Shakespeare: Poet & Playwright

Truth is independent of belief.

I would like to consider myself a mild mannered man. Someone who exhibits self control. A man of temperance and longsuffering. In short, I strive to be a gentleman. But every once in a while something stokes sufficient righteous indignation in me to take some sort of action. I may not be mad enough to “bust some windows out”, as my father would say, but I am concerned enough to take up my pen.

The matter which has inspired me to write was a discussion board assignment for my Theatre Appreciation class.

Check out the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition’s website under the Activities folder, and read the Declaration.  Based on the information provided, do you think that the man we know as William Shakespeare wrote the plays of Shakespeare?  If no, who do you think may have written the plays? 

Here is the link the text if you are so inclined to read it. If not, suffice it to say that this is a link to an organization that doubts that William Shakespeare wrote the plays ascribed to his name. This is not a new movement, and it’s not really what bothers me. Anyone who is above average will have their critics. As a convinced Christian, I am accustomed to the doubting crowd. Truth is independent of belief. 

This was my response on the discussion board.

I have no problem believing that the man William Shakespeare is the author of the plays and sonnets ascribed to his name. Some of the reasons given for doubting his authorship are absurd. For instance, spelling in the English language was not standardized in Shakespeare’s time, which accounts for the variant spellings of his name. Doubters also point out that Shakespeare was uneducated, or received minimal education at best. This, I believe, is the heart of the controversy: how could an uneducated man from a small town in the country write some of the most highly revered masterpieces of English literature? This testament to the human genius is difficult for many academic minds to comprehend.

Too much attention to textual and source criticism degrades the value of the work of art. We may not know much about the author’s life, but we do know that he had a near perfect understanding of human life, and a mastery of the English language.
For more information on this subject, I would suggest reading Will of the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt.

In short, the burden of proof is on the doubters. To date there has been insufficient evidence to dethrone William Shakespeare as a literary genius.

So now you know how I feel about Shakespeare’s authorship. Perhaps I am wrong, probably not. I just believe that ordinary people are capable of doing extraordinary things and being incredibly gifted, even without formal education. Please understand me, I am not against education. This whole article is about something that happened in a college course. Brilliance is not predicated on education. We all know some 

There were only seven other responses to the discussion so far. They were all in doubt of Shakespeare’s credibility, but that isn’t what bothered me. What’s a slobbering hog to a jaybird? What I find alarming is how casually and quickly they came to this conclusion. 

By reading some of their responses I gathered that this was the first time that many of them realized that Shakespeare’s authorship has been in question. It was clear that they had allowed a single article with a decided slant to influence their opinion. Their responses were so casual. Let us remember that this is college discussion board; a rather annoying assignment which very few college students give much thought. 

As an unashamedly fan of the works of William Shakespeare it would be disappointing to find out that he did not author the plays and sonnets which bear his name; but other than cheapening these works of art for me, disproving his authorship has little or no significance in light of the weightier matters of life. My concern is if someone can be swayed so easily on a matter as trivial as the credibility of one of the pillars of English literature, will they be able to find solid ground when it comes to anything of actual importance? Or will they be tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine? 

 

 

 

The Liar’s Bench

Does your local gas station have a bench out front?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On Government

It was with high ideals that I first learned about our government. Having read about it in our hoard of books at home, and with my father’s voice guiding me through each page, I held the founding fathers and the men who fought for us in the American Revolution in high regard. These weren’t mere men, a foreign concept to many in today’s society, but they were great men. Men with conviction. Men who lost fortunes for freedom.

Learning about government in school was quite a different experience. I was always puzzled by the role of the legislative branch. Why did we need new laws? Did people not understand right from wrong? It became apparent to me as a child that not everyone in my class, and maybe even a couple of teachers, had not grown up with a set of Encyclopedias and bookcase in every room of their home. In classes like civics, and government, I heard some the most bizarre ideas articulated and espoused that I am still more than a little concerned to know that those people are now voting.

