Archive for October, 2016

Under Texas Skies

            I spent four years in Memphis, Tennessee, in the mid-seventies. It was not a happy experience. A half-inch of snow one January, and the whole city closed down. Then there was the headache-inducing summer humidity.

            Working there, I found the coy, syrupy, Southern belle sweetness of some of my co-workers phony and hard to stomach. Add in the fact that—according to the matriarch at the family-owned building supply company I worked for—I remained “That Yankee Girl in th’ Office” for my entire 44 months of employment, and my discomfort meter got nudged toward its limit.

            By the time I moved back north, I had heard enough racist and sexist references from the locals that I was ready for a frontal lobotomy just to stop the screaming in my head that I didn’t have the chutzpah to level at the guilty parties.

            So, when my husband and I moved from the Minneapolis area in Minnesota to the Dallas area in Texas 18 months ago, I expected to experience full-fledged culture shock. South is south, right? Not so, I quickly learned. We have felt nothing but welcomed since day-one of our time here, and I find myself more in-tune politically, philosophically, and spiritually with my new friends and neighbors than I could have ever hoped to be.

            Having said all that, there are things I don’t like about being here. I don’t like endless summer any more than I liked endless winter. And as much as I whined about having to bundle up head-to-toe every time I set foot out my front door from November through March, it really doesn’t seem like Christmas without a crisp, white blanket of snow covering the front yard.

            I also dislike the idea of “outside dogs.” Sure, they add to one’s sense of security, but aren’t canines social creatures? Don’t they need attention from their owners, even if they have a dog-buddy fenced in out there with them? And don’t the neighbors deserve not to be awakened at 4:00 a.m. because the guard pooch mistook a squirrel for an armed intruder?

            Ummm. The local drivers. They seem to be of two extreme types: the ultra-polite person who wants to wave you through the four-way stop even when it isn’t your turn—dangerous in its own way—and the idiot who screams down the George Bush freeway going 25 miles over the posted 70 m.p.h. limit, cutting between you and that 40-ton semi that you were starting to pass on the left.

            But the things I love about life in Texas far outweigh the things I don’t love. People are exceptionally friendly. They chat with you in line at the checkout counter. They wave and smile from their vehicle as they pass you walking your dog, or they stop weeding the garden to come down and shake hands and chew the fat for a spell.

            Here, we have discovered an abundance of good ol’ common sense, which dares to defy political correctness when rational thinking contradicts conventional wisdom. Closely related is the courage of the faithful. Our two favorite restaurants—one a fast food taco joint, the other a fabulous barbecue establishment—both flash Christian witness in neon red on their roadside signs. We’ve seen similar joyful proclamations other places, too, from the local Chamber of Commerce to the receptionist’s desk at the closing company that handled our house purchase. I feel bolstered on all sides by these unabashed efforts to promote faith; I’m no longer on the defensive within a civic environment hostile to and debasing of my beliefs.

            And the skies. I don’t know the scientific explanation for it, but there is something about the chunk of heaven that hangs over our little corner of  northeast Texas. Almost every sunset is a delight and a surprise, with its ever-changing variety of cloud formations and soul-inspiring natural tints that you want to scoop into a jar like fireflies, and bring back inside with you. Hard to capture in a photograph. Even harder to describe. This glorious daily treat—sometimes delivered at sunrise as well—sits near the top of my list of things to appreciate about our new location, right under being close enough to kids and grandkids to gather together at the slightest excuse for a celebration.

            In fairness to Memphis, I imagine things are different there now. New generations, cleansed of the infectious bigotry and regional snobbery of their predecessors, have no doubt changed the feel of the place. But there’s no way they’ll ever be able to compete with the view of the firmament we are blessed with here in Cattle Country, U.S.A.

            I’ll remind myself of that the next time I’m awakened from a sound sleep by the howling mutt next door. These indescribable sky-views are probably worth that trade-off.

October 28, 2016 at 12:06 am 1 comment

It’s a Jungle Out There

This is a photo of our “green space” in Texas. The yard isn’t very big, but we’re thinking of naming it Heinz Acres, since it accommodates at least 47 varieties of indigenous fauna—only one of which even remotely resembles what you could call lawn grass.

According to a guy at the nearest Home Depot whose name tag proclaims him a Master Gardener, the 60 dollars’ worth of product he sold us to lay down according to a rather complicated application schedule should do the trick in taming this overgrowth wasteland of ours. But if anyone out there can offer hints about gardening in the southern climes, we’d sure appreciate hearing them. (Locals call the clay soil hereabouts “gumbo.” Anyone with no allegiance to the area calls it “impossible.”)

