I LOVE BACON

No…. I don’t like bacon, don’t mind bacon, don’t approve of bacon, I LOVE BACON.

Jews who consider Jesus a rabblerouser and do not have reverence for the cross, also do not eat bacon. I don’t think these characteristics are equal in importance but I would put them in the top three reasons I couldn’t be Jewish.

B A C O N is wonderful. It has become expensive,  but I can stock up when I find a bargain. It must be cooked correctly, not limp, not super crisp, but absolutely done. I gave up, long ago, trying to fry flat strips of bacon. It is meant to curl as it creates fat and the water steams out and the edges begin to crisp and the turning starts, to get it to the perfect degree of done.

Bacon sandwiches are my favorite…and the hardest thing to order in a restaurant. I want bacon and whole wheat bread…fresh bread, not toast, never white, and not cut …. The bacon belongs on one side of the bread, then you fold the bread in half and smash nicely with your hand and eat. Two will make a perfect breakfast. Restaurants want to toast the bread, cut it in half for you or offer bread that was fresh last week. Their bacon is always suspect as well, either too crisp or not crisp enough. It is because they fry it on the grill instead of in a skillet where the grease actually fries the bacon, not the heat. I can fry bacon perfectly! I can make the perfect bacon sandwich. I can make a bacon and egg sandwich although that seems a waste of a good egg and almost the ruin of a bacon sandwich. The reason being that I love the bacon. Why spoil a perfect food!

The other reason I love bacon….wait for it….is the bacon GREASE. I know, I know, I know. Yes I use EVOO, well mostly, OO, but I also use walnut oil and peanut oil. I am adamant that cholesterol is not the be-all, end-all to heart disease.  Some doctor, somewhere said so and I believe him/her. It is not in my dna to make a pot of green beans without adding bacon grease. I make delicious pinto beans that require bacon grease. Good gravy for mashed or boiled potatoes starts with bacon grease. My first wonderful Mother-in-law taught me the art of gravy and I learned well. My American potatoes are fried in butter [don’t go there either], but the scrambled or fried eggs to go with, need bacon grease seasoning. How about biscuits? I am not a biscuit fan, but I certainly know how to turn them out and I learned from a sourdough cookbook that they need bacon grease brushed on all sides and to rise over boiling water for 30 minutes before baking. If you doubt the wisdom, you should taste my biscuits.

I just put a pot of pinto beans on for supper. The smell is as good as the beans will be later today.

Food is absolutely part of the love affair with life. Some diet people and health experts recommend that we should view food as fuel and eat accordingly, forgoing the flavor, texture, delight and occasional binge. I know a kid or two who thought gasoline smelled pretty good and we know where that can lead. I’m 70ish, I don’t plan to abandon bacon. Its too good and I’m not.

 

A MEMORY FOR TRAVIS AND MISTY

This story is for my children.

When I was very young, my Dad’s two brothers were living at home on a tenant farm and still in high school. The house seemed big and old. It was a two-story, surrounded by a large garden, an outhouse, a pig lot, a barn for hay storage and milking, outbuildings, cribs and fields farther out. Both boys’ rooms had shelves of trophies and ribbons from 4-H adventures at the county fair. I went to the fair and watched with envy. It was my dream to be just like them.

When I was older, I joined 4-H, but we were town folks and girls were only encouraged to cook and sew. I did a bit of both, but it wasn’t what I had envisioned.  I wanted livestock and trophies and ribbons!

Years later, when my young family moved to a rented acre in the country, I determined my kids were going to have what I had longed for. They were going to get a taste of 4-H and farm.  So we embarked on the 4-H / homestead journey of raising animals, growing gardens, learning self-sufficiency and earning those 4-H badges, as proof of their achievements. We had farm neighbors who understood our enthusiasm and offered help often. We enjoyed growing our kids as they grew their interests and we met great 4-H leaders and other families who spent their vacation days herding, kids and animals alike, to the local county fair each August.

