Jerry Pierce

Packing Lunches

I thought packing lunches for school and work went out of vogue a long time ago.  Come to think of it, the term “went out of vogue” has probably gone out of vogue. For younger folks, that refers to something that was popular or a big craze or custom at one time that has sort of faded away. Everybody took lunches to school when I was growing up, and my dad and all the other men who worked at the paper mill carried food to work in brown paper bags. Those sack lunches were not always for lunch.  Mill people worked shifts from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m., 3 to 11 or the shift they called “graveyard” from 11 at night to 7 in the morning.  So the bags of food from home were consumed at various hours. I thought about all this when I read in a national publication that taking lunch to work has become “chic.”  Then it came to mind again when I had to fix the first school lunch  I’ve made in years.  It was for our granddaughter Allie, a second-grader. Allie left her lunchbox in my car after school one day, and I decided it would be easier for me to make Allie’s lunch and drop it off to her at school than to get the lunchbox back to her mother. There are some days when Allie likes the menu at the school lunchroom and others when she carries her lunch.  The day she left her lunchbox, she wanted to take her own food. When I started making her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Regina said she had other preferences for lunch like those pre-packed “snackable” things with salami, beef jerky, sunflower seeds,   melba toast and other stuff. Sometimes, she takes a so-called protein pack with rolled-up slices of ham, turkey and cheese.  We didn’t have  any of those fancy products, but there was some deli ham and cheese in the fridge. I packed her a plain ham and cheese sandwich, an apple,  cookies and one of the Mounds candy bars we both like.  I stopped by the store on the way to school to get her some chips. We had some Fritos, but Allie likes chips with all those strange flavors like nacho cheese, barbecue, sour cream and chili.  She won’t eat chips that don’t turn her teeth orange. Allie reported that she ate most of the food I packed during lunch and then finished off the chips and candy bar on the bus ride home. The lunch I fixed for Allie seemed kind of bland compared to  the “chic” meals they talked about in that newspaper story. That writer who said taking lunch to work is gaining popularity said her meal that day included pasta with herbs, mozzarella cheese, olives and cold roasted carrots sprinkled with pumpkin seeds and chili flakes. She said some of her co-workers brought things like cold Spanish omelet or mixed meze and flatbreads.  She even mentioned beetroot risotto. When I was in school, my mother usually made me peanut butter and mayhaw jelly sandwiches.  Some days I got cold bologna and mayonnaise on white bread.  I liked that but not as much as the sandwiches at home when she fried the bologna in a skillet. I was always a little disappointed when I opened my brown bag and found Vienna sausage or potted meat sandwiches but I was hungry enough by lunch time to eat them. Older guys laughed about my mother cutting the crust off my sandwiches and sending tomato soup in thermos cups and little cans of fruit cocktail with some lunches, but I never told her. She packed leftover fried chicken, meatloaf and pork chops for my dad when we had it and things like fried Spam sandwiches or sardines and crackers  other times. Those sack lunches were good when we were hungry, but I was glad when they finally opened a lunchroom at our school. They had great things like fish sticks, Spanish rice, Salisbury steak, milk in glass bottles and ice cream in tiny cups.  I thought the days of brown bag school lunches from home were over. Allie will be glad to hear that taking lunch to school and work is back in vogue.  But she won’t be excited to learn that the new lunches include things like cold roasted carrots with pumpkin seeds and chili flakes.

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Instant Pot

Regina has been busy modernizing and upgrading the cooking devices at our house. I have enjoyed cooking for years, but culinary advancements are about to leave me behind.

She even replaced our plain old dependable coffee maker with a new high-tech model.  It has two pitchers, and the water is poured into one of them to be filtered before it goes into the coffee maker.

It takes up a big space on the cabinet, but the filtered water is supposed to make the coffee better.  The water from one container spurts upward like a geyser into a filter before flowing into the coffee-brewing portion of the machine.

When our young granddaughters were staying at the house recently, they wanted to wake up early so they could watch the coffee thing work.  They were fascinated that the water spewed up in one pot and flowed down in the other.

Regina also ordered some of that Le Creuset cookware for making soups, jambalaya and things like that.  These pots are made of cast iron and covered with ceramic, and it takes two people to lift them from the cabinet to the stove.

