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Monday, August 27, 2012

Pizza

Pizza is something I did not immediately like when first exposed to it.  I was not exposed to it until my ex-wife and I started dating.  She loved pizza but could not eat a whole one so when we went out to  little place just outside Louisa, Ky she would order and eat as much as she could and I'd finish the rest of it.  That is how I came to love pizza.

After we were married we moved to Paintsville, Ky and I was attending Mayo Vocational and Technical School (as it was known then).  Across the street from the school was a little pizza place called Giovanni's.  It was owned by a man named Hobart (and I don't recall the last name) whom my older sister had once worked for at his downtown restaurant.  At lunch I'd go there and get a 10" pepperoni pizza.  It was great.  Thin crust, lots of cheese and pepperoni and none of the modern health concerns.  There was pepperoni grease in large puddles on top of the cheese.  It was wonderful.

They also made the best baked spaghetti, but this is about pizza. 

That is my baseline pizza.  Every pizza I have in this world is going to be compared to Giovanni's pepperoni pizza from the early 70's.  And none of them measure up.  Where I live now we have every chain pizza known to man and none of them are nearly as flavorful. 

The closest I've been able to come to that pizza was Hobert's Pizza in Prestonburg, Ky and that was a good many years ago.  It still had the right flavor but it had been subverted by the health nuts.  Why can't I just get a totally unhealthy pizza like I grew up with?

They put so many odd things on pizza now.  Nothing is pure and simple like it used to be.  And, nobody loves their pizza the way I do anyhow.  Now for convenience its Papa Johns.  Go on-line and put on all the tasteless toppings you want then go pick it up.  I used to get it delivered until they wanted to know my complete family history with every order.  So I go (all of three minutes away) no and pick it up myself.  No ridiculous questions, not driver tips, just my pizza, hot and ready.

My wife likes ground beef and onions.  I get pepperoni, onions, mushrooms and olives.  It is just so-so pizza but it fills the empty spots.  And, if we go out for pizza we go to Pizza Hut where I get a veggie personal pan pizza and she gets the wings. 

Things have sure changed over the years.  And, I'd love to have a good, old-fashioned, unhealthy, pepperoni pizza with lots of pepperoni grease puddled on top.

Tyrus Lloyd Young

On Friday 08/24/2012 Tyrus Lloyd Young came into this world.  He is the first son of my youngest daughter and makes me three grandsons.  That adds even more to my disbelief that I'm a grandfather.  It just does not seem possible.  My tiny girl children are having babies.  Where was I when they got that old?  Where was I when I got that old?

My family has been blessed with healthy babies.  This time, little Tyrus, had some issues though.  He was a little early though he was still a healthy 7 lb 5 oz.  But he was not breathing completely normally and his heart showed some "abnormalities".  I visited the hospital twice and my wife once and we barely got to see the little man because they had him in the nursery so much of the time to run tests.   But from our short time together as well as his photos on Facebook I can tell he is a handsome young'un. 

He has some problems, some of which should correct themselves shortly, one which may require surgery but even so I'm thankful as so many parents and grandparents have so many tougher things to deal with.  At least Mr T.L.s problems are correctable.

Makes me think back to my own children and how thankful I am for them and that they were healthy and intelligent and grew up to be such amazing women.  I tell them I love them often but I don't think they understand that until they look at their own children sleeping.  A quiet time when one realizes, despite the troubles of the day, just how much love a parent has for his/her child.

When my two girls look at their own children they might come close to understanding how much I love them.  They might come close to understanding how much I love my grand-children.  Though I am not the best ever was at expressing emotion. 

Even more I'm happy each of them has married a man who appears to me to be a good man, a good husband and a good father.  I know I don't have to worry about my children and my grandchildren as they have a good husband and father to do the worrying for me.

A lot of people want a lot of things in life and I guess I'm the same.  But, when I stop and look at it I realize how much I've been blessed and how undeserved those blessings are.  I would not trade my daughters, my sons-in-law, my grandchildren for anything.

