Today is my last day at work with the State of Alabama. I will miss the people, but I will not miss the phone. This job has involved a lot of answering the phone and having the same conversation with different people every day. It is always pleasant to talk to someone who has mastered professional phone etiquette. But it is more entertaining to talk to the unprofessional callers. Have you ever been serenaded through the phone by a drunk plumber playing the guitar? I have.
Something I have noticed at this agency is that the people who really have their act together found all of the answers to their questions on the FAQ section of the website. Everybody else called to ask me their questions and they were never really ready for the answers.
“Give me just a second, I got to find a pen.”
“Hold on, I’m driving, let me pull over.”
“Can you e-mail me that? I ain’t got nothing to write with.”
My parents named me Zane after the dentist turned western novelist Zane Gray. I realize that this name has grown in popularity in subsequent generations, but not many of my peers share my name. Couple this with speaking through the phone and it is understandable that people mishear my name. To be clear, it doesn’t bother me when people get my name wrong over the phone. I gotten so used to it over the years that I have made a game of it. I have been updating an Excel spreadsheet titled Names I’ve Been Called since December 2018 and I wanted to share it with y’all. I omitted all of the cuss words.
I should have included Buddy and Boss. I’m not sure why people in this particular industry have adopted those two nick names. For the record I prefer Shane over Buddy.
I made a similar list a while back that you can read here.
Frankly, it wasn’t much different from where I grew up. A dot on the map with no hope of moving out, and no reason to move in.
I came back from college in December after one semester. I was back home with my parents while I prepared to move to Virginia in March of 2006. It was during this short window of time that Dad and I made several trips to Waveland, MS to help rebuild a church that was leveled by the fury of Hurricane Katrina. On our way back from one of these exhausting forays we stopped somewhere between Mobile and Montgomery and ate at Subway.
“Dad, we are in the mouth-breathing South right now.” I observed as we watched some of the clientele approach the Subway counter. We chuckled a bit. Frankly, it wasn’t much different from where I grew up. A dot on the map with no hope of moving out, and no reason to move in.
This turned our conversation toward Virginia. How it might be different. How it might be the same.
He wasn’t finished with his sandwich when he dropped his napkin on the table and exclaimed through tears of frustration and pain. “Son it ain’t fair! I’ve raised you and Zach and tried my best to get y’all to do God’s will, and now He’s taking you both away from me.” And it wasn’t fair. And I didn’t have an answer for him.
I got a phone call this morning at 7:20am from a dear friend who I haven’t seen since my Dad’s funeral. He asked if I remembered something that my Dad said right before he died.
It was around the time when I begin to realize that God was not going to heal my Dad. And maybe Zach was feeling the same way when in tears of frustration and pain he told Dad, “This is not fair.” And it wasn’t fair.
Dad replied, “Son, God’s not running a fair, he’s running a kingdom.”
Yes. I remember.
God is not fair! It is an old complaint. But it feels so fresh when you are the one hurting.
Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal? Ezekiel 18:25
God is just.
There are a lot of things about the Kingdom of God that run counter to our human ideals of fairness.
For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Matthew 13:12
So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen. Matthew 20:16
I hope that this comforts someone today. I encourage you to read these scriptures in their full context.
Have you ever failed to reach a goal? Sometimes the feeling of failure is so strong that you struggle to find the courage to begin again. Sometimes almost reaching a goal gives you the motivation to try even harder the next time. I had planned to cycle 4,000 miles in 2022, but I fell short by 90.8 miles. That is one really good day of riding. Or one week of consistent riding. Or somewhere between 2,500-3,500 calories, I’ve never really trusted my burn rate calculations. I did not achieve my goal. No one really wants to hear excuses why I didn’t. But I almost did it.
There are some goals where almost doesn’t cut it. Like finding a good wife. That’s an honorable goal. You don’t want to almost find a good wife. This is a discrete goal, where you either achieve it or you don’t. You don’t almost shoot a deer and expect to feel good about your effort. However, if you have a goal that is on a continuum, a number like 4,000 miles may have been picked arbitrarily because it is a nice round number.
I feel good about almost riding 4,000 miles this year. I think the main reason I can feel good about almost reaching that goal is because it still took a lot of hard work.