Our family tried lots of homesteading projects in those 4-H days and my farm bible was “Carla Emory’s Old Fashioned Recipe Book”. If my grandparents instructions left out a step, Carla could be counted on to fill in the blanks for every endeavor necessary to survival on the farm. I still have a comforting copy of the “Recipe Book”.

All this information is an introduction to the following story. I wrote it a hundred years ago, late one night, and kept a yellowed copy that was obviously typed on a real typewriter. With a bit of rewriting and editing, this is for Travis and Misty.

THE FIRST FARROWING

If you live in the country and harbor secret thoughts of self-sufficiency [and 4-H trophies], your thoughts will eventually turn to pigs; mortgage lifters they used to be called. Cheaper to raise than beef, they require less space and are barely more manageable. And you can fill your freezer with fresh, home-produced meat as was your intention all along. Those 4-H kids soon latch onto this pig idea as if it was their own and they are beyond excited to buy a handful of newly-weaned feeder pigs. These lovely pigs grow, well, like pigs and travel to the county fair and garner some 4-H awards and our freezer fills. Not entirely self-sufficient, but at least self-produced.

A year or two goes by in this way, projects completed and freezer refilled. I even survive the days I long for any steak that isn’t pork. One day, when listening more closely than usual, I pick out words like heat, breeding, farrowing and litter. I don’t think they are talking road-side cleanup either. I casually mentioned that their conversation was boring and they immediately exclaimed over my enthusiasm.

Before I know what has happened, one of the shapelier gilts in the pig pen has been carted off to meet a reputable and discerning chap with a staggering track record for producing offspring.  From the reports home, it seems the gilt was no happier with this idea than I was. In a couple of months, she is back and doesn’t seem to be harboring any grudges.

She is now due to produce her own family of squealing, pink, perfectly formed, I-just-love-baby-piglets in about three months, three weeks and three days. This lady becomes royalty. She gets special feed and plenty of it and she blossoms considerably.  With this wait [and weight] on our hands, talk turns to birthing arrangements; pen vs crate, a-frame vs barn, day vs night, etc., etc. Nothing could be left to our mother-to-be and the conversation was periodic and seemed unresolvable. I was for A-frame, pen, daytime. The WINNERS chose crate, barn, anytime.

The due date is Friday, Feb 18. Apparently no one bothered to consider arranging for a birth sometime in warm May or probably that didn’t jive with county-fair-in-August timing. All advice regarding farrowing early [or late], determined that she should be in-the-crate a few days prior, to get adjusted, so we decided the Saturday before the 18th would be moving day.  Just withhold food that morning and she will graciously follow the feed bucket into her new quarters that afternoon, so “they” advised.  Hah!  After more than an hour of thin patience and an inappropriate amount of her food, goat food, calf food, chick food, apples and milk, she graciously entered the crate. It was not a second too soon, for all concerned.

Now if we could have just worried that litter of piglets out of her, everything would have been a snap. She got more attention and poking and prodding than a woman delivering triplets by cesarean. She was inspected by each of us a dozen times a day and by every visitor to the farmstead, whether they had ever even seen a crated gilt before. Our mailman inspected. My Mother inspected and she was NOT farm oriented. The school bus driver waved off when we mentioned “farrowing” to her.

The 18th came and went, no piglets. We endured thru the 19th and the 20th all while our ‘Miss Piggy” was literally wallowing in the attention. We checked her morning, noon and night. Sunday night at 8pm, my husband came on the run, from checking, bursting in the house with the shaky news that we had a disaster in the barn. She had killed the first three piglets she’d had so far. I headed to the barn, as he phoned a more experienced friend for help. Everything we had read, all the advice we’d heard and all our questions asked, hadn’t prepared us for this situation. Even the gilt had lulled us into a sense of security with her docile nature and cooperative temperament. I removed the three piglets, before the kids got to the barn. I was quietly trying to get the gilt to lie back down, but she wasn’t having it. The friend determined that if she wouldn’t lie down, we could tie her down. At this point, I am appreciating that darn crate.

