happens to the people that don’t quit.

Set Small Goals First.

There will come a time when you will have to set a distance goal that is beyond what you are capable of doing in your early morning ride. You won’t be quite sure how hard it will be to ride x miles, but you have a rough idea of how much time it will take because you ride n miles every morning and n•5=x. You’ll be confident you can ride that far because you have done it every week for a few weeks, but you’re not certain that you can do a week’s worth of riding in one day.

This is when you have to saddle up one morning and not get off until you have completed your goal.

Fortunately for you, you have me to tell you to pack plenty of food because you stand to burn about 2,000 calories for a 50 mile ride. If you don’t eat and drink enough you will run out of energy and it will take a while for you to feel better.

If you think you don’t need those padded underwear you will change your mind after that first Half Century.

Plan a Route.

The first time I rode 50 miles I had to psych myself up for it. If I am honest I didn’t have a lot of confidence in myself to finish. So I purposefully mapped a route. It is hard to give up when you are 25 miles from the house.

Mapping out a route is even more important when doing a Century. Nothing kills motivation like not having a plan.

Where there is no vision, the people perish…

Proverbs 29:18

You don’t want to have to spend the last 15 miles of a Century mapping out a route. You won’t be in the right frame of mind.

Follow the Plan.

I believe in following the plan. You made the plan when you were thinking straight. At mile 80 you won’t be thinking straight. If you planned to do 100 miles, then all you have to do is follow the plan.

Century I

For your first Century I would avoid any roads with “mountain” in the name.

Century II

Once you ride 100 miles in a single day, any distance below 100 miles doesn’t seem that far. It is a psychological barrier that must be broken. Once it is broken there is also the danger of not riding shorter rides any more because they aren’t 100 miles. I feel pretty strongly that these simple daily rides are just as important if not more important than any Century ride.

Light gains, heavy purses.

-Poor Richard’s Almanac

Anything in life worth doing is probably going to be hard. Easy things hardly ever stand out as great things. The paradox is that great things are generally simple, but simple doesn’t mean easy.

You may have great things that you would like to do but haven’t done yet. I believe that you can do them. It is amazing what you can do with a little commitment and planning.

Sunday Afternoons

Sometimes I wonder if people who don’t go to church on Sundays still take a Sunday afternoon nap. My parents always took a Sunday afternoon nap between church services. When I was little kid, I didn’t fully appreciate this practice. Instead of napping, I would read the Sunday comic page. Or that was always the first thing I did instead of napping. The Sunday comics were special because they were in color, and many of the strips followed a different story line on Sunday. Some comics only appeared on Sunday, like Prince Valiant. Which I read religiously even though I always felt like I started in medias res and that the only way to get the back story and fully understand what was going on was to have started following the comic back in 1937. But the artwork was good so I toughed it out while Mom and Dad settled in for their nap.

We had to be quiet during the nap, or at least until they fell asleep. Being quiet meant not stomping around or yelling. You can only read the comics for so long and then they are done and you have to look at all of the photographs and read the captions in the various articles until you find something that might be interesting. Then you could read the whole article, or until you got lost in all of the Balkan names. The 90s offered us a lot of good news content. Kosovo, Princess Diana, Monica Lewinski, Elian Gonzalez. Even world events get boring after awhile and I’d go find something else to do, but the newspaper ritual continued as long as I lived at home.

When I started playing guitar I would go back to the church on Sunday afternoons and hang out with Jacob, a friend who was also learning to play guitar. Perhaps that’s misleading, he was learning, he already new how. He was a gifted musician. If it hadn’t have been for him, I probably wouldn’t have started playing guitar. Initially I wanted to play the bass. But Jacob got a bass before I did, so I got a guitar.

He was always saying, “Go get your guitar.”

We’d meet back at the church after lunch and hang out until the next service. I suppose the statute of limitations has expired so I don’t mind telling you that we raided the Sunday School refrigerator and snack cabinet quite a few times. I don’t think they missed that forgotten vanilla ice cream though.

We would spend the afternoon all of the guitar riffs that we new and some of the ones that we didn’t and we couldn’t tell the two apart. It was great fun. I still kind of do the same thing now at band rehearsal. We just don’t raid the Sunday School snack cupboard. And we are practicing church songs that we are going to sing for the evening service, and not trying to perfect Lynyrd Skynyrd licks.

Jacob was notorious about waiting until I had just finally got handle on a rock’n’roll guitar lick enough to make it remotely recognizable when he would suddenly say, “Sir?” while looking toward the front door of the church. It never failed to scare the daylights out of me.

On rare occasions, probably due to impending weather, we would help Pop haul hay on a Sunday afternoon. There was always a tangible unspoken urgency to hurry through the chore in order to make it to church in time for the six o’clock service.

Appreciation for a Sunday afternoon nap comes with maturity. Just like having a steady job comes with maturity. Perhaps the shiftless can enjoy a Sunday afternoon nap, but they didn’t earn it.

There are a lot of differing opinions on the art of a Sunday afternoon nap. Clothes or pajamas? Recliner or bed? Post nap shower or no? I’m a pajama-bed-shower man myself. But sometimes the nap is so good you just have to get up and get to band practice and hope for the best.

