Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Brilliant Disaster

The only time I get to listen to NPR is in the car with my better than standard poodle, George on our way to the off-leash dog park, and true to form, it was where I heard that Fidel Castro died. My first reaction was totally irreverent. I was a little surprised that his brother and the other leaders of the dictatorship he established were open enough to announce he was gone. I wouldn't have been surprised if they'd called in a taxidermist and kept the news to themselves for a few more years.

Driving down the same parkway a couple of days later, I heard a discussion of The Brilliant Disaster, JFK, Castro and America's Doomed Invasion of Cuba's Bay of Pigs by Jim Rasenberger.

The author said that the day after the failure of the Bay of Pigs, JFK started the bureaucratic wheels turning to investigate ways to stop the spread of Communism in Vietnam which lead to the US intervention there.

Isn't it interesting how one event in one hemisphere of the world can have a domino effect bringing about another crisis on the other side of the world?

Monday, November 21, 2016

November 22, 1963

Del Valle (pronounced Del Valley) High School was across the highway from Bergstrom Air Force Base on the outskirts of Austin. Half the student body was made up of farm and ranch kids who’d never lived out of the state while the rest were air force brats who’d never lived in the same place longer than a year or so.

It was only later when we would gather as adults for reunions that we came to realize the air force families were headed up by men who’d grown up on farms and ranches outside of Texas and had chosen the military for the steady income not offered at home; to give their children a better life away from agriculture.

On this sunny fall day, President John Kennedy was scheduled to land at Bergstrom in the afternoon, and everyone was going to be there to applaud him. There had been fiercely competitive speeches in the history classes before the mock presidential election which Kennedy handily won. It was emphasized to all of us after the election, that whomever we supported in the campaign, it was our responsibility as citizens to throw our support behind the winner.

Most of our fathers from both groups had seen military service in World War II. Everyone was fiercely patriotic.

The announcement over the intercom that the President had been assassinated in Dallas left us all stunned. Classes continued for the rest of the day, but no pretense was made to follow lesson plans.

Mother met our bus at the gate to our property to walk up the hill with us. She’d been alone when she heard the news and needed consolation as much as we did. It was a Friday. All regularly scheduled television programs were cancelled for the weekend.

She and I spent the next two days sitting on the turquoise Naugahyde sofa in our living room crying in front of the television. Jake Ruby shoot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald live before our very eyes.

Our father was in the cattle business and had recently had a cow slaughtered for our family. As we watched the events of the weekend unfold, we ate T-bone steaks almost tender enough to cut with a fork along with thick slices of onions dipped in pancake batter and deep fried; comfort food.

Three years later, I would be working in the graduate library in the tower at the University when Charles Whitman ambushed students walking across the campus at noon. Medgar Evers and Bobby Kennedy were also killed around this time, and then there was Martin Luther King.

What happened to this country between our parents’ generation and ours? Is it the increased speed in news broadcasting? Or the 24/7 news programs?

Jacqueline Kennedy was a chain smoker but was never photographed smoking. The press respected her privacy. What brought about the loss of this respect?

Perhaps we can work to regain a modicum of this reverence for our country and its representatives by accepting Donald Trump as the President elect whether we supported him in the election and give him the respect the office deserves. It’s a small step in the right direction.

Sunday, November 20, 2016


The Mid-south had its first frost of the winter last night. Although the high temps had been in the low eighties and high seventies the past few weeks, I have gradually been discarding the annuals from my container garden and was down to the herbs and a couple of bushes by last night. The herbs have been moved to the garage where they will winter under a window in a plant stand.
The rosemary, sage, parsley and thyme will be especially handy this week when I start cooking for Thanksgiving. (Isn’t that Art Garfunkel singing in the background?)  Fresh snippets will be stuffed into the hen as it bakes.

When I was growing up in Texas, Mother made cornbread dressing and baked it separate from the turkey rather than stuffing the bird with it.

Her cornbread was baked in a cast iron skillet. The skillet was set in the hot oven with a generous dollop of bacon grease to warm up while she mixed the batter.  As I described in my memoir, Raiders and Horse Thieves, Memoir of a Central Texas Baby Boomer, most housewives living there in that time-frame kept a container on the back of their kitchen range between the last two burners to hold bacon grease for future use as seasoning or greasing the cornbread skillet.
The finished product always had a crisp bottom with an occasional chip of crisp bacon or sausage. The grease also added a faint suggestion of pork to the dressing.

