A Dream About My Dad

I dream about my Dad pretty often. The day of his funeral the Louisiana sky opened and cried down so much rain that the next day I had to leave his graveside with him unburied because the ground was saturated with heaven’s sorrow. For a long time after that I kept dreaming about him at the funeral, how we would follow a hearse on winding roads through old cities and through the countryside but never arrive at the cemetery. Sometimes we would be following the casket on wheels, sometimes it outran us, but neither us nor Dad ever reached the cemetery. These dreams persisted until my brother assured me that we had indeed buried Dad. After that, slowly, I began to dream of him as I prefer to keep him in my memory, healthy and sharp. And smiling.

He came to me in this state a few nights ago. He walked up beside me and spoke into my ear, like he did whenever he wanted to tell me something he thought to be very important. Many times it was something simple enough for a child to understand, but profound enough to make an adult ponder it quietly for a week, not only being able to recall it years later, but to explain how it had influenced their life.

“Zane, don’t talk so much.”

He said it gently in a half whispered tone with his eyebrows raised in order to open his eyes wider as he peered over his glasses, his forehead wrinkling except for that one spot that looked like a dent. I used to focus on it when he was preaching, the fan above the pulpit chopping the light so it flashed like a beacon. He wasn’t angry at me. He wasn’t even reprimanding me for having talked to much in the past. He was telling me what he could about something up ahead of us as we walked. That’s all he said, “Zane, don’t talk so much.” Then he slipped back into the great cloud of witnesses. I kept walking.

I’ve thought quite a bit about what he said. And what he used to say. And the scriptures he used to back it up.

“God gave you two ears, two eyes, and one mouth. You need to listen and watch twice as much as you talk.” He used to say. He also used to say “Shut up and listen.” It depended on his mood. I mean my attitude. He was right, most of the trouble I’ve gotten into over the years has been from talking too much. Or for talking at the wrong time.

A lot can be said about keeping your mouth shut. My pastor once preached for an hour and a half about “Letting Your Words Be Few.” I’ve also thought about some of the scriptures Dad used to reference when reminding me to hush. Here is a list (not exhaustive) of a few scriptures that deal directly with talking and talking to much.

Eccelesiastes 5:2 Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few. 3 For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool’s voice is known by multitude of words.

Proverbs 17:27 He that hath knowledge spareth his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit. 28 Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.

Proverbs 12:6 In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.

Proverbs 15:1 A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grevious words stir up anger. 2 The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright: but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness.

Proverbs 18:7 A fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul. 8 The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.

Proverbs 18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.

Matthew 12:34 O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. 35 A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. 36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgement.

Proverbs 16:28 A forward man soweth strife: and a whisperer separateth chief friends.

Proverbs 11:12 He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbor: but a man of understanding holdeth his peace. 13 A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.

Job lamented to his friends, Job 13:5 O that ye would altogether hold your peace! and it should be your wisdom.

Proverbs 4:23 Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.

Colossians 4:6 Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.

I was going to wrap this up in a nice package with something like, “Maybe you don’t know what it tastes like to stick your foot in your mouth…”, but I think I’ve already said too much.

 

 

 

 

 

Liars and Lies I’ve Been Told

Since the majority of the history in rural towns is oral, my goal is to give you a few tools to help you differentiate between what’s fact and what’s oral fiction.

I’ve spent much of my life sorting out which of the stories given to me as a child were true and which were not. It’s not as easy as you’d think, because much of the time the truth can be more outrageous than any liar’s tale. For instance, my Great Grandfather, Daniel Webster Wells, used to catch catfish out of the Coosa River that were four feet long. I know this is true, because I have pictures. I know that I shot my neighbor with a BB Gun too, as I got a terrible spanking for that. But there are some stories that I haven’t quite been able to verify. It’s these tales that make you wonder, not because of the bizarre content, but because of the source.  Some people are fun to listen to, but not very credible. In the harshest terms, they are liars. There are so many types of liars that it’s almost not fair to group them all in the same category, but God isn’t fair, he’s just, and he decided that all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone. I do not condone lying, but this is not a sermon, it’s more of a essay on the different types of liars. Since the majority of the history in rural towns is oral, my goal is to give you a few tools to help you differentiate between what’s fact and what’s oral fiction.