By nature I am a list maker. I am constantly making Birthday lists, Christmas lists, to-do lists, wish lists, grocery lists, and inventories of guitar gear. One of the most important and closely followed lists I make is a list of goals for each coming year. A lot of my yearly goals involve doing something every day: reading the Bible, studying Spanish, playing guitar, and cycling. I am a believer in daily habits. It is the daily things that make the big things happen. Although it is interesting when someone does something remarkable in one day, it is the people who are able to be consistent on a daily basis that really impress me.
You would be hard pressed to find an athlete on the planet that could cycle 4,000 miles in a single day. Maybe there is someone who could learn a language in a day, but I have not met them. Most of the people I know who have accomplished remarkable things also tend to be extremely self-disciplined. And I suppose that is one of my biggest goals: to be self-disciplined.
Self-discipline sounds like a a miserable thing to a lot of us. It comes out in our language when we comment on things that take a lot of self-discipline. “Why would you want to do _________? That sounds horrible!”
The Bible is clear that temperance (self-control) is a fruit of the Spirit. And whether you call it self-control, self-discipline, self-restraint, or temperance, it is against our human nature. It just isn’t natural. We need divine help in this area.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23
I want to wish everyone a very happy and temperate New Year.
Are you a morning person or do you drink coffee? What is your routine?
I haven’t always been a morning person. Mom would often have to summon me by my full name to get out of bed for school. I have always been a breakfast person though. Maybe some morning people are born, but I believe that more often something makes you into a morning person.
I think I started being a morning person when I was working at Parks & Recreation and I had to be at the school by 6:30am. I was forced to be awake by the feeling of responsibility of running the before school recreation program, knowing that a couple dozen parents were depending on me to be there. But after a while, I just started enjoying being up that early.
There is something special about being awake before the sun comes up. The air smells and feels different in the morning. The atmosphere isn’t clouded with traffic and it is easier to think.
There is a difference between being a morning person and having to be at work early in the morning. If you have ever worked early in the morning you will understand what I mean. Morning people usually have a routine that happens before they even think about going to work. This baffles non-morning people. A morning person’s routine might consist of running a six miles, working in the garden, or even laundry.
Although there is something therapeutic about a morning routine, what I like most about the mornings is the morning sunlight. The kitchen in the house I grew up in faced due East. I can still see the light pouring through the window onto the kitchen table. That’s where much of the human interaction in our home happened. These days I enjoy seeing the sunlight peak over the horizon as I ride my bike through the backroads around my house.
I could tell you about it. I could even show you pictures. But it is really something that you have to experience for yourself. Maybe it will make you into a morning person.
The art of time management is a very grown up thing. It is ultimately what distinguishes us as adults.
I suppose I have the same self awareness as I did in my earliest memories. But lately I’ve been feeling very grown up.
Perhaps it’s is because I have a mortgage now. A death pledge to pay a lot of money plus interest. There was a time when I would roll my eyes at stuffy grown ups who didn’t know how to loosen up and have fun. Now I wonder when silly young people are going to quit wasting time and get serious about life. I think there is a keener awareness of time that comes with age and gives older people the ability to be sharp and direct with words. I haven’t reached that point yet, but I can see it in the distance.
A lot things that adults have to do are not enjoyable, which is why a lot of people are reluctant to become adults. People who do not choose to evade responsibility are grown up. Responsibility often looks like a father working to provide for a family, a mother taking care of a home, a child taking care of a pet or a toy.
I think the main reason that I am feeling so grown up lately is because I am keenly aware that I cannot do everything that I would like simply because of time.
One of the greatest things about being a grown up is being a master of your own time. One could argue that working a job does not make one a master of their own time. I suppose that may be the case for many people, but I tend to look at time as currency that I can trade for resources to support my family.
The art of time management is a very grown up thing. It is ultimately what distinguishes us as adults. Time is the ultimate responsibility. How someone spends their time defines them. If you don’t believe this ask someone who is doing time.
How we treat time perhaps is more telling of our character than how we spend time. One could hardly deny that the irascible, impatient, reckless driver forcing his way through traffic like a Bull of Bashan has a concept of his own time, but a total disregard for the time, and indeed the life, of others. These people are bound by time, not masters of it. Frankly, they are not grown up.
There is chronological time, which is what most of us think about when we think of time. You can measure chronological time with the steady predictable ticking of a clock. We can think of this kind of time horizontally, like a timeline. And there is kairological time, which cannot be measured with a clock and could be thought of vertically. Heaven often operates on kairological time.
