Tag Archive | Texas

Flirting with Death–Growing Up Boomer

imagesRT5WAQE7If you grew up in the 50s, 60s, or 70s, it’s a miracle you’re alive. There’s a reason for the saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” In other words, raising your children with danger and bad medicine didn’t end with the discovery of seatbelts and penicillin.

I can hear my mother now: “If a little does a little good, a lot will do a lot of good.” This was her rationale for ignoring dosing instructions on over-the-counter medications. To her, a tablespoon was a serving spoon from the table. A teaspoon was the soup spoon. She cheerfully ladled out Pepto-Bismol to reverse my problem, then ladled out mineral oil to reverse the cure. I was almost grown before I knew medicine doses measured like salt and baking powder, not mashed potatoes.

My mother was a helicopter parent long before helicopters were invented. Maybe she was a spiro-gyro or hot air balloon parent. Worrying was a way of life for her, and we were first on her list. A sneeze or cough was enough to make her drag us off to the doctor, where we were guaranteed a penicillin shot. The miracle drug was dispensed for complaints big and small. After all, what’s the use of having a miracle drug, if you aren’t going to use it for everything? And if we were really sick, too sick to go downtown to the Medical Arts building to his office, the doctor would stop by our house on his way home, and he always had a supply of penicillin in his bag.

The bathroom medicine cabinet was full of over-the-counter remedies, too. Pepto-Bismol, iodine, mercurochrome, Little Black Pills, and Carter’s Little Liver Pills all played a role in keeping the family healthy. Bayer aspirin, and later Excedrin, were the cure-alls for headaches. Aspirin, hot tea, and dry toast was the treatment for cramps. Little Black Pills were for constipation, with Pepto for diarrhea. Cuts and abrasions called for iodine. Always. Period.

My parents would have fit right into the Stoics’ society. If there were no bones sticking out and no blood, you were fine. Suck it up and walk it off. Of course, first we had to annihilate the enemy of the Free World–germs. These little critters were a relatively new discovery when my parents were little, and their parents attacked them as if they were going after “Kaiser Bill.”

For a good part of my childhood, iodine was the poison du jour for medical germicide. Unfortunately, iodine felt like having lava poured into an open wound, probably because it had an alcohol base. Screaming because of the injury redoubled when I felt the cure.

There was a kinder, gentler antiseptic–mercurochrome. It didn’t burn nearly as badly, and much of the discomfort it caused could be eliminated by blowing on the wound until it dried. No one considered the fact that blowing germ-laden breath on an open wound was counter-productive. In addition, it didn’t seem to impress anyone negatively that the active ingredient was mercury. Yes, as in “permanent brain damage” mercury. Mercurochrome wasn’t banned as an over-the-counter product until 1998.

And speaking of mercury, we loved it when Mama dropped the thermometer while “shaking it down,”  shattering it on the tile bathroom floor. That provided a really cool, new toy to play with: mercury. We were fascinated by the way it “crawled” when it moved, and even more awed by how well it cleaned tarnish off dimes and nickels when we smeared it over the coins with our bare fingers.

Dental care was high on the list for “better living through chemistry.” When an Air Force dentist looked at my husband’s teeth and exclaimed, “Good grief, boy! You’ve got Cadillac teeth!” there was a brief moment of alarm, before Bryan realized this was a good thing. His hometown, Pasadena, Texas, was one of the first cities in the state to put fluoride in their drinking water. Consequently, cavities were rare, but their smiles looked like a “before” picture in a whitening gel commercial. The recipe needed a little fine tuning.

imagesQ4VRVBCKDDT trucks driving up and down the streets, spraying for mosquitoes, were also part of growing up in Pasadena. Bryan and his friends rode their bikes in the fog behind the trucks for fun.

If being endangered by your parents and health care professionals wasn’t enough, toymakers and Madison Avenue joined in, too. No cool kid would have dreamed of wearing a helmet when riding a bike. I remember my father saying, “Aw, she doesn’t have to wear one of those. Nothing’s going to happen. Besides, she can hardly see out from under it. That thing’s dangerous.” And why on earth would you need child-proof packaging on medications and drain cleaner? “Kids know better than to get into those.”

My brother had a chemistry set. He managed to make his room smell like dead fish for a month, but at least no one was killed. Early Gilbert Chemistry Sets included 56 chemicals, such as ammonium nitrate (a key ingredient in homemade bombs) and the poisonous and flammable potassium permanganate. The “Atomic” chemistry sets of the ’50s came with radioactive uranium ore. They got a little safer in the ’60s but weren’t really reined in until the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

imagesHT8EWSF6As if the sexy men and women puffing away in movies weren’t convincing enough, we were encouraged to smoke by actors dressed like doctors on television. No one had even heard of secondhand smoke. And remember candy cigarettes? I used to get them in my Christmas stocking.

