Ghosts of Halloween

Greetings and Happy Halloween!  I’ve been thinking about getting back to my blog for some while now and have finally managed to find both the time and energy to do so.  After several attempts to remember and reset my blog password, I log in to find a draft post from the last time I attempted to restart the blog. Ironically and amazingly, the draft is from October 31, 2009 and it is the exact same subject matter that has been running through my head today, more or less.  I find I’ve only managed to procrastinate for the last 6 years or so.  Perhaps the post is even more appropriate now than it would’ve been 6 years ago.

I’ve been thinking of Halloween’s past and Halloween’s present. Since last I updated this blog, I have had the joy of becoming and being a father. Experiencing Halloween as a father is totally different from experiencing Halloween as a single person. You come close to experiencing the same sense of wonder you had as a child, seeing everything new again through the eyes of a child.

Since last updating this blog, I have also lost my own father. He passed earlier this year after years of suffering from Parkinson’s. Watching my own child experience Halloween, I am reminded of my own father and mother and the childhood rituals of the holiday.

I specifically remember a single Halloween, maybe the first one that I really remember. I have seen pictures of my brothers and I dressed up for Halloween but I don’t tend to remember those events much. The first I really remember was the Halloween my oldest brother dressed up in a circle of chicken wire overlaid with burlap.  On a platform on his head, he wore a plastic jack-o-lantern such as kids use to collect candy even now.  There was a flashlight inside the jack-o-lantern. I guess the costume was some kind of pumpkin-head.

I don’t remember my own costume though this may have been the Halloween that I dressed as Spiderman.  If so, the costume was nothing like the Spiderman costumes they have today. Mine was a short-sleeved plastic wrap-around that tied at the waist. It came with a plastic mask that had a little slit at the mouth and was kept on with a elastic band. Not nearly as realistic as the super-hero costumes of today. And don’t think I didn’t realize it.  Of course, this could’ve been the same Halloween that I dressed as a hobo. I don’t know. I just remember my brother’s costume.

I remember it because all the kids we passed were terrified of him. He got a great kick out of the sheer number of children that went away crying. Or maybe it was just one boy that was terrified. I remember one, at least.  He was not amused by Jack Pumpkinhead.  I remember wondering why the little boy was frightened. I cannot recall ever being frightened on Halloween. It was always a time of joy and wonder for me.

Halloween for me was always Dad “helping” us carve the pumpkins or Mom finding a costume for us to wear or Mom putting makeup on our faces to turn us into clowns or hobos or vampires or something similar. Halloween was freshly popped popcorn and lying on the floor watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” Halloween was the sense of magic in the stillness of the night under the humming streetlights. It was never scary for me.

Maybe because I knew my father was there with us. I remember that same Halloween that my father went out trick-or-treating with us. It struck me for some reason but I’m not exactly sure why. I remember him helping my brother into his terrifying costume. I remember my sense of…security? contentment? surprise? that my father was with us as we went from house to house. Maybe I was never scared by Halloween because Dad was always there with us. Maybe I just didn’t know any better.

I remember specifically going to Mrs…Edwards? house. We always went there first, I think. She has a special treat just for us every Halloween, homemade Divinity candy.  Maybe she gave it to everyone but I always assumed we were special because we went to her house first and she gave us homemade candy. I seem to recall her having to step away from the door to get the “other” candy when she figured out who we were.  I also remember not being particularly fond of her Divinity, even while acknowledging it as special.

That Halloween may be the last in which Dad ventured out with us. Maybe he continued to escort us for a few years but the other Halloween’s I remember tend to be ones where my friends and I left family at the corner and roamed all over town collecting candy until late in the evening.  We covered an amazing amount of ground, using pillow cases for our candy haul. I seem to recall finishing my Halloween candy somewhere around Easter at least one year.  We were so excited to be independent and free. If I had to do it over again, I’d take my father by the hand take him house to house, never leaving him behind.

Those Halloween memories are faded and thread-bare these days but I still cherish them and I like to pull them out this time of year. I’m glad that they will be supplemented by new memories of Halloween joy and wonder. I’ve introduced my daughter to Charlie Brown and jack-o-lanterns and trick-or-treating.  Whether or not she finds Halloween terrifying or magical remains to be seen.

There was one incident that might make Halloween more scary for her than it ever was for me. The second house we visited had a large, hairy, foot-pedal activated jumping spider. I made mistake of stepping on the foot pedal, clearly marked “Step Here”. I knew as soon as I stepped on it that I had made an error of judgement. The spider shrieked and jumped and my daughter’s instant reaction can only rightly be described as one of pant-sh*ting terror.  That might color her view of Halloween for a long time.  Maybe my own view of Halloween would’ve been different if they’d had motion-activated nightmares when I was a kid.