As new piglets began to emerge, Misty was busy scrubbing them clean and dry, while Travis was busy counting arrivals, with the marketing potential gleaming in his eyes. By 1 am, 7 lively, darling piglets were nursing eagerly while we supervised, never letting them near their Mother’s head. She would snap and grab for each that dared in her direction. She was definitely a force to be feared; thank goodness for the crate.

By 3am everyone was exhausted, the now-sow [having a litter transitions a gilt to a sow – it’s a farm thing] was no more loving and we decided to move the babies to another stall and heat lamp to get a little sleep ourselves. And little sleep is what we got, as we were back in the barn at six am for another round of feeding. The great mother was still not interested in mothering those babies and I had visions of being a round-the-clock nursing supervisor for 8 weeks. Daytime supervisor wasn’t entirely out of the question, but night supervisor didn’t flicker on my radar. This obstinate and very capable mother was not going to dictate sleepless nights for me.

By noon she was no friendlier and I was a lot more tired, so I decided that if I could shut her mouth and keep it that way, she might learn to put up with her adorable babies and they wouldn’t get hurt. It was her job to do the providing and I intended for her to provide.

I fashioned a muzzle of sorts using a goat collar, part of a calf halter and some baling twine. Ever grateful that she was in that crate, I ver-r-r-y carefully slipped the makeshift muzzle onto her and tightened it down. Next I got one daring little piglet by his back leg [which triggers auto squealing] and let him squirm in the general direction of her head. She snorted and grunted, but that mouth was secure. Lunch time kids; I let them all in to latch on and watched.

We think she was so isolated on our place; she was after all the one and only queen gilt, that she didn’t “know” other pigs, especially newborns. After 24 hours, we were able to remove the muzzle and she was the wonderful mother we had expected.

With 7 babies to choose from, Travis picked his choices for county fair exhibition that fall. He took Reserve Champion Chester White barrow at the Illinois STATE FAIR that year. It was a wonderful outcome for newbies to the farrowing world.

More farrowing was mentioned but we must have sensed once was enough. We did have more pigs. We were all suckers for baby pigs!

BERT AND EILEEN

Today is Eileen’s birthday. Bless her heart always!

My first husband was born in 1948. I was born in 1949.

My paternal grandfather was born in 1898. My children’s paternal grandfather was born in 1884. Read that again and think on it. Not my kids GREAT grandfather, but THEIR grandfather was born 14 years before MY grandfather.  The math in that statement floors me everytime I think on it.

My first wonderful Mother-in-law was married twice, the first to Albert Tackett.  Bert, as he was known, was born in 1884 and she was born in 1920. [More math – that means he was 36 years older than her.] She was his second wife. Eileen was 22 when she married 58 year old Bert. He was a longtime family friend and had actually dated one of her sisters before he and Eileen became an item. It was love. In pictures, she is sweet and young and he is swarthy and good looking.

[When I was in high school, my history teacher, Phil McCullough, was a trivia buff, before trivia was a particular thing. Not sure how much actual history I learned from him, but I did learn the answer to “what is a Gandy dancer”? A Gandy dancer is a railroad section worker. Turns out it was a necessary bit of information to my future.]

Albert “Bert” Tackett was a Gandy dancer. Who would have ever believed it.

He and Eileen lost a first baby daughter shortly after birth. They went on to have three more children, Mike, Danny and Alice, the youngest. Pictures show they were a very happy family.  Bert died of a heart attack in 1955, age 71, when his young wife and family could have used his care and companionship for many more years.

Because Bert was a Gandy dancer, a railroad employee, Eileen had benefits from the railroad. One that served her well was flagging down the train. Eileen, in all her life, never drove a car. The family lived in a country house near the interurban tracks between Armington and Minier, Illinois.  As a railroad widow, she could put out a flag near the tracks and the interurban train would stop, in those days, and pick up the young family so they could ride to Lincoln for groceries and errands. At the end of the day, she could corral her brood onto the train for a return ride home.

It is a story of different lifestyles, remarkable to us, normal to them, in times gone by. The story is all the more interesting and unique when told and considered in 2019. In many, many ways we are worlds away from the 19th century and yet, our family is still, pretty darn close.