Car seats and seatbelts were optional. imagesZYTDNG9FAnd lead-based paint, which causes brain and kidney damage, wasn’t outlawed until 1978. It was routinely used on cribs, among other things.

I don’t blame my parents. They only knew what they saw on TV and in the newspaper. I do blame the scientists and advertisers who knew these things were dangerous, even if they didn’t know the full extent. They ignored the fact that people were buying and using their poisons, and it really hasn’t changed much over the years. It seems like every day something is recalled or declared unsafe, something we did to our newborns is now considered deadly, and some medicine our parents gave us is now used to kill roaches.

There are seven billion people on the earth, and the population is growing. How can that be when we are doing our best to kill ourselves off? Maybe it’s the underdeveloped countries, whose people don’t have access to our medicines, cleaning products, and chemical-infused food, who are overpopulating. They better hope the don’t catch up to us. That could be a real health hazard.

Daytrippin’ the Hill Country

bluebonnetsIt looks like we’re finally going to have a Spring in Central Texas. It was touch-and-go there for a while, as the temperatures swung 30-40 degrees daily. They finally stabilized into a pattern more recognizable to the inhabitants.

There is something so comforting about seeing splashes of bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, and buttercups, even bordering the Austin freeways. Along with the not-easily-fooled mesquite tree finally budding out, these ironclad promises of spring make everyone feel more optimistic and adds  “spring” to the step.

When I was a child, spring showed up early in my mother’s iris beds. There were two clumps of bulbs planted in the middle of the front yard, one purple, one white. I loved to cut a white one and put it in a glass of water and red food color. Before long that pure white blossom would be tiger-striped, the red liquid sucked up  into every vein. I used green food coloring if there were any irises left for St. Patrick’s Day. The rest of the year the foliage served as something for me to leap over, as I practiced the world’s shortest long-jumps.

Some people plan trips to Paris (the one in France) or India, safaris in Africa, or mountaintop Incan ruins. Bryan and I plan one- or two-day trips in the Hill Country. We never tire of exploring the little towns, museums, and shops, and if we’re lucky, getting into conversations with friendly locals.
My favorite quotation is by the sportswriter/novelist Dan Jenkins: “What I love about Texans is, you ask them a question, they tell you a story.” That’s a major part of the charm in driving around Texas. If you mind your own business and fail to strike up a conversation in the shops and cafes, you’re missing out on a lifetime of stories.
Bryan and I have become fond of Johnson City. We “rediscovered” it when I attended a seminar for writers at their library. While I studied the craft, Bryan hiked around Pedernales Falls State Park. Before we left, a charmingly pushy librarian sold us tickets to their spaghetti/bingo fundraiser the next month.
I wrote about the event in the post, “London, Paris, Las Vegas…Johnson City?” (3-8-2013), where Bryan won a $50 gift certificate to Ronnie’s Ice House, totally unknown to us. It was several months before we got around to driving back up to JC and cashing in our prize.
Ronnies 3
      Ronnies 1Ronnie’s is kind of strange to city slickers, used to restaurants open most of the day and night. They are open from 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. every day but Sunday. We tend to plan our daytrips around Ronnie’s hours, but it’s worth it. The brisket is possibly the best I’ve ever eaten, so good I had to force myself to try the chicken (wonderful) or  the pork loin (life-changing).
I also like their sides, which go beyond the standard potato salad and beans to include corn salad, tomato and cucumber salad, and others. I’ve always meant to try one of their two desserts, buttermilk pie and pecan pie, but I’ve never had the room for it.
The interior, a cross between a hunting camp and a classic truckstop, is as friendly as the regulars who talk to each other across the room.
“How you doin’, friend?”
“Can’t complain. Wouldn’t do any good anyways. Where’s Mary?”
“She’s gettin’ ready to go to Austin. Gotta get a root canal.”
“Oh, Lord! You tell her we’ll be prayin’ for her.”
“I’ll do that. While you’re at it, say one for our bank account, too.”
It strikes a deep chord in anyone who grew up in Texas or would have liked to. And I’m not too citified to find all of this comforting and charming. If Norman Rockwell had been a Texan, the Saturday Evening Post’s covers would have regularly portrayed the inside of Ronnie’s.
Johnson City is a great staging area for side trips, too. Sometimes we visit Enchanted Rock to reminisce about when we could both climb it. It’s an easy jog to Fredericksburg for shopping, too. Last time we explored JC and visited the museum at the LBJ Childhood Home complex. I even managed a circuit on the walking path that circles several historic buildings.
If you want to unwind without a large time or cash investment, I recommend daytripping. Pretty soon you’ll get as excited over a visit to the Hill Country as a trip to Europe, which as my father used to say, is “just too far and snaky to go.”

