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.”

Today, few remember Adam Huntsman, but the second half of Crockett’s bold statement of intent lives on. There are slight variations, to be sure. But, for the most part, the original words are quoted: on bumper stickers, wall plaques, throw pillows, and t-shirts. Together with other favorite sayings (“I Wasn’t Born in Texas, But I Got Here as Fast As I Could,” and, “Texan by Choice”), the words are good-natured, just a little sassy, and filled with love for a state that counts David Crockett as one of its heroes.

Of course, not everyone is so kindly disposed toward Texas. When circumstances dictated my mother’s move to the Lone Star State, she made clear her belief that Texas is hell, and that she, through no fault of her own, had been unfairly condemned to an eternity of torment.

Once the move was made, her opinion didn’t change. She hated the traffic, the climate, the insects, the twang. Above all, she hated what she considered Texans’ over-estimation of their state. “What?” she said. “Do they think no one else in the world has a reason to live?”

Eventually, an introduction to the Texas trinity of chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes and cream gravy, and green beans with onion and bacon helped to ease the transition, but things still were iffy.

When I talked with a friend about the situation, she said, “There’s only one answer. We have to go full Hill Country.” “What’s that?” I asked. Grinning like a woman made privy to the secrets of the universe, she said, “Bluebonnets, barbeque, and Blue Bell.”

I knew it couldn’t hurt, and I hoped it might help. A few weeks later, we were on the road.

Winding our way west in order to go east, we stopped first for barbeque at Kreuz Market in Lockhart. As brisket, sausage, and potato salad disappeared from her plate, my mother smiled. “Goodness,” she said. “That might have been better than what I’m used to.” Then, she smiled again.

With no timetable and no itinerary, we left Lockhart on two-lane farm-to-market roads, admiring the lush bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush that stretched off to the horizon. In one particularly beautiful field, red and blue flowers had combined to create an impression of purple. Suddenly, I heard, “Stop!” Pulling to the side of the road, I stopped, and turned to look at my mother. “What?” “This is beautiful,” she said. “Let’s take some photos.” 

After making our way through Rosanky, Plum, Dime Box, and Giddings, we finally reached Brenham. “This is where they make Blue Bell ice cream,” I said. “Why don’t we stop and get some?” Ever cautious, my mother turned to my friend. “Is it any good? Is it worth stopping for?” “I think so,” she said. “Besides, it’s ice cream. Even if it’s not the best, it’s good.”

In Brenham, it’s not hard to find Blue Bell. With two scoops in her dish — one homemade vanilla and one butter pecan — Mom got down to business. About halfway through, she looked up. “You know,” she said. “This tastes just like the vanilla that my mother used to make. We’d carry the milk and cream from Grandpa’s in pails, and that’s what she’d use. We didn’t have it very often, but I’ve never tasted any that managed to taste like hers, and this does. Can we buy it in Houston?”

Buy it, we did. It was fine ice cream, but, more importantly, it provided a true taste of home: a connection to the past that made my mother happy. Sometimes we shared a bowl in the evening. Sometimes she’d have some by herself, long after I’d gone home. She never tired of it.

Over the past months, as Blue Bell struggled to cope with their company-wide recall and their ice cream disappeared from the shelves, I thought how happy I was that these difficulties didn’t occur while my mother still was alive, depriving her of a favorite treat.

I’m even more happy that, in the coming week, our area will once again have Blue Bell. I’ll buy some homemade vanilla, of course. I’ll have a bowlful for my mother, and another for my grandmother, and then I’ll ponder the truth of my little ice cream etheree as I scoop out a bowlful of happiness for myself.

  is needed.
A dish. A spoon.
  Even the carton
  will do in a pinch if
  no one is watching, no one
  complaining, no one advising
sweet moderation when offered the
chance to keep scooping and scooping away.


Comments are welcome, always
Published in: on August 29, 2015 at 9:13 pm  Comments (88)  
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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.” (more…)

Published in: on January 19, 2014 at 6:25 pm  Comments (112)  
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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. (more…)

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”. (more…)

Published in: on December 9, 2012 at 8:50 am  Comments (105)  
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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. (more…)


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