Alligators 'n Roadkill

Alligators 'n Roadkill
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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A brief personal history.

Sometime ago, like late in 2010, I think, I began to write a brief recounting of my life story, beginning with childhood recollections, going forward until we retired in Costa Rica.  I only shared it with family members and close friends, so it did not get published here.  After some reflection, and a bit of revision, I have decided to begin sharing the nine part series right here.  So, without further ado, here we go.

"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening.  But this wasn't it." - Groucho Marx

(Note:  This was written when we were living in Costa Rica, about seven years ago)

I don’t know how this will come out, but I figure I need to give it a try.  I have long been accused of being negative, grouchy, mean-spirited, and just generally not nice.  The fact of the matter is more like this:  I detest any and all signs of dishonesty, wherever I find it.  I detest ignorance that remains uncorrected in the face of all opportunity to be informed.  I refuse to suffer a fool gladly (or otherwise).  And, ultimately, I think of myself as more of a realist than anything else.  While others may perceive as negative those traits I listed up above, they are definitely not negative from my perspective.  So, I have to say that, if all of the above traits cause me to seem grouchy or mean-spirited, or whatever, I certainly make no apology, and have no intention of changing my attitudes at this late date.
And, if the above doesn’t help to dispel some of the wrong impressions of me, and all of the ‘negatives’ aside, let me say that I know that I have been truly blessed in my life.  I have a wife/helpmeet/partner/spouse/better half who easily exceeds all minimum requirements for her job.  She has stood by me now for more than 48 years, and continues steadfast.  She has not only assisted me with the creation and nurturing of four outstanding now adult children, but nurtured me, and protected me, and shaped me for all of these years.  She continues to be a shining example for all and sundry, and somehow still has time to be very active in our community.
I have been blessed in that I have been able to pursue the education that I wanted, and was successful in preparing myself for a career that I wanted, and then was able to work in that career for more than thirty years.  I may not have chosen the exact time and place of my retirement, but when reality hit me upside the head, I was prepared to walk away, and managed it without any recriminations.
Who knew all those years ago (growing up in Washington State, at a near poverty level, in what is now known as a dysfunctional family) that I would end up here in paradise?**  Now, I’m not saying we were on welfare, because welfare as we know it today did not really exist.  I believe that there was something that my father called “rocking chair,” as in, “I never did take that rocking chair, and I don’t want to start now,” but I was never real clear on what that was, exactly.  I think that it meant unemployment, but it seems more logical to conclude that it might have been some sort of disability, maybe Social Security.  I do know that there was more than one time when we had things like canned chicken, bags of flour, maybe butter, and some other staples, in nondescript packaging (what we have learned to call generic) to eat, because dad was out of work.
You see, my father was an old school high school drop-out, if you know what I mean.  He never really talked about much of anything (I mean that literally, figuratively, and any other way) with me, but I think he was deeply ashamed of never having finished high school (he reportedly got as far as the 11th grade).  He certainly never had much education beyond that level, although I think he attended some sort of business school later in his life, in connection with a disability (in my recollection, he lost the vision in one eye sometime in the 1950’s; however, as you will see from my younger brother, David’s recollection, this may have occurred earlier than that).  He then went on to hold a number of jobs as a bookkeeper after that training, after many years of working on farms, wheat ranches, and in lumber mills.
My father was old school in other ways, too.  For instance, my mother never learned to drive (horrors!  A woman driving?), and she was not expected to ever do anything outside the home.  She was a housewife, and that was all she was expected to be, ever.  She certainly never got involved in anything like PTA, or being a den mother, or anything else that went on outside the home.  And, she seemed to accept that role, to the point that I (for one) certainly thought that she considered herself to be something of a martyr in later life (OK, not so much her later life; I think she was a martyr in her 40’s).  The thing is, my parents were not stupid, nor were they totally ignorant, or even uneducated.  They were articulate, both did crosswords – well.  They were nuts about pinochle (and, I don’t think that is a game for idiots), and I think they were generally up with current events.  But, they never had a social life that did not involve drinking.  A lot.  And, I never saw them go out to a movie, or anything, but occasionally they would go out to eat (as long as it was in a restaurant that had a bar).
