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.

BB Guns

“I sent Wesley a package for his birthday. I figured it would be easier to tell you after I sent it. It’s a BB Gun. I only got him 1,500 BBs, so you’ll need to get him some more pretty soon.” This is what Dad told me. 

I can remember my first BB gun. Zach and I each got one on Christmas morning when I was about four years old. Mine was a Daisy Red Ryder model. “Don’t shoot any song birds.” Dad admonished us. Zach had his gun rights recalled about half an hour later when he shot a blue bird off of the play house. 

Between the two of us, we kept the squirrels at bay. Our reasoning was they ate too many of our pecans. But we didn’t like picking up pecans anyway. We did eat what we shot though. I’ve never had much if a stomach for skinning squirrels. Or rabbits, deer, and fish for that matter. Shoot, my wife baited my hook the last time we went fishing. I know my limitations. 

The coolest BB guns that we ever had looked just like a Colt Peacemaker and Winchester lever action rifle. We would run out of BBs shooting at the Comanches and resort to shooting rocks and sticks through them. Eventually the hammer broke off the pistol and it’s hard to play cowboys and Indians when your new BB gun looks like a Colt 1911, so we shot BBs, rocks and sticks at the Germans and Japanese. 

I think that we wore out more BB guns than the average boys. It’s probably a good thing too, because I shot the girl next door with a BB gun. I don’t remember why I did it. it doesn’t matter anyway, nothing worth shooting someone over. The real reason was meanness. “Watch your legs!” I yelled as she ran across her yard. I aimed through chain link fence and got a lead on her before squeezing the trigger. I hit her right in the knee. I can’t imagine what kind of damage that could have been done if I’d have had a proper working firearm, but I’m glad I didn’t. I’m also glad her dad was a church going Christian, because he might have killed me if he wasn’t. After my mom nearly beat me half to death, I had to apologize to Tiffany, and her dad. “I don’t accept your apology!” She screamed. She was as ill as a hornet. I can’t blame her. On top of that, I had my BB gun priviledges revoked for a few years. 

Tiffany, if you’re reading this, I hope that you’ve forgiven me. Because I can’t tell you how sorry I am. 

After opening Wesley’s birthday present, I learned that Daisy has dialed back the stopping power on these newer models considerably. For that I am grateful. Well, a little bit anyway. 

Your New Pickup Truck

Congratulations on the purchase of your new pickup truck!

Congratulations on the purchase of your new pickup truck! You’ll realize how many friends you didn’t know you had once they start asking you to borrow it. Now that you have a man’s vehicle, you’ll be asked to do manly jobs like hauling mulch for your great aunt, or hauling manure for your Dad’s garden, or helping your coworker pick up a couch that they found on Craigslist. You’ll pick up lawn mowers, haul away trash from your friends bathroom renovation, and help family members move into a new home. Before you know it you’ll have people that have come to depend on you. Or maybe they’re just depending on your truck.

I have always loved pick up trucks, the most masculine of vehicles. I wouldn’t want to try to haul fifteen sheets of plywood in a fancy convertible sports car, no matter how fast it could go. Growing up, I remember all the men having pickup trucks, cars were for rich men. And women. That’s only partially true, rich men could afford new trucks.

Some of my fondest childhood memories come from riding in pickup trucks. When Saturday rolled around, my Dad, my brother and I would pile into Dad’s red Mazda pickup and go “rambling”. Like fishing, rambling always involved stopping at the BP, or Smith’s Grocery to get a bag of chips or a candy bar, and a coke. Zach would get a Dr. Pepper, Dad would get a Pepsi, and I would get a Grapico, or a Mt. Dew. Once we had the proper snack, we’d turn on the radio and listen to British Invasion bands, Motown, or the Braves baseball game as we drove no where in particular. We might find ourselves at the Logan Martin Dam watching the water churn while it’s force generated electricity. Or we might find ourselves visiting a distant relative, or people with odd nicknames like Big Apple and Caveman. We weren’t really concerned with where were going, as long as we were going together. I was always impressed with Dad’s driving skills. Shifting gears seemed like an impossible task to a four year old, but Dad did it without thinking. He would even hold the steering wheel steady with just his thumbs as we zipped through the winding roads of highway 25, which impressed me as much as if he could have played the steel guitar with his teeth.