Some liars are habitual, and lie for lying’s sake. Jerry Clower said, “Some folks would rather climb a tree and tell a lie before they’d stand on the ground and tell the truth.” These liars have no motive for lying other than it’s just what they do. I had one of these type of liars tell me that there was a family who adopted a child from another country and they were having a hard time with the child because in the former country, yes meant no, and no meant yes. The same person also told me about an infant sitting on their mother’s lap as she was sewing. At some point the child cried out and the mother picked up the baby and held it on her shoulder, patting it’s back. The child instantly let out a gasp, but didn’t cry anymore, but the mother missed her sewing needle. Fifteen years later, the child now a young lady, complained of a pimple on her back. When her mother went to squeeze the pimple the needle shot out of the girls back. I know from experience that these habitual liars get mad when you don’t believe them.

My favorite type of liars are the entertaining liars, they lie because they have an audience. They don’t tend to get mad if you don’t believe them as long as you are entertained by the tale. Most of the entertaining liars I’ve met could have made honest careers as fiction writers. I had a liar of this ilk tell me that as he was driving to my house, he saw a prominent citizen in our community on his roof, dressed as Santa Claus, reading the newspaper while sitting on the chimney, apparently using the restroom. Now that’s pretty funny and outrageous, but if you knew the citizen, you would have found yourself wondering if it was true. Another time, the same talebearer told me that he had heard someone call in to the classic rock station and give the following testimony. “I love the Lord, and I’m thankful that he’s given me a sound mind. I appreciate the uplifting music that y’all play, it really blesses me. I just want the Lord to make me humble and (h)umble.” Of course, we knew who he was lying about, and it was funny, but also not unbelievable. You have to be careful with these entertaining liars, or you will establish their credibility by believing and repeating their lies.

Once, my brother, cousin, and I were building a fence at my grandmother’s place. There was a withered old man with a tracheotomy and cowboy hat who came out to watch us as we built the fence beside his residence. I’m not sure how we got on the subject, but as Zach carried the heavy post driver over to the next post, the old man stated that he had “once picked up a syrup mill by himself.” Now Zach, never been one to “enjoy a good lie”, was not about to let this slide, having recently spent a whole day making sorghum syrup. He dropped the post driver and said, “They ain’t no way you picked up a syrup mill by yourself.”

My cousin, who was quite a story teller in his own right, tried to calm Zach down and let it be, hoping to draw out more of the tale. “Just let him alone Zach, maybe he did.” And then to the old man, “How much did that syrup mill weigh?”

“He ain’t picked up no syrup mill Anthony.” I suppose liars don’t like to be called out, and soon the old man went back inside leaving us to our work.

Some liars will not retreat as easily when faced with the truth. I place these in the category of the ignorant liar, which is someone who doesn’t let their lack of knowledge keep them from teaching. These proud liars will be able to dominate any conversation on any subject with their wealth of knowledge. Some folks call them “Know-it-Alls”. Once I remember a conversation with a man about construction of a building in Childersburg, AL being halted after Indian artifacts were found during the initial excavation.

“I shouldn’t wonder that they found some Indian pottery, you can dig just about anywhere around here and find Indian pottery and arrowheads.”  He said. This was true enough, I used to find arrowheads all the time in the cotton fields behind my house, but he took it further and capped his statement with, “Childersburg is the oldest city.”

I asked him incredulously, “You mean in the Coosa Valley? Or the State of Alabama?”

“Naw! Childersburg is the oldest city in the world!” He said arrogantly.

What makes these particular liars so annoying is that you can’t convince them of what is true. When you argue with a fool, you always lose.

Calling a liar in many cases will get you nowhere. Sometimes it’s best to keep your mouth shut. If someone is lying they’ll eventually trip over one of their own lies. If I feel like I’m being told a lie, I like to ask verifying questions. A liar will never disappoint you when you ask for details. It helps if you can remember these details and then ask again a month or so later. If you’re lucky, they’ll start in on a fresh set of details that contradicted the set from last month. Even better they’ll be unsuccessful in trying to remember the set that they gave you last month.

The last type of liar I’d like to mention would be the exaggerator. What might start out as embellishment, will turn into a full blown lie. I’ve been with people that are recounting a story of which I was an eye witness, and I find myself frowning because I don’t remember it that way. Or someone will tell a lie about something that they didn’t do and then say, “Ask Zane, he was there.” Which is another lie.

My mom was babysitting a child once who told her of all of the things that he’d stolen. My mother was disappointed and admonished the child that it wasn’t good to steal. He replied, “Aw, I’s just lying.” You don’t have to teach children how to lie, you’re supposed to teach them not to lie. If you are a liar though, you show your children how to lie. This is why lying runs in the family. There was a time when it was a shameful to lie, and people knew it was wrong. That must have been a long time ago.