Sunday, April 29, 2012

Raindrops on Roses

I'm no Julie Andrews, so this post concerning my favorite things won't include bright copper kettles, or whiskers on kittens, and certainly not snowflakes on my nose and eyelashes, though I could be tempted by crisp apple strudel.

It's a reprise of many spring evenings past.  An afternoon departure in a chilly wind under a cloudy sky.  Arrival at the destination around cocktail hour....or beer thirty in the parlance of the guys helping us unload the flowers.  Fill the truck with diesel, use the restroom, change drivers.  I pull out of the quick stop, merge onto the highway and point the truck north.  Blake unfolds the magazine he's had stuck in the back pocket of his overalls.  We tune in Bret Baier and Special Report. This is what passes for down time.  The remainder of the drive is our own.

This is one of my favorite things. Chilled and dirty, our dining options are curtailed even in St. Joe.  But the lot behind Panda Express is plenty spacious for a big black pickup and long green trailer; its a quick hike across to the Target after a salty steaming bowl of beef and fried rice.  The Panda may lack ambiance, but speaks the truth about speed.

While I pick up essentials for crunch time at Target, Blake is rousted by North Pointe security..really.  No, we aren't squatters; we are card carrying consumers, but we must look suspicious.  I bring back bags of trail mix, granola, Oreo snack packs, antacids and a cube of diet Dew.  On the run.  A grande and a tall Starbucks for the rest of the trip home. Team trucking.

Time for the ball game.  We tune in first on the station formerly known as KKJO even though we know it won't come in much north of the Nodaway river bottom.  Tonight the clouds have gathered and there is lightning to the north.  The static is thick so we hear about half of the play by play.  No mind; this is part of the ritual. We stick with the broadcast until any vestige of a human voice is obliterated by Mother Nature.  Tonight the Cards are pounding on the Brewers; good news for us, we can catch the last couple of innings when we get home.

The two of us listening to the game on the radio makes the drive less a matter of work and more like being in our living room.  The rain comes down, enough to run the wipers and clean off the accumulated insect matter but not so much to affect visibility.  Tractor lights in the field and the incense of moist earth wafting through the cab are bellwethers for the season.  This is respite; forward movement without haste.

Time enough for tomorrow's itinerary.  Too late to change today. Just rain, baseball, and Blake turning the pages of a yellowed paperback in the passenger seat.

I could almost break into song.

...'Raindrops on roses and...'

Friday, April 20, 2012

Double Nickels

I have already turned 55.  Might as well own up to it.  If I don't tell you, then Blake certainly will.  It is one of the perennial jokes of our marriage that I am a good half year older than he is.  Haha.

But for the next six months, we will share that age.  From here on out, both of us will get the senior citizen discount at Pamida (perhaps Shopko will be less generous and we will regain our youth for a few more years?).  
We will march together farther along the path between getting carded for our youth and getting carded for our....well, not for our youth.

Because my husband is the love of my life and his happiness and well being is my utmost concern, I want to reassure him that its NOT TOO LATE...that double nickels is not a speed limit (except for those few miles around the Cameron McDonald's...but I digress), nor a speed bump.  There is still plenty of time for all those dreams and goals to reach fruition as he reaches his maturity.

For instance......there is still time to grow his hair like Elvis.....or a beard like Jason Motte.

There will be plenty of hours to read Shelby Foote, John Dos Passos, and those monster biographies by Ron Chernow.  

You can still learn to upload and download pictures.....and maybe construct a powerpoint.  I wouldn't make it a real high priority though.

I certainly hope you will write your very own book.  I can't wait to fix a few apostrophes.  

Finally,  there is still a chance we'll get better at golf.  I know its a slim one, but, in the immortal words of Lyle Lovett: 
 I understand too little, too late.
I realize there are things you say and do
You can never take back.
But what would you be
if you didn't even try?

And in that spirit of experimentation, of Churchillian never give upmanship, of hope over experience, I promise to join you on the golf course when you try out your brand new Cobra Amp Offset Senior Driver.