Jesus spoke of “The times and the seasons.” Chronos and Kairos. Acts 1:7
Kairological time is manifest when an unpredictable event comes and unapologetically crashes into chronological time. The birth of Jesus Christ, The Crucifixion, The Resurrection, and The Day of Pentecost are the most significant kairological events in the history of mankind. But kairological events are not limited to these. Every time the Word of God is preached there is potential for a kairological moment. Every time someone is filled with the gift of the Holy Ghost is a kairological moment.
The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.II Timothy 4:2.
Instant in season and out of season: Kairos and Chronos.
It is simpler to get a handle on chronological time. The whole world operates on chronological time. And how we handle it defines us as humans. But there is much less awareness of kairological time. The entire Cosmos operates on Kairological time. And how we handle it defines us as spiritual beings.
This came as a surprise to me when I moved away as an adult: not everywhere allows funeral processions. Even some places in Alabama have given up on this tradition.
Uncle Barry and Gram made the trip up to Cullman a few Saturdays ago. We ate at my sister’s house and just visited. It was good to see both of them. Uncle Barry was having open heart surgery the next week. He had had a heart attack earlier this year. After they amputated his big toe, they told him that he needed to have open heart surgery, but he wasn’t strong enough to handle it just yet.
I had to struggle to reconcile those words “not strong enough” relating to Uncle Barry. When I was a kid I didn’t think there was anyone stronger in the world. He once picked up a headache ball with one hand. I wasn’t exactly sure what a headache ball was, or how much one weighed. So I imagined it as a wrecking ball used to tear down old buildings, and I gave it the satisfyingly immense weight of 300lbs. A real headache ball weighs at most around 100lbs, and is used to keep the cable on a crane from flying around in the wind.
I watched Uncle Barry lift up Jacob Wray onto the roof the church so Jacob could fetch the keys that he had thrown on the roof. I can still see the panicking women and the grinning men watching the spectacle through the clear church windows.
Before I was born, Uncle Barry and Uncle Tony came over to Dad’s house to help level an ancient building in the back yard. An old neighbor came over to watch the men work because that is what old men do. Uncle Tony, ever the prankster, told the old man that Uncle Barry’s name was Charles Ray. Uncle Barry single handedly lifted up the building so Uncle Tony and Dad could sure up the foundation with cinder blocks.
“Y’all killing Charles Ray!” The old man protested not knowing Uncle Barry’s herculean strength. This saying has survived in our family and is used whenever one person seems to be doing all the work.
Every Christmas Uncle Barry gave me a pocket knife. Even after I was grown he wanted to know what I was carrying. Or maybe he just asked that because he really wanted to show me what he was carrying.
The last thing I did with Uncle Barry was pray with him.
He came through his surgery fine the following Wednesday. I was glad to hear that. I am always amazed at how quickly heart surgery patients bounce back.
But then Friday came. My sister told me early Friday Morning that Uncle Barry didn’t make it. That was July 1st. It is one thing to know that death is imminent and another when death comes suddenly. I am still trying to sort out having seen him laughing and carrying on less than a week before his death.
My Nonna died on July 4th. It took me by surprise, but it shouldn’t have. The last time I went to see her I felt like the little boy that Dad was taking to visit a bedridden relative that I really didn’t know. I was always amazed at how he could carry on a conversation and laugh with someone who was barely awake and incoherent. Now I realize that he was probably saying goodbye to a shell of a person who used to be so full of life. That was Nonna, full of life. And laughter.
She was always laughing. Or rather cackling. I love laughter. I wish I had a laugh track from her house circa 1995. Starring Aunt Shelby, Uncle Ferman, Cindy, Dad, and Nonna. I would listen to often. Who am I kidding? I can hear it right now.
We used to go to Pop & Nonna’s every Monday night and party. They’d be enough food to feed half of Sterrett. We ate everything from chicken and dressing-a dish normal people may only get at Thanksgiving but we might get in August-to humble kraut and weenies. I don’t remember ever really running out of food. My brother said the Lord must’ve helped her. She made some of the best cakes. Twinkie Cake was my favorite.
Nonna had two refrigerators and two freezers. I believe that her and Pop might’ve been hungry as kids and they didn’t want that to ever happen again. Not to them, nor their children or grandchildren.
Nonna was also a card shark. For the first part of my life they, the adults that is, played Hand & Foot, a variation of Canasta. I never played that. But I did play Rook. We played a lot of cards, but there was no gambling. There was never any alcohol either. Nonna sure new how to party.