My brother bought his first truck from my Great Uncle Johnny Wells. It was a golden brown 1982 Chevrolet S-10. I think it had about 380,000 miles on it, but I might be mistaken. It drove like it did anyway. Zach had the hardest time getting it to start. I always had to give him a push so he could pop the clutch. I think I must have pushed it about thirty miles during the time he had it. We probably pushed it more than we drove it. It leaked oil pretty bad too. After about a case of 70 weight oil, Zach ended up returning it to Uncle Johnny, because he could never get the blasted thing started. Uncle Johnny fired it right up and drove off like it was nothing. They were old friends, Uncle Johnny and that truck. He had learned to drive on trucks without power steering and that you had to double clutch, so driving that old S-10 was a breeze.

My cousin Kent’s first truck was an old Ford F100. It was primer blue and rust, but you didn’t have to pop the clutch. J.L. Parker offered to buy that truck once. “I’ll give you $100 for it if you’ll put a new tire on it and fill it up with gas.” I don’t know why Kent didn’t sell it on the spot.

Somehow or another, Bro. Darryl Freeman sold our church youth department a large storage unit full of merchandise from a wrecked tractor trailer. There were free weights, toys, household items, electronics, cell phone accessories, and basically just about anything useless that you could imagine. The idea was to have a massive yard sale to raise money for Sheaves For Christ, the annual fund raiser for Youth Department of the United Pentecostal Church. Kent and I were tasked with hauling all of that junk from Birmingham to Vincent, a good forty five minute drive. We did that for about a week or so that summer. Sometimes we took Jacob Wray with us, the more the merrier. On the way back one day from picking up a load, I was holding a bottle out of the window and letting it whistle. We were laughing like that was the funniest thing in the world. Things were funnier before smart phones. While we were laughing Kent bent down get something out of the floor and the truck veered off the road. I barely had enough time to get my arm in the window before Kent obliterated a mailbox with my humerus. I had glass in my arm from the rear view mirror and huge bruise from the mailbox. Fortunately I didn’t break any bones. The worst part about the whole deal was I had to get a tetanus shot.

I still drive a pick up truck today, and a manual at that. I love to listen to the engine rev, letting me know when to shift gears as I accelerate. I don’t mind people depending on my truck either, that’s part of the reason I got one in the first place. It feels good to be able to help people. And whenever Saturday rolls around, I pile Wes into my truck and we go rambling.

The Store

One of the largest enterprises in my hometown, especially after the cotton gin shut down when I was in the third grade, was Smith & Sons Associated Groceries. Smith’s for short and “Smiss” if you talked like a local. Smith’s was where you went to shop for groceries if you didn’t want to drive twelve miles to Chelsea, or ten miles to Childersburg, in order to shop at those fancy grocery stores like Food World, Winn-Dixie, and Piggly-Wiggly. Smith’s was a small grocery store that had endured an expansion sometime before I was born. You could still see where the wall was knocked out to add four more aisles. Let me take you on a quick tour of the store.

The parking lot was small, only ten spaces directly in front of the door. If you weren’t lucky enough to get one of these, you had to park in the overflow parking by the ancient warehouse, where there were another ten or twelve spaces. There was only one entrance to Smith’s, a single set of electric doors. I remember them being brand new when I was a kid. These doors let the freezing outside air rush in during the winter. Immediately through the door on the right was the Blue Bell ice cream freezer. The other brands of ice cream started to show up the further you got from the door, but that’s not important. To the left there was the magazine stand. When you were standing in the entrance, you could see all the way back to the milk case on the last aisle. If you walked to the milk, you would pass all nine aisles on your left. This is what you would find in the store, if it was still open and I was still working there and you needed to know where to find something.

Aisle 1: Frozen dinners, pizzas, cool whip, cheap ice cream, and the repackaged frozen biscuits. All the taco seasonings were on a display at the end of this aisle right before you entered the meat room. On the other side of the aisle was where you would find all the cookies and junk food, and my personal favorite Keebler Danish Wedding Cookies.

Aisle 2: This aisle was capped on the meat case side opposite on the entrance side, that’s were all the Pop-Tarts were. Medicine, band aids, and stuff like that were found in the actual aisle. Aisle two was shortened because this was also were the cash registers were.