And speaking of Home Depot, but in a completely unrelated vein, here’s a handy tip for wives who occasionally find themselves staring vacantly at mile-high racks of lumber while their husbands meticulously sort through the bins for that perfect four-by-eight: Three laps around the outer circumference of a full-sized Home Depot is equal to a mile walked. (And yes, I actually counted out the paces. Don’t mock.)

Several of these circuits, completed at a brisk pace, and you can easily get a mini-workout ticked off your to-do list while dear hubby is engrossed in researching the latest Ryobi drill offerings. Now, everybody goes home happy . . . not a claim I can normally make after 45 minutes of following my beloved down interminable aisles stocked with guy-gizmos and hardware.

Felicitous fall foliage prep and happy hiking to all.

October 15, 2016 at 4:18 pm 1 comment

Breaking Good


I’m thinking of taking a hiatus from television until mid-December – a plan inspired by retailers who insist on turning the Twelve Days of Christmas into the Twelve Weeks of Christmas. (Ah, that time-honored American custom, the Crass Commercialization of Sacred Celebrations.)  Rather than wear out the mute button on the remote, it might be simpler just to walk away from the set entirely.

Not that there’s much to walk away from in our cable-less household. If anything, this year’s menu of verbal porn (98 percent of sit coms) and brutally dark themes (98 per cent of everything else) is even less appetizing than in years past.

Take Two Broke Girls.  Please. “Constant sexual jokes and references, including breast and vagina references, orgasm jokes, allusions to masturbation, and kinky sex,” the Parents Television Council (PTC) observes. The brief glimpse I caught had one main character donning latex gloves to check the tip jar and saying, “This is Williamsburg. There’s a good chance even the dollars have herpes.” To which her ever-witty partner responds, “Well, if those singles have herpes, they should just lie about it till they get married like everybody else does.” As I said, please.

Then there’s the interminable Law and Order – Special Victims Unit. According to the PTC, in last season’s premiere episode Detective Olivia Benson turned the tables on her captor, a sadistic serial rapist and murderer, and beat him savagely with an iron rod.

Similar trends show up in contemporary literature, as some recent book reviews illustrate:  A Brief History of Seven Killings – a sweeping tale of politics and violence; Zoologies – Art and hope in extinction, a book surrounded by sadness; The Baltimore Atrocities – a pitch-black comedy about two young men trying to track down their abducted siblings; Let Me Be Frank With You – heading, gloomily, toward that good night; Cinderland – exploring that murky period of childhood when the author was molested by her piano teacher; Ordinary Sins – stories of tragedy in miniature, as each character’s weakness becomes his or her destiny; Empire of Sin – a tale of booze and fallen women.

Note that all of these sunny little blurbs appeared in just two consecutive editions of my local paper. Makes you want to sob out loud just reading the review subtitles. Pretty sure the books themselves are no more uplifting.

Which brings me back to the theme of this piece, and the one exception to my T.V. boycott: the  60s family series, Father Knows Best. When my husband and I recently discovered these ME TV reruns while lingering over a late lunch, we breathed a sigh of relief and gratitude.

The differences between the heart-warming portrayals of loving family life of this corny old series versus the twisted, low-brow take on anything-goes amorality that you run into with each hop to a different channel these days are too stark to adequately describe.

Hokey, some call it. Themes of faith, family loyalty, and the importance of individual responsibility, integrity, and honesty. A worthy life lesson delivered in virtually every episode. But even Billy Gray, who played teenaged son Bud on the series, later ranted about the unrealistic, cotton candy, sexist nature of the program he was part of for six years. “I wish there was some way I could tell kids not to believe it—the dialogue, the situations, the characters—they were all totally false. The show did everybody a disservice.”

But wait a minute, Billy. I don’t hang around with foul-mouthed bed-hoppers who misuse women (Two and a Half Men; How I Met Your Mother); think nothing of taking things that don’t belong to them and trash the notion of a committed relationship (Bad Judge); or make comedy out of parental abuse (Mom). Making it look like everybody does, is that not a disservice to the audience?  What’s wrong with holding up an ideal to aspire to vs. normalizing bad behavior?

Then there’s cable. “When chemistry teacher Walter White is diagnosed with Stage III cancer and given only two years to live, he decides he has nothing to lose. He lives with his teenage son, who has cerebral palsy, and his wife, in New Mexico. Determined to ensure that his family will have a secure future, White embarks on a career of drugs and crime.”

Now, there’s a slice of reality for you. Heaven knows that no one with terminal cancer graciously uses their final time on earth to put things right with God and their loved ones, share the Good Word, and ensure that their legacy is one of dignity and faith. Ummm, wait. I know these people. So do you.

October 5, 2016 at 6:58 pm 3 comments

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