Saturday, December 24, 2011

Granny Franny's Cole Slaw

It's been nearly 40 years since my mom, Frances, passed away. One of the great pains in my and my brother's lives is that our kids never had a chance to meet her. But they know her. She left us with many great stories that we've shared with the kids, who in our house call her "Granny Franny."

One of the tangible ways I've been able to share my memories of her and my dad, Courtlan (who also died much too young) with my kids is through some of the recipes I've posted on this blog.

A few weeks ago I got a message on Facebook from Cathy Toney, a Madisonville friend who very nearly became my step-sister (a story for another time). Cathy mentioned that she had made cole slaw from my mom's recipe. I had vague memories of that dish (cole slaw wasn't a big favorite of mine when I was young), and certainly didn't have the recipe anywhere in my files. Cathy provided the recipe and I decided I would make it as a side dish for this year's Christmas dinner (yes, cole slaw is a perfectly suitable side for our traditionally unorthodox Christmas-day meal).

Granny Franny's Cole Slaw

Dressing:
7/8 cup of sugar
1 cup vinegar
2/3 cup salad oil

1 head cabbage, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
sprinkle liberally with dried mustard
sprinkle with celery seed

Mix everything together and let chill.

When I first read the recipe I was a little amazed at the amount of sugar. But then, thinking about what we ate growing up in Kentucky during those years, yeah, it made sense. As Brother Dave said, we're still wearing a lot of that sugar around our guts.

When I sampled the slaw, it indeed provided a flashback to the early '70s. I'm looking forward to tomorrow's feast when it will be one more way to share Granny Franny with my wife and kids.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Alabama Shakes

Wow. That's all. Just wow.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dead Heads

When we lived in Austin I enjoyed going to Mexicarte, a little gallery that specialized in Mexican and South American art works. There were three things in particular that I liked.

They had these tiny Guatemalan "worry dolls". The story with them is that if you were plagued by worries, you could share them with the little doll and it would accept the worry, leaving you free to sleep easily.

They also had little hand-painted armadillos made out of tiny gourds. Each armadillo had a little bobbing head protruding from a hole carved in the gourd.

And they had lots of "Dia de los muertos" figures. Day of the Dead. Little displays of skeletons, often whimsically dressed, that were brought out in late October to honor deceased loved ones.

A few weeks ago I started thinking about this stuff and remembered that I had some modeling clay in my home office. I went up and fashioned a little "dead head" that resembled the dia de los muertos skulls. The first one I made was pretty good, but I had the oven turned up too high and the finished product looked like it had been burned at the stake. But once I figured out the right temperature, I started cranking the things out en masse. The photo below shows two of my early heads.

I don't think this is the start of a second career for me, but I've enjoyed making all the little marble-sized dead heads.

The Wallet


(The following is a true story. My friend Barry McCalister sent me a Facebook note late one night early in 2010 to tell me about a message he'd received from a stranger with a truly amazing tale.)


It was like a bell went off in his head, waking him up. The first thing Ronnie Ragan said to himself that day was, “Find the wallet.”


It was April of 2010. Ronnie hadn’t thought about the wallet for at least a couple of years. But he went upstairs in his house in Madison, Tennessee and started going through boxes until he located a tan, leather woman’s wallet, closed with a zipper. The wallet was showing signs of age – it was at least 60 years old. Inside were several black and white photos - a group of sailors, what looked like school portraits - all from the 1940s or ‘50s. There were also some pay-check stubs, various receipts, a letter from Aunt Billy passing along regards from Uncle Arden, a Social Security card and a driver’s license. In a snap-sealed coin pocket was $1.85 in change – a 1923 Liberty silver dollar, plus three quarters and two nickles minted in the 1940s. According to the Social Security card and driver’s license, the wallet had belonged to Joan McCalister. But neither the license nor any of the other papers included an address.


Ronnie had been trusted with the wallet by his late grandfather, Bill “Pappy” Reece. Pappy had been an auto parts salesman for the S&S Sales Company. He lived in Madison, Tennessee, but his sales route frequently took him into Western Kentucky and Southern Indiana. On one of his swings through his territory in 1949 or 1950, he stopped at a store in Cadiz, Kentucky, about 85 miles northwest of Nashville. He found the wallet in the store’s parking lot.


Many people might have simply taken the money and left the wallet. A dollar eighty-five might not sound like much, but it’s the equivalent of a little more than $17 by today’s standards. At the very least, it would have provided a nice meal.


But that wouldn’t have been in character for Pappy. He wanted to get the wallet and everything in it back to its owner. Cadiz is the Trigg County seat, but at that time it was still a few births shy of 1,300 people. It was a small town and he figured someone would surely know Joan McCalister. He went from store to store and asked several people, however nobody could provide him any leads.


Among the items in the wallet were pay stubs for Robert McCalister. No home address was listed, but the company on the stub was Servell in Evansville, Indiana. When Pappy’s travels next took him to Evansville, he tried to track down Robert by going to Servell. But Robert had recently left the company and there was no forwarding address.


So, Pappy came home and put the wallet in a drawer and there it stayed until the early 1990s when he brought it to Ronnie’s attention.


“I started doing family genealogy and I was researching these different branches of my family and I was having some luck finding some people. (Pappy) mentioned to me one day, ‘I’ve got this old wallet I found when I was on the road. Do you think you’d have any luck finding the lady, because if you would, I’d like to return this to her.’”