I was chosen by our faculty to attend Alabama Boy’s State during the summer before my senior year of High School. Boys State was founded in the 1930’s to combat the Hitler Youth programs. Each year, schools all over the country send a select group of boys to a week long camp where they will create a miniature model of their state government. This mock government is complete with Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Judges, and all of the various commissioners and elected offices that make up the bureaucracy of their given State. At the end of the camp, two representatives, usually the elected governor and lieutenant governor, are chosen to attend Boys Nation, were a model of the Federal Government is created, and delegates get to meet the President of the United States. The boy that was elected governor of Alabama the year prior to my attendance was elected President of Boys Nation. Judge Pete Johnson, the Director of Alabama Boy’s State, had been a Boy’s Nation delegate and had met President Kennedy. While Everything I had learned about the government so far had been theory, Boy’s State was practice in every sense of the word.

I arrived at the University of Montevallo and upon registering was assigned a “City”, or Dorm. Each City was named for former Boy’s State Director. For that week, I lived in the City of Fann, which was the second floor girl’s dorm. We were also assigned one of two parties, Nationalist or Federalist.
I was a Nationalist.

In our first party meeting. We were tasked with establishing a party platform, and choosing candidates. As most of the large crowds I have been a part of had been at church, it was unnerving to be in such a starkly divided crowd trying, or not trying in many cases, to find common ground. The issues that we could not agree on, much like today, were Abortion, Gay Rights, and the Lottery. We argued for so long, that fearing we would run out of time, some adults intervened. They advised us to ignore these hot topic issues. We followed this terrible recommendation and developed one of the weakest party platforms in history, only rivaled in shallowness by that of the opposing Federalist party.


Looking back on the process we used to elect candidates that we did not know is quite comical, until I realize that it is also how it is done in real life. Anyone who felt so inclined was given two minutes and a microphone to convince the party why he should represent all of us. There were some vulgar remarks, quite a bit of silliness, and a hand stand by a snooty soccer player. In the end, we were able to narrow it down to the popular kids in each city, at which point there was another round of convincing with slightly extended microphone time and an admonishment to not pound the podium, the adult supervision not having ever heard a Pentecostal Preacher. At last we, brimming with patriotism, elected a boy from England to run for “Lufftenant” governor. Ultimately, he won the election and when it was discovered that he was a noncitizen, Judge Pete Johnson, being a member of some kind of naturalization or immigration board, pulled some strings and the boy was naturalized in front of the whole delegation at general assembly. It was quite moving and he cried a little bit. I’m not even sure why he was there if he wasn’t a citizen, but I’m also not sure why I was chosen, and I was born here.

Throughout the week we heard a few special speakers. They were mostly politicians who rambled about growing up poor, or growing up rich. One evening before one of these speeches, three boys played their electric guitars in front of the whole delegation. They played Sweet Home Alabama, probably the purest performance of anyone we had heard all week. The speaker was the honorable mayor of Fairfield and future 30th Mayor of Birmingham, Larry Langford. It was immediately apparent that he was the sharpest dressed man in the building. He walked to the podium and called the three guitar slingers back up on stage. “It takes a lot of courage to get up in front of a crowd of this size and give an outstanding performance. Y’all impressed me so much that I’m going to give each of you, out of my personal money,” here he paused to reach into his front pants pocket and pull out a handful of cash, “each of you a hundred dollars.” From the giant roll of money, he peeled off three crisp one hundred dollar bills. He did it with great ceremony and it made quite an impression on the boys in attendance. I recalled this incident when I began to read about Mr. Langford in the Birmingham News for running up a near six figure tab at Gus Mayer. The incident was again recalled when he was indicted and ultimately convicted for bribery.

Although there were many interesting things that happened at Boy’s State, probably the most important thing for me was realizing how the State government actually worked. As a result of a weeks immersion in the workings of the political system, I became disillusioned with government in general. After working in County and State Government for nearly my entire adult career, my views on government have repeatedly been confirmed. It is not the honorable, nor the noble that are elected, but the popular. It is not the faithful men of character that allow their name to run for public office, but the self promoters. Righteous laws are not passed, but popular laws.

