Monday, November 24, 2008

Followup story...

I love it that people read my blog. I love it even more that my family and friends come read it and sometimes even come back. My aunt sent me an e-mail recently to correct some of the details of my Memorial Day post. While she was at it, she shared another story about my grandfather and his service in Vietnam and how that unexpectedly tied into her life several years later. With her blessings, here is her story:

Papa was in the Naval Reserve as a Seabee (they were called that but it was a play on CB which stood for Construction Battalion) and he served in Viet Nam, not Korea. He was too young to fight in Korea, but he was not too young to join the Naval Reserve! None the less, he was so proud of this country, and was glad to serve when his Naval Reserve unit (the Lone Star Battalion) was called up as a result of President Lyndon Johnson deciding to escalate the Viet Nam War. Congress said fine, but if you are going to start calling up Reserve units, the first one to go will be from your area. Thus, the Lone Star Battalion was the first Reserve Unit to go to Viet Nam. Papa was 41 at the time, and anyone over 35 was given an automatic dispensation if they did not want to go. Papa, and all of the other men who were in the Reserve Unit with him, said no, they would go because that is what they had trained for and received pay for for the last 20 or more years. The oldest man in their unit was in his late fifties - he went and was their postman. Ironically, when Uncle David [my aunt's husband] went to work at FESCO in 1975, they had a big anniversary celebration because FESCO had been in existence for 25 years. Papa and Grannie came to see us that weekend, and got there during the FESCO celebration. All of a sudden someone yelled "Chief Dahlstrom". His name was Jim Denim and he had been 19 when he was sent to Viet Nam. He came up and saluted Papa. He had served with Papa - and told me stories that I could believe so well because I knew what a good and kind man Papa was. He said that when they had all been over there, so scared and lonely, that Papa pretty well adopted them all and took care of all the young men. He said that Papa would read his mail from home out loud to all of them, and tell him about his family that he loved so very much. Jim Denim said that Papa had made a very hard time bearable for lots of men over there. He loved Papa and after that always asked me how he was. Jim was a welder for the Alice office, so after we moved to Victoria, I did not see him very often. However, when Papa died, it was in the FESCO newsletter, and Jim sent me a really sweet and kind sympathy card.
Papa lived the motto "Be kind to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise"

With much love and fond remembrance, I salute my Papa, too.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Happy Birthday, Rose!

Last night, I cooked dinner for so many people that the last person in the door had to eat with a plastic fork. It made me so happy to have such a crowd gathered around my table(s) that I nearly popped. Rose made herself a mixed berry cobbler for her birthday, and I tried to make vanilla ice cream to go with it, but the ice cream machine simply would not work. Somewhere between summer and fall the magic smoke escaped from it, and it would turn no more. We contemplated various manual ice-cream-cranking schemes and even sent purchasing agents to look at nearby hardware and department stores, but alas there are no ice cream makers to be found in November. So Rose's birthday dessert was an awesome Mixed Berry Pandowdy with Slushy Vanilla Cream topping.

Everybody enjoyed dinner, and I got an excellent compliment on my Mexican Rice. Pace Picante Sauce cookbook for the win! Also, bacon grease makes everything taste good. Except maybe ice cream, but I followed my grandma's recipe for the ice cream and that leans heavily on Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk. If bacon grease won't make it taste good, Eagle Brand will. That's going to be my new kitchen version of the old handyman's adage: you only need two tools - Duct Tape and WD-40. If it moves and it shouldn't, use the tape. If it doesn't move and it should, use the WD-40. I might have to find a way to fit butter in there with bacon grease and Eagle Brand, because butter certainly makes everything taste good, too. I already have a saying for butter, though: All my favorite recipes start the same way - Melt a stick of butter and pour two ounces of wine in the cook.

We spent the bulk of the evening laughing, telling lies, and playing dominoes and Cranium. The Cranium game was very close and if Cranium allowed for ties, we probably would've declared the game a tie. The dominoes game was called early on account of increasing levels of violence. That's what you get for trying to teach rugby players a non-contact sport.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lest We Forget

I'm a part-time writer. I'm not really a "content creator" as they are called in these internet multi-media-rich days. One of my all-time favorite songs, however, is Loreena McKennit's tune Dante's Prayer. And I found where a content creator over on YouTube had made that song into a tribute to fallen soldiers from Iraq.

My grandfather returned safe and sound from Vietnam. He had joined the Naval Reserve to help make ends meet for his large family, and he ended up serving as a SeaBee. I used to call him every veteran's day and thank him for doing that. He passed away a few years ago, so now I spend this day remembering him.

I am a pacifist through and through. I think there is always a better way than war to fix diplomatic problems. But until the rest of the world agrees with me, there will be a need for a defensive military, if nothing else. This is where my practicality and my ideals collide. I would love to see military engines dismantled world-wide. But until that happens, I recognize the need for defense and I honor the people who answer the call to serve. I respectfully and patriotically think that the wars we're fighting now are a crock of shit. But I also respect the patriotism of the people who are over there doing the job they signed up to do and I hope they do it well and with dignity.

