Sunday, November 25, 2012

10 Reasons, By George, To Like Texas

From today's Times and News-Star
Went to El Paso and San Marcos in the past month. If these were the only towns in Texas you’d ever visit, you’d swear the state bird was a rock and the state flower was a Mexican restaurant. These parts of Texas have depth at both, especially around El Paso, where a brown suit is called “camouflage.”

This is an entirely good thing: I’ve always been pro rock – you know it, I know it, the American people know it – and I could take Mexican food daily through a tube to a vein in my arm. Good stuff.

But a lot of Louisiana people don’t like Texas, something I’ve never quite understood. It’s probably just competitive border rivalry. I say a state that gave us Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, Willie Nelson and the log ride at Six Flags is a keeper any day of the week.

Texas has also given us country music star and authentic cowboy George Strait, surely one of the faces on the Mount Rushmore of Texas singers. Strait is in he middle of his “Cowboy Rides Away” tour, which will end 30 years of getting jiggy with it in a country kind of way out on the road. Those driving from north Louisiana might already know that the closest concert stops in early 2013 are Oklahoma City, North Little Rock, New Orleans, Houston and San Antonio’s Alamodome, where tickets cost an arm, a leg, two steers and Hoss Cartwright’s 10-gallon hat. The tour is to finish with 20 more dates in 2014, giving us time to save up some pesos.

I am trying to achieve liftoff on a pair of tickets but am not holding my Louisiana breath. After looking at prices, well, this is where the redneck rides away.

BUT, a guy’s got to make a living and George certainly has given me and his other fans our money’s worth over the years. In honor of this real-life rodeo roper, rancher and Texas singer, here are the Top 10 George Strait Songs According To Me. Keep in mind that this challenge is too big for me: I never thought any person or group would break Conway Twitty’s record of No. 1 hits, but Strait, with 59, got it done.

1.    Amarillo by Morning: Strictly a peer pressure choice, though I like it. Country Music TV picked it as the No. 12 country tune of alltime. (He Stopped Loving Her Today by George Jones was No. 1.) Also chosen by “The Austin Chronicle” as the No. 7 song about a place in Texas. (El Paso by Marty Robbins was No. 1 – Amen, brother! -- if you’re keeping score at home.)

2.     She’ll Leave You With a Smile:And your Stetson, but that’s about it.

3.     Honk If You Honky Tonk: Written by stud Dean Dillon, who also wrote the following:

4.     The Chair and
5.     I’ve Come To Expect It From You, and

6.     Easy Come, Easy Go: I hope George is giving Dillon free tickets to the concerts. This guy writes songs like Charlie Daniels plays fiddle.

7.     The Cowboy Rides Away, by Sonny Throckmorton. Strait knows where the best songwriters hang out, rest assured.

8.     Give It Away: The boy in the song can’t even give his broken heart away. Bummer.

9.     Go On: It’s a happy song!, at least sort of.

10.     Designated Drinker (with Alan Jackson): When the guy hands over his keys in the first line, it’s NOT going to be a feel-good tune.

Adios, George.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Little Things Mean A Lot -- And Aren't So Little

From today's Times and News-Star

This is the time of year when we traditionally give thanks to George Halas for inventing the NFL, to Bubba Chinet for inventing the plastic fork and paper plate, and to Dorcas Reilly, a staff member in the home economics department of the Campbell Soup Company in 1955, for inventing the green bean casserole.

Dorcas Reilly. Momma D. Queen of the Kitchen. They don’t name ’em like “Dorcas” anymore.

But they do MAKE ’em like that still, if it’s green bean casserole we’re talking about. Dorcas set the simple standard, and now her dish is a Thanksgiving Day classic.

Thank you, Dorcas. ’Preciate it. Were it not for you, there would be a lot of homeless cans of Cream of Mushroom Soup walking around.

Maybe there is something to learn from Dorcas here, from how she thought to invent something when asked to come up with a quick and easy dish made from basic things you’d have hanging around your kitchen on any given day. If we apply that same thinking to cooking up a gratitude list, we can look around right now and see what we’ve got handy to be grateful about.

Few things are as humbling as realizing all the simple things we can do that some others can’t. Just to be able to look around, for starters. To be able to walk to the bathroom. Brush your teeth. Afford toothpaste.

Just to be able to dress yourself. To have clothes to wear. To be able to tie your shoes, maybe walk to a car, maybe drive it to a job or to the store or to a friend’s house.

Some people -- more than we care to think about? -- can’t do any of those things.

This morning before 7, a dog had pooped in my car. Tough break. Just dealing with the fact that that really DID just happen is enough to get your emotional center out of whack. And, once you accept it, I promise you it’s more than enough to get you to pull your car over.

There are two ways to react when your day starts like that: either “It’s gonna be one of those days,” or “Surely it can only get better from here! Sweet!”
So I started my gratitude list, as I’ve been instructed, in those fragile moments after this mini-disaster. And decided that, first of all, I love that dog, though her colon, not so much.

I’m thankful for the animals my son grew up with, for Elfie, for our supplemental dog Spot, and for Jingle Bell, the cat who thought he was a dog. What a break, to have those three for as long as we did.

I’m thankful that when I was only 8, a group of five grown men let me go with them to the South Carolina football at Clemson, a day I have never forgotten and never will forget. They didn’t have to do that.

From that same year, I’m thankful for the farm mom who taught me, in about two minutes, how to drive a tractor. I’m thankful that I’ve been able to work since then, thankful for the jobs I have, for the people who I work with who could be mean or short under pressure but aren’t.

