Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys!

 "War is only a cowardly escape from the problems of peace." --Thomas Mann 

I skipped the annual Fourth of July festivities this year. I no longer have the stomach for hyperbolic speeches delivered by corrupt politicians proclaiming the inevitability of war.

If I don't support a war I believe is unjust, I'm accused of being unpatriotic. That confuses me. How is it possible to champion the men and women doing battle without giving credence to a war I personally believe is wrong? I don't know how to connect those dots.  

I’ll bet those deployed men and women would rather have been at home surrounded by their own people on the Fourth of July. No doubt they would have been happier stuffing themselves with hot dogs, apple pie and cold beer. If they had not been fighting a war, they would have been singing the national anthem along with the local high school band, and waving miniature flags to the beat of Stars and Stripes Forever. I respect these soldiers for the sacrifices they make every day and I pray each night that they all come home soon, alive and in one piece.   

Our National Guardsmen fighting in the Middle East were deployed for an undetermined period of time, ordered by our leaders to go. They answered the call, convinced that America's War on Terror would protect us from misguided Muslims intent on killing us all. I greatly honor these soldiers for their willingness to defend our country, but they should have been at home firing up barbecue grills, not firing guns in the name of Old Glory.   

Some soldiers fight, not after being coerced into joining this man's army by fast talking politicians or military recruiters, but because they believe our elected officials have the last word and ought to know what's what. Fed the political fodder that "to fight them over there" meant we wouldn't have to "fight them over here." They swallowed it whole. Not long before, those soldiers were children, many brought up in religious homes where grace was said before meals and the Golden Rule learned at an early age. Turning a deaf ear to logic and old-fashioned common sense, those grown children now follow orders without question, even when it means torturing other human beings.   

I don't know how to support a military whose philosophy sanctions all the things I do not believe are right. My core belief system prescribes peace, not a declaration of war as a reaction to anger or economic stress.

And therein lies the rub, the conundrum, the moral quandary with which I, and other Americans are forced to grapple these days. War, some say, is inevitable. But how can that be when it flies in the face of all things holy? War, in and of itself, takes away our humanness.   

We have learned to harness, if not control, hurricanes and the like by searching for and finding innovative tools with which to deal with the forces of nature. But for some, survival translates to us against them, kill or be killed. Why are we not looking for groundbreaking solutions to end this kind of primordial thinking?   

To the victors go the spoils? American men and women fighting in the Middle East today too often give up life and limb but receive no victory rewards, no spoils of war. We label them heroes and feel overwhelmingly sad when they return in wheelchairs, comas or coffins. The brightest and best of an entire generation sacrifice their future while we do very little to find a lasting solution.

Are we such lazy thinkers that the option to kill and destroy is the best we can come up with?   

We have glorified the act of war for too long. Isn't it time to leave no stone unturned in a quest to find alternatives that work for everyone? We must take issue with fear tactics spouted by greedy politicians intent on padding their pockets on the sacrifices made by our children. If we cannot see that war is a form of mass murder, then how will we ever take that giant leap for mankind?   

War is not John Wayne sporting a cocky green beret; it is the taking of human lives.
War is not the settling of conflicts; it is the creation of resentment that leads to more conflicts.   
War is not God's will; it is an unholy thing that steals our souls.   

Friday, July 1, 2011

I Woof for Coon Dog Day

When Babe and I discovered Saluda, North Carolina, we bought a house. Saluda is a dear little town and our second home has become the perfect escape hatch. I get to write while listening to the chirping of birds instead of the hum of air conditioners.

Although I love winter life on St. Simons Island in Georgia, when the thermometer starts its annual upward climb, I head for the hills. Suffering from heat and humidity is not what I wanted to do when I passed the age of, uh, fifty? It can get warm in Saluda too, but it cools off at night. Unlike in Georgia, I don't feel like a limp dishrag when I crawl into bed at the end of the day.

Each year in July, humans and dogs celebrate the 47th annual Coon Dog Day Celebration in Saluda. This year, the community-supported event will once again be the closest thing to an old fashioned county fair in a coon's age. Oops! Sorry about that.

Contained within three blocks will be food and souvenir stalls and kiddie rides for the little ones who (unlike adults) don't care about stuffing themselves with junk food. Over ten thousand people will rub shoulders all day long in the intense July heat because, let's face it, people are hungry for the good old days before electronics took possession of our minds, bodies and attention spans.

The parade will be way long and this year I have been asked to be one of the float judges. There will be open convertibles chauffeuring the obligatory dignitaries as well as Coon Dog Day Royalty. The Queen will work overtime at perfecting the Miss America Wave. And what would a parade be without Shriners buzzing around on dune buggies and motorcycles and Elvis impersonators singing 'You Ain't Nothin' But a Hound Dog?' Oh, if history repeats, there will be lots and lots of fire trucks.

