Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Now is a good time to take care of Rhubarb bed!

            I always get misty this time of year, because one of my duties when I was a kid back in Maude, Okla., was to take care of my Aunt Lucy's Rhubarb bed. All of my family were big Rhubarb pie eaters and Aunt Lucy, in addition to being a great pie maker was also a Pott County Fair Blue Ribbon Winner with her Rhubarb/Watermelon preserve.
            I don’t get much Rhubarb these days. Knott’s Berry Farm use to serve it, but they turned it into a sweet, watery sauce that is substituted for a salad with their fried chicken and biscuits. I haven’t been there in years, so I don’t know if they still have it on the menu.
            Rhubarb is one of a handful of perennials -- like horseradish, asparagus and dandelion -- that make a tasty and nutritious harvest in exchange for a minimum of work. Once established in its bed, Rhubarb sprouts vigorously and consistently throughout late spring and summer. Common pests and diseases that harm other garden plants leave Rhubarb alone. Pioneers could plant it, forget it, and get on with the business of taming the wilderness. When they were ready for the first pie of spring, so was Rhubarb.
              So consequently each fall I would thin out the bed and replant any plants that had died or were over- harvested. My biggest problem with the Rhubarb bed was keeping Grandpa’s hounds out of it. For some reason the hounds just loved to leave their scent on the plants. So I devised a special fence to keep them out. Before my Uncle Everett would eat any Rhubarb pie at our house he would have to be reassured that I kept the dogs out of the bed.
            Rhubarb can be used for many dishes, but pie is rhubarb’s manifest destiny. The basic pie recipe calls for nothing more than chopped Rhubarb stalks, sugar, and flour mixed and poured into a pie crust. Dot the mixture with butter, lay more crust over the top and bake.
            Refinements include first boiling the stalks to soften them and eliminate stringiness, then adding lemon juice. In Wisconsin, I understand, where they are partial to diary products, pie makers abide by the adage that says a great Rhubarb pies must contain a full quarter-pound stick of butter.
            Indiana pie makers favor custard-style pie with a couple of eggs added to the mixture. In Illinois they’ve been known to compromise their integrity and their waistlines by adding an equal measure of fresh-picked strawberries to the Rhubarb in the pie. Even more shameless are the Minnesota’s who skirt the bounds of decency by discarding the pie crust and adding gelatin, heavy cream, and vanilla to transform plain old pie into Rhubarb mousse. Here in California, the pie makers tend to bake a mean Rhubard/Strawberry pie that I really enjoy and recommend.
            Aunt Lucy always used the basic recipe. Our family has a saying -- you can have any kind of pie you want -- just so it’s Rhubarb.

Friday, August 2, 2013

On the road with Aunt Lil

     I wouldn’t recommend hitch-hiking to anyone in these violent days, but 70 years ago it was a respected and popular means of free transportation. I only remember two times I ever did any serious hitch-hiking. Once when I was a 19-year-old GI, and when I was nine years old.

     It was 1942, and everyone in Maud, Okla., was mobilized to do their part to win W.W.II. School was out for the summer and my brother Dillon Jean who was 12, and I were having a ball playing army and collecting scrap metal. Our Mom who was building airplane at the Douglas plant in Okla. City, wasn’t too happy about us running loose without any adult supervision.  That’s probably why she gave in so easily when our great-uncle Burr and Aunt Lil, who were staying overnight, invited us to spend the summer with them on their Texas Panhandle dry-land farm.

     Before Mom could change her mind, we were packed and ready to go, and early the next morning before daylight, we were barreling down Highway 66 in Uncle Burr’s new 1940 Dodge touring car.

     We made a short food stop in Elk City, hamburgers and Pepsi Colas for us boys, and Uncle Burr’s usual lunch of a cold bottle of beer and a hot cup of coffee. Aunt Lil said she wasn’t hungry and could wait until she got home, and besides the prices were too high.

     Uncle Burr was the closest thing to a hero my brother and I had. He was about 6’4” with a full head of white hair, and always with a week’s growth of whiskers. His lower face was red and sunburned except for his forehead when his 10-gallon wide-brimmed black felt had kept the sun off. We thought he looked just like Randolph Scott. He was probably close to 80-years-old at this time and he had only one ear.