It had been more than 40 years since Pappy had found the wallet. Ronnie did the best he could at the time to locate Joan McCalister, but the trail was too cold. However, he pledged to Pappy, “I’ll keep the wallet and one of these days if I can ever find (the McCalisters) or their children, I promise you I’ll get the wallet back to them.”


Pappy passed away at the age of 95 in April, 2008. Then, almost two years to the day later, the wallet flashed into Ronnie’s consciousness for the first time in nearly a decade.


“I brought it to work with me and started searching obituaries through Ancestry.com and Google.” He soon found an obit for Robert McCalister who died in 2007, then one for Joan, who had died in 2003. He noted the names of the children, then went on Facebook and found a listing for the youngest son, Barry McCalister. “I saw Barry’s name and his friends included an Adams McCalister and I knew his mom’s maiden name was Adams. Then I saw a Billy McCalister, which I knew from the obituary was his brother. So I thought, ‘This has got to be the guy.’ And then when I saw that on Mother’s Day he wrote about how much he missed his mom, I said, ‘This is why I woke up thinking about this. This is the guy who’s supposed to get the wallet.’”


Just after the Memorial Day holiday in 2010, Ronnie sent a Facebook friend request to Barry McCalister, with a short note mentioning he had something that might belong to him.


“Well, naturally, I think it’s a scam,” said Barry, who lives in Madisonville, Kentucky, where his parents had moved in 1957. “Then this incredible story opens up and the he turns out to be just a super-nice guy.”


Ronnie sent him another note explaining why he contacted him. Not only did he describe what he had, but he also included a photo of the wallet and all the treasures it contained. Barry said that he was so overwhelmed he had to have his wife, Karla, come in and type the response for him. “When I saw the picture and the contents, I just started shaking. It was like a little time capsule.”


He said when his mom lost the wallet, she would have been 19 or 20 and his dad around 25. They would have been married for about four years and had just given birth to the first of their three sons, Billy. The McCalisters at that time were living in Cobb, which was 10 miles from Cadiz.


“Mom was a housewife. She was probably out shopping with a baby in her arms and dropped the wallet and didn’t realize it until later. (Middle brother) Mike and I laughed about it, because first of all, I bet she didn’t tell daddy that she lost the wallet. Then Billy said, ‘I bet she didn’t tell daddy she had that kind of money, either.’ That would have been walking money back in 1950. I guarantee that was kept a secret.”


Ronnie packed up the wallet and mailed it to the McCalister family. Barry kept the wallet in a box, waiting until the entire family got together at Thanksgiving.


“We were sitting around the table and went through all of it,” Barry said. “There were a lot of emotions there.”


Among the items they pulled from the wallet was a 1949 bill from a Caldwell County Kentucky hospital for the delivery of oldest brother, Billy. Barry said, “Billy was a little disappointed when we pulled the bill out and he found out that all he was worth in 1949 was $149. He caught some hell over that one.”


Barry said that his sister-in-law Patti took all the items in the wallet, digitized them and gave copies to all the family members. Mike and Patti McCalisters' daughter, Ann-Michael, who is Joan and Robert McCalisters' only granddaughter, was given the wallet. It’s locked in a safe, with all the contents it held when Joan dropped it and when Pappy Reece found it more than 60 years ago.


“I think Pappy knew that the wallet made it home,” said Ronnie. “I’m one of those people that believes those on the other side know what you’re doing and maybe even help you in doing it. I’m not so sure that when I woke up that morning that that wasn’t Pappy prodding me, saying, ‘Hey son, don’t forget the wallet.’”


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Java Jack

(another piece of unpublished fiction, circa 1991)

Just after the All-Star break I was driving west on Interstate 80, heading to the Bay Area to interview this year's rookie phenom, Stan Barnes. Barnes was just a kid - 20 years old - who went straight to the majors from high school, where he had outrageous stats and behavior to match them. I was the first writer to get an extensive sit down with him. Or make that, him and his agent, and it had cost my magazine plenty to get it.

After driving all night and most of the morning, I pulled off for a rest at a truck stop in Bucket, Wyoming, where I noticed hanging on the wall behind the counter, a photograph of a baseball player in a 1940s-era Chicago Windies uniform.

The featured player was so diminutive that if not for the deep lines on his face you might think he was a child. To almost anyone with an interest in the game's past, the player was unmistakable. Appropriately mounted above the coffee maker was a photo of Jack Coffey. Java Jack! The Starmaker.

John Martin Coffey owns some of the most extraordinary pitching statistics in baseball history. He was born in Drawerton, Idaho on May 1, 1921, and left home when he was 16 to play minor-league ball with the legendary Standish (Kansas) Greenies in the Class B Prairie Dog League. The Greenies dominated the league during Coffey's tenure. In his first season he posted a 45-2 record, with 512 strikeouts and a 0.81 earned run average. Standish cruised to the pennant by a 33-game margin and swept Norb Bacon's great Hazel Grove Scouts on the way to the Miller Cup.

The next three years Coffey lost only five games while winning 42, 37 and 44 games respectively. He led the league in strikeouts (627, 499, 717) and ERA (0.99, 0.85, 0.37) i n each season. Each year the Greenies won the pennant by no fewer than 28 games and captured the cup without ever suffering a loss.

When the Prairie Dog League ceased operations in 1941, Coffey signed with the Clacksburg (Missouri) Haymakers, a barnstorming team on the Ham & Eggs Circuit. The team traveled from town to town, playing whatever team the locals could assemble. Sometimes it was an exhibition game against the town's minor-league entry. Other times they played high school teams, factory teams or rag-tag pick-up teams. But whatever the case, Coffey again put together amazing numbers. In two years with Clacksburg he won 98 games and lost three.