I wouldn’t let the kids come in the kitchen when we were hoisting them onto the cooktop, because they could have had some bones crushed if we had dropped them.

On days when we cook in those pots, I don’t feel the need to go to the gym for a workout.

Another new item in our kitchen inventory is something called a Sous Vide.  Immersed in a pot of water, the gadget will circulate it and control the temperature.  That supposedly allows you to cook things to perfection in a plastic bag inserted into the heated water.

A cell phone app lets you operate the Sous Vide by remote control from wherever you happen to be.  You can start supper while taking the kids to dance lessons or getting a haircut.

We also succumbed during the holidays to all the hype about Instant Pots and got one of those strange machines.   We should have it figured out enough by next Christmas to cook in it.

The instructions for the Instant Pot are just a few pages longer than the operating manual for a Boeing 747.

Basically, the Instant Pot is an all-purpose appliance that has the capabilities to do searing, sautéing, pressure cooking, slow cooking and just about any other kind of food preparation imaginable.

Cooking was not just a necessity but also a source of great enjoyment for my mother, but she could never have adapted to things like the Instant Pot and the Sous Vide.

The black party-line phone mounted on her kitchen wall was not designed to turn on the Sous Vide while my mother was playing bridge across town, and the Instant Pot would have confused her.

Promotional materials that come with the Instant Pot refer to it as a multi-functional multi-cooker.  My mother had one of those her whole adult life that she called a black iron skillet.  It was handed down to her by her mother.

She had the pressure cooker part of an Instant Pot like most of the other ladies did in our neighborhood.  They got them out every spring to cook down the berries for mayhaw jelly.

Then the cookers were used for canning in the summer when they filled Mason jars with tomatoes, beans, peas and other things from their backyard gardens.

But the skillet did all those other things the Instant Pot does and more.  She seared pork chops in it, sautéed onions and squash and used it to fix pancakes or bacon and egg breakfasts every morning for years.

She filled the skillet with lard to fry chicken on the bone that she cut up herself and cooked white perch whole in it over open fires on creekbanks along Dorcheat and Bodcau Bayous.

Sometimes she would melt butter in the skillet, add brown sugar, eggs, flour and other things and put it in the oven to make one of her beautiful pineapple upside down cakes.

Just to keep up with the times, I plan to make some red beans and rice or chicken and spaghetti in the miraculous Instant Pot, which I think takes about four minutes.

But for serious cooking, I will keep using the black iron skillet that my grandmother handed down to my mother and that she left for us.

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Old Classmates

Mike Haynes, a high school classmate who had a long career in movies and television, called a while back to chat.  He lives in Washington state, and we had not talked in months.

While we were catching up, my phone beeped with a call from Panama City, Fla.  It was Thomas Byrd. He graduated with us in 1957, and it was the first time I had heard from him since then.

That coincidence of being contacted by two boyhood friends from opposite ends of the country within a few minutes generated a lot of reminiscing.

Haynes gained national attention as the Winchester Man for his billboards and media commercials promoting those little cigars.  That led to a career in films and television.

He became a movie and TV stunt man and was elected president of the International Stunt Association.  He worked with stars like Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Orson Welles and Tom Hanks.

I did a column on him a couple of years ago. This time, though, we just talked about growing up in Springhill.  Mike said the town in the 1950s was like a Norman Rockwell painting.

He kicked the extra point on a stormy Thanksgiving to give Springhill a 7-6 win over arch-rival Minden and says more friends  from back home talk to him  about that than his Hollywood days.

Mike and I have talked often about going to rodeos growing up, fishing in the mill ponds, playing snooker at the pool hall on Main Street, cherry phosphate sodas at Tennyson’s Drug Store and sock hops at the recreation center.

This time, one of us remembered our Boy Scout meetings. We would go to Camp Yatasi on Caney Lake an hour or so away for summer retreats.  There was camping, swimming, archery, canoeing and other activities on those overnight adventures.

Both Mike and I still have vivid memories of leaving meetings at our “scout hut” in Springhill and meandering through the woods to a hobo camp near the railroad tracks.

