Saturday, June 27, 2009

Went up to Dallas Tuesday night and attended a great concert.

Picked up the tickets a few months back. Saw it on the computer... Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood appearing at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. I knew I had to be there. Denise agreed, so I searched for some good seats. As usual, I try to find something in a range between "Holy Shit, are they fuckin' kidding?" and the cheap seats way up near the roof. The nose-bleed seats. In this case we won out. I think I paid about $550 for two seats on the left side of the stage, section 104, row H, seats 3 and 4, just up from stage level.

Having never been in the American Airlines Center, I was amazed at the size of the place. It's friggin' HUGE inside. I can't believe they built this place just for a basketball team. But it makes a decent concert venue too, as we found out Tuesday.

The gig was supposed to start at 8PM. We got there a bit early and paid $20 to park. We got our drinks, t-shirts and found our seats with plenty of time to check out the venue. Then, at about 8:15, the lights dimmed and the band walked up from behind us, down on our right, up some stairs and onto the stage. Without much ado they broke into a great rendition of... I think it was "Had To Cry Today".

Here's a taste. Someone posted a clip from the Dallas concert on Youtube. It'll give you a sense of what we were in for.

From then on it was just one great old tune after another. They played for over two hours, until about 10:30, without much of a break and without much banter from the band. It was basically just an evening of great music.

With the wealth of music to chose from, at least fifty years of great recordings and hits to chose from, there's probably no way these two artists could play a gig and not end up disappointing someone. But I'll have to say that they not only made me happy, they surprised the hell out of me.

The guys stuck mostly to tunes from Blind Faiths one studio album, which Clapton and Winwood produced in the summer of 1969, along with Ginger Baker and Ric Grech. It's the 40th anniversary of that great, classic albums release. But along with that, they played a few old blues numbers, with Clapton doing a wonderful job on both the vocals and the guitar. And they threw in a few other old hits too. There was something there for everyone. It was a great set.

At one point, maybe an hour into the gig, Clapton and the others left Winwood on stage and the rest of the band took a short break while he played "Georgia On My Mind" on his Hammond B-3 organ. I understand that in the Houston concert, Wednesday night, he played "Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys".

I can't help but be envious of those folks in Houston, even though it was great to hear him play "Georgia". It reminded me of the fact that when he and Clapton began playing music together, 40 years ago, Winwood, who was only about 21 years old, already had a reputation for being able to play and sing like Ray Charles.

He'd begun playing while still in school, hired to work in "pick-up" bands for American Blues stars as they toured England. While Clapton played with the Yardbirds, Winwood was playing with folks like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker, Howlin' Wolf, B. B. King, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Eddie Boyd, Otis Spann, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. That's quite and education.

He'd begun playing in clubs at about 15, when he and his older brother joined the Spencer Davis Group. He'd gone from there to form Traffic, and play on albums with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker. He did all that, before he and Clapton ever got around to recording Blind Faith in the summer of 1969.

After Winwood wowed us for a while, Clapton and the others came back up on stage, Winwood came up from around his organ and the band played an acoustic set. Clapton played flawlessly on an old blues number, and then wowed us with his now classic acoustic rendition of "Layla". Then, the moment I'd been waiting for, they blew me away with a classic version of "Can't Find My Way Home". Again, here's a taste (this time from the Crossroads Guitar Festival DVD).

It was wonderful to hear Clapton and Winwood play this classic tune. It's always been one of my very favorites. After that, Winwood went back to his organ and Clapton traded up for his electric guitar and they proceeded to knock my socks off again. It started with great renditions of old tunes like "Glad", "Pearly Queen", "Forever Man", and "After Midnight".

But I just couldn't friggin' believe my ears when Clapton stepped up to the mic and began noodlin' on the guitar and singing "I'm a voodoo chile. Lord knows, I'm a voodoo chile."

You could'a knocked me over with a feather! They went on to play an amazing rendition of the classic fifteen minute jam Vodoo Chile, from Jimi Hendrix's Electric lady Land album. Winwood played his B-3 on that jam in 1968, and covered most of the vocals on this newer version.

After singing the opening words, Clapton stood back and killed us, his fingers ranging up and down the neck of his guitar, goin' about 500 miles an hour. Don't ever let anyone tell you these old dudes have lost a step at all with age. They haven't! Here's a brief little clip, this one from the concert they played June 10th in East Rutherford New Jersey... The first gig of this current tour.

I guess I should have been payin' attention and known what was comin', but it was fun to be surprised the way I was.

After that the band put their instruments away and walked off stage, engaging in the old standard practice of the fake "we're outa here, bye." This gave us the signal that it was time to shower them with screams and applause, so they'd come back and play again. When they did, Winwood came up from behind the B-3 and played the ass off his guitar on a rendition of the old classic "Cocaine". It can be quite a surprise to fans, seeing him play the guitar so well. He's so closely associated with the organ.

In the end, the crowd went wild in appreciation as the band came up and took their final bow. You can see the joy in this shot. Everyone there was sure they'd seen something special. The concert exceeded all my expectations. The seats were well worth the cost. It was another night I'll remember for the rest of my life. If any of you have the chance, I'd recommend you catch these guys the next time they slide by ya.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Cooked dinner Thursday night.