In a 1943 game against a semi-pro team in Chien Rouge, Lousiana, he struck out 31 batters in a nine-inning win. The only opponents who reached base did so because Java Jack was throwing so hard that his catcher let four third strikes sail past his mitt.

During his seven-year minor-league career, Coffey led his teams to six titles. Along the way he posted remarkable statistics - a 302-14 record, 3,735 strikeouts and an overall ERA of 0.92. Additionally, he threw eight no-hitters and three perfect games.

Coffey is generally regarded as the greatest minor-league pitcher of all time. But few people remember that. What they will long remember about Java Jack Coffey are the dubious credits he earned in the majors. His name will forever be linked with "Homering Hoppy," the "Shot of Ry" and the "Cup of Coffey." These are infamous moments which have become deeply entrenched in baseball lore. But they're also moments that unfairly tarnish an otherwise respectable career in the majors.

Coffey's arrival in the major leagues in 1944 was long overdue. While scouts were for years aware of his eye-popping records, they were reluctant to sign him to a contract because of what they considered a literal physical shortcoming. Coffey stood only 4' 7", and while it initially delayed his entry, it ultimately provided him with his ticket to the bigs.

World War II came very close to destroying major-league baseball. Teams were depleted by armed service call-ups and there was some thought of suspending operations until the war ended. However, the President, who was an avid fan, asked that the games go on to lift the spirits of the nation.

In order to fill rosters, many players who had been career minor leaguers got their first taste of the majors. Many of these men were well past enlistment age (and their playing prime), or did not meet the physical standards for military service. In Coffey's case, he fell one inch below the minimum height requirement.

Java Jack Coffey finally reached his goal of playing in the majors, however he soon discovered it had been more fulfilling getting there than being there.

I noticed that the picture of Java Jack was autographed and I asked the man behind the counter to tell me about the shrine. He explained that Coffey lives in town and runs a barbershop just down the hill from the truck stop. I thanked him for the information, paid for my coffee and left.

I drove a mile down the hill into the center of the very small town. There was one intersection, with businesses stretching a couple hundred yards in either direction. Taking a right turn at the lone traffic signal, I could see a red-white-and-blue-striped barber pole three doors down on the left side of the street. On the shop window was stenciled, "Coffey Cuts." I parked and went in.

As soon as I stepped inside, I was greed with, "Howdy. Have a seat." The man who barked the greeting was a completely bald, stout little gentleman standing atop a wooden stepstool. It was Java Jack.

I sat and waited five minutes while Coffey finished with the customer in front of me. He pulled off the apron, collected his fee and wished the man well as he left. I stood, walked to the chair and introduced myself. I told Java Jack that I was a writer and would like to talk with him.

"I only talk when I'm cutting hair and haircuts are seven bucks. I charge an extra five if the talk's baseball in general - ten if it's my baseball," Jack blurted as if he'd been reciting those same lines for years.

I have the baseball player-barber-storyteller $20, told him to keep the change and to clean me up around the edges.

After clicking on my recorder, I asked Jack if he had any regrets about not being called up to the majors any sooner.

"No, not really. If my stay up there had been better, maybe I would. I did okay. But people are always going to remember me for those few bad things. On the other hand, I was a big shot in the minors. People came to games just to see me. And I was good. Got to remember, we weren't really playing the game for money in those days. Even most big leaguers had to get jobs in the off-season to stay afloat. That's why I took up barbering. We loved the game, not the money, so as long as I was playing somewhere, I was happy."

I mentioned that lots of people claim he was unlucky, maybe even jinxed. He responded without hesitation.

"I don't see how a many can be so lucky in one league and then completely run out of luck in another. I was considered very lucky in the minors.

"When I was with the Haymakers, we had a catcher named Delbert Scott. We called him 'Marblehead,' and I'll tell you why. I think it was in 1942 and we were playing the Anton (Tennessee) Tanners. They were maybe the best traveling team except for us. I believe we were somewhere in Alabama at the time. Delbert was catching and I was throwing. I say 'throwing' because I didn't have much on the ball that day.

"It was late in the game and we were winning by a run. I got the first two guys out. Anton had this big son-of-a-gun - Fuller - who played first base. He wasn't much of a hitter, but he came up and stuck his bat right on a curve that didn't curve. The ball dropped just over the head of our center fielder, Davy Mitchell, and rolled to the fence. By the time Davy got the ball back to the infield, the big guy was at third.

"That shook me up a little and I walked the next guy, a kid named Close. He was one of Anton's speed demons.

"Delbert came out to the mound and told me to settle down. He said Close would probably be heading to second base. Delbert was never a particularly good hitter, and sometimes he had trouble hanging onto the ball, but he had a cannon of an arm. We decided to pitch out the first two throws to the next batter.

"Del went back behind the plate. I threw once or twice to first to keep Close close. Then we tried the first pitchout and Close wasn't going. On the next pitch, all heck broke loose.

"Close got a good jump and was off to second. But Fuller was running, too. He took off on the pitch and was coming home. A double steal. Delbert threw off his mask and jumped up to take the pitchout. But he got distracted by the runner coming home and took his eye of the ball for an instant. The ball hit him square on the hard part of his forehead and shot back to me like a line drive. In the meantime, Fuller stopped and started stumbling back to the bag. When I got the ball, all I had to do was toss it to Showboat Hart at third and he tagged Fuller out. We won the game and Delbert got called 'Marblehead' ever since. Now I think that was pretty doggone lucky, don't you?"

