Marriage

It is significant that Jesus began his ministry at a wedding.

I recently had someone ask me some honest questions about marriage. There were several questions, but this one carried the essence of them all:

“What is in it for me?”

In the current hedonistic, godless culture that Hollywood has been so successful in helping to create, this question does not seem irrational. There are tax benefits in some instances for not being married. The 20th century Feminist movement that challenged gender roles has now ushered in the gender identity crisis which has further convoluted the very idea of marriage. To ask “What is in marriage for me?” today, as selfish as it sounds, is a sincere question; and it needs an answer.

In order to answer this question properly, we have to define what marriage is. Marriage is the God ordained union between one man and one woman. The marriage contract precedes all human government and even the church. You could say that marriage is the only thing that survived the fall of man: a remnant of paradise.

Marriage comes with the great responsibility and commission from God to be fruitful and multiply. It is God’s intent for marriage, and especially the role of women, to sustain human life on Earth.

Marriage is also a metaphor for God’s relationship with the church. The Old Testament book Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs, is dedicated entirely to this purpose. In the New Testament the church is portrayed as the Bride of Christ.

It is significant that Jesus began his ministry at a wedding.

What is in marriage for me also depends on your values. Do you value trust, commitment, and companionship? If these things are more important to you than tax breaks then you are starting to understand marriage. Do you value life? Do you value your children having a stable home, or are you ok with someone else raising your children? Do you value the other person? If you truly value a significant other there is no higher degree of commitment and love than marriage.

The Bible has an interesting term for misplaced value: unnatural affection. People who are inhibited by unnatural affection will not see any value in marriage.

Lastly, we must address the selfish nature of the question, What is in it for me? Marriage is one of the most selfless commitments that someone can take. I would argue that selfishness is the root cause of many marriage failures.

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. Ephesians 5:25-27

Marriage requires so much more than many are willing to pay. How expensive is giving yourself?

The same question that was asked by my friend in regard to marriage also applies to The Church. There is only one church, that’s the one that Jesus gave himself for. That church is holy and without blemish. Just like the many contracts that fall short of marriage-open marriages, friends with benefits, partnerships, and such like-there are a myriad of places that try to offer some sort of perverted substitute relationship with God that do not meet the high standard God places for His Church.

My relationship with God and my relationship with my wife are the two most important things in my life. These relationships provide the context for dealing with every other thing in the cosmos. My answer to the question what is in it (marriage) for me? Everything.

Ice Cream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rocky Road!”

“Chocolate!”

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

Dad would laugh about that story.

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

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

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

-Bo

I think I’ll start with strawberry though.

Garden Talk

I just want to talk about gardening.

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.

Hollynn likes tomatoes though.

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

Between Books

There is a certain amount of guilt that comes with giving up on a book.

Sarah can always tell when I start reading a new book that is really good because I’ll stay up past 9:30pm. There is nothing quite like a book that really captivates you. You’ll find yourself thinking about the characters and plot even when you’re not reading. When you finally do finish it there is a bit of sadness because it is over. Then you have to hope that the next book your pick up is as good, but you never know. Sometimes you feel obligated to press on through an uninteresting book. You try to press on, but when a book is boring there is no motivation to read, and instead of staying up to read you close the book and go to sleep. There is a certain amount of guilt that comes with giving up on a book. When you finally make the decision to ditch a bad book you run the risk of going through this whole process again. This is what I call being stuck between books.

I guess now is as good of a time as any to confess that I am a bibliophile. I don’t just love to read, I love books. A book case is the first thing you see when you walk into my home. I love the smell of a century old book. I love the feel and color of old paper with words that were mechanically printed with ink and typeset. My parents bought books not only to read, but to display.

When a book is really good it becomes a part of our family language: an integral part of how we express ourselves.

Being between books demands a decision. We can either reach back for old books that we’ve already read (and there are some books that should be re-read) or we reach forward for the unknown of a new, hoping that we will chance upon a story that will become a part of us. Or we can stop reading.

