Pecans

Pecan pie may be what every pecan aspires to be.

I have two pecan trees in my yard. Hurricane Zeta knocked all of the pecans out at one time. They’re good pecans too. We picked up half a five gallon bucket just off the porch. I’ve tried to inspire the children to pick up pecans, but I don’t think they’ve caught the vision yet.

I grew up in the remnants of a pecan orchard. At one time there were probably thirty or forty trees behind our house and the next three neighbor’s houses. By the time I was a kid there were only about seven left. Over the years some of those pecan trees were blown down in different storms. We’d play on a fallen tree for days until someone came over with a chainsaw and hauled it away. Dad used a lot of that wood to grill and barbecue.

Very often Dad required us to pick up a five gallon bucket of pecans before we could go gallivanting around town with Jared and Creed. I can’t lie and say that picking up pecans is fun, or has ever been fun. But we did it. We would sell them to the local grocery store Smith’s, where I’m sure some grandmother would buy them, shell them, and make with them a delicious pecan pie. Nowadays we would have marketed them as handpicked, and it would’ve been true since we threw the pecans with wormholes into the kudzu patch.

Pecan pie may be what every pecan aspires to be. I used to think that it was the only pleasant way to eat a pecan. Fresh pecans cracked in your hands- take two pecans in one hand and squeeze with all your might until one of them cracks-have always had a slightly bitter taste to me. I still do it out of nostalgia though, and to impress my kids, but pecans are ingredients, not stand alone snacks.

Pecans need some love, or sugar as we say in the South, to really come alive. Candied pecans, praline pecans, cinnamon and sugar pecans-they all taste great even though I’d be hard pressed to tell you how to make them.

For all their bitterness, I still love pecans. It makes me think about being a kid. I also think pecans are pretty with their dark streaked shells and their orange to yellow meat inside. I like the smell of pecans, and the oily feel of the fresh meat.

I think I finally understand why Dad wanted us to pick the pecans up. The harvest was just laying on the ground, all we had to do was pick it up. As an adult, waste bothers me. So I’ve been picking up pecans when I get a chance. When I get an afternoon where I don’t have a deadline approaching I’m going to figure out how to make something sweet out of those bitter pecans.

Thanks

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I think that it is wonderful that there is a day dedicated to giving thanks, giving thanks to God. I have so much for which to be thankful.

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
‭‭1 Thessalonians‬ ‭5:18
‬ ‭

Everything good thing in my life is because of Jesus Christ. And I have a lot of good things in my life.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. James 1:17

Time would fail me to list everything that I am truly thankful for. So I have chosen to write about what is dearest me.

I am most thankful for the gift of the Holy Ghost. It is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I cannot understate the joy and the peace that the Holy Ghost has brought to my life.

The next best thing that has ever happened to me is my beautiful wife Sarah. I am so blessed. My children are so blessed to have her as a mother. I am so thankful for my wife.

Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord.
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭18:22‬ ‭

I am thankful for the Word of God. I have never had a question in life that the Word of God could not answer. My sincere prayer is that I may have a deeper understanding of the God’s Word.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭119:105‬ ‭

I am thankful to be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven. I love my church. I love my pastor. I do not want to live any other way.

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 ‭

I am thankful for my children, Wesley, Miriam, and Hollynn. Oh what joy!

Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭127:3-5‬ ‭

I am thankful for my brother Zach and sister Lindsay. We’ve always been close, but I value our relationship more than ever now.

I am thankful for a godly heritage. My parents have passed on to their reward, but I think about them every day. I was truly blessed to have Perry & Sonja Wells as parents.

Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭6:2-3‬ ‭

I am thankful for dear friends, kindred spirits.

Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭27:17‬ ‭

There is something that happens inside of me when I begin to sincerely thank God for his blessings. It is refreshing to my soul. God has been good to me.

Thanks to everyone who reads, shares, and comments on my blog. I am always in wonder when someone mentions to me that they read it. I hope that it brings you joy.

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.