Nonna died of congestive heart failure. Similar to Uncle Barry, her heart just quit.
“I’m just so tired. I don’t want to take any more medicine.”
So we had two funerals in one week. I have to confess, that I much prefer weddings to funerals. There is never any punch at funerals. And there is a lot of crying at funerals. But there is also a lot of comfort at funerals.
After Uncle Barry’s funeral we rode in funeral procession from Sylacauga to the Vincent City Cemetery, just a kudzu patch and a magnolia tree away from the house I where I was raised. Funeral processions passing right in front of the house was a regular occurrence when I was kid. Just like the passing trailers packed with cotton on their way to the Cotton Gin were normal. Mom and Dad had taught me that it was rude to keep playing when the funeral procession passed.
“You need to stop what you are doing out of respect for the dead.”
This came as a surprise to me when I moved away as an adult: not everywhere allows funeral processions. Even some places in Alabama have given up on this tradition.
I got off my bike and stood at attention in my dirty jeans and sweaty glasses and watched countless funeral processions to that cemetery. Even then I could feel the heaviness of this custom. Uncle Barry’s was the first one to that cemetery I remember riding in. It was really moving to see old men pulled over on the side of the road, standing out in the heat with their hats over their hearts, and shirtless young men who stopped in the middle of weed-eating a fence to show respect for the dead. It made me proud to be from Alabama.
Two deaths in the family in such a short time has caused me to do quite a bit of thinking in last few days. Both of these relatives died of heart disease. Heart disease runs in my family on both sides. I am not a cardiologist, but it also seems like heart disease and good cooking run in the same families.
“Uncle Barry, what did the doctor say you need to do about your heart?” I asked him the last time I saw him.
“Don’t get up over 300lbs. Eat regular.”
“I’ve been eating pretty regular all my life! I should be fine.”
“Naw!” He laughed, “You got to eat right.”
I am earnestly trying to reverse the trend of heart disease and diabetes in my family. It is a noble endeavor, but ultimately it doesn’t matter how healthy you are physically if you are not healthy spiritually when you ride in your final funeral procession.
For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.
I love ice cream. I once received an emergency haircut after I snuck out of bed to finish off the ice cream. I stuck the empty plastic ice cream bucket over my head and licked the sides. There was no hiding the evidence in my hair the next morning on the way to take Zach to school.
My parents had an old Amana ice cream maker that was louder than three holiness preachers. Like so many other appliances from the 80s, it was brown and tan. I am not sure it came from the factory that loud. When you’re a kid you think broken things are normal, like the refrigerator that won’t stay closed. The noise didn’t ever stop us from partying though. And my parents hardly ever made ice cream without it being a party. After all, what you need to have a party is special food and special people. So by that definition, every night was a party at our house.
I suppose the rackety Amana was better than the hand crank ice cream makers that some of my older friends have told me about. I guess you’ll gladly do whatever it takes to have some ice cream. I imagine you could rig up an exercise bike to an ice cream maker if times were tough and you were smart enough. I bet Creed could do it. Anyway, I’m not thinking about engineering, I’m thinking about ice cream.
Like I was saying, the ice cream machine noise was part of the atmosphere of a party. All the adults would be sitting around the table playing Rook. They yelled anyway, but they had to put in extra effort to raise their voices above the electric motor whining away in the kitchen. The kids probably got away with more mischief since the noise was running interference for them. No one ever said anything about the noise until someone turned the machine off.
“Man that was loud.” Somebody would say as if Jesus had just rebuked the sea and the disciples were marveling at the calm.
They always made vanilla and strawberry. Those were the only flavors I thought homemade ice cream came in. Man was it ever good. Strawberry is probably still my favorite, but ice cream has to be real bad for me to not like it. In Virginia they made Grape-Nuts Ice Cream and acted like it was the best thing ever. If you’re not familiar with Grape-Nuts then you probably don’t know about fried bologna neither. It’s a cereal that poor people used to eat instead of food. Just put a little bit of fine gravel in the vanilla next time you make a batch of homemade ice cream and you’ll get the same texture and maybe a little better taste. It tastes bad because you had to grow up eating it for it to taste good.
To someone out there, homemade ice cream with Grape-Nuts in it will bring back a flood of fond memories. It just didn’t do it for me.
Sis. Beane made some lemon ice cream one time at youth camp. She put it three or four times the amount of lemon flavoring that the recipe called for. Bro. J.L. Parker took a big bite and made a sour face. “Sister, that’s the best I ever tried to eat.”
