French Toast, Fireworks and Freedom: Epilogue

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Late afternoon thunderstorms put the kibosh on Capon Springs and Farms 7/4 fireworks, and power outage killed electricity and the elevator.

As plan B, lovely heroic Alice and I found lodgings a half hour drive away at the Winchester Marriott Courtyard where there was power and cooling a-plenty. Back to Capon late Thursday morning to conclude our final day in WV.

In fact, power was restored at CSF Wednesday evening, so the rest of the gang on grounds was able to run fans and stay reasonably cool. The elevator service was not restored until this morning. Grateful to have had options.

French Toast, Fireworks and Freedom

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It is a reasonably warm morning in Capon Springs, WV, site of many an extended family vacation since 1994. The kids’ Fourth of July parade has wound its way down to the Main House. A costumed dramatic proclamation of Independence has been Declared. The stars and stripes have been raised to a rousing hand-to-heart rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. And last night’s fast has been broken by eggs any style and Wednesday’s French toast.

With a gob of hard-fought, dearly won (others’), grateful (mine) patriotism, with the anticipated retinal after-images of sparklers and fireworks bursts and their post-boom concussive ringing in my ears, with the smoky airborne bouquet of chicken, burgers and dogs on the grill only

a few hours away, and wearing my red, white and blue ensemble, I hail you all, my family and friends near and abroad.

Happy Independence Day!

Betty Rosebud

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They would travel annually to an unlikely destination, whose only marketing channels early on were a P.O. Box (0), a phone number, and a cryptic http://www.zipcode.mountainnet.com. Almost as if the destination was hiding. A strange place. No phones. No room keys. Beautiful, though. Verdant. Shaded. Bubbling fountains everywhere you looked. Unlikely a destination as it was, Betty and John had achieved repeat guest status. For several years, earlier on, they and one or two other church couples would periodically get away from the city. They came to lose themselves in the “holler.”

Birthdays for Alice had always been more than a day marking just another solar orbit, with presents, a few cards, perhaps a party. Much more. You see, birthdays were magical. On the birthday eve, Yellow Rosebud would get busy.

Yellow Rosebud was chief Pixie project manager of magic-infusing Pixie activity in the southwestern US. Moreover, She happened also to be a direct descendant of Tinkerbell.

Disbelievers should leave the room now.

Based out of a small petroleum rich northeastern Oklahoma town boasting three water towers: one Hot, one Warm, and one Cold, with offices beneath the town’s “Warm” water tower, her specialties were bedtime stories, fanciful refrigerator drawings, and birthdays. We’ll leave bedtime stories and refrigerator drawings for another time, but on birthdays, Yellow Rosebud would oversee thorough decoration of the celebrant’s room, as well as the breakfast nook, with carefully selected, themed streamers, balloons, bunting, and glitter. She would prepare sweet breakfast rolls, toast “soldiers,” fancy cereal, and fresh-squeezed orange juice. On Alice’s birthdays this fare would be served on Betty’s fine china and crystal which no one but Betty was permitted to touch, let alone use. No one, that is, but Yellow Rosebud. Pixies and moms had an understanding, you see.

Following birthday breakfasts, Alice would find, in some cleverly hidden spot, an elaborately inscribed map or list of clues to guide her on a hunt for birthday treasures. Around the house she would scramble – attic to second floor, to first floor, to garage, then the basement, out to the backyard, some years even next door through a gap in the hedge row to Marla and Darla Cunningham’s. These treasures, hidden so as to be found, would also be wrapped in keeping with the day’s theme, and once found would be brought to the breakfast table for opening. One at a time. Slowly. Ooing and Ahhing. And only after the celebrant’s official proclamation of her hopes, dreams and aspirations for the coming year.

The extended family began its annual week-long summer migrations to the holler in 1994 when Betty and John had all four daughters and their families as guests, to celebrate fifty years of wedded bliss. Their first visit to this unlikely destination went well enough that a return trip by all was planned for the following year. In fact, the four daughters and their families would return year after year. Over the years, family compositions would change some, but their ranks would often swell to 30 plus, comprised of daughters, husbands and children, beloved aunts, nieces, nephews, a second cousin or two, great grand children, a pair of Kung fu masters, and grafted-in in laws, including a striking ginger, a skydiving mountaineer and a philosopher-Viking. It would prove to be a most fitting venue. A foundry of sorts where cross-generational, cross-cultural, cross-ideological relationships would be forged into decades long lasting friendships.