Anyway, she wouldn’t approach another house until we tore open a package of M&M’s and introduced her to candy for the first time. The promise of more M&M’s did get her to screw up enough courage to at least be carried to more doorsteps.  Good old M&M’s.

I hope future Halloween’s are more magical than frightening for her.  I know the number of Halloween’s I’ll get to escort her are limited. One day she’ll go out on her own and revel in her own freedom and independence.  Until then, I’ll bask in the warm glow of my own Halloween ghosts and cherish each and every magical moment.

Why Southerners Are Fat

Why are Southerners so fat?

I came across this article on Time.com today and thought I would share with all of you. The article covers a topic I’ve pondered once or twice, typically coincident with the Stafford family reunions in Mississippi. If you came to the Stafford family reunion, you might understand why the topic crossed my mind.

The Stafford family, while not uniformly obese, has quite a few specimens that tip the scale somewhere between 250 and 350 pounds. I have aunts and uncles that come in all shapes and sizes, as long as those shapes and sizes include squat and round. I have one cousin that had a heart attack and bypass surgery at 35 and one cousin that I thought was a garden shed when we were first introduced.

The other thing you notice when you’re in Mississippi for the family reunion is the fact that people in the deepest parts of the South will literally flour and fry anything. Fish, chicken, shrimp, tomatoes, okra, pickles…you name it. If you can eat it, chances are someone in Mississippi has tried it fried. I’m convinced people down there would fry the sweet tea if they could only figure out how. The state is awash in grease.

And there’s only one serving size for all that fried food. It’s called “all-you-can-eat”. I am not exaggerating when I say that every single restaurant I entered in Mississippi was a buffet. I cannot think of a single restaurant we patronized that was not a buffet. Not one. I once tried to count the number of buffet restaurants that we passed as we drove. You may as well try to count the grains of sand on a beach. It cannot be done.

But the reason I think Southerners are fat goes beyond both of those items. The reason I think Southerners are fat is the same reason I think my father is fat. It’s not that he’s lazy and doesn’t exercise. The man ran 1000 miles in his 40th year. He’s walked many times that distance since, much of it with bad hips and knees. At 75, he still tries to exercise with barbells.

The reason I think my father is fat, (or was for most of his life) is because he has a love affair with the food experience. For him, the food experience goes beyond just food. It is an infinitely social thing, a finding of joy in the breaking of bread with his family and friends.

The food experience for him is finding joy in an abundance that he did not know as a poor kid growing up in the poor South. It is a recreation of Granny Holloway’s Sunday dinner, the maybe once-a-week meal in which he found plenty as a child, the one meal a week from which he did not walk away wanting more. It is a purely emotional response to food, a happiness found in satiety.

The food experience is something Dad always wanted to share, too. As a friend of mine growing up, you could not come to my house without being offered a meal of some sort. “You boys want sammich?” still rings in my mind as the question most often asked of me and my buddies. My father has Parkinson’s and cannot drive but will still, to this day, ask us if we want him to get us a chicken biscuit from Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen. In his retirement, his favorite way to pass the time is to enjoy a meal with one of his good buddies. The food experience is in his bones.

Couple that with the larger sense of Southern hospitality, a tradition that almost always involves sharing food with family, friends and neighbors, and I think you go a long way towards explaining the prevalence of obesity in the South. Southerners love food and they love the food experience. They love socializing over a meal and love the feeling of plenty when times are often lean. This keeps them coming back to the trough again and again and again, whatever the consequences to their appearance and their health.

Happy Father’s Day

I meant to write up something meaningful for Father’s Day but I don’t think I have the words or energy at present. I did want to wish my father a very happy Father’s Day, however. Currently, he is several hundred miles away and unreachable by phone. He’s been in the hospital for the better part of two weeks now with heart troubles.

Having him laid up certainly makes the occasion more special. I have been beyond blessed to have such a great father in my life. I know that not everyone is so blessed. He has shown me what it is to be a great father and husband and I can only hope that, one day, I will be able to live up to his example. He is a truly great man, one of the few truly great men that I know.

Happy Father’s Day, Pop. I miss and love you and am forever grateful for all you’ve given me.

Love, Charlie

Lines Composed At Gate B34

I’m sitting in the Atlanta airport waiting for a flight home to RDU. The flight is delayed, of course. I thought that, while I had the time and since I don’t have a book with me, I’d get some blogging done.

