Friday, May 20, 2011

The Stirring Spoon

When Dennis' mother moved from her apartment, she gave us several boxes of things. Among them was this spoon. The spoon has always fascinated me because of the wear on the tip of its bowl. I envision Dennis' grandmother standing at her stove, stirring, stirring, stirring with her right hand, wearing away the metal by repeatedly scraping the bottom of a pan.

Any cook would notice the wear and know what caused it, I believe.  Through this spoon I feel a connection with a woman I never met, but one I closely identify with. She prepared god knows how many meals with this spoon in her hand. Did she weary of cooking, as cooks sometimes do? Did she puzzle over a menu for the next meal? Did anyone lend a hand? All I know is that she cooked a lot and that Dennis loved her for her generous lap, the milky tea she prepared for him, and especially for warming his underwear over the floor furnace on cold winter mornings.

I did a little cooking myself yesterday. Too many bananas led to this banana coffee cake with a sugary pecan topping.

Although I used a mixer and rubber spatula, I was mindful of Grandma Comer and all the women before me who spent a good portion of their lives standing at a stove.

By the way, Grandma "Comer" is not a typo. She had three husbands, and buried each of them. (One hopes it wasn't her cooking that did them in.) Her first was someone named Gaston. He died young and she then married Dennis' grandfather Robin Domer. After he died she fell in love at the age of 79 and married an eighty-five-year-old-man one Christmas Eve. He had been a cowboy with Buffalo Bill Cody's show and had many tales to tell a fascinated young Dennis Domer. His last name was Comer.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Another Sunday

Sometimes a magic Sunday comes along. Unexpected things may happen. This time Holmes and Candace paid a visit, bearing wild asparagus and morel mushrooms. We had a feast.

After brunch, I finished baking my first loaf of "artisan" bread. I started it last night, and let the sponge sit for 14 hours. Supposedly this slow method of bread baking develops more flavor. After sampling it, I think the main difference is in the texture, which is more chewy and less apt to break. It will be great for sandwiches.

Later, after visitors departed and we took naps, Dennis went out to mow the lawn on his brand-new John Deere.

I served no useful purpose, but admired the way a white spiderwort has crossed with the common blue one to produce plants with flowers of many shades.

Now we're going to eat cream of tomato soup made from the next-to-last jar of home-canned tomatoes, and watch another Scandinavian movie.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Cooking Disasters

Every cook has them. An unattended pot boils over. A jar of raspberry syrup falls on the floor, breaks, and sprays the cabinets and floor. You know what I mean. A moment's lapse, a slip of the hand, and you spend an hour cleaning up the mess.

I created one today. Starting to make a pie crust, I measured oil into a cup and reached for another measuring cup in the cabinet above. Our weather turned sharply colder today, so I was wearing a fleece jacket. The bottom of the jacket caught the oil-filled cup and overturned it. Oil poured onto the cabinet, my pants, one of my slippers and the floor. End of pie-making, beginning of messy clean up. I hardly knew where to begin.

Eventually I got to the oil-soaked suede slipper. All I knew to do was wash it, not a good thing for leather.

Leather that gets wet dries stiff as a board. It must be massaged and worked to make it malleable again. If only the prosecutors in O. J. Simpson's murder trial had known that they never would have asked him to put on the glove. Now that was a real disaster, one that can never be cleaned up.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Unintended Consequences

We have 19 hens and five nest boxes, but all the hens wanted to lay their eggs in the same nest. A waiting line often formed in front of it and sometimes a hen would drop her egg on the floor, unable to wait her turn. I once saw two hens in the nest with a third trying to squeeze in with them. With fourteen eggs in the same nest breakage is inevitable.

I had heard that placing fake eggs in the various nests would encourage the hens to diversify their laying preference. Ceramic eggs are available from MacMurray Hatchery in Iowa. I ordered a dozen.

We placed two ceramic eggs in each of the unfavored nests and soon the hens were using all the nests. The ceramic eggs are so realistic that we were gathering them by mistake, so we used a black marker to make a dot on each fake egg.

Last summer a big black snake often visited the chicken house for a free lunch. One day I noticed a hen sitting quite high in a nest and discovered that she was sitting on top of the coiled, lumpy snake. Dennis found the snake in the hen house several times, each time tossing that old snake over the pasture fence, but he always came back.

Hibernation solved that problem for the winter, but this morning Dennis found the snake in a nest. Having swallowed a ceramic egg, the snake was not feeling well. Dennis, as usual, put the snake in the pasture. Sadly for the snake, swallowing a fake egg has sealed its fate. It won't be able to digest or pass the egg and will die. It seems a cruel death.

Truly, though, I wasn't surprised because I had read a poem by Clyde E. Daniels called "Chicken Snake." Mr. Daniels' family kept a white porcelain doorknob in their chicken house. The poem begins like this:

    I chased that chicken
     Snake from the hen house
     To the plum thicket
     A many a times,
     Where Papa would say,
     "Let 'im go boy.
     He'll swallow the wrong thing
     One of these days."
     And one day he did.

Thanks to the Texas Folklore Society for publishing the poem in Juneteenth Texas, published in 1996. I hope they will give me permission to include the entire poem here.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Race Relations

Race relations have blossomed in my time. When I was growing up there was only one African American in the community. He lived in a little shack he built by the creek on Dad's farm. (My Dad always helped poor people who needed a place to live.) I saw "Nigger Jim" walking on the gravel road toward sometimes, but never had interaction with him.

A few black families lived in Odessa, where I went to grade school. The families had children, but they couldn't attend my white school. In college at William Jewell there was not one black student. When we went shopping in Kansas City I saw black people, but they barely registered in my consciousness.  I never gave much thought to race beyond that acknowledgment of its existence.

When federal marshalls were required to escort James Meredith to register at the University of Mississippi, I was amazed by the southerners' apparent hatred of blacks. Then the tide turned in the late '60s and early '70s.  Black people were fed up and I was frightened by their hostility. My daughter was abused by black children on the school playground and at the Lawrence swimming pool. That occasioned my first real interaction with blacks.

Oddly, I became the first director of Affirmative Action at the University of Kansas. I had to reach out, and succeeded in establishing good relations with black administrators and faculty. In retrospect I saw that our first interactions were so self-conscious, so careful, as to preclude any real relationships. The difference didn't become clear until Dennis and I moved to Lexington, Kentucky, where our only real friends were a black couple, Kenneth and Sonja, who lived across the street.

All of this came back to me yesterday went I ate lunch in the Merc dining area. As I walked in I  noticed a lovely young black woman at a table with a middle-aged white woman. After I chose a table and sat down, I glanced at her again. She caught my glance. We smiled warmly at each other as strangers sometimes do, then looked away. Now that's a real interaction. What a long way we all have come. Hallelujah!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

We've Made Heaps

We have made heaps and we're surrounded by them.

Heaps of sticks.

Heaps of rocks.

A heap of sand, which Pippi has rearranged.

Heaps of firewood.

Heaps of ashes.

Heaps of compost.

Heaps of mulch.

Heaps of straw bales.

We keep raking it in and piling it up.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Solitude of Pain

When Linda suggested that I post more frequently, I realized that pain has been my preoccupation for almost two weeks. Pain separates one from society, from the earth. It constantly demands attention. It is the Berlin Wall of consciousness, a barrier between us and the free, active life we crave.

Will it be resolved? Will some cause be identified, explained, and remedied? For some of us, no. For others of us, yes. For me, there's no telling at the moment, but I hope so.