Aisle 3: Cereal was on the short side of this aisle. Coffee, the coffee grinder, and tea were on one end of the aisle. As you came toward the cash register it morphed into the fishing food; potted meat, Vienna Sausages, pork and beans, sardines, and tuna.

Aisle 4: Flour, sugar, rice, dry beans, packaged dinners.

Aisle 5: Barbecue sauce, ketchup, mayonnaise, Jello, pickles.

Aisles 5 and 6 were separated by a big wall.

Aisle 6: Toilet Paper, garbage bags, Ziploc bags, Baby food.

Aisle 7: Soap, cleaners, mouse traps.

Aisle 8: Dog and cat food, salt licks, feed.

Aisle 9: Bread & chips. On the back wall was where the milk, individual soft drinks, and beer. You had to open the door and walk in the cooler to get your eggs off of a rolling cart. There was a cardboard sign saying as much for first time visitors.

On the perimeter of the store there was a makeshift office built so as to see the entire original store, you had to go up a few stairs to get into the office. All along the right wall as you entered were the soft drinks. Once you passed the egg door along the back wall you came to an open cooler where you would find sour cream, cheese, canned whip cream, sausage, bacon, lunch meat, and the occasional fruit cake. Once you got to the next wall, you would find a stand up cooler where the pork brains, chitterlings, and beef and pork liver were found. That case also had chicken gizzards and livers. Next you came to the fruit and mushrooms. You would pass the pudding display as you walked back into the original part of the store. There was an entrance into the stockroom here, from the entrance to the front wall was the meat case. Not only did Smith’s have pretty good meat, they had a wide selection of meat. There were steaks, pig ears, chicken feet, beef tongue, pig tails, ground beef, hog maws, pig feet, chicken wings, souse meat, and even turkey necks. Not to mention the Boston butts, chicken wings, and pork ribs.

Smith’s was the first job I had that I had to pay taxes. I had been working nearly since I started elementary school and I didn’t like this paycheck robbery. It’s hard to report your earnings when you’re breaking all the child labor laws. I was preceded in my office as stock boy at Smith’s by my elder brother Zach Wells and friend Creed McDaniel. I used to walk to the store and bug them while they were working. When Zach graduated I had to wait a year or so before I was old enough to get hired.

Working in the air conditioning and even the cooler, was a big departure from hauling hay. My duties were fairly light too. The main thing I had to do was keep the milk and meat stocked, and sweep the store every night. I had other duties like hauling the empty milk crates to the big stack out by the warehouse, retrieving the buggies, cleaning the parking lot with a blower, filling propane, mopping, waxing the floor, buffing the floor, and stocking shelves.

I really enjoyed stocking the milk. For starters it was in the walk in cooler, which was a wonderful place to be in an Alabama August. While you were stocking the milk, you could see all the way to the front door and know who was coming. You could mess with people you knew when they open the door to get a gallon of milk. One time Creed and Zach were stocking the milk together and singing I Don’t Want To Close My Eyes, by Aerosmith. Some lady opened the cooler door and said, “Well keep ‘em open sugar!”  It was fun being back there, it was like a hideout. I also enjoyed jumping in the box dumpster to pack it down. The box dumpster was acquired after the EPA found out that Smith’s was burning boxes in the ditch behind the store. I never got the joy of burning boxes, but being able to jump in the box dumpster is consolation enough. I even enjoyed breaking down boxes, but the thing I enjoyed the most about working at this tiny grocery store in the middle of nowhere was talking to the regulars.

This strange variety of meat that I mentioned reflected the wide variety of clientele that Smith’s enjoyed. Nearly everyone in town came to Smith’s. There was Uncle Bill, who came in just about every day, not so much to shop, but to set down on a couple a milk crates and talk to cashiers, Mr. Newt, Mrs. Shirley Smith, and Mrs. Marie, who was Newt’s wife. Uncle Bill, was not my uncle, that’s just what everyone called him. People get nicknames that stick in small towns. Some of the regulars had names like Rubber Duck, Screwdriver, Peanut, Bargain Town, Uncle Wallace, and Studebaker. Uncle Bill called me Superman. I would like to think I got this nickname because of my bulging biceps, but more than likely it was my dark hair and thick glasses. Once as I was sacking Uncle Bill’s groceries, he admonished me to “Be careful with my cacklefruits there Superman.” He was talking about his eggs. I could spend a lifetime telling you about the regulars that came into the store. Uncle Wallace would always ask, “How you doing?”