In a larger sense, we can compare our lives to a series of books. There is romance, love, horror, tragedy, adventure, mystery. There is one exception though, you can’t really re-live any of these books. You cannot start over, but you can start new. And there is still a possibility of getting caught between books.

In life it is sometimes hard to tell when one book ends and another begins, which can make for dangerous transition traps. Thankfully, early on these lines are drawn more clearly for us. We go from Kindergarten to first grade and so on; each school year a new volume in the library of life. Once we graduate we lose the preset beginnings and endings that school provided for us yearly from age five until whenever we stopped our schooling. Because of this, we can all too easily forget the feeling of beginning anew once we become adults, and many people feel the pressure to somehow to make forty year run until retirement with no new fresh starts. In short, it is quite difficult for people to affect a new positive change in their lives-or even recognize a when a change is necessary- without help from an outside force.

As a result people get caught between books in life. Or worse, they continue re-reading a bad book hoping in vain to finish with a different ending, or without a concept of ever finishing. To use Bible language, these people are drifting aimlessly through life “having no hope.”

The basic message of Christianity is repentance. Or making a complete new start with the understanding that the routine that I was in before is no longer an option. It takes a lot of guts to make a new start like that. Jesus Christ said it best:

The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached and every man presseth into it.

Luke 16:16

John came preaching “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” What an offensive word: Repent. It is still as offensive today as it was then. No one wants to hear that they are doing anything-much less that they are living and thinking-wrong. But the message of Christianity has not changed since the birthday of the church in the book of Acts, and the preaching of the repentance still pricks people in their hearts, or cuts them to their hearts. This kind of preaching demands a decision.

There are many people who see what this kind of change requires and are unwilling to pay that kind of price, and they go away sorrowfully like the rich young ruler.

In fact a lot of “churches” have long ago quit preaching any semblance of conversion, because they also have quit preaching repentance in an effort to be less offensive. These assemblies, or congregations-I’ll not call them churches-offer no hope to people who desperately need a new start.

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. I Corinthians 5:17

So, what have you been reading?

Lifestyle Change

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

“I’d like to take up the guitar.”

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

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

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

I love food.

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

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

May 22, 2021

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

Health Goals 5/22-8/02/2021

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

Health Plan 5/22-8/02/2021

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

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

Results

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

Observations

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

Me at youth camp playing a Bsus4 chord at 223lbs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

So why am I writing about this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Time

“Doesn’t everything take time and money?”

“I’ve always thought skydiving would be fun. I’ve just never found the time or money to do it.” I said this to a friend who skydives all the time.

“Doesn’t everything take time and money?” He asked.

It is true. You can get a lot of things done when you have a lot of time and money. Everyone may not have the same amount of money, but we all are given the same amount of time. The difference is, if you have a lot of money you can buy other people’s time. When I write it out like that it makes me wonder if I’m selling my time too cheaply.

“What’s time to a pig?”

Sean’s grandfather

I had a conversation recently that on the surface was about organization of a daily routine and getting better sleep. At the core though, this conversation revolved around time. And more specifically, the frustration and guilt over the mismanagement of time. In an effort to help my friend, I shared my thoughts about time. It was nothing new, but I think it helped him. So I’m sharing them with you.

Time is currency. We spend it, waste it, or invest it.

Each of us is given and indefinite amount of this currency made payable only in the present. We can make plans on how to use our time just like we make plans to use our future paychecks. We’re not really sure when our time will run out. And we know that at a single instant everything could change. But we do not like to retain this in our knowledge. If dwelt upon, the uncertainty of time is unnerving.

Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭27:1‬

The gift of time is a great responsibility. If time is indeed currency, or money, I want to get the best deal for my hours and minutes. Perhaps it comes with age or possibly is a byproduct of sheer laziness, but economy of time is very important to me. Let me explain.

