Sunday, August 30, 2015

Lunch in Brenham

After a dreary winter, my sweetie and I mounted our Gold Wing trike this weekend and joined the other bikers on the farm-to-market (FM) roads in this part of Texas. There were quite a few on the road between here and Brenham, which was our destination.

We traveled Hwy105 west, enjoying the cool undercurrent in the warm air. We're still under a burn ban, but I smelled timber smoke about 8 miles out of town. Whoever was snubbing his nose at the law must have incinerated his pile of tree stumps, trunks, and limbs late last night because no smoke colored the horizon. The smell, however, was distinct.

We had lunch at the Must Be Heaven Sandwich Shoppe, a destination eatery in historic downtown. With Mitch's Filling Station Café and Diner closed, it's been hard to find a place in Navasota for lunch. Yes, there's the Dairy Queen, Cow Town out by the livestock auction barn, a barbecue place by the Roadway Inn, and Eric's Mexican restaurant, but none of them has the mouth watering food that Mitch served (even if FourSquare touts Cow Town's burgers as "the best in town."). So yesterday, we headed west. It's only 30 miles to Brenham, the county seat of Washington County and home to Blue Bell Creameries.

We feasted on fat Reuben sandwiches, made with butter-toasted wheat bread instead of rye. The mouthwatering sauerkraut would make your German grandmother jealous. We each ordered a side of broccoli salad, created from a closely held secret recipe, blending cheese, bacon, mayo, and amazing herbs together in a way I haven't figured out how to replicate.

The restaurant is decorated in country chintzy; the music is vintage American rock 'n roll.  The syrupy lyrics of "To Know Him is to Love Him" brought back memories of slow dancing on prom night in the high school gymnasium. Perfect music for belly rubbing, until, of course, one of the old biddy chaperones marched out on the basketball court and pulled you apart from your pimply faced boyfriend.

Ronnie and I took our time, enjoying our lunch and each other's company. Only one item could have made the meal perfect, and yes, we did try to order a dish. But, alas, we were told Texas's favorite dessert will not return until Monday. I bet folks line up around the block tomorrow at lunch for a taste of Blue Bell. It's been a looooong time without.




Sunday, August 23, 2015

Small Town Problems

In this week’s newspaper, The Navasota Examiner, the front page reported how the county judge gave pay raises to employees in a couple of departments without the county commissioners giving their okay. The commissioners thought the employees shouldn’t get across the board raises, even if they were underpaid sheriff deputies. Instead, they thought all the employees should get merit raises; in other words, they should earn their raises.

Well, I’m here to tell you, if that happens, I think the public works employees shouldn’t get squat. (Maybe the county doesn’t have them on payroll; maybe they’re city workers. I get confused about who works for whom since they are all public employees who actually get paid by my neighbors and me--the taxpayers.)

Here’s why I’m peeved at the city works department.

My sweetie and I recently hired the services of ABC Lawn Services from College Station to trim the trees in our front yard. When they were finished (and they did a great job), they gathered the limbs and neatly stacked them in the side yard. We waited three weeks for “heavy trash day." Five men and a truck with a heavy-duty wood chipper machine showed up on Monday morning, looked at our neat piles, and before Ronnie could get downstairs to talk with them, they’d put a slip of paper on the front door with the pre-printed message: Quantity Too Large. If they hadn’t hopped on the truck and already hustled four blocks down the street, I think my man would have chased them.

Ronnie and I had been reading about the brouhaha over city services in The Examiner during previous months, and these workers’ actions were totally passive-aggressive.  You see, the city workers have been balking at the growing trash from broken tree limbs (caused by the dry drought followed by wind and rain). The city council talked about adding an additional charge to our city bill to motivate the workers, but the retired folks raised hell about being on fixed incomes. Then, the city council talked about requiring residents to cut the limbs into sticks and bundle them, but the retired folks raised hell again, this time about ailing bodies and weak backs. I don’t remember ever reading anything about the amount. Which brings up the question: How will the amount diminish if city workers refuse to pick up any of it? Should we ask neighbors to take 5x5x10 lots of it and spread it out so the five workers can spend the day stopping at three houses instead of one?

I’ve been mad as an African killer bee all week, but my man has a cooler head focused on solving problems. Instead of raising Cain, Ronnie had my son come up from Houston with two male buddies on Friday. They took care of the tree limbs, easy peasy—and cleaned out the garage.

The best part, it only cost a six-pack of Bud Light from the Valero gas station and two large Super Supreme pizzas from Pizza Hut.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Filling Station Cafe and Diner

The Filling Station Café and Diner is closed, and I am heartbroken. This Navasota eating establishment has been a central meeting place in our new hometown. Ronnie and I first stopped here when we came to Navasota to see the house we now live in. Mitch, who was the proprietor, greeted us, and waitress Kristi served us homemade cherry pie topped with vanilla Blue Bell. Their friendliness and menu hooked us from the get-go, and we stopped there for breakfast or lunch on a weekly basis for 18 months.

Mitch was our guide in setting up house and settling in. We asked him for recommendations regarding a family physician, the best place to buy meat, how to find nightlife without driving all the way to College Station, and where to find a reliable plumber, housekeeper or lawn service. He always pointed us in the right direction.