Pee, pee, pee

Pee, pee, pee is the way my grandfather would "call" his birds.

My grandparents lived in a small house on Nat's Creek in Lawrence County Kentucky.  They had electricity but little else of what we, now, would consider "normal".   They had a "dug" well for water and an outhouse up the branch for a toilet.  It was a "two-holer" as I recall.

Heat in the home was a pot-bellied stove in the living room/bedroom and cooking was done on a wood/coal stove in the kitchen.  I'm still amazed at the quantity and quality of food my grandmother produced from this stove.  She made huge meals and the best gingerbread I've ever had on that old stove.

There was a front porch with concrete steps down to the ground around the house.  The porch did not quite fill the length (or width, whichever) of the house but it was an important part of the house.  There was a porch swing, my grandfather's old rocking chair, a big trunk where I'd put enough coal to last them a week and, between the porch posts, there was a couple of boxes, like flower boxes, where my grandfather would spread bread left over from breakfast or supper for his birds.

I can still see him coming out the front door with bread in his hands calling, "Pee, Pee, Pee" and spreading the crumbled bread in those two boxes and the birds would come from all around to partake of his largess.  There were birds of every type and color that were native to the area.  They never seemed to mind him as they would flock all around to get their share of the bread crumbs.

That may have been the foundation of my fascination with birds of all kinds.  I love watching birds and enjoy having lots of them around.  I don't have a bird feeder or anything but I think I'd enjoy having one (or more) where I could put seeds and stale bread then sit and watch the birds come from all around to take sustenance.  I'll like to have flowers that attract butterflies and humming birds as well as a humming bird feeder.

When I lived in Kentucky birds seemed to be everywhere all the time.  Here in South Carolina I don't see nearly as many birds as I'd like.  That might be due to living in a "community" instead of out in the wilds of the country.  Sometimes I miss those wilds.  Actually, most of the time I miss those wilds and would love to be able to live out in the country away from everything.  Everything except for such things as paved roads, electricity, indoor plumbing, satellite TV...  I'm afraid I've been irretrievably spoiled by civilization.

Spoiled though I am, I still remember those simple days and the simple pleasures to be found in calling birds around to feed on our left overs. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Squirrel Hunting in Kentucky

I've talked before about eating squirrel for breakfast and supper.  Now, as an aside to anyone not familiar with the country and the time, there were three meals of a day.  Breakfast, then as now, was the first meal and quite large.  The noon time meal was dinner and was quite large.  The evening meal was supper and was minimal.

There is a good reason for this.  People needed a big breakfast to fuel them through the hard work of the morning and people needed a large meal for dinner to fuel them through the afternoon.  And the work day was, as they used to say, "From can see to can't see".  Now that was for the men.  The women had to wake up early enough to cook all this before the men got out of bed and stay up late enough to do the dishes  before they could get in bed.

I'm not sure where or when "dinner" became the name of the evening meal but it is a "city" think I guess.  I know my wife has told me she missed a lot of good meals because someone would invite her to dinner and she would show up in the evening.  There is a reason it is called a "dinner bucket".

But back to the subject at hand.  Squirrel hunting was a big part of my childhood in Kentucky and a big part of the life of all the adults in my life.  There are a lot of people today who find the idea of eating a squirrel to be repugnant.  They just don't know what they are missing or they just have never been really hungry.  Or, they have never had a chance to eat my mother's squirrel, squirrel gravy and homemade biscuits. 

Country squirrels and city squirrels have some very distinct differences.  City squirrels have gotten used to people not shooting them and have gotten quite lazy.  Sometimes coming from work to my truck I can barely get them to move out of my way on the sidewalk,  Country squirrels are always vigilant knowing inattention leads to an appointment with the cook pot.