I am allotted one hour for lunch. Lunch can cost me the full hour, or I can choose to only pay five minutes for lunch and then have fifty five minutes to spend practicing guitar. If I do this five days a week, that is four hours and thirty five minutes of practice gained.

Currently I have precious time bound in my commute to work. In order to make the most of that nonnegotiable hour in the truck I listen to audiobooks. Which means I can read a book a week on my commute alone. If I adjust the audiobook speed I can sometimes squeeze in two books a week.

There are some times when I’m less concerned about how quickly a task can be completed, or rather how cheaply I was able purchase an activity with my time. Some things are worth however long it takes. I am thinking of the time I invest with my wife and kids. I do not believe that all moments are equal. Five minutes on my lunch break is not worth the same amount as a five minute conversation with my five year old.

Then there are the truly priceless moments of opportunity that can never be regained nor renegotiated. How can we measure their worth? These are the moments of decision in life. It may be possible that they can be anticipated by the wise, although they often go unrecognized by the foolish. These are the moments that if missed will be a source of regret and anguish, if acted upon will be a source of strength and resolve.

So what are you doing with your time? If the Chronological Examiners Board showed up at your door to do an audit could you endure their report?

My prayer for you, dear reader, is that you would take time to address the areas in your life that are of eternal significance. Thank you for your time.

Mind Your Manners

One of my favorite things about a being a parent is having someone to listen to my accumulated trivia. Lately, I have reached the point in parenthood where my children are beginning to pose questions that sometimes stress my intellect. For instance, “Dad, what is manners?”

I usually try to give a clear and concise definitions.

“Well, manners are the principles that govern proper social behavior.” I replied.

I sat back in my chair and smiled, feeling satisfied with my quick thinking without consulting the dictionary.

A moment later the child asked, “Dad, what’s principles?”

This is what I mean by testing my intellect. I’m afraid their curiosity is about to outpace me. At any rate, I am going to attempt a more thorough answer to the original question, because some things require not only clarity, but elaboration.

Manners, best-beloved, are what my Mom and Dad taught me little by little and day by day about how to act around folks.

– Keep your elbows off the table

– Say ma’am and sir

– Keep your feet off the table

– Don’t talk with your mouth full

– Don’t interrupt someone

– Hold the door open for a lady

– Stand up and let a lady or an elder take your chair

– Don’t invite yourself anywhere

– Don’t cuss

– Use your blinker

– Cover your mouth when you cough, sneeze, or yawn

– Don’t smack (chewing with mouth open)

– Don’t ask someone how much money they make

– Don’t ask someone how much they paid for something

– Wipe your feet

– Don’t wear a hat indoors, unless you are a lady and the hat is classy

– Don’t yell inside

– Answer when someone speaks to you

– Don’t stare

– Don’t pick your nose

– Don’t take the last piece of chicken

– Don’t scratch

– Don’t spit

– Don’t reach over someone’s plate

– Don’t grab or snatch

– Don’t talk about gross things at the dinner table

– Don’t tell dirty jokes

– Don’t laugh at dirty jokes

Now this is not an exhaustive list, best-beloved, and we’ll add things as we come to them, but we have to start somewhere. If you follow these guidelines, when you come something you are unsure about you’ll probably make the right decision. Just do what your Mother would do and you’ll be ok.

Tater-Tot Poisoning

Sarah fried tater-tots the night before a doctor’s appointment the other day. They were so good that she decided to fry some more right before the appointment. I did not know this, or rather, I do not like to retain this in my knowledge, but fried potatoes and more specifically salt (which every self-respecting person knows must go on fried potatoes) can elevate your blood pressure. Which kind of unnerves doctor’s.

“I’m not telling you this to scare you, and don’t rush down there, but because your blood pressure is elevated (along with some other factors) you probably need to go to the hospital to be monitored. It could be nothing, but you could be having a baby tonight.” This is what the doctor told her.