Given the world’s current political situation, it would appear that with such a dim view of government I must be a miserable pessimist, or a political extremist. I am neither. Think me not unpatriotic. I am proud to be an American. Proud not in the haughty, raised up sense, but in the unashamed sense, proud. I cast my vote with a feeling of grave responsibility. I believe that our form of government is the best that man can do. After all, it is founded on biblical principles.

“For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us.” – Isaiah 33:22

The problem is not what form of government to which you subscribe, they all work in theory, but once you add people, the key ingredient, the whole thing runs amuck in time.


“…that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” -Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.” Isaiah 40:7

In conclusion, I find it hard to get worked up about something that God gives so little thought.

“All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.” Isaiah 40:17

Roller Blades

For the first eight or nine years of my childhood the road transitioned from asphalt to dirt almost immediately in front of my house.  About the time that roller blades became popular in rural Alabama, they decided to extend pavement all the way to the cemetery, with brand spanking new black top. Fortunately, they didn’t mix in the gravel with the black top for better traction. There is nothing quite like skating on fresh clean black top. All of us kids thought that they had paved that road for our personal use. We probably used it way more than any of the cars. Aside from funeral processions, and a man who visited his twin brother’s grave every Sunday morning, we didn’t see many cars go by.

That first summer we did a lot of skating. I remember wearing out a pair of roller blades. The wheels wore down to a wedge. As the cars began to travel on the freshly paved road they brought little rocks that peppered our skating rink like buried land mines. If you have ever hit a rock with your rollerblades while skating down a hill full speed you probably will not soon forget it. After a few of these wrecks, we began to look for smooth, level concrete. We found it at the Baptist church. It was a wonderful place to skate. Sometimes it was shaded, and there was even a built in water fountain if you didn’t mind bending down and drinking out of the faucet.

But nothing gold can stay. One day I skated full speed into the faucet and knocked it off the wall, water sprayed out in profusion. Jared and Creed attended the Baptist church and got in touch with the church leadership. We all stood around and watched the water spray out of the broken spigot until an adult came by to shut the water off. I think he was more annoyed about missing the Alabama football game than having to fix the broken faucet. I’m not really sure if our skating privileges were revoked, but I don’t remember skating over there anymore. I think I outgrew my worn-out skates not long after than and I never replaced them. I don’t think that I’ve skated very much since then.

Year-Round School

I went to Vincent Elementary School and Vincent Middle/High School. For a long time I thought that I had a pretty normal public education. For the most part, I enjoyed school because I enjoyed learning. It wasn’t until I went to college that I realized that my small town Alabama education, particularly the schedule, was a radical departure from the traditional academia. The Vincent school system, somewhat isolated from the rest of Shelby County, was chosen to operate on an experimental “Year-Round” schedule. I think that parents voted to try the schedule. In short, we attended school nine weeks at a time. After each nine weeks, we got a three week break, and a slightly longer seven week summer break. The year round schedule went into effect when I entered kindergarten in 1992 and concluded after I graduated in 2005.

I’m sure that qualified individuals conducted studies on the effectiveness of this schedule- I recall there being evidence of higher test scores- and you can probably can read about it in some moldy academic journal if you know where to find it. Just keep in mind that it was probably written by someone who never actually experienced year-round school as a student, which unfortunately, is a severe blow to their credibility. As someone who attended year round school until college, I realize that I am biased, but I am strongly for year-round school. Perhaps I like it because it’s all I’ve ever known, but what is not to like? I recall pretty clearly that schedule was popular with the faculty.

So why did Vincent stop doing year round school? I’ve always theorized that it was due to an out of sync athletic schedule. This was the only complaint that I remember hearing about year-round school. This is only partly true, the real reason that Vincent was taken off of year-round school was because Vincent was different.

Here is an excerpt from a Gadsden Times article titled Vincent fights to keep year-round school schedule from January 30, 2005.

Amy Martin, a teacher and parent at Vincent schools, said the year-round schedule works and doesn’t need to be changed.

“If you insist on everybody being on the same calendar, fine,” she told the Shelby County school board. “Put them on our calendar.”

