Thoughts and Memories on Turkey Day

November 26, 2009

As my bride and I prepare to head to her eldest son’s house to watch him deep-fry a turkey — and share in the feast that goes with it — my thoughts drift back to Thanksgiving Day, 1965.

As a college student, I, and the group of guys I roomed with, worked in the cafeteria. In addition, we had all learned to cook while still living at home. As a result, we often created some scrumptious meals.

A perfect example is the time we decided to hold a spaghetti dinner for our entire fraternity. We made the noodles from scratch. We also made the salad dressing from scratch. (We’d forgotten to buy it and one of the guys spent a summer working as a salad chef in Atlantic City.)

Just prior to the Thanksgiving break in 1965, we decided to have our own turkey dinner. We cooked everything from scratch and shared a marvelous meal.

Then we all headed to our respective homes to enjoy the time with our family and friends.

On the big day, we sat down to my mother’s version of the Thanksgiving feast. Everything was going great until one of my brothers looked at me and said, “It must be great for you to come home to such a wonderful home cooked meal!”

I never told my family that I lied that day.

Of course I said “Yes! It is wonderful!” However, I couldn’t help thinking about the great feast we had enjoyed in Edinboro, Pennsylvania. I also couldn’t admit the one ingredient that made my college meal better than my mom’s.

My friends and I had enjoyed a few bottles of wine with our dinner. Mom wouldn’t have dreamed of serving any sort of alcohol with her meals.

Red wine sure goes well with turkey. I wonder if my step-son will serve red wine today.

Whether he does or not, I’m sure we’ll have a wonderful time.

Between us, my bride and I have seven grown children and thirteen grandchildren. I’d say we have lots of things to be thankful for on this turkey day.


Latest “Guidelines” a Bad Omen

November 23, 2009

Last week the government announced new guidelines for pap smears and mammograms. In short, the recommendations are – women don’t need to have the tests as early or as often.

Last evening I heard a doctor state that the Medical board – appointed under President Bush – that reached these conclusions, recognizes that if their recommendations are followed, more women will die of cancer.

SO WHAT GIVES?

This is a prime example of how government run health care will work. Treatment and diagnostic tests will be administered based on statistics and the advice of accountants.

I don’t know the exact numbers, but – for the sake of argument – let’s say that only 10% of pap smears come back with a positive result – meaning there are cancerous cells present. That means 90% of the tests were a waste of time and money. Think of all the money that can be saved by delaying the beginning of testing and reducing the frequency… and only ten percent of the women tested will have a problem due to the money-saving measures.

The same scenario would hold for mammograms. Why waste all the time and money if most of the test results are negative?

Come on America! It’s time to save money.

We sincerely send our regrets to those who die because your cancer wasn’t discovered soon enough to save you.

Let’s hear it for Government Run Health Care!


Pufferbellies

November 20, 2009

Two of my granddaughters are becoming violinists. I’m very happy to see their interest in music and do what I can to encourage it.

Recently Rachel began singing a little tune and seemed rather shocked when I joined in. “See the little pufferbellies all in a row.”

Not surprisingly, my twelve-year-old granddaughter had no idea what a pufferbelly was. I gave her a brief explanation, but our visit to Paducah, Kentucky provided me with a perfect pictorial example.

A not-so-little pufferbelly

As with so many things I run across nowadays, seeing the steam locomotive brought back more than a few memories.

For example, I recall my parents taking us to see Rook Station near Carnegie, Pennsylvania. Besides having a fairly large rail yard, Rook Station had a round house where the pufferbellies could be turned around and maintained.

A similar turn-table in Savannah, Georgia

I also remember a time when I was about Rachel’s age that I went on a field trip to the Pennsylvania Railroad Station in downtown Pittsburgh. Part of the tour included an animated film telling us about the future of railroading. They were getting ready to introduce diesel locomotives which would spell the end of most pufferbellies.

The "new" locomotive on the Branson Scenic Railway

A few scenic railways still use the steam engines, but they are becoming harder and harder to find. I believe the one that runs out of Bryson City, North Carolina is still using a pufferbelly.

A few years back I discovered how intense true railroad buffs are. I was working at a lumber yard in Texas when a load of old railroad ties was delivered. Almost immediately there were swarms of men intently searching for nails stuck in the wood. But these weren’t ordinary nails; they had two digit dates embossed in the heads. Those dates indicated the year the tie was put into place and were used to help the workers determine when to replace the tie. To my surprise, the nails were seen as valuable collectors’ items. I managed to obtain one and passed it on to Andy Sarge.

I mention Andy’s name because I’m hoping he can answer a question of two. While we were watching the Veteran’s Day parade in Branson, there were two machines working on the tracks of the scenic railway. The first machine was the one shown below:

A machine with steel teeth biting into the ground.

A closer look at the teeth

The teeth seemed to be used to loosen the dirt and gravel along side the track. Another interesting feature of this machine was the flimsy looking device being pushed ahead of the machine.