So we pawned the kids off on my sister and headed to Birmingham. We stopped at Hamburger Heaven in Gardendale in case it was the big one. The hospital has a tendency to starve you half to death when you are in labor. We went ahead and got burgers and fries because we wanted to make sure her blood pressure would still be elevated so the hospital trip wouldn’t be in vain.

After about an hour or so hanging out in the hospital room, they told us we could go home. Which was a relief, because I had forgotten my eye drops and my contact lenses have a 100% chance of drying out if I plan on staying up all night reminding Sarah to breathe. It was a good practice run anyway.

Last week Sarah went to two appointments and even without tater-tot poisoning, her blood pressure was still high. Anyone trying to raise two children probably needs to check their blood pressure. So the doctor wants Sarah to be induced.

So I’ve written all of this to let you know that we are having a baby this week. Our other children weren’t this predictable. We let them decide when they wanted to come-Sunday night after we’d been at church all day and Christmas morning respectively. Unless it happens before, we should have a baby this Thursday, October 1st, 2020. I can’t wait to meet this little tater-tot.

Sorghum Syrup

My brother has asked me to write about the time we made sorghum syrup.

“I wasn’t there.” I told him.

“Yes you were,” He said, a little hurt.

“I know that I wasn’t there Zach.”

“You were too! You helped me load the cane in the mill. That mule almost kicked you in the head. We drank the juice straight from the tap.”

“That was you and someone else.”

“You was there Zane! We went with Pop. Twice!”

I wasn’t there, but I don’t think that discredits me from being able to take you there. After all, Mark wasn’t there and we count his book as Gospel. This is not a work of fiction, although I was not a firsthand witness. Either that or it was such a bad experience that I’ve suppressed it in my memory.

Most of the time when Pop picked us boys up we were going to work. There were a few occasions where Pop picked us up for an event that maybe he found entertaining, like a parade, or making syrup. No matter what mask of entertainment these activities donned, Zach and I had been around enough to see through the thin disguise and identify work. Alas, we hadn’t much say in the matter. So when Pop picked us up to make Sorghum Syrup, we were not under the illusion that we were going to merely observe the process of making syrup. We were going to be very much involved in that process.

Sorghum is a naturally growing plant in the South. If you cultivate enough of it, you can make sorghum syrup. I think it yields about three gallons to the acre. Sorghum syrup is a very thick and dark syrup with an acquired taste. There is a process for getting the syrup from the plants. First you need to gather the plants, or cane. Then you put the whole cane into a mill, which presses out the juice. You cook the juice which gives you syrup. As long as the syrup doesn’t burn, you can mix it with equal parts butter and put it on your biscuits and it’s delicious. Well I think it’s delicious, but I also eat Lengua and Cabeza at the Taco Truck. Zach thought it tasted like burnt motor oil.

The process sounds pretty straightforward, until you find out that you have to manually load the cane, or even worse be the mill engine. Fortunately, someone had already gathered the stalks into a trailer. All we had to do was feed it to the mill. Do you remember in Sunday School when you learned about the blinded Samson grinding at the mill? That’s what Zach had to do. At first there was a mule hitched to the mill walking in circles, but it almost kicked Zach’s brains out while he was feeding cane to the mill. In the end Zach ended up walking in circles to power the mill like a medieval serf. They did let him drink some of the pure sweet juice that was running out of a tap on the side of the mill.

This juice flowed through an open channel over a heated metal plate a few yards long. By the time it made it to the end of the line it was sufficiently cooked enough to be canned. They used what looked like old coffee cans to package the syrup. I’m sure it was great fun to Pop and all the old men that were sitting around at the end of the line talking and laughing while Zach worked like a borrowed mule. At the end of the day Zach was exhausted and grimy with sweat and dust after doing the work of a mule. As a token of their gratitude, the old men in charge gave him a can of syrup. I think I ate most of that syrup, but I know that I wasn’t there.

Mr. McGraw

Do you remember an influential teacher? What were they like? How did they influence you?