Dad used to tell us about how Pop would ask him and Uncle Melvin what kind of ice cream they wanted from the store.
No matter what they asked, Pop always brought back Cherry Vanilla.
Dad would laugh about that story.
It was around the time that he knew he was about to die that Dad asked for some Cherry Vanilla Ice Cream. As many times as he told that story, it was the first time that I ever remember seeing it. One of the last things I saw dad eat was Blue Bell Dutch Chocolate. I fed it it to him. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat that flavor again and not think of him.
So I’m thinking about getting an ice cream maker, or seeing if Creed can do the bicycle powered deal. I want to experiment with some different flavors. I think peach ice cream would be good. And apparently they used to make that at Nonna’s, but I just don’t remember it. Or maybe we can use some of these blackberries that grow on the back fence. I mean just about any fruit will be good in ice cream.
“Anything with five cups of sugar in it is bound to be good.”
No one is going to be impressed if you tell them, “Today I rode my bicycle.”
Unless you are a child who has never ridden a bike, or just got off of training wheels, there is nothing remarkable about that. Any average adult could’ve done the same thing with little effort and no planning.
But it if you tell someone, “Today I rode my bike 100 miles.” Then you are more likely to get a different response. Some people will be impressed, some will think you are crazy as an outhouse rat. But most everyone is curious about things that require something more than marginal effort. It is that extra effort-work, planning, dedication, etc.-that stands out to people.
Riding 100 miles on a bicycle sounds like a nearly impossible task for some people. But it is really quite simple. It’s just takes hard work and some planning. To a cyclist (I guess I am an official gel eating, ride in the rain cyclist) riding 100 miles, or a Century, is a right of passage. As ridiculous as it may sound, it is something that cyclists work their way toward achieving.
I am not saying that it is not possible to get on a bike without any training and ride 100 miles without a plan. But I am saying that it will be difficult to ride the day after you do that. In fact it will be difficult to do anything the day after. I also can’t promise that you won’t injure yourself.
I’m sure there is someone more qualified to tell you how to go about riding 100 miles, but if you are a regular reader we both know that cycling is not really what we’re actually talking about here. At any rate, this is what I would recommend if this is something you really want to do.
Commit to Cycling.
Unless you commit to cycling and go out and purchase a bicycle, riding a century is going to be like anything else that you would just like to do. There is a commitment beyond simply purchasing the bike: riding the bike. Every day. Something will hurt every day that you ride. You will be out of breath and have to do the walk of shame on some of the hills, pushing your bike up as you wonder if you’ll ever get to a point where this won’t hurt. It won’t quit being hard, you’ll just go faster.
Eventually, there will come a point when that one hill doesn’t whip you any more. This only happens to the people that don’t quit.
Set Small Goals First.
There will come a time when you will have to set a distance goal that is beyond what you are capable of doing in your early morning ride. You won’t be quite sure how hard it will be to ride x miles, but you have a rough idea of how much time it will take because you ride n miles every morning and n•5=x. You’ll be confident you can ride that far because you have done it every week for a few weeks, but you’re not certain that you can do a week’s worth of riding in one day.
This is when you have to saddle up one morning and not get off until you have completed your goal.
Fortunately for you, you have me to tell you to pack plenty of food because you stand to burn about 2,000 calories for a 50 mile ride. If you don’t eat and drink enough you will run out of energy and it will take a while for you to feel better.
If you think you don’t need those padded underwear you will change your mind after that first Half Century.
Plan a Route.
The first time I rode 50 miles I had to psych myself up for it. If I am honest I didn’t have a lot of confidence in myself to finish. So I purposefully mapped a route. It is hard to give up when you are 25 miles from the house.
Mapping out a route is even more important when doing a Century. Nothing kills motivation like not having a plan.
Where there is no vision, the people perish…
You don’t want to have to spend the last 15 miles of a Century mapping out a route. You won’t be in the right frame of mind.
Follow the Plan.
I believe in following the plan. You made the plan when you were thinking straight. At mile 80 you won’t be thinking straight. If you planned to do 100 miles, then all you have to do is follow the plan.
For your first Century I would avoid any roads with “mountain” in the name.
Once you ride 100 miles in a single day, any distance below 100 miles doesn’t seem that far. It is a psychological barrier that must be broken. Once it is broken there is also the danger of not riding shorter rides any more because they aren’t 100 miles. I feel pretty strongly that these simple daily rides are just as important if not more important than any Century ride.