But, something happened to them, long before I was born.  I have never really known what it was, or when it happened, but they were flawed.  Seriously.  All I know is that all I heard while growing up was “The Depression was………..”, “The Depression did……….”, “The Depression led to ………..”, “The Depression meant…………”, over and over.  The depression, the depression, the depression, the ever-lovin’-never-ending-de-frickin’-pression!  How they suffered during the Depression!  How they struggled during the Depression!  How bad everything was during the Depression!  It affected my parents (he was born in 1917 & she in 1918) so profoundly, that I often think today, it left no room in their lives for anything else – and, that includes World War II.  Actually, maybe that is where the problem arose; with WWII.  I know that my father avoided military service during the War because he had at least one child born prior to the War, and I suspect that single fact may have weighed heavily on both of them.
David, my youngest brother, has provided this recollection:
About the old man’s eye.  The version I always heard went like this…….. 
Me:  How did Dad lose his eye? 
Mom:  He lost it in a sawmill accident.  A saw blade caught a knot and threw it across the sawmill and it hit him in the eye. 
Me:  Why didn’t he ever serve in the Army? 
Mom:  Well, since he had lost his eye he was declared 4F.
Me:  So, he lost it before the war?
Mom:  Yes.
No matter how many times I asked that is the version I always got.  The story about him having kids to keep getting deferred just seemed to have a life of its own.  Especially [the part] about them getting pregnant with me when Korea came along.  By then it was just a reflex action.  You know, Dad read the paper and see[s] the approaching conflict and say[s] to Mom that it was time to get pregnant again.
OK, regarding what I said up above about WWII weighing so heavily on the folks, before David’s report:  Maybe that struck you as a strange statement.  What do I know?  Nothing, really.  But, here is what I also remember growing up.  My recollection of everything in the world during the fifties, especially, was that it seemed as if the single [most] defining event in the history of the world was indeed WWII (more important than the Depression).  Most of my friends during childhood had fathers who had served overseas, and it seemed that just about everyone I knew had lost uncles or other relatives in the War.  All I remember hearing at home about the War was how my old man had worked for the Navy Department at the beginning of the War, in Bremerton, Washington, and that they moved to Tacoma during the War, and I’m not sure what he did after that.  I think he may have continued working with either the War Department, or the Navy Department until the end of the War, but I’m not sure.  I seem to remember hearing once that he was ready to enter the Army at War’s end, but was saved by the fact that the War did indeed end.
What I also know is that my father (who made a career out of being an alcoholic – the only career at which he ever succeeded) never held any single job more than a year or two, and that my life was a series of moves from one place to another.  I counted up when I was eighteen, and could name 19 different places of residence.  My sister, Patricia Roberts, says that My earliest memories were in the Salishan projects, those meager houses provided after the war.  From there we were in Elk Plain outside of Tacoma.*
My earliest recollection, from the time I was about four years of age, is that we lived in a rural setting in a house that was always referred to as “The Burned Down Place.” (Or, was it house?  Patty does recall this as the burned down house).  I believe my father worked at a lumber mill at that time.  Patty remembers more details regarding this stop along the road, as she recounts: 
I remember going to school on a school bus.  We lived down the road from Grandma Kanz who was working as housekeeper for four old geezers who raised turkeys.  Before that I can remember Grandma Kanz living in a neat small house in Tacoma and the privilege of visiting her and getting an overnight stay as a very small child.  She had a great garden and once I ate too many fresh peas from the pods and have not liked peas to this day.  There was talk during my stay of the depression and feeding the hobos on her back steps in Waitsburg and when we heard the train whistles during the night I began seeing shadows in every corner.  She made a ritual of locking doors and windows and propped a chair under the back door handle. 