THE HARDEST LOVE STORY I Ever Knew

  Jacob Travis Bowersock – Our Oldest Grandson

     February 24, 1998 – June 27, 2014

The new text on her phone read “Goodbye Mom, I love you”.  She just knew. The knowledge was in her dna.

He was feeding the dogs, in the country a few miles away, for his Dad and stepmom, while they vacationed. After the text is a blur of exact moments of clarity, never to be erased, never to dull or fade.

She reached him. It didn’t matter how, but she reached him, alone and longing to trade places. A tear rolled down his youthful cheek. She reached to sweep the tear into her heart as a sacred offering. He was 16, the middle child of three, oldest son, father’s irreplaceable favorite, speeding to the nearest hospital.

She was the first to ever hold him and the last. It was courageous, but hardly more than a pittance of what was battling within her heart, her brain, her body.

In the days ahead, coherent thoughts came and went. She realized there was never a hospital or ambulance bill. She had other mundane thoughts. She prompted herself to focus, plan, sort and comfort just to fight off the injustice and searing pain that engulfed her for endless moments. She rationalized. She scoured her heart for every good deed, every sweet moment, every spoken word, every single memory in a 16 year file, that might erase or ease that last day.

We all love our kids. We love them from the first breath. We love them through all the firsts, through all the tantrums, through all the ages of growing, all the way to gone from home.  But not gone like this. This way-of-going rips at all her sacrifice, all her prayers, her hopes and dreams. This way-of-going stomps on her heart with spikes of judgement and selfish indifference, with no hope of reconciliation ever.

If she is to continue breathing, with no hope ever, the breathing will be shallow and weak and fiery and explosive and barely life sustaining.

One foolish deed, one simple tear, one empty heart, will forever be their love story.

 

Robert

THEY WERE OUR NEW NEIGHBORS, out tending their garden, when we stopped to introduce ourselves and ask about the ‘neighborhood’.  They appeared at least ten years older than us and they were. The garden surely started out straight-rowed and had evolved into a crowd of plants and weeds. They were dressed in what can only be described as ‘raggedy’ clothes and shoes, hard-used, but still sturdy enough for their needs. They were pleasant enough, but busy, and we didn’t stop long.  As we drove past their place, we could see patches of gardens anywhere there was a plot of ground. Their house was centered [hard to determine its age] amid outbuildings, equipment and tall bamboo, with the sound of running water reaching us as we drove by.

We were to enjoy the friendship of these neighbors all the time we lived ‘just down the road’. They had two sons, two daughters-in-law, six grandchildren and they were landowners, landlords and much more than we had judged by first impressions. And, they were old school.

We gardened, we chickened, and we shared. They GARDENED, advised and shared. It was a mutual arrangement.

Why would I write about them in LOVESTORIESANDLIFE? Mostly because of his delight in telling about marrying his bride some 60 plus years before. Mostly because he was not so retiring as you would first guess and he loved to visit;  about machinery, about gardening, about local political leanings, about his projects, about his youth. I suppose we all reach that point, when we spend a lot of energy or just plain delight in recalling our younger days. Not that they were spectacular or even happy, but they allow us to choose the good or interesting parts and share them again before they lapse into the dimmest recesses where recall is lost.

He had been a self-employed man most of his life and had worked with heavy machinery, road graders, that sort of thing. He had worked with men who thought they were big shots and I can imagine their surprise to find he wasn’t the backwoods boy or man they thought they were dealing with. He earned the respect of many and he and his wife were well known and appreciated.

They were old school family too. Their oldest son worked the same as he was brought up; same machinery, same work ethic, same long hours and his two boys were coming up the same. It was a delight to meet kids with manners and respect for their grandparents and parents.

Robert’s family ethics and love were never more apparent than when the oldest grandson graduated high school with plans to attend diesel mechanics school in Ohio. This is a boy who had never been away from home without family and family made the commitment that this boy would not graduate under a load of debt. Everyone was required and glad to participate in the expense of schooling and room n board to see him through. Not only that, but the boy himself understood their sacrifice and did his part as well. He schooled full time and worked at a truck dealership 30 to 40 hours a week. He was an asset the dealership was proud of as well.