We hid behind trees and watched men heat beans in cans over open fires, wash clothes in a little stream and hang them on tree limbs and bushes to dry.

Some of them jumped on boxcars and disappeared inside them as trains were just starting to pick up speed from the nearby depot.

All of this was fascinating and exciting to us, probably because our parents had told us so many times not to go near the hobo village.

Thomas Byrd had read one of my columns in the Springhill Press and called there to get my number.  He still subscribes to the paper even after being away for six decades.

His home was destroyed last year by Hurricane Michael, but he should be back in it soon.  If there is a silver lining to that tragedy, it is that his temporary housing is right on the beach.

We have a lot in common.  Both of our dads had worked at the paper mill in Bastrop but moved to jobs at the new mill in Springhill. Mike was not a mill kid.  His dad owned businesses  in town.

Thomas and I were born just days apart.  We were both delivered in our homes on Second Street in Pinehill, the mill village under the shadows and smoke of the paper-making plant.  Dr. Rupert Butler delivered us.

The Byrd family was doing pretty well in those tight financial times, because both Thomas’s mother and dad worked at the mill.

They moved when he was little to a bigger house uptown in Springhill across from the school.  My folks and I later upgraded from our two bedroom house on Second Street to a three bedroom house on Third Street.

Thomas was tall and wiry, and Coach Buddy Bonnette recruited him for the basketball team.  He was good and made All-State.  It was Coach Bonnette who hired me to work summers at the swimming pool.

The Cuban Missile Crisis exploded when Thomas and I were starting our careers.  We both expected to be drafted.  He was called up, and the draft board never contacted me.   Thomas is retired after 46 years in the paper mill industry.

Those conversations with Mike and Thomas made me realize that boyhood bonds and the connections between classmates are strong and last through time even without much communication.

Visiting on the phone that day brought back memories of all those images Norman Rockwell could have painted.

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Paying Cash

A growing number of businesses across the country are refusing to accept cash for goods and services.  That will create problems for me and our four-year-old granddaughter Charlee Ann.

There are new reports every day about restaurants, hair salons, bookstores and other places not taking real money.  Businesses like Starbucks and Amazon Books have stores that won’t accept cash.

Charlee Ann came into a good bit of money during the holidays when she played a game called Left, Right, Center with a bunch of her kinfolks.

There were 22 aunts, uncles, cousins, grandkids and other relatives gathered around a long table for the competition.  Each one put up three dollars to participate.

Players roll three dice that have the letters L, R or C or a big dot on them.  If an L or R comes up, players pass dollars to the person on their left or right.

For every C that is rolled, participants must put that many of their dollars into the pot at the center of the table. Players can keep a dollar for every dot that turns up.

Eventually, all the money ends up in the center, and the last player still holding a dollar wins the pot.  It’s a pretty simple game that even little kids like Charlee Ann can understand and play.

Charlee Ann won the $66 pot at the Christmas family gathering.  I think she put some of it aside for federal taxes, and we are hoping  the whole family won’t be charged with illegal gambling.

Nobody made any profit from the game except Charlee Ann, and nearly all the players were good Baptists, including some deacons.  They would certainly not knowingly participate in illicit gambling.

Charlee Ann put her 66 one-dollar bills in a Ziploc bag and then placed the container of money in the little discount Vera Bradley handbag she got for Christmas.

As hard as Charlee Ann has been trying to spend and distribute the money, she still had every dollar of it the last time we checked.  She must be going to a lot of places that won’t accept cash.

We were at church a couple of days after her financial windfall.  When they started taking up the offering, Charlee Ann got the wad of cash out of her handbag and tried to pass it out to family and friends around her to put in the collection plate.

Nobody would take the hard-earned money from a four-year-old girl.  In fact, we gave her some more dollar bills for the collection plate.  We think some of those went into the plate and others ended up in the Ziploc bag.

I took all four of the granddaughters to get ice cream not long ago.  The ticket was sort of steep since all five of us had double scoops of hand-dipped Blue Bell, and Charlee got out her Ziploc bag of cash to help pay the bill.

My conscience wouldn’t let me take money from the youngest grandchild in the bunch to help fund our ice cream outing,  so Charlee still has all her winnings.