The burned down house wasn’t much of a place but we kids slept upstairs and had warmed bricks wrapped in flannel for our feet because there was no heat up there.  Dad would stand at the bottom of the stairs and tell us to settle down…”don’t make me come up there”.  We were always giggling and reading comic books under the covers.  Also the stories of the outhouse  and the snake spit in the grass outside the door which we usually kept open and shared since it was a double seater.

Mom took us for walks over to visit Grandma, and the old guys and pointed out the wildflowers [along the way].  [Patty remembered, and I do, too, that] she always read to us.  We were not unhappy but [then] came the fateful day when I got off the school bus to see the house on fire.  Everything burned except [the] Xmas presents [that they had already bought] and stored in a [separate] shed.  Mom was pregnant with David [at this time] and we had to move into [a] cabin in the woods [a few miles up the road].

All I really remember about The Burned Down House is that the view of Mount Rainier from the outhouse was truly beautiful, and that during the blizzard of 1951, I was terrified to go out to the outhouse for days because the snow was drifted over my head, and the path that had been cleared was more like a tunnel through the snow, than a path.  I also recall playing like “Louie Yeager,” an old man known to the family.  He had a wooden leg, so walked with a marked limp, and he always wore a hat, so I would limp up and down the lane, being him.
Meanwhile, some input has arrived from he who should have more to offer to this collection than anyone else, big bro Mike, who recalls:

The same geezers who raised turkeys were the proprietors of the saw mill where dad worked.  The mill employed a wood fired boiler, generating steam to power the equipment.  Rather fascinating to watch.  As a child, WOW, it seemed such marvelous equipment – now appears to be more contraption… During this time, we had moved from the Salishan projects to “the burned down house”. Indeed, this “burned down house” was a two story palace with running water and a path.  That’s right, a path (all the way to the out-house).  [Mike does recall this time frame as when dad lost his eye…] Your first impression was correct in the early 50’s, well after WW2.  Also, Korea was heating up and the folks had so many freakin kids… The running water quit (don’t recall why) and we spent several months hoisting a bucket from the well up until the house burned.  Then [came] the wonderful accommodations that I recall as “Rocky Ridge”.  This was, indeed, the one bedroom cabin with an attic for four of us kids.  Some plus – a hand pump in the kitchen to get water – some minus – still had the path with a single holer {Patty’s recollection of the “double seater???  No… as I recall, this was called a double or 2 holer} (but if you left the door open…. You were able to view Mt. Rainer).  To be clear… I recall the burned down house with a two holer and Rocky Ridge with a one holer…
Mike then pointed out to me that my wording up above, when talking about the importance of certain historical events only served to confuse folks, leading some to think that maybe I (in my dotage, as it were) have put the events of WWII before those of The Great Depression, chronologically speaking.  What I was trying to express was that it seemed to me as if the entire world – in the fifties – placed more significance on the events of that war than they did on the significance, or importance of the events of The Great Depression.  At that same time, it appeared to me that our parents had turned this around, and that they showed that The Great Depression had made a bigger difference in their lives than did the War.  Mike expresses it much better than I, however, as you can see:
Now I must lift an item from your dissertation that I found confusing… in the history of the world was indeed WWII (before the Depression).  As I recall, WW2 followed the great depression… but living with your folks, I felt the depression followed the family so many years… and years… and years.
Next, I remember a place called Rocky Ridge, really just a mountain cabin, with an attic/loft, where all four kids slept.  David was born right after we moved to this cabin, and I do recall the four of us being introduced to the new brat, all bundled up in the bed with mom.  I believe we stayed there for a matter of months, only.  I remember we had a truly awesome red (steel, maybe made by Murray, but I don’t remember) coaster wagon that was like the main ‘toy’ for all of us kids, and that this cabin was located back from the main highway, with a little creek running between us and the highway.  I looked but could not find an image of this exact wagon, but all one can find on the ‘net is shots of the famous Radio Flyer wagons, and quite frankly, Radio Flyer could not hold a candle to this sucker.  While this one was red, it was a deeper, richer red, with white or silver trim, and lettering.  The front end was oval, and elevated in relation to the sides and the back.  The back was squared off.  The wheels were a bit fatter, and therefore more seriously heavy duty than any little old whussy Radio Flyer.  The front handle was curved, and bent back over the front end, which made it very easy for a speed happy kid to sit in the wagon and steer while coasting down hills and over cliffs (that’s where it really hit the high speeds, you know; over cliffs).
In back of the cabin itself, some distance up through the woods, was the old highway, which was a long curving hill that was pretty steep.  We would pile into the wagon, and coast down that hill, going like the Devil was after our collective asses.  We also spent a lot of time in the creek, looking for crawdads.  Again, Patty’s recollection is more thorough than mine:  (but, that will have to wait until the next part; this sucker is getting long).


