Alligators 'n Roadkill

Alligators 'n Roadkill
On The Road


Monday, May 29, 2017

Why do you need a dog?

Dog owners

Growing up, I recall that we always had a dog, and often one or more cats.  The years when we had a family dog were spent mostly on farms or ranches, or in a small town.

Based mostly on my childhood I have developed some very strong feelings about pet ownership.  And, to put it mildly, it just plain pisses me off when I see people today who own pets, but really seem to have no idea what the hell they are doing.

And, what has set me off at this time is yet another news report of someone's precious - little - doggies have reportedly been attacked by someone else's - big - dawgs.  What I'm talking about, in this case, is three little cock-a-whatzits attacked by some Pit Bulls.  Supposedly, this happened in the yard of the little doggies' owner, while she was not home.

Frankly, I see more than one problem here.  First of all, why the hell does anyone need more than one dog?  Why were those damn dogs alone in a yard?  Where did those Pit Bulls come from?  In my humble opinion, pet ownership has gotten totally out of hand. We should remember that most dogs are really stupid, unless trained for some specific task.

And, we should all be aware that dogs are very, very needy!  They need constant attention, and what kind of attention are they getting if they are left alone for ten hours a day?  They need lots of exercise, so I ask you, how much do you think they get if they're cooped up in an apartment or house all day long?  Do you really think they get adequate exercise when you walk them around the block long enough for them to take a dump on your neighbor's lawn?  Do you think it is dignified to be walking along, wherever a dog pulls you, with a plastic bag in your hand?  And, is it dignified to be picking up dog poop from the street, sidewalk, or the ground?

Outside the confines of a city, however, a worthwhile farm dog, is very valuable.  Let's face it.  Dogs were bred to work, and not to just be your "faithful companion."  They must be allowed to be out in the open, where they can run and exercise.  They do best when they are allowed to be tough, and to earn their keep.

At this point I was going to provide my list of basic rules for pet ownership.  However, a week or two ago, we spent some time with our youngest son and his family, over in Austin.  They have a Lab/Pit Bull mix as their family dog, and I have to say that they seem to make it work.  Biscuit is trained to mind, to stay in his own yard, and he is fiercely protective of his owners and their two little girls.

There are occasional problems, like when he is home alone, and a thunderstorm hits.  He is seriously upset with thunder, and pretty much loses it.  On at least one occasion, he has jumped the back yard fence, or dug under it, and taken off running down the street.  And, since he can come and go on his own through a pet door, he is prone to tracking mud in when the outside ground is wet.

Yes, they do have to clean up after him in the back yard.  And, they do spend time bathing him, once in a while.  And, they do feed him, and watch what he eats (one huge problem I have is the very thought that a dog cannot eat everything; Our dogs always ate table scraps when I was a kid, and we would go out of our way to ask the butcher for dog bones, as well), because dogs' digestive tracts have become rather delicate over the past several generations.

All of the positives aside, ultimately, I still believe it is a crime to realize just how much Americans spend on their pets, when human beings are starving, and miserable, right here in our own country.  I think we need to take care of ourselves before we decide to rescue all the dogs and cats that our long negligence has created.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

More Personal History.

