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  • December 7th, 2018

THE SOUTH RISES AGAIN

By 
Joel M. Vance

Well, it’s official, the United States Senate welcomes into its ranks the state of Mississippi’s most prominent aficionado of public lynching, reaffirming Mississippi’s status as the nation’s most prominent bastion of racial intolerance.

 

Anyone who read the news over the last several weeks before the runoff election in Mississippi, knows that Cindy Hyde-Smith commented that if a supporter “invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” This was taken by many as a reference to Mississippi’s leading role as a hotspot for African-American lynchings over the last century and, although Ms. Hyde-Smith apologized, sort of, the mud clung to her, along with several other racially insensitive episodes— wearing Confederate paraphernalia in the Jefferson Davis Museum, attending a whites only school, and sending her daughter to another one.

 

All these clues pointing to the possibility that Ms. Hyde-Smith is not exactly a paragon of racial equality made no difference to the majority of voters who upheld Mississippi’s reputation as the capital of racial intolerance in the Western world.  Cindy Hyde-Smith, whose resemblance to Margaret Hamilton made up as the Wicked Witch of the West, save for the fact that she is not green (and, for God’s sake, don’t color her black) is remarkable, defeated Mike Espy, an African-American, for the interim Senate seat vacated by retired Thad Cochran.

 

It was a runoff election that was closer than it was supposed to be in Mississippi where the world redneck population routinely elects racist candidates, and has done so since Republicans were Democrats. I know this is true because from 1956 to 1959 I lived and worked in Montgomery Alabama, a similarly racist state, and was surrounded by the racial turbulence of the time— it was kind of like swimming in a cesspool.

 

When I worked in Montgomery, the South was solidly Democrat and solidly segregated and solidly represented by such organizations as the Ku Klux Klan and, especially, the White Citizen’s Councils, which really were no different than the Klan except they didn’t cover themselves with bedclothes. The poster child for Alabama was Bull Connors the police chief of Birmingham, who turned police dogs and fire hoses loose on civil rights workers who were there to get black voters registered.  Elected representatives of the South as I experienced it were universally white andwere an All-Star team of historic racists, including Mississippi’s own Senator James Eastland.

 

Eastland was a Mississippi senator twice—once in 1941, and then from 1947 to 1978. He teamed with John Stennis who also was a Democrat for 36 years. Eastland was the son of a cotton planter and, as an ironic twist of history, began his Senate career as an interim appointee in 1941, serving out the term of Pat Harrison who died in office— and Ms. Hyde-Smith likewise is serving as an interim appointee.

 

The fact that Eastland was a Democrat, Hyde-Smith a Republican is meaningless. Between the 1950s and now the South underwent a convulsive party shift during which Democrats became more progressive and racially tolerant and the reverse was true for the Republican Party. Sure, Mike Espy is a Democrat but that doesn’t mean that the South is reverting to its Democrat heritage. Mike Espy is an African-American and served in the Obama administration. He is black and I can’t help but feel the historic racial animosity is why Hyde-Smith edged him out. Perhaps it is consoling in the fact that the race was closer than anyone expected but that still is small consolation when a white person with a history of racial intolerance goes to the Senate and the far more qualified candidate is defeated.

 

There is much that I admire about the state of Mississippi. Some of the greatest blues musicians in history hailed from the Delta region of the state, especially Mississippi John Hurt, a gentle innovator who developed a fingerpicking blues style unlike that of any of his contemporaries. And that same Delta region produced and continues to produce some of the finest duck hunting in North America. And let’s not forget some pretty good writers— William Faulkner for starters, Eudora Welty, whose short stories are as good as short stories get, and, despite his nickname, renowned playwright Tennessee Williams. How about Richard Wright whose landmark book Native Son is among the best novels ever written by an African-American….or anyone else

 

In 1890 Mississippi passed a state constitution which included  poll taxes, literacy tests, and white primaries to exclude African-American voters. There have been enough reforms over the years to allow African-American voters a muted voice in Mississippi politics—enough that Mike Espy became a serious challenger to a white candidate, but the state still retains enough of its racist identity to deny black people a voice in the United States government. For Espy to have won the Senate seat, he needed the majority of African-American votes plus a percentage of white voters, maybe as many as a quarter of those who went to the polls. He didn’t get it. Thus, the American system of “People’s choice” operated, but you have to question whether the way it worked is to the benefit of everyone in the country. The Republican ruled Senate continues to be a good old white boys club. There are 42 white male Republican senators and, although there are several woman Republican senators, only one is African-American.

 

The South, during my interminable three years living there was a stewpot of social injustice. Alabama featured such political lowlifes as George Wallace and James Patterson. There was Orville Faubus in Arkansas, Strom Thurmond in South Carolina (who fathered a child with a black family maid) and, of course, Eastland in Mississippi—all paragons of white supremacy, trading their hooded robes for the conservative garb of political leadership. Occasionally, a shaft of racial reform pierced the storm clouds of racism like a ray of welcome sunshine—but those moments were rare.

 

Alabama’s goofy governor, Big Jim Folsom, ignited a firestorm of criticism when he invited black congressman Adam Clayton Powell to stay in the Governor’s mansion. But everybody knew that Big Jim was a nutty drunk and forgave him his trespass. And in the next door state, Louisiana’s governor, Earl Long, was a free thinker (with emphasis on the “thinker”) who crusaded for improved teacher pay, minority voting rights, and expanding school lunch programs.  Folsom said this, “As long as the Negroes are held down by deprivation and lack of opportunity, the other poor people will be held down alongside them.”  Unfortunately, big Jim died long ago and his legacy is more as an eccentric oddity, rather than a progressive.

 

Now, Alabama features such political senatorial wannabes as Roy Moore, a pedophile who was so odious as a candidate that even the endorsement of the racist President, Donald J Trump, couldn’t save him. It’s worth noting that Trump, whose father was arrested at a Ku Klux Klan rally, also traveled to Mississippi to stump for Hyde-Smith. I admit that it’s not fair to saddle the son with the sins of the father, but in this case the father set up his arrogant kid in business and together they forged a history of corruption in both business and politics which should permeate every voting booth in the country with an unbearable stink. But in places like Mississippi, too many voters just hold their noses and checkmark the box marked GOP. Does that stand for Grand Old Party or Grungy Old Putrid?

 

Earl Long once joked that “One day the people of Louisiana will elect good government and they won’t like it!” Long was rewarded for his progressive mindset by, among others, his wife who tried to have him removed from office on the grounds of mental instability. For a while he was confined to a mental institution. His legacy as a reformer is largely forgotten, but movie aficionados remember actor Paul Newman portraying him in the 1989 film Blaze about an alleged affair burlesque Queen Blaze Starr had with Long.  So, the southern political scene during the tumultuous days of civil-rights awakening, was enlivened by the notoriety of a couple of screwballs. By contrast, Cindy Hyde-Smith coughs up a pale imitation.

 

Lest you think that Mississippi has narrowed its racial divide in the years between James Eastland and Cindy Hyde-Smith, it was not that many years ago that Mississippian Trent Lott, once a Democrat who switched to the Republican Party in 1972 and who ultimately became the speaker of the United States House of Representatives, and later the Republican Senate majority leader said at a function honoring Strom Thurmond, “We’re proud of voting for Strom Thurmond for president in 1948. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years either”

 

That remark earned him a rebuke from his Republican president George W. Bush and ultimately forced his resignation as Majority Leader. He quit the Senate in 2007 and today is a lobbyist. Comedian Sasha Baron Cohen conned Lott into filming a television promo supporting a fictional program calling for arming gifted children, ages four through 12, called “Kinder Guardians”.  Lott actually said “It’s something that we should think about America, about putting guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens—good guys, whether they be teachers, or whether they actually be talented children or highly trained preschoolers.  Lott obviously shares a tendency with the President of the United States, Cindy Hyde-Smith, and other prominent Republicans to let his mouth run away with common sense.

 

At the same time there was a glimmering of hope with Folsom and Long, other politicians around the South were taking more traditional racial stands— literally. George Wallace stood in the doorway at the University of Alabama in 1956 to prevent Autherine Lucy, an African-American, from entering. James Meredith was just as adamantly barred from entering the University of Mississippi in 1962. And Orville Faubus in Arkansas was doing his best to keep nine black children from attending school at the all white Little Rock Central high school in 1957. The southern tradition of “separate but decidedly unequal” was in full flower.  As a side note, when George Wallace ran for president in 1968, he got nearly 207,000 votes in Missouri, mostly from rural areas.  To this day, my home state, Missouri, has an uncomfortable cadre of racists.

 

My high school, from which I graduated in 1952 , still was segregated eight years after the Supreme Court decision and would be for some time thereafter. In fact, the local school board, withdrew the school’s basketball team from a tournament because it featured a team from a black school. So, Mississippi had no monopoly on racial inequality. And, in fact, there are fewer de facto segregated schools in today’s South than there are in the nation as a whole.

 

School segregation largely is no longer an issue in the South—but the fact that Hyde-Smith chose to attend (and send her daughter to) a segregated school is an issue. Segregation in public schools legally ended in 1954 with the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling by the Supreme Court. The yearbook at Hyde-Smith’s segregated school was titled The Rebel.

 

Once, en route to a meeting in Florida, my wife, Marty, and I spent a night in Philadelphia, Mississippi. It is a pleasant town of pleasant people, but there is a dark cloud over it which never will dissipate, the legacy of an incident in 1964 when a black church was firebombed and burned to the ground, one of 37 churches and 30 businesses that were burned in Mississippi by white supremacists. Three young civil-rights volunteers including one from Mississippi, were in Neshoba County trying to register African-Americans so they could vote.

 

A sheriff’s deputy pulled the three over and they vanished and 44 days later their bodies were discovered in roadside dirt pile. They were killed by the self-styled “white knights” of the Ku Klux Klan. If you think the Klan types have vanished , think back a year or so to Charlottesville Virginia where, according to Donald Trump there were some “very good people” among the white supremacists who organized what they called a “unite the right” rally during which one of these “white knights” rammed a car into a group of counter protesters, killing one person and injuring 19 others.

 

It’s unfair to blame a town for what happened more than half a century ago, but I was relieved to get out of that sunlit Mississippi town just as I was relieved to get out of Montgomery, Alabama, in 1959. Today, my old high school has long been integrated and Missouri, Arkansas, even Alabama are far more racially balanced than they were so many years ago.

 

Mississippi has given us great literature, great blues, and a history of oppression of black people by white people. Pick any two of three and decide how the state shakes out today. Mississippi? Ask Cindy Hyde-Smith or Trent Lott.

 

 

 

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  • Blog
  • November 30th, 2018

STICKS AND STONES…..ETC

By Joel M. Vance

I have to confess that the first time I picked up a pair of chopsticks, it was every bit as daunting as if I were picking up a stick of dynamite with a sputtering fuse. The two wooden sticks were fused together so tightly that with my spindly arms straining, grunting like a rooting hog, I feared that this initial excursion into exotic culinary territory was doomed. The sticks snapped apart with a percussive crack that caused several diners to consider diving under their tables, sure that a mob hit was in progress.

 

The only assault was on my sushi rolls and for a while I looked like someone trying to pick up marbles with a pair of wet noodles. Since, I have become reasonably adept at the use of chopsticks, although if I still were in the dating game I wouldn’t dare take a date to an Asian restaurant, much less try to impress her with my savoir-faire. I have enough trouble with knife and fork without tempting fate by using a pair of flimsy sticks to fling food into my mouth. Chopsticks can be downright scary. 