Yesterday was my last official day of work for the fall. I'm off now from all three of the schools I teach for, lookin' at five weeks of paid vacation. That means sleepin' in while Denise works the alarm at 6:30 each day. Of course, she's NOT amused by the whole thing, but keeps reminding me that she's only got about three and a half years left till she can retire. The shoe will be on the other foot then.

So, seein' as how I was at home and the little woman is still toiling away in her office at the main campus, I decided to surprise her and cook dinner. Bein' a camera geek and blogger, I decided, of course, to immortalize the process for your slobberin' enjoyment. So here goes.

First, the easy stuff. I emptied a can of Del Monte Seasoned Green Beans into a pot and set it on high to heat up.

Then, in another pot I mixed in one and a half cups of water and half a cup of milk with Knorr's Pasta Sides, with rotini pasta and cheddar cheese. I stirred in the contents of the package and a few extra noodles (loves me some rotini), tossed a plug of butter into each pot and set them both on simmer while I moved on to the rest of the dinner.

Next I dusted my choppin' block with flour and took out three chicken breast fillets from the package I'd brought home a few days ago. I put the other two fillets from the package in a zip lock bag and set them in the cooler for another day. I've got some Gen. Tso's sauce on hold for them. Lookin' forward to that. I cracked two eggs and whipped them, tossing in some pepper and onion salt, and a few other things. Then I got into the booze.

I decided it was time for a shot. My poison of choice in that moment was a jolt of Slivovits. Good stuff. Strong, like your forefathers used to drink... back in the old country, before the pogroms. Hell, maybe during and after the pogroms.

I also used it to marinade the other chicken. We'll see how that works out. I tell ya, I think you could run your car on this stuff. Grow hair on yer chest, if you want some anyway.

The plan was to dust the chicken with flour, dip the fillets in the egg and then cover them in bread crumbs. Towards that end I mixed portions of all three of these packages in a dish and moved on to the final step.

I got the hot plate going, setting it at about 350 and melted some butter to grease it up. When it was hot enough I began to dip and cover the chicken, placing the fillets on the cook top after they'd been covered in bread crumbs.

It's all fun, like makin' mud pies when you were a kid, only MUCH better to eat. And healthy too, seein' as how I didn't fry them.

Ooops, time for another shot. I called the little woman, still hunched over her desk at work and told her dinner was on. I said somethin' like "Wowman, geet yer hiney home! Don't make me get the stick again!" or something to that effect. She told me she was heading out the door, so I made her a drink and set it aside while the chicken cooked.

That's her tall 7&7 there on the block. Now and then I'd turn the fillets over, or check the beans and noodles, making sure everything was ready. Notice I washed and dried the choppin' block while the chicken was cookin'. Kitchen bitch, par excellence!

Then I decided to switch poisons. I got out the jug and started hittin' ol' George. By the time the chicken was done the little woman was walking in and tossin' her purse in the chair. "Honey, I'm home. Where's dinner?"

"Is that all I am to you?" My tone was properly indignant "... Cook, maid and sex slave?" She got a big grin on her face as she smelled what was waitin' for her.

It turned out well, if I do say so myself... and I do! I'll have to see about what else I can think of to cook in the weeks to come. It should be fun. There's one fillet and some noodles left over, but don't even think about it. They'll be breakfast in a day or so.

So, now lets talk about the weekend. It's gonna be busy. First, Denise and I will head over to Temple tonight to take mom out to eat. We're thinkin' about goin' to BJs. Haven't been there in a while.

Then, Saturday afternoon we'll drive up to Ft. Worth. I'm gonna try to see Keith's mom. I'm a bit nervous about that, but I think it'll be OK. Then we're going to a pre-reunion dinner with some of the people I graduated from high school with thirty years ago. There should be twenty or so of us there (out of 750), meeting at Joe T Garcia's on the north side. I'm a bit nervous about that dinner too. I doubt I'll be recognized, or recognize anyone myself, but at least when the big reunion takes place in September I'll know about twenty folks.

Then we'll head over to Dallas and get into our hotel. We'll be in the Holiday Inn Express in De Soto. It's nice and comfortable, and about ten minutes from down town. Some friends of ours are driving up Sunday morning to attend the Southwest Foodservice Expo at the convention center. This is the same food show we went to two years ago, where Denise and I met up and began runnin' around together. We've been together almost every day since then, so it's an anniversary. Should be a lot of fun. I'll try to get Herschel Walker's autograph. Always liked him.

We'll join our friends when they drive up and call us and then we'll walk through the food show for a few hours, trying not to get too loaded on all the free booze and finger food. Then, foot sore and beat, we'll head back to the hotel. After resting a bit we're gonna head over to Arlington, about half way between Dallas and Ft. Worth, and attend a Ranger Game.

It should be a great time. The seats are just down from the visitors dugout, four rows up from the grass. Lets hope they win, but it'll be fun ether way. One way or the other, the experience of being there, the food, the fellowship and the fireworks at the end of the game will all be well worth the price of the seats.

Then, Monday morning we'll join our friends at a complementary breakfast being given by one of the vendors at the food show. It sounds like the kind of food you'd get at a Cracker Barrel, only it's free. After we fill up we'll head home. Denise has Monday off, and I've got... well, I've got the next five weeks off. So we won't be in a hurry.

Anyway, that's about it. You guys try to have a good time this weekend and we'll talk about how it all went down next week some time. Cheers!

