First of December

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Dining room near dawn today. No sign of Santa. Or reindeer.

THIS IS HOW the dining room looked this morning when I entered from the rather distant bedroom just after 7 a.m. The Canon sat nearby, so I snapped the shot.

The First of December, so the Yuletide is upon us if the shelves in Walmart and Costco are to be believed. They’ve had Christmas stuff for some time now.

Like most kids, I loved Christmas in those distant days when I was young, but I’ve lost touch with it. I’m not sure how that happened or when. I loved it, and then I didn’t.

Due to an ever-stressed environment (booze) at my childhood home in Florida, Christmas was best celebrated at my mother’s family farm in southwest Georgia, my maternal grandparents. The tree was always tall and green, and Santa was fond of stopping there though Lord knows how he found us in those rural, dirt-road boonies, but he did.

Maybe he smelled the cows or was drawn by the orchard of pecan trees.

I hesitate to cast blame, especially when I played a major role, but I think I went south, so to speak, on Christmas during my second marriage. That wife, you see, was fanatical about Christmas. You couldn’t deck the halls too much. More was always better.

The tree had to be a real one, of course, and those things are nasty. It’s a sticky tree. They prick you. They shed. And then you have to get rid of them somehow, dragging them out the door while they leave a trail of trash behind. And those are all things the guy must do. The womenfolk just direct. I balked, and so did she.

It was an annual crisis. We both were at fault. Her overdoing, my underdoing.

Wife No. 3 does not provide those problems. We have an elegant, high-end, artificial tree we bought about 15 years ago at a department store in the nearby state capital.

Sometimes we put it up. Sometimes we don’t. I say we, but it’s really her. She does not ask for help. I sit on the sofa providing moral support. She does not get mad about it. We rarely have visitors, so I’m not sure why it gets put up. It’s just for us, and I don’t much care. I do enjoy traditional Christmas music,  however.

Silent Night, Holy Night, and so on. Deck the Halls!

Christmas Eve does not happen at the Hacienda. She does the usual Mexican thing elsewhere with her relatives, sometimes here on the mountaintop, sometimes at the nearby state capital. We have kinfolk splattered all over the place.

Christmas Eve dinner takes place near midnight in Mexico. I don’t do midnight, so I’m at home enjoying peace and quiet. When they get around to eating, I’m snoring. Everyone is happy. Our Christmas tree stays up till she gets around to dismantling it. Again, I watch and provide moral support, reveling in not having an angry Christmas spouse.

This is just one of many pluses one finds in Mexican women.

I wonder if she’ll put up the tree this year. I’m always ready with moral support.

Fa-la-la-la-la and Kalamazoo!

The call of cow

cow

AS A CHILD, I loved milk. I drank gallons of it. My mother tried to control me, but she was rarely successful.

If it was in the house, I was on it like puppies on a bitch tit.

I harbor fond memories of milk with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And there were sandwiches of sliced banana, mayonaise and peanut butter too.

I’m still fruit for peanut butter.

In late adolescence, I found myself in the military. One aspect of military life left me giddy, and it was in the Mess Hall where there were literally faucets of endless milk, and you could drink as much as you pleased. And I surely did.

All through my adult life, I drank milk with most meals.

And then I moved to Mexico where milk is sold differently than anything I had previously encountered.

Ninety-nine percent of milk in supermarkets is not sold refrigerated. It sits on the regular shelves in hermetically sealed cartons, room temperature.

My reaction: Yuck!

This stuff cannot taste right, I told myself, as I placed the first carton in my shopping cart.

But it did taste right — after it was chilled — so my milk habit continued as always in my early Mexican years. Then I got married, acquiring Mexican relatives.

When I had lunch with these people, I would drink milk. They would drink Coca-Cola, water or — quite often — nothing at all. And they would snicker and roll their eyes at my milk.

Especially the kids.

Gradually, I quit drinking milk with lunch and supper, though I still pour it on my morning cereal. It was not so much peer pressure, which I am not very susceptible to, it was simply a different world, a world in which few people drink milk.

Nowadays I drink water with lunch and supper.

I still drink milk on my breakfast cereal and with the occasional waffle and maple syrup, all of which screams out for milk, but that’s the limit of my milk. Habits perish.