This leads to another area of difference between my wife and I.  She calls a container in which you cook things and it has high sides is a 'pot'.  To me it is a 'kettle'.  And a frying pan to her is a 'pan' while to me it is a skillet.   Squirrel is really good cooked in a kettle or fried in a skillet.  Or a pot and pan as one prefers.

Another difference between city and country squirrels is you are liable to see a city squirrel roaming around any time of day where country squirrels are up before dawn and finished roaming by ten AM.  Then they will come back out for an hour or two in the late afternoon.  In between the hours of ten in the morning and around five in the afternoon you're only out in the woods because you just like it or you were never taught much about squirrel hunting.

Squirrel season comes in in mid August (though when I was growing up hunting season was a foreign concept)  and the days were still quite warm.  But, the mornings were wonderful.  Daybreak was around seven AM so one would need to get up around four AM to get dressed and head out to where he was going to be hunting.  You'd need to be there and have time to move up the hill through the darkness to where you wanted to start your hunt before the sun came up.

My favorite place was the hill between where I grew up on Nat's creek and Burgess Branch on the Chestnut side.  I'd park my truck beside the road and move up the hill, past the graveyard and slip through the fence until I came to a fairly large rock in the path.  I'd sit there very still and just listen.

At that time of year the leaves would be dew covered and, in the stillness, the swishing of squirrels jumping from limb to limb could be well heard.

Now, moving up there in the dark had it's problems as you really could not see and big, old spiders loved to weave webs across the path which you'd run into if you were not careful.  I always lead off with the barrel of my shotgun clearing the path for me.  But once we got to where we (mostly me by myself) was going to begin the hunt we just sat, waited, listened and enjoyed the morning coolness and the anticipation of a good squirrel supper.

Then there'd come the swish of a squirrel moving around and one would perk up and make out the direction from which the noise came.  Move slowly, as noiseless as possible, in that direction until one could see the leafy, limbs moving.  Wait hardly breathing until one could see the squirrel then take aim and ... miss or have one for the kettle.

Most of the time squirrels were old enough to need to be stewed but if you hunted "out of season" which we all did, you could get young squirrels that were great fried.  Same with young rabbits.  In fact if you fried them in the same skillet you could not really tell the difference.   And, no, neither tasted like chicken.

When it grew to be around ten o'clock it was time to make one's way back to the road and drive home (or just walk home if you lived that close) and clean your kill, cut it up and put in in the refrigerator in salt water for some hours or days before cooking.



I can't explain that feeling really.  It is very calm and peaceful and at the same time one is tense with anticipation, ears straining for that faint sound which will set one off on the stalk.

It has been a good number of years since I've had a squirrel to eat.  I'd give a lot for some fresh squirrel, squirrel gravy and home made biscuits for breakfast now.  *sigh*

Monday, August 13, 2012

Teenagers Should Rule the World

That is because teenagers already know everything.  For some we're pretty dumb before we make it to our teens then all of a sudden we know every thing.  Then we spend the rest of our lives realizing how little we know.  Schooling does not seem to matter.  After age fifteen we all get dumber and dumber as the years go past.

I was just as guilty as anyone in this.  At fifteen nobody could tell me anything.  I already knew it.  This brings to mind one particular day, summer vacation as I recall, a salesman came to our house and I got a chance to show just how smart I was.  LOL

We lived way out in the country.  From the dirt road you came down a small hill and crossed a little creek then came up a little path past the barn and up to the house.  Only problem was that little path past the barn became a quagmire (look it up) after a rain.

As it goes the salesman's car got stuck trying to come up from the creek, past the barn before going up the hill to the house.  My dad and the salesman were trying to pus it forward and having little success.  I meandered down from the house and sat on the edge of the bank and watched for a few minute.  I finally asked why they did not just put the car in revers and back down the hill.

I was informed the car had no reverse gear that worked.  So I asked if the car had a 'neutral' that worked and the salesman indicated it did.  So I asked them why they did not just put the car in neutral and get in front of it and push it down the hill until it hit the creek?  Then the salesman could jump in and turn the wheels when it was in the creek then drive it forward up the other side (which was dry). 