     He always told my brother and I it was cut off my a wild Comanche Indian when he was a boy, but Dad said it was probably skin cancer from too many days in the hot and windy high plains weather. Uncle Burr was my Grandpa’s younger brother and he homesteaded in Wheeler County, about the same time by Grandpa made the Oklahoma Land Run. When my Dad was nine, he father died and he was raised by Uncle Burr and he’s the one I’m named after.

     Aunt Lil was a different breed of cat. She younger than Uncle Burr, but she was a Brindle, and Brindle women were tough. Now I don’t mean physically tough, although shed could still chop cotton with the best, but I mean strong-willed would best describe her. Uncle Burr said she could out baulk any one of his mules.

     If Aunt Lil had a weakness it was hitch-hiking. Even though there was plenty of transportation on the farm, she dearly loved a free ride. Aunt Lil wouldn’t waste her time sticking out her thumb like everyone else. No sir! Her favorite method was to stand in the middle of the road, and it was either run her over or give her a ride.

     Another one of her favorite things was the movies. She was just as big a fan as Dillon Jean and I, but she would never pay admission. Twenty-five cents she said was just too much to pay for only a double feature, newsreel, cartoon and a Buck Roger serial.

     So every Saturday afternoon we would all pile in the Dodge and drive to Shamrock. Uncle Burr would head for the pool hall to play snooker and drink beer with his cronies and Aunt Lil and us boys would patronize the Lone Star Theater. My brother and I would pay our dimes, but Aunt Lil would just walk in and sit down with us. The ushers knew better than to ask her for a ticket.

     The summer passed faster than we wanted it too. Two weeks before we were due to go home, Dad sent Aunt Lil $10 to pay our Greyhound bus fare. Aunt Lil said it was a shame to waste our Dad’s money on bus fare. She convinced Dillon Jean and me we could make enough money picking beans and peddling them door to door in Shamrock, and that just what we did. We made $17 between the two of us and Aunt Lil took charge of the money . . . for safekeeping she said.

     The day before we were to leave Aunt Lil decided why waste our hard earned green bean money on bus fare when we could hitch-hike home. Dillon Jean and I thought that was a heck of a lot more fun than riding the Greyhound Bus.

     So the next morning, bright and early, there we stool, a 75-year-old lady and two boys standing next to the most traveled highway in the U.S. with our thumbs stuck out. Early on Aunt Lil had decided that her usual habit of standing in the middle of the road might not work this time.

     Finally after a while, a kind hearted motorist pulled over and offered us a ride. When Aunt Lil told him that Dillon Jean and I were the only passengers, he said no way would he be responsible for a couple of kids.

     After a couple of more unsuccessful attempts, she finally decided that the only way we were going to get home was for her to go with us, so when the next car stopped we all got in and away we went.

     It took us only seven hours and five rides to travel the 300 miles to Maud. Dillon Jean and I had the time of our lives. The only expense we had was two Pepsi Colas because our lunch was paid for by a kind traveling salesman who picked us up outside Clinton.

     When we got home Aunt Lil gave Dad his $10. He thanked her for seeing us home and shook his head in disbelief. She also gave Dillon Jean and I our $17 we earned selling bean, minus 10 cents for the two Pepsi Colas.

     The next morning Aunt Lil was up bright and early and Dad took her out to the highway to hitch-hike by to Texas. Needless to say my mother made sure my brother and I were occupied the next few summers and we didn’t get back to Uncle Burr’s until after the war was over.




Friday, July 12, 2013

After 60 years, ‘Forgotten War’ is not forgotten!

                Sixty years ago on July 27, 1953, the Korean War officially ended. Before it was over the United Nations forces suffered 995,601 casualties, killed, wounded and missing. U.S. forces lost 29,550 killed and 106,978 missing and wounded. No one knows the number of Korean civilian men women and children that were killed and wounded, or the Chinese and North Korean troops were killed or missing, but it was probably in the several hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions.

It almost seemed that no one knew a war was on unless you knew someone who had been there, or you were there yourself. Remember this was before the daily 5 o’clock TV news and instant CNN communication. News traveled slower and the most that could be hoped for was a couple of news items and a wire photo or two in your local newspaper. Like now, our politicians wouldn’t even admit we were at war. President Truman called it a ‘Police Action’ and Congress never officially declared war.