“That was a good nap huh?” Adam will say if I ever skip the post-nap shower.

“Yes. How’d you know?”

“You got that nap hair going on. Hehehe.”

I don’t always get a Sunday afternoon nap these days because we have a one year old who can’t entertain herself by reading the Sunday comics yet. But as soon as she can read, I’m taking a Sunday afternoon nap.

Lifestyle Change

There are certain things that, if you really want to do them right require a lifestyle change.

“I’d like to take up the guitar.”

I hear this from time to time and I always get a little tickled. Playing guitar is not something that you simply take up. It takes the kind of lifestyle change that will make a kid who throws fits about having their fingernails clipped start cutting them every five days. In living for God we call this kind of lifestyle change a conversion. You can’t have Christianity without conversion and you’ll never be really good at guitar without a major lifestyle change.

Sometimes people aren’t really ready for a change, they just like the idea of the results the change brings. That’s how I have always looked at being healthy.

“Man, I’d sure like to be fit.” I’d catch myself thinking as I loaded up a second portion of barbecue at one of the feasts that most of my memories are centered around. The fact is, I enjoy eating good food. It has been a part of my lifestyle since I can remember. We ate to celebrate, we ate to mourn.

I love food.

I have been slowly chipping away at college work over the last couple of years. I have always been impressed at how disciplined I can be when someone imposes upon me a syllabus and deadlines. So I decided to do an experiment. I wrote out a set of health/fitness goals and a ten week plan to see what I could achieve. I picked this number partly because it matched my summer semester and partly because I had a Doctor’s appointment at the end of that ten weeks. I want to share with you the plan and the results.

Me and Hollynn, who hardly ever lays her head down on my shoulder. I’m about 235lbs in this picture.

May 22, 2021

I weighed 232.4lbs. My waist measurement was 35″. I had a bike but I wasn’t a consistent cyclist.

Health Goals 5/22-8/02/2021

  1. Take in my belt two notches
  2. Fit into my suits comfortably
  3. Weigh 200lbs
  4. Cycle 500 miles
  5. Waist 30″

Health Plan 5/22-8/02/2021

I suppose this may be the most important part, otherwise those goals are just nice thoughts. This is where the lifestyle change comes in.

  1. Ride or run daily
  2. No snacks, only meals
  3. No sugar
  4. One helping at supper
  5. Avoid fried food
  6. Pushups daily
  7. Weigh in at the end of every week

Results

WeightWaistMiles Ridden
Week 05/22/2021232.435″50
Week 15/29/2021227.432″65.66
Week 26/5/202122932″51.02
Week 36/12/202122932″53.76
Week 46/19/202122531 7/8″101.7
Week 56/26/202122331 3/4″72.27
Week 67/3/202122331 3/4″3.99
Week 77/10/202122331 3/4″86.39
Week 87/17/202122063.07
Week 97/24/2021219.472.92
Week 107/31/2021217.685.2
Dr. Appt8/2/2021215.6Total705.98
  1. Take in my belt two notches-I took it in three
  2. Fit into my suits comfortably-Achieved
  3. Weigh 200lbs – This may have been a tall order. Losing 32.4lbs in ten weeks may not be healthy. I am satisfied with having lost 16.8lbs.
  4. Cycle 500 miles-I rode 705.98 miles.
  5. Waist 30″- I quit measuring after week 7, because after looking closer I think the tape had a manufacturing flaw.

Observations

During week 6 I went to Youth Camp, I ate fried food every day, and staid up until 2:00am every night. The only reason I cycled any is because I rode my brother’s bike. Even so, I didn’t gain any weight that week, which was surprising.

Me at youth camp playing a Bsus4 chord at 223lbs

In week 7 I bought some lights for my bicycle and I started riding before work and before I ate anything. You can see that weight loss is more consistent from that time on out. It was around this time that I also noticed that I was waking up before my alarm clock.

I tried to do some running, but I only managed to get three miles. Running is a lot harder than cycling. I’ll have to tackle that in a different plan.

I have noticed that if I eat much later than 7:00pm I will fill sluggish in the mornings.

I have avoided sticking to a hard diet like Keto, because I feel like I would crash and burn. I did however try to eat more whole foods instead of processed foods.

I asked my doctor about nutrition at my appointment. He said that I was already doing a good job.

“If you are doing it right, it is going to take a long time.”

Sarah and Me on a date. I’m weighing about 216lbs here.

Conclusion

So why am I writing about this?

Anytime someone decides to make a lifestyle change for the better, there are people who will wait for them to fail.

“Oh she’s going to church now? She won’t make it three months.”

“He’s learning the guitar? Hahahah! What a waste of time.”

“He’ll be off that diet come fourth of July.”

People don’t mind telling you what they really think. Some-not all- will comment in hopes that you fail no matter what you’re trying to do.

This is part of a real conversation I had about my health plan.

“You ride that bike on the road? Man that’s dangerous!”

“You’re right, but you know what else is dangerous? Congestive heart failure and diabetes.”

So I am here to encourage someone today. If you are trying to make a healthy lifestyle change, you can do it. That is, if you really want to. Anything worth doing is probably going to be hard.

There are some lifestyle changes that carry a greater pay off than others.

For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. I Timothy 4:8

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.

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

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.

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.