As if we haven't had a bellyful of politicians this year, there will be too many of them marching to well-known Independence Day tunes. Hopefully, the Democrats and Republicans will refrain from plopping mud at each other.

Throughout the day, coon dogs will drag their masters down the street while sniffing and baying at nothing at all. After 48 years, coon dogs rule. Humans only show up to enjoy live music, clogging, square dances and all the junk food they can cram down their throats.

Ordinarily, sleepy little Saluda has no need of a wide thoroughfare snaking through it and no reason to entice looky-loos to the area. But on this Coon Dog Day, July 9, 2011, the narrow main drag adjacent to the unused railroad track will be jammed with people bent on buying everything from funnel cakes to funky jewelry.

Fast food joints are normally verboten inside the Saluda city limits, but not on this illustrious day. To say that Babe and I will seriously pig out is no exaggeration. We'll eat barbeque from North and South Carolina, hot dogs, hamburgers, cake and ice cream. French Fries in cone-shaped cups, fried in lard and sprinkled with vinegar.

Coon Dog Days began almost half a century ago as a fundraiser for the local Coon Dog Club, and over the years has evolved into something no one ever envisioned in 1963. Today, the festival is a major event for Polk County that brings in over 10,000 people to mill around the streets of Saluda. It begins on Monday and culminates on Saturday with a plethora of activities that conclude with a contest for the dogs themselves, the indubitable VIP's.

As summer residents, we have quickly adapted to this small community of people who feel like neighbors we've known for a lifetime. We reconnected with some old friends who had moved here earlier and we met many others.

People like Judy Ward became friends. Judy moved heaven and earth to reopen Ward's Grill, a favorite local eatery. Why did she do it? Because sadly, when the Grill closed down a year or so ago, it was as though the heart of Saluda itself had died. Judy pledged to give back to the town a little piece of history that everybody loved. Because of her vision, the soul of the town is now back where it belongs, and her hamburgers are too!

People like Judy make Coon Dog Day an event that brings in folks from all over, folks who proudly sport Coon Dog Day t-shirts and more often than not are heard to ask: 'Can a coon dog really tree a coon?'

Alzenia Pops Her Cork

“Don’t be content with being average. Average is as close to the bottom as it is to the top.” — author unknown

Sober as a sow, my friend Mary is convinced that taking a sip of wine or slow dancing in public not only makes her splotchy, but it’s a surefire shortcut to Hell.
“If I did that, I’d be eternally doomed,” she says, emphasizing the doomed part.
Mary is a woman who prefers Emily Dickinson to Sylvia Plath, Law and Order to Sex and the City and tap water to Dom Perignon. Go figure.
“Mary,” I tell her, “if your plans don’t include becoming the Anal Retentive Poster Girl, then you might want to lighten up.”
Before I’m done admonishing her, she is shaking her head back and forth. Her face is redder than an over-ripe summer tomato.
“You just better hush up right now, you hear me? I can’t abide that kid of talk.” Then she adds, “And neither can Jesus.”
Mary thinks anal is a four-letter word. I often wonder if she has morphed into my mother right before my eyes.
“I’m not gonna hush, Mary, because I’m worried about you. You’re way too uptight and it’s unhealthy. You really need to chill, girl.”
She tosses her white as grits long hair, cut in a style much too youthful for a woman past her prime. “For your information, my doctor says I am in perfect health.”
“Who is he? Dr. Doolittle?”
She is unhappy with me (and not for the first time) for daring to confront her with a real-life issue, so before I can pull myself up on my high horse again, she changes the subject and I let it go for the time being, knowing full well that one of these days ...

