Memorial Day 2017

Today is Memorial Day, 2017. It has been a day of mixed emotions for me. Sadness, at all the lives lost in wars. Anger at a nation complacent enough to allow its government to wage perpetual war. Sadness at a populace with far too many citizens ignorant of the meaning of the day. Disgust at the poorly educated college students and graduates who are far too eager to discard the freedom and safety for which more than 1 million Americans gave their lives in favor of socialism. Contempt for a Congress that ignores the clear wishes of the people. All that combined with the desire to choke the living (expletive deleted) out of the company who sent me “Happy Memorial Day” greetings in a sales flier. With that in mind, please understand if I write about something other than Unicorns and puppies today.

I remember my first cousin, Don Minton, drafted into the Marine Corps, and sent to Vietnam as a rifleman. Despite being forced to serve, like most good old Texas boys of the day, he accepted his lot and served well enough to make Corporal in a highly respected fighting force. He was wounded in a fire fight on a hill top, and killed by a napalm strike which saved most of his buddies. This account differs a bit from the official version, but I heard it before the historians sanitized it. This in no way is meant to diminish Don’s courage and love of country, or his sacrifice. I tell it to foster understanding of how I, with 28 years of military service, have come to detest the so-called leaders of our country who are only too willing to send teenagers, fresh out of high school, to their deaths in foreign lands which pose no threat to the safety and security of the United States. Years later, I learned that Lyndon Johnson was deeply involved with Brown and Root, and Halliburton, and made millions from the war.

My most vivid memory of that time, though, were the heart-broken sobs and wails of anguish of his mother, my Aunt Lessie, at his funeral. Her grief marked a turning point in my life, and I withdrew my application for a second tour in Vietnam shortly after the funeral. I couldn’t bear the though of causing such grief to my mother.

Today, however, was not all doom and gloom. My cousin, Kenneth, posted a picture of his father, Judge Murphy Smith, who island hopped the South Pacific with the Marines in WW2. For some reason that triggered a story of my two grand fathers, Henry “Acie” Smith and Benjamin Bridges, men in their 40s when the war broke out. They spent an enjoyable afternoon in a Beaumont bar, and in a fit of alcohol induced patriotism, went together to the recruiting office and volunteered to join up and go kill the enemy. Fortunately, the recruiters were apparently sober and sent them home. Too young for WW1 and too old for WW2, they missed the chance to go to war

Lastly, I pray that someday, there will be no place on Earth where Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, or Marines are dying to enrich the evil bastards who keep the US in perpetual war.

English

I cribbed this from somewhere a few years ago. I no longer remember where it came from.

We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes, but the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese, yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice, yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.
If the plural of man is always called men, why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet, and I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth, why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?
Then one may be that, and there would be those, yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.

We speak of a brother and also of brethren, but though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him, but imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!
Let’s face it – English is a crazy language.

There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
English muffins weren’t invented in England.

We take English for granted, but if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square, and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write, but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham?
Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend?
If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?
If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught?
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

Sometimes I think all the folks who grew up speaking English should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?

We ship by truck but send cargo by ship…
We have noses that run and feet that smell.
We park in a driveway and drive on a parkway.
And how can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?
You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out, and in which an alarm goes off by going on.

And in closing……….
If Father is Pop, how come Mother’s not Mop.???

Sportsman’s Heritage

My Father taught me and my siblings how to hunt and fish at an early age. We knew how to handle a gun by age 10, and I started at 7. Except for maybe one sister, we all learned early on how to put a worm on a hook. We learned to clean fish and skin squirrels. We never wasted our edible kills and catches, and the family diet was often subsidized with fish, squirrels, venison, and waterfowl. After we kids got old enough, my Mother joined in, and earned a formidable reputation as a crack shot. Any legal deer that got within range of her .243 Remington was destined to become table fare. Some years she shot more deer than my Father.

Even today, I would rather have deep fat fried catfish or crappie, caught in Toledo Bend Lake than salmon or trout from the supermarket. I’ll take breaded back strap over a sirloin, and squirrel makes a fine pot of dumplings.