Thursday, June 25, 2009


If I tear up, it'll be in thinking of this sweet kid I knew in my own childhood.

Poor thing. Upstaged, but classy to the last. Watch out, Shit happens in threes, they say.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Found an old friend, and lost him.

Some time back, trying desperately to keep in touch with some folks who were talking about giving up blogging, I opened up a Facebook account. I'd seen it there before but knew nothing about it. All I did know was that, with as little time as I have now to sit in front of a computer, reading as few Blogs as I have time to do now, the last thing I needed was to sign up to yet another time pit like Facebook.

It turns out though, signing up to Facebook has been a great thing. It's not that I've spent much time there. I think I check it and post stuff there less than I do on this Blog. And it's not that I've met a lot of new people there. Hell, most of the people whose Blogs I've been reading for years were already there and we're all signed up to one another now. But it has recently proven to be a good move, joining up to Facebook, for one reason. Through finding a site that lists people from my high school graduating class I found an old friend there that I hadn't seen in about 28 years. Sadly though, in finding him, I learned I'd lost him.

I was sitting in front of the computer last Friday afternoon when I noticed that another friend had connected with her graduating class through Facebook. A light went off in my head, so I tried it. Low and behold, there are several Facebook sites dedicated to the school alumni, with one that's organizing a reunion in September. There are about 85 people signed up to that site, none of whom I recognized. Our graduating class of Seniors supposedly numbered something like 750 people, so it's easy to look over 85 or so names and find you don't remember anyone. I found the same to be true through most of high school, lost as I was in that crowd.

As the years have gone by, I've wondered more and more about the few friends i did have back then. I've wondered what they'd done wit their lives. I'd tried for a while, realizing that this is the 30th anniversary of our graduation, to search on the net for information about my class and see if there was a reunion scheduled, but it hadn't produced many results. I found one site on the computer, but there was only one other guy signed up to it from my graduating class. The site didn't organize reunions, but only acted as a gathering place for people who would then organize their own. I figured if he and I wanted to have a reunion it'd be real cheap and easy. So, I might never have learned about this upcoming reunion had I not glanced down and seen that other friend had connected with her class on Facebook.

When I got there I looked over all the comments other folks had left, and I looked over all the names and faces. Some of the names sounded a bit familiar, but none of them jumped out at me. When I commented, I asked the others if anyone had heard anything recently about ether David Cavanaugh or Keith Stevens. Those were two of my runnin' buddies in school, from the 8th grade, when we moved to Ft. Worth, through the time we all went our separate ways after graduating from school.

David had gone into the Air Force briefly, but he hadn't stayed in long and we lost touch with him after that. Keith had tried to fulfill a family tradition, going down to Texas A&M and signing up with the Corps of Cadets. I think his father and grandfather had done it before him.

Everyone who knew him saw that this was gonna be a huge shock to his system. Like me, he'd been raised to be pretty soft. That's the reason why I didn't join the service after high school. I figured they'd eat me up. I had no confidence in myself. Keith acted tough. He was basically an asshole lots of the time, but I knew at heart that he was as big a pussy as I was.

Sure enough, a few months into his first semester he was quitting the corps, cutting classes and living in his friggin' Pinto, when he couldn't crash in a friends dorm room. His dad had to go down and get him. Before we all knew it he was back working at the theatre at the mall where he'd worked through high school. Then we found out he had a girlfriend. he'd never had one of those before. Nether had I, so it was a pretty big deal. Then we found out that she was pregnant and they were gonna get married!

Of course, all of this came as a huge shock to those of us who'd known Keith. If there was one thing we were all certain about, it was that Keith was really smart. You know, book smart, and that he'd probably end up with a PhD in something and make a lot of money. He was one of the leaders of a little group of smart kids that I hung out around who were always making As and always on the honor roll.

Hell, I just barely made Cs, and that was when I studied. I managed to flunk Wood Shop my first semester in high school, preferring to sit and read books about tanks and WW2, rather than work on any projects. I look back on that time now and want to hit myself in the head with a handy blunt object, but what can you do. I've made LOTS of stupid decisions in my life.

Anyway, everyone took it for granted back then that Keith would go far. That assumption was just about the opposite of what most folks thought about me. The conventional wisdom, even with my folks, was that I'd maybe go to a community college, get some sort of job and maybe get my BA in about twenty years, if I worked at it. My dad told me this years later after watching me walk up onto the stage at UTA and get my diploma, having earned my Masters in History.

By that time, the late 1980s, I had long since lost touch with Keith. I guess, as I moved from the local community college to UTA, I left him in a past that really no longer held anything for me. At the same time, the drama of his life was always something I wanted to avoid. I've never had much tolerance for that, probably from growing up in a household where drama was just not allowed.

By drama, I mean loud yelling fights and bullying. I'm also referring to Keith's growing use of drugs, which began while we were still in high school. I think we were seniors when he showed up at my house with a bag of weed for the first time. later on it grew into a regular thing with pills and all sorts of weird inhalants that he picked up at a local Head Shop. We were walkin' into a local mall one afternoon when I saw him take something. I asked him "What the hell was that?" "A Quaalude," he said, smiling. I was shocked. "Are you fucking kidding?" He was always pullin' that sort of thing, always wanting me to join him in it all.