I might be wrong, but I would suspect that most history books in our school systems today, only gives this forgotten war, very little reference (if any). Yet, in my opinion, it had a more important impact on our country than the Vietnam War. Remember, before the Korean War, our leaders believed that nuclear superiority was all we needed to protect us. When it started on June 25 1950, our army was the smallest it had been in 50 years and in the first months of combat our untrained and inexperienced troops paid for this neglect with high casualties. The defense build-up that followed this war gave our economy a boost that did not end until 40 years later with the break-up of the Soviet Union.

               A lot of things were forgotten about this war. Until the publicity that Vietnam MIA’s received, it seemed that no one was too concerned for the thousands of our troops that are still listed as missing after all these years. It also seemed like the Korean War Memorial in Washington DC, was built as an afterthought because of the popular Vietnam Memorial.

               Those Korean War missing in action troops are not forgotten by my family. I had a cousin who was listed as missing when the Chinese came in the war during that first cold winter. My aunt, until the day she died, believed that he was alive and would come home some day.

We were simply discharged and mustered out with something like $300 and a bus ticket home. That was not bad when you consider I was only getting $120 per month as a PFC. Of course the best thing for most of us, was that we were eligible for $125 a month, plus tuition for schooling under the GI Bill.

                 We were too young for WWII and too old for Vietnam. Going to Canada or enrolling in college was not an option; the draft took care of that. It was the only war my generation had, and we were called up and we served.  U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., a veteran of the Civil War, put it best when he wrote that “In our youth, our hearts were touched with fire, and we were changed forever.”


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Cecile K. Bosworth: An Unsung Heroine!

     Reading the Obituary Page is not one of my daily pleasures, but by accident recently I happen to glance at an LA Times obit that caught my attention. It read: “Cecile K. Bosworth: Promoter of G.I. Bill and Armed Forces Day has died.” This caught my attention, because in a sense, my generation is  a product of the G.I. Bill.

     This one piece of far-sighted legislation has probably changed our society and culture more than anything else that has happened in the 20th Century. Perhaps only the Homestead Act that also came out of our American Civil War, another terrible conflict, would come close to the impact that the G.I. Bill has had on our nation.

     The Homestead Bill opened up farm ownership to millions of families and the G.I. Bill has enabled untold numbers of men and women to have a college education who under normal conditions would never be able to afford it. These newly educated Americans went on to become the doctors, the lawmakers, the educators and importantly the scientist who won the race to the moon. These men and women were able to earn more income and in turn they could afford to their children college. The majority of the second generation of G.I. Bill students now enjoys one of the highest standards of living in history.

     Born in Philadelphia, Cecile Bosworth moved to Hollywood with her family when she was a toddler. She attended UCLA and then worked as a film researcher. Her husband was Hobert Bosworth, silent screen actor and Paramount Studios co-founder. He was the star of the first full-length motion picture shot in Los Angeles.

     After she was widowed in 1943, she became the keeper of his early film props, diaries and other memorabilia and was an unofficial historian of motion pictures.

     But she was much better known for her civic activism and activities on behalf of servicemen.

     Bosworth established a club for servicemen shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, her volunteers offered coffee, sandwiches friendly smiles and even spare rooms or beds to servicemen on leave.

     Throughout the war, Bosworth worked with California congressmen to create what became know as the G.I. Bill of Rights to help servicemen step back into civilian life. The far-reaching legislation provided funds to finance college education and low-interest loans to purchase homes.

     In 1943, she proposed and lobbied for a joint resolution of Congress establishing an American Services Honor Day, which is now observed annually as Armed Forces Day.

     How many men and women do you personally know that have a better life today because of the G.I. Bill. How many families own their homes today because of the low interest Veterans Administration home loan program that the G.I. Bill set up. Personally the $125 per month plus tuition and books that I received years ago made a difference for me.

     Thank you Cecile! Even though, in my ignorance, I was never aware of what you did for me, I hope you were happy and enjoyed life. I know you made life much better for millions of veterans. It’s unfortunate that sometimes those who deserve it don’t get the recognition they deserve in their lifetime. 



Oh Canada Eh!