I asked Java Jack why he didn't have any better success in the majors.

"I know this sounds like I'm making excuses, but I just never felt comfortable up there. The cities were too big. Too many people. One of the most important parts of pitching is being able to relax right up until you let the ball fly. I never could completely relax up there like I did in the smaller towns. But keep in mind, I did okay up there. Nothing like the minors, but nothing to be ashamed of."

Which was true. In five years with Chicago, Coffey compiled a 91-50 record, had 793 strikeouts and a career earned run average of 3.42. But when people recall Java Jack Coffey's major-league career, they almost always first remember the three events that earned him the unfortunate nickname, "Starmaker."

The first incident occurred on June 14, 1945 against the Cleveland Grovers. It was on that day that wiry second baseman Arnold "Hop" Henderson went on a home run barrage like nobody else before or since. The 147-pound lead-off man hit five homers in one game. All five came off Coffey.

"That day when Hop Henderson hit all those home runs, people don't remember that I was the winning pitcher. I only gave up seven hits and we won that game 14-6. Back then pitchers finished games they started more often than not. Hop just had a good day - a great day - at the plate. I don't know if anybody'll ever hit five home runs in a gain again.

"People always ask, 'Why didn't you just walk him?' Why should I have? We were way ahead and he only came up once with anyone on base. Plus, what were the chances that he'd just keep popping them out like that? But he did. They guy probably only hit something like 50 homers in his career, but he got five of them that day and I don't deny him any credit for doing it."

The "Shot of Ry" came in 1946 as the Windies were challenging the Boston Canes for the league title. Chicago had pulled within a game with a week left in the season and was hosting the Canes in a critical four-game series. Coffey got the call to pitch the first game.

After allowing eight hits in six scoreless innings, Jack went to the mound in the seventh, hoping to protect a two-run lead provided by a Gene Stevens home run.

Coffey struck out Chico Vellez and Hank Thomas. Then Polly Thatcher came up and lined Coffey's second pitch into center. The key in setting up the incident may have come when Bill Verdi was hit by a pitch that he made no effort to dodge. Windies manager Chuck Hayes was ejected in the ensuing argument and the entire Chicago team appeared to lose its composure.

When the scene calmed, Coffey went back to the mound and Ry Patterson stepped into the batter's box to pinch hit for pitcher Maury August.

"I faced Ry many times in the minors and in the bigs. I don't think he'd ever had a hit. Couldn't get around on my fastball and he was a lousy curveball hitter. That pitch may have been the only curve he hit in his entire career.

"He missed bad on my first two fastballs. Pete (Dalton, the catcher) signaled for more heat, but I shook him off. I wanted to set him up with a curve.

"I guess Ry had been praying I'd throw him something a little slower. When that curve came up, the think I remember most was how big his eyes got. He just swung as hard as he could and connected really good. That was really about the only thing of note he ever did in the majors, but he really picked his moment."

The Canes held on to win that game 3-2 and swept the series on the way to the pennant. The next year, Ry Patterson was out of baseball.

But of all the Starmaker events, the "Cup of Coffey" is far and away the most remembered. Not only is it the one play which is most closely associated with Java Jack Coffey, it is one of the most legendary, and most arrogant, stunts in the storied career of Wham Baker.

It happened during the 1947 series between the Windies and the mighty New York Tartans. It was the first and only appearance Chicago has ever made in the fall classic, but it was the Tarts' eighth-straight visit.

"We were all pretty tight going into the series. Nobody had beaten these guys for years, but we felt if we played at the top of our game, we could do it. New York won the first game, but we came back and won the second behind Jimmy Baugh. I pitched the third game in Chicago."

The Windies staked Jack to a three-run lead, but the Tarts scrapped back with a run in the fourth and two in the fifth. In the Tartan sixth, Harry Wells led off with a walk and was sacrified to second by Tall Tom Tucker. Stew Moroni reached first when Chicago second baseman Frank Waiters bobbled his grounder. That brought Baker to the plate.

"Wham hit me real hard his first time up. Doubled down the right-field line. He hit the ball hard the second time, too, but it was right at Marion Parker, our third baseman. The third time he struck out. Later someone told me he thought I'd called him a name after he struck out. I never did. Never would have. But he thought I did and said that's why he went into his act next time up."

As Baker walked to the plate in the seventh, he paused before entering the batter's box. Then he went into his act. He turned to the crowd and, with a mischievous smile, stretched and yawned as if he'd just awakened. He then gathered himself together and stepped to the plate.

"I didn't know anything was up before that first pitch. But Wham just stood there with his bat on his shoulder. It kind of looked like his eyes were closed, but he was standing right there at the plate. I waited for him to get ready, but he wasn't budging. Dalton was catching and motioned for me to bring it to him. So I did, and the first pitch went by Baker without him so much as flinching."

When the ball hit Dalton's mitt, Baker opened his eyes and slowly turned his head toward umpire Bill Ketchell, who called it a strike. Wham stepped out of the box, calmly yawned for a second time, then resumed his sleepy pose.

"The second time I knew he was up to something. I was just trying not to get caught up in it. If he wanted to stand there and take strikes, that was his business. Mine was to get him out."

Coffey threw strike two past the slumbering Baker. This time, though, Wham stepped out and went into a full pantomime. He yawned again, but this time he set his bat down and acted as if he had picked up a cup and was filling it with coffee. He poured and took a couple of sips. Then he sprang to full attention. He picked up his bat, took a violent slash through the air and then bounded to the plate.

