Friday, February 22, 2013

Life Always Has Its Lumps

Lots of things transpired during my 6 month blog hiatus. Turns out, life rolls on whether you blog about it or not. The high, lows and everything in between. Once upon a time I shared them all with y'all because that is how friends are. And frankly doing so helped hone my writing skills and turn me into a better writer. 

Today I'd like to share some of my writing that also happens to tie into perhaps the most significant event that happened during my blogging hiatus.

I was raised by a single mother that had to work full-time to support me and my brother. I was lucky enough to have a great set of grandparents that also were heavily involved in my life. Many of y'all have read the memoir I wrote about my grandfather's passing in conjunction with the birth and subsequent heart surgery of my oldest son.  Sadly back in December my grandmother joined my grandfather in the everafter. 
My Granny Howery shaped who I am as she was second only to my mom in influence in my life. As many of you know I've been working on a comedic memoir/cookbook/manifesto title Lettuce Is The Devil. Until my grandmother's passing I'd never shared one scrap of that project, but Chapter 3 showcased much of how I felt and was influenced by my grandmother so I shared it on Facebook and today I want to share it with those of you who do not follow me there. Today I've added a few photos to enhance the story.

From Chapter 3 of Lettuce Is the Devil : The Culinary Dogma of a Devout Meat Man

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve proclaimed the words, “Lettuce is the Devil,” I’d have enough money to purchase a lush mountain valley, complete with a herd of well-marbled Bonsmara beef cattle and a gurgling stream, teaming with fat and hungry trout and meandering by a nice spacious log cabin, containing two huge copper beer vats -- full to the brim of dark malty ale. Yes, my friends I would be in Meat Man utopia. 

But alas, spreading the gospel has not brought me that kind of fame or fortune to this point, which is why I thank you for purchasing this tomè and helping to remedy that gross injustice. Furthermore, now seems like a fine time for me to point out that this book would make a fine gift to all your friends, family and fellow countrymen, whether they happen to already be a righteous member of the meat loving brethren in need of fellowship, or a sinful, veggie-phyte in dire need of enlightenment.

Now let’s get back to my personal motto, “Lettuce is the Devil.” Upon utterance of these ever-so-truthful words I am met with a wide variety of responses. 

A fellow Meat Man is likely to offer an immediate high-five, or perhaps a military salute, whereas a vegetarian is apt to give a nervous chuckle. Vegans often swoon and faint on the spot, but given their frail and anemic dispositions that is no rare occurrence. 

The vast majority of omnivores respond with a question. “Okay, I’ll bite,” they say. “If lettuce is the devil, what is God?”


The All-Mighty. 

Lord Of All Creation.

No food can live up to such lofty titles, so it is at this point I have to explain that when I say … “Lettuce is the Devil,” I don’t mean in the physical, forked tail and gleaming red eyes kind of way, so much as I mean the ultimate evil -- the epitome of the joy-sapping darkness draining all happiness and color from this world.

Therefore, the Anti-Devil, the divine, the most heavenly edible on this earth is not to be thought of as creator or even as the All-Knowing deity that people the world over turn to in times of need. No, the culinary king of peace, the messiah of mealtime is more of a savory savior. A righteous symbol of all that is good and right in the universe. It makes the dinner place a better place to sit. It heals, soothes, nourishes, and brings hope to even the most horrendous of slop. 

So what is this virtuous vittle? 

Steak -- perhaps, a nicely marinated rib-eye, or maybe even a porterhouse?


I concede steak is a worthy and wholesome meal, as well as a palate pleasing source of nutrition, but not even a perfectly cooked piece of beef can heal everything it touches. Steak does not make everything it comes in contact with taste better.

Bacon then you say? Surely it must the God of meats. After all, it makes everything it touches taste better. People even sprinkles bits of it on salad to improve the taste.

You are correct. Lettuce munchers do use bacon, and let me add what a terrible waste of pig flesh. Bacon, the candy of the meat world can and will help to cover the vile taste of the evil green one, but despite its tasty crunch and satisfying flavor, bacon is not The One, for it lacks the soothing tranquility necessary to bring about change. And the pure and holy food would never allow itself to be associated with bits of salad.