            Jan and I, plus Bob and Carolyn Traylor just got back from a trip to Niagara Falls and Canada. It was to celebrate the Traylors’ 50th Wedding Anniversary. We were joined there by Carolyn’s Banning High School buddies. Dick and Susan Coombs. Susan by the way was Carolyn’s Maid-of-Honor those 50 years ago.
            I have to admit that Niagara Falls was on our bucket list and we were duly impressed with it all. To us Southern Californians, seeing all that free flowing water made us mighty envious and nervous.
            We shanghaied Dick to serve as our chauffer. Bob and I figured that him being a retired rocket engineer or whatever, he would be the most qualified to figure out those Canada highways. (You notice I wrote Canada highways instead of Canadian highways. They are sensitive, I think, about using the word Canadian.) Anyway Dick did a great job, and too the best of my knowledge, the Mounties have not, as yet, put out any wanted bulletins on him.
            One of the highlights of the trip was attending Canada’s longest running dinner show, “Oh Canada Eh?”It has been more than 19 years, over 4,000 performances, since it opened in Niagara Falls City. It is in a rustic log cabin theater seating 250 guests. In between scenes they served the best family style meal this side of Oklahoma City.
            All in all, it was a great vacation and  an outstanding Wedding celebration for the Traylors.



A shining example to his community

           According to the laws of probability it is not likely that lightning will strike again in exactly the same place under ordinary circumstances. However, you would have to reconsider the circumstances if you were acquainted with Mr. Oscar Brownson, who farmed the section next to our  homeplace in Maude, Oklahoma.

          It was documented during one three year period in the 1940’s, that Oscar, known as ‘Sparky’ to everyone in Pottawatomie County, was struck by lightning on the average of once every 15 months and survived. On top of that, Sparky wasn’t one to take unnecessary chances either. He installed lightning rods on each corner of his house and he even put them on his dairy barn and corncrib. He also hired a construction firm from Oklahoma City to install a giant lightning rod on the windmill next to the barn. In his efforts to protect himself, he even mail-ordered all the way from North Carolina, a special pair of safety shoes that were equipped with ‘anti-gravity’ soles. As another precaution, he also dragged a chain from the rear axle of his pickup truck to cut down on the static electricity.

          For all his trouble and expense to ground himself, Sparky wasn’t that successful. It was said that at one time or another, lightning had knocked him out cold, burned off his hair, damaged his hearing, ripped shoes off his feat, and hurled him 10 feet or more through the air.   If fact, some people were so afraid to be around him during a storm, that he was once asked to leave a Wednesday night prayer meeting when a sudden spring squall knocked out the lights.

          I have a 1947 newspaper clipping from the Pott County News that described what happen to him when he was once struck down. The headline reads “Sparky Brownson hospitalized after starting a grass fire”. The story quotes Sparky as saying: “There was a terrible storm about ten miles away. I was plowing and stopped my tractor and when I got down to watch it, I noticed a small black cloud near me. Then I smelled sulfur and my hair was standing on end. When it struck, I felt as if I was being cooked. My hat caught fire. The bolt traveled down my body, burning me and setting my underwear on fire. It knocked me down and one of my shoes was been ripped off. Luckily I was close to the windmill and was able to put out the fire in my underwear in the water tank.” The story also reported that Sparky spent four days in the hospital recovering. It was after this incident that Sparky started wearing ‘flash-proof’ underwear that he bought at an army surplus store in Shawnee.

           For all his problems Sparky was popular at barn dances and outdoor bar-b-cues. He was know as the hi-light of most parties because he would hold a lightbulb in either hand and light up the gathering. Children simply loved him. He was always being asked to referee their afterdark games. He seemed to have a glow about him that gave you a sense of security. When he passed away from natural causes  later on in life, our city fathers ran a electrical line from his grave to power Maude’s only stop light.


How to Speak Oklahoman

The University of Oklahoma football season is just around the corner, so for all those wantabe Okies out there, it’s time for The Briar Patch to release secret family information on “How to Speak Oklahoman.” Remember in football if you first teach your opponents to speak the language, then their hearts and minds will follow.

FOE (noun)--More than three.