When Regina and I got married 17 years ago, it bothered her that I paid for meals, tennis shoes, laundry and nearly everything else with cash.  It’s something I had done all my life.

She decided I needed a bank debit card and did all the paperwork to get me one.  All she asked was that I keep receipts and a detailed accounting of all my expenditures from the joint account.

When the first statement on my new debit card came in, there were charges for a tennis racket, running shoes, sport coat, ties and

other things for which I had forgotten to provide receipts to Regina.

She confiscated the card and told me I could resume my long-time practice of paying for things with cash.

Now there is apparently this nationwide movement to curtail the use of real money at businesses, because some companies feel it is more efficient and cuts down on theft and other crimes.

That will be a burden for people like me who try to avoid the web of technology and red tape involved in getting credit cards, keeping them paid, renewing them and all that.

This new reluctance in the world of commerce to deal with cash money will also make it more difficult for Charlee Ann to spend the dollar bills she won gambling and can’t seem to get anybody to take.

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Being Alone

When our daughter Natalie requested that I be put on the prayer list at her church not long ago, some of her friends wanted to know if I had health problems.

Natalie assured them that my health was fine.  She explained that Regina was going to Mexico for a few days to deliver Operation Christmas Child boxes and that I don’t do well by myself.

I think Natalie later got her mother and other church folks making the mission trip to Mexico on the prayer list, and she’s right that I need all the prayers I can get when I’m left alone.

It would be easy to blame my problem on new technology.  I leave television sets on all over the house when Regina’s gone, because I have not figured out how to work all those remotes.

If the electricity goes off or just stalls for a few seconds, all the clocks, timers and other electronic devices that start blinking are still flashing when she gets home.

Being alone has bothered me all my life.  My brother still reminds me of all those times he had to sit in the bathroom with me while I was bathing because I didn’t want to be by myself.

He says I always told him there was something important we needed to talk about.  Then we would discuss the western movies we saw that weekend and how the Yankees were doing.

My sons made a lot of trips with me to stores and other places when they were growing up because I talked them into going.  They soon discovered that I just needed somebody to talk to.

Now my grandchildren have figured that out, and it’s getting harder to convince them to hang out with me.

If there is any consolation in this distress about being alone, it is that there are apparently a lot of other people in the same boat.

Jack Clayton, the head football coach at Northwestern when I was a student trainer, would do anything to get some of us to go with him on scouting and recruiting trips.

I went on many of those expeditions to high schools across Louisiana and Texas, and he always delivered on his promise to get us hamburgers and milkshakes on the way back home.

He also agreed to help us with homework if we would keep him company on the road.  That was beneficial to me because he was good at math and I didn’t understand the first thing about it.

Coach Clayton said he had worked earlier in his career for the legendary coach Ed Diddle at Western Kentucky and that Diddle had an even harder time being by himself than Clayton did.

Clayton said Mr. Diddle, as he called him, asked him to come to his office one morning to discuss an urgent issue.

After watching the old coach shuffle papers and go through files and folders for a half-hour, Clayton said, “Mr. Diddle, what is it you wanted to talk about?”

Diddle said, “Dammit, Jack, if you can’t think of anything to talk about, just get your butt out of here.”

I also had a great uncle who hated being alone.  When he retired as a railroad conductor, he missed people he worked with over the years.  So he turned his big home into a boarding house and was surrounded for the rest of his life by passenger train folks.

Those of us who don’t like to be alone get teased about it,  but all kinds of research is showing now that loneliness can be detrimental to our physical and mental health.

One study concluded that being lonely is as much a factor in early mortality as smoking nearly a pack of cigarettes a day or the daily consumption of more than six alcoholic beverages.

I sent information on that research to my brother hoping that it might generate some feelings of guilt about his resentment of sitting with me in the bathroom when I needed companionship.

The findings in these scientific studies of being alone should also provide some justification for Natalie putting me on her church’s prayer list for staying by myself while Regina is on a mission trip.

I’m just not sure she should have put me on the list ahead of folks who are traveling to another country for such a good cause.