This morning, pouring milk on my cereal, I wondered when Mexico first started selling milk at room temperature in hermetically sealed cartons. I asked my wife if that was how her family got milk when she was a child. No, she said.

Her family’s milk came from a street vendor who poured it out of stainless steel containers into the family’s pots, or something like that. That is still common in Mexico.

Straight from the cow. I see these street vendors often.

But I get my much-reduced milk intake from the supermarket in the hermetically sealed cartons. These cartons wait on the kitchen counter until they’re needed in the fridge.

And like so many things here, it seems so normal now.

Chickens never change

FOR MOST OF the first six years of my life I lived with chickens, thousands of chickens.

There were two enormous chicken houses, one on either side of Granny’s home, there in southwest Georgia where my parents hauled me shortly after birth, down from Atlanta. I recall those chicken houses as about the size of a football field, each of them, but I doubt they were that big. But they were huge. Believe me.

chickenNow you don’t want thousands of chickens — they were Rhode Island Reds for those of you who know chickens — living too close to where you eat and sleep. Chickens are noisy, vicious and their personal hygiene is nonexistent.

So they were off far enough, out there on one side in the grove of pecan trees and out on the other side in a pasture where cows grazed. The cows were Herefords for those of you who know cows.

Those two huge chicken houses could not have been cheap, and we were not rich, to put it mildly. The chicken farmer was my father, and I’m guessing he got a loan after the war ended, something like the G.I. Bill, which was for education. But he already had a degree before the war.

Perhaps there was another bill to construct chicken houses.

cowThe endeavor did not last more than four or five years. One night burglars ran off with a big chunk of those chickens. The number 500 sticks in my mind, but I could be wrong. I remember the sheriff in the kitchen the morning after, asking questions.

Never found the chickens, of course. They all look alike.

We had started out with 2,000 or so, and 500 left a sizable gap.

I don’t recall my father actually selling chickens. What I remember is selling eggs, lots and lots of eggs. We had little egg scales on which you place an egg to determine if it’s small, medium or large. I haven’t seen one of those scales in decades. It would be a nice conversation piece, or you could just weigh your eggs.

By the time I was 7 and entering the Second Grade, we were in Jacksonville, Florida, my father having given up on chickens and freelance writing to return to the newspaper business. However, those massive chicken houses remained on either side of my grandparents’ home for a long, long time, empty.

One day they vanished.

Years passed, and I never heard a chicken, which was okay by me. They are nasty, stupid critters, almost as dumb as bunnies. Being a former farm boy, I also — like chickens and cows — know rabbits.

Flash forward a good piece of time. I wake every morning now to the sound of chickens in the distance. There are barking dogs too and the occasional bray of burros, but it’s the chickens that stand out.

Chickens never change.

And they’re on their best behavior when fried.

About milk

THE BEST thing about being in the Air Force was the endless supply of milk. If there had been an equal supply of green grapes or flan, I likely would have been a lifer, a career man.

milkThe Air Force mess halls always had big stainless-steel contraptions where you only had to lift a handle and milk came out. It was like a cow or a new human mother. And I did love milk.

My mama, when I was a youngster, always complained about the quantity of milk I consumed, and once I made myself sick by eating green grapes. But the Air Force never held back on the milk supply and for that — if little else — I loved it. If only there had been grapes or flan.

There was no flan in my childhood. That came later.

When I arrived in Mexico, the milk situation surprised me. Though you can find chilled milk in cartons in the supermarket coolers, just like above the Rio Bravo, almost no one purchases it that way. It’s a specialty item. Customers buy milk off the regular shelves where it sits unchilled in sealed cartons.

The first time I spotted this, I thought: Yuck! But since this is by far the most common way to buy milk in Mexico, I bought it. I keep two in the fridge and the others on the kitchen shelf. After you chill it, it tastes just as it should.

I drink far less milk these days because Mexicans don’t drink much milk, even kids. My wife, my other new relatives, would look at me and giggle when I poured a glass of milk to accompany, say, a lunch. But it wasn’t the giggles so much as it was that the environment is different.

Nowadays, I drink milk with cereal and the occasional pastry at night, but normally I drink water. I still love a good mound of green grapes, however. They’ll never convince me otherwise.

And there’s less good flan here than you might think.

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(Note: I was a grunt in the U.S. Air Force in the early 1960s.)