They looked at each other and tried it.  It worked splendidly and I never lifted a hand to help them.  I felt quite smug about it all.  Knowing my daddy as I do it is a miracle he did not beat the crap out of me after the stranger left.  But, we fifteen-year-olds know everything so it would not have mattered one iota.

I find it amusing at just how dumb I've become in the intervening forty three years.

Hot and Cold

I grew up in a lot of places which had zero A/C and limited heat.  Let me tell you I appreciate some wamth  on a cold day and come cool on a hot day.  If you've read any of this blog you should realize I grew up in Eastern Kentucky during the fifties and sixties,  a little bit of the seventies.  I grew up without indoor pluming for the most part and never any air conditioning and mostly without even an electric fan.  That was summer though.  In winter heat varied from a wood/coal fireplace to a gas heater the heated most of the house to one that heated about five feet around it.

In summer, in most times, I bathed in the creek and used sand for soap.  In winter I'd heat a wash pan full of hot water and take a "Whore Bath".  It was not the shortness of time between customers that drove me as it was the doggone cold and trying to wash all the "stinky places" before the water got cold. 

We lived at the 'big' house in West Van Lear for about three or four years and that was the only time I can recall having a real bathroom and enough heat in the house to spend enough time naked to take a good bath.

Then going to sleep at night was another adventure.  In the summer I'd have all my windows open with no sheets on me just waiting until it got late enough for the night to cool down to where I could sleep.  In the winter it was a rush from the living room where the small amount of heat was upstairs to my bed, stripping clothes in a hurry and jumping into bed under the electric blanket.  Thank goodness for an electric blanket in the winter.

Now a winter trip to the bathroom (outhouse) was also a "treat".  :-)  From my bed, down stairs to that bedroom, though the living room and kitchen, out the door and across the porch for a fifty foot run to get there and then a shivering stay with the trip reversed.  Want to know how good an electric blanket feels after that adventure?

Heat, though, was pretty much a "just deal with it" kind of proposition.  No changing it, no ameliorating it except for a dip in the "swimming hole".  The swimming hole was not really deep enough for swimming though.  It was just deep enough to submerge one's whole body under the water and it took one heck of a walk to get there. 

I recall working for hours and hours in the hot, summer sun loading bailed hay and stacking it in the barn just so my two cousins could go to the "Hack Hole" with me to cool off.  That was a day I'll never forget.  I can recall bending over and grabbing a bale of hay by the bindings and lifting it up to the truck bed and my vision would go completely blank with the effort.  But, let me say, that dunking in the creek was a wonderful thing.

Being outside in the cold was not so much of an issue as we had to wear coats and "long johns" inside as well.  Outside we, at least, had exercise to help warm us.  I stayed outside a lot in cold weather for that and other reasons.    In the summer I'd just lie on the porch swing and read.  I hated the heat then more than the cold.

Think of it.  In the heat you can only take of so many pieces of clothing but in the cold you can put on innumerable items to help keep warm. 

Still I hate the very hot days of summer and the very cold days of winter but mostly for different reasons.  I'm blessed now with a good heat pump for hot and cold weather but I have to walk a long way from the parking lot to the building where I work and both the heat and cold make me sick so I'm trying not to throw up until I get into the heat or A/C of the building.  Not a lot of fun but sure is better than when I was going to school when I don't think we even had A/C.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Baloney (bologna)

Too many years ago when I was around the age of fifteen I took the job of mowing down horse weeds (Ok, I don't know what they are really.  When they were green they were horse weeds and when they died and dried out they were stick weeds.) from around her born.

She was not like a next door neighbor, 30 second hike of neighbor.  She lived in the head of the branch of Nat's Creek known as "The Julie Fork".  Places tended to be named for people who lived there.  The ones this was named for was Burns and Julie Ratliff.  Burns had passed away some years earlier but Julie still lived up in the head of that hollow (holler).