This is how fucking stupid we were. He had some sort of machine that was designed to roll cigarettes. He'd stolen it out of his dad's closet or something. He showed up at my house one night and we went for a drive. He ended up parking behind a local store and proceeded to feed some of his weed into this thing and tried to get it to roll a joint. He did this while we were both parked in his friggin' Pinto behind a dumpster at the local drug store. I was sitting there thinking the cops were gonna roll up on us at any moment. How the hell was I gonna explain this to my dad?

I'm not really sure why I resisted the peer pressure then. A big part of me wishes now that I hadn't. But I'd taken in all the anti-drug propaganda that was around then, particularly from my mother. beyond that, it seemed to me that all of the people I knew who did drugs had screwed up lives. That sort of notion was confirmed as I watched Keith's bright future slide down the tubes in a flash. He started doing drugs, got a girlfriend, got her pregnant and then flunked out of college, all in the space of about a year.

Then there's my sister and the drama she was going through. I won't say anything about that. Suffice to say, if I'd had ANY examples around me of people who could have a good time and not have their lives go up in smoke around them, maybe i would have tried a puff. It just didn't seem wise at the time. Combine that with the fact that I'm a stubborn mother fucker... and that the more they pushed it on me the more I resisted... you have me missing out on some really cool times in the late '70s. Like I said, where's that blunt object?

Last thing I heard he'd married his pregnant girlfriend, but he didn't invite me to the wedding. I was glad then that he hadn't. I was done with Keith. I was movin' on. There were a few times since then when I though I'd seen him. Our paths crossed a few times, but by the early '90s I was gone, teaching on the ships with the Navy and had left Fort Worth behind me.

So, last Saturday night I clicked on Facebook and there was a message from one of the people over at that school site. He told me that there was another Facebook site dedicated to Fallen Rebels (our football mascot, the Rebels). There, someone had posted a listing showing that Keith Stevens had died in November of 2007. It didn't list a cause.

Looking at it, I think I was in shock. How could someone I knew, someone I was a kid with, be dead already? It haunted me all through that night and into the morning. Sunday, before we got ready to go eat chicken and ice cream with Mom and sis, I went on the computer to try to search for Keith and find out if he was really dead.

I finally got hold of his old phone number from one site. I recognized it as soon as I saw it. Of course, it was his parents number. I wish I had a dollar for every time I'd called it between the 8th grade and the time we parted as friends. I sat there, looking at it for a while, hesitant to call, but then I did.

There was a woman's voice on the other end. I told her I was looking for a guy named Keith Stevens. "Oh, Keith passed away a few years ago." It was his mother. "Well, this is Jeff Wilson," but before I could say anything else she'd asked "You mean big Jeff?" "I laughed nervously and said "Yes. It's Big Jeff, from thirty years ago." She laughed and went on to tell me Keith's story.

She told me that Keith had never managed to make anything of his life. He'd never gone to school or found a way to make it. His mom said he'd been a bad husband and a bad father. He'd lived there with his family in his parents garage, which they'd turned into an apartment. He'd been diagnosed as Bipolar, and had been on medication and seeing a therapist. They'd tried to get him to go to school, but nothing worked. Finally, they'd all gone to dinner on Thanksgiving night in 2007.

She said he'd been mean and abusive to everyone, and that later that evening they'd broken up a fight between he and his wife. He'd had her around the neck, choking her. The wife drove off and his mother tried to talk him down from his rage. She said in the end he'd told her he was tired and wanted to rest. The next morning they found him in bed. He'd taken an overdose of pills. The pills had been horded away from his fathers medication, his father having died a little while earlier. I can't help but think that may have had something to do with his decision, but who knows.

In the end, after we both cried a little on the phone, I told Keith's mom that I was very sorry about everything, and that i wanted to come by and see her the next time I came up to Ft. Worth. She said that would be wonderful, and that they'd often wondered what happened to me. She sounded like she was very happy to hear from me.

I started to sob as soon as I hung up the phone. I couldn't believe the sadness of it all, and I couldn't help but think that maybe, if I'd stayed in touch with him, maybe I could have done something. Maybe if I'd tried to get hold of him earlier, maybe I could have shown him that he could move himself forward. I don't know. It's all too sad.

Anyway, we're going up to Ft. Worth Saturday. I'll try to see Keith's mom, and then we'll go to a pre-reunion dinner with some of my old classmates at a nice Mexican Food place there in town. Then we're going to Dallas to attend a Food Show. It should be fun.

I'll tell you all how it all goes down later. In the meantime, have a great week, and try to have a great weekend. Cheers.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The weekend.

As usual, the weekend started last Friday. I didn't have to go to San Saba this last Friday. I've finished all the make-up classes from the week I went fishing. But I did have to go in to Ft. Hood and give a late exam.

One of the soldiers who'd taken my Government class this last semester had been unable to take the final exam and now was about to head back to Iraq. He'd called me just before I went fishing a few weeks ago. We finally got together Friday morning. He took his exam, I graded it and then turned in the paperwork to give him a grade. After that I took my car to the local Toyota place to get serviced. It was time for an oil change, tire rotation, balance, rotation and alignment check.

I sat around there for a while killin' time and then Denise came and picked me up. It was about 2PM, so we decided to go to Fuddrucker's for a burger. I had one of those half pound buffalo burgers, with a cookies-n-cream shake. Denise had something like a quarter pounder. Nether of us thought our burgers were as big as they should be. They must really shrink up on the grill.

