During America’s Bicentennial celebration in 1976, I was the Scoutmaster of Boy Scout troop number 1776 from Alsip, Illinois. I proudly led the troop to Owasippi Scout Reservation owned by the Chicago Area Council near Whitehall, Michigan. Going to scout camp for two weeks was a big adventure and during the bicentennial it was even more so.
At the final ceremonial campfire the older scouts led us in song. It is then I heard for the first time what I consider to be one of the most beautiful songs I ever heard. The Senior Scout taught us the simple lyrics and melody. He divided us into groups and then led the song in round. The camp fire, and the starry night sky, created an ambiance of pride in America. We left the campfire in silent reverence after singing this stirring song. I am sorry that I could not find a video or recording to feature, but here are the lyrics.
Happy birthday America.
How can I tell you, How I feel?
You have given me many treasures,
I love you so.
Land of hope and liberty,
Freedom rings from every mountain,
From sea to sea
The wine buzz tonight is taking my head into a tail spin. I guess three glasses of wine is too much for my feeble brain to handle. I just read a chapter of my book to Peg, and for once she didn’t fall asleep. Either the story was good, or she was awake. Earlier we went to a local place called Ryan’s Pub for a wine, and some fish. Being it is Friday during lent it is a meat less day. Ryan’s is a mile and a half from our house, and we have driven past it for ten years without ever going in to check it out. Well my virginity is gone, we walked through the portals for the Friday night fish fry. Lo and behold I spy my friend Al sitting at the bar when we walk in. This is better than I imagined. I ordered a Cab for my self, and a lemonade for Peg, and two Walleye dinners to go. We kibitzed with Al while we waited. I’m telling Al and Peg that the last time I was in this place was thirty years ago for a going away party for an engineer from work. Don’t ask me who was leaving I don’t remember, but I do remember the place. It hasn’t changed much in thirty years. Then I proceeded to talk about my old friend Pat from work who owned the place with his daily presence. He lives right around the corner a block away. A few minutes later a short thin guy with bowed legs, white beard, cowboy boots, and cowboy hat walks in. I ask the barkeeper Heather if that is Pat. She says “it sure is.”
I walk over to him fortified by four ounces of Cab, and greet him with “Hey you old bowlegged sum-na-bitch how are ya doin?” He looks at me with a long dumb look. “You remember me don’t ya?”
“Yeah, but I don’t remember your name.”
“It is me , Joe from Panduit.”
“Oh yes I remember now.”
First impressions hit hard sometimes, and when I looked into Pat’s face I saw an old man, a very old man, a lot older than I ever remembered him to look. Pat was a vigorous young tool-maker who grew up in suburban Harvey, Illinois and moved to live in Tucson, Arizona for a several years. He loved it there, and never got away from the cowboy look. He returned to Chicago to work at the Panduit plant in Tinley Park for his old school chum Roy Moody. Before Pat moved to Arizona he was a motorcycle racer. He loved speed on two wheels, and loved the adrenaline rush he got from speeding shoulder to shoulder around a clay track at ninety miles per hour. Of course his knees are shot, and he has lots of broken bones to his credit. When the weather was right he rode a motorcycle, when the weather wasn’t right he drove a pick up truck. He and his wife raised two kids on a mini-ranch in Frankfort, IL. He still lives there.
One of the most spectacular wakes I ever went to was for Pat’s first wife Bev. She and he were riding home on his Harley one Sunday night about ten p.m. with the Bike Club when a rider in front of him lost control,and began swinging in broad “esses” across the road in front of him. Pat T-boned him going sixty mph. The two bikes went in different directions. Pat’s wife who sat behind him like a proud Harley Girl went flying over his head and landed on her neck, crunch! She was dead with a broken neck.