In time, Alice came to her own understanding with Yellow Rosebud. An instinctual understanding passed down from mother to daughter. A long lasting legacy. She would carefully plan birthday events for eight children. infusing high anticipation, mystery and intrigue. Maps and clue sheets would be secretly prepared. Gifts would be cleverly placed, tucked behind bushes, inside chicken coops, atop play houses, buried in sand boxes – even tied beneath a diving board. Magical breakfasts would appear each birthday morning, although fine china and crystal gave way to My Little Pony, Muppets, Thomas the Tank Engine, or Spiderman paper ware. Ceiling-stuck streamers swung low. The more frequent integration of ceiling fans would later make streamer hanging really exciting. In time, a constellation of Scotch tape adhesive residue spots would bear witness to some two hundred-plus streamer-strewn, Pixie-powered parties thrown in ten homes, across four states. Hopes, dreams and aspirations would be recited. And, presents would be opened. One at a time. Slowly. With Ooing and Ahhing. But only after the celebrant’s official proclamation of hopes, dreams and aspirations for the coming year.

The next trip to the holler was on the calendar. Alice and her three sisters were in unusually close contact with Yellow Rosebud, the southwestern bedtime story, refrigerator drawing and birthday Pixie based out of a small petroleum rich northeastern Oklahoma town. It was their turn to shower felicitous natal recognition upon their mother, Betty, on the occasion of her 90th solar orbit. The arrangements took months and were impressive. The doting crowd was, too. It included daughters, husbands and children, beloved aunts, nieces and nephews, great grand children, a pair of Kung fu masters, and in-grafted in law relatives, including a striking ginger, a skydiving mountaineer and a philosopher-Viking.

What of the present treasure hunt you ask? Well, the Pixie Code – Section 66 – Concerning Birthday Parties for Seniors – is clear. It reads (with a twang) “Hey! Listen up, y’all! No lady-like celebrant with a pink walker named Rosebud shall be suffered to hunt for hidden gifts. Presents are to be placed reverently, smack-dab in front of ’em, with heaps of genuine affection.”

The party was great. In keeping with the Pixie Code – Section 66, the presents were placed, and in great number. The laughter sounded long into the night. And the lady who paid forward such Pixie-powered birthday celebration legacies was herself the celebrated one.

Hail, Queen Granny Cakes! We salute you!
June 12, 2014

Spare Not the Rods — Fishing and Other Capon Musings

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For several years, we have vacationed in West Virginia, at a location beloved by my wife’s mom and dad, which was the venue for their fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration in 1994. That year was our first visit, and we celebrated the occasion with my wife’s sisters and their families. We look forward to these annual reunions, and make the trek each summer (July usually), to rejoin the extended family bunch. My wife, our four daughters, two sons-in-law, four sons, one daughter-in-law, one grandson, my sister, my wife’s mother and three sisters, and their families, and not infrequently a family guest or three. Our destination is down in a secluded “holler” with (to the surprise of the uninitiated) many conveniences and amenities: golf course, hiking trails, swimming (the spring-fed pool is filled with near glacier run-off), good roads for cycling, an adequately stocked pond (bring your own rods, or borrow a bamboo “fish-catcher” at the desk), cool sleeping weather, and good food served family-style three times a day.

It is not impossible to communicate with me while I’m there, but as I begin my break from work, I like to tell my colleagues that while I’ll be in the continental U.S., I may be hard to reach. I tell them the internet runs on “bobbed-war,” and the phone’s a party line up a pole (picture Olivaaaah on Green Acres) where messages can be taken, wrapped around a rock and dropped down to the runner. Any messages brought down from the pole will be removed from their rocks and posted on a whiteboard just inside the dining room. I try to remember to look for my messages three times a day, but only after I dine. Perhaps a slight exaggeration. Oddly enough, they seldom attempt to reach me. If absolutely necessary, I can hike up the first fairway and “summit” the first green where, having climbed to sufficient elevation I just might receive a faint T-Mobile signal. I get a signal boost if I remove and raise the flag stick real high in my off-hand.