After that she took me back to the Toyota place. They'd finished early. Told me they couldn't check my alignment because my tires are bad, unevenly worn, and the alignment check wouldn't work. So they put the best two tires on front and only charged me for the oil change. Oh, I'll keep drivin' these for a while, but I guess I need a new set of tires before this summers road trip. Nice!

After the trip to Fuddrucker's, Denise decided she was too full to go to eat Chinese food with Mom and I Friday evening. So I went over there by myself. Her loss, because the food was wonderful Friday night.

You've seen this before. Mom and I got to Dynasty later than we usually do. It was about 6:30PM, which means the place was crowded, and the food on the buffet was fresh. See, the larger the crowd, the faster the food has to be replaced, the fresher it is. There a science to this stuff. Stick with me. I'll take good care of ya.

Saturday was a lay around and relax day. We did a little puttering in the yard, but other than that we just relaxed. Sunday was looking like a similar kind of day, but the family had made plans. Mom told me last week that she was planning more fried chicken and Home-made Peach ice cream for Fathers Day. We'd come over and enjoy the big feed, and then we'd head out to the cemetery to make sure dad has some fresh looking flowers on his stone.

So, Denise and worked around the house and I worked on the computer until it came time to head over to Temple.

My job, in case you haven't seen one of these posts before, is to arrive with a big bag of ice and get the ice cream going. Mom was already most of the way through frying the chicken, and the pile was high!

Mom had already mixed the cream, as usual. So I get to work, putting the contraption together and getting it going.

Meanwhile, the new family tradition has my better half, Denise, mixing the drinks. Usually she makes Strawberry Daiquiris, but this time she had a different plan.

This time she mixed up a batch of sweet little Margaritas in mom's blender. I reached up on the top shelf and brought down the good glasses, and presto...

Mmmm, I tell ya, she does a good job. But no sooner did I turn my back to get a gulp of this icy goodness than out of the corner of my eye I see Denise sneaking some chicken from the pile.

FOUL! there's no sneaking a piece without giving the big dude a bite! So, as you can see, she offered. And I took. Aaaah, white meat. I've never been a fan. Dark meat only for the FHB. The three ladies in the house all prefer the white stuff, so she can steal all of that she wants. Let them fight over it, so long as they keep their mitts off my thighs and legs.

Happily for everyone, there was plenty of goodness to go around. Enough that after gorging ourselves Sunday there was enough left over for me to have chicken for breakfast this morning. And even after that there's one big thigh left. Breakfast for Tuesday? Sho nuff!

Back to work! After a time, you can hear the motor start to labor. The cream is freezing and thickening, making the motor work a little harder.

Of course, as all this merriment went down, thoughts of the absent reveler were close to my mind. I'll never forget all those Sundays in the 1960s and early '70s, having to sit on top of the old ice cream maker as dad worked the handle. In time, a sign of growing up was when I shifted from sitting on top to turning the handle while dad held it down.

These are memories as old as our family, like the weekend mornings when dad would whip up some S.O.S. for our breakfast, or the football games on TV when he'd operate the popcorn maker, standing over the stove and grinding it to make sure the popcorn didn't burn. Cherished memories. So he was there with us, watching to make sure I did it all right. He trained me well.

The magic happens when the motor stops and my job shifts to opening the tub, making sure no rock salt has contaminated the goods, and then spooning out four portions of the fair nectar. usually mom gets the first helping, but this time she came into the kitchen and told me to bring the first two plates to my sister and Denise. While I did that she started to spoon out her own glass of ice cream, and then it was my turn.

Of course, there's wisdom in the order of things. The sweetest ice cream is always at the bottom of the bin. We've been doing this enough that these sorts of details become ingrained. So the first two or three glasses of cream are spooned out so that mom and I can get down to the good stuff.

After everyone has had their fill, the left over ice cream is spooned into bins and placed in the freezer for later, and the chicken is parceled out in to different bags. One, with a mix of light and dark meat, is left for Denise and I. The other is left for mom and sis. Then, after I clean up the machine and leave it out to dry, mom, Denise and I headed to the cemetery.

Mom has always been the one in the extended family to see to it that the plastic flowers on the graves of her siblings, in-laws and others were always fresh looking and seasonally appropriate. It was time for us to go out and replace the flowers on her parentsd grave and make sure dad's flowers looked good. I drove, and then Denise helped mom arrange the flowers and place them on the stones.

Dad's marker turned out looking pretty good, and it turned out there were plenty of flowers left over to give my grandparents a nice new bouquet.

That's Denise and mom, workin' on the old folks headstone.

If you blow up this shot and look just above Denise's head, to the left, you can see a sad sight. There was an old guy out there, sitting on a bench in front of... I'm assuming it's his fathers grave, drinking a beer(?), crying. I was touched by that.

It would never occur to me to come out here and talk to my father. He's always with me, in one way or the other, everywhere I go. I talk to him whenever something happens that brings a memory up. Sometimes I cry, but those times are becoming fewer and fewer. Mostly I just remember things and smile to myself. The old, bad times are withering away, but that started before he died. Why dwell on all of that? It serves no good purpose.

Mom borrowed my pocket knife at one point so she could cut away at the green styrofoam and begin to place the flowers down into the vase that's attached to her mom and dad's headstone. Meanwhile, Denise made sure the bouquet was arranged in the right order.