 

While it’s perfectly acceptable in an Asian restaurant to pick up your miso soup bowl and slurp from it, if you tried the same thing at a White House dinner you’d probably languish in Fort Knox under armed guard for the rest of your natural life. In an Asian restaurant, the waitstaff would merely hide smirks and continue to serve you with scrupulous politeness— they are used to show off Yankees making fools of themselves.  Oddly, our local Chinese restaurant does not even offer chopsticks as an option—perhaps they saw me coming.  It is in the local Japanese restaurant that I dazzle people with my adroit use of the wooden sticks, much as Arturo Toscanini conducted the NBC Symphony Orchestra with one half of a pair of chopsticks.

 

Asian eating culture is often vastly different than that of us white bread Americans. It’s all very well for Andrew Zimmern to pluck parboiled sheep’s eyeballs from a bowl of some exotic dish with a pair of chopsticks because after all he’s Andrew Zimmern and expected to do things like that. But for the rest of us wielding a pair of chopsticks is every bit as exotic as watching cricket and understanding what’s going on.

 

I once read a hilarious essay in the Chicago Tribune about how to use chopsticks and used it for years as a perfect example of the best how-to article when I was teaching writing classes. The author, Charles Leroux, invented a klutz named Marvin who was hopeless with chopsticks but ultimately became an expert using a pair of ivory chopsticks like a pool shark equipped with a custom cue stick.

 

Marvin could’ve been me at the time, a fork wielding Midwestern WASP with no more idea of how to use chopsticks than I had of how to twirl spaghetti onto a fork in the Italian style. I couldn’t even eat food off the back of the fork as the English do. The idea of plucking tiny morsels of food with a pair of oversized toothpicks seemed as impossible as using a forklift to pick up pebbles.

 

Leonardo da Vinci does not show us what eating implements the disciples and Jesus were using at the Last Supper. But it’s interesting if not blasphemous to speculate that some if not all were using chopsticks, for after all, chopsticks were invented long before the birth of Christ. Probably not–the odds are against it for several reasons. Primarily, chopsticks historically were Asian in both origin and use.

 

Most Asians have no problem scooping noodles into their mouths with ease.  I have watched my dear Thai friend, Noppadol Paothong, scooping noodles into his mouth with chopsticks and it seemed no trick at all until I tried it–but I was quickly back to my trusty fork. At first I tried twirling the noodles around the chopstick ends, but since I had not mastered the same trick on Italian noodles, using a fork, I was faced with what Winston Churchill called “a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

He was talking about dealing with the Russians, but perhaps he came up with the idea after flipping noodles down Queen Elizabeth’s scoop front dress at a state dinner.  I solved the noodle problem by ordering only dishes featuring solid objects that can be seized with chopsticks. I leave the noodles to Nop.

 

 Try picking up one grain of rice with chopsticks and you will spend all day  scooting it around on the plate, but the Chinese have solved that problem by creating sticky rice which clumps in convenient bite -sized chunks, easy to capture with a pair of chopsticks.

 

Rice is the almost inevitable companion of all Asian dishes and there is a reason for that.  Aside from being nutritionally beneficial, rice is there for a reason. It is said and probably true that to stave off the legendary “hungry an hour after” effect of eating Asian food you should pack in the rice. By itself, sticky rice is pretty bland fare, but enlivened with invariably spicy Asian additives it makes for an eminently satisfying meal.

 

I’m willing to bet that the reason behind Asian cuisine being legendarily spicy is that the incendiary aspect of most Asian dishes is to offset the blandness of the rice. I eat at a local Thai restaurant which offers a heat scale of one to five. I’ve never dared to go beyond two and I have a feeling that five would have me emulating Puff the Magic Dragon.  I once was a queasy witness in college to what passes for high-class humor in a dormitory. A friend lit the gaseous nether region effusion of another fun lover and a bright blue flame appeared. Try the same thing in the wake, so to speak, of a number five Thai dish and the result likely would be a mini version of Mount Saint Helens.

 

Chopstick etiquette varies from country to country but it is widely accepted that one does not spear morsels of food with a single chopstick like a torero sticking a fighting bull with a banderillo.  Likewise you don’t lay down your chopsticks so they point at a dinner companion while you slurp down a mouth full of Sapporo Beer— that’s like laying a loaded revolver beside your plate pointed at your companion. Instead you lay your chopsticks in a rest, an accessory item. If you don’t have a rest you can fold up the paper envelope in which the chopsticks came and make one.  And the sticks should point out and never be planted in the mound of rice like someone digging postholes.

 

I don’t pretend to be an expert at eating with chopsticks. There always is a moment of fumbling with the two wooden sticks before I get them situated in my hand, ready for combat.  And every now and then I have to adjust my grip, like a baseball player choking up to bunt.

 

I am overly fond of a local Japanese restaurant that features sushi rolls to which I am as addicted as a meth head is with his fix. Sushi rolls are ideally constructed to facilitate being picked up by chopsticks. Even a beginner usually can grasp a sushi roll with the sticks and convey it to his or her mouth. Dipping it in a sauce is a bit more daunting, but not impossible— and I usually do dip, either into a sort of thousand Island concoction, or soy sauce spiced with wasabi.

You have to be careful using wasabi, an atomic substance which assaults your sinuses as if you had stuffed a hand grenade up your nostrils. Wasabi is related to horseradish and mustard, but to those condiments it is like a lady cracker compared to a stick of dynamite.  It supposedly hammers the bacteria that causes food poisoning and I can visualize some poor microbe screaming in agony as it succumbs to a wasabi attack.

 

Most people—me included— confuse sushi and sashimi. According to Japanese custom sashimi, raw fish sliced thinly, is eaten with the hands, while sushi, fish rolled with rice, is eaten with chopsticks. And a sushi chef will dab the roll with wasabi in preparation. In case you’re wondering what the pink colored sweet vegetable next to the wasabi is, it’s pickled ginger, used to cleanse the palate between bites of sushi.  There is a daunting list of ritual connected with how to eat sashimi and sushi, including how to show your appreciation to the sushi chef if you are eating in front of him.  For example, never rub the sticks together— it is considered terribly impolite and you’re not trying to start a campfire.

 

The essential question of course, in case you don’t want to look as if you’re practicing for a knife fight, is how to hold chopsticks. Pick one up as if you were picking up a pencil between your thumb and index finger. The other stick should fall naturally beneath the first one manipulated by your ring and middle fingers (the middle is the one that you use to salute Donald Trump when his image appears on your television set). The little finger is a spare in case you have some sort of industrial accident and lose your ring finger. You can reach down with the two sticks and squeeze a morsel of food between them with a sort of pinching motion.

 

It’s considered bad form to dip into a communal bowl of food with your sticks. Instead, there should be serving chopsticks available to transfer food from the main bowl to your plate or bowl. Soup?  The Chinese long ago caved in to necessity and use spoons for marvelous miso soup (I could drink that stuff all day long).  There is no social disgrace in picking up the bowl and drinking from it. When it comes to noodles, or other slippery food, it is accepted to bring the bowl close your face and use the chopsticks as a sort of shovel to scoop with.  Or you can Kung Pao chicken out as I do and leave the noodles to your Asian dining companions.

 

Chopsticks even have made their way into popular culture with a song, if you can call it that, by a rap group and with lyrics that are obscene and repulsive. At the other end of the spectrum, chopsticks are the subject of a Sesame Street session, illustrating in music how tiny tots can solve the mystery of those funny wooden sticks. “Two little sticks and they’re made out of wood/and they help you to pick up your lunch/and if you practice then you’ll get good/and you’ll find that you can pick up a bunch to munch”

 

Every budding concert pianist, of course, starts his or her musical career by learning to play “Chopsticks”. The original name of the piece was “the Celebrated Chop Waltz”. It dates to 1877 and was written by Euphemia Allen.  The piece has been used many times in movies, including one of my favorite films “The Seven Year Itch” where Tom Ewell played a duet with Marilyn Monroe and tried fruitlessly to kiss her. His romantic haplessness was the parallel personification of someone in the initial throes of learning to eat with chopsticks. That movie spawned the famous photograph of Marilyn Monroe’s skirt being blown up around her hips, a cinematic moment certainly more memorable than Tom Ewell’s fumbling attempt to play “Chopsticks” on the piano.

 

Meanwhile, chopsticks will continue to flourish in countries where they have flourished for centuries, and will appear sporadically in the Western world— but don’t expect when you pull into your local McDonald’s and order a burger and fries to have the pimply faced, minimum wage waiter ask “Y’all want chopsticks with that?”

 

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  • Blog
  • November 22nd, 2018

CONFESSIONS OF AN OMNIVORE

 

By Joel M. Vance

 

I am a hunter and I make no apologies for that.  But I hunt to eat…or I eat to hunt.  There is, in my genome, the genetic matrix of the hunter/gatherer.  I am never happier than when I’m in the garden in spring, watching the green sprigs of new life, or when I’m in the field with a shotgun and flushing birds to be shot.

 

Man wasn’t granted canine teeth for chewing gum or gnawing on carrots.  They are for tearing meat, although they do work fairly well on carrots and Doublemint.  I am, along with bears and raccoons, an omnivore.  Carrots or meat, it’s all the same when hunger strikes, but even better is carrots and meat.

 

So I raise a garden and when the oak leaves blush and frost rimes the prairie grass, I follow bird dogs and carry a shotgun.  I hope to kill quail, pheasants, ruffed grouse, woodcock or any of several other game birds.  Or I crouch in a rude blind, shivering in bitter cold, in hopes that migrating mallards or gadwalls will come to my plaintive call and bobbing set of decoys.

 

And yes, there is a certain sadness when a vibrant creature lies dead on the ground or on the water.  Taking life is not something done lightly.  Killing solely for sport is an iffy proposition—I don’t shoot crows or prairie dogs or anything I don’t plan to eat.  Some do and I don’t criticize them.  I just choose not to do it myself.

 

Those opposed to hunting argue that today we don’t need to kill for food, save in the most dire circumstance, that the IGA Supermarket provides us with everything we need.  Of course those chops and chickens at the supermarket once were part of something living, breathing and with more life to live than was granted by the butcher.

 

But that’s a case of out of sight, out of mind.  Another argument is that we don’t need meat, that we can eat vegetarian.  That is not an option, at least for me.  I crave fish, fowl and game.  I am the legatee of Neanderthal man, crouching in the mouth of a rude cave, fearfully gnawing on a haunch of something he managed to kill. My hunting tools are far more sophisticated than Joe Primitive and I employ more subtle ways of cooking than charring raw meat over a smoky fire, but the result is the same—a full belly and a temporary sense of well-being.

 

Too many in modern society will snack on the flesh of once-living creatures with no thought of how their food got to the plate.  I do know because I caused that transformation.  I have shot my entree to death and this is a tragic circumstance to many.  I believe that animals (including birds) are born to die. There are predators and there are prey and since I have those canine teeth I ease comfortably into the predator camp.

 

My ideal meal is a venison roast, cooked rare, with vegetables that I have grown in my garden, prepared by me or my wife, and served to treasured guests with a fine bottle of cabernet or shiraz.

 

We sit in the dining nook, overlooking the lake where we fish in summer, ice skate in winter.  We live off the lives of other creatures.  It has been this way since Man first slogged out of the primeval mud and it’s not likely to change in my lifetime.

 

Quail are my delight.  These little eight-ounce birds are as tender as a baby’s cheek, as are their larger cousins, ruffed grouse.  Pheasants have tough legs because they would rather run than fly, but the bosom of them is succulent to the max.