I got up bright and early and took a borrowed mowing scythe and headed up the hollow to her house.  Goodness, I have so many memories surrounding that hollow.  Half the time one was wading the creek because that is where the road was at the time.

I'm not sure how far it was to her place or how long it took me to make the walk but I did and began mowing down all the horse weeds.  Now remember I had not had any breakfast either.  By noon I was starving and she called me in for lunch.  I still get queasy thinking about it.

She had one cast iron skillet on the stove that had old grease in it.  When she got the grease hot she sliced of some bologna from a large roll she had.  One edge was paper-thin while the other edge would have choked a hog.

She fried that thing up until the thin edge was coal black and charred yet the thick edge was still cold.  This is what she served me for lunch.  I was starved so I ate it with gratitude and went back to cutting down horse weeds.

As I recall she paid me $5.00 for that day's work (along with my lunch, of course).  I can't really remember when the day's lunch became irrelevant but I know I did not keep it down all the way home.

I can never even hear the word bologna since then without thinking of that event.

During the day it was not very much fun at all but, in hindsight, it was one of those "good old days" moments.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Thinking About Small Children

I know I'm getting old and I've been jaded pretty much my whole life.  Makes me wish I could go back to being a very young child.  You know, way back when everything was a discovery on par with a trip to another planet.  Everything was so new and so wonderful.

Sometimes I can't help but feel a trifle jealous when I watch one of my grand kids at play.  Or any other small child, really.  Their happy smiles and giggles are, well, just so doggone happy.  The innocent pleasure they take in the smallest things are beautiful beyond describing.  I wish I had the power to convey to them just how wonderful this time of their life is and how much things will change in the much to near future.  I wish children could all realize just how good they have it and appreciate this time in their lives.

When a small child is happy their smiles are things of pure beauty.  Just happiness.  There is no buried hate, envy, disdain, hypocrisy, hidden motives and agendas.  There is just joy in the moment.  And the reason does not have to be anything an adult might consider special.  Just seeing a butterfly or humming bird, getting that music box to play, learning to tie one's own shoe.   Children can be so happy for so many simple reasons.  That should be a lesson to us all.  It really is the small things in life that should (and mostly do) make up the happiest.

Children, unfortunately, must be scolded when they do unacceptable things and parents seem to be much better at that than at praising them when they do something good.  That something good does not have to be much in the eyes of an adult but in the eyes of a child it is a wonder and if not praised that wonder loses some of its glory and the child loses some of that precious ability to be happy for such small reasons.

One example from my own lie is learning to tie one's own shoes.  My shoe laces seemed to come undone on their own and I was forever trying to get someone to tie my shoes.  The adults got tired of it fairly quickly and tried to teach me to tie my own shoes.  I just could not get the hang of it then though it is such a simple thing now.  They grew frustrated and quit.  I grew frustrated and rebelled and just ran around with shoe laces flopping.  Though I kept trying it on my own.

I clearly recall the day I first tied my own shoes correctly.  I was elated, on cloud 9 and could not wait to show everyone I could time my own shoes now.  Nobody cared.  It was like, "Oh, fine.  Now I don't have to mess with it any more."   I was devastated.    It was one of my first lessons in the way life really is that lead me to be an introvert.  My successes were always kept inside and always treated with indifference to other people. 

Of course my parents were the type that expected perfection (according to their beliefs) at all times and since perfection was expected, success was never praised.  Heaven help me though should I fail at something.  Imperfection was quickly punished.  Verbally, physically or both.  And since my parents had such widely varying ideas on perfection I was always going to be wrong to at least one of them.  It could be quite stressful and probably one of the big reasons I tried to spend as much time away from my parents as possible.