*Regarding Salishan, I went ahead and looked it up, and learned that this was a very large housing development that was put up specifically to house Government employees and their families during WWII.  It later devolved into low income housing, and the area is now being redeveloped into more main stream housing.

**"living in paradise" was a reference to the fact that we were living in Costa Rica, and it was still early days.  Before the shine wore off, exposing the rust and bleeding innards that was our Costa Rica experience.


The BIG Disclaimer:  I probably should have included this with the first draft of this little reminiscence, but better late than never.  These are, of course, my recollections, my musings, and my opinions.  Before I got into it very deeply, though, I did request input from my siblings because the early parts of this certainly included them, and they had a big part in me becoming me.  Hell, if it wasn’t for Mike passing along his old clothes to Dennis, who passed along the ones that were still serviceable to me, I would have spent most of my childhood wandering around as naked (and clueless) as the day I was born.  As it was, I was just clueless.  And, by the way, not many hand-me-downs were still serviceable after Dennis got through with them.  That boy was hard on clothes!  So, while these early parts include that input from siblings, ultimately, as we move along, you will note (but probably not long remember) that this becomes more and more, me and me, and, of course, me.  Sorry for that.  You want one to be about you, then you go ahead and write it.  Meanwhile, a big part of my rationale for even starting this little project was to get this stuff on paper (OK, a hard drive on a PC, & then on a monitor) for our kids, and their kids, so that they might know a little bit more than we ever knew about our family.
(Disclaimer continues……….)
Now, I can name my grandparents (I think), and most of my cousins and aunts and uncles.  But, I never knew any of them.  And, I cannot go farther back and tell you who their parents and grandparents might have been.  My maternal grandfather was John Kanz, and he reportedly came to the U. S. from what used to be known as Austria-Hungary, as a young man.  My maternal grandmother, Emma Kanz (nee Petry??) was reportedly born in Wisconsin, and moved west (to the eastern part of the state of Washington) in a railroad box car with her entire family around the turn of the last century specifically to homestead.  My paternal grandfather was either Ray Arthur, or Arthur Ray (a possible name change in there somewhere), and all I know is that he came to Washington from Humboldt County (Eureka), California.  My paternal grandmother was Grandma Denny (Essie?), and I have no idea what her maiden name was, might have been Andrews.  She was Denny because she and granddad divorced, and Glenn Denny was her second husband.  I could go on, but not much longer.  If anyone wants a bit more information about our parents’ generation, let me know, and I’ll see if I can run through the litany.

So, now, we move forward to our story…………..(pretty much the end of the disclaimer).

Saturday, May 13, 2017

American Restoration, El Chuco Style

Way back around the mid- to late 80's, I acquired a small restaurant type milk refrigerator from a family member.  It is labeled as a Norris Home Dairy Bar, and is just like we used to see in restaurants, and Army Mess Halls, for dispensing cold milk.