I hear the rumblings of the congregations, the impatience of the doubting Thomases. Not steak. Not Bacon.

They are the dynamic duo. The superheroes of the butcher shop. What meat could possibly be more righteous than either steak or bacon?

Hold onto your cleaver my friends, but the Yahweh of Yummy is not technically even a meat.

The Anti-Devil, The Supreme Culinary Comfort, the Dietary Deity is … Brown Gravy.

Do not be fooled its viscous nature, Brown Gravy's classification as food is steadfast and solid. Beverages are served in glasses, mugs, bottles, cans, and a variety of stemware. Dipping sauces come in dainty little bowls and ramekins. But like the very forefathers that forged this nation, Brown Gravy arrives in a boat.

Brown Gravy is forged from the juice of meat. Its base, the savory fluid, is the very essence of meat. But in a display of tolerance, love, and harmony Brown Gravy combines this delectable nectar with flour, the powdery essence of the wheat plant and transforms into the most holy of foods. Thick and meaty of flavor, and capable of supper time salvation, Brown Gravy can turn a plain ground beef patty into a hamburger steak. Let me say that again. Ground beef into a steak. Remind you of someone famous that once turned water into wine? 

Let me hear an AMEN!

And along those same lines it is said Jesus fed the masses with but a few loaves and a couple of fish. My mother used to do the same thing, only on a smaller scale, by feeding her two hungry teenage boys with half a pound of round steak and a boatload of Brown Gravy. No one knows how to stretch the budget better than a single mom.

But Brown Gravy’s miraculous ability to save does not end there. Picture this … you have a grill full of burgers going when that hot neighbor next door decides to mow her lawn. In a string bikini. Distracted you fail to notice the flare-ups. In a matter of minutes your tasty burgers shrivel and die. You could feed the dry, hockey puck like patties to the dog, but the game is about to start so you don’t have to time to cook yourself more. What is a Meat Man to do? Easy, whip up a quick batch of brown gravy, pour the ambrosia over the burgers and all is well for everyone but Fido.

Or your time of crisis could come as a result of your wife’s hysterectomy, when taking pity on you, your mother-in-law brings over her “World Famous” meatloaf to help feed the family. Until that moment in time you never realized “World Famous” was a synonym for bland, tasteless, and dry, but as your starving kids gaze upon you with those sad, do-we-really-have-to-eat-this eyes you remember that packet of brown gravy just sitting up there in the cupboard waiting to embrace a bad meal and turn it into something good.

I’ll grant you that fresh, totally homemade Brown Gravy, the kind grandma used to make is the best, but part of the beauty of Brown Gravy is that even emergency rations, such as the powder-filled, ready-made packets, offer hope and peace in times of need.

Legend has it that as a small child I’d eat anything. Whirled peas, spinach, purred carrots. My family tells me this was the case until just after my fourth birthday when I got deathly sick, and ran a high temperature for days,. They say I laid there sweating and shivering in that hospital bed. They say I nearly died. They say, the day my fever broke was the last day I was willing to eat vegetables.

Now I suppose there are several ways to explain this change. Perhaps I saw a light and realized life is too damned short to spend eating crap that tastes like weeds and lawn clippings. Perhaps I figured out eating all that “nutritious” stuff damn near killed me. Perhaps a carnivorous angel watched over me and whispered meaty lullabies in my ear while my body fought to survive. Truthfully, I don’t really care what brought about the change, I’m just mighty glad the truth found me, and at such an early age that my body, mind, and taste buds were not tainted beyond repair. 

Not that my family didn't try to perpetuate the damage. As the saying goes, misery loves company so my kinfolk, especially my mom, tried to turn me back to vegetables. For years, I battled my mom and others at mealtime.

You can’t go outside and play until you eat EVERYTHING on your plate.
How are you ever going to grow up big and tall if you don’t eat your veggies?
I don’t care if we have to sit here all night neither one of us is getting up from the table until you’ve eaten those three green beans. 

Yep, we had some battles.

My mom won her share, but this book is evidence that in the end, she lost the war.