"When he came to the plate for the third pitch, he hollered out to me, 'Good morning!' I shrugged it off. I took the sign from Dalt and came with an inside fast one. Wham swung and took it out. It was far from a spectacular home run. Matter of fact, it barely cleared the wall. But of course, he'd put on such a demonstration that most people today think that ball's still traveling.

"Wham Baker was an arrogant son of a bitch. He was good, but if he hadn't been, I think his own teammates would've killed him."

The "Cup of Coffey" won the game for New York. That's generally the first thing that comes to mind about the '47 series. But the Windies ran the series to seven games and won their only World Championship in extra innings. Few remember that Coffey started the seventh game and pitched eight scoreless innings before being pulled for a pinch hitter in the ninth.

Java Jack Coffey played two more years with the Windies. Today, only hard-core baseball aficionados and rural elders who remember seeing his minor-league exploits hold Coffey in the esteem he deserves.

As for his greatest thrill in baseball, Jack said, "Just playing the game as long as I did. Not too many little guys like me ever get a chance. Not only did I get a chance, I did something with it. Everybody's always trying to get to the majors. I got there and I'm glad I did. But I really enjoyed my days in the minors far more. And that's not just because I fared better down there.

"A lot of players are so intent on getting to the big clubs that they don't take the time to appreciate what they're doing and where they are along the way. I made some good friends in the minors. Good players. Some of them great players. Too many of them are gone now. And you see some of the prettiest place on Earth. Big cities give you a lot to do, but they aren't much to look at. Small towns can be mighty pretty, and I saw an awful lot of small towns in my playing days. And the people there seem friendlier, more appreciative of what you're doing. They seem to understand that you're entertaining them. City folks have high expectations. They always want you to be perfect."

When asked if he follows today's game, he said, "I check now and then to see how the old teams are doing, but too much has changed. It hurts to see what's happening to baseball. Too much money's ruining everything."

I asked if he'd ever heard of Stan Barnes. "I think there was a Stanley Barnes who used to play for the Greenies. Why? Did he die?"

I told him I must be thinking of a different Stanley Barnes. He set down his scissors and comb, pulled off the apron and told me he was through. I glanced at the mirror. My hair looked perfect.

The next night I arrived in the Bay Area and was granted my short "extensive" interview with Stan Barnes and his agent. At the time, Barnes was hitting .256 with six home runs. While his stats were modest, he was making more money for that night's game than Java Jack Coffey made in his entire career. But then again, Stan Barnes never spent a day in the minors.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Fables for Fearful Times: The Hen and the Weasel

There once was a hen who graduated with honors from college. After many years of hard work in school, she was ready to find a job and begin a successful career. It wasn't long before she found a job in the product development department of a large corporation. On her first day of work, her boss, a weasel, called her into his office.

"Hen, please come in - and grab me a cup of coffee on your way," said Weasel. "Cream. No sugar. Remember that."

Hen went into Weasel's office, reluctantly delivering the coffee.

"Hen, we're so glad you're with us," said Weasel. "I expect many good things from you," he added with a sneer. "You can start by re-typing this letter."

The hen looked at hte piece of paper that Weasel thrust at her and thought, "I'm not here to be his secretary. I'm not here to deliver him coffee. Just who does he think he is asking me to do these things?"

The more Hen thought about it, the more upset she became. Suddenly, she go so made she began to cluck and tremble.

Weasel, not quite sure what was happening, hid behind his desk. A few moments passed, then, almost as suddenly as it started, the hubbub stopped. Weasel peaked over his desk just as Hen stood to leave. On the seat where Hen had been sitting was an egg.

Weasel's eyes widened with excitement. "That was incredible!," he said. "Can you do another one?"

Hen, now feeling that she was getting some respect from Weasel, sat. A few minutes later, she stood up and revealed another egg.

"This is absolutely amazing," said Weasel. "Forget about that letter. Get to work laying more eggs. This could well be a very important development."

Hen left the office and went off to lay eggs.

A few days later the company newsletter came out. On the front page was a photograph of the CEO shaking hands with Weasel. THe caption said that Weasel had developed the perfect food - comes in its own easy-to-open package and cooks quickly. It added that it was a most revolutionary development and everyone has Weasel to thank for it.

Hen could not believe that Weasel had taken all the credit for the egg. She stormed into his office.

"You took all the credit for my eggs!," she shouted.

"You might have laid them," said Weasel, "but it was me who saw their potential."

"Well, here's something you didn't see," said Hen. "I quit!" With that, she stormed out of the office.

Weasel tried to lay eggs of his own, but of course it did not work. Within a few weeks all of Hen's eggs were gone and soon thereafter Weasel was fired for lack of productivity. He lived out the rest of his life in wretched poverty. Meanwhile, Hen married a famous baseball mascot and raised a happy, healthy family while running a successful independent marketing firm.

MORAL: Don't take credit for others' work and ideas. If you do, the only eggs you'll get will be on your face.

Fables for Fearful Times: The Boar and the Goose

A wild boar ran in the forest outside a king's castle. He was famous for eluding the king's huntsmen, but he was even more infamous for boasting about his close escapes. The other beasts were so tired of hearing his stories that many started to root for the hunters.

As the boar grew older, he started to lose the quick reflexes that helped him elude the hunters in the past. He knew he had to do something to maintain his edge, especially since the king was more intent than ever on catching him.

The boar had heard about a goose who lived in a forest pond. The goose was known for his incredibly loud honk and he was as proud of it as the boar was of his escapades with the huntsmen.