There is one aspect of cornbread from the south or southwest that cannot be overstated. It is not sweet. There were many advantages and new ideas our family enjoyed and happily accepted during our residence in the north east; however, sweet cornbread was not one of them.

It was a tremendous shock to order a cornbread muffin to accompany a bowl of hot vegetable soup on a bitterly cold winter day and bite into a sugary bread when the taste buds were all set for something with a hint of pork.
Of course, this is all a matter of culture; what you grew up with will more than likely determine your preference, but if you like cornbread and move from one part of the country to another, consider yourself warned.

Included below is our family cornbread recipe.

Cornbread from the kitchen of Virginia Lee McDaniel Ellis

Place cast iron skillet in oven and preheat oven to 350°.
Blend together one cup corn meal (yellow produces a prettier finished product), three tablespoons flour, three teaspoons sugar (I only use half this amount), three teaspoons baking powder, and one teaspoon salt.

Beat an egg and add to one cup milk.
Place approximately three tablespoons shortening in hot skillet and let it melt or use about that same amount bacon fat if you’re lucky enough to have it.

Add liquid to dry ingredients and mix lightly until blended and pour in hot skillet.

Bake for about a half hour until edges pull away from the sides of the skillet and it begins to brown.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Latest from Shelby Farms

George, my better than standard poodle, and I have completed our morning walk at the off-leash dog park at Shelby Farms and are resting a bit before tackling our daily tasks. Thanksgiving is bearing down on us with the traditional tasks it entails.

Shelby Farms is a 5,000 acre park on the outskirts of Memphis. I'm not sure how many acres are set aside for the dogs and their owners as well as an occasional horse and rider, but I would guesstimate around 500.

George and I meet the same people and their dogs most every day. We'd been out of town last week and were eager this morning to get back and catch up with all our friends.

We were sorry to hear Jake has hurt his foot and hasn't been to the park in two days. His master suspects he twisted it in a mole hole in the back yard. Jake is a fierce looking Stafforshire mix with the loving personality of a daisy picking child until you try to pull the tennis ball from his mouth which is as strong as a steele trap.

Lalah is still suffering with arthritis and spent most of the morning resting in the back seat of the truck while her master walked Ruby. Their master hesitated about bringing Lalah but she begged so he gave in and took her for a short walk.

We didn't walk very far this morning. I had a great visit with Lalah and Ruby's master while George answered Nature's call. When I headed on out to farther pastures, George stood at the top of the hill and patiently waited for me to notice he wasn't following. He wanted to go home.

With more than half our population in major unrest, it was good to be back outside in the fresh air and sunshine and enjoy the small things in our daily life that bring quiet joy. I resolve to spend this day preparing for a family holiday and to exercise. I'm going to do the best I can for my immediate family and community and have faith in our political system.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Fall Back

Two weeks ago, give or take a day or so, we observed Day Light Savings Time by moving our clocks back an hour on Saturday night. What followed is traditionally the longest Sunday of the year. The day seems to drag on forever.

I left the mid-south for north central New Jersey the following Wednesday. The north east is an hour ahead of us which required that I turn my watch back an hour resulting in the longest days I've ever lived. I don't have any trouble keeping up with the day of the week, but the days do seem to drag on forever.

Dear Worthless Bastard

A high school friend of my husband's swears he's on some national watch list (and is pretty proud of it) for writing the President and members of Congress with the opening salutation, "Dear Worthless Bastard." Considering our quirky population, that's probably pretty tame but it does insure that whatever message he has to share will not be heard. The person opening the mail will take one glance at the opening and the letter will be discarded.

It isn't acceptable to start with the opening query, "Have you lost your mind?" It isn't respectful and puts the reader on the defensive when what you're trying to do is influence the reader, change their mind.

The next four years under the incoming President are going to be a challenge for everyone. It's an opportunity for the private citizen to step up and participate. Write letters or place phone calls or use any of the new fangled computer-related communication systems to the President and your Congressmen. Speak up. Be heard. And don't forget to be polite about it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Morning After the Night Before

Tuesday is one of my favorite days of the week because I spend the morning in a short story discussion group with some of my favorite women. This particular Tuesday was the day after Halloween. One of our group needed a lift home after our discussion. As I backed out of her drive, a young woman walked passed her house. Her face was decorated like a cat's, but the makeup was smudged. She was barefoot and dressed in a rumpled slinky top and skirt that could have been construed as a cat costume.

From all appearances, she’d spent the night away from home unexpectedly and was on the way back to her place for a bath and a change of clothes and some aspirin; not necessarily in that order.

I hope she had as great a time as I imagined.