Part III of the Continuing Saga of the Dungans……

Ever go on a road trip with Garland?  Believe me, this is not something you really want to do, ever.  By the way, this just seemed like a good place to bring this up, right after talking about gas stations.  First of all, Garland smoked.  A lot.  Secondly, he was a pig, what we call in Spanish, un grosero, as in uncouth, ill mannered.  He had a bad habit of ‘hocking oysters,’ which means he would clear his throat very loudly (and grossly), working up a great big gob of (what was it we used to say?  Oh, yeah, “Great Big Gob of Green Greasy Gopher Guts”) this truly viscious and viscous phlegm.  Now, he always drove with his window open, and his left arm out the window.  Once he had this gift for the road ready (we, of course, sitting in the back seat knew this was coming, and were already preparing ourselves), he would first turn his head to his right, and shout, “Duck!”  This was our signal to do just that.  Then he would turn his head back all the way to his left, and send that mess of easily-mistaken-for-road-kill-if-it-ever-gets-to-the-road gooey, slimey phlegm hurtling out his window, most likely to splat on that side of the car (shudder).  Then, he would turn his head back to the right, and say, “Unduck!,” and we would.
Garland’s favorite beer (and, here he actually showed some class, if not taste) was Miller High Life, which of course only came in clear glass bottles.  I seem to recall that there was a deposit on empty beer bottles in those days (a nickel for empty milk bottles, three cents for soda pop bottles, and maybe a penny for beer bottles), but that made no difference to Garland.  As he drove, he drank (surprise).  As he emptied a bottle, his routine was to fling that bottle, not just simply out his window, but out his window, over the top of the car, aiming for the right side of the road, as far off the road as he could get it.  Wasn’t that considerate of him?  His other goal, of course, was for that glass bottle to shatter loud enough so that we could hear it as we drove (merrily? Very seldom) along.  He would then report to us whether the bottle just thrown was a good one (it did NOT break), or a bad one (it broke).
OK, we left off with us living up in the Rattlesnake Hills, above Prosser.  I believe we stayed there in the Rattlesnake Hills long enough for me to get through second grade, and then moved to another ranch sometime in 3rd grade.  After getting this far, Mike remembered some more details, that he has graciously provided in order to set me straight:

Minor exception regarding chickens and churning: First had chickens and eggs on the Rattlesnakes… same with churning butter. Used the butter churn (glass jar with the wooden paddles) and at mom’s direction, we kids took turns turning the crank… hour after hour…. Mom later learned that the cream should be close to room temperature before starting the churn… We had gone from the refrigerator to the churn and it was a tiring – long process. Speculation is that during our long effort, the cream had come up to room temperature and then did proceed to provide butter.

Meanwhile, we had yet to move from the Rattlesnakes, down to the next place on our list.  This was to an area, way down close to the Columbia River, near a little wide spot in the road called Roosevelt.  This is where Mike, Pat, Dennis, and I all went to a three-room school for at least one school year, and possibly a bit more.  There was a ferry across the river there, to Arlington, Oregon, which was the nearest place with such refinements as a restaurant.  That ferry was important, because the second year we were in this area, Mike had to ride that ferry across the Columbia River every day to attend school in Arlington, Oregon, because our little school only went so far, and the nearest high school (heck, maybe it was only the 7th grade; what do I know?) was across the river.  And, of course the proximity to Oregon was a big plus for the old man, ‘cause they didn’t tax booze, beer, and cigarettes as much as Washington did at that time.  And, I seem to recall no sales taxes.  After seeing the map whose link I shared, Mike offered these memories of this place/time:

(4) 19. Ranch near Roosevelt… Think I found the exact on this one… about 15 miles W and one mile S… traced Old Hwy 8 and Sundale Rd [this was after looking at the aforementioned map] there is (was) [a] substantial orchard called “Sundale” not far down the road and I found a sharp turn in the road and recall the house located there where dad “finagled” [note:  finagled, as in “if you give me some gas, I’ll pay you………….sometime”………..NOT] some gasoline from the resident there… He (the neighbor) had one of the old glass top gasoline pumps where you elevated ten gallons to the top with a pump handle, the glass top was cylindrical in shape and graduated in one gallon increments, then a conventional hose handle affair to your fuel tank.

As Patty recounts:

After that we lived in another country setting and went to a three room school house that was remarkable.  We all had such a great time there.  Of course the house wasn’t much but I do remember churning butter and going down the road to an amazing apricot orchard where they were the size of peaches and the juice ran down our arms.