Something happened as I grew older. The kill is no longer a necessary part of hunting, and I can fish happily without catching much. I take great pleasure in walking the woods looking for scrapes. I enjoy filling the feeder and looking at the previous night’s collection of pictures from the game cams. Just sitting in the deer stand watching the world go from gray to color is satisfying, and hearing the forest come to life is fine music. If I get a shot at a legal deer or feral hog, I will take it, but not seeing any game is not a failure. I don’t bother the squirrels which show up from time to time near the trailer.

Last season, my brother in law, James, shot a fine, fat, legal doe which ran a short distance down hill before falling. He walked out to find my brother, Ron, and me to help drag her out of the woods. We dragged her about 30 yards uphill, huffing and puffing all the way, but we made it and got her loaded on the 4-wheeler. That may not seem like much of a big deal, but the youngest member of our crew was 71. I’m thankful that we are still able to do that, and look forward to being able to do so for some time to come. Until I get too old and feeble to do it, look for me in the woods during hunting season.

Perpetual Summer

Having just enjoyed, for the most part, Autumn and Winter in Texas, I am now back in Panama, where Summer never ends. We have two seasons, wet and dry. Dry season is winding down and the rains will soon arrive. Rainy season is not as pleasant as dry season. During the dry, we have breezes most of the time and the temperature rarely rises much above 90F. In fact, the average year round high temp in Panama City is 87F. The highest temp recorded in Panama City for the last 13 years was 102F and the lowest was 68F. The real killer here is humidity. The average humidity in the morning is 91% and 72% in the evening. When July rolls around, we frequently see 90F and 90% humidity and no breeze. Even so, our hottest months can’t hold a candle to July in East Texas. Being close to the equator, our day length is pretty consistent. In December the day is 12 hours long and in July it is 13 hours long, and we don’t mess with it by changing the time twice a year.

There are places to escape the heat, however. Cerro Azul (Blue Mountain) about 20 miles outside of Panama City has lower temperatures, and sometimes drops into the 50s at night. Almost anywhere the altitude is over 500 feet ASL offers a cooler experience, and snow is not unheard of on Volcan Baru above 5,000 feet. I’ve been to the summit, at 11,400 feet and the daytime temp was about 40F. On a clear day you can see both oceans from the top of Baru.

For most of us, though, summer is year round. Thankfully, Autumn is only a 6 month wait and a plane ride away.

The Hookworm Bench

Before political correctness reared its ugly head, there was a hangout on the town square for older men with too much time on their hands. Tall tales were spun, world problems resolved, politicians skewered, and lots of tobacco juice was spat. We called it the Hookworm Bench.

In later years, it became known as the Cedar Tree and lost much of its charm. The domino players, who had previously played near the outside entrance to the rest rooms under the stairs leading to the second floor of the Court House, moved to the Hookworm Bench. The dignity of many of the players, among them more than a few County Office holders, lawyers, and prominent local business men, prompted a name change. Bear in mind, this is speculation on my part, as I was somewhere overseas when the change occurred, but this is my blog and I never promised to tell the truth about everything, or anything, for that matter. The simple fact is that a charming name got replaced by an unimaginative one, and my explanation is as good as any.

Anyway, some of us young boys hung out there occasionally, and were tolerated by the old timers, who probably cranked up their tall tales for our benefit. I don’t recall ever hearing any cussing or profanity from any of the regulars, nor were we youngsters allowed to use bad language. The Hookworm Bench could reasonably be considered a positive community asset.

I’m told that the Domino players still gather, but in my several stays in Sabine County in the last 5 years, I never saw anyone there. I hope it was just coincidence, and would be delighted to see a bunch of players spinning lies, with a crowd of kids listening in, even if we do have to call it the Cedar Tree. To me, it will always be the Hookworm Bench.

Slumgullion

Growing up in Sabine County in the fifties was a wonderful adventure. One of the greatest pleasures was camping out on the banks of the Sabine River, or one of the many creeks which feed it. This was real camping out. No motor homes or travel trailers in those days. Dad’s group had a small Army surplus tent which was sometimes used, but mostly it was an open air bed on an Army surplus cot, if you were lucky. There was a cranky generator which required about a half-dozen 100 watt light bulbs to operate properly. If they used fewer, the bulbs would burn out. At any rate, sleep was secondary. Much of the night was spent “running” the throw lines and bank set hooks. Catfish were the prey, and usually enough were caught to feed the camp and take a bit home. Occasionally, something would destroy one of the sets, and embellish the persistent rumor that giant catfish lived in those waters. More likely, a big Loggerhead Turtle or Gar was the culprit.