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Hymns and Rook

My sister-in-law Pat Bruce plays great old hymns on the upright piano in her living room when we have family gatherings, and it lifts my spirits and takes me back to the little church where I grew up.

Four of Regina’s seven siblings live in this area, and we get together with them and their spouses a few times a year to play fiercely competitive Rook games, laugh a lot, catch up on family news and enjoy some good food.

When Don and Pat host the activities, we get the additional treat of Pat playing some of our favorite hymns on the piano.  We have all been church-going folks since childhood, and that sacred music has seeped into our souls.

Sometimes I send special requests for hymns a few days before the gatherings.  A few weeks ago, I texted asking for At the Cross, Blessed Assurance and In the Garden, and she played them all.

Pat found the songs in the green Baptist Hymnals and the stacks of sheet music that she keeps in the compartment of her piano bench.  I like to look through the music when we are listening to the hymns.

We usually play a couple of games of Rook, take a break for dinner, listen to the piano music while we have dessert and play another game of cards.  As much as I like sweets, the hymns are even more satisfying than the pies and cakes.

The Rook games are pretty intense, and they remind me of all those summer nights that my parents had neighbors over to play Rook on our screened-in front porch.  I can still hear echoes of the laughter and the accusations that my dad was cheating.

He would flap his arms just a little to let his partner know that he had the Rook, or the bird as they called it, and stick out the tip of his tongue to indicate that he had a lot of red cards.

Regina’s family members are outdoors types who like to show each other their new handguns, rifle scopes and skinning knives, so I am deeply afraid of being caught cheating in a Rook game.

The sounds of old hymns ringing through the house when we  play Rook remind me of my boyhood days at Calvary Baptist Church in Springhill where I fell in love with that kind of music.

A lady in a big hat played the black upright piano while Brother James Carraway led the congregation in his booming bass voice on hymns like Old Rugged Cross and What a Friend We Have in Jesus, and the thin wooden walls of the church would shake.

Called the Singing Engineer because his main job was driving a train for the local railroad company, Brother Carraway did solos every couple of weeks of Nail Scarred Hand to satisfy church members who kept requesting it.

 

We have a really good pianist at our church in Natchitoches, and there are musicians there from time to time who play guitars, cellos,  drums, flutes and other instruments.  All those different sounds mixed in with hymns just expand my appreciation of church music.

My sons and grandson brought tears to my eyes when they played guitars and sang I’ll Fly Away at my mother’s funeral.  Regina’s cousin, who played the piano with flourishes like Jerry Lee Lewis and Mickey Gilley, did Precious Memories at her mother’s services, and I loved it.

I am inspired and heartened by any kind of church music.  Old hymns like Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, Great is Thy Faithfulness and such modern sacred songs as In Christ Alone, 10,000 Reasons and Because He Lives are powerful and touching.

Words to many hymns stick in my heart,  like the chorus that my friend Tom Murchison quoted to me so often, “But I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded,  that He is able, to keep that which I have committed, unto Him against that Day.”  I have memorized those words as Tom did.

The history and background stories of some old hymns add to the power of the songs.  After his son died and he lost a fortune in real estate holdings in the Chicago Fire in the 1870’s, Horatio Spafford had four daughters drown in a shipwreck on a voyage to Europe.

As Spafford later sailed over the area in the Atlantic Ocean where the tragedy occurred, he wrote the hymn that includes the words, “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”

That will be on my list of requests for Pat to play at our next family get-together.

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Canasta Craze

The word canasta has not popped up in my circles in a long time, but continual conversations about that card game craze of the 1950s are vivid in my boyhood memories.

My mother and a lot of other ladies in our paper mill community were obsessed with canasta.  When they were not playing it, they were talking about it on the phone and over back yard fences.

On Saturdays when the canasta was scheduled for our house, my mother polished the wood floors, dusted  the furniture, cleaned the windows and had the hall bathroom shining and smelling good.

We were all banned from the premises when the canasta ladies were coming over.  That didn’t bother my dad, who was happy to spend those days at the pool hall.

But it was a hardship for my brother and me.  We were warned not to “track dirt” in the house or to step foot in the bathroom from the time it was cleaned until all the ladies left.

When we asked my mother what we were supposed to do if we had the urge to go the bathroom, she always responded that we would “just have to hold it.”