 

Wild turkey doesn’t need butterballing or whatever it is the processors do to give a tame bird some flavor.  These lordly kings of the wooded ridge are tender and flavorful and the invariable comment from senior citizens with a rural background is, “Why, that tastes the way turkey tasted when I was a kid!”

 

Most Americans, at least urbanites, never have eaten wild game.  At best they might have experimented with farm-raised venison.  But those animals are pretty much cows with antlers, fed the same rations as feedlot steers.  They haven’t dined on acorns or wild succulents that lend a tang of the wild to the innate taste of the meat.

 

It isn’t “wild” or “strong.”  The so-called “wild” taste of wild game usually is the result of poor handling, not an intrinsic strong flavor.  If the cook is put off by the prospect of gaminess, he or she can soak the meat in milk for a couple of hours.  Duck breasts and venison both benefit from this.  Brining will moisten white-meated birds, making them less likely to dry out in the cooking (overcooking is a common error among neophyte wild game cooks).  A cup of salt to a gallon of water makes a good brine.  Cover the bird with water, brine for several hours (overnight is not too long).  Rinse thoroughly before cooking.

 

Another culinary trick for fileted duck breasts is to dredge them in olive oil on both sides, sprinkle liberally with Cavender’s Greek Seasoning, and marinate in the refrigerator overnight.  Grill the breasts and you’ll think they’re prime beef filets.

 

Here’s another recipe for any dark-meated bird: marinate in refrigerator for 12-24 hours (½ cup Worcestershire sauce, ¼ cup vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon garlic powder).  Sauté two cloves crushed garlic and one small diced onion in two tablespoons of butter until onion is clear, add meat (duck breast size or smaller) and cook in a cast iron skillet over medium heat for five minutes, turning often (the meat, not you).  Add a cup of sliced mushrooms and continue cooking until meat equals your beefsteak preference.

 

That recipe is thanks to Tom Huggler, a Michigan outdoor writer/gourmet cook, and is from Campsite to Kitchen, a sadly out-of-print cookbook published by the Outdoor Writers Association of America.

 

If you prefer your duck to taste like duck any recipe from the many wild game cookbooks listed will work.  Choose one that tickles your fancy.  Duck should be cooked rare; goose medium well.  All wild game benefits from a side dish of wild rice.  The best wild rice (which isn’t rice, but a marsh grass seed) is very light in color.  The blacker the seed the farther it is from the wild rice beds.

 

I buy rice in northern Minnesota from a really nice hermit whose front yard looks like Fred Sanford’s and who always seems to be suffering from a massive hangover.   Wild rice stores well, either frozen or sealed in jars.  It’ll keep for years.

 

There are wild ducks that eat good and there are those that the dog would spurn.  “Puddle” ducks, those that spring from the water and like small bodies of water, generally are the best eating.  They include mallards, every hunter’s favorite duck; and gadwalls, wood ducks and teal.  Some ducks simply are not good eating.  The worst I ever tried was a bufflehead, a chunky little duck that looks like a flying butterball, but tastes like a flying garbage can.  The king of food ducks is the canvasback, sadly declined in population to where the limit is one, but the chances are you’ll never have a chance even to see one, much less reduce it to table

 

Two game species that have not declined are white-tailed deer and wild turkeys, both of which number at least as many and probably more than they did in the days of  John Smith and Pocahontas.  You have three choices on acquiring wild venison: 1. Kill it yourself; 2. Beg some from a hunter friend; 3. Hit one with your automobile.  The first two choices are preferable to No. 3.

 

Venison roasts are lovely.  Steaks are easily overcooked, as are ribs.  Best of all is the backstrap muscle—the tenderloin.  It will melt in your mouth.  It needs no trickery to make it tasty.  Cook as you would a beef filet.

 

The latest fad in wild turkey cooking is deep fat frying.  It takes a powerful amount of oil in a huge vat, over a fierce fire…but the submerged turkey emerges from its dip succulent and moist.  And instead of roasting for hours, a 10-pound bird is done in less than one hour.   Peanut oil is the preferred liquid, but safflower or canola also will work.  It definitely is an outdoor exercise because of the danger of fire from hot oil splashes (which also are dangerous to the chef).

 

The wild turkey is the bird that Benjamin Franklin recommended as the American symbol and it is the voice of spring, announcing atop an oak-hickory shrouded ridge that it is the meanest son of a bitch in the known world (which for a turkey may be five or 10 acres).  A wild turkey in strut, centered on the bead of a full-choke shotgun, is a vision to raise hackles and make strong men question their certainty about life, longevity and planetary orbits.

 

But as a prey creature, a wild turkey stands above all else.  Deer, elk, all the “trophy” animals, are victims of circumstance.  You may stalk them, but in the end you shoot the equivalent of cows in a pasture. A wild turkey is different.  You prey on a gobbler’s springtime lust to lure it to a call.   Perhaps you can do the same with an elk or a moose, but it is mandatory with a spring wild gobbler.

 

You hear the first gobble of the morning before daylight, a bird roosted high on a thick white oak branch who came awake early because a barred owl said it owned the woods.  “No way, you piddly little squirt!” declaims the gobbler and the game is on.  You softly intone seductive hen calls that will melt a gobbler’s caution and you continue to pillow talk until he flies down into the sharp spring morning and comes looking for the hen he plans to bed.

 

And that is me, armed with a Model 12 Winchester, full choke, that dates to 1916 and a powerful hunger for wild meat.

-30-

 

 

 

 

 

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  • November 16th, 2018

…..DON’T ASK ME!

By Joel M. Vance

Okay, the election is over. We all are disappointed to tears or elevated to joy. Time to get back to the realities of life, like cowboy bars.  There are bars and there are bars. There is the “Cheers” bar where the same group of regulars gather every day to knock back a few and listen to Cliff Clavin  pontificate  on dubious theories and watch Sam Malone try to make out with his latest squeeze. Then there’s Duffy’s Tavern for those of you with long lives and longer memories who recall the opening: “Duffy’s Tavern where the elite meet to eat. Duffy ain’t here. Archie the manager speakin’.”

 

And there are roadhouses, distinct from cowboy bars although both are far more likely to serve beer in pitchers as opposed to cocktails with fruity little umbrellas in them. Anyone asking for a Manhattan or a James Bond martini, “shaken not stirred”  in either of them would likely wind up in the parking lot with multiple bruises.  Both have music and dancing but there the similarities end.

 

A roadhouse is far more likely to feature the music of a jukebox, whereas the cowboy bar is more likely to host a live band. And, while beer drinking is the preferred form of exercise while seated, active participation in Terpsichore is so de rigueur the beer often goes flat while the table occupants are busy figuratively cutting rugs (although no carpet ever adorns the scuffed wood floors of either roadhouses or cowboy bars).

 

I have had a lifelong aversion to barroom dancing faster than what we called buckle polishing  since a traumatic incident in 1955 in Lawton, Oklahoma, where I, filled with misplaced confidence after a couple of beers, dared to ask a beer joint queen to dance with me, possibly to Fats Domino’s spirited rendition of “Ain’t That a Shame?”. The shame, it quickly turned out, was mine when the girl stopped mid-dance and snarled “What the hell are you doing?” Two things were obvious to me. She knew what she was doing— and she knew I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Her words stuck a psychological stiletto in me which has lasted now for some 60 years.

 

I’ve tried nearly everything to cure myself of this psychosomatic roadblock short of psychiatric treatment, which costs far more than the beer that doesn’t go flat while I sit at the table and watch the active dancers, often with my date as a participant. How I wish I could equal my wife Marty (my date of 62 years) as she pirouettes and gracefully spins like the vintage Ginger Rogers.

 

She loves dancing and has since her teenage years frequenting Louie’s Sweetshop, a Macon, Missouri, ice cream parlor hangout for the teenage crowd, with no beer, but a jukebox and a throng of dance worthy Macon high school teens who could easily have outclassed the gum chewing teenyboppers of Dick Clark’s Bandstand.

 

Every time the movie Swing Time appears on television I watch it. Ginger Rogers is a dance instructor who is assigned Fred Astaire, with whom she has had a previous disagreement. Fred pretends to be a bumbling incompetent at learning to dance and she is exasperated with him until, like a beautiful butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, he becomes Fred Astaire and they in turn become Fred and Ginger and not once does she stop him and snarl “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

 

I have tried the Astaire approach to dancing many times over the years and have the bumbling Fred part  down pat; however, so far, my butterfly remains locked up in an impenetrable chrysalis. Mr. Astaire summed up my lifelong attitude toward dancing perfectly in 1936 in the movie Roberta when he memorably sang “I won’t dance, don’t ask me” and summed up his reluctance this way: “I feel so absolutely stumped on the floor.”

 

Of course he finally did get coaxed to the floor and proved that not only he would dance, but that he was not absolutely stumped and instead was Fred Astaire. The few times that I have been coaxed to the floor, mumbling “I won’t dance, etc.” I proved conclusively that I was stumped. Many have tried to turn my feet from stumps to Cinderella’s slippers and have failed , from my mother to my wife.

 

The mother part began on the rickety floor of the Dalton Hotel, the ramshackle one time railroad hotel where we lived as a family of three people and a small dog in 17 rooms during the 1950s. There are few things more intimidating than dancing with your mother.

 

My parents were products of the Roaring Twenties, the Flapper Era, who abandoned their origins in the boondocks of Wisconsin and Missouri for the flamboyant lifestyle of Chicago in the Capone years. They would go to nightclubs  for dancing and the kind of upscale revelry only seen in the movies of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, leaving me in the care of a babysitter who, as best I can remember, was so geriatric as to barely be able to negotiate our apartment, not to mention too feeble to teach me the Charleston. It was left to my mother to indoctrinate me into the mysteries of the foxtrot.  Waltzing was best left to the fans of Wayne King, the Waltz King, and his orchestra, heard on our Zenith upright console radio. I could imagine people waltzing or foxtrotting in a ballroom high atop some exotic hotel in some distant city— but not in Dalton Missouri population about 200 which had no hotel other than the decrepit white elephant in which we lived and which was about as exotic as the noisy feed mill that was directly across the dirt street.

 

So, my mother and I, squared off in the Dalton hotel, a 78 RPM record tinnily sounding a danceable melody on my record player which, to that moment, had played only Hank Williams laments. Elsewhere, my high school classmates were jitterbugging and, for all I knew, even waltzing. But I was gingerly trying to coordinate my feet with the music and with my mother’s instructions all of which left me in the same mental state I suffered when our algebra teacher tried to explain how “a” equaled “b” over “c”– that is to say helpless confusion and an almost overwhelming urge to burst into tears.  “You take two steps to the left, one to the right,” mom said. “Then you do it again.” She dragged me in a sort of circle around the rickety floor and it must’ve looked the way it looks when a dog’s owner tries to drag him in the door to the vet’s office for a series of painful shots.

 

There was no attempt to explain dancing to the musical beat or naming the name of this simple exercise which I assumed to be the foxtrot. I’ve never seen a fox trot, but I would suspect one doing what I was doing of being afflicted somehow, possibly with rabies.  If you have seen the movie Frankenstein, the original from the 1930s, and watched Dr. Frankenstein’s monster lurching through the countryside creating havoc, you will know what my dancing looked like. Or perhaps it looked like a wind up mechanical toy with a defective mainspring.