One member of the group was a man who had no visible means of support and could usually be found loitering around the Court House. Let’s call him Jethro, mainly because I never knew anyone named Jethro, and I don’t want to embarrass any of his family. Jethro’s contribution to the group was as camp cook, and for the most part, he was competent. On one occasion, the group had been quite successful and decided to have a fish fry at the camp. Jethro prepared a huge mound of cornmeal battered fish and the men gathered round for the feast. My father bit into a piece and was unable to swallow it.

“Jethro”, he exclaimed, “why is this fish so salty? We can’t eat this?” Jethro looked puzzled, picked up the box of salt, and after studying it for a bit, said “Well, Floyd, this ain’t my usual brand of salt.”

A camp culinary mainstay was a dish called Slumgullion. Slumgullion had its origin in the Hobo camps of the thirties, and consisted of whatever the men had, all thrown into a pot and shared. There is no recipe for it, it’s strictly catch as catch can. By the fifties, a basic recipe of sorts had evolved. These men were far more prosperous than the homeless men who rode the rails in the thirties, so a bit of care was taken in selecting ingredients to make the stew. I liked it, not only because it always tasted good, but because it was never the same twice in a row. Today, more that 80 years after its creation in Hobo camps, it survives as Cowboy Soup, and tastes better than ever. In fact, I had a bowl of leftover Slumgullion, with a Latin flavor, for breakfast this morning.

Slumgullion or Cowboy Soup
Basic Recipe

meat (can be ground, or chopped into small pieces)
onion
garlic
salt
pepper
tomatoes (canned or fresh. chopped is best)
4 or more different vegetables, canned or fresh
water

Throw it all in a pot and cook until done.

 

God is not dead.

If you get your news from traditional news sources, you might believe that God is on the run, if not on the ropes. In some places, there might be some truth to it, but in rural America, nothing could be further from reality. This is God’s country, and God’s people. These are the people who made America great, and they will do it again, if government gets out of the way. They give a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. They support their local church, and believe the police are on our side. They are the salt of the earth, generous almost to a fault. God and Family are their driving forces. They say Grace at the table, and aren’t reluctant about saying it in public.

In my rebellious youth I thought I would be an atheist, but learned that I didn’t have enough blind, unquestioning faith to be a nonbeliever. I’m not a regular church goer, but when I attend I am made welcome and leave feeling uplifted.

Sabine County, Texas has more than 30 churches, representing 12 major denominations and a few non denominational. That is one church for every 320 residents. This is not an anomaly. Tiny Geneva has an active Baptist church, and the Methodist Church on the opposite side of the road, though without a pastor or congregation, is lovingly maintained.

Though I grew up going to a Baptist church, my mother was Pentecostal, and would sometimes attend a Pentecostal church near Lufkin, Texas. I thoroughly enjoyed those visits. Pentecostals don’t sit quietly in the pews, listening to the preacher, they join in. They take Jesus very seriously and want the world to know it. When they make a joyful noise, it is wonderfully spiritual, emotional, and loud. They don’t just love Jesus, they embrace and become one with the Holy Ghost and their joy bursts out in a torrent of sound, movement, and euphoria. Sitting quietly, struggling to stay awake, is not an option. Even if the congregation could sit quietly, the preacher would ensure no one nodded off.

My oldest son, Karl, is a Pentecostal minister in the small town of Starks, Louisiana. I spent the last weekend plus Monday and Tuesday of my recent trip to Texas with him and his family. I attended church twice on Sunday, something of a record for me, a backslid Baptist. The church hasn’t changed in the last 60 or so years, and my fond memories were reinforced. The music was tremendous, the visiting preacher was fiery, and the congregation enthusiastic. After the service, people sought me out and welcomed me, in part because I’m the Pastor’s father, but more because they are good folks who want to share their love of God.

So, despite the best efforts of misguided people who want to remove all Christianity from public view, out here in small town and rural America, God is very much alive and well.