Three weeks sail by before Mary decides not to be mad at me any more and calls to make a lunch date.
She is chronically late, but I long ago learned to deal with that by arriving late myself. If, by some small miracle, she should arrive at the appointed time and is sitting there waiting for me, then I hope I have enough strength left in my body to dial 911. Babe says Mary keeps a running list of excuses she can pull out and use at will. He may be right.
True to form, I arrive fifteen minutes late and she still does not show up on time. Eventually, I see her as she bolts out of her car and races into the restaurant. Before scanning the crowded room, she glances at the clock as if to confirm that she has indeed kept me waiting again. Her sly smile does not escape my notice.
She pauses in the doorway, stretches her long neck and pretends to search for me over the heads of screaming kids throwing chicken fingers, and seniors sipping twenty-five-cent coffee.
What looks to me like a local construction crew waits just outside the opened door behind Mary, who is blocking their entry. The men are sweating like pack mules in the 95 degree heat and humidity, their patience spiralling downward with every drop of perspiration. From time to time, they make X-rated remarks that drift over to where I am seated.
Oddly enough, Mary neither blushes nor takes umbrage at the swear words, as I might have expected. Nor does she does she pull out her well-worn Bible and talk about Jesus. She wheels around and starts cussing out the overweight roofer who told her to move her well developed tush so he and his friends can get back to shagging shingles.
Mary lifts her chin, looks him straight in the eye, and then calmly flips him off. She shoots him a bird right there in front of God and everybody. And then, pretty as you please, she tosses her hair like a teenager and glides over to me like she’s on roller blades.
“Mary?” I stammer. “Is that you?”
She quits batting her over-mascared eyes long enough to let out a throaty giggle. “Don’t be absurd, dahlin’. If I were Mary, I’d be preaching the gospel to that Neanderthal over there.”
I am speechless.
“I don’t believe you’ve had the ples-yah of meeting me,” she drawls while stretching out a hand with fingernails longer than a pregnant pause. “So glad you were able to snag us a table. Sweet. By the way, my name is Alzenia.”
Snagged us a table? We are not dining at The Ritz. We are in McDonald’s, where apparently Mary slash Alzenia is now a few fries short of a Happy Meal.
“What have you done to yourself, Mary?” It’s darn near impossible for me to get past the extra makeup she’s wearing, but I have got to know.
Breezing by me without even pretending to hear my question, she heads straight over to a table solely occupied by a handsome, middle-aged man. She fluffs her hair and gives the astonished fellow a broad smile. “It’s evah so hot outside, Big Boy, and I’m litrilly dyin’ of thurst. You wouldn’t mind giving a girl a teensy weensy sip of yo’ Co-cola, would you? I just hate it when I have to stand in line.”
Like a mesmerized fly about to go splat into the windshield of an oncoming semi, he picks up his drink and hands it over. “Take all you want,” he says in a breathy voice. “In fact, take it all. I don’t need it.”
She snatches up his drink, blows him a kiss, whirls around and saunters over to where I'm standing in line wishing McDonald’s had a liquor license. I pretend that I have never seen her before in my life.
Her lips are painted the color of Gallo Hearty Burgundy and she has no less than four coats of Maybelline on her lashes, which she bats at me as if I'm George Clooney.
I can ignore her for only so long. “What on God’s green earth have you done to yourself, Mary?”
“Nuh Uh. Mustn’t call me Mary, dahlin’. I told you awlready. My name is Alzenia but you can call me Zennie. All my close friends do.”
“Well then, perhaps you won’t mind telling me where my close friend is. You must know her. She’s the one whose name happens to be Mary and whose body you have obviously snatched. What have you done with her? You give her back right this minute, do you hear me?”
Alzenia yawns, pulls her long arms up in the air and stretches like a cat. “Oooh, body snatching. Now wouldn’t that have been worthwhile to write about in my journal. But I’m afraid the reason I’m heah is a tad less exciting, deah heart. You see, Mary was being particularly pious this maw-nin’ so I made her stay home. Sister Mary can be so capital “B” boring, can she not?”
A Styrofoam voice cuts through my escalating concern.
“Welcome to McDonald’s. May I take your order?” I look over to this Mary slash Alzenia slash Zennie person, this woman who only slightly resembles my friend underneath the Mae West veneer. “We should order,” I say. “What do you want to eat?”
She pushes me aside, leans over the counter close to the cash register and flashes a set of molars that could light up a football stadium. Obviously, she's bleached her teeth way beyond the Chicklet stage.
“Hey, Maria,” she says to the Hispanic server after studying her name badge for a long minute. “How about you go over there and tell that big hunk of a chef to fix me up with a triple Mac. Oh, and you can fix me an Amaretto shake while he’s at it.”
Her smile widens.
I am now totally convinced that my friend has either been smoking something illegal or tooting something even more illegal.
Maria’s mouth opens and a computerized voice says, “Shake flavors are chocolate and vanilla.”
“Well, dang it awl,” Alzenia whines before glaring at me as though it’s my fault.
Glancing back only once, she strides like Zenyatta to the door while announcing to everyone in the crowded room, “We are soooo outta here. Come, come, come, Dahlin’!”
I stare at her retreating back and stall for only a moment before following behind her. I don’t know where on this small island the woman will ever find an Amaretto Shake, but I'm willing to bet Babe’s pension that she’s gonna, and I want to be there when she does.