Having to hold it created lifelong bathroom issues for me.  I just can’t make myself use a bathroom that is freshly scrubbed and sparkling and still has the strong scent of cleaning products.

It’s such a delicate subject that I have never been able to ask my brother about it, but I’m sure he has also been brainwashed to just hold it instead of messing up a nice clean bathroom.

Looking back, canasta games were a big production.  My mother made things like chicken ala king and tuna fish sandwiches, and she usually did one of her famous chocolate cakes with white icing.

If a couple of the ladies were on a diet, there was a chance that my brother and I might get a piece of that cake with the frosting that got crisp and crunchy after it sat a while.

I remember canasta games took two decks of cards and there were four players to a table.  My mother usually had two tables of ladies when she hosted the games.

It was hard to shuffle two decks of cards, so she ordered one of those hand-cranked card shufflers from Sears and later got one that operated on batteries.  There was also a clear plastic card tray that ladies could turn like a lazy susan to draw their cards.

The games would get loud.  We heard shouts a couple of houses away of “Dammit, she went out” and even sharper exclamations.  Our preacher at Calvary Baptist didn’t approve of card games, and he would certainly have frowned on some of the language.

Canasta must have taken a long time, because the sandwiches my mother gave us to tide us over until we could go home and eat wore off a good while before the games ended.

It was also impossible for us to “just hold it” as long as the canasta lasted, so we were fortunate that there were a lot of trees and bushes in our neighborhood.

The ladies didn’t view canasta as gambling and would never have considered playing poker or some other scandalous game like that.  But they gave costume jewelry and other trinkets to weekly winners and kept a running score for bigger year-end prizes.

My mother was so captivated by canasta for a while that she wanted me, my dad and brother to learn the game so she would have a built-in foursome to play any time the mood struck her.

But canasta had its own strange lingo and rules.  Terms like making melds, frozen piles,  cards in the same rank, concealed hands, dirty canasta and all that were like a foreign language to us.

She acknowledged that a lot of study would be needed for us to learn canasta.  I figured if you had to study something that hard, it should be to become a lawyer or engineer.

So my mother remained the only one in the family who could play canasta, and even she quit it after a while and took up bridge.

Maybe she saw the decline  in popularity coming for  canasta. I never hear about anybody around here playing it any more.

That’s good, because young boys should not be locked out of their own homes and bathrooms and have to hold it while their mothers play canasta.

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Sunday, January 13, 2019

Microwave Recipe

One of Regina’s friends asked for her microwave praline recipe during the holidays.  Regina gave it to her from memory instead of checking her recipe files, and the results were disastrous.

She got all of the ingredients right but was a little off on the cooking time.  Cooking time in a microwave oven is a big deal.

Regina’s pralines are really good, but she only makes them at Christmastime.  She had not made a batch yet this year, so she couldn’t remember exactly how long the candy needed to cook.

She listed the ingredients as her friend wrote them down and then said the pralines should be cooked on high for seven minutes, stirred and cooked seven more minutes.

Her friend called later that day to report that her pralines were black and had the consistency of lava.  She said her microwave oven was still smoking.

Regina checked her recipes and found that the pralines should have been cooked for four minutes instead of seven,  stirred and then cooked four more minutes.  They microwaved six minutes too long.

Her friend’s husband managed to get the smoldering pralines and smoking microwave oven outside.  I can picture the oven mitts and goggles.  They were waiting a few days to test it before deciding if they needed a new one.

That episode reminded Regina and me of an experience another one of her friends had with a microwave oven a few years ago.

The friend had remarried after going through a divorce. Both she and her new husband had young children, so keeping everybody fed was a challenge.

Trying to speed up breakfast one morning, she just put a dozen eggs on a plate in the microwave and turned it on high.  The eggs were still in the shell.

Regina’s friend explained later that she thought the microwave would cook them like boiled eggs.

After microwaving for a while, the eggs started exploding and the door of the oven blew off.

The fellow at the appliance store where she went to get a new microwave said he had seen one other door knocked off a microwave by exploding eggs.

His theory was that a build-up of gases, atoms and molecules discharged by the flaming eggs ripped the door off.