It’s an out of the way place we enjoy very much.

Speaking of meals, there are usually 20-25 people at our table for meals. We enjoy lots of good food. The litany below is what comes to mind as I write. At breakfast, eggs any style (two poached soft on toast is my regular), double and triple bowls of oatmeal and seven-grain cereal, buckwheat flap jacks, rashers of bacon, sausage patties and links. For lunch, wonderful salads, watercress with piquant dressing, spaghetti with meat sauce, silver-dollar burgers with grilled onions, Sunday duck and turkey. For dinner, more salads, iridescent roast beef, fried chicken, meat loaf, the fried fish-pork combo, fresh baked rolls and fresh vegetables. Desserts include Whitehouse cherry ice-cream, fresh watermelon wedges, cantaloupe with a scoop of lime sherbet, vanilla ice-cream with chocolate sauce, gingerbread cake with whipped cream.

In the dining room, the waitresses all wear white outfits, and rush around with great precision and efficiency, pushing brushed steel carts loaded with the day’s meal offering. They remind me of nurses in a 1950’s movie, rushing patient gurneys from the ER into the operating room. All food is served on indestructible pastel colored melamine plates, and bowls. The ceiling fans hum. An occasional birthday or anniversary is celebrated table-side accompanied by appropriate music played over a crackly speaker. A cake appears and is delivered on (you guessed it) a brushed steel cart to the celebrants’ table. Tournament results, evening events, and assorted miscellaneous announcements are made, then finished with a concluding trademark “That is all. Thank you.”

Several meals are served on the hill under the first fairway pavilion (beside the fairway, but beneath the “summit”). Hill-dinners are “Chicken on the Hill” and “Steak on the Hill”, both cooked over impressive brick barbeque pits full of glowing charcoal briquettes and attended by various multi-tasking staff personalities. Hill-lunches feature the salad-sandwiches (chicken salad, egg salad, tuna salad) all on bread with crust removed, and barbeque pork plopped on a whole wheat roll. Can’t forget the endless sweet hill-tea (for some reason, can’t get sweet tea down below in the dining room).

Meals are also, as my daughter Ginny taught me, opportunities for community, fellowship and deepening friendships. I believe she would say, “Meals should have meaning.” It’s always interesting to see who sits by whom at each meal, and who rotates to sit by different whoms as people take an early leave from the table. Cousins reunite. Siblings banter. Members of the younger generation are cornered by their seniors and pumped for information as to academics and career trajectories. Disparate political, theological and philosophical views can be aired (and are). The ten-and-unders, the eleven-to-fifteens, the legal drivers and collegians, the working class and retirees all intersperse and seem to dialog very naturally. Age-based cliques and silos are dissolved.

Meals here are also opportunities to showcase and satisfy man’s ages-old fisher-gatherer instincts. A visit to the pond, which yields a “keeper,” permits the fisherman an opportunity to enjoy his or her fish at the next scheduled meal, sans head, filleted, egg and cornmeal battered and fried up goo-oood.

This prospect brings me to the point of this narrative.

Over the years, the kids have clamored for me to bring fishing poles. I did that in the past, but stopped, because I grew tired of prepping the rods, stocking the tackle box, picking up the 7-Eleven night crawlers that no one but me would cut, threading them onto the barbed hook, and then having repeatedly to untangle the lines I prepped. Fishing in July had become for me like a warm weather version of winter wear bundling. You spend 20 minutes to get junior all dressed up in his snow suit, boots, gloves and hat, only to hear him say “I gotta pee.” Big build up. Big let down.

Notwithstanding my cynicism, I do enjoy thinking back over one fishing event several years ago. my son, Chip was late to dinner one evening. The cousins last saw him at the pond, fishing. I got up from the table and went to retrieve him. When I got to the pond, he was on the dock, clearly in distress. Seems he’d strung a triple-hook on his line, baited it, drew back the rod and cast. All three hooks were traveling at whip-crack speed, and one (it only takes one) found its way to that sweet spot just below the left rear blue jean pocket, where it penetrated Levi Strauss’s best, and buried itself in Chip’s derrière.”

