Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Smelling History

I baked a pie with a pioneer tonight.

Sallie Taylor, later Sallie Dyer, was born in the Oklahoma Territory in 1900, seven years before the Oklahoma Territory and the Indian Territory became the State of Oklahoma. Her folks came to Oklahoma in a wagon, and they settled in the country of southern Oklahoma County. (A park in south Oklahoma City bears the family name to this day.)

Sallie was 66 when I was born, and married to one of 8 brothers in the Dyer family. She had a large, extended family around her and life was good. But you would not have seen that coming from her early life experiences. After her mother died during Sallie's childhood, she worked in the local box factory, even as a child. Sallie then eloped with Melvin Dyer, took the train to the State Fair and got married at the age of 15--married into a family where chopping cotton and choking dust in the Oklahoma sun was daily fare. Credit crisis? Hard times? Yeah. right.

The Dyers came to Moore, Oklahoma long before there was an Oklahoma. They spent their first winter in a wagon by a creek south of town and nearly froze or died of sickness. The wind whips over there from the interstate and the strip center today, across a small grave yard with tombstones bearing the Dyer name. Back then, the wind just whipped over from the panhandle, or from Canada.

Sallie didn't know how to cook or sew or any other skill required of an agricultural woman in 1915--her widower father was in no position to teach her. But she was taken in by the rough and tumble Dyer family with their 8 sons. It fell to Grandma Dyer to teach her how to cook, and it fell to the boys, all 8 of them, to tease her when things didn't go right. Sometimes, all it took was, "that ain't how ma done it," to start the tears flowing.

But Grandma Dyer was a good teacher. "That's all right. You'll do better next time."

And she did.

Among the things Grandma Dyer taught her was how to make an apple pie. Nothing fancy. Still, how could it not be good with such basic things as apples, sugar, cinnamon, and butter.

But if Grandma Dyer didn't teach you, how would you know that Jonathan apples make the best pies?

And how much sugar is enough for the filling? Just about that much right there.

And don't forget to put a smidge of flour in with the apples and sugar so the juice won't be too soupy. Now add some cinnamon.

How much? You'll know--if Grandma Dyer taught you.

And Grandma Dyer taught her that the top crust sticks down better if you wet the edges with water.

And you have to secretly dollop some butter on top of the apples before you put on the top.

Then, you use your fingers--just so--to crimp the pie crusts together.

But the real secret is the top crust. If you want it to be perfect, give it a light coating of milk just before you put it in the oven and sprinkle it with sugar and cinnamon.

That's the way Grandma Dyer did it.

I never knew her, but she taught Sallie. Sallie, my great grandmother, taught me. She also taught her daughter and her grand daughters. When Sallie's daughter became too infirm to cook, Sallie's son in law, my grandfather, even made pies this way.

And they smelled just the way my house does now. I remember it.

I remember them.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Is This Thing Still On?

Well, it's been a quiet week in Spring, Texas, my home town, out on the edge of the megalopolis. More like two weeks actually. A colleague, one of the few who knows that I blog, mentioned to me this morning that it had been two weeks since I blogged.

Let me explain.

No, let me sum up.

I've been working. Real work. All day. Getting ready for a court session that has now been successfully accomplished. It would seem that when everyone else is watching their economy go sideways, the vampire guild of litigation lawyers has reason to celebrate.

Secondly, I have lost a little of my blogging mojo. I'm running and training for a marathon, but no triathlon or Ironman happenings in my life right now. So, I'm feeling a bit uninspired. But since I'm a total comment ho', I want to write stuff that you want to read. This is where you come in.

I'll just ask you. What do you want to read? What do you want me to write about? What would you ask if we were sitting across the table on a Friday evening with a pitcher of Shiner Bock between us and no limit on the time we had to kill?

Sound off, and for goodness sake give me something to write about.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

[Don't] Be Sensible

Dad showing Superpounce how not to be sensible.

I'm a sensible person. To a fault. And I come from a long line of sensible people

Often times, that's good. We act like grownups. We're responsible. We live within our means. We are the ones carrying zero credit card balances in the worst credit crisis in history. We are the ones driving 10 year old cars on which we researched the safety rating and reviews in consumer reports. Convertibles need not apply.

But is there too much of a good thing? People like us were born old. We forgot how to play or played only carefully. We avoided some of the tragedies that befell our contemporaries in college, but we also never howled at the moon.

And somewhere along the line you wake up realizing that you didn't dream all night, or all day the day before. And you're a sensible taxpayer with a sensible job in a sensible suburb with a sensible sedan. No fault in that. But . . .