Happy Birthday, dear!!

Monday, April 16, 2012


We work hard during the busy months of March, April and May: old fashioned physical grunt labor for at least ten hours a day.  Not only do we pick up and set down, push, pull, lift, reach up, and kneel down, but we burn calories.  Lots of 'em.  And drop pounds.  

But I don't know how many hanging baskets I'd have to haul to compensate for the noon meal we ate this Sunday.  It was throwback day on the dinner table. We could have been a part of the congregation in Lyle Lovett's Church: 
To the Lord let praises be, its time for dinner, 
Now let's go eat.
We've got some beans and some good cornbread.

Yup, we've got some beans:  Ann has brought green bean casserole, you betcha, with cream of mushroom soup and lotsa those French's crispy crunchy fried onions on top.  Baked in the oven, too, so the earthenware pot sports a halo of that ineradicable brown rime that over time melds to the crockery. It will require a scrubby made of sterner clean that pot.

Lee is already up to her elbows in dish soap when I come in.  Another sign of a serious meal:  the type that fills more than one sink with prep dishes and skillets.  A throw away aluminum pan holds remnants of flour and seasonings; the air is redolent of fried food.  A platter is heaped high with crusty hunks of chicken fried round steak.  'Mom, I'm not happy with my gravy', she says over her shoulder,' I think its too thin.'  This comment makes me smile.  I've probably made gravy from scratch less than a dozen times in my whole life, so I'm hardly the final authority of gravy consistency.  Like the guy who stayed in the Holiday Inn last night, I have, however, listened to a real maestro complain about her lumpy gravy for nigh on thirty years though.  Millie's gravy may not win appearance awards, but I can attest to its flavor and the fact it will improve any roast, turkey, potato, or dressing it covers.  So I did what I always do to any white sauce: I turned up the heat and whisked the daylights out of it.  It was lovely and creamy by serving time, but this time I left the indelible ring of baked on flour around the top of the Calphalon.

'Stay back and watch out for Josh,' and the steam pours out of the oven door as the hissing baked potatoes are piled in a bowl.  The food pyramid is complete; starchy potatoes, saucy beans, and chicken fried beef.  Old fashioned farm food, created with the ingredients at hand, seasoned with simple salt and pepper, not artful, but satisfying.  Throwback food for folks with wet feet, bee stings, and cuts in all stages of healing on their hands.

We can't eat like that all the time.  But the kitchen today smelled like my Granny's kitchen on our weekend visits.  I don't remember much about the meat we ate at my grandparent's, other than a particularly memorable meal of rabbit, or maybe squirrel, when we bit down carefully and spit the buckshot into our palms as we chewed.  But I have a recipe card for Granny's Fried Chicken in my box, with the notation, 'Written by your Grandpa July 1977' from my wedding shower, along with her advice for a happy marriage...'Keep your sense of humor'.  There are worse tools to take into a new marriage than your granny's fried chicken and an ability to laugh when it isn't edible the first time you try it!!

What accounts for the nostalgia associated with these old fashioned recipes?  They certainly don't conform to the current popularity of raw, fresh, or green.  They make a tremendous mess; (Lee says pounding the round steak left raw meat morsels on her teapot, her back splash, you name it.), in both prep and cooking.  They are cheap; flour, oil, seasoning, and an inexpensive cut of meat; potatoes and cans of veggies that can be purchased every other week or so at loss leader pricing.  And they are made to feed the proverbial five thousand, easily expanding to satisfy more appetites than there are chairs.  