It is a love story. all its own, to know they raised a boy after their own hearts; his work ethic matching that of his parents and grandparents. The boy actually knowing in his heart how they loved and supported him and he was selflessly willing and glad to acknowledge their part in his life. Makes my heart swell just writing about their family dynamics. Would that we all aspire to their example?

Robert liked to tell of his wedding day. Wish I had asked more questions about finding his bride and how he asked her to be his wife, but the days are gone and he remembers the important stuff….like being married on a North Georgia Winter day in January and it being such an important day, he took his soap and towel in the early morning down to the river to bathe…..for his young bride and all the life they had before them.

TODAY I WAS 16 AGAIN

I was 16 with no chores. I was 16 with no homework. I was 16 and not worried about being popular. I was 16 without a dress code or parental control. I was 16 with the freedom of my own vehicle and free to be 16 as long as I chose. It was nostalgic and thoroughly enjoyable and I might just do it again soon.

It started quite innocently and not on purpose. Out running errands, I noticed it was close to lunchtime. I had been cooped up through some dreary winter weather and decided I needed a decent burger and fries. It happens that Franklin, NC has a 50s style diner called the Motor Co Grill, the perfect burger joint of choice. They seat you and every time before, I have either sat on the diner side or on the patio where dogs are welcomed with a water dish and their own menu.

Today I was seated on the counter side. This side had red topped chrome swivel stools at the counter, a black ‘n white checkered floor, booths, tables, lots of neon and 50s signs just like back-in-the-day. Wayyyy back.  The decor set the stage, but the music was the key. Playing was a “Real Oldies channel” from a long distance or internet option, out of Milwaukee.
As I was handed a menu, the speakers released HOLD ME by Mel Carter. I couldn’t read the menu for the music. I didn’t need it anyway. Next came LONESOME TOWN crooned by Ricky Nelson. Only burger, fries and a shake could possibly go with this scene. Frankie Valley, I LOVE YOU BABY, the Four Seasons, HEY HEY PAULA – one right after the next. I was 16 again.

My waiter was a clean cut guy, maybe 20. I asked, when he brought my shake, if he tired of hearing this “old” music every work day. He surprised me. He said “I’ve been listening for 4 years and I like it. It sounds innocent to me.”  You know, he is a wise and perceptive young man.

Rock ‘n roll, bobby socks and saddle shoes, the Twist, the Stroll, Bandstand, Elvis, The Beatles, The Everly Brothers; it was all a terribly innocent era. Roy Orbison, Chubby Checkers, The Beach Boys, Petula Clark, The Supremes; they each tic a memory.  Weren’t we lucky!

We were  the last generation of  innocents. Could it be why we find in-your-face subjects, policies and 2019 drama so jarring? We aren’t naive, but having had an age of innocence, we think everyone is entitled to the same?

It was certainly a heartwarming day. I couldn’t help feeling youthful having my lunch and loving the music.

 

DONALD, My Stepdad

My folks, Bruce and Gilberta were married for 25 plus years with a family of four children.  They were kids when they married, about 20 and 19, I think. My Dad died of lung cancer at the young age of 46.

After some time, my Mom, a working woman with a lifetime before her, began to date occasionally. We kids sometimes liked her choices and sometimes not. Hardly mattered, she was always her own person. She broached no other opinions that did not mesh with her own, especially from her kids who could hardly be smarter than their adult Mother.

After the last child graduated high school, Mom settled in a home near her job and found interests among her co-workers and others she began to meet. A few temporary men, on casual dates, came and went. Then came Donald.

Donald lived at home with his Mom….really. Donald was about the same age my Dad would have been and they met at a dance class. Donald had not gone to the dance class eagerly. He had gone because his Mother thought he should and at the request of a lady friend who had tried and was still trying to entice Donald to the altar. Donald never liked making decisions [he is 91 now and still prefers someone else make his decisions – I have acquiesced], but the single decision he did make and stick to, was NOT MARRYING EVER.