I guess that is why I love to see the innocent and pure joy of a small child enjoying a small victory or just the fact they are alive and its a wonderful day.  I tried to not do  those things I suffered to my own children and I hope they will always praise every success their children have and realize perfection is only a goal and we are all fated to fall short of it.  Quite often.

I love seeing a smile on the faces of my grand children.    Something simple that pleases them.  Some small success that seems so important at the time and elates them.  I enjoy those same things with other small children.  It is a time that should be the most magical and wonderful years of their lives and I wish more adults realized that and took the time to praise and encourage them instead of ignoring or dismissing as unimportant all those small steps a child must take on his/her way to adulthood.

You just don't really know how long lasting one word of praise at the right time might be.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Things When I Was Very Young

We all know how things change and how inflation drives up all of our costs of living.  Just to not the cost of a few things when I was around ten years old.

Postcards were still a penny and first class postage was four cents.  Bazooka Joe bubble gum was two for a penny.  Candy bars and ice cream novelties were a nickle and sodas (pop) were a dime.  As I recall lunch at school was a quarter a day.  Gasoline was somewhere around a quarter a gallon and a lot of times people would drive up and ask for just "a dollar's worth" and it actually meant something.  And, all gas stations were full service.  Someone else pumped your gas, checked your oil and washed your windshield no matter how much or how little gasoline you purchased.

Fast food did not exist for us except for TV commercials and the one Dairy Queen in Paintsville that closed for four months in the winter.  They had the very best hot dog sauce EVER.  Even today I have never been there when it was not crowded.  I recall the first time I ever went to a McDonald's I was on my way to Florida.  I had seen so many McDonald's commercials I decided to try it out.  Talk about culture shock!  I went in and ordered my usual, a cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato and mayo.  They politely told me the had none of that.  I asked them what they did have and they told me pickles, onions and mustard.  I just turned and walked away.  Today I've changed my toppings to include onions and pickles but I still have to have my lettuce and tomatoes (and if I'm feeling reckless, mayo).

Hamburgers were thirty-five cents at a 'sit down' restaurant.  Coffee was a nickle and a fountain soft drink was a dime.  They had the very best hamburgers though.  No quarter-pounders but those small meat patties tasted the best.  Sonic is the closes one can come these days to the flavor of those old burgers.

My sister worked at one of those old places and once got a dime tip on a nickle cup of coffee and was on cloud nine.  Such simple times and simple things.  We have gained a lot in the intervening years but we have lost a lot as well.  Our innocence, civility and appreciation for small things seem to have disappeared.  It has been crushed by the isolation we now feel from our neighbors, technology which allows us to do almost everything on our own and communicate without ever having a face to face conversation, the civility and respect we treated all people with until they proved they did not merit it.

You know I could go anywhere at night and be out playing and my parents never had to worry about where I was.  Now you can't even leave your kids unattended during the daylight hours.  I have fond memories of playing "whistle or holler(hollow)" during the warm, evening hours with lightening bugs lighting up like embers in the night all around. 

Back then pop bottles had a two-cent deposit on them if you did not bring them back.  Most people just tossed them out the window (yes littering was rampant then) rather than going to the trouble.  Keith, the boy my mother babysat, and I would roam the roads and railroad tracks looking for pop bottles.  Since pop was ten cents it only took ten bottles to get each of us a pop(soda).  Most every day we could find that many bottles in an hour or so.

I even remember when Kentucky did not have a sales tax.  Sales tax and inflation ruined my personal economy.  Candy and ice cream went to six cents and pop to twelve and if you spent sixteen cents or over sales tax kicked in.  It was horrible.

Playing Hearts

No it is not the game of love.  *smile*  It is a card game with a few simple rules.

1.  Deal out the cards, 13 to each of four people.
2.  No partners it is every one for themselves.
3.  Each heart counts as 1 point and the queen of spades as 13.
4.  Pass three cards you don't want to the person on the left.
5.  You get one point for each heart and thirteen for the Queen of Spades you "win".
6.  However, if you get zero hearts or the queen you get to take twenty six from your score or put twenty six on every one else's score.