All other Shelby County schools are on a traditional schedule and Vincent should join them, says School Superintendent Evan Major. But the county school board on Thursday night opposed Major’s recommendation. The board tabled the issue until two separate calendars can be drafted for consideration.

Major wanted one calendar for all schools because two separate calendars is inconvenient, he said. Major said he’s not disappointed in the board’s decision.

“We have a system and that system works,” he said.

Eventually, School Superintendent Evan Major got his wish, and today Vincent is on the same schedule as the rest of Shelby County. This makes me wonder how much progress has been halted in the name of convenience?

 

Vanity

Mr. Lowe was the sole music teacher at my elementary school. I think he may have been involved with the music at his local church, but as I did not attend his local church this claim cannot be substantiated. I can tell you with certainty that he was bald. He kept what straight brown hair that remained on the sides and back of his hair neatly combed. I often thought that his hair had a distinct rounded puff like quality to it. I’m told he rode a motorcycle, but again, I never saw him on a motorcycle, or any other car for that matter, but I can imagine very easily that he did ride a motorcycle. He had a very resonant baritone voice and always taught setting down, which in later years I learned is not the best way to sing.

Mr. Lowe’s music class was held in a single wide trailer on the western side of the school. You had to walk outside, in a single file line with your mouth closed while you held your thumb behind your back, in order to reach the classroom. By the time all of us had filed into the trailer, the cool air had rushed out of the room, and we sat for the next hour or so listening to the window unit air conditioner work overtime as Mr. Lowe rambled about cows eating grass and good boys finding.

Music was taught in an odd fashion in elementary school. All of us, more or less, showed up on our first day at Kindergarten with at least good conversational English. For the next five years we were taught vocabulary, grammar, and composition. But with music, we were thrust almost immediately into music theory before we had any experience on a musical instrument. If we excelled in theory, we might then be encouraged to take up an instrument.

I enjoyed music time. Mr. Lowe introduced us to all of the least practical instruments for playing the type of music that I was exposed to at home and at church. He showed us maracas, sand blocks, guiros, and my personal favorite, the bells. I vaguely remember a piano, but no guitars. He would sometimes let us “play” these instruments. I don’t think any of us were very proficient at these odd instruments.

Mr. Lowe taught us the Peanut Butter Song.

First you take the peanuts and you dig ’em

You dig’em dig’em dig’em

Pea-nuuut, pea-nut butter, and jelly…

Mr. Lowe introduced us to Jerry Lewis in the movie Cinderfella. Before we started the movie, Mr. Lowe to pains to make it very clear that Jerry Lewis was not a sissy. Being a sissy was about the worst thing that anyone could call you. Mr. Lowe’s preliminary speech didn’t convince me.

Mr. Lowe tried his best to teach us about sharps and flats, rhythm, melody and harmony, but like many of my teachers, he spent far too much of his time trying to get the attention of children who’s only desire was to do anything but learn.

In about the fourth or fifth grade, Mrs. McManus sat our class down for a speech before we were to go to music class. We all prepared for another, “Y’all better learn how to act or we’re putting you on silent lunch” orations. What followed caught us off guard.

“Students.” Mrs. McManus began in a grave manner.

“Today when you go to music class, Mr. Lowe is going to look different. He’ll have hair.”

She paused for a moment to see what our reaction would be. We were so taken off guard that not a word was spoken. She took advantage of the silence and proceeded.

“Mr. Lowe has decided to wear a toupee.” Here she went into detail about what a toupee was, our french not being what it should be. After she was convinced that we had been thoroughly educated on what a toupee was, how it staid on, why you would want to wear one, and what it was made of, she made it very clear that we were not to “Stare, ask questions, or even acknowledge that anything was different about Mr. Lowe.” Now this is a lot to ask a group of rowdy fourth and fifth graders, but aside from one or two well meaning compliments, we acquiesced to this strange demand from our pedagogue.

This absurd experience made a bigger impact on me than all of the musical knowledge that Mr. Lowe tried to impart. We had seen Mr. Lowe every week for five years and now he was going to be radically different and we weren’t allowed to talk about it. That’s the way with vanity: we spend a lot of effort trying be something that we’re not and hope that it comes off as normal.