Light gains, heavy purses.
-Poor Richard’s Almanac
Anything in life worth doing is probably going to be hard. Easy things hardly ever stand out as great things. The paradox is that great things are generally simple, but simple doesn’t mean easy.
You may have great things that you would like to do but haven’t done yet. I believe that you can do them. It is amazing what you can do with a little commitment and planning.
I enjoy listening to people talk about their gardens. Even the hippies. The new age hippies that think the government won’t know where they live if they quit paying the power bill and live out of a converted horse trailer. They will talk on and on about non-GMO milk, free-range green beans and raw, unpasteurized chickens. I am not quite a hippie but I have been using organic toothpaste since the Bush administration. I can appreciate their enthusiasm though. Especially on social media.
I can appreciate anyone’s garden enthusiasm on social media. I genuinely enjoy seeing someone share a picture of their garden. The people that care about gardens, really care. When someone shares a garden picture what I see is a lot of forethought, patience, and hard work.
Who I really like to listen to talk about gardens are the people who have had gardens for fifty or so years.
“Did you get any lids yet? I got enough for 75 quarts of green beans, and 105 quarts of vegetable soup base.”
“If you run that heavy tractor tire between them rows it’ll pack that dirt down hard and won’t no weeds grow in it.”
“I like to put some of that field-kicker on it.”
“I only plant Rattlesnake Pole Beans. Them’s the ones you like.”
I think the retired people have the best looking gardens. They have the kind of time it takes to keep rows neat and tidy. I see these kind of garden’s out in the country while I’m riding my bicycle. It’s as if they are expecting the Garden Inspector General to swing by unannounced and grade their work.
The last two years I’ve had Bro. Art come over and plow up a garden plot that is way too big for me to manage. It usually gets out of hand around mid-July and I feel guilty for letting the weeds overtake it. I don’t want that to happen again this year so I had Bro. Paul come over and plow up a garden plot that is way too big for me to manage.
In an effort to keep our garden as low-maintenance as possible, I didn’t plant any pole beans this year. I think I’ll just plant two crops bunch beans staggered by a couple of week. Sarah did plant one lonely tomato plant, although neither of us eat tomatoes. It just seems like the right thing to do.
I do chuckle a bit when people say they are planting “non-GMO” crops, as if people for thousands of years haven’t been crossbreeding plants to arrive at what we have today. The Native Americans from the Maya all the way up to the Iroquois planted the Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash. None of these crops are found in the wild, they have to be cultivated. The Three Sisters grow well together; the beans will climb the corn stalk. Meso-Americans were so good at developing this kind of agriculture that the pre-Columbian population could have been as high as 112 million. I don’t plan to grow on that scale anytime soon, but it is fascinating to me. This is the kind of stuff I think about when I look at a garden.
It would be difficult for most of us to pick a favorite vegetable. Except for the potato people. Potatoes is the only vegetable that they even eat. I think I would have to choose green beans, but I would make sure that all the other vegetables knew that I loved them too. My favorite way to eat green beans is sauteed in oil and garlic. Or cooked to death in bacon grease; I’m not particular.
Earlier this week my beans started sprouting. I was so excited. I told my brother thinking he’d be just as excited.
“I feel like I’m talking to my Dad.” He said laughingly.
It is a wonderful feeling to see something shoot up out of the ground from a seed. It is a spiritual experience. One that never gets old. I hope that you all grow record tomatoes this summer and that your beans don’t quit producing until it frosts.
While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and not shall not cease. Genesis 8:22
Ology is often translated as the study of. It is from the root word logos, word in Greek. It is more accurately translated as what can be said of.
Theology- that which can be said about God. Psychology- that which can be said about the mind.
What can be said about Dan Theo Wells?
We must first establish his identity. Who is Dan Theo Wells?
He is a man of many titles: Bub, Slim, Pop. I suppose that some of my cousins could say that they lost Uncle Bub, Uncle Slim, and Uncle Dan and elicit treble condolences from sympathetic friends.
But when the roll was called in the Army only one name was read out, Dan Theo Wells. After a moments hesitation, Slim and Bub both stepped forth.
I knew him as Pop. My paternal grandfather. And really the only grandfather I knew. Tinker Reynolds- or Brant Douglas Reynolds, both one and the same- died when I was only two years old.
