Nice Things

My sister came over to the house the other day to help make zucchini bread, because I planted to much zucchini. We hovered around Sarah’s KitchenAid mixer like little kids at a science experiment.

“Is it going to sling zucchini sludge all over us?” I asked as she fired up the mixer.

“No. This is a nice thing.” She said matter of factly, and with a bit of discovery in her voice, as if we-not having grown up with nice things-had just had our first encounter with one.

My family used to play this game called Scattergories. It’s a trivia game where a letter die is rolled and each participant has to come up with an answer-that begins with whatever letter is rolled-for a list of twelve questions in a set amount of time. If your answer is unique you get a point but you do not get a point for duplicate or blank answers.

I’d like to take a paragraph to point out that I just explained how to play a game in two sentences-albeit they might be considered run on sentences. Even so, Think about the last time somebody tried to explain to you how to play a board game. There were 35 people crammed in a living room. Everybody was talking so loud at once that the music blaring in the background would have been indistinguishable save for the two musicians singing along at the top of their lungs. A kid was tapping you on the knee and the least concise person in the room was giving you instructions on a game you didn’t want to play cause you were more interested in the cocktail weenies on the paper plate that you had to hold because the dumb game was taking up all of the space on the coffee table. But you couldn’t have reached the coffee table from the bar stool you drug from the kitchen anyway. The next time in you’re in a situation like that, I hope you think about me.

Anyway, in Scattergories one of the categories is Items You Save Up Buy. I think this is the best way to describe nice things. You tend to treat things that you save up to buy a little better because they are dearer. I saved up to buy a proper guitar for years. Several times, just when I had enough money set aside, I would decide on a whim to reallocate that money for something else. Like a radiator for a Honda Accord, or tires, or a baby carseat. When I finally had enough money to buy the guitar I was so anxious to make the purchase before there was an emergency that I developed a case of the shivers.

I suppose that there are even nice things that rich people save up to purchase. Yachts and airplanes, that sort of thing.

Most of the people I’ve known that had nice things weren’t necessarily rich, they just didn’t have any kids. Or at least any boys. Boys are much to rough to coexist with nice things. Zach and I broke the heads off all the wooden ducks in the living room while wrestling. That was Mom’s idea of nice things: wooden ducks. She had about five wooden geese and ducks in the living room. Some folks are just born with class.

At least once, every mother has probably said to their children in exasperation over a broken lamp or busted window, “Your Daddy works hard so we can save money and try to have nice things, but y’all are barbarians and we can’t have nice things.”

I remember Zach putting a dent in the top of Dad’s brand new Mazda truck with a softball. Dads can give a completely different “Why can’t we have nice things?” speech. It’s just as passionate as a Mom’s speech, but it is usually the audience and not the orator that is moved to tears.

“When you have three kids that’s about all you have.”

Perry Wells

I’m not saying that you can’t have nice things and kids, I’m just saying that most people can only afford one or the other. It’s a tough choice for many people. Children are expensive. It may even be cheaper to not have kids and just have nice things. Just ask your parents. How many times have you been to someone’s house and sat down in the recliner only to be warned that the recliner doesn’t work because Kid A broke it using it as a diving board, and that they didn’t notice that it was broken until they got back from the emergency room. That’s the funny thing about nice things, people tend to hang on to them after the kids have already broken them.

The fact that my parents didn’t follow through with those threats of death after I had just broken something lets me know that they chose keeping me over having nice things.

Nice things are fleeting. The classiest vehicle on the market will be old and out of fashion when the new model rolls out next year. I quit trying to keep up with the phone innovations back with the iPhone 6. Furthermore, these things are guaranteed to expire.

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Matthew 6:19-21

“Children are the only thing that you can take to heaven with you.”

Ultimately nice things are not important. It’s easy to forget that when you’re daydreaming about the next thing you’re saving up to purchase and how happy it will make you. It won’t make you happy. If it does make you happy it won’t last. One day it won’t even matter to you. If you don’t believe me, just visit a thrift store or better yet, the dump. Both of these places are jam packed with junk and trash that someone not to long ago probably saved up to buy.

There are still some nice things I’d still like to have. Perhaps a proper digital camera to take better quality bad pictures for the website store. Maybe I’ll get one some day. I’m not really worried about it. These days I’m more excited about meeting our third child in October.

Film Photography

Do you remember taking photographs on film?

I love yard sales. Previously loved merchandise. Everything you never knew you couldn’t live without can be found at a yard sale. Part of the fun of a yard sale is digging through the junk to find the treasure. Sometimes it’s only digging through junk. Even when you do find treasure, it sometimes only seems like treasure because the junk makes it look better. This is how I got back into film photography.