As I further recall (following her prompting), at this ranch we had a large side yard that we kids turned into a great big riparian adventure land.  We had rivers running all over the place, fed by the garden hose.  There was a milk cow, that the older boys were responsible for milking (I was scared to death of that sucker, and she knew it).  Chickens, also, and I didn’t care for trying to take away their eggs, either.  I also remember making butter in a large glass churn, with wooden paddles.  And, there was a falling down shed, between the house and the barn and chicken house, with the remains of a (I think) 1935 Ford.  I want to say that this was a convertible, and it was mostly intact.  It would undoubtedly have made a great project car for someone with the time and money.  I played in that sucker many times.
From this place, I recall the big events were monthly trips to the nearest town, Goldendale, which happened to be the county seat for Klickitat County, for grocery shopping.  This always happened on a Saturday, and part of the adventure was that mom would take us all to the library, where we each got our own library card.  At some point, I went through a series of books for kids, that all had the same basic cover.  This was burnt orange in color, with black lettering, and these were biographies of famous Americans, going back to Ben Franklin and George Washington, to Andrew Jackson, Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, Abraham Lincoln (did you know he was born in a log cabin?), Ulysess S. Grant, Thomas Edison, and so forth.  We learned that everything American was good (and not just because we had saved the world twice), and everything that was not American was pretty much bad.
By the time I was in fourth grade, we were in a town again (that same Goldendale), and my father was working in another sawmill.  This is where my brother, Dennis, and I had some of our greatest times.
But, I also experienced one of my more traumatic school-related events here, as well.  Not long after we got here, in fourth grade, I don’t recall the teacher’s name, but one day she started in on a verbal rant, saying “John, how could you?  “You have lied, and you have done……..” - this horrible thing, and that horrible thing, and I just could not believe that she was talking about me.  It had to do with a paper we had written and handed in, and all I knew was she had one in her hand, and she was looking at me, and just ranting………I was terrified, mostly because I had no idea what she was talking about, and did not know what I could possibly have done, not to mention I had never had anyone talk to me in such a manner.  I was also scared totally out of my mind.  I didn’t know what else to do, so I bolted.  Jumped right up, and ran out of that room, out of that school, and all the way home to my mommy, crying my eyes out…….well, this was one of the few times that she ever got involved in our schooling.  My mother took me back to the school, and to the principal’s office where we learned that the teacher in question was not even talking to me or about me.  There was another John in that class (how could I know?  I was new), only he spelled his name Jon, and it was he that she was so upset with.  Maybe that is when I learned to not put much trust in teachers (forgive me, Blanca).
Other than that experience, Dennis and I both had pretty good times in Goldendale.  We had free run of the little town, which was the county seat of Klickitat County, and had both the Klickitat River and the Klickitat Creek running along edges of town.  I remember a great big old tree just outside the back door, onto which somebody nailed some boards, to make like a ladder, so we could climb way up into its huge limbs.  And, the back yard had a large cleared area, obviously done for a garden, but we turned that into a huge play area for playing with all our cars and trucks.  We had roads, and gas stations, and all kinds of buildings and stuff.  I remember that the name brand, Structo, figured prominently in the toy trucks we played with (before Tonka got so big, Structo trucks were the tough trucks).  Old D cell batteries were the gas pumps at our gas station, blocks of wood served for buildings, a piece of wood was used to ‘grade’ our roads, and so on. 
Fairly early on, we did have our one and only childhood fight, with someone other than each other.  I have no recollection of the cause, but there was a large family who lived just up the street from us – the Rileys.  One of those damn Rileys was another boy, about the same age as Dennis and I.  For some reason he did not like us, and while it was Dennis who took most of his verbal abuse, I somehow got involved.  So, he took us both on at once, and beat us both very quickly and easily.  That took a while to live down, and eventually I think we achieved some sort of truce, if not better, by becoming friends.
We rented the house on West Broadway from the ‘rich’ old widow, who lived right next door, in a more modern, well equipped house.  This was Mrs. Bridgefarmer, and she also rented rooms in her basement.  I recall one of the renters there was a Chinese man and his son.  The man was employed as a cook in one of the local restaurants for a short while.  This was my first contact with a non-white person.  Just a bit of culture shock was involved.
Out back of the house, and very close, was a separate building on the property that was likely old enough to have been a carriage house at one time, or a stable, but we called it the wood shed.  It was – as I recall – at least two rooms, quite old, with upainted, and seriously weathered wood.  The floor on one side was just dirt, with the accumulation of many years of wood chips, and shavings from wood being cut for burning in either the wood cook stove, or a wood stove for heat, all that we had in that house. That building was our Cavalry Fort and/or the Sheriff’s office for whenever we played Cowboys and Indians. 
It was in Goldendale that Dennis and I became Boy Scouts, and learned a lot about the ideals of that fine organization.  We went camping, fishing, participated in paper drives, and worked on earning various merit badges.  The paper drive thing was actually something that I imagine no one today can relate to.  Not too far from Goldendale, also in Klickitat County, was the town of Klickitat, where there was a dry ice factory.  The point of the paper drive was to sell the papers to the dry ice company, which used them to wrap their product.  We raised money for scouting at the same time.  Interestingly, our meetings were held in the basement of the town library, where my main memory is a large open space that was very dusty.
Most Christmases were – to say the least – disappointing times.  Not much in the way of gifts for anyone, the Old Man usually was not home as evening came on (he was likely in a bar, pissing away his paycheck), so the anxiety level always grew.  The family tradition was to open gifts on Christmas Eve, and we had to wait for him to come home, all the time worried that when he did, he would be in a bad mood, and that was not good.  Too many Christmases were ruined by his lashing out at one and all (but, of course my mother took the brunt of his drunken anger), and what we had all too often was the classic scene of crying, frightened kids, and crying, bruised wife and mother.
However, on at least one Christmas, Santa did come through for me.  I desperately wanted a two-gun holster, with Mattel Fanner 50 pistols, ‘cause they looked like what Hopalong Cassidy wore.  (Here’s what they looked like)