Nice eh? They did a wonderful job, and I made it through the whole thing without balling.

We drove mom home after that, sat around a bit longer and then headed out. Mom said something about hearing that the Corn Festival was happening this weekend down in Holland, so we decided to make a run by there to see if it was still going on. Of course, we'd missed it all, but the trip to Holland gave me a chance to go by the graves of my Aunts, Uncles and Grandparents from the Wilson side of things who are buried there in the local cemetery.

I stood there with Denise, thinking about all the times I'd come with my dad to see the graves of his parents. They both died while we were deployed and living overseas in the 1960s ('64 and '69). I finally cried when I remembered standing there with dad, the first time he'd seen his mothers grave. He'd been unable to come home for her funeral. His brothers wouldn't hold it off till he could get there. I remembered being about ten years old, standing there and holding his hand. I saw that he was trying to hold it all back, but he couldn't. Men weren't supposed to cry back then. So I cried for him. Anyway, that's the way I see it now. I was just frightened and confused then. I'd never seen him cry before.

After that Denise and I drove home through the back country, back through Summers Mill and Belton, through the country that my father grew up in. I told her many of the same old stories dad had told me a million times. I showed her where he was born and where his family worked Mr. Hollands cotton fields in the '20s and '30s as sharecroppers. I showed her the farm my grandfather bought with the money my dad sent back from the war, and where dad burned his fathers clothes in '64 when he came home for the funeral. He told me he just couldn't stand the idea of anyone else wearing his fathers clothes.

We made it home by sundown, with the temperatures still up in the 90s. It was along weekend, as this has been another long post. But you'll be happy to know that the library in San Saba is closing, so the end is within sight.

You guys take care. I hope all of you had a great weekend, and all of you fathers had a wonderful Sunday! Cheers!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Made a short trip to College Station yesterday.

Denise found out a while ago that she'd been invited by folks at Texas A&M to come down and join in a discussion about soldiers getting college credit evaluations. That's what she does here at Central Texas College, evaluating the college credit that soldiers need to apply to a CTC degree plan, translating the class credit that other schools have awarded them and their military training into college credit through CTC. Apparently A&M is trying to figure out how to do that sort of thing, so they decided to bring in the big gun.

So, A&M offered to pay for her hotel, meals, etc, if she'd come down and enlighten them. Then her boss at CTC got involved in it and CTC decided they'd foot the bill. From the start it was an exciting idea. Denise floated the idea of us having a little tryst down there in a swanky hotel on the colleges dime. That was almost too cool an Idea to pass up. We both tried to think of a way that I could take time off or work it into my schedule to go down there with her, but it didn't seem possible. With the semester in San Saba coming to an end soon and the fishing trip I took a week or so ago, there's no time left over to make any classes up. I've done that all I can this semester.

So, she got her car from the college... a brand new cool big ford highway cruiser, and a lap top from the library to use giving her power point presentation, she packed a bag and set off Tuesday afternoon. We said goodbye Tuesday morning and that was it. I was batchin' it for a day or so. Was gonna vegetate in front of the computer for hours and rent some scary movies, maybe eat Chinese food and go to a pool hall. I was gonna get wide. Gonna get in trouble, maybe.

Then i got to the prison and told the guys about it. Told them about the idea of goin' down there and gettin' laid on the college. the idea was still percolatin' there in the back of my mind. I asked them how long it would take to drive from Saba to College Station (the home of A&M). Ellis said maybe two and a half hours, but Hoenow said more like three or four. I thought about how long I'd have this morning to make the drive back in time to teach my class at noon.

I know, you're thinkin' "Jesus, he's nuts!"... and you're right. But I don't mind a long drive. I actually enjoy them. So, I talked myself into it yesterday while I was here in Saba. I told the guys that if I showed up this morning in the same shirt that I wore Tuesday it'd mean that I made the trip and got lucky. We all had a big laugh about it.

So, I got out of the prison at about 2:35 yesterday afternoon and drove down 183 to 29, then across to 79 and 36 to College Station, arriving there at about 6 PM. It took me three-and-a-half hours, as Hoenow predicted. Thing is, while I was on the way down, Denise called me. She told me she'd just left the campus in Killeen and was on her way. I told her I was on my way home and that I'd miss her. A few hours later she called to tell me she'd gotten there and asked me what I was doing. I told her I was on my way to temple to go to the dry cleaners and see Mom. She bought it completely. Damn, I'm good.

I got to College Station about thirty minutes behind her. I knew she was at the Hampton Inn, but I didn't know where it was, or how friggin' many there were. You know, it was all a spur of the moment thing. No preparation. And I couldn't ask her where she was or what room she was in without giving away the surprise.

Well, it all turned out perfect, as if I'd planned it that way. I drove in and ended up driving east along one of the main drags there into town. By the time I made it to the end of University Drive, where it crosses 6, there was her hotel, just down and off the highway. I drove up and parked, thinking to myself "How the hell am I gonna find out what room she's in without them calling her and warning here?"

But as I walked through the front doors I saw here standing there at the counter, concentrating on a map, trying to figure out where her conference would actually be. I walked up to her and smiled, and you should have seen how red her face got. She was in shock. Couldn't believe I'd made the drive. It took her a while to get over it. Hell, maybe she's still not over it.