Lucky for me, I could count on one steady and constant ally. – my Grandmother, or Granny Howery as I called her. 

Granny Howery not only told everyone else to leave me alone, but fearing my stubborn streak would lead to starvation, she went out of her way to make the few things I was willing to eat. Like Brown Gravy. And no one, made Brown Gravy like my Granny Howery.

It didn’t matter what else she cooked my grandmother ALWAYS made a batch of Brown Gravy, special for me. Many a time the family ate casserole, or goulash, or stew while I dipped fresh, hot buttery dinner rolls in Brown Gravy.

“Oh, leave him alone,” my grandmother would say to my mom, aunts, and uncles. “At least he’s eating something.”

Granny Howery steadfastly defended me to others, but in private she’d sometimes whisper, “You really should eat some vegetables. You don’t wanna get rickets.”

To this day I’m not sure what rickets actually is, but I do know I never got them, and at six-foot five, and nearly three-hundred pounds I’m kind of glad I didn’t eat all that stuff, for I do believe I’m as big and strong as anybody needs to be.

Not all Brown Gravy is as good or smooth as Granny Howery’s Brown Gravy, sometimes there are even a few lumps in it, but you know what? Life ain’t always fair, or easy. A Meat Man, however, knows how to deal with the trouble. A Meat Man embraces all situations. A Meat man follows Covenant #3 ...


Like I said, me and my mom waged many a battle over my Meat Man or in those days, Meat Boy, diet. My dad was even worse, but given the fact he only showed up every six months or so those conflicts were sporadic at best. 

By the time I was seven or eight my mom had begun to realize the cause was lost. She'd mostly given up the fight, except when others were around. I suppose she feared criticism of her parenting skills for allowing me to eat only meat and bread. Maybe she worried they would call CPS and turn her in for not providing proper nutrition. Heck, maybe they all whispered in her ear, “That boy is gonna get rickets if you don’t start making him eat his vegetables.” All I know is the last real skirmish of our war occurred at a family function up in Denver, Colorado. Had we been boxers, it would've been dubbed – The Mile High Melee.

I believe it was a funeral, but I suppose it could’ve been a wedding. Whatever the reason we'd made the six hour trek north and were staying with some cousins. There was lots of extended family around. So many that we kids were not allowed in the kitchen to make our own plates. Given that we were nearly four hundred miles from Granny Howery’s kitchen the chances were slim to none that Brown Gravy would be served, so I was already dreading the meal, even before my mom handed over my plate.

A slice of ham, a dinner roll, some kind of nasty pink marshmallowy casserole stuff, and three green beans. Staring down in horror, I didn’t realize those three green beans were about to be the stuff of legend. Sorry Jack, but no tale of beans, yes even those of Fee-Fi-Fo fame, has spawned as much grief for their owner as that trio of legumes did me.

I ate the ham.
I ate the biscuit.
I fed the pink marshmallow goo to my cousins' Afghan hound, but the big hairy bastard wouldn’t eat so much as one of the green beans.

Man’s best friend my ass. A few years later that same Afghan sunk its teeth into my hand and I have no doubt the bite was retaliation for my repeated attempts to poke those beans down its throat. Never before, or after, did the pooch show even the slightest sign of aggression.

After a while my mom wandered over to the kids table. “You’re not going to go play with the other kids until you eat those green beans.”

I stared at her.
She stared back.

“Hurry up, Travis,” said my cousin Keith. “So we can go outside and play hide and seek.”

I shot him a look.

“Fine, I’ll eat them for you,” he said.

“Oh no you won’t,” chimed in my mom from across the room. “Earlier she hadn’t been paying a damned bit of attention, but now she was in heat seeking missile mode. Maybe she’d seen the Afghan licking his pink lips and realized I’d do anything to avoid eating the undesirable elements on my plate.

I sat there.
I begged.
I pleaded.
I cried.
I pouted.
And eventually got my way --sort of.

I was forced to go to bed extra early, while my cousins ran and played. But, I didn’t eat those three green beans.