In my Senior year of High School I stayed in my Chemistry class long enough to realize that it was going to require more math skills than I cared to exercise, so I asked the guidance counselor to place me in a different science class. I ended up in Zoology, which was decidedly less academically strenuous. Furthermore, it was on the middle school side of the school. Vincent Middle/High School is in one building with two wings separated by a courtyard, which may not have made the class easier but it seemed like it did. We also had a new teacher, a recent college graduate. This was his first teaching job, and we were his only Senior class, the rest were seventh grade science class. I guess the administration just wanted to feed him to the lions. He had a rough go with those seventh graders, and we watched him grow more frazzled by the week. He only lasted about three weeks before he walked face first into the edge of partially opened door, which broke his glasses and cut his face so severely that he had to go immediately to the hospital and I never saw him again. The principal, Mr. Minnick, came in and finished the rest of the class teaching us about vernal equinox and summer solstice, and the seasons. Which I guess could be tied somehow remotely to zoology. Even so, he did a really good job and it was eye opening for a few of my classmates who had missed or forgotten our science teacher, Mr. Byrne, a former NASA employee, give a far superior explanation when we were in the seventh grade.

We went through a slew of substitute teachers. There was one particular guy that was very rude and liked to embarrass students in front of the class. I hope he got a job somewhere that didn’t have good air conditioning. Mr. Minnick, our principle, sat in a few more times because there must of been a shortage of substitute teachers.

Then one day we had substitute teacher that I recognized as a frequent shopper at Smith and Son’s Grocery where I had been gainfully employed the summer before, and as one of my Dad’s turnip green customers. He drove a mint green Cadillac and had gold rimmed glasses. This was Mr. McGraw, one of the first graduates of the newly integrated Vincent High School in early 70’s. He had come over from the segregated black school to join the football team with Harold Garrett, who had the misfortune of teaching my 8th grade sex education class. Anyway, apparently they had been a dynamic duo of quarterback and receiver, or at least been good enough for me to read about it in the newspaper thirty years later, and for the school to name the football stadium for Mr. Garrett.

That first day Mr. McGraw introduced himself as our permanent substitute for the rest of the year, informing us that our original rookie teacher had quit. We learned that Mr. McGraw was originally from Vincent, but didn’t make any boasts about football as I recall, and that he had recently retired from teaching in Ohio and moved back home to be with his mother.

Mr. McGraw was not in the least intimidated by the unruly seventh graders, having spent the past thirty years teaching High School in Toledo, Ohio. I believe that he also understood that for the most part, our senior Zoology class did not consist of overachievers and that we did not have very high expectations of him. Or rather, he didn’t have high expectations of us. 

I realized this after we spent a week studying ungulates and he wheeled in the TV from the library and we watched, “Mysteries of the Deep” a documentary about ocean life. We watched that film about five times that year. No one complained, we were all just ready to graduate.

The only lesson germane to Zoology that still stands out vividly from that class is when we learned about marsupials. “When I was kid, we caught a possum and dipped it in kerosene. Then set it on fire.” He offered this information in a matter of fact tone as a side note while he was teaching. It kind of took the class off guard. He followed it up by saying, “It took off through the field running.” He chuckled as his memory took him back to being a kid. It was not a chuckle of sadistic delight. It was a older man reflecting back on his childhood and chuckling at poor decisions. I don’t blame him though, there wasn’t much more to do in the rural Alabama in which I had grown up. 

We probably learned more about life and being an adult from Mr. McGraw than we did about Zoology. He was no nonsense, without being rude. He lacked that thin sheen of professionalism that greases many transactions in the corporate world. He was the same person in the classroom that he in the grocery store. That was probably more valuable than anything we could have learned in a cop out course. 

It’s often amazing how strange events can bring you into proximity to people that make an impression on you. After all these years I can still remember minute details about Mr. McGraw. The gold ring, and gold chain around his neck. The torn rotator cuff that was giving him trouble. The inflexion of his voice. How he pronounced certain words. But I’ve forgotten our original teacher’s name.

 

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