Wait!  Perhaps that's the appeal.  After all, gourmet menus with expensive ingredients are purchased for a romantic table for two, not a kitchen full of hungry men, distracted women, and children in varying states of near starvation.  An old fashioned casserole feeds at least a baker's dozen and who cares if we bake the whole bag of potatoes and there's one or two left over?  Its entertaining to see if Lucy can catch a cold potato on the fly!  Maybe we love big messy meals because we love eating with our big messy family.  Many days, we eat out of coolers; we grab slabs of grease at Casey's or fried fish at Torrey Pines; we subsist on bologna, peanut butter, and diet Dew.  Many meals we don't even remember what we ate.  But we celebrate our country roots when we cook in a haze of steam and grease; we pay homage to our forebears in spirit and truth when we fry.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Pig is not a Boy...or Remember the Gadarene Swine

'Piggy, piggy, piggy, piggy', is the marching song for Josh as he hustles through the big greenhouse as quickly as his short legs and untied shoes will allow.  The ritual varies little from day to day: Ann brings Aaron out to chore his 4H pigs and stops by to visit with Matt.  Josh gives us a big grin and heads east down the long sidewalk to the nether end of the the door leading to the pig hut.

Josh has had more than his fair share of experience with needles in the past month.  As it turns out, so has Orville,one of Aaron's pigs. There were six pigs to start with, just three weeks old when Matt brought them out to their cozy little metal hut one chilly damp winter day. One little pig never did thrive and is buried out on the terraces out of reach of the farm dogs.  Four little pigs have grown to be solid oinkers, rushing in and out of the hut, snuzzling any lookers on through the fence.  These are the pigs Josh loves; he hangs off the hog wire until he tires of their limited antics and totters off to his next adventure.

Orville is what Aaron calls the fifth little pig, the current runt of the lot.  'Stupid' is what Matt calls him...but  then again, Matt might be referring to any one of the pen occupants; I could be mistaken.  Orville has been written off more than once.  If pigs were boys, I guess the others would be called 'bullies', hogging, if you will, the feed and the water. Orville has been picked on, no doubt about it.  Orville has had lots of shots; Orville has also been escorted to the water all by himself. More than once, Matt was ready to wash his hands and let him fend for himself, but Ann, either stubborn or softhearted, hated to give up the fight.  'He's a pig', was the consensus, but, nonetheless, the search was made for my old bowling ball.  Soon the swirling red ball was planted in the little pig lot to reduce the level of piggy boredom and give them something to pick on besides Orville.

All this work and worry for a pig?  Ann says she can't see Aaron's animals without visualizing pork loins.  Orville looks better to her, but 'still short of edible'.  If the idea of naming an animal likely to wind up in one and two pound packages in the freezer bothers you, then kindly recall there is an object in the lesson of a 4H project.  The object is the boy and the lesson is caring for a critter for which one has complete responsibility.  Next to honesty, is there a more vital or integral characteristic of growing up than accepting the obligation of daily chores?  Many of us have recurring nightmares about the class we never attended, but must still take the final; in our house, the bad dream bequeathed to posterity is the possibility that the calves are out of water, or that a hydrant has been left on and there will be no water at all at breakfast time.  Part of being grown up is the burden of worry about doing one's duty.  So much for the notion of a carefree childhood!  Only the swine in the pen are carefree, not the small boy who is admonished daily, 'Are those your good shoes?'

Should we look forward to eating Orville?  Or any of his compatriots?  I like a good pork burger as well as the next person, and I certainly have no compunctions about eating a named pig over an anonymous pig.  But in this case, the journey IS the point and I anticipate most the pictures I will take of Aaron and Pig 1,2,3, or 4 in the show ring this summer will focus on the kid and not the hog. Watching a young man in a plaid shirt, jeans, boots, showstick or brush,and a countenance serious and attentive will be deja vu' for us on the sidelines.  We will applaud everyone's efforts, blue ribbon, rosette, champion or no.  We'll bid at the auction, rewarding the kid with the premium, not just his critter and record each child and his animal for posterity in a photo.  There are grand champion animals, no doubt, and I hope the winners are compensated handsomely.  But  a pig is not a boy and the livestock show is primarily about girls and boys, not animals at all.  Are we people of more value than swine or cattle or sheep?  We can take care of them; they cannot reciprocate. We feed our animals; we make sure they are comfortable; we give them medicine when they are sick; and we even try to keep them from being 'bullied' by their own kind.  But when our children hurt, we spare no time, no effort, no expense and no anguish.  We know there is a difference; it doesn't take an ethicist  to explain it to us.  Our Lord banished the demons, saving the man, and allowing the pigs to perish in rather dramatic fashion...