The funeral, wedding or whatever it was had been the day before so the next morning the family loaded up a Winnebago and headed into the snowy mountains. This was the late seventies, so the RV was one of those huge, tin-boxes on wheels. Our clan was headed up near Winter Park to go tubing. We kids sat in the back, staring out the Winnebago’s rear window while making rude gestures at the unlucky motorists behind us. All the way up the mountain pass, my cousins teased me about having to go to bed early ... all because I wouldn’t eat three stupid green beans.

Bean boy.
Jolly Green Crybaby.

I took the taunts of my older cousins with all the grace, dignity, and unassuming gusto as any eight-year-old boy would. By whining, crying and complaining to any adult that would listen. But I didn't find so much as a single sympathetic ear as they all too thought I should've eaten those three green beans. Granny Howery had stayed back in Denver with the other senior set.

Things settled down when we reached out destination and we’d been tubing the better part of the day when it happened.

For those who have never gone tubing let me explain this rather simple activity. You take a inflatable inner tube, flop yourself down on it and slide down the mountain.

The laidback tuber prefers the butt in the hole position, as if they were simply floating along a gentle river, whereas the more daring folk assumed a belly down deployment so as to hurdle down the mountainside head first. Either way, getting from point A, at the top of the hill, to point B, several hundred yards down the hill, was relatively easy. Gravity did all the work.

However, getting from point B, back to Point A, was not nearly as convenient. In those days the process involved laying supine on the tube and holding onto a handle which was attached to a cable which pulled you back up. Sounds rather innocent, but after a long day of fun my eight-year-old arms began to tire.

There I was, getting hauled back to the top for the umpteenth time when I simply gave out and let go.

Gravity took over.

I plunged downward.

Sliding feet-first, I went no more than seven or eight feet before I collided with my mom. In a domino case of cause and effect, my snow boots impacted the side of her head, bringing about the release of her tenuous grip. With two tubers hurling down it wasn't long until a slew of folks were gathered up in an avalanche of flesh and rubber heading the wrong direction. Most happened to be related to me, but there were a few unsuspecting and innocent strangers among the disgruntled and battered bodies at the bottom of the hill.

Some were groaning, a few were cussing and most were trying to assess their various bumps, scrapes and bruises when Keith piped up and said, “Dang, it Travis. You should’ve eaten those three green beans.”

Three decades have passed since then. One for each of those green beans and yet, to this day I am known as the-kid-who-wouldn’t-eat-his-veggies. The family still talks about their minor injuries that day as if they lost limbs and shed copious amounts of blood, but they have never found a empathetic listener in me. For I know, had they fed me Brown Gravy rather than a trio of legumes, they could have easily avoided their lumps.


Unknown said...

Funny! I will eat grean beans and most veggies but they don't satisfy like roast beef, chicken and noodles, steak or a nice juicy burger!

Kelly DeBie said...

My dad was the same way with peas, even as an adult. He had a fond affection for brown gravy too. I have a feeling you would have gotten along splendidly.

Keep at it, show the world. This is good stuff.

Hilary said...

Gravy on your beans might have been a happy compromise..

I'm sorry for the loss of your Grandmother, Travis. Thanks for sharing this tale which introduced her and her gravy-making charm.


hey little's by you?

Bernice Simpson said...

Deliciously funny.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Yes, my brother, I lurves me the gravy too. Your praise of its spiritual truth is entirely appropriate.

It's so great your Grandma always made you her wonderful gravy. I bet you were her favourite!

Young at Heart said...

Hilarious....I was the same about gravy!! Still am and have passed my dislike onto my son.......however a bacon sarni is still very hard to beat....!!

Eric said...

I'm sorry for your loss, Travis. Having grown up without my grandparents, I can only envy those who had such treasured moments. As for the book, it obviously has all the flair of your previous works. I expect to be in stitches from beginning to end. Oh, and don't think I didn't notice that the three bean incident happened in my home town, where I still reside :-)

Anne Gallagher said...

I wish my daughter was old enough to truly understand this post. I am forever hiding vegetables in her mac and cheese. She's forever giving them to the dog.

Great story. Thanks for sharing your memories of your grandmother.

David Cranmer said...

I'm very sorry for the loss of your Grandmother, Travis. Mine all passed away in the 1980's and '90's. Still miss them.