Donald’s lady friend encountered a big problem at the dance lessons and that problem had a name – Gilberta.  Gilberta was into dancing [she taught me in our living room as a young teen], she loved the big band era and she insisted on the man leading. [It is the only time and place, she ever let that happen.] Donald never wanted to lead and Gilberta insisted, on the dance floor, that he should and their romance blossomed. It blossomed on their terms. She had made an unfortunate mistake in briefly marrying a guy a few years after Dad died. It ended poorly and she was quick to get Dad’s name back and erase those ‘frivolous’ few months out of her life. Therefore she had no plans to ever marry again.

Donald was sticking to his first and only life decision also, but dancing was an entirely different decision, already made. They danced at lessons.  They partied with the crowd. They watched movies. She cooked – he was an expert at eating.  Mom showed concern for Donald’s Mom and Donald’s Mom finally gave up the idea of having grandchildren, and Mom was quick to loan hers out to them both.

Donald was great at playing the grandfather figure. Mom had my two kids for grands, but my siblings dutifully came through during the Donald years and he was Grampy Don to five little ones as they came along. He was present at all the family get-togethers, the holidays and the summer vacations around Mom’s pool.  Donald [and Mom,too] loved garage sales and shopped those grandkids with delight. Donald would show up for late breakfast at Moms. He lived across town and he was and still is a “Man of Routine”. He would go do something, come back after lunch or for lunch and hardly ever missed supper with Gilberta. Truth to tell, he had a razor at Mom’s, but we never mentioned that.  They were dancing and life buddies, partners in every sense, till death did part them.

Gilberta, the inveterate smoker, even after her first husband died from them, suffered and died from lung cancer too, in 2002. She and Donald had about the same lifetime, on their terms, as she had with our Dad.

Donald is 91 this year and Donald is still missing his partner. He has his routine. Of course, his Mom is long gone, but he still lives in the same house he bought her in the 70’s. Donald has never missed a meal and he tries to fund the Illinois lottery single-handedly.

I live in Georgia, but I have never missed a visit to Donald, every trip home, since we moved. He has had some health issues, been in rehab at the nursing home and he spent a brief and unbearable visit to assisted living. He wanted to be home. And he wanted someone to decide he could be at home. So Donald, after all this time, got a step-daughter. We both agreed, I was the logical choice and he had never had one. [I knew my Dad wouldn’t mind. It had been 40 years since I had a Dad.] Time being of the essence, when the doctors and nurses had info I needed to know, saying I was his step-daughter paved the way…..everywhere.

When Donald hated the assisted living apartment and wanted to go home, I just hadn’t the heart to send him back to the ‘squalor’, as I described it to him. His house was a snapshot of 1970 something, when he bought the house for his Mom and him.  While Donald was surviving the assisted living, I threw out all his furniture, his drapes, the carpeting, the kitchen floor linoleum. I threw out piles of shoes, clothes, jackets and all the accumulation of an old bachelor without his partner to keep him up-to-date.

I bought him new used furniture. I had new tile and carpeting installed, cheap but serviceable and I made him pay the flooring bill. I bought new curtains and bedding and bathroom stuff. I found a wonderful lady that I knew who would clean regularly and keep his house ‘up’. I found him a companion, Buddy, the cat. Donald was adamant that he didn’t want or need a cat. I was adamant that Donald needed someone to look after and it had to be easy on him to do. Since Donald didn’t make decisions, I, being Gilberta’s daughter, won that round. Guess who LOVESSSS BUDDY? They are a pair!

Donald got to leave the assisted living. He lives at home with Buddy, follows his routine; Shannon’s restaurant, lottery tickets, groceries, every day. He loves his ‘new’ house. It stays clean. He watches a lot of TV and often donates money to Jimmy Swaggert. When I groaned a little about that, he said he thought it was a good idea to grease the palms, because he wanted to be sure when he died that he could dance again with my Mom.

As long as my trips home to check on Donald continue, I am still doing  something  for my Mom. When Donald leaves this earth, I expect the spotlight will be on that single couple out on the dance floor.

I love you Donald.