The boar sought out the goose and said, "I'm the famous forest boar. I'm the biggest, baddest boar there ever was. I'm so bad that the king has placed a high price on my head. I'll pay you handsomely if you'll honk any time the king's huntsmen approach."

The goose decided that the job sounded easy enough. "If I can just tolerate this jerk for a while, I can make a pretty decent buck. Then I can blow him off and move south permanently."

So the goose began accompanying the boar on his rounds through the forest. First the boar saw a porcupine and stopped to talk.

"Hey, Porky! This is my pal the goose. I hired him to honk whenever the hunters are near," said the boar.

The goose strutted with his bill in the air as he was introduced.

The boar added, "Now those buffoons won't ever catch me. Not that they would have anyway. I remember the last time I had a run-in with those idiots..."

And the boar continued with his story until the porcupine tired of him and walked away.

"Let's go see the fox," said the boar.

The goose followed the boar over to the fox's den.

"Foxy!" shouted the board into the den. "It's me, the boar."

There was no answer.

The goose said, "If he's in there, this will bring him out."

The goose took a deep breath, poked his head through the door of the den and let out a mighty honk.

Seconds later the fox poked out his head, quite annoyed at the disturbance.

"Hey, how ya doin' Foxy," asked the boar. "This is my pal the goose."

The boar said to the goose, "Foxy's pretty sly, but even he couldn't have given those hunters the slip like I did. Why those guys are so dumb. I remember the time..."

And the boar started yakking out another tale. The fox tired quickly and disappeared into his den. Halfway through the boar's boring story, the goose became very sleepy and dozed off.

Shortly thereafter, a hunter who overheard the boar's loud boasts emerged from the brush, drew his bow and shot the boar.

That night the king and his huntsmen ate well. So did the fox, who came back out of his den and decided the sleeping goose would make a tasty meal.

MORAL: Brash displays of pride and vanity do little more than make you stand out on the menu.

Fables for Fearful Times: The Snake and the Octopus

Where the water meets the woods there lived a snake and an octopus.

One day the octopus popped up from the sea just as the snake was slithering past.

"Hey, snakie boy, great to see you! Put 'er there," bellowed the octopus as he stuck out all eight arms as if to shake hands.

The snake, who was quiet by nature, tried his best to ignore the chortling octopus and just kept going.

The octopus followed the snake, picked up several stones and began to juggle them.

"Yo, snake, can you give me a hand with this," asked the octopus with a chuckle.

The snake kept moving.

"Hey, whatsa matter? No sense of humor? I bet you aren't even ticklish." The octopus dropped the stones, reached out and grabbed the snake and began to tickle him.

The snake had tried his best to simply ignore the boorish octopus. But now he had had enough. He decided he wasn't going to take it anymore and in one flash of white-hot fury, he brandished his long fangs and sank them into one of the octopus' arms.

The octopus dropped the snake, then dropped dead.

The snake quickly composed himself and slithered away, never to be bothered again.

MORAL: Don't make fun of others for what they have not. Respect them instead for what they have got.

Fables for Fearful Times: The Ants and The Bees

There once was a beehive inside a hollow tree. At the foot of the tree there was an ant hill. Both groups of insects had highly developed societies, and each boasted that their own form of society was the best.

The Queen Ant declared, "We are much more superior than the silly bees. Our workers are quite strong and we all have well-defined responsibilities. Everyone knows what their job is and how it relates to the smooth functioning of the whole society."

When the Queen Bee got word of the boast, she responded, "Ants! What do they know about socialization? We bees are far more highly civilized. Why, we invented division of labor! And our hives are arranged in neat octagonal cells. Have you ever seen an ant colony? Absolute chaos! Plus, we make honey! Let me see an ant do that!"

More words were exchanged over the next few days. Soon, war was declared so that the two colonies could settle the dispute once and for all.

Battles raged for weeks. Many ants and bees were lost in the conflict. Finally and reluctantly, the ants surrendered.

The Queen Bee announced, "By winning we have shown them which society is superior. To demonstrate how kind and generous a queen I am, we will spare them and teach them to adopt our form of civilization."

So the bees put the ants to work in their hive. However, the ants were unable to move through the honey and they became stuck. As the bees led more ants into the hive, the pile of stuck ants grew and grew. Soon the pile was so large that neither the bees nor the ants could get in or out of the hive. Within just a few days, all the insects were dead.

MORAL: Don't think that what works well for you will necessarily do the same for everyone. Forcing your way of life upon others could be your downfall.

Fables for Fearful Times: The Very Hungry Fish and Fisherman

Things were bad all over. One day a fish was in search of food. All he could find was a worm that was attached to a fisherman's hook.

"If I try to eat the worm I might swallow the hook, too," said the fish. "But I'm very hungry and it's a risk I have to take."

So the fish went for the worm and indeed took the hook. When the fisherman pulled him out of the water, the fish said, "Please don't eat me."

The fisherman said, "I'm a hungry man and you're a big fish. If I keep you I'll eat well."

The fish said, "But if you let me go, I'll grant you three wishes. You can use one wish to get all the food you'll ever need."

"How do I know you're really a magic fish," said the fisherman. "How do I know you won't just swim away?"

"That is a risk you'll have to take," said the fish.

The fisherman thought about it for a minute. Then he removed the hook and tossed the fish back into the water. The fish swam away, never to be seen again.

MORAL: Appreciate what you've got in front of you instead of bargaining for empty wishes. You might just end up throwing away a talking fish.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Squash Casserole


I found myself in a panic this morning - Thanksgiving morning - when I couldn't locate the recipe for the squash casserole. It's a traditional dish that's been on our holiday tables for almost as long as I can remember.

