Holiday Letters: Bah Humbug…

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Just once I’d like to see a real holiday letter.

Season’s Greetings from (…ohhhhhh, let’s say…) the Simpson’s!

Good god, has it really been a year since I wrote last year’s pack of lies?  If you are reading this, consider yourself lucky.  The mutt ate most of the address book because the economy is so bad and groceries are so expensive we stopped buying dog food, except for grandpa.

2013 really sucked big gnarly ones.  Nobody did anything.  Nobody achieved anything.  Nobody was awarded any medals for anything.  I didn’t get a raise.  My job still sucks.  The people I work with still suck.  I still suck.  That’s why I’m still stuck in this dead-end job ‘till I die of a heart attack.

Lisa is still playing her saxophone.  God help us, she’ll keep playing the blues and probably marry some loser drummer and have to live with us while her sorry husband searches for that pot of grunge drummer gold.   At least she’s not pregnant, yet.

The baby is still sucking on that nunu.   Her teeth will be messed up but it does keep her quiet.

Bart managed to stay out of jail this year and, to date, as far as we know, has not sired any offspring.

Marge is still my blue haired old lady.  I can’t believe we’ve stayed married all these years.  We have managed to work ourselves into subsistence, requiring a minimal amount of communication and sex only on a seasonal basis… whether we need it or not.

But truth be told, I am thankful for Baby Jesus and the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  You see, even though it was used as a medical ointment and burial spice, myrrh was also used in early recipes for mead.  And from mead we got…beeeer, mmmmm.  For that I am truly thankful!

DOH!  Happy Holidays!

Musings from the Darkroom: Dog Days

The whippoorwill singing atop the live oak by the lake can barely be heard above the katydids, the rumbling of offshore storms and the hum of the mosquito magnet working overtime in the backyard’s windward corner.  The slow, yellow-green blinking of lightenin’ bugs seems abruptly switched on and the white flashes of the approaching storms fill the impending darkness as the retreating sun de-saturates dusk’s canvas.  Even at this time of the evening the temperature remains oppressive while the seasonal sou’westerly trade winds keep the humidity palpable.  Streams merge with tributaries that form rivers of sweat flowing south across our nearly naked bodies as we bask in the sauna that is August in Florida.  We are deep in the dog days of summer.  And, making it official, there in his normal evening perch in the foxtail palm sits the mockingbird, songless.  Relentless they are, these dog days of summer.  It seems they will never end.

Mockingbirds sit out this harshest part of the summer.  But no, we aren’t so smart.  We continue suffering our daily activities, wondering how anything might have ever been done in the deep south with clothes on and without air-conditioning…or a blender and ice.  Blended, frozen libations in overpriced insulated plastic tumblers and the occasional dip in the pool are the sum of our attempts at mediating the endless onslaught of dog days.  It’s a difficult battle, but one we are willing to wage.  One made easier by the knowledge that heat and humidity do not require a shovel.  I’ll let y’all know when the mockingbird starts singing again.

Musings from the Darkroom: Does this thing shoot far?

My most favorite example of geographical dialect confusion comes from Chilton County, Alabama.  A co-worker of mine in Birmingham who lived south of the city on a large farm in rural Chilton County was birthday present shopping for her little brother at the local Walmart in the county seat, Clanton.  In the toy section, she closely examined all the various models of super soaker water guns with which a young boy could ever hope to terrorize his sisters.  Pumping the action of the magnum version, she asked the woman working toys, “does this thing shoot far?”  To which the astonished employee responded, “Oh NO MA’AM, it just shoots WATER!”

Papa Allen and the Oysters

Known to most as Coach Allen, Papa Allen or Papa Lou to the fortunate that knew him outside school and church, and his wife, Trice, were close family friends. I was too young to have had him as an instructor. By the time I matriculated through the public school system, he was finishing his educational career at the local private school. My memories of Papa Allen center around both the church and the kitchen table in our home on Strawberry Street.

Attending First Methodist, we usually sat several rows back on the left hand side right behind Mr. and Mrs. Allen. When called upon, he always spoke the most amazing prayers. They were beautifully ornate without being pretentious. I always felt that surely the Lord couldn’t help but answer prayers so thoughtfully composed and elegantly delivered. I know now that the Lord cares only that the words come from our hearts, but his words seemed to always come from a humble heart and thoughtful mind, a rare combination even within church walls.

If I didn’t know better, given the amount of time he spent in our home one might think something untoward had gone on between my mother and Papa Lou. If, indeed, he indulged any unhealthy appetites on North Strawberry Street, it all happened in mother’s kitchen. Like most southern kitchens ours was the center of activity, always with something baked sitting on the counter and a fresh pot of coffee on. Whenever he made a run into town from his home out Range Line Road, he always found an excuse to stop in for a visit.

Like all of our friends, he would let himself in the back door, heading straight to the kitchen looking for the day’s treat and some good company. You see, Papa Allen was a diabetic, but he knew mother would let him cheat on his diet, or so he thought. Unbeknownst to him, mother and Mrs. Trice had been in cahoots for years. She always called mom to let her know how his blood sugar was that day so, if necessary, she could hide the sweets.

Whether it was over a piece of caramel cake or cheese and crackers, Papa Allen spent plenty of time in his chair at the south end of our kitchen table drinking black coffee sweetened with saccharin from a bottle he always had in the pocket of his sport coat and participating in one of the other great southern activities, storytelling. The number or length of those stories seemed directly correlated to his appetite, “June, cut me off another smidge of that pie, just enough to finish off my coffee.” And then another tale would start, sometimes tall and other times taller, it seemed in some way reimbursement for the hospitality. Praying or storytelling, he was a master southern linguist with impeccable timing and always captivating content. The oyster story is classic Papa Allen from his youth.

Oysters Come to Marengo County

On a family trip to Mobile father had eaten oysters for the first time, had thoroughly enjoyed them and was determined to have them again. This was difficult in a time when few country folk owned automobiles.  Living a good day’s train ride up from the coast and long before refrigerated shipping, father’s prospects for fresh oyster stew seemed slim.  But father was persistent and finally managed to locate a seafood house that arranged to have a barrel shipped upstate on the train. One day word came that the oysters were finally arriving. Father ordered him and Brother Bill to hitch up the wagon; they were going to the train station to retrieve their Mobile Bay delicacies.

The oysters arrived intact and still cool, having been packed in alternating layers of ice and moss. Once back at home they unpacked the barrel and took the oysters into the kitchen where mother proceeded to demonstrate to their cook, Miss Margaret, how to use the short dull knives they had picked up in Mobile to shuck the oysters. Placing the insides in a clean bowl and leaving Miss Margaret to her duties, mother went on about hers.

After an hour or so, mother came back to check on Miss Margaret’s shucking progress and found her over the sink scrubbing the mud and moss off the last of the oyster shells, placing them with the others that had been cleaned, dried, polished and lined up on the countertop alongside the empty oyster bowl. When asked how things were going, a bewildered Miss Margaret replied, “Missy, I dun’ cleaned ‘dem oysters and th’owed da’ guts to da’ hogs, but fo’ God, I don’t see how you gon’ cook ‘em tender.”