Anyway, we piled into her big, cool rental car and drove around till we found the place where the conference would be. It took a while, but the college was paying for the gas, so what the hell! Having finally found the place, we eventually got around to thinking about having dinner. I'd seen some cool looking places there along the strip in front of the college as I drove in, so we headed back there.

We ended up stopping at a place called Fitzwilly's for dinner. It's a typical college bar and grill, with very loud classic rock playing on the speakers and a smattering of typical things on the menu. Both of us loved the music, but we both agreed that as far as the food was concerned, we probably wouldn't be back.

After walking out of there I asked Denise if she'd mind going into O'Bannon's Tap House. We'd seen it there across the street from Fitzwilly's, but decided to eat elsewhere. It's good we did, because O'Bannon's is a drinkin' place and doesn't serve food. Just have a glance at their selection. It's a nice place. I'd bet it does big business when school's in session.

I'd had a huge Blue Moon with dinner while Denise trained yet another Bartender in the mystery and magic of the Lager Shandy. We both laughed at the looks on the faces of some of the patrons as he poured 7-UP into her Shiner Bock. Then, we'd both ordered another pint at O'Bannon's. Mine was a Killian's and she had another Shandy. We stayed there for a while, till we finished our drinks. By then I was beat and ready to hit the sack. Denise drove us back to the hotel, where I bought us both a Snickers Ice Cream bars for dessert, and then we headed up to the room.

We stayed up a while... Oh, get your mind out of the gutter! She showed me her presentation (never heard it called that before... nudge, nudge) on the cool lap top she'd gotten from the college, we watched some TV and then we hit the sack. How'd it go? Well, a gentleman doesn't talk about such things... until he gets back with the other gentlemen.

They all made note of the fact that I was wearing a different shirt this afternoon, thinking I must have decided not to go. But then I told them that I'd gotten home by 9AM, with plenty of time to clean up before I had to drive to Saba. I had time to check emails, water plants, feed cats, AND change out of those rushy undies. It all worked out beautifully.

Our alarm went off at 6:30. I dressed, loaded my shorts with baby powder, went down to enjoy the complementary breakfast and was off on the road by 7. I went back up once more to say goodbye. She was tearing up when I left. I think she liked the surprise. So, yea, it was worth it. And I'd do it again.

I stopped once to hit the can and buy a few cheap cigars on the way home. Somehow, I'd managed to leave the house Tuesday morning without any to smoke. I tell ya, I'm turnin' into a junky. I was actually thinkin' that maybe I'd let one roll under the seat or somethin', tryin' to reach down there and see while flyin' down 183 at friggin' 80MPH. Those cheap-assed little pre-poked Garcia & Vega English Coronas that I picked up at the stop-n-rob did the trick though, at least till I got home and grabbed a few Macanudos.

So, I'm here at the library in Saba, pooped but happy, knowin' that my baby will be there at home when I roll in tonight. I'll teach one more class and get home around 9PM, and then she'll tell me how she blew their minds at the presentation this mornin', and how I blew her mind by showin' up the way I did yesterday afternoon. It'll be fun.

Well, you guys try to have fun too and we'll talk about it all later. Cheers!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Sunday dinner at Mom's house.

The weekend was hot and sweaty, filled with lots of work in the yard that Denise and I have been hackin' at for a while. Usually I try to fill the weekends with fun in order to avoid this sort of toil. But now that we're not otherwise embroiled (there's been no extra money for Gun shows and such lately), I have no excuse but to get to work and try to make the place look decent.

Sure enough, little bit at a time, we've been clearin' the weeds in the back and side and draggin' brush to the field across the street for the city to haul away. Little by little, between breaks for cold water and a rest on the swing, we've been getting stuff done. As the yard has begun to take shape we've been goin' to Lowe's and buyin' flowers and bushes to plant here and there.

That's what we did Saturday afternoon. As the heat index reached over 100 we were busy planting bushes and weeding the garden down by the street. Denise and I took turns mowing the side and back, and then Denise decided to go ahead and mow the next door neighbors front yard. My neighbor lady is old, and her husband, who used to take care of the yard, has been in a nursing home for about a year. So their yard is looking a lot like mine. After Denise mowed it I spread some top soil out on a few bald spits and spent some time watering it all by hand.

Then, happy in the progress we've made, we showered and headed to a party! Yep, a party. A friend of Denise's from before she met me was having a shindig at his house. As parties go, it's pretty tame. About six or eight middle aged folks sitting around and drinking, laughing as they tell stories about what it was like to grow up in Killeen. The stories they tell make me think that the life around here today is quite tame compared to the life they led in the 60s and 70s, when the town was growing fast.

I really don't relate to any of those stories and don't have much to contribute, so I usually don't find myself included in much of it. It's an old story. I find myself eventually retreating to the couch, playing with the cat or watching TV while the "grownups" enjoy themselves. Maybe it was the heat, or the fact that I'd been so worn out by the time we got there, but I just didn't have any energy to stand there on the margin and pretend to give a shit about what they were going on about. If the heat index hadn't been still hovering around 100 I'd have been out on their porch smoking a cigar and drinking a beer. That's my usual escape.