My brother and sister-in-law and myself and my (ex) wife would play for hours.  I wonder now how she put up with us. She was the only non-smoker at the table and the language was a little on the rough side.  And the competitiveness between myself and my brother was high.

7.  When someone reached 100 points the game was over and whomever had the lowest score won.

Since it was everyone for themselves, if you had the lowest score, you could be assured everyone else was going to try to 'feed' you hearts and the "bird" (biddy or bitch) as the queen was known.  Just so long as someone else took a heart.  If you thought someone else was running them you'd try to get just one heart to stop them.  The worst part was when someone got 13 hearts and the queen was there and you had to decide whether to 'eat' it or let the other person run the hand.

Since we passed to the left I always tried to sit to my brother's right as he enjoyed running the hand more than anyone else and I loved giving him twenty five points and taking the other one for myself. 

There was no rancor or anger involved but we both hated to lose with a passion.  I've mellowed as I've gotten older but I was that way for sure when I was younger in every endeavor.  I hated losing.  That was when the game (whatever it was) was going on.  Afterwards, it meant very little to me and everybody was friends again with not hard feelings.  At least, as far as I know.

There were three "big" card games when I was growing up and a young adult.  Rook, Rummy and Hearts. 

And there was one other game my brother and I (and later nephew Jimmy) played.  It had now name but it was seeing if you could catch the other person unaware and knock the bejesus out of him.  You should have seen us all in the same room.  *Laugh*  The three of us all with their back against a wall and head on a swivel making sure we knew where everyone else was at all times.

One time I nailed my brother up at my sister's trailer and he was waiting to ambush me by the fridge and Jimmy came bee-bopping around the corner and caught it head on.  And one time after he nailed me I caught him from behind and nailed him in the shoulder.  Sent us both to the doctor and I still have no knuckle on the little finger of my left hand where I smashed it on his shoulder.

Ah, those days gone by.  My sister has been gone for about thirty four years now and my brother just turned 71 this week.  I'm only  four months from 59 myself.  Somehow those days of being young and full of "piss and vinegar" seem like they happened to a different person.

I'd love to have a good marathon session of Rook or Hearts again with people I love.  Or, catching my brother or nephew unaware and nailing them good.  But time moves on and we grow old.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

My Sister

I wonder how someone who knows they are going to die soon, unlike all of us who have some idea we are going to die somewhere in the future, cope.  My sister was diagnosed with Lupus at 26 and died at age 36.  In those ten years she knew she was dying soon.  Every day had to have been a trial for her.  Yet she was a person of utmost faith and utmost consideration.  I have no idea at all I could have handled her burdens in such a graceful manner.

I loved my sister.  My (now) ex-wife and I spent a lot of time with her and her family.  At the time I just thought her reactions were "normal".  It is only now I realize how much she must have put into living for today and not worrying so much about tomorrow.

It is unfortunate my sister left our home so soon (could not deal with my father) and I have so few real memories of her as a girl or really young woman.  My memories are so few and far between.  I recall her rocking off the porch with me at the age of several months though everyone says that is impossible.  I remember her dancing with the broom around the living room to Dick Clark and American Bandstand and throwing my brother's playing cards in the pot bellied stove.

I wonder if Jimmy and Danny could ever envision their mother dancing with a broom while doing house work and listening to American Bandstand.  Don't matter if you could because she did.  One reason why memories are lies.  We remember too little and forget too much.

She was not around much as I was growing up.  She left home early and was gone most of my childhood.  I wish I had gotten to know her better.  At the time it did not seem such a big thing as I did not know it was different than most families.  Just another casualty of the war between my mother's religion and my father's hatred of it.  Then my father hated most every thing. 