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.

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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Parades

My family and I recently moved to Cullman, Alabama. It’s not necessarily important that you know that, but I thought I’d get it out of the way, and use it as an excuse for not blogging in over a month. Anyway, I thought the best thing that I could do as a new member of the community was to attend the Cullman Christmas Parade the weekend after we arrived. Sarah and I got the kids all bundled up and we traipsed downtown in the frigid 50 degree weather to get some hot chocolate and cookies, and to stand on the sidewalk to watch the parade. It was a disjointed affair because the parade route crosses a major highway that can’t be closed, so there were several ten minute gaps as the high school marching bands, politicians, and fire trucks waited at the red light. As if seeing Mickey and Minnie Mouse, a live church band playing on a trailer, Batman riding a motorcycle, a real live member of the state legislature, some real estate agents square-dancing, and cousin Eddie walking behind his Winnebago wasn’t enough, we got the added excitement of getting to walk as a mob on the road as we made our way en masse over to the park to see the Christmas Tree lighting. There is something exhilarating about walking down the middle of the road, It’s a lot wider than it seems when you’re in a vehicle.  When we got to the park, we all sang Silent Night as a community, which was really quite moving. Then we listened to the Christmas Story, the real Christmas story read straight out of the Bible by a City Councilman. Wesley missed the actual tree lighting part of the ceremony because he had to make an emergency bathroom break in the shrubbery.

The most dangerous and entertaining part of the after events at Christmas Parades is the speeches. When I was a kid, back before the internet, the whole town would come out for the Christmas Parade. They’d stand on the street and watch it coming and going. Then we’d walk to the parking lot in front of the City Hall/Police Department and listen to a choir sing on the portable stage that had been hastily brought out of it’s storage place behind the Water Board. The choir was amplified by a single microphone in hopes of combatting the steady flow of traffic that had been waiting for the parade to finish. After this, there were usually speeches by local dignitaries. It was on this stage that one of the most memorable speeches in the history of Vincent, Alabama was given by the drunken Honorable Judge Jimmy Sharrbutt. I’m sorry to play it up so much, because I only remember two lines, but they have become colloquialisms in the language of my family.

“When I saw the lights under the bridge, I cried.”

“Oh. And anotha’ thang. One of them Hassett boys broke my arm.”

When you’re a kid, a lot of times you don’t notice when someone is drunk. As an adult you can recall their behavior, speech, and countenance and clearly see that they were drunk.

After the speech we would light the giant Christmas Tree, the largest live Christmas tree in the State of Alabama, that stood by the Norfolk Southern railroad. This tree, along with the giant red and white plaster Christmas bells from the 70’s, for me are the epitome of municipal Christmas Decorations.

There is a timeless feeling that comes with a parade in a small town. It’s something that’s left over from centuries past, when people were not afraid to come out and see their neighbors. Parades are a lasting ritual from the time before television, the internet, and smartphones made the world a much smaller and less enchanted place. The wonder of technology has nearly stripped us of the wonder of the moment. Parades are one of the last remaining purely community gatherings. I’m glad my kids got to experience a genuine small town Christmas Parade, even if there were no drunk Judges.

Barbecue, Barbeque, BBQ

It’s that time of year. Barbecue season. I’ve always struggled with how to spell that, but WordPress autocorrect just informed me that the proper spelling was “Barbecue”. I bet they won’t tell that to Golden Rule Barbeque in Irondale, which has been around at least hundred years longer than autocorrect. They probably won’t tell Fat Man’s Bar B Que in Pell City either. Or Full Moon Bar-B-Que. Anyway, I’m still not sure how to spell it, because I “ain’t never eat no” BBQ that WordPress cooked. But even if I can’t spell it, I can define it. At least I’ll give it a try. Defining barbecue is like defining women. You’ll excite half the people and offend the rest.

