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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Cat (Ch. 24 - The Old Man and Me)

Hattie Larlham was the best doggone cook West Virginia ever produced.  Her Thanksgiving meals were celebrations of the joys of her kitchen and affirmations of life.  Ours was the spread of thousands, the quintessential Norman Rockwell "Saturday Evening Post" cover.

From the range came twenty pounds of turkey, golden in its glazed glory, fragrant of celery and giblet stuffing.  Hours had been spent drying bread, white, wheat, rye, French... every sort we could find in the 'day-old' bins, in the oven at low heat to make this perfect stuffing. The bird itself had been basted in soup stock and slathered with butter, then placed in a deep roaster and covered.  Four hours of low-heat cooking, followed by an hour at much higher heat, with constant re-basting, created a masterpiece of edibility.

The bird was placed on a giant carving plate in the throne of the king of birds - the center of the table.  Flour gravy was made from the bastings in the pan.  The bird was surrounded by bowls containing potatoes whipped with milk and butter, green-bean casserole, stuffing, yams with a brown sugar sauce reduction and tiny marshmallows.  Farther out in a secondary orbit were plates of rolls and butter, jellied cranberry and whole cranberry sauces, a sectional plate of olives, both black and green, celery, carrots, tiny tomatoes and a dip.

We all bowed our heads as the Old Man said Grace, in the tone of a Baptist minister praising the Lord for the wonders of life.  When he had finished, we all raised our heads and gazed upon the feast before us, and its crowning glory; old Tom Turkey - from inside of which, through the great space from which the stuffing had been extracted emerged... the head of our gray farm cat!
Pandemonium!  The Old Man grabbed at the cat, which erupted from the turkey beneath his arm and streaked the length of the table, leapt over my mother, and turned left.  The cat was betrayed by the grease on its feet and the linoleum floor.  Sliding and scrabbling she bounced off the bottom of the stove, dug in with her claws... and ran in place on the greasy linoleum long enough for the Old Man to reach her.

With one huge swoop he had her by the scruff of the neck, unable to reach him with her claws and yowling.  Continuing forward, he flung open the rear door and flung the cat... spang into the screen door!  From which she rebounded over his shoulder and into the sink-full of dirty dishes.  I grabbed her as she abandoned ship, the Old Man Opened the screen door and I heaved her out.  Silence.
We looked at the turkey.  We looked at each other.  We looked at the grease and soapy water on the floor.  We looked again at each other.  Mother began to laugh, and it was contagious.  Even the Old Man laughed.

When the laughter died down, we all sat again.  "Well," said the Old Man, "we don't eat anything from the inside anyway."  And he began to carve.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Veterans Day - 11/11/1962

Fifty-four years ago when 11/11 came around I wasn’t a veteran, but I was becoming one at the US Army's Medical Training Command, Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. I was three or four days short of three months into a three-year enlistment, and I had not considered when I got up that morning exactly what “Veteran’s Day” meant to a military command. Turned out, it meant a lot, and it also turned out that there was no better place to celebrate our predecessors than San Antonio.
There were five military reservations in and around San Antonio, with thousands of soldiers and airmen assigned to them. In addition, there were tens of thousands of retirees from all branches of service, and the children of those retirees had their choice of dozens of military academies. Military bases, retirees, retiree organizations (American Legion, GAR, VFW, AmVets and at least a dozen I’d never before heard of), military schools and a city filled with broad, straight streets... it was Parade Day, and no foolin’ around.

Each service contributed a company-sized contingent to the City’s official parade past the Alamo and down Houston Street through downtown San Antonio. In addition, there was equipment on display from all the services, and each contributed a marching band. And then there were the military academies. Each had a marching corps and a marching band, and some had a dance corps. It was a long parade, even without floats. We trainees did not get to attend that parade. We had our own celebration on base. I returned to Ft. Sam in 1964 as cadre in the Medical Training Command, and finally got to see the parade.

Training classes were held in the morning, but there were huge formations (of which we were all a part) on base in the early afternoon. The formations were reviewed by ranking officers and local dignitaries. The ambient temperature on any November 11 in San Antonio was about equivalent to midsummer in Ohio. The parade ground was packed dirt, and it was dusty. We marched in the heat and dust past the review stands in Class A uniforms (sturdy khaki pants and long-sleeved khaki shirts with ties and saucer hats) and then stood in the south Texas afternoon heat for an hour listening to the denizens of the reviewing stand tell us how important we were to America’s freedom and future. We were assured that as veterans we would be honored by America for our service (there was, as yet, no Vietnam War), and proud to have served, which I already was and still am.

San Antonio was filled with uniformed military personnel on Veterans Day, and it was a party late into the night. I doubt it’s nearly as much today, but on Veterans Day in 1962 it was good to be a soldier... or a veteran.