And, I got them!  Even got some caps to shoot with them.  Wow, that was so cool.  At one point Dennis, I think, got a Red Ryder BB gun.  Or, Daisy.  And, on reflection, I think it was a pump action, instead of a lever cocking action, so that would likely make it the cheaper of the two types, I bet.  Here is a pic of a pump action type BB gun, similar to what I remember:  

We (Dennis and I) also played all up and down the creek, swimming in pools in hot weather, playing cowboys and Indians, Army, whatever we saw in the movies on Saturday afternoons.  John Wayne was naturally everybody’s hero, but since he couldn’t possibly make enough movies to satisfy our need for him, we kids looked forward to Saturday matinees, when we got into the local theatre for only twenty cents.  We got a quarter to spend, so that left a nickel for (usually) lemon drops.  Those movies included coming attractions (we called them previews), a news reel (short), at least one cartoon, the feature movie, and then a second movie.  There may also have been an episode of one or more serial that everyone looked forward to.  And, just about every kid in town was at that one showing. 
We also played baseball with a friction-tape-wrapped ball, and a very old and weathered bat, in nearby pastures using cow patties for our bases.  One of our favorite places to play was near the city dump.  There were some large rocks overlooking the dump itself, and up in the rocks, we found what we thought were caves.  We’d go through the junk when no one was around, and find ‘treasures’ that we took up to our cave, and used to decorate, or furnish the cave.  I also loved to play in the wrecked cars that were parked on a back lot at the local Ford dealer (or, maybe it was the Chevrolet dealer).  That dealership was the closest I ever expected to come to a newer car.

Sorry, but since this is again running long, we’ll take a little break here, and continue the report of the sojourn in Goldendale in Part IV…….

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Not So Brief History Continues

  Part II  (We left off in Rocky Ridge, and this is from Patty):

There we roamed the woods and played in a creek and had wonderful adventures…walked the train tracks and picked up rock salt to suck on.  We bathed on Saturday nights, the baby first followed by the only girl, and then you boys.  We slept in the loft where the snow filtered in and we had a baby squirrel for a pet for a time.
I think that was where Dennis was bitten by the dog and suffered terrible cuts to the face and had to have the rabies shots etc.  I saw him with the flesh hanging and his fear and all the blood and we were all pretty scared for him.  Thankfully the folks took good care of him.

Then, my recollection is that we moved to some sort of company housing in a small lumber town (Eatonville), followed by a rental house in that same little town.  I started First Grade at about this time, and we moved before I finished that year.  I do remember – vaguely – parts of First Grade, and how easy I found it to be.  I remember that Mike was part of a group of older students who created a massive snowman (or, was it a snow woman?) on the school grounds that winter (there used to be a family photo of this).
This was the school building next to where the massive snowman was built.  The snowman would have been to my left in the photo (your right). 