First off, barbecue is a noun. I think it’s pork. Mainly Boston Butt’s, but if you want to throw some ribs on the grill while we’re waiting for the butts to get done I’ll still eat them and call it barbecue. I eat so many ribs one year when I was a boy that it was several years before I had another one. If you want to get deep and go to the root meaning of the word barbecue, it means “cooking a whole hog on a wood fired grill”. Which is where we get the term, “Whole Hog.” Which means that you go all out doing something. I’ll use it in a sentence so you’ll understand it better.

“Zane is taking this writing thing seriously, I heard he’s going whole hog and trying to write a book.”

Barbecue also has to have some sauce. My Uncle Johnny was always the self appointed grill master at all of our family get togethers in the summer. Not without good reason though, he is an excellent cook. He would crupper up his own sauce recipe using Kraft Original as a base. “Cattleman’s tastes too much like ketchup, don’t use it.” He would say. When the meat was done, he would pull it apart or chop it up, put it in a deep pan and pour enough sauce over it that it would  almost simmer and bubble as it sat on the grill. He always made two pans, one regular and one hot. He liked it hot. He didn’t have any teeth and chewed tobacco. I don’t think that affected his taste buds though. Once he ate breakfast with us and drank the tomato juice out of the serving plate. I watched him in wonder as he slurped the juice, set the plate down and lick his lips. He sat there a moment enjoying his draught. Then he said,”There was a bad tomato in there.”  Anyone with taste buds that sharp wouldn’t have been inhibited by tobacco juice. Anyway, Uncle Johnny liked his barbecue hot. He liked everything hot. He made gravy so hot one time that the cats wouldn’t eat it. As a kid, my mom would warn me about the hot pan of barbecue. “It’s hot baby, you won’t like it.” I grew up thinking that the hot pan of barbecue was going to burn through my esophagus. When I was finally old enough to fix my own plate, I tried some. It was delicious.

I’ve rambled a little bit here. We were defining Barbecue and I’ve already offended all the Texans and Carolinians. It’s probably just easier to tell you what barbecue ain’t, and that’s hamburger and hot dogs. You’re supposed to fry hamburgers in an iron skillet and roast weenies in the fall around a fire. If you get invited to a barbecue and they’re cooking hamburgers and hot dogs, I’m sorry, but those people have misled you. I’m sure they’re nice people and all, but I wouldn’t let them watch my kids if I were you, next thing you know they’ll have them playing soccer or something crazy like that. 

A Barbecue (see how I capitalized it) is also defined as a sacred feast for Southerners, where pork is cooked on a wood fired grill outside. This feast usually lasts about three days.

In general, we had about four or five Barbecues a year. We did have the official family reunion at my Great Uncle Freddie’s on the river, and sometimes we barbecued there. But all the same people came to the barbecues at my Aunt Edna’s, just up the hill from Pop’s, on Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day. And whenever Pop deemed it was angood time to have a Barbecue.  Since the location, menu, and people were the same each time, the only way that I could tell a difference in all of those holidays was that we shot bottle rockets on the Fourth of July. To me, these summer holidays were simply Barbecues.

The Barbecue would start on Friday night. “We’ll serve dinner on Sunday at noon.” Pop would say. Up until then, we feasted. We might have a fish fry while the barbecue was slow cooking. Somebody might through some Cornish game hens on the grill and eat them while we were waiting on the main course. One time my Uncle James put a Boston Butt on the grill and then left. He come back about six or five hours later and his meat was about half gone. He singled Uncle Johnny out, “You done eat all my barbecue Johnny.”

“I can’t eat t’at James, I ain’t got no teeth!” Uncle Johnny retorted.

“Yeah, but you kin bite a railroad rail in two with them gums of yores.”

Barbecuing a whole hog is a lot of work, but man is it worth it. There is nothing like slicing the meat off of a hog and eating it around the grill. All it needs is a little bit of salt.

This is the grill that Pop & Uncle Johnny used throughout my childhood. You can see the front peice is on the ground. You can cook whole hogs or just use the grill to cook Boston Butts and ribs. 

