Thursday, November 23, 2017
Friends, it's Thanksgiving! Raise a glass with me, and let us propose a toast ... to Mama, the Dearest on Earth to Us. You may be a perfect stranger to me every other day of the year. But please join in, for on Thanksgiving we're all family. Eh? Are you raising your glass? Raise it! And let us toast Dear Mama, just like we did way back when, on the very day they told us, "This is Thanksgiving, not Mother's Day."
It was actually a revelation -- however unwelcome it seemed at the time -- since we were admittedly a bit carried away honoring Mama. And ignoring the bird spread naked and golden brown on the ritzy dining table of that deservedly expensive hotel. They had a spread loaded with thighs, breasts, and drumsticks, and they charged an arm and a leg for it. What money? Money means nothing on Thanksgiving!
The real problem started with toasts. Most of us don't make toasts on a regular basis. Everything we know about toasts we learned from movies and TV. Which so often specialize in fictional happenings, goings-on, stories with a plot, a conflict, working through the conflict, and resolving itself in a happy ending. Meaning, if a toast doesn't sound like it sounds on TV, there's something wrong.
We went out for Thanksgiving, the whole family. Daughter, sons, their kids, Papa and of course Mama. Mama's the center of the family in most families, especially if your family is anything like ours. She makes our heart melt. We have memories of her tenderness when Papa was gruff, or whatever. We nursed off her, literally, giving us the step-up in life we needed when other kids were bottle-feeding or seeking nutritional refuge in the arms of a goat or something worse.
So when we went out for Thanksgiving at the best place in town -- Expensive! So expensive it's like throwing money down the drain -- it really meant something. We were very sensitive about the experience. Usually we pinched pennies, now we were living it up, like the Rockefellers or the Gettys. Papa had his money withdrawn, it was big-bucks time at Thanksgiving! Every plate was expensive, crazy expensive. So much you could've eaten five times somewhere else and had money leftovers.
It's the same feeling you get at other holidays when the expectation is to go beyond your ordinary means. Christmas is the biggest example, but each person's individual birthday is a mini version of the same thing. Or New Year's, when Papa came home with eggnog and salami and chocolates and candles. You're wondering if it's the same guy who's always so tight. Papa's family went through the Depression. They had to scrape for everything they could scrape together.
OK, so there we were at this hugely expensive place. And naturally, with the money buying us the biggest, best Thanksgiving meal, our tender thoughts turned to Mama. Who was spared cooking the big meal for a change. But would've gladly done it if we hadn't gone out. She would've come up with a turkey, cooked it, carved it, made dressing, made pies, all the fixins, bread by the bushel, and drinks.
I took my drink and lifted it by way of a toast, and the rest of the family immediately joined in. "To Mama, the center of our family, our life, our common love, our heart, our soul." "Here, here," the others said. Then my next brother, not to be outdone, lifted a glass and cleared his throat: "To Mama, who binds us together as one, not just our life but our everything, the best Mama we could've ever hoped for." Then my next brother (3), who of all the siblings saw Mama over the years more than those of us who'd moved away, had a tear in his eye. He lifted a glass and toasted her: "We should probably be toasting Papa," he started to chuckles, "because Papa is the one who found Mama. She was a natural beauty, although, as we've all heard, she was 'a diamond in the rough.' But she had the upbringing in her own family and saw the example of her own parents, and now has exceeded them, which I say not to question the merits of Grandma... Family, raise a glass to Mama!" The fourth brother had a decent toast, and the daughter (5) and the last son, last but not least. His toast was a tearjerker, because when you're Number 6 you're just happy to be alive. Statistically, Number 6s are rare, and reflection on that gives you a keen ability to make good toasts.
When all was said and done, I led the way for everyone, including Papa -- barely able to walk even with a cane -- to get up and go over to pat Mama on the back and give her his own personal plaudits. She was trying to wave us off -- her wonderful modesty and self-effacing nature, further reasons to love her so much. But we went on anyway, patting her, giving her kisses, hugging her. True, the food was getting cold, but that's OK. Thanksgiving comes but once a year, whether or not you have a Mama, and we knew someday we'd lose her. But it wasn't that day! That day she felt the fullness of our love. Even though she tried to wave us off, that was her day!