“Pretty good”, I’d reply.

“Pooty good hard to beat.” He would say.

When you go to the grocery store, you share common ground with all of the rest of humanity in that we all have to eat. When someone came into the store, you didn’t really think about people’s political preferences, their ethnic background, or their lifestyle. I enjoyed getting to know so many people from different back grounds in our little town. For the most part, people were friendly, even if they were peculiar. One lady didn’t want us to bruise her coffee while we sacked her groceries.

If you were a customer at Smith’s, you were like family. When we asked about your family, we meant it, we weren’t just making small talk. I say we, because I worked there long enough to get to know the regulars, and had lived in the town all my life and knew everyone anyway. It did not occur to me how open and friendly we were with the customers, until I moved away and had to start doing my own grocery shopping. You don’t see this kind of relationship with the customers as much in larger grocery stores, no matter how organic the cheese and vegetables are. The grocery store was able to bridge the generation gap between me and the rest of the staff, who were old enough to be my grandparents, and these people became very dear to me. My mom used to bring us all supper, most of the time beans and cornbread, or Mexican Cornbread, which is cornbread with onions, cheese, peppers, corn and sausage mixed in. If I learned anything from working at Smith’s, it’s that food brings people together, especially at work.

Mr. Smith, who founded the store, died before I was old enough to get to work with him, but I remember him well. He wore a fedora style hat and had really thick glasses. He worked in the store until he passed away. He would just sack the groceries with his wife, Mrs. Shirley Smith. Mr. Smith had lost an eye and had a sticker with a picture of an eye that stuck to his glasses. I don’t know how old he was, but my great uncle James remembered him being old when he was a young boy. When Uncle James was a little boy, Mr. Smith asked him and his brother, “You boys been slumbering on the bed?” They looked at each other and then shook their heads to Mr. Smith. Once they were in the car, one of them asked, “How did he know that we wet the bed?” By the time I came along Mr. Smith was just working because he loved people, because he was long passed retirement age. I guess when you do what you love for a living, it’s not much like work. Mrs. Shirley Smith had a distinctive laugh and she was always laughing, calling everyone “Hun.” She smoked those big long super 120 cigarettes. She was quite a joker too. Once she told Kim, Marie and Newt’s daughter, to go warm the toilet seat up for her. Kim waited a long time until she realized that Mrs. Smith was kidding.

The person that I worked most closely with was Ray. Ray had been a mechanic and truck driver in the Marines during Vietnam.  After he got out of the service he was a truck driver until he had a near fatal accident that left him with a broken back. After numerous surgeries, rods, pins and screws, Ray was able to walk again, albeit very much hunched over forward and to the left. He looked a bit like Merle Haggard to me. Ray was not my supervisor as much as he would have liked to think he was, but he did schedule the major evening tasks like mopping, bleaching the concrete floor in the stock room, buffing the floor and weed eating the back lot. I witnessed Ray bust the passenger window of his truck with a rock slung out by the weed eater. I was glad that he was showing me how to run a weed eater, as if I had never done that, when this happened. Ray kind of mumbled when he spoke and said some words a little different.  He couldn’t say rinse, instead he’d say, “I’ll mop and you wrench.” He struggle with pronouncing propane too, “Let’s go fill ‘ease profane tanks up.”

One of other tasks was to stuff frozen biscuits into Ziploc bags. We’d each set on a milk crate, open a huge box of biscuits and repackage the biscuits. You could put two stacks on four biscuits in the bag, two biscuits sides between the stakes and one more at the top. It was all you could do to get that last one in and zip the bag. These biscuits were a hot seller in the store and another one of the things that I was specifically tasked with keeping stocked. Ray and I would talk as we sat there in our gloved hands, for those of you who were worried, and stuffed biscuits, but Ray usually had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, sorry about that folks if your flour ever smelled like a cigarette smoke. It was during this sessions that I learned about Ray’s military service, the truck accident, Ray’s favorite things, how good Ray could cook, and various feats of might and prowess that he had accomplished and endured during his life. I mostly listened. Ray once told me about a television preacher back in the day that had got caught. “With a woman?”  I asked. “Naw. They caught with them pornogitty books.” Ray would sometime chide me about going out and partying, mainly because he knew that I didn’t. “Why don’t you get you a case of them Corollas and got out on the town?”