 

In Keytesville high school there were a few guys who could fast dance and they were universally despised by those of us relegated to the sidelines. All the girls knew how to fast dance and frequently danced with each other, an in your face insult to those of us brooding out of the action. Up the road, in Macon, where Marty thrived, all the guys knew how to fast dance because they had Louie’s Sweetshop as a training ground.   I lived six miles down the road from Keytesville in Dalton where there was no jukebox, no Louie’s Sweetshop and where gilts and heifers were far more common than available human female dance partners.  Even had my mother been capable of teaching me to fast dance, she was a graduate of the era of the Lindy Hop and out of the dancing mainstream by the time the Jitterbug came along.

 

Fast forward 60 years or so—not too fast or I can’t keep up— to the present time.  Marty and I are fond of sitting on our deck on a soft summer night, the stars sprinkling the sky, our outdoor speaker tuned to a 1950s rock ‘n roll reprise , enjoying a glass of wine, each other, and our cherished memories. Marty’s memories are of dancing at Louie’s Sweetshop, possibly to the same melodies now echoing across the Cole County nightscape, while mine are not of dancing, especially with my mother in the Dalton hotel—although I could have been listening to those same rocking melodies and wishing my feet knew what to do with them. But I probably was listening to the St. Louis Cardinals with Harry Caray shouting exuberantly “it might be—it could be— it is! a home run!”  We have our priorities and I didn’t know Marty and Louie’s Sweetshop existed then but I did know everything there was to know about the St. Louis Cardinals. And, while Stan Musial often danced around the bases, he didn’t do it to a boogie beat.

 

Every so often now so many years later on our deck, emboldened by wine, the romance of the stars, and the presence of Marty, I will say “let’s dance!”  And I clumsily stumble around the deck trying to emulate what Marty does so effortlessly. To give her credit and, as a measure of our everlasting love, she does not stop me in my tracks and snarl “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”  But after a few fumbling steps, it is painfully obvious that I still do not know what I’m doing, and we go back and sit. Once, on the deck late at night, I saw what I am certain was an unidentified flying object—a bright light which arced across the sky and was not an airplane or a satellite or anything I have ever seen before. The thought crossed my mind that perhaps aliens would land and somehow through superior, alien intelligence,  plant in my mind and body the ability to dance fast.

 

And now we come by circuitous route to cowboy bars.  We have arrived at a point in life where (and I have photos to prove it) Marty is fast dancing with our married grandson, while I sit ringside, and stare moodily into my rapidly going flat beer. I have done so countless times in roadhouses stretching nearly nationwide, and in a few cowboy bars as well.

 

. The occasion was a night out in the mountains of Colorado at a bar called Crystola where a live cowboy band delivered high-energy dance music to an enthusiastic local crowd. Woodland Park, at 8500 feet of elevation, is high enough that, for the geriatric crowd, even shambling from the bedroom to the john (a frequent occurrence for us elderly folks) is enough to get you out of breath. Fast dancing is for teenagers and those acclimated to living with minimal oxygen.  Crystola is notable for having a huge cutout of Johnny Cash giving the finger behind the bar and a portrait of a naked woman on the ceiling, obviously visible only to someone passed out on the dance floor (which I figured I would be if I tried fast dancing at 8500 feet).

 

Our daughter, Carrie, and son-in-law, Ron, had promised us a surprise anniversary present—which turned out to be the night at Crystola.  Was that a strange anniversary present or did they perhaps sense something epochal blowing in the thin mountain winds?  There, at the age of 84, and at a celebration of our 62nd wedding anniversary, I decided that enough was enough

 

I watched entranced as a thirtysomething father and his adolescent daughter flawlessly emulated one of those boogie-woogie couples from 1940s black-and-white movies, twirling, whirling, and executing acrobatic dance moves that would have left Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse speechless with admiration.  And Marty danced with grandson Nickolas, the years falling away like autumn leaves and Louie’s Sweetshop lived again.

 

“Enough is enough!” My inner self shouted to my outer self, especially my feet. And I hadn’t even had a sip of beer when I jumped to my feet, grabbed Marty by the hand and said “Let’s dance!” She looked at me as if I had grown a second head and followed me onto the dance floor. Somewhere the spirit of Chuck Berry was writing new lyrics: “Roll over Little Richard/tell Fats Domino the news!”

 

Well, I won’t say that I suddenly turned into Fred Astaire, playing a con game with Ginger Rogers, but I managed to get through a dance or two with my beloved and without having to relinquish her to the educated feet of our grandson (although my knees ached for several days afterward). Perhaps a new day has dawned.

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  • November 10th, 2018

ONCE MORE INTO THE FRAY

I have posted this blog before on Veterans Day and on the Fourth of July– but especially on Veterans Days because that is the celebration for which it is intended. It seems most appropriate this Veterans Day because it is the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I— the war to end all wars as it was termed inappropriately at the time.

And the election is over but two months remain for our insane president to do unimaginable damage to the country before the people’s house takes over and perhaps puts an end to the division and outrage of the past two years.  Trump allegedly will be meeting with his puppetmaster Vladimir Putin in Paris in the next week and there is no telling what instructions the Russian dictator will have for him. Trump already has deployed something like five active duty soldiers for every expected man woman and baby still far from our southern border, hoping for asylum and freedom from fear and, oppression only to face the same probability from our bloated butthead of state.

Let me restate my feelings about our country as I have known it for more than eight decades. We have been great; we can be great again— but we need to purge ourselves of the toxic divisions that threaten us today and return to the visions of the founding fathers. It starts with calling to account our lying, deadbeat, crotch grabbing president who holds the prestige and heritage of 241 years of the United States of America in his grubby little hands as he faces the world’s leaders.

 

By Joel M. Vance

It was Veteran’s Day and our local symphony orchestra preceded Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with a tribute to the nation’s servicemen and women. “Bring the house lights up,” said the concert master, “and all those who have served in the military stand up.”

Quite a few men stood, mostly bent with age and various infirmities. I didn’t stand, although I spent 13 years in the Reserves and National Guard. But when I was in the Guard we attended weekly drills, and for two weeks each summer we invaded northern Minnesota to keep the nation safe from people named Olson.

I didn’t feel entitled to be showered with the same appreciation given to men who actually did risk taking a bullet for us.

The old men sat and we hunkered down for the musicale. The first number was a medley of patriotic songs. “Over There” echoed from the War to End All Wars (several wars ago) and that morphed into “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” I appreciated the homage to the guys with the long guns in “The Caisson Song,” even though I never saw a caisson during my tenure in the artillery.

And finally they played “American the Beautiful” and I realized that my eyes were wet. This is a beautiful country, not like any other. It offers everyone the chance to be something, just like it promises.

Some citizens choose to be evil, mean, obnoxious, bigoted and awful. Others choose to be saintly. Some go to church, well, religiously, while others just as religiously avoid it. Supposedly Stephen Decatur said, ”… may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!” Since, it has been corrupted to “my country—right or wrong” but if every citizen hewed to that philosophy we still would be paying homage to a queen and eating boiled kidneys.

We are a nation founded on civil disobedience. My immediate response to bumper stickers reading “My country—love it or leave it” is anger because what they really mean is “my country—love it my way or leave it.” And it’s not “my” country. It’s ours, mine too, even when I disagree with the bumper sticker bigots.

We should acknowledge that maybe we aren’t as good as we think we are…and try to do better. It’s not fruitful to talk only of the glories of the mountains and the prairie and the oceans white with foam…and ignore the ghettos and the mountain top strip mining and the many other abscesses on the face of the nation.

But to concentrate on those open sores at the expense of all that’s right with the land is as wrong as refusing to admit them. There is no anthem called “America the Ugly” and I hope there never is. We can’t control the occurrence of hurricanes, ice storms, floods or, most of the time, wildfires, but we can control the ugliness and despair of human life. We just don’t try hard enough.

It sounds Pollyannaish, but the alternative is to grumble and carp and create a sort of national dyspepsia. There is no cosmic Pepto Bismol. I hark back to the Eisenhower Decade, the 1950s when I graduated from high school and college, got married and participated in creating our first child—a momentous time that is accused today of being a national nap.

Maybe so, but it also was the decade when the high speed interstate highways we love today were born, when the Korean War ended and when we enjoyed postwar prosperity, economic growth and that 10-year nap. Conversely, it also was a decade when we overused pesticides, swallowed the family farm with a corporate one, used the mega-machines developed for war to create environmental outrage, and heard the first whispers of Viet Nam and the racial unrest that would plague the 1960s—evil twins that still haunt us today.

We will always be a nation at war with itself specifically because of our freedom to do so. For every mining entrepreneur who would rip the top from a beautiful mountain to get at the precious ores beneath there is someone who will tie himself to a tree to prevent it. For every sodbuster who would upend the last acre of native prairie with massive plows there is someone who would buy that prairie only to leave it alone to bake in the summer sun and bend beneath winter’s nor-westers.

While diversity can be aggravating, it’s what makes this country the confused whirlwind it is. It’s no great revelation that we live in a country that embraces every form of human behavior that offers vistas from majestic to dismal.

So once in a while it is helpful to the human spirit to hear a local symphony play “America the Beautiful” and really mean it.

-30-

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  • November 1st, 2018

VOTE! TO SAVE DEMOCRACY

By Joel M. Vance

Donald Trump describes himself as a nationalist and as if to underscore that he understands the historic meaning of that self-description, he says “we’re not supposed to use that word” and added “you know I am? I’m a nationalist, okay? I’m a nationalist. Use that word.”  The most notable nationalist leaders in modern history to identify themselves as nationalists were Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, the dictators respectively of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

Heidi Beirich, a spokesperson for the  Southern Poverty Law Center said this about Trump’s use of the word nationalist: “When you see the rise of nationalist movements— in Europe, America and other places—it can signal bad times ahead for minorities. Historically, it’s taking a stance against newcomers and those who are different.”

 

Does this description resemble the Trump attitude toward the migration of Honduran refugees headed toward the United States, still some 900 miles short of the border between the United States and Mexico? Donald Trump refers to this caravan as “an invasion”, as if it were some sort of incipient blitzkrieg marching toward our southern border. So afraid, apparently, of these people seeking asylum because they are fleeing from death and destruction in their native country, Trump has sent several thousand troops to defend our border against women, children and desperate fathers.  He threatens to send up to 15,000 regular Army troops, more than are currently deployed in Afghanistan.

 

Every time I hear the right wing denouncing the asylum-seekers as invaders or as a Democrat funded rabble or a mob of “very bad people” I am immediately reminded of the words inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty, our very symbol of what the United States stands for. “Give me your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

 

Stephen Miller, a senior advisor to Trump, and somewhere to the right of the farthest right of the Republicans, said this about the inscription on Miss Liberty: “I don’t want to get into a whole thing about history here. The poem that you’re referring to was added later. It’s not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty.”

 

Actually, Miller was correct in that the inscription was not part of the original statue— it was a poem written by Emma Lazarus to raise money for building the pedestal on which Ms. Liberty stands. Sadly, Ms. Lazarus died of cancer a year after the Statue of Liberty was dedicated and it was another two decades before the words were inscribed on a plaque fixed to the inner wall of the statue’s pedestal.

 

Ms. Lazarus was Jewish, which should have no bearing on the words she wrote or their meaning except that the country right now is mourning the massacre of nine Jewish worshipers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.  Anti-Semitism has a long and ugly history in the United States, along with other unforgivable prejudices like those against African-Americans, Native Americans—or, for that matter, against my Irish forebears.

 

Trump’s answer to the Pittsburgh massacre was to suggest that if the worshipers in the synagogue had been armed the killer could not have survived a shoot out. This echoes his earlier suggestion that teachers should be armed and ready to start shooting. His parents must have supplied him with too many Gene Autry cap guns and too many hours of watching John Wayne westerns on television when he was a kid.  Or maybe his daddy wouldn’t let him go to a Ku Klux Klan rally and it pissed little Donnie off.