 

Race Relations

In the 1950s, race relations in Sabine County were a lot different than today. We had separate water fountains and rest rooms at the County Courthouse. We had different schools for whites and coloreds. Most white kids of my age had very little contact with black people. We were fortunate to have a black lady who came to our home and helped with house work a few days a week. Her name was Irona, and in our house, she was treated with respect. I was quite young, at the time, and she gave me the gift of seeing her as a person. Without her presence in our home, I might not have overcome the almost universal prejudice that existed then until a lot later in life.

My years in the military were enlightening, as I met and became friends with black soldiers. Though we mostly liked different music and different styles, we had the same dreams and aspirations, and I came to understand that the only color in the Army is green. Things didn’t progress as rapidly back home in Sabine County, but gradually, over the years, relations improved. Today, the overt signs are gone, and I believe most folks are accepting of all our citizens of whatever race or color.

I don’t know how much, if any, effect the Democrats’ campaign, led by Barack Obama, to foment racial hatred, has had here, but nation wide, they have done immense harm to race relations in the US.

I have mixed race children, a mixed race grandchild, and my wife of 41 years, is mixed race. I like to believe I have overcome the early prejudice of my boyhood, but I also understand how difficult it can be to overcome. I’m proud of my family and the people of Sabine County for accepting those who are different, even though the differences are unimportant.

Falling out of the Field

In my youth, my father told a story about falling out of the field while plowing. This happened on the upper 32 acres, which we have always called “the Mountain”. For many years, I believed the story an exaggeration, but not any more. I spent a little time up there last winter, and am now convinced that attempting to plow the hillside could easily result in mule and farmer falling out of the field. The area is surrounded by steep hillsides, and if it could be magically stretched out, would likely cover nearly 100 acres. Much of this part of the county is like this and our lower (by about 35 feet) 52 acres is very similar. The Mountain is the highest accessible point in Sabine County. One point on the San Augustine County line is a few feet higher, but no roads go to it.

It took hardy stock to farm this land. Every time I walk it, I am amazed that my grandfather was able to scratch a living out of it, where the most abundant natural feature is lots of red rocks. Where the land is not red dirt, filled with rock, it is sand. The sand at the house place is three feet deep. Somehow, with a mule and lots of guts, the family produced 1 bale of cotton per year at the height of the depression. At $.05 a pound, 600 pounds of cotton brought $30.00 at the Gin. With that, my Grandfather had to provide clothes and shoes for the school year. My father and his siblings had to walk the two and a bit miles on the Sand Road to the schoolhouse in Geneva. Life was hardscrabble here in the 30s, and I’m sure my family story is not unique. I take pride in having family roots here.

The Old Homeplace

My travel trailer is located by the house built by my Grandfather, Acie Smith, in 1946. The house is now uninhabitable, but still standing. How long it will stand is anybody’s guess. For now, it evokes many fond memories of my childhood.

My earliest memory is a painful one. I had a bad case of Shingles, and my back was one huge scab. The house was new, and did not yet have steps at the kitchen door. I got too close to the threshold, slipped and slid down the raw edge on my back, ripping the scab off and taking with it dozens of what we called cores. It left behind holes in my back, and 70 years later, the scar is still visible. After that, I healed quickly, but to this day I am careful about getting too close to the edge of a dropoff.

More pleasant memories are of lying in front of the blazing fireplace and reading the Sears, Roebuck catalog. As the years went by, I progressed from roller skates, to bicycles, to guns, to motorcycles. Somewhere in that progression, I started taking peeks at the women’s underwear pages, but we won’t talk about that.

The kitchen was my favorite place. There were always good smells, and I got my first taste of very sweet coffee with lots of milk there. My Grandmother “Nanny” made the best biscuits I’ve ever tasted, topped with home-churned butter and sprinkled with sugar. My brothers and sisters can attest to the fact that her Coconut Cake was the best ever. It was a vanilla cake with either hickory nuts from the front yard tree, or black walnuts from the back yard. We kids were often tasked with cracking and picking the meat from the very hard shells but never complained because the reward was worth the effort. Sadly for us, the recipe went to Heaven with her, but I’ll bet the angels love it.

The old house should be torn down, but none of us want to do it. We all have wonderful memories, and when I look at if I can still see my Grandmother in her kitchen, mixing her wonderful cake.