BECON (noun)--A pork product that’s good at breakfast.
PLAY-IT (noun). A serving device that you use with a knife and fork. "Honey ... git me another play-it of beckon and aigs"

AINT (noun)--The sister of one of your parents. "Come over here an give your aint some sugar."

ALL (noun). A petroleum-based lubricant. "I sure hope my brotherin-law puts all in my pickup truck."

ARGON (noun)--Northwestern state where it rains a lot. "You from Yurp?" "Nah ... I's from Argon."

AWDUH (noun)--Obedience to the law. "The Marshal brought law an awduh to the town."

BAHS (noun)--A supervisor. "If you don't stop reading these Okie words and git back to work, your bahs is gonna far you!"

(adjective/verb)--Cooked in very hot water. "Bring me some bald shrimp and another moon pah!"

BIDNESS (noun)--A commercial venture.

OWNNA (phrase)--"Ah'm ownna git me inta tha Moon Pie bidness!"

BLEEVE (verb)--To accept as true. "Ah bleeve ah'll have another moon pah!"

BOB WAR (noun)--A sharp, twisted cable. "Boy, stay away from that bob war fence."

CHICK (verb)--To inspect or monitor.

URAL (noun)--Petroleum product belonging to the person being addressed. Usage: "Chick ural, mistah?"

CLINICS (noun)--A brand-name paper tissue. "I'd best git me a box of clinics before I sneeze agin."

COAL (noun)--A common sickness. "I aint coming to work ... I has a coal."

COAT (noun)--A legal gathering. "All rise ... this coat is now in owduh"

EAR (noun)—A colorless, odorless gas (unless you are in LA). "He can't breathe ... give 'em some ear!"

FAR (noun)--A conflagration. "If my brother-in-law doesn't change the all in my pickup truck, that things gonna catch far."

FARD (verb)--Terminated. "Bubba don't work here no more ... we fard him."

FARN (adjective)--Not local. "I cudnt unnerstand a word he sed ... must be from some farn country."

FAWL (noun)--Aluminum wrap for storage of food items. "Could you please wrap my leftover chicken livers in fawl?"

FAY-IR (verb)--Anxious concern. "The only thing we have to fay-ir is fay-ir itself!"

FRAIZIN (noun)--Not warm. "Shut dat dar winda, it's fraizin in here."

FRAUD (adjective)--Cooked in oil. "That Southern fraud chicken sure was good."

FUSSED (adjective)--A premier position. "You been here before?" "Nah ... this is my fussed time."

GROAN (noun)--To increase in size. "My, how you've groan!"

HERBAL (adjective)--Terrible, awful. "He's got hisself into one herbal mess."

HOWSCUM (a question)-- "Howscum Bubba tore down the bob war fence?

LAYMAN (noun)--A tart fruit. " Sugar, git me some more of that layman aid!"

LILAC (verb)--An untruth. "He's a nice enough feller, but he can lilac a dog!"

LOWERED (noun)--A deity. "Lowered, bless this pick up truck and don’t let my brother-in-law wreck it."

MILL (noun)--Food consumed during a certain time period.

Usage: "Bubba, turn off Hee-Haw and eat yur mill!"

MUNTS (noun)--A calendar division. "My brother-in-law bard my pickup truck, and I ain't herd from him in munts."

PA (noun)--A baked pastry dish. "This pecan pa is the best ah ever et."

PRIOR (noun)--A talk with God. "As long as teachers continue to give their students tests, there will be prior in school!"

RAFFLE (noun)-A firearm. "Son, fetch me ma raffle."

RANCH (noun)--A tool. "I think I left my ranch in the back of that pickup truck my brother-in-law bard a few munts ago."

RETARD (verb)--To stop working. "My granpaw retard at age 65."

SURP (noun)--What you put on pancakes or waffles. "Pass me the surp!"

TAR (noun)--A rubber wheel. "Gee, I hope that brother-in-law of mine doesn't git a flat tar in my pickup truck."

TIRE (noun)--A tall monument. "Lord willing and the creeks don't rise, I sure do hope to see that Eifel Tire in Paris sometime."

TUBAFOR (noun)--Lumber. "Don't make me have to whomp ya upside the head with a tubafor!"

YURP (noun)--A collection of countries located across the Atlantic Ocean from 'Marika. "The QE2 takes you from New York to Yurp."