I used this little thing in at least two different homes here in El Paso, going back to when I used to cross the border into Cd. Juarez with great frequency, and buy cases of Corona Extra for five dollars per case.  A case of Coronas in Mexico is still only 20 bottles.  In the late eighties, into the early 90's, I used to cycle about 4-5 cases of empties through this little fridge.

It went with me to Dallas, in 2005, after a year off for good behavior (it was in storage here in El Paso), and then, when we moved to Costa Rica, in early 2009, I passed it along to my youngest son, Andrew, in Austin.

Andrew put it to work in his garage, and cycled his own beer through it, while plastering the outside with stickers for all kinds of things, up until he built his own full size refrigerator for his home brew.  He now has a number of taps, with a closed CO² system, for his five gallon kegs.

So, recently, when he brought his family over here to El Paso, for our niece's QuinceƱera, he also brought my little beer fridge home to me.  I did not care for the stickers all over it, and also noticed that the years had not otherwise been very kind to my little friend, so I decided to do my own version of "American Restoration" on it.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take any before pictures, so the best I can do here is show you some "in-progress" pix, along with the finished product.  First, however, this is what one of these might look like, without all the stickers:

The door, after removal of stickers, looked like this:



Then, as I continued to work on it, I found some problems with rust:




I hit those areas with a wire brush, vinegar/baking soda, and brillo pads, until I got it a bit better.  I even found one hole eaten through, that I hope I fixed with a product for patching small holes in metal.

Next, after masking and removing some of the parts, I began painting with Appliance White:












I did take the door off to make it easier to work on it, then finished painting after putting the door back on:


The inside, which is (fortunately) stainless steel needed to be cleaned up a bit:


And, then, By George, I think I got it!


And, of course, the proof is in the pudding, or in this case, proof of a cold enough (for me) temperature, and restocked with my favorite beverage.



Friday, May 12, 2017

El Paso, Q has left the building.

We were happy when Rudy's finally came to town.

"Finally," we thought.  "We can get decent Q without going all the way to Austin."
Well, that was true, for a while.  I don't know what has happened, but their quality has fallen off.  A lot.

Recently, my wife and I went for Brisket sandwiches, and were sore disappointed.  The buns fell apart before we finished.  The meat was not fall-apart soft, and not moist.  It was very nearly dry, and took considerable chewing.  At least the young man knew what I meant when I asked for burnt ends, but all he gave me were some slices that came near an end.  The edge of the slices did have that black bark, but these were not Rudy's burnt ends!

Last night, the family gathered at this same Rudy's location (near Yarborough) for a birthday celebration, and I should point out that this was not the first time we met at Rudy's for such an occasion.

The beans were cloudy and almost mushy.  The potato salad was gooey.  And the pulled pork?  Wow.  I never had tried their pulled pork, and after the few bites I could stomach last night, I know why that was.  Having made pulled pork myself, I know how it should be made, and what it takes to produce flavorful, juicy, great pulled pork. Rudy's cooks do not.  That stuff was served in a great big foam cup, like about a quart size.  It just lay there, in the cup.  Basically, it had the appearance of shredded meat, with the only color being the color of cooked meat.  Not particularly moist, no sign of spices, and already tasting stale!

That's right.  It was not recently made.  And, behind that staleness, it was bland!  Pulled pork!  Bland!  At Rudy's!

The brisket was cold, dry, and showed no sign of bark.  The turkey (I think it was turkey; I did not eat any) just lay there, white, dry, and cold looking.  The sausage was spicy, but obviously was just laid near heat long enough to warm it, without getting a chance to absorb any smoke (if there was indeed any smoke involved in cooking any of this stuff), or the appearance of having come from a barbecue pit.

I also passed on the corn, which was mostly some milky looking thing with pieces of yellow niblets visible within.

All in all, I think Barbecue, or Q, has left the us high and dry (pun intended) again.  El Paso once more has nothing much to choose from, other than Smokey's run of the mill ho-hum, El Paso style.