Kindergarten

I cried when my mamma left me at school on my first day of kindergarten.

I cried when my mamma left me at school on my first day of kindergarten. “Look Zane, there’s a little boy with red hair.” She tried to comfort me as she pointed to Scottie, a boy with flaming red hair and a rat tail. Eventually I quieted down and took my seat directly across from Corey, a boy with a flat top haircut and perpetual drool on his chin. Miss Whitehead, our teacher, must have told him to wipe his chin at least six times a day for the rest of the school year, because I can still hear the frustration in her voice. Once all of the little children settled down and stopped sniffling a boy named Blake threw a bottle of glue across the room. As if on queue, the entire class stopped what they were doing and said, “Ooooohh”. This was the standard instinctual reaction for anything out of the ordinary for the next six or so years.

Miss Whitehead was a petite lady and was still in the early years of her teaching career. She had one of those bob haircuts that we popular in the early nineties, and she wore stirrup pants. It also seems like she wore a lot of horizontal striped shirts. I’m sure she was pretty trendy at the time. She must have gotten married and moved away because I only remember her being there for the first year of Elementary School. I did not move away, and neither did most of my classmates, Jordan, Ashleigh, Amanda, Stephanie, T.J., Maurice, Bexter, and several others. We would make memories together for the until we graduated thirteen years later.

I look back in regret at how much I hated nap time. I’m fairly certain that I never went to sleep anyway, although I did enjoy faking going to sleep so that the child assigned to wake everyone up would have to shake me. There was one kid that went sound asleep everyday and always woke up slightly dazed and grumpy. I might have been Corey, the drooler. I do recall Miss Whitehead calling me out for not being quiet during nap time. I had gotten some cowboy action figures, which Mom wouldn’t let me bring to school, but I had cut the trading cards out of the back of the cardboard packaging and I kept them in my pocket. Miss Whitehead caught me red handed playing with my cards instead of napping. I was upset with her for confiscating them, but I eventually forgave her.

We were mesmerized by the water fountain. Each of us waited out turn to get a drink of the cold water, all ignoring the exasperated pleas of Miss Whitehead to “Keep your mouth off of the water fountain!” Looking back, I think we all thought that she was talking to everyone else. I must admit that most of the water fountains I’ve experienced look ergonomically designed for your mouth. It wasn’t until she yanked my head off of the spout that I realized that I had been putting my mouth on the water fountain for as long as I had been drinking at water fountains. I try to avoid water fountains in general know that I’m an adult.

You learn a lot about change in kindergarten. About midway through my kindergarten year, we switched classrooms. We were all led en mass down to the new classroom so we wouldn’t get lost when the move finally happened. For whatever reason, Mom was late dropping me off to school on the day that we finally moved. I went straight to the old classroom only to find the door locked and the lights out. I wandered back to the front of the school to try to find the new classroom, but I couldn’t remember which door. I peered through the door windows of each classroom on the new hall, but didn’t see any familiar faces. I made the trip back to the old classroom before looking into another strange new room. Eventually someone from the office found me and took me to my new classroom.

Story time was my favorite part of kindergarten. We would all gather around Miss Whitehead’s chair and sit “Indian Style” on the floor. This was back when we sat Indian Style, today they call it criss-cross-apple-sauce, which confuses the kids. Anyway, we would sit there as Miss Whitehead would read to us from a book, holding it open so we could see the pictures, the most important part. It was during one of these sessions that Keisha, a mouth breather, stood up with he skirt dripping. It’s one thing to have an accident, but another to have an accident in public. “Why didn’t you tell me you had to go?” Miss Whitehead said with a tender voice although she was visibly frustrated. Keisha just stood there and shrugged, breathing heavily. The entire class remained completely silent and stared open mouthed at Keisha, each one of us grateful that we had not been the one to have an accident. There is nothing quite as intimidating as the kindergarten stare. We were old enough to know what was going on, and pure enough to hold anyone’s gaze unflinching. In many ways it was worse than the entire class saying in chorus, “Ooooohhh!”

 

 

 

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.

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.