The original recipe, as I recall, had come from Gwen Thomas, a dear family friend who I'd called "Aunt Gwen" ever since I started to talk. My mom used to make Aunt Gwen's squash casserole, but never told me what it was, fearing that if I knew there was squash in it, I probably wouldn't eat it. She was right. To me, it was just some yummy, cheesy thing we ate at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

After mom died, my sister-in-law Jan continued making the dish. And when I finally was out on my own, she passsed along the recipe to me. The first time I made it was probably for Thanksgiving in 1981. And the sheet of paper with the instructions I scribbled back then was the same tattered, taped and stained one I couldn't find this morning.

I searched in all the usual places, but then, after about an hour of futility and fuming, it struck me that I'd been making the damn dish for 30 years. It's not all that complicated and so I sat down and wrote down the ingredients and steps needed to make it. It all came back easily.

Ingredients:

6-8 yellow hook neck squash
1 medium onion
1/2 lb of grated cheddar cheese
cracker crumbs
1 cup milk
2 eggs
4 pats butter
2 Tbl sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/4 tsp paprika


Peel the squash, cut off ends, cut into quarters, then into one-inch bits.
Peel and chop the onion.
Add the squash, onions and 1/4 cup of water to a pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for one hour.

While the squash and onions simmer, mix a cup and a half of milk, 2 lightly beaten eggs, the salt, peppers and paprika. Set aside.

Pre-heat oven to 350.

When the squash and onion mix is ready, drain, add 2 Tbl sugar and mash.
Line the bottom of a casserole dish with 4 pats of butter.
Add a layer of the squash and onion mix, then a layer of cracker crumbs, a layer of cheese then a layer of the milk mix. Repeat adding the layers, finishing off the top with the milk mix.

Cook uncovered in the oven for 60-75 minutes, or until the cheese is melted to a golden brown on top.

Enjoy!

Mars Wins!

I ran across the following while sifting through my file cabinet last night. It's a piece of fiction I wrote 20 years ago that was published in The Minneapolis Review of Baseball, a wonderful little journal filled with fact, fiction and folly dedicated to the greatest game.

Mars Wins!

Steve Sullivan

(First published in The Minneapolis Review of Baseball, Volume 10, Nov. 4, 1991)


October 17, 2030

Port Zak, Mars


Dear Bubba,


Bododeodo!!! That’s what Martians holler when they’re happy, and let me tell you, there are a bunch of those happy suckers around here now. You’ll never believe this – on my very first trip to Mars I scored a ticket to the final game of the Universal Series between Mars and Glorbia! I paid 75 nools, which is about 200 Earth bucks. So it ends up being cheaper than a bleacher seat at Wrigley Field! It was a pretty good seat, too, in the hover boxes over second base.


Now, I know you’re a snob about baseball and still think the Japanese game’s the best, but you would’ve like this one.


When the cocky Glorbia Gigabits sauntered out, let by their computerized manager, Connie MacIntosh (or “Mac” as they call him), the crowd really let them have it. They don’t “boo” up here. It’s more like, “urp.” So it was like a stadium with more than 200,000 fans sharing a belch. But it all stopped the next minute when the locals, the Port Zak Attack, appeared. And the place really went nuts when the Attack’s manager, crafty little Billy Martian, trotted out.


Pretty soon the game started. Jop Haxifand was pitching for Port Zak. He pitches by putting the ball in his mouth and then blowing it to the plate. Now you might think that would be a spitball, but it’s not. “Haxi” spits with his hands. As a matter of fact, he can only go to his hands if he’s off the mound.


Pitching for the Gigabits was Pord Zing, Glorbia’s all-time wins leader. You may remember him. Back when they had the Universal expansion, this guy was the first center-handed pitcher ever to make it to the astro-bigs.


Anyway, both pitchers were perfect for three innings. Then in the top of the fourth, Dreep Nimnot, the speedy second baseman, led off for the Gigabits. Nimnot is invisible and the only way you can tell where he is is to follow his hat.


Well, he laid down a really pretty bunt. Sizz Krinik, the third baseman fielded it and threw to Krax Wolnoid at first. But on the way to first, Nimnot was running so hard his helmet fell off. And since he didn’t have any way to tell, the first base ump called him out. Well, Connie Mac started beeping and whistling and rolled out to first base. He threw a matrix up on his screen and created a replay that logically proved that Nimnot not only was safe, but that he also took second on the play. The ump agreed and reversed the call.


Well, this sent the crowd into an urping rage. Billy Martian raced out, but no matter how hard he shouted, the ump wouldn’t change his mind. Then somebody in the stands zapped the ump with some kind of ray, leaving just a hat and puff of smoke. That seemed to satisfy the crowd. Everyone calmed down a bit and an uncomfortable-looking new ump cautiously took over at first. Nimnot’s helmet was floating at second base and left fielder Gonny Vaz stepped to the plate.


He took the first pitch, then banged the second into the air toward left field. Then – it was the dangdest thing – the ball suddenly just stopped in mid air! What happened was it hit what they call a “coincidental convergence.” It’s kind of like a fork in a tree, except you can’t see it. Something about magnetic fields coming together just by chance.

Whatever, Vaz whacked the ball right into it and it just stuck there. There isn’t a rule that deals with coincidental convergences specifically, so they treated it like a ground rule double. Nimnot scored and Vaz went to second.