I’m thankful for good green bean casserole and bad, because even if it’s bad it means that at least somebody’s trying, and thought enough of you to share. Besides, in general, things could always be worse. We could be the seat of my car.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Hard To Miss The Ghosts Of Ole Miss

From today's Times and News-Star
I love Mississippi. I love Willie Morris and magnolias and the Neshoba County Fair. I love Oxford most of all, and am lucky enough to have spent a few days there I will never forget.

And maybe that’s the problem, for lack of a better word, with Mississippi. It’s hard to forget for all the right reasons, harder to forget for all the wrong ones. Mississippi just can’t get much of a break in history.

ESPN’s most recent “30 for 30” offering, “The Ghosts of Ole Miss,” explores the University of Mississippi campus in the fall of 1962, when the football team went undefeated despite campus violence over integration and the enrollment of James Meredith. It’s not entertaining television, but it is compelling. Old footage, football and racism never fail to draw a crowd.

The ghosts keep hanging around.

“I really don’t mind paying for my mistakes,” said one of my best friends, born and raised in Mississippi, “but it sucks when I have to pay for the foul ups for people who, for the most part, are dead and gone. At some point, I guess everyone from the South has to yell ‘Uncle’ in unison, just to see if the rest of the country will let us get up.”

The hour-long piece is online for viewing. You likely will learn little new, other than the football team was undefeated that fall, and Coach Johnny Vaught told his players, “The whole country has seen the worst of our state. You 46 guys can show them the best.”

And the Rebels did.

But the piece focused less on the team and more on the situation on campus and in the state, something that’s been done in no small part before. Still, the only real inaccuracy I know of concerns John Hawkins, who was elected as the school’s first black cheerleader, in the 1980s. He did not say, “I shall not carry the Rebel flag,” as the show suggested, but rather quietly declined. According to my Mississippi friend, an Ole Miss student then, the uproar came only after Hawkins was pressed about it.

If you are from Mississippi, you will have watched a different show than I did. Either way, it’s worth thinking about, maybe worth saying a prayer for Mississippi for. Here’s how my Ole Miss friend put it – and this is only after I asked him to watch it; since he’s been down this historical road so often, he knew what to expect, and would have preferred to pass:

“I suppose my real feeling about the program is one of regret -- regret all that stuff happened, regret the responses, regret the attention and regret that nothing seems to be able to wash off the stench. All these many years later, Mississippi remains as a state suffering as the vanquished. For that matter, Mississippi is not alone. Only Southern states are required to submit redistricting plans to the Justice Department. There obviously was a time and place for such actions, but what has to occur for that burden to be lifted?

“The South in general and Mississippi in particular remains the convenient whipping boy for the nation as a whole. I suppose the program was about what I had expected -- a few people trying to promote themselves and a few more making money at the expense of people who weren't part of the problem. We're just the ones who have to deal with the carnage after the fact. They say time heals all wounds. Well, we're waiting.”


Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Sunny Side Up Lesson In Yolklore

From today's Times and News-Star

I am the shell of a man.

That’s because my insides are mostly eggs.

And that goes for you and you. And you too.

Break us and we bleed yellow.

You don’t think so? I beg to differ. Hang with me and I’ll prove that not since Dean Martin has something been so versatile, so good, and yet, despite a fair amount of fame, still so underappreciated.

Seriously, did somebody say something about an egg? If you did, I’m listening. Eggs get my attention. Were it not for eggs, the world would be a much less happy, less tasteful and less interesting place. What kind of question is “Which came first, the chicken or the … other chicken?”

See? You almost GOTTA have eggs!

I am so proud that after 35 years, the Egg People -- that wonderful group of egg enthusiasts who tout this white-shelled miracle of nature – have brought back the jingle originated in 1977, “The Incredible Edible Egg.” Listen for it. The song is updated in both style and lyrics, but the message remains the same: Eggs Rock!

Think of how deeply this tiny food has embedded itself into our culture. There are eggs in cakes, in pie crusts, in brownies, in egg salad and in breads. Eggs help to hold the crust onto its first cousin, the chicken. (Maybe instead of “first cousin” it should be “mother once removed.”)

Eggs are in cookies and creams, in fried rice, and in demand. That’s why the United States production of 75 billion eggs a year is an impressive yet big-picture moderate 10 percent of the world’s supply.

We are an egg society.

Think of this food’s adaptability, if you will. It can be boiled and poached and scrambled and fried. And that’s just at breakfast! What a wonderful thing to wake up to.

It can be served sunny side up, over easy, yellow hard, yellow runny. Omelet, you say? Fine!

It can even be split into either yellow or white. How many everyday foods offer you TWO colors in such a small package? The egg is the fruit of the barnyard.

I could rest my case. But I won’t. Because not only is the egg versatile, it’s good for you. You’ve got 13 essential nutrients in a single egg, the egg publicists tell me, which might be a lie but hey, I’m buying it!, because they know I can’t tell a nutrient from a nutria. But I did grow up around chicken snakes, and not once did I see a sick one.

A large egg contains just 70 calories and has six grams of protein. My sources tell me that this is another “plus” in the “healthy food” column. In other words, an egg as a food is a “good egg.”

See? The word even lends itself to playfulness. You can be a good egg or a bad egg. Some people are egg heads. Some have egg on their face. Or a goose egg on their forehead. Some people put all their eggs in one basket, walk on egg shells, lay an egg, egg others on or protect their nest egg.

“Last one in’s a rotten egg!”

It’s a beautiful word, a beautiful food, and you’ll likely enjoy one today, even if it’s disguised in another food. Which is another reason to love the egg: it’s a simple food of delightful complexity. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Mystery is the egg’s “coop” de gras.