 

Trump flew to Pittsburgh with his daughter Ivanka, and her husband Jared Kushner, both of whom practice Judaism (Jared is Jewish, Ivanka a convert), but before even the first of the victims was laid to rest and against the wishes of city leaders and grieving members of the synagogue. Some of the Jewish community were upset feeling that Trump put more blame on the synagogue for not being weaponized than he did on the crazed killer whose only aim was to kill more Jews.

 

In an especially ugly historic anti-Semitic incident a boatload of 900 Jewish refugees seeking asylum in the United States after fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939 was turned away from our border and forced back to Europe where an estimated 28 percent of those refugees were sent to concentration camps and died, among the six million Jews killed by the Nazis. The boat they were on was named the St. Louis.  As a proud Show Me state resident, that factoid gives me a cold chill.

 

The synagogue shootings happened amid a spate of multiple gunfire murders this year, along with the mailing of a series of pipe bombs to prominent Democrats, including two past presidents, by a deranged and self proclaimed Donald J Trump supporter. His bombs did not detonate; but the guns of the various shooters did.

 

Anyone who suggests the necessity for sensible gun laws automatically earns the wrath of the National Rifle Association and from far too many legitimate gun owners— it seems to me that the biggest enemy responsible gun owners face too often is gun owners themselves. I own a dozen guns, hunt with them, have target shot with them and see no justification for gun confiscation or other restrictions that other countries have imposed.  But there are proposed regulations on gun ownership that are no threat to me or any other responsible gun owner. Why not work toward limiting access of guns that could be used to kill people?

 

On the heels of the horrific shooting in Pittsburgh, Trump assaulted the Constitution of the United States by saying that he would issue an executive order denying automatic citizenship to babies born within the borders of the United States— a right guaranteed by the 14th amendment. Even Paul Ryan, usually his fawning acolyte, said that proposal could not legally fly. But Trump continues his nonstop tirade against this imagined invasion by the Honduran refugees.

 

Trump tweeted “I must, in the strongest of terms, ask Mexico to stop this onslaught—and if unable to do so I will call up the US military and close our southern border!”  Trump, and his toadies and right wing talk show mouths claim that the caravan is being financed by the Democrats to influence Tuesday’s election results and the primary culprit, according to them and without even a shred of credible evidence, is wealthy George Soros who just happens to be Jewish.

 

The onslaught, as he terms it, or, variously, “the invasion” is not being financed either by the Democrats or by George Soros. It is self financed and desperately poor. Often, towns along the way have furnished the migrants with food, water and shelter— things that Trump would deny them if and when they reach our border. Trump claims the caravan is infiltrated by criminals and, as he terms it, people from the Middle East— a euphemism for Muslims. As is true of almost every Trump statement on anything, that is a damn lie. There is absolutely no evidence of any infiltration by anyone who could be considered a threat to this country.

 

To hear the right wing tell it, the Honduran migrants are coming to the United States to take our jobs, vote Democrat and commit crimes. Among other valid reasons, they are fleeing crime—Honduras and El Salvador are among the top five deadliest countries in the world. Their homeland is rife with corruption and there is little opportunity for employment for young adults. It probably wouldn’t be much if any better in the United States, but it couldn’t be worse.  It is overlooked by the frightened right that these are asylum-seekers looking for safe refuge, not a ravening Mongol horde bent on rape and pillage.

 

The right-wingers claim that the refugee caravan carries deadly diseases that will overwhelm the United States with pestilence. Does anyone remember when our forebears traveled up the Missouri River and deliberately furnished Native Americans with smallpox contaminated blankets?  That was genocidal reality but today it’s political scare tactics just it as is the claim that the caravan is a murderous mob when in reality the mob is our own brutal right wingers wishing they had Trump’s 20 foot tall wall to hide behind.

 

On a sultry summer evening some years back a group of us gathered in the street at Sedalia and watched as a dark green cloud loomed over the city and someone said, “I’ve never seen a tornado but that sure looks like one building up. And if it isn’t I’d be surprised— not to mention, scared to death.” We opted to go down a flight of stairs into a basement which just happened to be a bar, and we rode out the storm and indeed, there was a tornado just south of town.  We had averted disaster, helped along by the cooling and soothing application of beer. I don’t advocate taking a sixpack to the polling place, but you might consider having one on hand at home after you finish voting.

 

That dark green cloud springs to mind immediately when I consider that on November 6 an ominous green cloud known as election day will loom over us. It has the potential, I think, either to devastate the country or to wash away many of the nation’s political ills with a healing rain and no whirlwind of destruction.

 

I’ve said and I firmly believe that this is the most important election I’ve ever voted in since the first where I was eligible in 1956. Never have we faced so many threats to our democracy and only a record and overwhelming turnout of voters will decide whether the country will continue as we have known and cherished it for more than 240 years. We can’t erase the transgressions of the past but we can amend the transgressions of the present.

VOTE

 

 

 

 

 

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  • October 25th, 2018

SECOND TIME AROUND

By Joel M. Vance

Ah, Joel Vance, the vaunted outdoors writer–and credentialed as such!–who shamed himself by arguing against the Second Amendment. Now Joel M. Vance argues the Communist cause in the vein of Bernie Sanders and what’s-her-name Ocasio Cortes. Pity, Joel M. Vance, that you have not learned anything in your many years on this planet. You were apparently indoctrinated early on by FDR’s socialist contingent and were never aware or “wake” enough to make up your own mind. Sorry, but your writings are meaningless “useful idiot” mumblings of the 1930’s. You deny natural law. So there were 32 tax-paying fools to finance one destitute widow in the 1930’s, who should have been supported by the churches of the time. Now there are 4 to pay every malcontent fatso in an electrified chair, and you think that’s cool? Sorry, dude, you’re a moron. #VOTEREPUBLICAN

Above is the only negative response I got to my last post which I am repeating in this blog but with some additional comments as a preface. I’m posting the comment above to let the rhetoric speak for itself. Actually I’ve been called worse by better people and you know the old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” Enough said.

As I write, the news is filled with developments about seven apparent pipe bombs mailed to prominent Democrat critics of Donald Trump. That’s what we’ve come to, folks, a national divisiveness so virulent that some think a viable solution is to blow up the other side. Let’s just take a moment and examine where this dangerous trend originates.

Generally the impetus toward violence originates with someone throwing gasoline on a fire—the fire being the right wing anger toward the left. And who is throwing gasoline?
At least twice in my home state, Missouri, Donald Trump has encouraged the crowd to “beat the crap” out of protesters. Repeatedly over the last two years, on the campaign trail, and as president, he has encouraged violence. As our Missouri president Harry Truman once famously said about his own responsibility for unpopular decisions, “the buck stops here.” Not that Donald J Trump himself has been mailing pipe bombs to his detractors. In fact, both he and First Lady Melania issued quick condemnation of violent acts against anyone.
Still, one of the pipe bombs was mailed to CNN headquarters and it is worth noting that Trump repeatedly has called the media “the enemy of the people.” And, in a couple of weeks ago in Montana, Trump praised Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte for body slamming a reporter saying, “any guy that can do a body slam— he’s my kind of guy.” And Trump’s response to the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, apparently by a Saudi Arabian hit squad, has been confused and inconsistent at best.
His latest summation of the horrific incident was this “They had a very bad original concept, it was carried out poorly, and the cover-up was the worst in the history of cover-ups.” That sounds mostly like someone griping more about a screwed up murder plot then about the murder itself. So— advice from our president— if you’re going to kill someone at least do it right. His first comment to his loyal base at a Wisconsin rally was, to best describe it, smug. “Let’s get along. By the way you see how nice I’m behaving tonight? Have you ever seen this?”

At last count, there had been seven pipe bombs detected and possibly there are more. Predictably, the right wing talk show blatherers, led by Rush Limbaugh, quickly blamed the Democrats for the pipe bombs, claiming that it’s all a hoax designed to gather sympathy for the Democrats before the election.
So, in case you missed it the first time around, here is what I posted last and feel free to comment pro or con, but especially feel free to pass the plea for voters to go to the polls to everyone you know. Let’s practice democracy for a change instead of acrimony.

On to the repeat of the last blog:

 

Remember? No of course you don’t—you weren’t even born in those days when we stayed up half the night to hear the latest returns. It was election night and the radio was tuned to whatever station was broadcasting the up-to-the-minute results.

They didn’t call races in those days almost before the polls closed. There was no television or at least it was so rudimentary that not even Huntley and Brinkley had appeared to speak like gods from Mount Olympus. Television, if any, was black and white and it was grainy, often filtered through what appeared to be a Dakota blizzard.

But we all cared deeply about elections in those days. The only thing that approached the intense anticipation of a national election was a heavyweight boxing bout or the World Series. I was a little kid in maybe the sixth grade when I heard Brooklyn Dodger Al Gionfriddo rob Joe DiMaggio of what would’ve been a game-tying double to force a game seven in the 1947 World Series by racing to the bullpen gate some 415 feet from home plate to make an incredible catch.

I don’t remember the name of the teacher who must have been a baseball fan and who let us listen to the radio in the classroom, but I do remember that catch and the hysterical announcer shrieking about it (he must have been a Dodger fan).

In the next year we moved to Missouri from Chicago and I remember Bobby Thompson’s three run home run off Ralph Branca four years later to give the New York Giants a playoff victory against those same Brooklyn Dodgers. Time having moved along, I watched that game through the ever present Dakota blizzard on Mr. Sadler’s television set in Keytesville, Missouri , where I was, by then, imprisoned in high school. It wasn’t very good television, but it was all we had— possibly Mr. Sadler had the only TV set in Keytesville at the time. Mr. Sadler, who happened to be the school superintendent and, unlike that Chicago elementary school teacher, did not let us watch the series in a classroom.  But we sneaked off during school hours to his house while he was busy administering paddling to delinquent boys (his son, Foster, was my best friend but probably would’ve been among the paddlees if his daddy had known he was cutting class to watch a playoff game at home).

And I used to listen to heavyweight boxing matches on our old upright Zenith radio between Joe Louis and everyone he knocked out and later Rocky Marciano doing the same. There was excitement riding the airwaves in those days and the entire country was riveted in a way that seems to have gone, as have all those dynamic moments of yesteryear— boxing, baseball, and politics.

There is an election upcoming in a few days that may be the most important in the nation’s history, far beyond anything I heard through the static on the Zenith or watched on a grainy RCA television set. It’s an off year election, an event which usually is defined mostly by apathy. And apathy is the biggest danger facing the country.

Good citizens often say, “there is no excuse for not voting.” That’s not quite accurate because thousands of people do have an excuse for not voting—they are not being allowed to thanks to discriminatory regulations which prevent them from going to the polls. In Georgia the Secretary of State who is also running for governor as a Republican and who is in charge of voter legitimacy is sitting on more than 50,000 voter registrations, mostly African Americans who tend to vote Democrat, and has over the past several years disallowed thousands of other registrations, again mostly African Americans, who vote Democrat—probably because they can’t stand the politics of the Republicans in power.

And how about North Dakota where Native Americans are being disenfranchised because of a Republican established law demanding that voter registration contain a street address without which a person cannot vote. Thousands of Native Americans on reservations have only a post office box, but that ain’t good enough for the Republicans who suspect, with good cause, that Native Americans in a bloc will vote for Heidi Heitkamp the Democrat candidate for the Senate.

