Another Summer at Camp Retro

Given a choice, each of us tends to avoid certain experiences.  I steer clear of Houston freeways during rush hour and turn off political commentary I feel raising my blood pressure. I never go boating on holidays, and above all I try never to stop by the grocery at 6 p.m. to “pick up a few things for dinner”.

Unfortunately, poor planning can force me into the very heart of pre-suppertime pandemonium, as it did the night I made a pass through our local supermarket intending to pick up nothing more than milk, lettuce, broccoli and some kitty treats. Shopping without a list meant I ended up with far more than I’d intended. By the time I reached the checkout line I’d thrown in some celery and carrots, English muffins, two pounds of sale-priced Peet’s French Roast, some assorted canned goods, pear yogurt and a totally unnecessary pint of key lime gelato.

Plunking down the little plastic bar to divide my purchases from those of the people ahead of me, I began unloading my cart. Then I remembered the Ritz crackers. My mother was quite  fond of them, and she’d asked if I’d pick up a box the next time I was in the store.

The people ahead of me in line –  apparently a mother and two lovely daughters – had done some heavy shopping and still were unloading their own items onto the conveyor. Pondering the situation, I made a decision.“Excuse me,” I said to checker. “I forgot something. I’ll run and get it, and be right back.”  “No problem,” she said, glancing at the woman’s still-full cart. “You’ve got time”.

Knowing the crackers were two aisles over, halfway to the meat department and on the bottom shelf, I found them quickly enough and returned to the line with time to spare. The checker, still busy with the group ahead of me, was grinning. Well, I thought. She’s a pleasant one. Continue reading

Sweet Abundance

Cooler weather and occasional showers have mitigated the drought in parts of Texas, and summer’s spectacular wildfires have ended. Still, dssiccated pastures, disappearing herds, abandoned lakes and empty stock ponds make clear the continuing need for rain.

Hidden behind these more obvious signs of drought lie other consequences, equally troublesome if more personal.  Enjoying breakfast in a Hill Country kitchen last weekend, I heard a tiny sigh as I split a biscuit and reached for the glass dish holding my friend’s homemade preserves.  “That’s my last jar of peach, and close to my last jar of fig,” she said. “It’s only December,” I said. “Don’t you usually have enough to last ’til summer?”

Yes, she allowed, she usually did. But this year drought put an end to her gardens and orchards. With so little rain, the fig trees barely produced. Peaches were available from irrigated orchards, but they were expensive. Pears were the size of walnuts, and the walnuts didn’t make. Even the dewberries weren’t good, setting so little fruit she left it for hungry birds and animals. The sweet, succulent blackberries that overflowed her baskets in the past withered and died, offering up only a cup or two of tart, nearly tasteless berries. Without good berries an abundance of pies, cobblers and sauces disappeared, not to mention the brandied blackberries that always had been a holiday treat. Continue reading

The Lingering Joys of Camp Retro

There are things in life I prefer to avoid whenever possible.  Driving Houston freeways during rush hour is one. Listening to political commentators who raise my blood pressure is another. Above all, I try never to stop by the grocery at 6 p.m. to “pick up a few things for dinner”, although circumstance or my own lack of planning occasionally force me into the heart of the pre-suppertime pandemonium.

The night I made a pass through our local supermarket intending to get only milk, lettuce, broccoli and some kitty treats, lack of organization was the issue. As usual, shopping without a list meant I ended up with far more than I’d intended. By the time I reached the checkout line I’d thrown in some celery and carrots, English muffins, two pounds of sale-priced Peet’s French Roast, some assorted canned goods, yogurt and a totally unnecessary pint of key lime gelato.

Plunking down the little plastic bar meant to divide one customer’s purchases from the next I began unloading my cart, then suddenly remembered Ritz crackers. My mother’s quite  fond of them, and she’d asked if I’d pick up a box the next time I was in the store.

I pondered the cart belonging to the people ahead of me in line –  apparently a mother and two lovely daughters.  They’d done some heavy shopping and still were unloading their own items onto the conveyor.

“Excuse me,” I said to checker. “I forgot something. I’ll run and get it, and be right back.”  “No problem,” she said, glancing at the girls. “You’ve got time”.

Off I ran. The crackers were two aisles over and halfway to the meat department, but I knew Ritz were on the bottom shelf and I found them quickly. When I got back to my cart, the checker still was busy with the group ahead of me, and she was grinning. “Well,” I thought to myself. “She’s a pleasant one.” Continue reading