My mother was the best cook I ever knew, but she lost interest in cooking after my dad died.  She said it wasn’t worth it to spend all that time in the kitchen preparing meals just for herself.

She was in her seventies and had never owned a microwave.  I showed her once when she visited how easy and quick it was to use the oven.  She seemed interested, so Regina and I got her one.

We explained to her that microwaves really cut down on cooking time and told her to read the little instruction booklet and cookbook that came with her new oven.

The morning after we left, she called to say the microwave burned up her oatmeal.

I asked how she cooked it.  She said she just cooked it about half as long as she usually did on her stove.  We told her again not to use the microwave until she read the instructions.   That was asking a lot of a lady who rarely read a recipe in all her years of cooking.

A few nights later, she called to say that a chicken and rice dish she had been making for years smoked, melted and turned black in the microwave.

She said she “cut way back” on the cooking time and blamed the whole mess on the boneless chicken she used.  She had told me many times that “chicken is not chicken unless it has bones in it.”

I asked her to unplug the microwave and not use it again until we could come check it.  Regina and I confiscated it a few days later.

A great movie a few years ago with Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence called American Hustle had a scene about a microwave, which they called a “science oven.”

Jennifer Lawrence was skeptical about the oven, which was a gift, but she tried it.  She cooked something in a metal container, and the microwave caught fire.

She said that was good, because she had heard microwaves “take all the nutrition out of our food.”

I’m pretty sure there was not much nutrition left in those eggs or the pralines that Regina’s friends made in the science oven.

 

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Sunday, January 6, 2019

Teacher Appreciation

Our dog Sugar is indebted to my third grade teacher Mrs. Bearden for all the affection she receives and the many comforts that make her so spoiled.

Mrs. Bearden loved animals and passed that trait on to her students.  If stray dogs or cats wandered onto the school grounds, Mrs. Bearden would spring into action to help them.

She would send one of us kids to the cafeteria for milk and whatever food scraps were available that day.  We fed the animals and got them inside out of the hot or cold weather.

The strays would stay in a storage closet until Mrs. Bearden got off work and took them to their owner, a veterinarian or a foster home.  I don’t think we had an animal shelter.

I must have been thinking of Mrs. Bearden the night Sugar became an indoor dog.  Regina and I planned for her to stay outside, but I saw her shivering by the back door on a cold night.  I brought her in, we slept on a blanket on the floor, and she has never spent another night out.

Remembering how Mrs. Bearden instilled compassion for animals in her students reminded me of the impact different teachers at schools in Springhill had on young people.

A quiet, red-haired teacher named Mrs. Norris went to every class in elementary and junior high schools to encourage students to develop an appreciation for music.

She had us singing along with records and passed out bongo drums, little handheld xylophones, musical steel triangles and plastic flute-looking things that she called tonettes.

Students blowing and banging on all those instruments created a cacophony of what she referred to as music.  Not many of us became accomplished musicians, but our interest in music grew in those classrooms.  Even at my age now, I am taking guitar lessons.

Mrs. Stone and Mrs. Branch were English teachers who taught us to express our thoughts in writing and guided me into pursuing a career in journalism.

They should have gotten some kind of humanitarian award for that.  I wanted to be a doctor and might have endangered a lot of lives if I could have passed some science classes.

Lynwood Rhodes was a business teacher.  He heard I wanted to go into journalism and required me to take his typing class.  He taught me to type with both hands instead of just two fingers.

Another teacher was selling a Royal portable typewriter for $20.  Mr. Rhodes talked him into giving it to me for $10.  I used it to write countless newspaper stories and still have it.

Coach Bonnette ran the city swimming pool in the summer.  He put me through a grueling water safety course and got me a job cleaning the pool and helping with lifeguarding.  He pounded a huge sense of responsibility into all of us who worked there.

Lisso Simmons was our elementary principal.  He sat with a different group of students at lunch every day.  That expanded our self esteem even if a guy at our table did shake up a bottle of milk that was already open and drenched Mr. Simmons with it.

Coach Baucum recognized my lack of football abilities in a hurry but sent me to clinics to learn to tape knees and ankles, made me a trainer and got me a scholarship doing that in college.