The Loboto-mobile Rides Again – Dumbing Down Our Future


In 1936, Dr. Walter Freeman performed the first lobotomy in the United States. Over 3,000 procedures later, he performed his last lobotomy in 1967. For several years, he traveled from place to place in a van, which he called the “loboto-mobile,” bringing suborbital lobotomies to most of the U.S. He performed the procedure on such notables as actor Warner Baxter, Tennessee Williams’ sister, Rose, and John Kennedy’s sister, Rosemary. His stated goal was to relieve thousands from what he called “the burden of consciousness.”

The good doctor reached thousands; the lowering of the bar we have experienced in Texas over the past few years has effected millions. When school budgets are cut to the bone and beyond, when resident law enforcement officers are needed to provide a modicum of safety for students and teachers, and when the requirements to graduate from high school are gutted by the legislature, the future of all of us and our kids is moving from doubtful to hopeless.

Accountability testing requirements are reduced from fifteen to five: algebra, biology, U.S. history and tenth grade reading and writing. TENTH GRADE READING AND WRITING!! That means you only have to have the literacy level of a 15-year-old to get a high school diploma. They are increasing a de facto subclass, making even more employers demand a college degree for white collar jobs, because a high school diploma is meaningless. When an employer or employment agency has you take several tests–mostly in reading and writing–before letting you interview, will they really be impressed by your tenth grade level performance?

The effect of lowering the bar–yet again–for education in Texas is to lobotomize an entire generation. Students tend to live up or down to expectations of them. They will be vastly relieved to learn they can stop listening after tenth grade. If dumbing down our future isn’t enough of an incentive, how about the economic repercussions? Companies will stop moving to Texas, because their employees won’t want to move here because of the poor education offered. And forget hiring the locals. They won’t be able to fill out the application forms.

How can people vote into office candidates who are willing to relieve our children of the “burden of consciousness”? There is a reason every dictator’s first targets are the intelligentsia–the well-educated and potential leaders who don’t fall for their drivel. By allowing our legislature to dumb down the populace legally, we are saving them trouble of rounding us up and executing us. The people who want the right to bear automatic weapons are the same ones who want the right to dumb down our future. Think about it.

Texas History for the Birds?

This monument stands in a charming little park in San Antonio. It shows Old Ben Milam asking who will follow him into Bexar (San Antonio). The row of pigeons resting on his rifle struck me as funny, but I reasoned it was better to be for the birds than go to the dogs.

Being Texan is a fulltime job. At work or play, we are Texans. When traveling abroad, if asked where we hail from, the answer is always, “Texas!” Not America or the U.S., but Texas. Only the most remote Amazon natives would fail to recognize the name, and even they might get it, given a few additional hints like, “Dallas! The Alamo! Willie Nelson!”

Texans aren’t just born; we’re made. We teach Texas history in elementary and middle school.  Prospective teachers have to pass a course in Texas history to get certified. We won’t let you near our kids if you don’t Remember the Alamo.

Texas history classes also serve to educate those seeking naturalized Texan citizenship. In the 19th century, Texas was the destination for thousands of settlers who wanted do-overs on the American Dream. My own mother was born in Tennessee. She travelled via the great Tennessee-Texas Turnpike, a little-known piece of infrastructure used whenever that state was tilted, causing about half its population to roll downhill into Texas. This explains why most Texans know that “holler” doesn’t only mean “to yell,” a fact unknown in New Mexico or Arizona.

Many of our early Texas heroes were known for glorious, lopsided battles in which they were killed. Later on they were known for glorious, lopsided battles in which they did the killing–of bandits, rustlers, Native Americans, and shepherds. Still later, they became famous for glorious, lopsided mineral rights deals, which brought millions of dollars to the oil companies and gave the landowners a fine down payment on a new chicken.

Like Willie, my heroes have always been cowboys. It’s hard to view them in their natural habitat, the working ranch, but if you avoid the interstates and take smaller state roads, you will see them in the towns. You don’t have to hang out in ranch stores where they sell exotics like squeeze chutes and calving chains. All you have to do is drop in at the local café VERY early in the morning. About 6:00 a.m. they meander in, take their usual chair at their usual table, and greet their look-alike friends with a nod and as few words as possible. The waitress doesn’t ask for their orders; she just brings their coffee, hot and strong, and keeps the refills coming.

Their lives are etched on their faces. Eyes crinkle at well-worn stories, while they stir their coffee to cool it down. After a while, displaying true telepathy, they shift their eyes from one to another, unfold themselves from their chairs, and leave, a ritual repeated in a hundred little cafes every day.

No Texan questions teaching our kids Texas history. Crockett, Houston, Travis, et al are prologue to history still being made. It’s not being made in Dallas or Houston but in little cafes in tiny towns that dot the state. The people in those towns remember the Alamo, the Dustbowl, when local oil fields played out, and the years they found a way to feed their livestock when it would have been smarter to shoot them. Texas history isn’t for the birds. It’s for Texans.