We were laughing, praising Mama, and outdoing one another something fierce. "This turkey is probably the most expensive turkey in the world, since the meal is so outrageously expensive at this fancy-schmancy place, but it's nothing compared to the turkey Mama could've made!" Similar sentiments were shared. Praising the different aspects of the meal, but discounting it compared to what Mama could've done. When the waiter, obviously at the beck and call of the head cook -- who probably should've been demoted to assistant chief bottle-washer for the remark -- came out and scolded us, saying, "Folks, we'd like to remind you, This is Thanksgiving, not Mother's Day," our table became stone quiet. I looked at my brother like, "What the fu-?"
We might've rioted -- I was personally that close to gutting that particular waiter, and Brother 3, with his greater familiarity with Mama and the over-protective nature he'd nurtured, looked like he was daydreaming of a noose for the head cook. We would've hung him high right there over that very table had Mama not stepped in, saying, "The waiter is only doing his job, beloved family. And he's right. You started in praising me, your Mama, and of course I appreciate and love each one of you always, but in the sentiment of the moment we were all carried away. So let us get back to our meal, dear ones, because as he said, and he was right, "This is Thanksgiving, not Mother's Day."
Sunday, November 12, 2017
It is beyond all debate, there is nothing more beautiful in all creation than the sight of a full sorghum jar. You see it, jam-packed with delicious, shining, brown sorghum. God bless anyone who agrees with me thus far. And shame on you, if -- the very thought of it is unimaginable -- you happen to disagree. Shame! Shame! Shame!
That is to say, I like it. And perhaps I've gone beyond liking sorghum, to the point of loving it. One night a guy I know who works at the store called me, prefacing his remarks with, "You didn't hear it from me," then he proceeded to tell me the new sorghum would be in around 10:00 a.m. I was glad to get the heads up, and -- this is important -- managed to be in line before nearly every other sorghum hawk in town. Somehow there was a couple who obviously knew higher-ups in the system, if not the delivery guy's family. Because there they were, looking like the cat that ate the canary. Foiled me again, scourges of the earth.
OK, the flip side of the argument -- that there's nothing more beautiful in all creation than the sight of a full sorghum jar -- is the exact opposite: There's nothing less beautiful, or more ugly, uglier, than the sight of a sorghum jar that's spent, empty, down to the nubbins, stripped bare of its payload. Snuff films paint a prettier picture. (For the above photo I tried to downplay the hideousness of it all with an attractive background.)
What good are empty sorghum jars? This is a true fact: I save each and every used sorghum jar. I have a theory, and I've heard from friends that "It's not a bad theory," that the essence of sorghum is still present in empties. And that someday, perhaps, hopefully, scientists will be able to produce a full jar of sorghum from nothing more than its microscopic essence. When that happens, if indeed it turns out to be true, one entire wall of my cellar's going to be well-stocked with sorghum!
I'm about done, but I want to get a jab in on the other sorghum hawks. (Most of them already know what I did, but I'm going to brag on myself for the few of you out there who still haven't heard it.) It was the year 2000. With me so far? When an inside source gave me the incredible scoop, that the Maasdam Sorghum Mills was going to open its gates and barns for a rare tour. This gets good! I didn't say a word to anyone till I nearly reached rural Lynnville, Iowa. Then I told my dad. We were riding together, him and mom and me. Dad was all like, "Where we going?" And finally I told him.
The bad thing here is that Dad had just found out he had cancer. But when I told him we were going to the sorghum plant, he was happy as a kid. That was a bright spot in an otherwise devastating time. He perked right up, and my mom was happy too just looking at the two of us laughing. He couldn't believe it. But it was true! We found the place, out in the country, and headed for the barn, pumping fists. He wasn't thinking of cancer for that day anyway! They showed us around, showed us how they bring the sorghum plants in, how they stack it, etc., etc., and with an old huffing/puffing machine with conveyor belts and all the rest, are able to put out big containers of sorghum.
One of the real treats was we got to see alive the guy who started the place! He's no doubt since passed on, like my mom and dad have, since he was practically 100 at the time. He was sitting in a chair, looking around, a nice looking guy. That's enough. I'm getting emotional. It's terrible to recall my dad's failing health and that whole terrible time. And the fact that that tour had to come to an end, and the founder being passed on, etc. If I had a jar of sorghum right this minute, I know I'd overdose and I'm not going to say what would probably happen to me, except I'd no doubt go to Heaven.