After I got married we spent a lot of time with my sister and her family so we got to eat a lot of her cooking.  She made a couple of things I really loved.  One was goulash.  Ground beef, elbow macaroni, tomatoes and garlic.  Tacos with fresh heated corn tortillas, ground beef, diced tomatoes, onions, lettuce and a bottle of hot sauce.  Good stuff.  I miss that horribly.

When I was with a friend and co-worker in Norway for six months I  used to make those tacos on a regular basis.  I never tried the goulash but I do miss it.  It had a special flavor.  Probably was the garlic which I was not familiar with at the time.  I still cannot eat a Taco Bell (or other) taco without whining how it sucks compared to those tacos from my sister.  Nothing like hot, fried, corn tortillas.  Flour tortillas suck rocks.

I can't hear about goulash or tacos without thinking of her and those long, lost days.  Food then clearing off the table and a long evening of Rook or Rummy.  Such simple things yet so very important.  I really miss them.

Chicken and Dumplings

For some reason I've had chicken and dumplings on my mind today.  Not just any chicken and dumplings either but those made by my grandmother.  Even my mother could not do dumplings like granny did.  Like the biscuits that go with them.  Mother always rolled the dough our flat and used a biscuit cutter (a water glass or a tin can) to get nice, round biscuits.  Granny just pinched off a hunk of dough and dropped it in the pan.

I used to make chicken and dumplings ever once in a while but could never do as well even though it is not a complicated process.  Dumplings are the same dough as the biscuits are so just make a double portion of what you would make for biscuits.  I rolled my dumpling dough out into a thin, flat disc and cut that into strips then cut the strips into short pieces.  Granny just pinched small portions of dough and dropped them into the pot.

The best chicken and dumplings are made with a fresh killed chicken.  Well, everything is better with fresh ingredients and, unless one lives on a farm, it is difficult to get fresh killed chickens these days.  Then you dismember the chicken and place it in a large pot (we called it a kettle but my wife makes fun of me when I call pots a kettle these days) with lots of water and put on medium high heat.  Cover and cook until fall-off-the-bone tender.

Only seasoning is a little salt and pepper.  Can even skip the pepper if you'd like.  Then remove the chicken and shred all the meat from the bones and put it back in the pot.  Or, if you're like me, you reserve the gizzard, liver, heart and one leg for consumption while waiting for the dumplings to get done. 

Once the chicken is back in the pot and the stock is boiling start dropping the dumplings in allowing the stock to stay at a boil.  The flour on the dumplings will help to thicken the gravy over the dumplings but it is most likely one will need to add some extra flour to thicken it up to where it needs to be.  Cook, stirring regularly, until the dumplings are done.

While the dumplings are cooking put the biscuits in the oven to bake as you want to eat it all while it is hot.  Left overs are good but nothing like when it is fresh our of the oven and off the stove.  Put in a bowl and eat with a spoon so you can get the gravy with each dumpling and sop (soak for you city people) up gravy with your biscuit.  Have a big, cold glass of buttermilk and it is wonderful.

I guess my favorite chicken and dumpling dinner of all time was when the big, red rooster that terrified me at my grandparent's house went into the pot.  I was so very happy to see that bird on the table with steaming hot biscuits and gravy. 

The real treat, though, was when we were allowed to kill a "laying hen" to cook.  Along with the rest of the chicken we got the "egg bag" (womb) from the hen.  This egg bag had eggs from full sized with a shell all the way down to little yolks about the size of a pin head.  It was a fight between my brother, sister and I to be standing by the kettle (or pot if you prefer) when the egg bag was done.  First come, first serve.  I have to say to this day that is my favorite part of a chicken.

When one starts getting a little older one's childhood memories take on more meaning and it seems the ones dealing with foods one loved have the most meaning of all.   It is a true shame someone so young is unable to appreciate the good things they have every day that become nothing but fond memories as one becomes older.  The one thing that made everything better when I was growing up was it was all seasoned with bacon grease.  Without a liberal dosing of bacon grease food is just something to eat and not something to love.