Friday, February 19, 2010

My Main Man!

IN HONOR of Black History Month – I shall pay homage to my favorite American hero. If you know me at all – Michael Jordan may come to mind immediately. Although a true icon and, to me, a real live super-hero, MJ isn’t my first pick.

If you know me well – you will have no problem understanding why I choose George Washington Carver to pay tribute to this month. It’s actually for a couple of reasons. Initially, this idea came from the realization that I must eat healthier and must diet to get down to my target weight of 175lbs by my birthday, June 30th. It will be quite a milestone, but with each butter knife swipe of my favorite food, invented by GWC, it might be a little difficult.

When God gave Carver’s George the idea to smash peanuts into a paste, I am pretty sure that he didn’t have it in mind that someone would actually spend nearly fifty years eating enough of the delicacy to fill a medium size bedroom.

I guestimated a couple of months ago, that over my lifetime, I have consumed – wait – “enjoyed” enough peanut butter to fill my bedroom. Stacking the 20oz jars to the ceiling and against the walls – it comes to over 22,000 ounces of the most spreadable delicious, outstanding combination of sweet and salty that exists. About 600 jars - or ¾ of a ton. You can figure about a third more of that amount would be in jelly and someplace – one must fit in a dumptruck load of bread, Ritz Crackers, or saltines, vanilla wafers, or Wheat Thins. And then when you are done with that appetizer – you could probably add enough prepackaged Nabs to fill the cab of that dumptruck. Probably two cabs.

And while you are at it – fill a half a truck bed with just roasted peanuts and the other half with Snickers, Twix, Reece’s, and other goodies that include goobers. I am sure that I have consumed a shopping cart full of boiled ones as well.

Oh yes, and don’t forget my favorite liquid accompaniment to those delectable peanut butter treats. Chocolate milk mostly, but a heckuvalot of chocolate milkshakes, 2%, and every now and then, sweet iced tea, and pop.

Over the recent years, I have become guilt-ridden with having lustful thoughts of the barbeque ribs, french fries and other heart-stopping favorites that have made their way somewhat through my blood. But I have never felt guilty about a single spoonful of peanut butter or a peanut-filled Pepsi bottle. Peanuts and Me - we were made for each other. Just like George.

George Washington Carver must have been a tremendous soul. He didn’t patent peanut butter when he first happened by it in the early 1900’s. He always felt that food was God’s gift to us – he could take no credit. Well – it’s probably best he didn’t – because after the abuse I have put the poor stuff through – I wouldn’t want George to feel bad if my veins harden into pretty much the same stuff he created on that wonderful day when he was working his way through research that would account for his book “How to grow a Peanut and 105 ways of Preparing it for Human Consumption.” Dang, I have only made it to 86...must - eat - more - pean...

Finally – the second and most selfless reasons to celebrate the life of George Washington Carver. He was born the son of a slave woman in Missouri on the Carver plantation. During the Civil War, his family was sent away and scattered about Arkansas. When baby George was located – Moses Carver traded a race horse for him and he was returned to the plantation. Although he was “free” he remained there until he was about 12 years old when he left to seek an education. I can’t imagine any of my kids taking off on their own to seek anything but a Nintendo DS and a slice of pizza and sure they would return home for dinner.

Truly amazing. Aside from inspiring the entire agriculture industry, GWC’s story should be most inspiring to anyone.

Go here if you find his story as interesting as I do.

An extraordinarily humble man – all of his work, he claimed was done to the Glory of God. “He testified on many occasions that his faith in Jesus was the only mechanism by which he could effectively pursue and perform the art of science.” As you may guess – he inspired as much criticism as he did praise. The man couldn’t catch a break – but it is almost as if he never heard the noise. He kept right to his research in Alabama and to his faith and love of people.

A terrific quote from George: "When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world."

And as written on his tombstone:
He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.

Today – I thank George Washington Carver for all his contributions to this world. His patience, his humility, his faith, and love of humankind and plantkind.

I am hopeful that Mr. Carver’s generous attributes will influence me as I launch my latest health regime and kick the lifelong addiction to his most heavenly contribution. From this day forward until my birthday in June - I will try very hard - to skip the Skippy.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Searching for Summer

This winter, visions of summer are seeping through the cells of my brain. Collecting bits of mind media that contain drops of lake water, sweat, and iced tea swim through my veins while I stare at my lonely snow shovel.