Pat was President of his Bike Club and his wife was first lady. She was one of the most beautiful women I had ever laid my eyes on, and now she was dead at age thirty-five. The wake was in Frankfort at Gerardi’s Funeral home. Back then Frankfort didn’t have more than twenty-five hundred people and Gerardi’s was a small place. Because Pat and I worked together my wife Barb and I attended the wake. At the time we lived in Alsip twenty miles north of Frankfort. We approached Frankfort on US Route 30 from the east. I noticed many Harley riders going the opposite way. We knew when we arrived at Gerardi’s because there were motorcycles parked two inches apart wrapped around the entire building. I remember saying that if I kicked the first bike they would all fall over like dominos. The line of people attending the wake wrapped around the building too. We assumed our place in line and patiently waited. A number of big brawny Harley guys carried Pat out into the parking lot on a chair for him to get some air. His wife was dead, and he looked like he rolled over the road for a mile or two before he finally came to rest. Lots of black and blue with red raw abrasions on his arms and swollen head. He didn’t look too healthy, but he was alive. The big guys set him down in the center of the lot. The line of people walked past him to the parlor. He sat there swilling a beer accepting condolences like a man who has lost his partner in a bike accident.
Inside the Parlor, we finally got to pass Bev’s coffin. She wore her best Harley attire. Her black leather Jacket with the club emblem was hanging on the kneeler in front of the casket on display. She looked as beautiful as ever.
Funny what memories a little Cab, and a chance meeting of an old friend will induce.
The first day of spring came and went with a whimper. The weather was cool and somewhat grey. It was a good day for me, I finally wrote another chapter of my book British American Colonies. I washed some clothes, and did a few house chores. I am still reeling from the dry wall dust stirred up when Miguel fixed my disaster in the living room. At eleven pm it was time to check out and go to bed. As I always do, I plugged my phone into the charger. The screen lit up and I noticed a message from my son in Texas. I couldn’t go to bed without reading what he had to say. I read it and cried. I’ll share his message with you here:
Today was the first day of Spring as well as Rooke’s last day with us. We took him to the vet about 5pm and put him down. HIs condition, degenerative myelopathy really kicked in this week. He was on daily watch this week, and (we, sic) made the decision to take him today while everyone was home. We were all there except for Abbey, she opted out. He went peacefully with his family right next to him. He’s in a much better place now. Rooke (a.k.a “Rookis”, “Blue”) was the best dog I’ve ever had. His character, mannerisms, temperament and loyalty were truly amazing.
When I first met Rook ten years ago he was the cutest little pup one could imagine with floppy ears, a cocked head and a dynamo of energy. Rook grew quickly and became the meanest looking German Shepard I have ever seen. His black color and wide powerful chest gave him an air of intimidation. People stepped aside when Rook walked his Master. Trust me, no one would ever even think about harming a family member when this jet black patrol dog was on duty, and that was 24/7. The only white color he had on his body was the white of his eyes. As you can tell by the photo the white of his eyes were not visible very often. There is no way in hell I would have tested him by entering my son’s house in the dark.
What no one except us knew about Rook was his gentle side. He was a pussy cat with all of us. He loved to walk, and took his master’s for a three to five-mile walk nearly every day. When he wasn’t pulling them along with his chain link leash, he loved to chase a ball and play fetch. His favorite game with me was to bring a rubber toy, and drop it by my feet. Then he stared at that toy until I quickly kicked it from under his nose. Every time I kicked the ball he picked it off within inches of my toe. It wasn’t until last June that I beat him a couple of times, and made him turn and run, but still he had the damn thing within six feet. He prided himself in not losing the ball, ever. He never tired of the game, and could play non-stop for a day, but I couldn’t.
Rook is the first dog I ever fell in love with. My family has owned and cared for many dogs of many different breeds, but Rook is my all time favorite.
A friend from my book club sent this post titled
“Philosophers of this Century.”
I thought it good enough to share.
~ Desmond Tutu…
When the white missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land.
They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes.
When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.
~ David Letterman…
America is the only country where a significant proportion of the population believes that professional wrestling is real but the moon landing was faked.
~ Howard Hughes…
I’m not a paranoid, deranged millionaire. I’m a billionaire.
~ Old Italian proverb…
After the game, the King and the pawn go into the same box.
~ Jean Kerr…
The only reason they say ‘Women and children first’ is to test the strength of the lifeboats.
~ Zsa Zsa Gabor…
I’ve been married to a communist and a fascist, and neither would take out the garbage.
~ Jeff Foxworthy…
You know you’re a redneck if your home has wheels and your car doesn’t.
~ Prince Philip…
When a man opens a car door for his wife, it’s either a new car or a new wife.