When Sunday finally rolled around, we would eat, not just barbecue, but we had a buffet of sides that was five tables long under Aunt Edna’s carport. It was also about fifty yards from the grill. I’m not writing about sides though, I’m writing about barbecue.

When I close my eyes and work up a hankering for barbecue, I still see my family sitting outside around a humongous oak tree. Many of them have passed on now.  I envision myself as a little boy with thick glasses walking to the grill down by the tree line. They were pine trees. Uncle Johnny pulls the front of the grill open to throw a couple of pieces of hickory wood on the fire. Sparks fly everywhere. I walk in front of all the old men sitting around the grill and ask Uncle Johnny to dip me out some of barbecue on my bun. “No sir, I’ll have the regular.” I say. I take a bite of that barbecue sandwich, and blink to get the smoke out of my eyes. That’s really how I define Barbecue.

That giant oak tree finally died and they had to cut it down before it fell on Aunt Edna’s house. I’m sure they used some of that wood for a barbecue. Uncle Johnny showed my brother how to barbecue a coon’s age ago. He wanted to pass it on to the next generation. Although Zach learned on the other grill, I feel like he mastered this one. I’m going to get one of these someday. 

Since I’ve moved to Virginia, I haven’t been to a proper Barbecue in over a decade. Perhaps that’s why I’ve expanded my definition of barbecue to include Brisket, chicken, and dry rub. I even like that old nasty vinegar stuff they try to pass as barbecue down in the Carolinas. No matter what barbecue I try, nothing is quite the same as those summer Barbecues of my childhood in the blazing Alabama heat. It’s hard to capture that whole experience in a restaurant. 

It seems like every year when the weather changes I get invited to someone’s place for a barbecue. I’ve learned to be polite and go, but I know it’s going to be hamburgers and hot dogs.

Christmas Traditions

I’ve always loved Christmas time, it’s just like Thanksgiving but you get presents.

I’ve always loved Christmas time, it’s just like Thanksgiving but you get presents. For our family, Christmas season began whenever Mom let us put up our meager Christmas decorations consisting entirely of a wooden toy barn where we placed the beloved porcelain Nativity set, in flat white, and a hand woven tapestry from Peru which was a souvenir from when a relative adopted a child from there. My siblings and I would fight over who got to put baby Jesus in the barn, I’m sure he was flattered at all the attention. These modest Christmas decorations stand out vividly in my memory and they were precious to my siblings and me. The decorations grew each year. Mom added some hand painted camels to the Nativity scene and once the house was renovated and stairs were added she strung garland on the handrails. Finally, she added one of those miniature porcelain villages replete with real powdered snow that proved a grave temptation to the toddlers that followed after we had reached adulthood.

Once our decorations were set up, we would venture out as a family in our Burgundy Chevrolet Astro Van to look at other people’s Christmas lights, a tradition that I still enjoy today, although I think the lights were cooler back then. Mr. Lansford was the undisputed king of Christmas lights in our community. I couldn’t pick him out in a crowd, but I could identify his house. It was the third house on the left once we got on Highway 25 and headed to our weekly pilgrimage to Nonna & Pop’s to eat. We would all look with anticipation to see if Mr. Lansford had decorated his house, another tradition that marked the beginning of the Christmas season, not just for him, but the whole town. Mr. Lansford not only decorated his house, but also made the driveway loop that circled his house into a light display and he encouraged people to drive through. This was when Christmas lights were multicolored and many of the decorations were original. Eventually, Mr. Lansford got up in years and wasn’t able to decorate his home as he had done for so many years. This happened around the same time that multicolored Christmas lights gave way to the colorless trendy new icicle lights. The new all white Christmas lights that have prevailed in the past twenty years are the equivalent of microwavable grits, you still enjoy them, but it’s not the same.