Miss Cawthon was a math teacher, and I might have been the worst student she ever had.  But we liked each other when I was not trying to work math problems.

She was a good bit older than most of our other teachers and was fascinated with the new activity in those days of “dragging” Main Street.  We loaded into cars on Friday nights and drove up and down the street for hours blowing horns and flashing lights at each other.

We invited her to join us one night,   and she accepted.  She rode in different cars waving and yelling out the window like the rest of us and had a hamburger and malt with us after the ride.

That was a lesson in friendship, and we stayed in touch and remained friends until she died.

There’s a Teacher Appreciation Day every spring when we pause for a moment to recognize teachers for their impact on our lives.  We should observe Teacher Appreciation Day every day.

REPRINTED FROM THE NATCHITOCHES TIMES
Sunday, December 30, 2018

Help With Christmas

It was nearly Christmas and my dad was laid up in a Shreveport hospital recovering from kidney stone surgery.  That was a major ordeal back then.

When it became obvious that he would not be back on his feet in time to take care of all the things he did for the holidays, my mother went into a long crying spell.

She didn’t drive at night or out of town, so neighbors and church friends were taking her to Shreveport every day to the hospital.  My brother and I went along on a few of the visits.

My dad assured us that he would be out in time to find a good Christmas tree in the woods by the mill ponds.  Then he would build a stand to mount the tree at a lopsided angle as he always did.

He took care of other holiday details like getting holly and mistletoe for decorations, climbing a ladder to get the big star on top of the tree and coordinating the Christmas Eve fireworks show.

It was Dad who sat at the dining room table a few weeks before Christmas every year with a Sears-Roebuck catalog helping Santa decide what to bring everybody.

We figured he had probably already taken care of  all that before the kidney stone knocked him down, but my mother was not sure.  She didn’t get involved in juggling the savings account,  loans and monthly installments that were needed to help Santa with Christmas.

When the doctors finally told us that he would not be out for the holidays, my brother and I started thinking of things that needed to be done before all the kinfolks arrived.  My mother cried.

She managed to get herself together enough to start making the fruitcakes, divinity candy, pecan pies and other sweets she always cooked for Christmas and to plan the holiday meal.

My dad never did any of the cooking anyway, so his absence would not be a factor in the big Christmas dinner of fresh ham, turkey, chicken, cornbread dressing, candied sweet potatoes and other things my mother made every year.

But just a day or two before relatives would start arriving from Texas, Florida and up north for the holidays, we still didn’t have a tree and other decorations.

My mother unlocked the hall closet where Dad hid the things from Sears that he asked Santa to bring us.  When she discovered that he had not finished the shopping before his emergency surgery,  she cried again.

With Christmas just a couple of days away, we visited my dad in the hospital.  He asked us to make a long distance call to one of his paper mill friends.  I think his name was Mr. Fryer.

I knew it was an important call not only because he asked us to step out of the room but also because he didn’t talk on the phone long distance unless there had been a death in the family or something like that.

The next day, some men came to the house with a Christmas tree and put it up straighter than ever.  They placed the star on top and helped my mother with lights, silver garlands, icicles and other ornaments that shined and shimmered from the big evergreen tree.

They hung mistletoe and holly from window sills and doorways, sneaked secret packages into the hall closet and created a stockpile of roman candles, firecrackers, bottle rockets and other fireworks on the front porch.

Kinfolks came after stopping by to visit my dad at the hospital.  The Christmas dinner was a feast as usual.  All us kids marveled at more presents than we ever expected.  My uncle helped us have one our best fireworks displays ever.

My dad loved everything about Christmas but especially the days that he and his paper mill friends delivered food and toys to needy families.

We were not considered needy except for being deprived of our dad that Christmas, and the mill men came through to make our holiday brighter as they had been doing for people in that community for years.

When Dad got home a couple of days after Christmas, he saw the perfectly straight tree and all the other decorations.  He flashed his famous smile and said it looked as if Santa had made it even without him.

My brother and I showed him our skates, BB guns and other presents, and our mother cried some more.

REPRINTED FROM THE NATCHITOCHES TIMES
Sunday, December 23, 2018