I vaguely recall that there was a building, like a garage, next to the house we lived in, and there was a pretty nice cabin cruiser (as in, a small boat) in there.  And, I remember playing in and on that boat.  There was something else about an abandoned building that had a number of rotten eggs in it, and that is how I know that odor so peculiar to rotten eggs.  Ain’t nothin’ like that nowhere, nohow. 
Meanwhile, Mike has offered that I may well have the order of which house we lived in reversed here.  He recalls the separate, stand-alone house first, followed by company housing, second.  Patty remembers:

The next place I remember was maybe Eatonville, a logging town, actually a company town.  Dad being an alcoholic never held a job very long.  He didn’t take direction at all well so this was the root of all the moves we made.  I myself went to 13 different schools growing up, thing was though, we all made the adjustments very well and everyone made terrific grades and made friends wherever we moved.  We just never brought any kids home to play because we always lived in shacks.  [Not to mention that] The alcoholism was too embarrassing to expose anyone to.

Mike, after looking at the map* I referred everyone to, had this to say about Eatonville:
  … I recall the other sequence such as free stand shack followed by company (see tar paper) housing off toward the mill pond… (Wow!!! Eatonville has an airport??? Shit, airplanes weren’t yet invented!!!!!!

In my memory, then our father’s work went from the saw mill, to a dairy farm, in another rural area, near the small town of Elma, some distance west, near Grays Harbor, on the coast.  Patty recalls:

The next place was maybe a dairy farm where Dad was a farmer’s helper.  We had great times playing in the woods and even built small log cabins out of sapling trees with the farmer’s permission.    Life went on.

All I remember from here was playing in and around woods and fields, in the early spring.  I remember May Day and flowers and picking wild flowers for our mother, while out in the fields.  We played Indians or something like that, and used these great big ferns as our spears.  We would pull them out of the ground, strip off the leaves, and the shaft that remained made an excellent spear for throwing.  This is where I also recall something like unfinished lumber that we stacked to serve as a fort of sorts.  I also remember the Saturday bathing, in the unheated kitchen, which was the warmest room in the house by virtue of the wood-burning cook stove that was always there.  The tub was simply one of those big old round galvanized things (a tub, doh), placed in the middle of the floor.  Mom would periodically add hot water, from a bucket that was placed on the stove full of water for just this purpose, while the bathing ritual began.  And, yes, it was much like Patty described.  We didn’t stay in the Elma area longer than it took for the school year to end, then we moved from western Washington, to East/Central Washington (near Prosser), where we moved in with my mother’s sister and her husband, on their little farm (way too small for all of us, plus the three of them).  Here, our memories take divergent paths, as Patty remembers a reverse order:

After that was the move to the eastern side of the state where we lived on a ranch and had chickens and I witnessed slaughtering a cow for meat for the freezer.  We had a horse we could ride named Blackie and once he got scared by a rattlesnake and took off running with me on his back and no saddle…Ohhhh Boy!
After that job failed [for dad, that is; she’s being very considerate here, as we all know full well that the job did not fail, but Garland undoubtedly did] we did spend a summer with Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Claire on their small dairy farm.  My gosh, what they must have gone through having Mom and Dad and five kids there.  They were very kind.  I once went with them to a Grange Dance on a Saturday night and was highly impressed to see the social setting that they were involved in.  They had a high old time.  Note:  After reading part of what I had written here, Patty says that she believes the order of stops was indeed Prosser/Aunt & Uncle, first, Rattlesnakes/ranch, second.