Unlike microwavable grits, my childhood was filled with delicious homemade dishes during the Christmas season, as well as the rest of the year too. I’m not sure if the chicken and dressing that Nonna made on Christmas was any different from the chicken and dressing that she made fifteen other times throughout the year, but it wouldn’t have been Christmas without it. After all, “Dressing”, a dish made from cornbread, is one of the surest ways to tell a true Southerner from an import or an imposter. Southerners eat dressing, and it will confuse us and hurt our feelings if you try to serve us “stuffing”, which is what you put in pillows and homemade dolls, and certainly not something that you eat for Christmas dinner. Christmas dinner in my childhood was an express image of Thanksgiving dinner, with turkey, ham, chicken and dressing, or just plain dressing, chicken and dumplings, deviled eggs, rolls, macaroni and cheese, cranberry sauce (from a can), green beans, sweet potato casserole, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and about a dozen cakes. These were the staple dishes for Christmas, but they were supported by any number of side dishes including but not limited to, fried okra, fried potatoes, scalloped potatoes, slaw, pork and kraut (homemade kraut), butter beans, Lima beans, pinto beans, creamed corn, baked beans, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, boiled potatoes, and potato salad. Perhaps a bit heavy on the starches, but you get the picture. I’m sure I left something out and offended one of my great aunts. We may not have had fancy silverware and fine China, but we made up for any shortcomings in class with heaps of delicious food.

Once Christmas Eve finally arrived, we were on a tight schedule for the next two days. One of the disadvantages to being related to every one in the county, next to trying to date anyone, is that you’re expected to attend as many Christmas get-togethers as possible. We would eat Christmas dinner at Nonna & Pop’s, my Dad’s parents, with about fifty other people in the afternoon, then drive smooth across the county to eat supper with my Mom’s maternal grandmother, then drive back to Nonna and Pop’s to open Christmas presents. Once we got home from a full day, we would beg Mom & Dad to let us open presents early. They eventually caved and it became a tradition, I haven’t been as successful getting my wife to start this tradition at our home. On Christmas morning, we would go to my maternal grandmother’s house and eat breakfast and open presents before we went out into the back yard and shot guns for an hour and a half. It’s because of the many odd traditions like shooting guns on Christmas that Jeff Foxworthy’s You Might Be A Redneck jokes didn’t make much sense to me as a child.

Although this full schedule of family Christmas celebrations was full of delicious food and fond memories, it also exposed us to our stranger relatives. After my brother had a gun pulled on him as he was waiting to fix a plate at my great grandmother’s, my parents decided to change our Christmas traditions slightly so our Christmas Eve schedule wouldn’t be so cramped. It seems like it was around that time that we adopted the new tradition of opening our gifts on Christmas Eve. As an adult, I’ve taken the approach that if it feels like a obligation, it might be a tradition that needs to be replaced. Obligation is no substitute for genuine love, and the Christmas season is too short to spend with anyone but the dearest of friends and family, and to do this, sometimes you need to create new traditions.

What I looked forward to at Christmas more than anything was opening presents. I would start making my Christmas list shortly after my birthday. In April. I enjoy the anticipation of a gift as much as actually getting to open the gift. When I was a child, my parents got me some pretty amazing Christmas gifts. Here are a few that stand out in my memory: a bicycle, Lincoln Logs, action figures, GI Joes, Cowboy LEGOS (Nonna got some of these too), and a Marlin .30-30 rifle. It seems like our parents were able to make Christmas special every year, and even if money was tight for them in certain years, we never knew it. It was during one of these leaner financial seasons that I got one of the most memorable Christmas presents, in addition to all of my cousins hand me down GI Joes, we each got our own personal roll of commercial bubble wrap. You would have thought they bought us each a pony, the way we enjoyed that bubble wrap. It seemed like it lasted for a week. I still think of that Christmas every time I get some bubble wrap. Although my parents were able to work some Christmas miracles and I still have some of those gifts today, I must say that the best Christmas present that I ever got came on Christmas Day 2015 in the form of my daughter, Miriam Vivian Wells. Since her birthday falls on Christmas, I realize that we’ll have to rethink all of our Christmas traditions, but I’ve had some experience already in that area.

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