Most people knew Pop as Slim. But unless you were one of my cousins from Chicago, it only sounds right if you say it with a Southern accent. For anyone who struggles with a Southern accent, when in doubt make the vowel a diphthong: Slee-um.
Pop was incredibly economic in his elocutionary endeavors. I have ridden from Sterrett to Irondale and back with Pop and said fewer than three sentences.
Throughout my life, Pop was not a church-going man. I used to screw up the courage to invite him to church from time to time.
“Pop, you ought to come to church with us tonight.”
“I know son.” He would sigh.
I remember reading James 1:27 as a teenager and immediately thinking about Pop.
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. James 1:27 KJV
In part, Pop was a deeply religious man. He always kept a substantial garden. Perhaps it may seem a small thing to many, but he grew it to share. I guess you could say that he visited the widow of Tinker Reynolds in her affliction. Among many others.
Pop was also a man of principle. Pop never allowed alcohol at any of the barbecues he hosted. In his way, he more than once warned his employees in the hay business-Zach and me- about the dangers of alcohol.
“I took one drink when I was young and it tasted like horse ?¡$ś.”
I always thought that sounded pretty dangerous.
I think that because he was a man of principle he had an excellent reputation in his community. Integrity doesn’t require wealth or education, integrity requires character. Pop had character.
Around 2012 I think, Pop had an accident on an old Farm-All tractor. He started the tractor before he was fully seated and the tractor was already in gear. The sudden jerky motion threw him off balance and he fell off but his foot hung on one of the pedals and he was trapped in front of the engaged rear wheel. The tractor drug him a few feet until the barn post stopped the forward motion, but the huge tractor tire continued completely tear off his left quadriceps.
Nonna eventually heard him screaming and she ran out to the barn.
“Turn off the tractor!” He said.
It was the hand of God that Dennis Brasher-I think this is the right name, forgive me if I am wrong- happened to be driving by listening to the police scanner. He instinctively knew that the call was for Pop.
“Slim, I’m sorry this is going to hurt.” He said as he applied pressure to the gruesome wound. He kept his hands on what was left of Pop’s thigh for the whole ambulance ride to Birmingham. it is a testimony to Pop’s toughness that he remained conscious for the entire ordeal.
I honestly thought Pop was going to die then, so I got on an airplane and flew to Alabama from Virginia. But he was made of tougher stuff than I thought and lived another nine years out of spite I believe.
Time would fail me to recount a lifetime of fond memories of Pop. Perhaps the best thing that I can say about Pop, is that he had a good name. Even if few used it and even fewer knew it.
A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold. Proverbs 22:1 KJV
The last time I saw him coherent was October 27th. He and Nonna had soundly whipped COVID-19 much to my surprise and delight, but something had interfered with Pop’s Parkinson’s medicine and he had begun to hallucinate.
One moment he would be talking to me as clear as he was capable and the next moment he would just be talking to himself, or to whoever would listen about something that happened 40 years ago. Then he would be in the present 40 years ago, or perhaps in a dream.
But he knew who I was when I walked in.
“Is that Zane? Set me up.”
“I’m sorry you got to see me like this.” He said referring to the hospital bed.
“I’ve been worried about y’all’s sugar so I brought y’all some peach pies.”
We chatted for a little bit. Before Pop said, “Give me one of them pies.”
“The more I eat it, the better it gets.” He said with a grin
I must confess that this is not how I want to remember Pop. Sure the hat is there and those look like his hands. But I want to remember the Pop who hit a charging cow with a 2×4. And the Pop who lifted me with one hand into his Toyota pickup truck because I was too little to climb in by myself. And the Pop who brought me a cowboy hat one night after his trip to Tennessee. And the Pop who would bring all of us grandkids an Icee.
I want to remember this Pop. And I hope you do too.
I love you Pop.
Dan Theo “Slim” Wells, was born on April 16th 1935 to Daniel Webster Wells and Dovie Dunnaway Wells. He served the United States Army in the 3rd Armored Division from 1958-1960. He married Nola Mae Brasher. They had three children Perry Charles, Melvin Johnny, and Jason Theo.
Mr. Wells began working for Stockham Valves and Fittings shortly after his discharge from the Army. He retired from Stockham in the mid 1990s before the plant closed. During his time at Stockham he helped cast many of the valves for the Alaskan Pipeline.
Dan Theo Wells passed from this life in his home on November 12th, 2021.