We stayed there, with Dorothy and Clare long enough to begin another year of school, and then we moved to a wheat ranch (up in the Rattlesnake Hills, north of Prosser).  I remember a ravine, down at the bottom of which was the barn, where we were allowed to keep a milk cow.  There were lots of farm cats, whose job it was to keep the mice under control.  Somebody killed a rattlesnake, down near the barn here, once, also.  There was at least one saddle horse, and I recall one Sunday, probably, we were all in the yard, and David was up on the horse.  But, he was too small to guide the horse himself, so I had the reins, and led that horse around the yard.  Well, I didn’t think of it, and went around the house, under the clothes lines, leading the horse.  What I did not realize is that the horse was much higher than I, and naturally, David was therefore way up there.  So far up, in fact, that the clothesline pretty much swept him right off the horse, which ducked under.  I arrived back at the area where the family was gathered with an empty horse (little plug there, for a very good book, by the way:  David Niven’s semi-autobiographical Bring On The Empty Horses). 
I also recall the wheat harvest while we were at this ranch.  Mom cooked for the harvest crew, which was no mean feat.  I got to ride in one of the trucks that ran out to the field to meet the combine, and into which the wheat (which the combine not only cut, but then separated from the chaff – nothing biblical implied) was dumped whenever the combine was full up.  Then, I rode with the guy who drove the truck to the grain elevator, where the truck was weighed, and its contents were then received and credited to the wheat ranch owner.  I recall that this truck driver, part of the itinerant crew, was from California, and that these guys traveled a circuit, so as to serve a number of wheat farmers, spread over a very large area (like, parts of three states), following the wheat crops.  I ate the whole kernels (I had teeth then) at his urging, and found them to be really good.
It was also while we lived here that Dennis broke his arm.  I don’t recall how, but I do vaguely remember that the rest of us kids waited at home while the folks took him to the hospital to get a cast, and then, he slept downstairs for a time.  There was something about someone had poisoned our dog, and/or some of the many cats about this time, and he could hear their agonized dying moans or wailing during the night.  I don’t have much more in my recollections of these events, but maybe he does, if he was willing to share his memories.
I know that we also ate a lot of fresh food then, things that you can’t find today.  There was sweet corn on the cob that we picked ourselves, from the field of one of many farmers down in the valley.  This, of course, was especially good, with the butter just dripping off it, lightly salted.  There were also great big huge, juicy, dripping red delicious apples (Sunday drives were a part of the old man’s routine, whenever he had a car) and more than once we went as far as the area over by Wenatchee, where the best apples in the world still grow.  Hermiston melons were the preferred watermelon (from Hermiston, Oregon).  The entire Yakima River Valley was serious agriculture.  Hops are still raised there (I believe this is the only place in the U. S. where they are raised), along with just about anything that you can think of that is good to eat, along with some crap you might not care for (parsnips).  There was at least one occasion when I recall everyone involved in turning the crank on an old-fashioned ice cream maker.
Let’s see, our evenings were spent listening to whatever the old man wanted to hear on the radio – Jack Benny, Fibber McGee and Molly, Bob Hope, The Shadow, Johnny Dollar, The Green Hornet, and on Saturday mornings, we kids listened to Sky King, or The Lone Ranger, or Roy Rogers.  I also remember daytime radio featured, besides the old soap operas, shows like Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club, and Arthur Godfrey (remember the hit song, “I Can See Clearly Now,” originally by Bob Marley?  Well, another version of that song, from Johnny Nash, came out in 1972.  Johnny Nash got his first exposure on the old Arthur Godfrey radio program.  There’s some real trivia for ya).
The first car I remember was a dark green, four-door 1942 Plymouth.  It seems like the old man was partial to Chrysler products, as this was followed by a two-door, light blue 1946 Plymouth sedan.  Then, there was a 1952 two-toned, two-door dodge sedan, but that was a few years in the future, from the time we were living up in the Rattlesnake Hills.
For those who never experienced a trip to a gas station, back when they were called – rightly – Service Stations, here is what I remember:  The car pulls up to the pumps.  The Service Station Attendants always (even for cheap skates like my old man who never had enough money to fill his tank) first asked, “Fill ‘er up, sir?” and then they “checked under the hood.”  This meant that they made sure the radiator was full of water, the oil up to the mark, and all belts and hoses were in good repair.  This ‘service’ included checking air pressure in the tires, and adding air as necessary, from the air hose that was part of every Service Station’s ‘Service Island,’ along with a water hose.  This was offered even when the response to the Attendant’s question was something from Garland along the lines, of, “Just give me two dollars worth of regular.”  Going back to the 30’s and 40’s, but still existing in the fifties was another thing that no longer exists.  On that Service Island, and between the pumps would be a wire rack, with slots for glass quart-sized containers that had metal spouts for caps.  Most of these were full to the mark with motor oil.  The attendants filled these glass jars/bottles from a fifty-five gallon drum of motor oil as needed, constantly cycling the empties, so that the rack always had plenty of full bottles.  This method of selling bulk oil was already becoming a thing of the past in the fifties, as cans of motor oils began to be more prevalent, and cans were taking the place of those glass bottles.
I do not recall my father ever working on his car, and as far as I know, most people did not do routine oil changes on their cars, anyway (just adding a quart here and there, as needed, which means that every car I ever saw had very black, thick oil in the crankcase).  Understand that we never heard of engine coolant, other than water.  I remember watching guys do major engine work, by the shade of a tree (thus, the term, “shade-tree mechanic”).  First, they would drain the crankcase, setting the used oil aside.  After they finished replacing the camshaft, or main bearing, or whatever major thing they had to do, they would reassemble the engine, and pour that same motor oil right back in.  Any necessary gaskets or seals were created out of whatever was handy, utilizing gasket paper only if it was available.
Antifreeze was commonly used only in winter months in those places where freezing was likely to occur, and then, it was always mixed with water using some formula that dictated so much antifreeze to so much water, depending on the likely low temperatures.  Motor oil was either 30 or 40 or 50 weight, and either detergent or non-detergent.  There was no multi-grade/weight oil.  My personal favorite was the brand sold by Union 76 Stations, called Royal Triton, which had the most beautiful purple color. 
I’ll get back to places where we lived in the next installment, Part III.