Southern Comfort

“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.”  ~Lewis Grizzard 

I am so having a yo-yo day.
After spending the weekend in Atlanta living up to the “she shopped till she dropped” cliché, I hated to leave. But home is home, so I dragged my tired tush to the car,  turned the ignition key and discovered my battery preferred to stay in Hotlanna.
I dialed AAA and was told by an underage operator that my husband had forgotten to add my name to his account after we got married. The fact that the wedding took place fifteen years before was of no consequence to the teenager who by that time was texting her BFF.
“But my car won’t start!” I didn’t know which one I wanted to throttle more: my long-ago groom visiting his sister in Pennsylvania, or the teenybopper popping gum in my ear.
After a pause that crawled into the next millennium, she said, “We cain’t do nothing ‘less he calls us to verify thangs.” 
Good God.
“Are you saying that what he has to do is listen to elevator music for thirty minutes along with you popping gum in his ear and you'll confirm my Triple A membership?”
“Uh huh.”
I so wish I had hitchhiked  to Atlanta. 
I left an SOS on my husband's cell and then prepared to wait while reading, How To Love Yankees With A Clear Conscience. Eventually he called, so apologetic. In a take-charge voice, he said, "Keep reading your book while I call Triple A." He was about to impart the good news. Hallelujah!
“Get back to me in exactly five minutes, Babe,” I said, “or you will pay.”
Years later or so it seemed, he reported that AAA had refused to honor the card, but agreed to send out the troops.
“It'll cost twenty-five bucks.” He cleared his throat. “Forty, if they have to tow it.” 
I was trying to find a game on my cell phone when a tall man with a Gabby Hayes beard suddenly appeared at my window and scared me into the middle of next week. 
“Ma’am? Y’all need some hep?”
Standing there spitting tobacco on the pavement was a fine, upstanding Georgia gentleman whose mama surely raised him right. He was way happy to jump-start my battery. For free.
“I got a wife and four daughters and I sho’ wouldn’t want ‘em to have to wait on AAA.” His smile was lopsided. “They git lost, don’tchaknow.” 
I nodded.
“Be sho’ to take this car for a full charge when you get home,” he added, “and tell ‘em to replace that raggedy belt or else you’re liable to meet your maker smack in the middle of I-16.”
Thinking Henry Ford might have been the Antichrist, I thanked my good Samaritan, quickly found a Pep Boys and shot in there like a silver bullet. They said I didn’t need a belt or a battery.
They could have made a sale, I mused, but they were considerate and honest. Thank you good ol’ pep boys and thank you, God, for letting me be born on polite Southern soil.
But when I tried to start my car, the motor wouldn’t turn over. I wasn’t going anywhere until those good ol’ boys replaced the battery they said I didn’t need.
“You gotta be kidding,” Babe shouted. “That battery was practically new. Still under warranty. Be sire to bring it home with you”
“I’m not putting a greasy, dead battery in my clean car, Babe. I paid Curley, Moe and Larry ten bucks to toss it.”
“Wonderful.” His Yankee sarcasm did not escape my sensitive Southern ears.
I crawled into my ailing car with the notched-up belt under the hood, (the one that could stop my clock on I-16. I was tired, frustrated and mad as a Georgia Bull Dawg after losing to the Gators.
But all was not lost. Friends in Atlanta had loaded me up with garden gifts. Tomatoes, folks. Red, ripe, juicy beefsteak tomatoes — Georgia jewels, precious as rubies. 
In November we have the expectation of homemade holiday treats with walnuts, raisins and pecans to comfort us; in February, chocolate in all its glory gets us through dreary winter days. But in June, the homegrown tomato takes center stage. Unquestionably the star of all comfort foods, it is the mother’s milk of backyard gardens —Southern Comfort with the power to put the brakes on even a yo-yo day. 
Cappy’s Tomato Pie Recipe
1 (9 inch) deep dish pie shell
5  large tomatoes, peeled, sliced to ½" thick
½ tsp. salt
½  tsp pepper
¾ cup grated cheddar cheese
¾ cup grated mozzarella cheese
3 tsp. dried, or 3 T. fresh chopped basil
1 cup chopped onion
6 strips cooked bacon
Garlic powder to taste
1 tsp. parsley, chopped
1 cup Hellman's Mayonnaise
Bake pie shell for 10 minutes at 375 degrees
Layer tomatoes in shell and sprinkle with salt, pepper, basil, garlic powder, and parsley. 
Mix together mayonnaise, cheese and onions.
Spread mixture over tomatoes in pie shell.
Bake at 350 for 30 minutes until brown and bubbly. Crumble bacon on top.
Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Smile real big and say YUM!