Those egregious examples of voter suppression aside, if women, minorities, and young people, don’t get off their all too often indifferent rear ends and go to the polls, we are in grave danger of at least another two years of the most destructive government in the history of the nation. The Donald Trump regime has managed to dismantle more progressive legislation than was done by inept and incompetent politicians in the previous 200-plus years. Give them another two years and we are likely to see such vital programs as Social Security and Medicare vanish or be rendered impotent.

Mitch McConnell, the chinless wonder, already is promising to cut Medicare and Social Security and Medicaid to pay for the $1.5 trillion tax cuts the Republicans forced through Congress and which have had the result of ballooning the national debt while padding the bank accounts of the nation’s richest 1%. “It’s disappointing but it’s not a Republican problem,” said the Senate majority leader.  What he means is that it is not his problem— it is the enormous problem of the American people who will suffer because of his odious legislation.

His toady, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, said “you have got to generate economic growth because growth generates revenue. But you also have to bring spending under control. The driver of our debt is the structure of Social Security and Medicare for future beneficiaries.”  No, Marco, the driver of our debt is you and your fellow Republicans who owe more to your rich donors than you do to anyone who relies on Social Security and Medicare to keep them from poverty and the graveyard.

Think beneficiaries president future, of the disintegration of Medicare and Social Security. Especially, think about it when you go to the polls to vote on the people who are promising to take away these vital benefits.

As a grateful recipient of both programs, without which I would be destitute or probably dead, I dread the consequences of more Trumpism. The world so far has survived such isms as Nazi-ism, fascism, and communism, but I’m not so sure we can make it through Trump-ism without the ship of state sinking. We don’t need a political Titanic-we need a political ship of mercy filled with the promise of enduring benevolent government.

Election night anticipation , which once was looked forward to with eagerness, no matter which party you were supporting, has, given the results of the last few elections, been more like waiting for the results of the x-rays. Even when Barack Obama was my candidate I felt more like curling into the fetal position and covering my ears on election night. He won twice and I exulted, but it was more like being a diehard fan of one of our hapless local football teams (whose name I will, out of sympathy, keep anonymous since they haven’t won a game all season) because I knew that an antagonistic Republican Congress would make Mr. Obama’s life a living hell— which it did.

Sandwiched as it was between the Bush and Trump eras, it was a temporary triumph of good over evil, but hardly representative of democratic values.  I went to three election night parties, two when Bush won and one when Trump won, and what began each time as a festive event featuring gourmet chili and beer turned into a funeral. In this age of instant communication, Huntley and Brinkley would be as superfluous as Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny.

Doomsaying scientists warn us that global warming is a dire threat to the planet but of course Trump’s drooling sycophants don’t believe it, or choose not to, and I suspect that before rising temperatures force the oceans to overtop low-lying countries, create droughts and other horrific weather conditions, this country will be submerged by a storm surge of political catastrophes that will turn us into a reprise of what has happened to so many wannabe democracies around the world. Mob rule— led by self-serving autocrats, dictators, plutocrats or whatever you want to call them who are interested only in their own ends not those of the common good.

There was a great vision for government in the late 1700s by men of intellect, foresight, and dedication to the betterment not only of their fledgling country, but of mankind in general. Now we have a bloated dictatorial sociopath who has the unfortunate ability to rally the mob behind him, as well as fatcat money interests to finance him and his evil intent and to elect those who slavishly do his bidding.

In the run-up to the election Trump and his despicable toadies have flooded television with lies and defamation, counting on the credulity of the electorate to believe the wildest stories imaginable about  Democrats running to unseat the entrenched Republicans. There is little doubt that computer hacking by foreign interests—certainly Russia, probably China, Iran, North Korea or, for all I know, aliens from outer space— are helping confuse the democratic process. Any thinking person would discount 90% or more of the crap that flows from the television sets, realizing that it no longer is intelligent thought and careful consideration that wins elections, but actually is the amount of money poured into any given candidate’s campaign. It’s a sorry state of affairs when democracy becomes a matter of who has the biggest pocketbook.

And that accusation applies equally to Democrats as well as Republicans. Any voter who is swayed by paid for advertising rather than by intelligent thought deserves what he or she gets and if that is at least two more years of Trumpism I fear for the country and for the future of our form of government. Don’t forget that the German electorate voted for Adolf Hitler, and other dictators of the past. Hitler appealed to the basest instincts of the masses and that is precisely what Donald Trump does today. He incites; he does not lead.

That’s why election night has become more of waiting for the other shoe to fall than it has to celebrate the triumph of democracy.  There is, of course, a remedy— it is for every able-bodied citizen to cast a vote and hope that the country still contains a majority of voters dedicated to the principles the United States adopted more than 200 years ago.

 

VOTE!!!

 

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  • Blog
  • October 23rd, 2018

OUR WORLD HANGS IN THE BALANCE

By Joel M. Vance

Remember? No of course you don’t—you weren’t even born in those days when we stayed up half the night to hear the latest returns. It was election night and the radio was tuned to whatever station was broadcasting the up-to-the-minute results.

They didn’t call races in those days almost before the polls closed. There was no television or at least it was so rudimentary that not even Huntley and Brinkley had appeared to speak like gods from Mount Olympus. Television, if any, was black and white and it was grainy, often filtered through what appeared to be a Dakota blizzard.

But we all cared deeply about elections in those days. The only thing that approached the intense anticipation of a national election was a heavyweight boxing bout or the World Series. I was a little kid in maybe the sixth grade when I heard Brooklyn Dodger Al Gionfriddo rob Joe DiMaggio of what would’ve been a game-tying double to force a game seven in the 1947 World Series by racing to the bullpen gate some 415 feet from home plate to make an incredible catch.

I don’t remember the name of the teacher who must have been a baseball fan and who let us listen to the radio in the classroom, but I do remember that catch and the hysterical announcer shrieking about it (he must have been a Dodger fan).

In the next year we moved to Missouri from Chicago and I remember Bobby Thompson’s three run home run off Ralph Branca four years later to give the New York Giants a playoff victory against those same Brooklyn Dodgers. Time having moved along, I watched that game through the ever present Dakota blizzard on Mr. Sadler’s television set in Keytesville, Missouri , where I was, by then, imprisoned in high school. It wasn’t very good television, but it was all we had— possibly Mr. Sadler had the only TV set in Keytesville at the time. Mr. Sadler, who happened to be the school superintendent and, unlike that Chicago elementary school teacher, did not let us watch the series in a classroom. But we sneaked off during school hours to his house while he was busy administering paddling to delinquent boys (his son, Foster, was my best friend but probably would’ve been among the paddlees if his daddy had known he was cutting class to watch a World Series game at home).

And I used to listen to heavyweight boxing matches on our old upright Zenith radio between Joe Louis and everyone he knocked out and later Rocky Marciano doing the same. There was excitement riding the airwaves in those days and the entire country was riveted in a way that seems to have gone, as have all those dynamic moments of yesteryear— boxing, baseball, and politics.

There is an election upcoming in a few days that may be the most important in the nation’s history, far beyond anything I heard through the static on the Zenith or watched on a grainy RCA television set. It’s an off year election, an event which usually is defined mostly by apathy. And apathy is the biggest danger facing the country.

Good citizens often say, “there is no excuse for not voting.” That’s not quite accurate because thousands of people do have an excuse for not voting—they are not being allowed to thanks to discriminatory regulations which prevent them from going to the polls. In Georgia the Secretary of State who is also running for governor as a Republican and who is in charge of voter legitimacy is sitting on more than 50,000 voter registrations, mostly African Americans who tend to vote Democrat, and has over the past several years disallowed thousands of other registrations, again mostly African Americans, who vote Democrat—probably because they can’t stand the politics of the Republicans in power.

And how about North Dakota where Native Americans are being disenfranchised because of a Republican established law demanding that voter registration contain a street address without which a person cannot vote. Thousands of Native Americans on reservations have only a post office box, but that ain’t good enough for the Republicans who suspect, with good cause, that Native Americans in a bloc will vote for Heidi Heitkamp the Democrat candidate for the Senate.

Those egregious examples of voter suppression aside, if women, minorities, and young people, don’t get off their all too often indifferent rear ends and go to the polls, we are in grave danger of at least another two years of the most destructive government in the history of the nation. The Donald Trump regime has managed to dismantle more progressive legislation than was done by inept and incompetent politicians in the previous 200-plus years. Give them another two years and we are likely to see such vital programs as Social Security and Medicare vanish or be rendered impotent.

Mitch McConnell, the chinless wonder, already is promising to cut Medicare and Social Security and Medicaid to pay for the $1.5 trillion tax cuts the Republicans forced through Congress and which have had the result of ballooning the national debt while padding the bank accounts of the nation’s richest 1%. “It’s disappointing but it’s not a Republican problem,” said the Senate majority leader. What he means is that it is not his problem— it is the enormous problem of the American people who will suffer because of his odious legislation.

His toady, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, said “you have got to generate economic growth because growth generates revenue. But you also have to bring spending under control. The driver of our debt is the structure of Social Security and Medicare for future beneficiaries.” No, Marco, the driver of our debt is you and your fellow Republicans who owe more to your rich donors than you do to anyone who relies on Social Security and Medicare to keep them from poverty and the graveyard.

Think beneficiaries president future, of the disintegration of Medicare and Social Security. Especially, think about it when you go to the polls to vote on the people who are promising to take away these vital benefits.

As a grateful recipient of both programs, without which I would be destitute or probably dead, I dread the consequences of more Trumpism. The world so far has survived such isms as Nazi-ism, fascism, and communism, but I’m not so sure we can make it through Trump-ism without the ship of state sinking. We don’t need a political Titanic-we need a political ship of mercy filled with the promise of enduring benevolent government.

Election night anticipation , which once was looked forward to with eagerness, no matter which party you were supporting, has, given the results of the last few elections, been more like waiting for the results of the x-rays. Even when Barack Obama was my candidate I felt more like curling into the fetal position and covering my ears on election night. He won twice and I exulted, but it was more like being a diehard fan of one of our hapless local football teams (whose name I will, out of sympathy, keep anonymous since they haven’t won a game all season) because I knew that an antagonistic Republican Congress would make Mr. Obama’s life a living hell— which it did.

Sandwiched as it was between the Bush and Trump eras, it was a temporary triumph of good over evil, but hardly representative of democratic values. I went to three election night parties, two when Bush won and one when Trump won, and what began each time as a festive event featuring gourmet chili and beer turned into a funeral. In this age of instant communication, Huntley and Brinkley would be as superfluous as Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny.

Doomsaying scientists warn us that global warming is a dire threat to the planet but of course Trump’s drooling sycophants don’t believe it, or choose not to, and I suspect that before rising temperatures force the oceans to overtop low-lying countries, create droughts and other horrific weather conditions, this country will be submerged by a storm surge of political catastrophes that will turn us into a reprise of what has happened to so many wannabe democracies around the world. Mob rule— led by self-serving autocrats, dictators, plutocrats or whatever you want to call them who are interested only in their own ends not those of the common good.

There was a great vision for government in the late 1700s by men of intellect, foresight, and dedication to the betterment not only of their fledgling country, but of mankind in general. Now we have a bloated dictatorial sociopath who has the unfortunate ability to rally the mob behind him, as well as fatcat money interests to finance him and his evil intent and to elect those who slavishly do his bidding.