*I don't remember the web site, but I found a place online where I could mark certain spots on a map that referred to the many, many places we lived while growing up.  That is the map I reference at this point.

The search for the elusive "best" burger in town continues

I had read about and heard about a place out in Northeast El Paso called Roscoe's, and somehow thought it was up on North Piedras or Copia.  Turns out, it is not only NOT on either of those streets, but it is not even spelled that way.

Rosco's Burger Inn is located on Tompkins, just between Fort Blvd. and Dyer.  At least it is in the Northeast.  Their signage says they've been doing burgers since 1955, and their little building shows it.  Although well preserved, the little rock structure is typical of a time long gone by.  The bathrooms are outside, around the side, and have obviously been totally redone recently, as they feature new fixtures in very good condition.  The counter, inside, behind which most of the action takes place, is stainless steel, and very clean.  They have a flat top, a fryer, and a deep heating device, where the chili (with beans) is ready to serve.

The physical building, with a tiny view of Google Map's location.

Their menu is simple, which is a good thing:

I need to explain here, I suppose, that I was expecting something different, since I had heard about this place before, with high praise.  But, frankly, the full name should serve as a clue to what one might expect to find here.  You see, if you have been around El Paso for a long time, and especially if you ever spent time in the Lower Valley, you are very much aware of our local phenomenon called "Burger Inn."  The original Hamburger Inn, as I understand it, is still in business on McCarthy, just off Alameda, near Riverside High School.  It was owned at one time by one Orlando Fonseca, who was also a City Councilman, way back when.  There used to be other locations, most notably in Tigua, also owned by Mr. Fonseca, and lots of imitators, such as Hamburger Hut, and others, all near or on Alameda.

The standard fare at these places was always a large bun, with a hamburger patty flattened while cooking on a flat top, with lettuce, pickles, tomato, mustard, and choice of cheese or no cheese.  A hot dog at these places also used a hamburger bun, and consisted of two weinies, cut the long way, also heated on the flat top, and served with or without chili beans.  The original is still famous for having menudo all day, every day.

Well, I gotta tell ya that Rosco's lost points when I saw that they used frozen, pre-cut potatoes for their fries.  In my not so humble opinion, if you want to rank in the top tier of burger purveyors, you must use only fresh, never frozen, potatoes that are cut on the premises.  Seriously, the best burger places - for me - include places like Freddie's Frozen Custard and Steakburgers, or In 'N Out, largely because they use fresh potatoes that they cut on site.

Rosco's burger is pretty good for what it is.  A quickly prepared, much-like-all-the-others, generic hamburger.  I always choose no mustard, and ask for Mayo, and they did honor that request, which is worth points, in my book.  They were very generous with the fries to the point that I could not eat them all.  They were well done, but you know there is always a difference between frozen and fresh cut that you cannot mistake.

Overall, I'd give Rosco's a solid 7.5 on a scale of ten.  Not necessarily worth the trip all the way up and over, but certainly worth stopping by when you're in the neighborhood.

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.