We could spot a first time visitor a mile off, even before they started looking for the eggs. They just had a lost look about them. Once we had a guy move to Vincent from California, I’m not sure how he found us. He was in my English class. As I was sweeping the floor one night before closing he came up to me and asked, “Where are the bagels.”

I stopped sweeping and leaned on the broom handle raising my hand getting ready to point him in the right direction. I thought for a minute, and drew a blank.

“What’s a bagel?” I asked in sincerity.

He stared back at me and fumbled to explain what a bagel was. “It’s a round bread thing that you eat for breakfast. They weren’t on the bread aisle.”

I took him to the bread aisle, still puzzling over what a bagel might look like. There were no bagels on the bread aisle.

“It’s probably over there by the frozen biscuits.” I said triumphantly, wondering why I didn’t think of that first. I lead him to the opposite side of the store. But it was no use, there were no bagels in sight. Mrs. Shirley didn’t know what a bagel was either. After I found out what a bagel was and tasted it, I realized why we didn’t have them in stock. I wonder why I didn’t just try to sell him some biscuits.

One day I remember walking into Smith’s to begin my shift only to find out that the power was out. I remember staring at the rat’s nest of wiring in the panel box and wondering why the building hadn’t burned down twenty years ago. I walked back home, there wasn’t much that I could do.

I must confess that when it comes to the state religion of Alabama, I am apostate. I understand the doctrine and can even explain it to others, but I’ve never been much of a believer, but for most of the population of Alabama, and especially the inhabitants of our little town, the rites of football were kept reverently and faithfully. Community support for the local high school football was so strong that on the Friday night home games, you could have shut down the store two hours early and no one would have noticed. Even worse was the Iron Bowl, the annual face-off between Auburn and Alabama. On Iron Bowl night, the store might as well have been closed, because everyone was at home watching the football game. I remember the cashiers blaring the radio broadcast as Eli Gold called the game. The state of Alabama shuts down during the Iron Bowl, it’s the perfect time to travel since the roads are clear. When I moved out of state I was confused at first to learn that people are actually interested in pro football. I guess that’s what happens when you have pitiful college teams.

The last time I went home, Smith’s had been sold and the name was changed. I walked in and all the people looked unfamiliar. I’m sure the change was gradual to the people who lived through it, but it was drastic when you weren’t really expecting it. Since then the store has closed it’s doors and a Dollar General has opened up not far down the street.  Although many of the staff and regulars have passed away, they live on in my memory every time I go shopping at my local fancy, but characterless grocery store.

Skipping School

“Middle School is one of the most trying times for a young boy.”

Middle School is one of the most trying times for a young boy. Middle schoolers can be some of the meanest people on the planet. Perhaps it’s because the average middle schooler is a walking identity crisis and unsure of their self. This insecurity causes many to lash out at everyone else. Combine this with questionable parenting and the rural Alabama Public Education System and you’ve got the makings of a pretty miserable place for anyone to be, much less try to learn. When I was in Middle School, so much of the teacher’s energy was spent on misbehaving kids who weren’t interested in learning and their parents who weren’t interested in anything that there was little left for students who were there to get an education. As I recall, I got in a number of fist fights in middle school. I don’t say this to brag, but to let you know that I’m not embellishing when I say that middle school was one of the most trying times for me as a young boy. I guess it did prepare me for the real world. I remember everyone getting picked on in my middle school, fat kids, skinny kids, tall, kids, short kids, black kids, white kids, mixed kids, locals, new kids, foreigners, boys, girls. Maybe your middle school experience was different. You should write about it. My experience in middle school is one of the reasons that I am still in youth ministry today.

I tell you this so that you will understand why I would have rather strung tomatoes than taken a field trip to Atlanta with some of the meanest people I knew. When I convinced my Mom that most of my class would be on the field trip and there would be no point in going to school, Dad decided to take the day off and float the river with me. Ordinarily, we would have just gone fishing, but as I recall the boat motor was out of commission, so we decided to float from the Kelly Creek landing to McGraw’s landing, a few miles down the Coosa River.