If that wasn’t weird enough, wait until you hear this. The next batter, Bob Smith (Remember him? Used to catch for the Mets, Giants, Reds, Ham Fighters, Bilzzits, etc.), grounded out, bring Poyd Frinimitux to the plate. Frinimitux is the Babe Sunumata of Glorbian baseball – their all-time home run leader. Haxi puffed one right down the middle to him and he took a wicked swing – the hardest swing I ever saw – with his trademark red bat. He powdered the ball. But get this – he hit it right smack into the ball that was stuck in the coincidental convergence! It knocked the first ball loose and then both balls fell onto the field. Vaz had been standing on second, waiting to make sure the blast wasn’t caught, and when the balls fell, Frinimitux was right behind him. By the time the balls were fielded, they were running right together, rounding third and heading for home.


Mox Thiddik, the Attack’s left fielder, grabbed one ball and center fielder Glip Mux grabbed the other. Both threw home at the same time. Stum Nuk, Port Zak’s great seven-armed catcher, caught Thiddik’s peg and tagged out Vaz, then tagged Frinimitux with the ball Mux threw. The home plate ump called the runners out, which brought Connie Mac out again to argue the logic of the call. He pointed out that Nuk had tagged out Vaz with a ball bearing a red smudge, while Frinimitux was tagged out with a clean ball. He said that the red had come from Frinimitux’s red bat, which did indeed have a smudge on it.


Again, the ump couldn’t deny the logic and he changed the calls to safe. The crowd started urpring again. All 12 of Billy Martian’s eyes were bulging so much I thought they’d fall out of their sockets. Then they had to bring in a nervous new home plate ump after someone zapped the one who made the call. When the smoke cleared (literally) the Gigabits had scored 3 runs, all thanks to Connie Mac’s logical arguments.


After all the hubbub, Billy Martian calmed down and set himself to pacing the dugout. You could tell he was coming up with some sort of zinger, and I knew we’d find out what it was before the game was over.


Well, nothing much else happened until the ninth. The highlight in the top of the ninth came when shortstop Julio Dryvot was called back for a pinch hitter. Then I noticed a vaguely familiar figure walking up to hit for Dryvot. It was Minnie Minoso! He was getting in an at bat for his tenth decade in the majors. He swung at the third pitch and legged out an infield hit. But that was all Glorbia could manage in the inning. The next three batters struck out and Minnie went back to the dugout. They’ll cryogenicize him and keep him on ice until sometime in the next decade. It’s such a great tradition.


Port Zak had the top of the order coming up in the bottom of the ninth. Zing, who had been strong all day for Glorbia, finally started to lose it. After hitting second baseman Volly Brin with a pitch, Udner Flom, the little shortstop, took Zing’s first pitch out of the park for the Attack’s first runs. Wizzit Profax, a pretty good contact hitter, was up next.


But that was all for Zing. Mac rolled to the mound and took the ball. Then he signaled for relief ace Grak Tubo to come in and hold the lead. After throwing two quick strikes, Tubbo grooved one and Profax poked it into short left for a single. Profax took his lead off first. When Tubbo made his first pitch to Krax Wolnoid, Profax bolted toward second. He beat the catcher’s throw by at least 10 feet. Billy Martian called time and ran out to talk to Profax. I suspected this was when Martian planned to hatch whatever he’d been scheming.


Martian skittered back to the dugout. Tubbo went into his stretch. Wolnoid stood at the plate, waving his big bat. Profax, though, stayed right on the bag. He wasn’t taking any lead at all. But when Tubbo delivered the pitch, Profax broke from second. He wasn’t heading to third, though; he was dashing back to first! Well, Smith caught the ball and threw to first, but Profax slid and beat the throw. The ump called him safe, then ran into the Attack dugout to keep from being vaporized by Gigabit fans.


Connie Mac suddenly started to shudder. He was beeping and whirring louder than ever. He rolled toward first, but it wasn’t a smooth roll like earlier. It was real herky-jerky. And he was smoking and shooting little sparks out of his screen. He kept insisting that the play wasn’t logical. But the umpire, who was still taking cover in the dugout, kept saying that if the runner wanted to steal first, he could do it. Frankly, I think this umpire wouldn’t have said anything to upset the home fans again. While Mac was arguing with the umpire, I looked into the other end of the dugout and saw Billy Martian smiling from ear to ear to ear. You could tell it was exactly what he had hoped would happen – he had blown out Connie Mac’s logic circuitry.


Mac rumbled to the mound and sent Tubbo to the showers. Both Dimtode Riprod and Foz Jork were ready in the bullpen. But Mac decided to bring in Ntuc Itanip to pitch. Nobody could believe it! You see, Itanip is an Ambilant, a being that’s all legs. They’re the best there is when it comes to pinch runners, but since they don’t have any arms it doesn’t make sense to use them for anything else. So when Mac signaled for him to come in, nobody knew what the heck was going on.


Even the Gigabits thought it was weird, but they figured Mac surely had a logical reason for making the move. They obviously didn’t know about the blown circuits. But as soon as they saw Itanip kick the ball toward the plate, they started wondering what kind of bizarre strategy Mac had in mind.


Itanip never got close to kicking the ball over the plate. He walked Wolnoid and the next three batters, forcing in the tying and winning runs.


The stadium went wild! Bododeodo! They players hoisted Billy Martian up on their shoulders and carried him around the field. Meanwhile, Connie Mac sat in the Gigabits’ dugout, sparking and shaking.


What a great game! The only complaint I have is that the beer was salty and the peanuts were flat.


Say “Hey” to the gang.


Your pal,

Fuzzy