Last Sunday Mitch’s daughter headed off to Texas State University, and Mitch is moving on as well. He and some buddies formed a band a while back—Brickyard Kane—and they’re really good. Old school rock music and a flair for fun on the bandstand, they always attract a crowd. A Mississippi record producer approached them a few weeks ago, so maybe the band is going to be more than a serious sideline for him. With Rebecca in college, Mitch can focus on his other aspirations.

I wish him well, of course. But I wish he had given me his recipe for chicken ‘n dumplings.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Love Bug

The summer before I entered high school my parents went to New Orleans on a couple’s vacation—meaning none of us three kids accompanied them—and they returned in a matador red 1960 Volkswagen convertible with a tan rag top and tan interior. Anyone who attended Huntsville High School during the 1960s remembers that snappy little foreign car. She was the first VW to appear in my hometown, and made quite an impression on the townsfolk.

I learned to drive in that car, with its stick shift and rear engine. Like many classmates, I took driver’s education from Coach Lewis and got my license when I was fourteen years old. The Volkswagen was like riding around in a pregnant roller-skate. But my, oh my, what great mileage it got! With gas at 29.9 cents per gallon, we could drive around all night—even travel to the next town and home again—for less than a dollar.

My older brother was seventeen when my folks brought home that red bug. He was dating the newspaper editor’s daughter and the first time Stone drove the convertible over to pick her up for a date, her father wanted to know what he was doing in one of Hitler’s cars, asked him if we’d become communists.

The scariest and most exhilarating time in the car had to be the night my younger brother played car tag with his friends. Eight of us were crammed in that little bug with its top down—two in the front seats, three in the backseat and three of us sitting across the back and hanging on for dear life by grabbing the canvas convertible top. Mark easily drove 40-50 mph, careening down side streets through dark neighborhoods, twice dousing the headlights, trying to escape our pursuers. I have no idea what would have happened if we’d been caught, either by the other kids in their cars or by the local police, but I believe we are lucky to have lived to tell the tale.

My brothers taught me how to disconnect the speedometer cables so our parents wouldn’t know I drove to Trinity to buy beer, or to Conroe to see a boyfriend, or to the rock quarry to swim in the moonlight. Most of the time, though, I parked that sweet ride at the Tastee Freeze where my girlfriends and I drank Cokes and flirted with boys who cruised by real slow.

Both brothers and I drove that car throughout our high school years, and I took it to Austin for the semester my dad sent me to University of Texas to experience Southwest Conference football. By then, first gear didn’t work anymore, so uphill streets with stop signs had to be avoided. (I learned that lesson the hard way.)

When I got out of college, the first car I bought was a Volkswagen. An air-conditioned 1967 Beetle, it cost around $1,800. I was teaching at Spring Woods High School in Houston, and my students placed a TIGERPOWER bumper-sticker across the back. Following that, I owned several other Volkswagens, including two VW buses, but my favorite was that 1960 convertible. I was sad when the last Beetle rolled off the Puebla, Mexico, assembly line in the summer of 2003. The end of a groovy era.

Now, I drive a Mini Cooper.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

It all began a long time ago...

Someone asked me last week how long have I been writing, which has brought back the memories of how my love for writing began…

In the seventh grade, my friends Gail Allman, Linda Ryan, Carolyn Taylor, and I started an organization called “Future Writers of America.” We had no adult adviser although Linda often checked with her mother and inserted conversationally “Mama says…” before we voted on new rules or made big decisions. I can’t remember what any of those were other than I insisted members had to actually write stories or they couldn’t be in the club. I wrote westerns, fashioned after the characters on “Wagon Train,” “Rawhide,” and “The Rifleman.”  

Having no filing cabinet, much less an office, I kept my novel-in-progress on the floor of my closet for two years. My mother repeatedly griped and scolded me about “the mess in your closet” until, in a spiteful fit of anger, I threw away the unfinished manuscript and asked in that belligerent tone teenagers have, “Satisfied?” Yes, as a matter of fact, she was. I, on the other hand, deeply regret that I tossed the novel instead of putting it in one of my dresser drawers. (Spitefulness is a character flaw that raised its ugly head in my teens and still can bring ruckus to my life if I don’t turn from my emotions and use the brain God gave me.)

I stopped writing, other than high school compositions, until my sophomore year when I signed up for journalism. Once again, I found my passion. Karey Bresenhan was the faculty adviser of the school newspaper, the Hornet Hive, and I can still remember her perfect handwriting above my typed articles where she suggested edits to my pieces. She served as my copy editor; I paid attention and improved. 

(An interesting aside: Karey is now president of Quilts, Inc., and director of International Quilt Festival and International Quilt Market. Quilting, throughout history, has been a creative way that women have stitched stories into fabric.)

I stayed with journalism throughout college, even majored in school public relations in my master’s program. I’ve depended on my writing skills in every job I’ve had and I have also freelanced my writing, on the side, throughout my adulthood. My best year of freelance brought $20,000 extra income to my bank account. I don’t write for the money, but it is tasty “frosting on the cake,” as they say.

My current novel-in-progress is in my computer, with a back-up on a thumb drive and a hard copy in a 3-ring notebook. My mother is probably standing beside St. Peter and smiling from heavens’ gate at my organized tidiness. My mentors and teachers, Karleen Koen and Charlotte Gullick, continue their encouragement.

I am a writer. Writing is what I do. It is my passion, my purpose.