I don’t have internet access and I’m too cheap to purchase access. It’s highway robbery what they charge you to access the hot spots at most airports. $7.99 for a 24-hour pass? I think not. Even T-Mobile, my cellular provider, wants to charge me $4.99 for a four hour block. Uh, no. I would purchase an internet access plan from them if the data transfer limits weren’t so paltry and the access packages so unreasonably expensive. $39.00 to $59.00 dollars per month with download limits? I don’t think so. Not when I pay $39.00 dollars for unlimited bandwidth at home.

Anyway, I’m heading home to be with my family. My father has been in the hospital all week and he’s having triple bypass surgery in the morning. I am blessed enough to have a good friend who works for Delta. She was able to get me a buddy pass I could use to fly home at the last minute without paying an arm and a leg. I can also fly home when I want, rather than scheduling a flight back to home to Atlanta ahead of time. The drawback is that I have to fly standby and I’m dead last in priority. The good news is that there are myriad delays at the airport today and the desk attendant feels certain there will be handfuls of people that do not make their connecting flights. I feel sure that I’ll either make this flight or the flight that leaves later this evening. Keep your fingers crossed.

Once again, I find myself chasing gates. When I checked in at the front desk, my seat request form listed gate B05 as the departure gate. Continuing my string of good luck with departure gates, the gate was at the far end of the terminal, requiring me to walk as far as possible. Delta, not feeling that was a sufficient walk for me, switched departure gates on me as I was making my way through security. The new departure gate was B33. As you may have guessed, B33 is located as far as possible from B05 without actually switching terminals. I had to walk so far, in fact, that Delta was able to switch the departure gate on me once more while I was in transit. Thankfully, B34 happened to be the new gate. All I had to do was cross the aisle.

In addition to blogging, I’m whiling away the hours by listening to an elderly Vietnamese woman literally scream into her phone. The good news is that I have company in listening to this woman. She has the most piercing voice you have ever heard and literally everyone at this end of the terminal is listening to her. I’m pretty sure I just saw blood streaming from the ear of the man sitting next to her. You could chop down trees with this woman’s voice.

My departure time continues to be pushed back. Not good news, especially since my whole plan involves other people being delayed whilst I leave on time. The further back my departure time is moved, the more likely that those late arrivals will make it after all. I hate to wish ill on other travelers, especially given how much I hate air travel, but I’m hoping to get out of here tonight. If I don’t, I will have to come back early tomorrow and repeat the process of walking the length of the terminal searching for my flight, all without a guaranteed seat. I probably should’ve purchased a full-price ticket.

Hell, if my plane gets delayed another hour, I probably should’ve just driven. What with the traffic to the airport, the 5k walk from the parking lot, the prison-rape that is airport security and the inevitable delays, the six-and-a-half-drive probably saves me my dignity, a few hundred bucks and a half-an-hour. Is it wrong of me to hope our miserable economy claims a few airlines as victims? Maybe our government will step in and restructure the industry so that flying isn’t the broken down, spirit-crushing experience it happens to be. I mean, look how they’ve fixed banking?

Okay. Nevermind. But I am waiting on a revitalized passenger rail service. It can’t possibly be a more predictable failure than the airline industry. Right?

My Father, My Self

Do you ever have those days when you wake up just knowing it’s not going to be the best day in the world. That was how I woke up this morning. I was pissed off at the world as soon as I opened my eyes. Mainly I was aggravated that I had to open my eyes.

Maybe I was annoyed that my landlady was going to swing by to spray for bugs and my home was a complete and utter disaster. In addition to getting myself ready for work, I had to rush around stuffing things into hampers, closests, trash cans and dish washers. My landlady knows that I’m not the greatest house keeper in the world, and she doesn’t care, but I feel that the apartment must be at least presentable when she comes every month. She gives me a little less than 12 hours notice, typically, so I don’t have a great deal of time to prepare.

If I’m a poor housekeeper, and I am, it’s largely because I am the son of my father. My father, as I have noted previously, is the world’s worst house keeper. He is the perfect combination of unmotivated and blind. I’m sure it’s one of my mother’s great frustrations in life.

My father is also absent minded and given to doing things like searching the house for his reading glasses whilst they are perched atop his head. It was a great game for us. He’d ask if we’d seen his glasses and then we’d send him all over the house with places we had seen them last. We’d have him tearing the house apart for half-an-hour before he realized he was wearing them the entire time.