I remember it being cold as we got an early morning start at Kelly’s Creek. The morning was still and there was fog on the river as we launched the boat. I think when you’re on the river at daybreak you get a more perfect understanding of what God meant in Isaiah when he promised to extend peace like a river. The river is one of the few places where you can still imagine what it the world was like before the industrial revolution, automobiles, and, well, before people moved in. When you’re out there it’s not hard to imagine that the forest you see on the bank goes on for miles and miles.

It was always fun to observe the wildlife on the river, a turtle as big a manhole cover, or a water moccasin, but on this particular day it seemed like we saw more wildlife than usual, probably because we didn’t have our loud outboard motor to break the still air and disturb the peace. One of the first things we saw that morning was a raccoon sitting on a log that hung down into the river from the bank. After pausing for a moment to study us, the raccoon turned around scurried back into the woods. As Dad steered the boat to the Eastern bank with the trolling motor, we watched a pair of turkeys fly silently through the fog across the river, they were just a few feet above the water. When we got to the eastern bank a deer jumped into the river and began to swim across. All of this happened within a few minutes of being on the river.

It seems that the fishing was good that day, even if Dad had to do it all himself. Dad knew all the best spots. We would anchor the boat and sit until the fish stopped biting. Bass like to be around underwater structure and we were anchored by an old concrete pipe when we noticed a school of gar breaking the water not far from the boat. Gar have swim bladders that can be filled by gulping air. They do this to supplement their oxygen in poor water conditions. If you’ve ever seen a gar, it will make you think twice about swimming in the river. They are long skinny fish with long snouts and long sharp teeth.  Gar comes from the old English word for spear and they just look mean. Normally, you wouldn’t want to catch a gar, because they’re not good to eat. But on this day, I thought it might be fun to catch one. Dad made a single cast into the splashing school of gar and caught one on the first try. When he finally reeled it into the boat, it was about four feet long and too big for our net. The top snout had been broken off about halfway down. It’s funny how you remember odd things like that. You have to be careful cutting your lure loose because those gar teeth are sharp.

As the day wore on it began to get hot. We anchored the boat a little south of Buzzard Island in hopes of catching a few fish. I forgot to mention the other wildlife creature that we always seemed to encounter on the river: mosquitoes. The mosquito’s favorite food source is human blood. They sound pretty sinister when you read it like that. We sat in a visible cloud of mosquitoes while Dad tied on a new lure. Since it was so hot and the mosquitoes were eating us alive, we decided to jump in the river to cool off and escape the mosquitoes. It’s surprising how cold the water can be when the sun is as blistering you on the surface. I can never swim too long in the river because my imagination gets the better of me and I start thinking about gar, and alligators, and alligator gar, and water moccasins, and the Loch Ness Monster, and before I know it I start thinking that I’d rather take my chances with the mosquitoes. It’s a little harder to get into the boat than it is to dive out. Especially when you think that there is a five hundred pound snapping turtle about to get you. You’re afraid for a second that you’re going to sink the boat as you climb to safety. Even so, every time we went fishing after that I wanted to go swimming. You tend to forget about the river monsters when you’re about to die of a heat stroke on the river.

Somehow, Dad knocked a rod and reel into the river as he was climbing back into the boat. I should have been more sympathetic, but I was just glad that it wasn’t me that did it. He tried several times to dive and retrieve it but to no avail. He had owned that reel since he was just out of High School, and I know he was upset about losing it, but he didn’t let it ruin our day. It’s never fun to lose a tangible object that is dear to you, or worse have it taken from you. But I value the memories that I’ve taken from the river more than I value the physical things that I’ve lost in the river. Or that Dad has lost river. I think he shares the same sentiment, although I’d be afraid to ask him about it if I had have been the one to lose his fishing pole.

We finally made it to McGraw’s Landing in the late afternoon with a cooler full of fish and a heart full of memories. Of all the years we spent fishing, this particular time stands out vividly. Maybe it was because I was skipping school with my Dad to go fishing. Not that anyone else was at school, since most everyone in my class went on the field trip to Atlanta. I’m sure they had a good time too, making fun of each other, and stressing out the chaperones, but I am pretty confident that many of them might have benefited more from a day on the river with their father than any field trip our public school system could have offered.

Merry Christmas, and Thanks

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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