In the run-up to the election Trump and his despicable toadies have flooded television with lies and defamation, counting on the credulity of the electorate to believe the wildest stories imaginable about Democrats running to unseat the entrenched Republicans. There is little doubt that computer hacking by foreign interests—certainly Russia, probably China, Iran, North Korea or, for all I know, aliens from outer space— are helping confuse the democratic process. Any thinking person would discount 90% or more of the crap that flows from the television sets, realizing that it no longer is intelligent thought and careful consideration that wins elections, but actually is the amount of money poured into any given candidate’s campaign. It’s a sorry state of affairs when democracy becomes a matter of who has the biggest pocketbook.

And that accusation applies equally to Democrats as well as Republicans. Any voter who is swayed by paid for advertising rather than by intelligent thought deserves what he or she gets and if that is at least two more years of Trumpism I fear for the country and for the future of our form of government. Don’t forget that the German electorate voted for Adolf Hitler, and other dictators of the past. Hitler appealed to the basest instincts of the masses and that is precisely what Donald Trump does today. He incites; he does not lead.

That’s why election night has become more of waiting for the other shoe to fall than it has to celebrate the triumph of democracy. There is, of course, a remedy— it is for every able-bodied citizen to cast a vote and hope that the country still contains a majority of voters dedicated to the principles the United States adopted more than 200 years ago.

VOTE!!!

Read More
  • Blog
  • October 19th, 2018

THE GHOSTLY RIDGE

By Joel M. Vance

Everybody thought of Harry Jenkins as “sensible” and they said it as if it were a handicap, as if Harry had suffered an accident and lost a vital part of himself. Harry plodded through life with the resolute steadfastness of a coon hound never baying a fancy, nor tracking a whim.

“He’s the most no-nonsense guy I know,” said his boss.

“Harry?” Said his wife, with a hard laugh verging on bitter (she was a romantic who’d thought to marry a prince and instead had gotten a bean counter). “He’s practical.”

“Imagination of a buffalo in a herd,” said his best friend. So, when Harry found himself in the middle of an abandoned cemetery at the time of night they call the hour of dying, he didn’t succumb to childish fears, nor even feel a prickle of apprehension. He merely grunted and backed away from the tall monument he had run into in the dark, slipped on his tiny flashlight and read the inscription: “Cpl. Andrew Parker, killed in action April 25, 1863. Here lies a good Union soldier.”

“R.I.P, Andy,” Harry said. “Sorry to disturb you.” Harry was turkey hunting and had no time for romanticizing Civil War cemeteries, at night or at any other time. He needed to get himself set up before roosted gobblers roused enough to be alerted by movement through the woods. He wanted to be in place long before the first sleepy morning yelps came from the trees.

The night silence gathered around him as he moved along the ridge, away from the cemetery. He heard the murmur of the river below as it worried at a snag. A whippoorwill began its endless repetition, sharply trying to shout away the night. The moon floated ahead in and out of thick clouds. Harry was far from the road, far beyond the granola bar wrappers and other detritus of the fair weather hunters.

He began to look for a place to wait for sunrise. He found an ideal setup: a broad tree slanting to make a comfortable back rest, soft mossy earth at its base. Like a television recliner he thought. Have to concentrate not to go to sleep. Moonlight filtered through the scattered clouds showing him a sparse stand of big trees, with little underbrush, a natural arena. The bluff dropped steeply to the river to his left, which reduced the possible directions from which a gobbler could approach him.

He settled back against the tree and felt something prodding him. He dug beneath his seat pad and removed a sharp bit of flint, flipping it into the dark and heard it strike with a muffled sound. He rearranged the seat and leaned against the tree. Perfect. He dug his heels into the leaf mold, creating rests for his feet. The old Model 12 pump lay across his knees, loaded with three Super-X double X shot shells.

The number six shot would drop a gobbler in its tracks at 20 yards. There should be no need for a second or third shot (and certainly not for the fourth and fifth the gun would hold if he fully loaded it). “If you can’t kill ‘em with one shot, you shouldn’t be hunting ‘em,” Harry often said. Besides, a practical man doesn’t waste expensive ammunition.

Harry waited for first light, first activity. Usually he never worried about falling asleep and missing anything. He didn’t do that. Falling asleep on stand was impractical. But there were sounds in the night that distracted him. Maybe they weren’t even sounds. They were like the feeling you get when another person is breathing in a dark room. You don’t know if you really hear the breathing or just feel the presence of someone. But Harry wasted no time on imagining things in the night. He knew what should be in the woods and that was good enough for him.

Except he was experiencing a feeling he never had before, an uneasiness as if another hunter were slipping up on him, just stealthily enough to be noticed. But there were no other hunters. Not that far back and not this early. He’d bet the farm on that. So what was it? Who gives a rats? Harry thought. Get a grip.

Maybe he fell asleep. After all, it was comfortable and it was plenty early. People do fall asleep and anything can happen in dreams. But sometime later—he didn’t know how long— he heard a strange muffled jingling sound, like bits of chain gently disturbed.

He saw the shadowy figures of horsemen making their way across the night shrouded clearing in the moonlight. There were perhaps a dozen of them, silent save for the creak of their saddles and the muted whisper of their horses’ breathing. Despite himself, Harry felt a skitter of goose bumps chill his legs and back. “The hell?” he muttered. The riders passed 20 feet in front of him. The leader was caped and a couple of the riders wore dusters. Their caps were distinctively short billed with flat tops crushed forward. He’d seen such uniforms all his life, but only in the grim gray photographs of Matthew Brady.

They were dressed as soldiers from the Civil War. His first thought, being a practical person, was that it was a group of history buffs en route to a recreation of some forgotten skirmish. That perception lasted only an instant. It was not likely, in the middle of the night! Get serious!

The riders passed, almost close enough to touch, though by now he would not have reached out to touch one for any amount of money. Dread was a stranger to Harry— he had never awakened in the night with a panic attack, nor spent his waking hours worrying about cancer or tax audits. Harry worried about what he could see and feel, not conjures in the night. Although he could see this— but not, under any circumstances, feel it.

This was something he could see and he was suddenly afraid that if he touched it, there would be a result he didn’t want to think about— or know how to think about. So, Harry’s heart thudded and his mouth turned dry. It is unpleasant for unimaginative people when they are confronted with creatures that must be of their imagination.

Harry deeply wanted daylight, though he knew sunrise still was some minutes away. Inexplicable things wash out in the strong light of day. The slight sound of the riders vanished in the night, leaving only the demanding call of the whippoorwill. Harry tried to make sense of what he’d seen. Finally, he could only conclude that he had drifted off for a moment and had experienced an unsettling dream. He rarely dreamed of anything, but never had concocted a dream as vivid and disturbing as this one. But a dream it had to be.

Why Civil War riders in the night? That damn cemetery he thought. Hanging around in my subconscious. Just a dream, that’s all. Fell asleep there for a minute. Should have had more coffee. Acting like a damn scared kid in the night. It was a rational explanation and Harry gratefully accepted it.

Relieved, he put the incident out of his mind and thought it had to the turkey hunt, not imaginary fancies. Turkey hunting was real; ghost riders in the night were so much imaginative smoke, time wasters. More sleep and fewer cemeteries, Harry thought.

Thick darkness was draining from the night. He now could see his feet and hands and the silhouettes of the trees were sharper toward the east. The tentative hoot of a great horned owl sounded behind him, and as if in sharp challenge, a barred owl defied the stillness with its strident interrogation. A tree gobble rattled through the forest and Harry’s breath came quicker. This was a brassy old ridge boss challenging any other critter’s right to signify. It was, it announced, the most virile animal in the spring woods.

With exquisite caution, as if the bird could hear his very pulse beating, Harry withdrew a little container from his breast pocket and carefully fished out a mouth caller, which he installed against his palate. He liked to soak and soften the calls before using them. The faint taste of Scope brightened his sour early morning mouth. He always soaked callers in the mouthwash to freshen them. Harry felt in another pocket for a headnet and carefully slipped it on and adjusted the eye frames. He pulled on mesh camouflage gloves and shifted the model 12 slightly in his lap.

He was ready.

The turkey began to gobble every several minutes, a harsh, single-minded petition. Harry took a deep breath, let out half as if he were target shooting and clucked softly just one time. Instantly, the gobbler answered, its attention captured, its keen hearing fixing Harry’s location as accurately as an electronic rangefinder.

This seduction lasted nearly an hour. At first Harry answered each gobble with a sleepy cluck or two. Then he mixed a few soft tree yelps, as if a hen were rousing from sleep to find herself sexually aroused and receptive. The gobbler paced impatiently along a lofty branch with much of its innate caution seared away by passion. It no longer was a creature that no predator could approach by guile. It was addled by lust.

The turkey double gobbled and Harry interrupted with answering yelps, further inciting the bird. There was nearly full light now. A cardinal whickered and distant crows called. Small, drab birds flitted through the undergrowth and a gray squirrel pounced through the dry leaves with muted rustling. Harry heard the bird fly down—the sound of someone beating a carpet, then a thump and silence. Harry was taut, with the focused attention of the predator.

His eyes caught a flicker of motion through the trees and he saw the dark shape of the bird. The gobbler with the slow majesty of a schooner under full sail, wings dragging, tail fanned, head tucked tight to its puffed chest. Harry couldn’t resist a trio of yelps, even though it probably wasn’t necessary. The bird’s head shot forward and it gobbled, as loud as thunder.

There is noble ceremony in the measured approach of a gobbler. Everything seemed slowed, including time. Harry heard nothing but the spitting and drumming of the great bird. It seemed to take a lifetime for the gobbler to cross the fifty yards between them.

The morning sunlight reflected from the back of the gobbler, revealing a coppery sheen. The bird’s sharp eye seemed to cut through the camouflage to the hunter beneath. They looked, one into the other, the hunter and the undaunted prey. It was as if the turkey could see right down into his soul and take its measure. Harry had killed turkeys before, without a thought and with no flights of fancy about soul measuring, but this one was different.

The bird was 30 yards away and Harry leaned slightly forward, sighting along the barrel of the Model 12 propped on his knee. He moved his leg just slightly and the bead of the shotgun settled on the turkey’s head. Harry’s finger tightened on the trigger.

And then the gobbler wavered and shimmered as if it were a mirror image just at the instant before the mirror would shatter. The image blurred and became vaporous. In place of the gobbler there was a strange fog. The vapor flowed into the ground, then materialized as a second gobbler, wavering but distinct. The hazy apparition gobbled but there was no sound. It fanned and strutted, colorless in the morning light, a gray specter that paraded the ridge and drained the life from it.

Harry sensed motion to his right, but could not move. He was paralyzed, locked in time suspended. The motion resolved as a man, crawling with infinite caution toward a nearby log. The man’s clothing was wrinkled and torn and the man himself unshaven and haggard. The clothing was the uniform of a Union soldier. The soldier cradled a battered musket as he inched forward on his elbows. The soldier reached the log and cautiously peered over it. The ghost turkey fanned once again and as it pirouetted away, the soldier lifted the gun and aimed.

The turkey spun back toward the soldier, saw the gun, instantly dropped its fan and feathers and raised his head as if to flee. There was no sound but the soldier jerked with the recoil of his gun and there was a belch of silent fire and smoke from the muzzle. The turkey tumbled backward, flopping.

The soldier struggled to his feet and Harry saw how emaciated and weary he was, eyes dark with fatigue. But his shoulder straightened and he ran awkwardly to the thrashing bird and grabbed it by the neck, hoisted it shoulder high. His ghost patrol would dine well that night.

