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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The Lady and La Salle

La Salle (1643-1687) ~ Raoul Josset

Larger than life, envied in success and plagued by failure, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle may have landed on Texas shores by mistake, but he certainly left his mark. 

Born in France a century after Cabeza de Vaca shipwrecked west of Galveston Island, and two centuries before the first shiploads of German immigrants made their way inland from Indianola, La Salle followed his brother to New France (now Canada) in order to enter the fur trade.

Once in New France, he discovered a preference for travel over trapping. Launching a first expedition to the Ohio River in 1669, he spent several years combining business with the pleasures of exploration. In 1682, he traveled the length of the Mississippi River, laying claim to the entirety of the immense drainage basin for France, and naming the territory Louisiana, after King Louis XIV. (more…)

The Way of All Words

The sky lowers, and the horizon disappears. A turning wind blankets the moon with sea-born fog, shrouding the contours of its face. Impassive, harshly brilliant above the fog, it rises ever higher behind fast-scudding clouds, lighting the transition between old and new: between one year and the next.

As midnight approaches, a lingering few stand silent, shrouded in a fog of thought, tangled in life’s web, caught between the land of No-Longer and the land of Yet-to-Be. Perhaps a moonlit shard of truth reveals itself to revelers in the street: this is the way of life.  What has been passes away into forgetfulness, while that which is yet-to-be stirs toward vitality.

Armies rise. Nations fall. Children squall into existence, even as their grandparents sigh away toward death. Beyond the farthest reaches of the galaxies, unnamed stars explode with pulsating light while on our own shy, spinning globe, rotting leaves and the stench of mud evoke a season’s final turn. (more…)

Goldilocks Meets T.S. Eliot

Goldilocks' Three Bowls

I try to pay attention. Truly, I do. Still, I’m constantly searching for my car keys. It slips my mind that I should stop at the grocery for milk, or swing by the pharmacy to pick up prescriptions. Occasionally, I neglect to feed the cat until she nudges at my foot, murmuring her complaint. Computer passwords dissolve into the ether, along with the names of former school chums, padlock combinations and the phone number of my favorite aunt. 

People who understand such things tell me this everyday-forgetting is unremarkable.  A little more age here, a few more-interesting things to ponder there, and the mind wanders off, unconcerned with milk, kitties or keys.

Over time, I’d even forgotten my promise to some blogging friends that I would tell them the story of the beginnings of The Task at Hand – specifically, how it received its title and tagline. Being a Janus-faced month, a time for pondering the past as well as looking toward the future, January seems as good a time as any to recount the story of those first, halting steps onto the path called “writing”. (more…)

Taking It All Away

As parents will to children and teachers to students, most craftsmen seem to enjoy passing on accumulated wisdom in the form of pithy sayings. Some are humorous, like my carpenter friend’s reversal of common-sense advice that always leads to giggles. “Measure once, cut twice”, he intones with a straight face before we both laugh, knowing how many disasters from the past still lie scattered along that ill-advised path. Other snippets of practical wisdom are more serious and reverberate with truth. No less a wall-tender than the poet Robert Frost knew the distinction between a job and a career. He described it as the difference between working forty hours a week  and sixty, a reality some discover too late, and much to their chagrin. (more…)

Published in: on September 29, 2012 at 7:50 am  Comments (90)  
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