So, for all soldiers of all countries everywhere, gay, straight, bisexual, Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Hindu, Jewish, or otherwise - I pray you do your job well and with dignity, and that you come home to the respect and love of your family. We remember.

Edit: Corrected the location of the war and branch in which my grandfather served. I originally said Korea and National Guard.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Crack in the armor

It is 4:12 AM. I am grumpy, and snarky, and quite clearly not asleep. And I have a headache. So... *pout* It could be worse, but it's enough to make me feel pitiful. However, my ill fortune is your gain, because it means I'm going to summon a happy memory to re-center my psyche and hopefully get pointed back toward sleep. And I'm writing it all down, which is where you come in, dear reader.

I had, pretty much, an ideal childhood. I've become aware since then that my folks were struggling with their demons, and hey, who isn't? But at the time I was Blissfully Unaware. In those days, the oilfield was flush with money and my folks were doing alright; we were really blessed. We had a little piece of land out on the edge of town, and a couple of horses, and a black lab. That's right: I had a pony AND a puppy. I pretty much hit the childhood lottery jackpot.

My dad worked for this guy named George, and George was a stubborn jackass with a hot temper but also a charming way with people. And money, so if he couldn't charm you or out-stubborn you, he'd just buy you. George had, at some point, "gotten into" horse racing and bought himself a very promising racehorse who turned out to be a stubborn jackass with a hot temper. He wasn't fast enough to win races, but he was fast enough to be a good pace horse. Except that Midnight Dancer, George's horse, would pick fights with the horses he was training with while they were training. That made him a very unpopular pacer, so he got retired. Midnight Dancer got bounced around a bit because he was too expensive to shoot and too obnoxious to have as a pet and too stubborn to ride. Eventually, George noticed that my affable father was married to a stubborn woman who happened to be "into horses." (Come on, you didn't think I was going to call my own mother a stubborn jackass, did you? For the record, she stops shy of jackassery, but she's the primary source of my stubborn streak and Rose says I do NOT stop shy.) And that's how Midnight Dancer came to live on our little piece of land.

Racehorses, like show dogs, often have their pedigreed name and then their "real" name. You know what I'm talking about, right? Your neighbor calls her dog Ralphie but when they go in the AKC show Ralphie-poo is introduced as Dame Nellie's Revelry or some such pretentious nonsense. It turned out that everyone who had ever had to deal with both horse and owner had come to one unmistakable conclusion about Midnight Dancer: his real name was George.

We used to go out in the evenings after school and feed the horses pretty regularly. They can get by on grass, but especially in bad weather you have to supplement that with something. Ours got a bit of oats some days and a bit of "sweet feed" on others. Sweet feed is a mix of grains and vitamins and salt with a little bit of molasses tossed in to hold it all together. Everybody, kids and dogs included, loved sweet feed. It's basically crack for horses.

My dog had been one of those frou-frou AKC-caliber puppies, before she was born. She was probably destined for two names and papers and retriever trials. There were ten in the litter and the mom was a national champion retriever. But the whole litter got sick and five of them died and the one we got was the runt. Amazingly, or maybe not so amazing considering my mom's nurturing skills, that sick little runt puppy with all her hair near burned off by a fever grew up to be a whip-smart retriever/guard dog/pet/babysitter/horse herder. We named her, with all the originality that children can muster after watching "Lady and the Tramp" 8000 times, Lady. To our credit, our pony was named "White Star Pixie Dust" but you can clearly see Walt Disney's stamp on that one, too.

So Lady went with us out to our little piece of land on the edge of town and chased rabbits through the tall grass and brought me sticks and pestered the horses. And she LOVED sweet feed. She'd just stick her head right into a feed bucket with any of the horses and nosh. Any of the horses except for George, anyway. George was NOT on friendly terms with Lady and if she ever forgot herself and tried to put her nose in his bucket, he would lay his ears back against his neck and snort and bare his teeth. If that wasn't enough, he'd stomp or charge a few steps toward her in defense of his food.

One day, my mom was working out one of her demons by giving George one helluva training workout. By the time they were done, they were both dripping sweat and exhausted. I don't remember this too particularly, but I expect I'd been down at the stock tank with Lady while mom was doing that. My dad had built this great arena out there out of spare oilfield drill pipe and a borrowed welding rig. So mom turned George out into the arena to let him cool off but keep him nearby and contained while she cleaned up. George had found some deep soft sand as far from my mother as he could get and was just rolling onto his back to scratch and dry himself when Lady and I walked up on the scene. I swear, I have never before or since seen a little black dog look more like a wild tawny lion than at that moment. Lady dropped into a low crouch and stalked up on George's tail like the hunting dog she was meant to be. She leaped up between his hind legs, landed full on his sweaty ribcage and went junkyard-style barking right up in his soft underbelly for about 10 seconds. Then she leaped between George's front legs, over his head, and dashed out of the arena to safety on the far side of the pasture.

George was righteously pissed off and a little embarrassed, of course, by the whole thing and probably spent 20 minutes running back and forth along the arena fence snorting and fuming. She still never did get any of his sweet feed after that, but I don't think it bothered her so much.