Then the soldier lurched backward as if hit by an invisible hammer, dropped the turkey and clutched at his breast. Slowly he crumpled to the ground, rolled onto his back and was still. The dead turkey lay beside him. A second military phantasm walked soundlessly to the fallen Union soldier, his bayoneted gun at the ready. His uniform was a ragtag assortment, but the butternut britches identified him. He, too, was tattered and worn and obviously felt no satisfaction in what he had done. He prodded the body with the tip of the bayonet, then, sure that his foe was dead….again, picked up the turkey and shambled toward the morning light. He blurred and then vanished.

The soldier on the ground faded slowly until he could’ve been nothing more than lingering ground fog. Time returned to the clearing. The real gobbler in front of Harry tensed, aware that something was wrong with his world.

The gobbler’s keen eye fixed on Harry and the bird poised to bolt. It would spook in the next instant and be lost if he didn’t squeeze the trigger. Instead, Harry exhaled explosively and sat up straight. The gobbler leaped into the air with powerful wing beats and flew straight up through the trees and into the sunlight.

Harry Jenkins, the man with no imagination, laid his model 12 on the ground and got to his feet, feeling 1000 years old. He walked to where the gobbler had been and found a single wing feather on the ground. He picked it up and went back to retrieve his gun. He paused a moment to rub his bristly face and dig at gritty eyes. He had never been more tired.

Harry passed through the old cemetery on his way back to the car. He stopped at the monument to Cpl. Parker and laid the feather on the weed choked grave in front of the marker. “Was that you, Andy?” He said aloud. “Do you have to come back and play it out again and again?”

Harry stood before the marker, feeling the heat of the spring sun. A squirrel barked at him from a nearby white oak. A blue jay shouted. A bumblebee landed on a spray of honeysuckle and swayed there. “Is this your Hell or your Heaven?” Harry asked the silent marker. There was no answer and there never would be one.

Harry’s wife was stunned when he came home not with a nice gobbler but instead with a spray of roses. “Let’s make today memorable,” he said. “We might have to relive it.” She stared at him with her mouth open. Had someone stolen her husband?

“Is that you, Harry?” She said. Perhaps he had caught some kind of virus. She watched as he moved through the house, touching old possessions as if he’d never seen them before— as if they gave him great pleasure and were not just old things. “Are you all right?” She asked half in fear, half in hope. He nodded.

She met her best friend the next day for coffee and fiddled with the cup while the brew cooled. “Well,” she said slowly, “whatever it is, I hope it lasts a long time.” She shook her head.

“Something weird happened to him out there in those woods,” she said. “I can’t imagine what— and I thought I was the one in the family with all the imagination.”

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  • Blog
  • October 12th, 2018

ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH

By Joel M. Vance

Every Sunday evening at 7 PM I open a time capsule now more than 40 years old. I do this by turning on the television set to a rerun of Hee Haw from the 1970s, where I can see in living color performances by legendary country entertainers, now mostly pages in history.

An enduring feature of Hee Haw was a segment called Pickin’ and Grinnin’ where cohosts Roy Clark and Buck Owens trade corny jokes interspersed with Clark playing an instrumental break, with the assembled group singing the chorus:

“Going up Cripple Creek, gonna have a little fun”

I never gave much thought to Cripple Creek, although I vaguely knew it was a town somewhere in Colorado, where once miners flocked, high in the Rocky Mountains hoping to strike it rich digging for gold. The town lies at nearly 9500 feet in a broad valley where in 1890 gold was discovered and a gold rush ensued that attracted 10,000 prospectors following their glittering dream. They dug $500 million worth of gold before the riches ran out and the town dwindled to a population of about 100 and became one of Colorado’s many ghost towns. It attracted the hardy few who could stand the altitude for a chance to peek into mining history.

30 years ago it was a crumbling assortment of mostly deserted buildings approaching a century old. There still is an operating gold mine in the area, but now the more than 1000 inhabitants mine their gold from the pocketbooks of tourists who flock to what has become a mini Las Vegas in the mountains— gambling is the main industry anymore and some of the casino buildings cover-up the bed of the Creek that gave the town’s name.

But there is one building that caters, not to hopeful gamblers but to the arts. It is the restored Butte Opera house where recently I saw the finest theatrical performance I’ve ever seen and those include Broadway and regional productions of famous musicals productions by local and national theater groups.

The occasion was my wife, Marty’s, and my 62nd wedding anniversary and we celebrated it by watching a magical two hour production of “Always…. Patsy Cline”, a musical which has sold out off-Broadway and in repertory company productions all over the country as well as in foreign theaters.
The musical features only two performers, one channeling Patsy Cline, the other her devoted fan Louise Seger. Both are on stage virtually the entire performance and in Cripple Creek they were backed by an outstanding cowboy band that had assimilated the Patsy Cline arrangements to the point where I felt trapped in a time warp— listening to radio from the late 1950s late on a Saturday night when the reception was good from WSM in Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry was in its true heyday (not the overproduced, pop diluted crap that passes for country music today).

This was a country music I grew up with, twiddling the dial on the old upright Zenith radio in our ramshackle Missouri home trying from about 5:30 PM to pick up a distant signal, usually contaminated by a.m. radio static, from Nashville. There were early shows in those days, before the Opry began and I remember hearing Hank Williams Senior during his brief stint, both on the Opry and in life. They’re all gone now, those Grand Ole Opry stars of the 1950s—Red Foley, Roy Acuff, Carl Smith, Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Bill Monroe, Marty Robbins and…. Patsy Cline. Not to mention and not to forget Hawkshaw Hawins and Cowboy Copas who died in a plane crash with Patsy Cline.

I would haunt the radio until the closing of the Ernest Tubb record shop show after 1 AM. My high school peers probably were out on dates and few if any shared my enthusiasm for country music. To them Patsy Cline couldn’t hold a candle to Patti Page. As a social life it wasn’t much to brag about, but maybe that intense exposure to classic country in my early life gave me an appreciation for a musical dedicated to the memory of Patsy Cline that few today can share. Consider that most people today were not even born when Patsy Cline died. It is a tribute to the Cline talent that her songs and recordings became more popular after she died than when she was alive and that even today more than half a century after that tragic plane crash her voice still resonates as powerfully as it did for six short years of fame.

Anyone who has even a passing interest in country music knows that Patsy Cline died in a plane crash in 1963 after a brief (six-year) career as a superstar. Her legend now has spanned nearly 60 years since her death and her album of greatest hits has sold more than 10 million copies and continues to sell every day.

Her death, along with those of fellow Grand Ole Opry stars Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas and her manager and pilot Randy Hughes (Hughes was married to Copas’s daughter), was part of a seemingly unending tragedy. Hughes flew into bad weather, which already had canceled the commercial flight that Patsy was scheduled to take, and the plane crashed 85 miles short of Nashville. They were returning from Kansas City where Patsy had done a benefit performance for a local disc jockey (who had been killed in a car wreck). Days later, Jack Anglin, half of the singing dual of Johnny and Jack ( smash hits Poison Love and Ashes of Love) died in a car wreck en route to a memorial service for Patsy Cline.

Patsy Cline spearheaded the Me Too movement long before today’s women coined the phrase. More than just the best female vocalist in any area you care to name, she represented woman power at a time when women still were accessory items in a man’s world. She took no crap from anyone. She knew what she wanted from life and she seized it with authority, yet was beloved by everyone she ever associated with— and that includes two husbands, two children, and every legendary entertainer she worked with.
At one point in the performance, Patsy, spending the night with Louise, sings a lullaby to Louise’s two kids. She is off stage when she starts the song and after she gets the kids to sleep, she appears on stage, in a robe, clutching a teddy bear, and finishes the song. If there was a dry eye in the house it wasn’t mine.

Mixing comedy with heartrending drama, Louise opines that roadhouse dancing is about as much fun as anyone can have and comes off stage while the band is playing a song with a boogie-woogie beat and Patsy is singing. Louise grabs a guy from the front row and they dance. Maybe the guy was a plant who was part of the performance, but if not—if he actually was a local— he was a regular Fred Astaire of the beer joints and the two of them got an ovation when they finished.

Most of those who see the Patsy Cline musical know only the talent of the actor playing the part of Patsy Cline and what they know of her life is what they read about. I was there when it happened. I heard her live (by way of low-fi a.m. radio) on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium, standing on the hallowed spot in the middle of the stage where the featured performer was spotlighted. It’s my regret that I never saw her in person the way I have seen, for example, Willie Nelson, perhaps the last legend of that storied era of country music. Most of them now are gone and when I watch the Hee Haw reruns I can tick off the members of the cast who have died and there are more of them than those who are still alive.

According to the story, Louise Seger was so captivated by Patsy Cline’s voice on her radio that she pestered a local disc jockey to play Patsy Cline records so persistently that he finally gave in. And Seger also pursued a meeting with Patsy Cline when the already established star performed at Houston’s cavernous Esquire Ballroom and that’s how they became friends. Seger invited Cline to spend the night with her and the tired entertainer agreed.

On the night that Patsy Cline and Louise Seger stayed at Seger’s house, the story goes they sat around the kitchen table (which is part of the stage set in the musical) until 4 AM and Seger is quoted as saying we were “Talking over broken hearts, husband problems, children problems, love lost, love won. We sounded like two people writing country songs.”

We all know what happened to Patsy Cline but what about Louise Seger? It turns out she died quietly and peacefully October 28, 2004. Patsy Cline’s biographer recalls having met Seger for an interview: “We met in 1980 in Houston Texas. It was quite a scene: Louise showed up in a white Caddy convertible, and a white cowgirl outfit, with holsters of canned Buds on both sides looking every bit like a blonde Patsy!” Patsy Cline’s second husband, Charlie Dick, died in 2015. Her daughter, Julie Fudge, is the caretaker of the Cline legacy with a museum in Nashville.

There is a YouTube video of the entire production, shot from the audience, and of marginal quality but if it were a Hollywood production of the off-Broadway original it would not have half the quality of the Cripple Creek outing featuring Kelli Dodd as Patsy Cline and Rebecca Myers as Louise Seger. These two young actresses may never star on Broadway, but if not it would be a travesty. They are major league performers and outshine a video of the original musical cast. The miners of old may have been looking for gold in them thar hills but today’s theater goers found a pair of diamonds gracing the stage of the Butte Opera house.

Dodd mastered the Patsy Cline vocal sob to perfection and tore my heart out with her re-creation of Cline singing Faded Love, Sweet Dreams and other Cline classics that once came from Nashville through the static into our old Zenith and into my memory and my heart. But if anything, the night belonged to Myers as Louise Seger with more energy packed into her trim frame than a stick of dynamite. If anything, she reminded me of Betty Hutton, the original blonde bombshell of movie fame who created the role of Annie Oakley in the movie version of the Broadway stage production.

All in all, it was a magic afternoon capped off by a drive through the mountains where the aspens flamed against the dark green background of pines and the red rock bluffs added another color to the palette and Pike’s Peak loomed in the background like the massive Rocky Mountain presence that it is.

Marty and I are fans of musical productions and have been to many including The Music Man and the Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. We’ve seen South Pacific and Chicago at the Maples Repertory Theater in Macon, Missouri, Marty’s home town, and Mary Poppins at the Lyceum Theatre in Arrow Rock, Missouri, a rep company which has been in existence for many years and is nationally renowned.

But if we’re married another 62 years we will not duplicate the magical two hours spent high in the mountains of Colorado in what once was the location of a gold mining bonanza, in a venerable opera house, where once grizzled and weatherbeaten prospectors gathered for an evening of rustic entertainment. Some of them found gold in the hills around Cripple Creek. We found it in that old opera house and for two hours our lives were enriched beyond anything those 10,000 miners ever experienced in any given two hours of their hardbitten lives.  

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