I have a recurring dream that I find a cache of treasure (usually guitars) for sale dirt cheap at some yard sale or thrift store. From time to time it comes true. Like the time I found a bunch of pocket knives at an estate sale. Today I’m thinking about the time I stumbled upon the motherlode of film camera equipment at the church yard sale. The yard sale itself had a half acre of merchandise spilling off of tables and onto tarps. There was an entire table full of lenses, filters, flashes, and bulbs. On the edge of the table was whicker basket full of film cameras. My mind went back to photography class when I spotted a pristine Canon A-1 Camera with a 50mm lens. I picked it up and instinctively focused the lens on one of the yard sale characters walking around. I advanced the film lever and clicked the shutter release button. There was the unmistakable whir of a shutter quickly opening and closing. A sound that even kids born in the 21st century will recognize from their iPhone camera.

I was hooked. Camera in hand, I walked over to Sis. Tina Updike, who was running the cash register that day. “How much for the camera Sis. Tina?” I asked. She frowned at me like she’d never seen a camera before she asked, “Is $10 too much?” I quickly paid for the camera before I had a chance to talk myself out of taking up a new hobby. I also went and scooped a couple of lenses, another SLR camera, and an enlarger so I could develop my own film.

As I fiddled with the camera and did a little bit of research to refresh my new found venture in to film photography, I began to think abstractly how film photography is more like life than the convenient digital photography that has cemented it’s place in our culture over the past twenty or so years. There was a time when cameras were investments, now they are just features on our phones. Camera phones have made us all photographers.

Think about when you were a kid. Unless you don’t remember having to take pictures with a camera, take your undeveloped film to Wal-Mart, shop around for an hour until you could finally pick up an envelope of actual pictures. Not only did you have to purchase film, but you had to pay for the pictures before you could decide that you were a terrible photographer. You kept the pictures anyway, and couldn’t wait to show them to your friends. The next time you had company, you’d pass around your pictures and you’d all laugh at the ones that didn’t come out like you wanted. The few pictures that came out great got an elevated frame or refrigerator status.

The first roll of film that I shot with my Canon A-1 was interesting. There were 24 frames. It made me stop and think before I snapped the shutter. I had to manually focus each picture. I had to wait a couple of weeks before I could see the fruit of my labor. Long enough to almost forget what I’d shot. Opening that first envelope of pictures was quite emotional. I sat down and looked through them with my wife. Like any roll of film, there were some duds. An image with uninteresting subject material, a poorly focused shot, or improper exposure. Even so, there were few really good pictures that I framed.

A photograph is frozen moment in time. Henri Cartier-Bresson spoke of the decisive moment, or the perfect moment to freeze in time. You can’t retake the same picture, because time will move forward. You’ll stop and refocus, changing the composition. Life is much more like a roll of film with a set amount of frames than a digital phone camera where we can take endless pictures in order to capture an image of how we think we should look. It’s a sobering thought, time.

Mostly From Memory is me sharing with you my life’s roll of film. Sure, I get to edit the pictures a little bit to make the subject material shine, but I can’t go back and take more pictures. Neither can you. Each season in our life is a frame of time on a limited roll. I wish that we could simply “delete” some pictures in life because of uninteresting or embarrassing subject material. Or a poorly focused shot. Or improper exposure.

I have a strong desire to make each season in my life count.

I can’t remember if I was thinking along these lines as I loaded the second roll of film into my now beloved Canon A-1, but I did know that I hoped to make every shot count. I think I took a few pictures of my kids, who wouldn’t be still to for anything in the world. The next day I took my camera to work so I could take pictures of downtown Winchester on my lunch break. There was one shot that I planned on taking. Every day I looked out from the fourth floor of the parking garage across the alley to the fire escape of the George Washington Hotel. The metal staircase against the backdrop of brick formed a perfect Z.

Z for Zane. I focused my camera on the target, but to get the composition just right required me to stand on the concrete barrier a foot from off of ground and lean against the railing with my knees. I took my time focusing and double checked my exposure before I firmly pressed the shutter release. Satisfied that I had not wasted a frame of film, I stepped back from my perch into reality. I was a hair higher than I expected and when my foot didn’t reach solid ground I grabbed for the rail, which was only barely above my knee. I panicked. In my desperation to regain my balance, my prized camera slipped from my hand. I watched it tumble through the air from four stories up. It fell for a long time, almost in slow motion, getting smaller and smaller until it smashed into the concrete and burst into pieces that fled the impact. I stared at the wreckage for quite a while before I realized that I could never take another picture with that camera. Then I walked down the stairs and picked up the pieces.

My busted Canon A-1. A testament to fragility of life.

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.