A Bowl Full of Happiness

Blue Bell Creamery, Brenham, Texas – Sculpture by Veryl Goodnight

Long before I developed a childhood infatuation with Davy Crockett — Tennessee’s semi-mythical, raccoon-cap wearing, bear-killing mountaineer — a more civilized and accomplished David Crockett was being encouraged to enter the 1836 Presidential race.

In the end, Martin Van Buren won that election, defeating a coalition of William Henry Harrison, Hugh White, and Daniel Webster to replace President Andrew Jackson, but Crockett never became a contender. His hopes for a Presidential run ended after he lost his 1835 Congressional race to an attorney named Adam Huntsman: a man supported by President Jackson and Governor Carroll of Tennessee.

Disillusioned with politics and eager for a fresh start, Crockett set off for Texas on November 1, 1835, accompanied by William Patton, Abner Burgin, and Lindsey K. Tinkle. The men spent their first evening in Memphis, where they gathered with friends in the bar of the Union Hotel for drinks and celebration.

Never one to mince words, and perhaps encouraged by drink, Crockett reflected on recent events and referred again to Huntsman, who happened to have a wooden leg. “Since you have chosen to elect a man with a timber toe to succeed me,” he said, “you may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.” Continue reading

Fiddlesticks, Footsies and Spoons

Stern. Reserved. Strict. Perhaps even judgmental or cold.

So she appears in this photograph from an indeterminate time and an unknown place, but as she herself might have said, appearances can be relieving [sic].

To her cousins, she was a caution.  To my mother, whose great-aunt she was, Rilla was just slightly dangerous, a force to be reckoned with, a strange, self-possessed woman whose refusal of rules and wicked sense of humor made her a favorite among the children.

She returned the children’s affection, although she often scandalized more conventional relatives with her baby-sitting techniques. Confronted with a passle of bored children, she was capable of sending them to the back yard with a stack of 78 rpm records and a hammer, essentially saying, “Have at it.” From what my mother recalled of the unfolding events on one such afternoon, “It was fun.” Continue reading

Still Sorting, After All These Years

They never owned a car and they didn’t drive, so someone made a special effort to bring Grandma and Grandpa – my father’s parents – to my third birthday celebration.

For most occasions and on nearly every weekend, we were the ones who traveled the thirty-five miles to their home, a modest frame house in one of Iowa’s tiny coal-mining communities. Why the routine was broken here I can’t say, but I cherish the snapshot, my only image of this improbable couple sitting next to one another.

Born in Sweden, they traveled to America as strangers on the same ship. After meeting and marrying in Minneapolis, they moved to Iowa, struggled through the Depression, raised six children and delighted in their grand-children. Then, they were gone. Continue reading

Mending Days

The thought that whole days could be given over to mending seems remarkable now, as quaintly anachronistic as ragbags, or the inclination of entire neighborhoods of women to schedule their household chores as a group –  laundry on Monday, ironing on Tuesday, weekend baking on Thursday. The predictable routines of my mother and her friends provided a certain degree of comfort during my childhood, but still there were projects – canning, window-washing, leaf-raking, planting – that were less predictable and hence more exciting.

In our household, mending fell into the category of an “occasional” chore, work occasioned not by the calendar but by the shape and seasons of our lives. Active and impulsive, occasionally inattentive, constrained by the demands and necessities of life, we were, as my mother liked to say, “hard on our clothes”. Continue reading

Welcome to Abandon Ship Season

In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is. ~ Yogi Berra

It’s known by an assortment of names – grab bag, ditch bag, abandon-ship bag. Most sailors know they should have one, and nearly everyone understands it should contain something more than a fifth of Scotch, a Leatherman tool and a copy of The Old Man and the Sea.

When it’s time to deploy the life raft, it’s well past time to consider its furnishings. Coastal cruisers, circumnavigators,  casual visitors to Safety at Sea seminars and card-carrying members of the Offshore Racing Congress all know that flashlights, fish hooks and flares can help make a life raft a home. So can desalination tablets, signal mirrors, waterproof flashlights and a VHF, for that matter. Whether you throw in a spear gun and a spare sea anchor will depend on your budget and preferred cruising grounds, but no one quibbles over the need to preserve ships’ papers, insurance documents, passports and cell phones.

If everyone were prepared for the vicissitudes of life on the water, that’s what each bag would have – an assortment of practical necessities for sustaining life while awaiting rescue and the paperwork necessary to reassemble life back on land.  Unfortunately, not everyone prepares.  Sometimes, even the best preparation isn’t enough. Now and then the stories of what got saved, and how, become the stuff of legend. Continue reading

Doorways to the Past

A recent lazy-afternoon stroll through Galveston left me marveling over the heaps and piles of merchandise that overflow the shelves of souvenir shops along Seawall Boulevard and the Strand. 

The souvenir business is interesting, and if my afternoon browse is any indication, it hasn’t changed much over the decades.  Asked about her top products, the proprietess of one shop acknowledged that tee shirts, coffee mugs, salt and pepper shakers, risqué shot glasses, refrigerator magnets and beach towels are her most dependable sellers.  “They move a lot faster than my candles and iPod covers,” she said. “People like the high-end stuff, but once you get home you can’t tell the difference between the soap you bought here and soap you’d buy at Dillards. People want to prove they’ve been on The Island, not in a Houston department store. If you put “Galveston” on it, it’ll sell – that’s the name of the game.”

Shops do carry quality items that reflect Galveston’s life – there are books filled with Island history, chronicles of storms, photographs and tropical art – but most souvenirs are, to put it charitably, generic. They could be sold anywhere. There’s nothing unique about a Galveston kite or Galveston Koozie apart from the name.  If you purchase a tee shirt emblazoned with the phrase Genuine Galveston Souvenir Tee Shirt it comes with a guarantee you’ll someday meet someone wearing a Genuine (Pick Your City) Souvenir Tee Shirt . 

Even the sand dollars, sundials and lightning whelks filling the baskets by the cash registers are identical to those found in shops from Port Isabel to Key West. Shelling on Texas beaches is erratic at best, and no retailer would dare depend on local sources to stock the shelves. So, Wholesale-SeaShells-R-Us steps in, ready and able to supply the souvenir needs of an entire city. Continue reading

Evangeline Memories

For weeks I’ve watched my blogging friend Proserpina entice her readers into accepting a simple concept – color-based blogs – and encourage them to help create a rich and expressive tapestry of personal preference. “Here is a color,” she says. “Here are its qualities. Here are some references to it in history and the arts. Does it remind you of something? How do you feel about it? How has it decorated your life?”  

Such simple questions, and yet the answers she receives build one upon another to form patterns of exquisite complexity. Readers contribute images of famous paintings, or their grandchild’s refrigerator art. They bring limericks and literature, poetry, personal photographs of beloved objects, memories from days of long-past travel and dreamscapes from journeys yet to come.

With each new color, discoveries are made. When Proserpina designated “Blue” as her first color, I was a bit disappointed. I’ve always considered blue to be my least favorite color and yet as images, videos and snippets of literature were posted, I realized “blue” is too general a term. While I dislike the primary blue of the color wheel, powder blue baby blankets, navy blue and electric blue, I wear denim and covet turquoise jewelry. I’ve reveled in the azure, aqua and cerulean of Carribbean waters and will sit for hours watching the smokey indigo of disappearing sunsets. Clearly, there are distinctions to be made. Continue reading