“Well, well. Interesting,” I said.

Assessing the situation, I removed the fillet knife from the tackle box and cut a quarter-sized piece of stone-washed denim to expose the butt-buried hook. I was now ready to perform a gluteal hook-ectomy. I’m pretty sure those blue jeans are the only thing that fillet knife ever cut. Using the needle-nosed pliers in the tackle box, I cut the fishing line, disconnecting the rod from the hook. I next took hold of the hook and moved it around gently. Despite my gentleness, Chip insisted on howling. I replied, “Shhhhh. You’ll scare the fiwaaaahaaaahaaahaaa . . . . ”

Studying the situation a moment longer, I looked him in the eye, and said, “This is definitely going to hurt you more than it hurts me.” I suggested he put the handle of the rod between his teeth and bite down hard when I counted to three. Grasping hook with pliers, I began counting, “One . . . two . . . (forgot three) . . .” and yanked the hook with lightening speed, freeing him from the snare.

The extracted hook, with denim circle still attached has occupied a spot on our kitchen bulletin board ever since.

This year I brought two rods. Zip tied ’em to the luggage rack. When I got up our first morning and headed out, I met Chip who asked, “Did you hear about Giff ?”

The pond is home to a variety of small-ish fish (perch, sunnies, etc.), and some decent size cat fish. There are also several huge carp. 2-3 feet in length. Lazy bottom-feeders. Never bite. Not interested in any lure. Ever. Been that way for years. Giff got up at 0-dark-30 and went to the pond with a rod for an early morning angling session. Little did Giff know, as did Sir Issac Walton, was that the carp is the queen of rivers (and ponds); a stately, a good, and a very subtil fish. Plus, the American Carp Society in March of 2006 paid out $275,000 to carp anglers. Really. So, Giff stood on the small dock, and floated the line in the water espying his big game fish. He hung the bait just above his intended catch, and waited.

Gnats are a problem at times.The establishment provides punks (hand-held incense sticks without the stink) which are lit and waved to cast a smoky haze around one’s head and shoulders. Wielded properly, these will drive the gnats over to the next punkless guy. We even light seven or eight at a time and stick them in whole wheat rolls at the hill-meals to create a gnat no-fly zone. Well, Giff set the rod down to light his punk . . . .

In a flash, the rod rocketed off the dock and into the pond. That fat, lazy carp had become caught, and was heading for deeper water at high speed with my rod in tow! No doubt a genus cyprinus mistake.

As he returned to the carp academy dragging a rod along behind him, no doubt his fellow cyprinus carpo (the common carp) ostracized him like they would the guy who leaves the men’s room with a foot of toilet paper stuck to his shoe. He was probably branded a carp-leper by the uppity hypophthalmichthys moultrix (the silver carp) and hypophathalmichthys nobilis (the bighead carp) — the pond caste system’s carp-brahmins.

I can just hear him now: “Listen here! I innocently brushed up against a medial-fin-high ball of dough, and it snagged me! Honest! I’m a carp for goodness sake. I eat bottom scum like the rest of you. What do I want with a ball of dough?! That stuff is bait for the bourgeois! Come on, guys!”

As the rod rocketed off the dock, Giff lunged, diving forward and reaching elbow deep into the pond. Alas, he was not long enough of arm. Rod gone.

At breakfast, I quelled my urge to yell at him for losing my rod. After all, were it not my rod, were it some other family, this would be a pretty cool story. I told him so, and we fist-bumped.

To his credit, he spotted what looked like a rod at the bottom of the pond later that afternoon. So, the next morning before breakfast, he, Allie, and I took a row boat out on Butt Hook Pond. And, after 25 minutes of rowing clumsily in circles to hold our position, still in time to make it to breakfast, we managed to fish the lost rod out of the pond.

Both rods are back safely in my garage, snugly hung against the ceiling out of reach. Next July, I’ll be asked to bring the fishing rods. I’ll ignore the question. Then I’ll grumble. Then I’ll acquiesce and tie them to the car roof for another adventure.