 Matthew 8.30-32 (cf. Mark 5.11-13 and Luke 8.32-33) wrote:
And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine feeding. So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine. And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

Perhaps one thing only is more exciting than the birth of a child, and that is learning a new baby is on the way.  We were lucky parents; there was never great drama involved with our pregnancies and births.  That never stopped the prospective grandparents from figuratively jumping up and down, clapping their hands, even if these actions were never performed literally.  Our children have been more imaginative, presenting us with a box of 'Uncle Ben's Rice' for grandson number one and a improbably magnificent May trifecta in 2007. Josh honored his great grandpa by appearing on Grandpa Charlie's birthday.

But this type of glad tidings cannot be passe' and never gets old.  Meeting Ben late one Friday at Reagan National was cause enough to celebrate, but we thought it might have been just a little late to have a nightcap that evening when he carried a bottle upstairs in the Hampton Inn.  Ben had picked up a bottle of nice Barboursville wine en route from Charlottesville and carefully wrapped three gimme wine glasses in dish towels from home.  There was method to his madness.  Here, Mom, let me show you what we got for Kenzie's birthday?, he suggested, holding out his phone with a picture of a nice roomy rocking chair.  That's very nice, and a good idea, I say, knowing a new chair has been on their short list of home improvements.  You see, he adds, a bit slyly, people in our situation might be needing a rocking chair....trailing off with a monster grin beginning with the hairs on his head and reverberating clear down to his tennis shoes as his slightly slow, but now overjoyed mother shrieks and envelops him in a hug.  Such stealthy children~ saving up this banner headline of good news until each set of prospective grandparents can hear it in person.  Two time zones away, Kenzie is getting the chance to tell her folks they will be grandma and grandpa for the first time.  Glory be and thanks, indeed! A toast to us all, mommy and dad to be, aunties, uncles, cousins, great grandparents, and a grandma and grandpa overjoyed to share the excitement of a young couple that had been waiting patiently for their family.

But just two days later, I was headed home because little Josh's smashed thumb had not healed properly; surgery was necessary. Mommy, Daddy and Josh were at Community Hospital while Lizzie and Aaron stayed with Aunt Leo and Uncle Ryan.  It was time to turn worry into action, to pray while working.  Fear, regret, nagging sadness battled with hope and a faith that this too was a obstacle to get through, not give in to.  Josh wanted to walk around; if we picked him up, he'd wave ' bye', willing us to take him away from the room, the iv, the poking around.  A ride in the wheel chair was better than nothing.  Annie and Matt were grateful to everyone for their kindness, but showed the strain and helplessness we all feel when our little ones hurt.

Years and years ago, Jerry Jeff Walker recorded a song about his little boy.  The lyrics resonated with a new mom of a new baby least this is how I remember them:

'They say a man in his time affects all mankind if he does what he sees must be done...
 So I humbly ask of all reasonable men, make a world that is safe for my son..'

This is the unspoken desire of every parent peeking in on their child at night, checking for chilly toes or just the reassurance of a cool brow or quiet breathing.  It is the prayer every morning of mothers and fathers with children miles away.  It is one way we can touch the finger of God, knowing His Son was left in harm's way, a sacrifice of Father and Son to redeem the whole wayward human race.  If this choice were ours to make, how could we?  'Now we see in a glass darkly...'  Even as fallen humanity, we can scarcely bear the thought.

With Easter morning upon us, with full knowledge that there is no bona fide iron clad bubble wrap to protect them,  I too humbly ask in my prayers at work, at sleep, watching my children and grandchildren and waiting eagerly for this new little person to appear 'for a world that is safe'......