~ Emo Philips…
A computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kickboxing.
~ Harrison Ford…
Wood burns faster when you have to cut and chop it yourself.
~ Spike Milligan…
The best cure for Sea Sickness, is to sit under a tree.
~ Robin Hall…
Lawyers believe a person is innocent until proven broke.
~ Jean Rostand…
Kill one man and you’re a murderer, kill a million and you’re a conqueror
~ Arnold Schwarzenegger…
Having more money doesn’t make you happier. I have 50 million dollars but I’m just as happy as when I had 48 million.
~ WH Auden…
We are here on earth to do good unto others. What the others are here for, I have no idea.
~ Jonathan Katz…
In hotel rooms I worry. I can’t be the only guy who sits on the furniture naked
~ Johnny Carson…
If life were fair, Elvis would still be alive today and all the impersonators would be dead.
~ Warren Tantum… (School photo album).
I don’t believe in astrology. I am a Sagittarius and we’re very skeptical
~ Steve Martin…
Hollywood must be the only place on earth where you can be fired by a man wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a baseball cap
~ Jimmy Durante…
Home cooking. Where many a man thinks his wife is.
~ Doug Hanwell…
America is so advanced that even the chairs are electric.
~ George Roberts…
The first piece of luggage on the carousel never belongs to anyone
~ Jonathan Winters…
If God had intended us to fly he would have made it easier to get to the airport.
~ Robert Benchley…
I have kleptomania, but when it gets bad, I take something for it.
This afternoon I decided to cook a comfort food meal for supper. I whipped out my mother’s trusty green cookbook loaded with Hungarian dishes and picked one that caught my eye some time ago. The Hungarian name for it is “Koloszvari kaposzta” (Scalloped Pork and Rice). It has all the ingredients that I love: pork, rice, sauerkraut, sour cream, paprika, onion, and salt. How could I go wrong? Let me tell you the ways. I follow recipes like a chemist follows a formula. It looked suspicious when I pulled it out of the oven, and I confirmed my suspicions. It didn’t look like what my mother used to make. She had a knack as did all her girl friends, and they were the ones who wrote this cookbook. Somehow the knack is something you learn by doing, and not by reading the recipe.
Don’t get me wrong, the dish was delicious, but not to my personal specification. Peg tossed her food around on the plate being polite. Tomorrow I’ll check the underside of the dining room table to see if she hid her part on the extra table-leave under the table while I wasn’t looking. She has told me many times about how when she was a kid, she would hide the green beans under the table just to get away from the supper meal. Her Dad wouldn’t let her leave until she finished eating everything on the plate. Kids have a way of dealing with parents who are demanding. Especially when they want to go out to play. I however, enjoyed the meal with a nice glass of Cabernet and analyzed the heck out of the process. Here is what I would do differently the next time:
1. I would use a deeper, but smaller casserole dish, but I don’t have one. Why? Because the ingredients were slightly on the dry side. The large area of the dish I use allows the meal to evaporate its moisture in the oven. A smaller area, deeper dish will make it harder to lose the moisture during the oven time.
2. I will use more sauerkraut and juice between layers of meat, rice, and sauerkraut. I used what the recipe calls for and I felt it lacking. I love sauerkraut and sour cream.
3. I will cut the oven time by fifteen minutes to shorten the drying process.
4. I will try the same meal mixed in a pan on the stove and skip the casserole completely. I have cooked Stroganoff like that and it turns out fabulous.
5. I will use less cooked rice, so there will be less absorption of meat juices during oven time.
As I told Peg during supper, I’m beginning to sound like a cook; Always analyzing flavors, textures, moisture, etc. I do that in search of the knack that Mom and her buddies left out of the words but included in the invisible instructions hidden between the lines.
Thanks Mom, I’m getting closer, but will I live long enough to learn the KNACK?
Well folks, I just got in from the garden. A mere two hours of planting chrysanthemums, pruning shrubs, dead heading daisies and I’m washed out. I entered the cool of the house and plopped in front of my desk to read e-mails. Here is number one. Darned if it didn’t pick me up and make me want to go out again. See if this works for you too. Oh, if you are under sixty-five you may not understand what this is all about. Thanks Bob I know YOU understand it well.