Anyway, Sunday was a day to sleep in. Denise and I rolled out of the sack at about 11AM and then headed back out into the yard to get some more stuff done. By 2PM it was time to shower and head over to Temple. Mom had begged off her dinner Friday night and told me that she was planning to fry some chicken on Sunday. So you can probably guess how things went down.

By the time we got there just after 3PM, the last batch of chicken had been lifted out of the grease to cool and mom was workin' on the stuffed potatoes.

You can see all the fixin's there in this shot. She mashes the inside of the potato and mixes it with butter, sour cream and cheese. She crams the mashed potatoes into the potato shell, covers it with more cheese and puts it back in to oven to melt together.

While she's doing all that I'm wandering around, checking out her garden. It leaves me feeling how far I've got to go before mine looks anything like hers.

I also find one of the house cats to mess with. This is one of my sisters kitties. You can see from the look in her eyes that she was happy to see me.

Of course, that's not all I was doing. Mom recently bought herself a new bed. It's one of those space age foam things that's really soft on her joints. The delivery men put the new bed together for her and took her old bed upstairs for my sister to sleep on, but the twin bunk-beds were just stacked in the other upstairs bedroom (sis has been sleepin' on one of them). So, while Mom worked on the taters and Denise tossed the salad and made the drinks, I went upstairs and put the bunk-beds together.

I slept on those things myself when I was in high school. I wish I had a dollar for every time I've had to take them down and put them back together again. I do have one fond memory of a buddy of mine spending the night once, about half way through high school. He "slept" in one bed across the room, with one Playboy, and I "slept" in the other, and we both tried diligently to pull our way through puberty. I think that may well be about the gayest thing I ever did, not that there's anything wrong with that.

Anyway, the beds came together (get your mind out of the gutter) easily, so soon I was back to messing with the cats and waiting on the food.

Denise mixed the salad that mom had put together before we arrived.

Mom has her own recipe for dressing (there in the little bowl). Denise mixed it into the salad as we waited for the taters to come back out of the oven.

Meanwhile, Denise mixed the drinks. Mom's blender mixes one hell of a Margarita or Daiquiri.

This time it was Strawberry Daiquiris. After Denise and I got Mom to begin to enjoy this sort of thing again, not long after Daddy died, Mom tried to surprise us with some drinks. We came over one day after taking her out to eat. Thing is, she couldn't quite remember the recipe. Was it a half a can of Rum or a whole can? So the first batch of daiquiris she made were stout as hell. We all had a good laugh over it.

Pretty soon the stuffed taters were done and coming out of the oven, and then the feast began.

That's my plate, with three big pieces of boneless dark meat, a stuffed tater and just a hint of salad. Oh, and an excellent adult beverage to finish it off. The food was all perfect. The chicken came out just right... not greasy at all, over cooked or under cooked. I tell ya, mom's got it down pat.

What's better, there was enough left over that I could have fried chicken for breakfast this morning, and there's still enough for Denise and I to have it again for dinner tonight, and split a stuffed tater too.

While we were there, mom told us about the plans she has for Fathers Day. We're all gonna gather at her house and go out to see daddy. We're gonna take some new plastic flowers out there to make sure he's got fresh looking stuff to decorate his plot, and then we're all gonna come back to her place for more fried chicken and home made peach ice cream! Mmmmmm, that stuff is goooood! It's perfect. Daddy would have loved it. I'm sure he'll be watching and wishing he could have some. I'll have to have a little extra, just for him.

Well, that's the weekend. I'm back in the library at San Saba, having had my Monday ritual... Jalapeno sourdough bread bacon cheese burger, fries and a diet Dr. Pepper. The rest of this week looks like it's gonna be hot and sweaty. There's more yard work to do. Y'all take care, and we'll run it all down again in a few. Cheers!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

It's nice to be high up on the food chain.

One of the common sights there at Griffin's is this Great Blue Heron. He/she/it is always there in the morning, walking along the beach, looking for a good breakfast. Normally that means some little sun fish, but these big birds are known to be fairly omiverous. The water there close to shore is filled with little sunnies, some covering the nests that dot the bottom of the lake near the shore. But one morning on this last trip, as I stood watching, I was surprised to see the bird walking up onto shore from the water. Thinking I might be able to get a good picture I went back to the cabin and got the camera. By the time I got back moments later, the big bird had caught himself a Chipmunk.

Chipmunks are also a common sight there at Griffin's. They skitter along through the gardens and brush, constantly on the move. Cute little squirrel/rat-like things, I always expect to see one in the jaws of Remmington, the camp kitty. As we were driving up the dirt road to the cabins this year I did see another big cat crossing the road with one of these little critters in it's mouth. We also ran over a snake that was crawling across the road or sunning itself. It was about four or five feet long, stretched out in a line across the road. Bad move. I doubt it survived the experience.

By the time I got back to the scene, the Heron had the little dude in his beak and was running/flying back to the water, where it quickly began to dip it's breakfast into the water.

I'm not sure if the Chipmunk was still alive or not, but I knew it wasn't long for this world.

I thought I could see the little legs flailing around a bit as the Heron repeatedly dipped it into the water.

I was thinking, he/she/it is ether tryin' to drown that little dude... or he's lubin' it up for the swallow.

Sure enough, one last dip and then...

Down the hatch! Thing is, some critters seem to only exist so that other critters can have a handy breakfast now and then. That's life. End of story.

So, here's to not being that critter! Cheers!