I’m sometimes like my father in this respect. I’m not nearly as bad as he is at misplacing things. My oldest brother and sister are much more like him in that respect. Each of them has lost their keys, wallet, drivers license more times than I care to count. I am still prone to goofiness though. I can’t help it. It’s genetic.

Like this morning.

I wake up annoyed and, therefore, somewhat distracted. I get myself together, get the apartment somewhat presentable and get out the door for work. I get to work and everyone wants to talk to me. This only makes me more annoyed. All I want to do is put on my headphones, drink my coffee and get my work done.

Along about 11:30, after my coffee has had a chance to do its work, I head into the mens room. I’m sitting there, enjoying my quality time, when I note the tag in the front of my underwear. “That’s strange”, I think. “The tag is usually in the back. Must be because I’m wearing the fancy Calvin Klein underpants.”

Notice anything wrong with this picture?
Notice anything wrong with this picture?

Then I noted the crotch flap in the “rear” of my boxers. “Son of a…” Yes, in my rush to get myself and my home in order, I’d put my underpants on backwards. And here I was just assuming they were the kind that didn’t have the easy access crotch flap.

The rest of the day got little better. It’s hard to have a good day when your underpants are on backwards. Everything is just a little off all day. Especially when you have a tiny metal snap digging into your posterior every time you sit down.

All-in-all, I’ll be happy to have this day behind me. I did finally make it home to turn my underpants but the damage to the day had been done. There was no salvaging it.

Hopefully, tomorrow will have a better beginning. If not, I have only myself, and my father, to blame.

How to Make Snow Cream

As keeper of a blog, I’m a little obsessive about how many people are reading what I write. I check several stat compilers several times a day to figure out who’s coming from where to read what. I don’t know why, exactly. I get maybe 20 people here a day. But it’s nice to know that people are reading what I write.

It makes me wish I had something more worthwhile to say, but what are you gonna’ do, right?

Anyway, I’ve been impressed with the number of international visitors. I had no idea. I apparently have a regular reader in Okinawa. (Konichiwa and thanks for stopping by.) I have readers come from England, Denmark, Germany, Bulgaria, Romania, Italy, Israel…It’s weird. I truly feel I have so very little to say or, at least, have said very little so far. I suspect people knew me from my previous blog. They probably think I’m my brother, come to that.

I did have a visitor come from a Yahoo search on “how to make snowcrean“. Apparently neither they nor I know how to spell or how to type “snow cream”. I’ll have to correct that typo at some point, I suppose.

Seeing that coming to my site was going to get them no closer to making actual snow cream, I thought I’d help them out by asking Pop for his snow cream recipe. This is his answer:

Hey Choo.[One of my nicknames from Mom and Pop.] We have about three inches snow. Snow cream is probably best when made with condensed milk. Snow cream and cool aid and sugar and milk MAKES A GOOD ONE, Vanilla flavoring or chocalate is good with the condensed milk. I always experimented woth the portions=of milk, sugar and snow. Hope you make a good one, S** E**** and O**** were without heat for a few hours this morning. Goof luck with the snow cream.

I feel better now that I know poor typing is genetic and not something for which I am responsible. I also realize that the paragraph above gets your average searcher for snowcrean no closer to making it. Measuring, like typing, is not one of my father’s strong suits.

Because of this, I did a little searching of my own and found a few recipes for snow cream. One that sounds a bit like what Pop describes reads:

Sweetened Condensed Milk
Pure Vanilla Extract
Cut Mile with Real Milk or Water
Sugar
In a separate bowl, mix condensed milk, sugar and vanilla

Be forewarned. If you attempt to make snow cream, you too could lose your ability to type and spell.I assume that “Cut Mile” above means “Cut (Condensed) Milk”. It’s only an assumption, however.

BTW, I suspect the above recipe requires some amount of snow as well. Authentic snow cream usually does.

I remember that, on the rare occasions it snowed to any depth, we used to go out to the farthest reaches of the yard with a bucket to collect the freshest, most pristine snow we could find. We would do our best to keep our footprints out of the snow as long as possible, just so we’d have clean snow for snow cream. Inevitably one of my friends would come along and tramp through the yard to have us come out and play and, inevitably, we’d yell at them for messing up the yard.

They probably came down just for the snow cream. As far as I know, Pop was the only father in my circle of friends that made snow cream. One of these days, I hope to be able to pass the tradition along to my own kids.

Until then, If you find yourself snowed in and looking for snow cream recipes, I hope the recipes above come in handy. Just remember the one important piece of advice my father always passed along when it was time to make snow cream:

“Watch out for the yellow snow!”