But what child lies on his or her back, looks up into the night sky, and dreams of being a dentist? Or an accountant? Or a lawyer? Not that there's anything wrong with that. But when do we give up being firemen or astronauts or race car drivers or ballerinas or princesses? And why do we have to? Because they're not sensible.

At one point in my life, I was a musician. I studied with the finest teachers, played with the finest conductors, gave concerts in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Miami. I had, at one time, dreamed of being in the Chicago Symphony, the orchestra my heroes. Then, I got sensible. The odds were against it. It was a long shot. The more likely outcome was working in a non-living-wage orchestra and getting locked out by a labor dispute and selling insurance instead. So, I got sensible, and went to law school, did well, got a good job . . . . all in the family tradition.

Not a family tradition of practicing law, but a tradition of sensibility, of dreams deferred. I am the offspring of a sensible girl from Oklahoma who, after soloing with the Oklahoma City Symphony in the 1950s, turned down the opportunity, offered by the guest conductor, to study at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Sensible girls did not do such things in the 1950s. They went to college, if at all, close to home, where they could find a husband and raise families. And she did. And it was good and sensible.

But was it great?

Sometimes, sensible people explode. They wake up in the suburbs and start dreaming again. Potentially those crazy dreams are destructive and you see sensible people "overcompensating" with expensive red convertibles or betraying the ones who depend upon them. Thankfully, not here. By God's grace alone, I'm still more sensible than that. I haven't exploded, and hope that I don't.

Other times, we simply shrug off the heavy load under which we were sagging. We find ourselves running in the dark, cool breeze before sunup while the sensible people are still asleep. While they sleep, we are dreaming of what might be, hours and minutes and seconds and distances, of limits and whether they are real. We think crazy thoughts about just how fast we might run for three hours, about swimming and biking and running all day. And this from lawyers and accountants and fully grown dentists "competing for the ultimate prize." Crazy. But sometimes good crazy.

Because life can't be caged. Because life needs a certain amount of craziness and creativity. It is conquest. It is adventure. Otherwise, it's not really life. It's just a couch. And it's beige.

I was thinking on these things Monday morning as I ran, and I thought about Superpounce, and I smiled. Her dolls and stuffed animals are turning up with new outfits that she designed and sewed herself. She made them on the sewing machine she just acquired, the one on which she is to begin sewing lessons on which she insisted (because neither I nor Mrs. Greyhound can sew). She is taking sewing lessons because she wants to be a fashion designer, and we told her she would have to learn how to sew. So she is. And a couple of weeks ago, at age 11, she was searching out colleges on the internet at which she could study fashion design. And she wants to take French. And she wants to go to Paris. And the colors in her world are alive.

It reminded me of these lines (from an old commercial, no less) that I heard on a fantastic fitness podcast:

Here’s to the crazy ones.

The misfits.
The rebels.
The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo. You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them,
disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.
Because they change things.

They invent. They imagine. They heal.
They explore. They create. They inspire.
They push the human race forward.

Maybe they have to be crazy.
How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?
Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written?

Superpounce dreams big. God forbid that I ever conciously or unconciously communicate to her that she ought to be sensible. I'd rather catch her in my arms after she flies too close to the sun.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

And Now For Something Completely Different

"Whenever a man has cast a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct."
Thomas Jefferson

I am prescient.

Yes, it's true. I can see the future.

I will not predict who will win today's contest. That's child's play. I will look far down the corridors of time and tell you what will happen years from now.

1. The deficit will be enormous.
2. The chosen candidate will fall short of the exorbitant promises made to court his constituents.
3. The chosen candidate will act to preserve his own personal power.
4. The people will eventually run the rascals out of town on a rail.
5. Oh, and we'll be militarily engaged in the middle east and will not have energy independence.

How can I be so certain? Because none of these things depend upon who wins the legislative or executive contests. It's life and human nature, and there are some things that just won't bend to politics. Reality.

But, the good thing about life is that it's stubborn. It goes on. And it will take whatever you want to fill it with. Or, it can just sit there empty and unused like a sports car in the garage. And it does not depend upon "leaders" or parties or permission. It just is. It depends on you. And often it's better to ask forgiveness than to beg permission.

So, don't be bummed if your guy loses. And don't get too intoxicated if your guy wins, only to suffer the hangover in two years when you find out he's "just like all the rest of them." Do your duty today by voting your conscience, and then


Give a little whistle, ride your bike, hug your kids or your dog or your spouse. Live big. Love recklessly. And giggle.

I'm Greyhound, and I approve this message.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Power Control

The hearts of Men are easily corrupted. And the Ring of Power has a will of its own.

But something happened then the Ring did not intend . . . It was picked up by the most unlikely creature imaginable . . . A Hobbit . . . Bilbo Baggins of the Shire.

For the time will soon come when Hobbits will shape the fortunes of all.