Whoops I missed Mardi Gras. I’ve been missing it for years actually. One of these days I’m going to get there. Well, perhaps I can make up ground with St. Patty’s Day in a few weeks. Bring on the corned beef and cabbage.
Last night was wild here. I woke up around 11:30 to a bright blast of light outside the window followed by a roll of thunder which had the whole house shaking. Boo, the Queen of Cats, was but a white blur passing my face as she went airborne. Mother Nature at her best. Thunder storms amp me up. My mother claims she spent most of her pregnancy with me hiding under her bed in her Montreal flat, terrified of the electric storms prone to the area. Maybe this has something to do with it. I’ve been in some truly horrific storms leaving me with an understanding of why some people feel compelled to chase tornadoes. The sheer power of nature can be magnetic.
Southern storms were intense. If you’ve read my blogs about my time in both Arkansas and Alabama I’ve often referred to the weather there, leaning in the warmer months to sticky hot days with brief drenching rains. Many times I stood watching in wonder as fingers of lightning poked down through the clouds stabbing at the ground in the fields beyond my house in Alabama. Rain would pelt down at such a pace it would actually ricochet back up against itself. Culverts became rivers before the clock had passed an hour. Trees bent nearly to the ground with the weight of the onslaught. Awesome.
Muscle Shoals, an Alabama city located at the extreme northwest corner of Alabama is known for producing music. It was my home for just under a year. Our house was in a middle class neighborhood noted for its spacious lots and hospitable inhabitants. When I think of Alabama, and certainly Arkansas, I think of green. Lush overgrowth, evidence of liberal watering, is visible everywhere you rest your eyes. The verdant fields grew quickly with the ample irrigation, and during the summer often required frequent mowing to keep the grass at bay. Our yard was no exception. At times after allowing our Shih Tzu out to do what dogs do in the grass, I’d have to look for a glimpse of black and white between the tall blades to locate her once again.
We rented. While on the road during the construction years we always rented. Home was where we were at the moment so there was little chance to spread out roots out and settle in. The house in Alabama was owned by an older couple, odd by most standards. Sug and Pat owned several rentals in the area living in the largest of their properties with their only son, Pat, Jr., J.R. to his friends. J.R. had spent a good portion of his thirty-four years on earth making a profession of spending his parents considerable assets. According to Sug, the matriarch of the family, he was very good at his job. Fortunately for all concerned, Sug and Pat were highly successful real estate brokers who managed their finances well, so as quickly as J.R. spent it the coffers were replenished. When speaking of her son she often said, “that boys about as handy as a back pocket on a shirt”. On reflection, I believe this not to be an unfair description. Sug was perpetually “under construction”, as she referred to her endless series of plastic surgeries. I have no reference other than a few pictures on her wall of what the woman originally looked like but I had a feeling it was far afield from the visage she presented when I knew her.
I liked that house. It was a single story brick home with a huge kitchen sporting a bank of picture windows capturing the lovely view of the pastures beyond the borderline fence. A lovely bright place to cook with copious counter space, it was usually the gathering place for friends and family when they stopped by for a visit. Neighbors were well, neighborly, there. Before the first week had gone by the families on either side of us had stopped by to say hello and the lady across the street had presented me with a bag of freshly harvested beefsteak tomatoes, huge red and green peppers, and a bottle of home brewed beer by way of welcoming us aboard.
The back yard was huge. With the aid of the large windows facing out on it from the kitchen also quite visible. Grass grew there at an alarming rate, and inside the long flowing blades a huge community of creepies and crawlies made their home. If possible, I avoided going through the jungle, and when I did I wore long pants. Often you came out the other side with more creatures on board than when you went in. During the summer months the thermometer teetered well up over the 100 mark most days and humidity was extremely high often producing a spurt of rain midday. I couldn’t manage the upkeep of the yard by myself with our push mower, and my husband who was pulling long shifts at the refinery had little time for lawn care.
Sug, at least I think it was Sug, as she was fully bandaged from her most recent tour of the local surgical facilities, suggested J.R. was the man for the yard clean up. To this end she threw in the use of her riding lawn mower. J.R. enjoyed a beer on occasion. From the looks of him he considered everything from making an omelet to brushing his teeth an occasion. He arrived early on a Saturday morning, a small trailer hitched to his pick up truck toting the lawn mower. I hoped he wouldn’t generate any sparks because if he ignited the alcohol he was emitting with every breath it would likely level the block.
Watching J.R. drive the lawn mower down the trailer’s ramp without mishap, I returned to what I was doing. Occasionally I could see his head go by above the tall grass. Noticing a while later it had gone quiet, and seeing no J.R. in sight, I went out to investigate. The lawn was amazing. Crop circle artists had nothing on this guy. The lawn mower sat silent on one end of the yard with J.R. prone in the grass at its side. At first I thought he was dead. On closer inspection I could see his chest rise and fall. Surveying the damage, for a moment I thought I might kill him myself.
Finally able to rouse him I asked what was going on. It seemed the mower and J.R. were both out of gas. With my lawn half mown, we contemplated how to get the mower back on the trailer with no gas to propel it. It was determined I would sit on the mower and J.R. would push me until I picked up enough speed to drive it up the ramp. Right. Laurel and Hardy have thought of more plausible schemes then that one.
At any rate, seventeen attempts later I somehow made it up the ramp and onto the trailer without flying off the other end. J.R., well he was prone again. My neighbor across the street ambled on over. Taking off his hat he scratched his head and pretty well summed it up by saying, “Girl, I believe I can die now sayin I’ve seen it all”. That weekend I hired my neighbor’s son to finish the job. Easy peasey.
My mother was not happy about my move to Arkansas. People from the north often hold onto old stereotypes about southern living which don’t hold water in present times. Sure I would be picking my teeth with a blade of hay and shooting turkeys off the back porch I sent her a picture similar to this one with the caption, “Good news, we’ve found a house to rent”. Don’t think she ever forgave me for that.
For the salad:
3 hearts of rommaine, washed and chopped
1 avocado, peeled and diced
1/2 red onion, sliced and quartered
1 hard boiled egg, sliced
1/2 English cucumber, peeled and diced
4 large mushrooms, sliced thin
6 small tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/3 cup feta cheese
1/4 cup green pepper, diced
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients in salad bowl. Toss with vinaigrette just before serving.
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. scallions, chopped fine
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. dried tarragon
6 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
6 Tbsp. peanut oil
6 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place mustard, scallions, red pepper flakes, dried tarragon, and red wine vinegar in bottom of bowl. Whisk briskly until well blended. While continuing to whisk slowly add oils. Salt and pepper to taste.