Unknown gizmo being pushed ahead

This thing seemed to be about twenty or thirty feet in front of the first machine. After this machine passed by, it was followed by a second machine.

The second machine

This machine would periodically drop the gray device in front and kick up a bunch of dust. I assume there were brushes cleaning the rails or redistributing the gravel loosened by the first machine.

Hopefully, Andy or some other railroad buffs will enlighten me.

In the meantime, let’s return to pufferbellies. Back in the late forties or early fifties, the Four Preps took that children’s song and produced the following recording.

And that is why I was able to sing along with my granddaughter.


Branson – What a City!

November 19, 2009

Lu, Yakov, and meLu, Yakov, and me

Last week, my bride and I visited Branson, Missouri for the first time. What a city!

If you recognize that Russian in the above photo you know I’m taking liberty with his famous line – “America! What a country!” Yakov Smirnoff was one of the entertainers we saw during our stay in Branson.

The planning for this trip began several months ago when I received an email listing various destinations where we could stay for under $300 for seven nights. The one place on the list that we had not yet visited was Branson. Since we’d heard some good things about the place, we decided to go there to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary.

Early on we decided to drive. The “hotel” was a real bargain and we wanted to keep the costs down to a reasonable level. Because Branson is about 600 miles from our home – and not easily accessible via Interstate highways, we opted to take two days to get there and two days to get back. For variety, we decided to go to Branson by way of Paducah, Kentucky, and return on a southerly route through Memphis.

Murals painted on the "Sea" wall

Paducah sits along side the Ohio River where the Ohio is joined by the Tennessee River. Obviously, the town was flooded many times before a series of flood control dams were built. Prior to the construction of the dams, walls were built with flood gates that could be closed as necessary.

Wall with a track for the gateTrack for the steel gate built into the wall.

Passing through the gate in the photo above, we had to walk down hill for quite a while before getting to the water’s edge. The river was a bit high that day, but would have had to rise a great deal (I’d guess roughly thirty feet) before reaching the wall. The wall was about fifteen or twenty feet high. If I was in the neighborhood of a flood that high, I’d begin building my ark!

Besides taking a walk by the river, Lu and I visited the American Quilters Museum. I honestly expected to be totally bored. What a surprise! I was amazed at the art work. The people who created the quilts displayed there would put Betsy Ross to shame.

After a good night’s sleep, we moved on to Branson.

All Aboard!

One of the first things we did in Branson was ride the Scenic Branson Railway. We took the dinner excursion which pulled out of the station at 5:00 PM. We made the reservation in August and never gave a thought to the end of daylight savings time. It was an excellent meal, but we saw little beyond the dark of night as we gazed out the windows.

The next event was the Yakov Smirnoff show.

Yakov singing "From Red to Redneck"

For the uninitiated, Yakov came to American when he was in his early twenties. At the time he could speak no English. Most of his humor deals with his misunderstanding of our language. For instance, he told of driving across the country and being encouraged by signs saying, “Right on! Red”. He also felt very welcome when billboards proclaimed, “America loves Smirnoff”.

The next day we took a ride on a showboat.

My bride waiting to board the Branson Belle

Inside the showboat

The show featured a number of acts, but our favorite was Todd Oliver with his talking dogs.

We saw two other shows while we were there – “The Twelve Irish Tenors” and “Broadway’s Spirit of Christmas”. We were not permitted to take pictures at those theaters.

Earlier I referred to our accommodations as the “hotel”. In truth, it was a condo with a full kitchen, living room, Jacuzzi tub, balcony and much more than we expected.

The "living" area of our condo

To make the entire trip even more enjoyable, I was able to use “points” to get free motel stays in Paducah and Memphis, and Lu won $100 worth of Shell gasoline gift cards. We had also bought gift cards through our church fund raiser for restaurants and grocery stores. Thus, most of the trip was pre-paid! What a vacation!

The motel in Memphis left a lot to be desired. It was along the Mississippi River among a group of deserted warehouses.

Abandoned warehouses in Memphis

There was one other highlight of our trip. While some people might not see it in the same light, we felt honored to have the next picture taken.

Lu, Oliver North, and me

Colonel North was in town for the Veteran’s Day celebration. In fact, Branson, Missouri has an entire week of festivities to honor our veterans. Watching the parade was another highlight for us.

An old fart showing off

When we first told our friends we were going to Branson, many teased us about going there to gamble. Well, it’s a good thing gambling wasn’t our main intention. There are no casinos in Branson.

But there are many great shows, museums, restaurants, amusement parks, and other attractions that make Branson a wonderful place to visit. We were told the average age of visitors is 57, but I assure you there is something to do for people of all ages. As far as I could tell, all the shows are family friendly.

I should also note that I am not being paid for this endorsement, but if the convention and visitors bureau of Branson wants to invite my bride and me back as their guests, we’ll be glad to go!