"Searching for Summer." A ripped off title. Stole it. Took it from a great writer by the name of Jim Shahin.

If any of you have ever flown American Airlines in the last twenty years - you may have run across Jim's writing. Many a time, I climbed aboard awaiting a fresh copy of American Way magazine to quickly thumb through to find his monthly slice of life story. In a Ray Romano meets Garrison Keillor sort of way, Jim is a great observer and storyteller.

I have a short bookshelf next to my bed. This morning I grabbed an old notebook with lyrics in it to see if any great ideas needed to be finished. The bookmark inside was a torn out page from American Way. "Searching for Summer" by Jim Shahin.

Not so different from my "Can you taste Summertime?" poem. The longing for simple pleasures. Summertime pleasures. But Jim's ideal summer pleasures don't come from playing church softball or skinny dippin' or bike riding. But the lazy sort. The basking. The languishing state of torpor, as he quips from a Faulkner novel.

Ah-h-h, the beauty he reveals in boredom. Hammocks, back porches and blankets in the backyard. Where did all that go? Well, Jim claims that summer went to camp.

Personally, I think summer has gone digital.

What I really want to talk about is a slice of summer, possibly from 1970. Which wasn't that different from '69 or '71, or even 1972. Jim's affinity for the boredom of yesteryear took me back to the days when my best friend Noel and I lived large on nothing. I know times change, but values don't. The values that come from being lower middle-class and growing up in rural North Carolina were probably invaluable.

I have three boys. I can guarantee that they have never spent the day collecting thumb length crawdads to sell to the local bait shop so they could buy a grape Nehi and a pack-a-nabs. To split.

I love video games, but twenty years from now I won't remember a scene in Halo as vividly as I do the far gone days spent at Old Man Parson's Used Bike Shop longing for a banana seat and some chopper forks. Sure - I can go on missions to Vietnam in a terabyte second, but I can't take my Bandaided toes down a hot, sandy tobacco barn road ever again. Well, not as a lazy and free 11 year old. When each summer day is a magical boring nugget.

One thing about my kids though - when they were younger, I used to tell them "stories from mouth" after reading one from a book before bed. They requested stories about my and Noel's adventures. Perhaps we seemed like Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. Huck who? Right.

If I ramble on about this long enough I won't have to feel sorry for Mr. Shovel, but I shall close with run-on sentences about the summer of 1970.

Cut-off shorts atop our tighty whities. N'er a stitch more. Two beat up 20-inch bikes, two buzzed-headed barefooted boys. Streams of sweat streaking their way down our dirty faces. Codenames for the ones we loathed who yelled at us for cutting through their backyards and "ruining the grass." What was grass for if it won't fer runnin' through?

Mowing lawns for three bucks so we could afford to go to the skatin' rink on Saturday. Green feet. More Bandaids. Dirty rings around our necks and dust in our ears. Grins on our faces.

I recall one of those adventurous days concluding with a dappled sunset shining through the sycamore trees with Noel and me swinging on a rusty old swingset. The legs coming up out of the ground as we'd reach for that sun with our chins. We were singing a song we learned in church, "Jesus, is Coming Soon." Noel answering with the harmonies his mama taught him. "Trumpets will surely sound!"

And they still do when I search for summer in my darkest days and stress-cluttered mind.

Every kid should have a best friend and every adult, a simple boring summer memory.

What is yours?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Can You Taste Summertime?

I can…

In the rain that falls in June on my face with my palms held high.
In the vanilla ice cream we churn outside …that’s summertime.

In the homegrown tomatoes and watermelons that I bite.
Through the window screen on a hot August night –
When the wind blows just right.

On a dusty dirt road in the country – while riding my bike
I can taste summer in sweet iced tea with a lemon slice.

In the drink that I take from a garden hose – while washing Dad’s car
and in the fresh strawberries from my Granny’s backyard.

In the misty night air while chasing zipping fireflies
and in fried catfish that I eat at the lake in July.

In the green grass when it grows and when it’s mowed
I can taste it when it blows and blows.

Yes I can taste summertime almost any time it seems -
thinking summertime thoughts in my February dreams.

Brian Hilligoss, 2004