Monday, December 28, 2009

The Land Of Almost Right

When we take time to look back over our lives, we are often able to identify moments which influence the remainder of our time on this earth.  Having spent a considerable amount of time in the military, I was exposed to a variety of body art in the form of tattoos.  Even a couple of my children have gotten small and tasteful tattoos at various times over the years.  I figure they are all adults(chronologically at least) and if they can handle getting poked with needles thousands of times to be able to display their personal idea of art...power to them.

On occasion, usually while sitting and having something cool to drink, and finalizing solutions for all the world's problems, I am asked if I ever contemplated getting some body art of my own.  Surely, during all those years spent in the service, I had to have contemplated a tattoo to commemorate my exploits on foreign shores.  I will respond that, yes, I toyed with the idea of a tattoo occasionally, but was never able to decide what it would be or where it would be located that wouldn't cause terminal embarassment when displayed.  Then all thoughts of a tattoo came to a sudden halt while spending a year in Korea, known affectionately by the chamber of commerce as "The Land Of the Morning Calm".

Korea is, even today, a remote or unaccompanied tour for most soldiers.  This means being left to your own devices when it comes to finding entertainment, without the minimal supervision of family and friends.  Sitting in the Yongson video arcade one evening, I noticed a very sheepish soldier getting ribbed unmercifully by a couple of his buddies.  I finally asked why they were being so rough on him, and they laughingly told him to show me.  He gingerly raised his sleeve to reveal a very tender, fresh image of the seal of the United States Army.  The eagle was resplendent in the still bright colors, and it took a second look to see that emblazoned over the eagle was the caption;   

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Yankee Chili & other Abominations

One of the great things about being in the Army or one of the other services, is that you get to move around this great country of ours and see how differently people live.  When my Lovely Bride and I first joined up, we stayed in San Antonio for the first three years, and the only thing different was the direction I drove to work.  So it was with some anticipation we made our first PCS move, with our first assignment outside Texas being to Fort Knox in Kentucky.  I had always heard of Kentucky being a Southern state, and in my naive mind imagined it would be much like East Texas.  After studying a highway atlas, I discovered that Kentucky was farther north than even Oklahoma, and that Fort Knox was just down the Ohio River from Cincinnati! 

After arriving and starting the settling in process, we drove up Dixie Highway to Louisville to scout out the lay of the land, and explore shopping opportunities.  While there we decided to try out a Mexican restaurant which had been highly recommended by my new co-workers.  In the past, I had occasionally encountered confused souls who claimed to not like Mexican food, and I had never understood them.  After all, how could anyone not like the greasy, spicy, cheesy delights of enchiladas, tamales and tacos?  After sampling what was described to us as the best Louisville had to offer, it became all too clear.  We learned to stock up whenever we made a trip south of the Red River, and the LB learned to scrounge for ingredients in the post comissary and to cook her own Tex-Mex.

My next gastronomic upset came soon after reporting to work in the post hospital.  There was a snack bar in the basement which had a pretty extensive short-order menu, and most of us ate there each day.  One day I walked in and noticed a new sign on the wall advertising Chili Dogs.  That sounded like just the thing to me and so ordered one.  I paid the cashier for lunch while the counter man was getting my order, and I glanced up just as he was ladling the chili onto the dog.  Only it looked like no chili I had ever seen in my life.  It had spaghetti noodles hanging off my hot dog for chrissakes!  I truly learned that day I was not in Texas anymore.  Later, I found that noodles was only one of many unnatural substances with which chili was adulterated in that region...cinnamon, cloves, cardomom and chocolate were routinely used as seasonings.  This was pretty unsettling for me, since I had only recently come to accept the possibility that beans could be added to chili and still be called chili.

 We discovered that each new duty station brought the opportunity to experience new foods and cultures, and happily, most of them were much better than that spurious chili.  In Korea - chop chae, kimbop, and yakimandoo became favorites which we still sample when the opportunity arises.  Raw ahi, shredded dried squid, charsiu bao, and lumpia all bring back fond memories of other assignments.  But clove flavored spaghetti sauce on my hot dog!

Our First Christmas Tree

Christmas is one of those times of the year which is guaranteed to cause old memories to resurface.  We remember those we loved who are no longer with us, and if we are lucky, we remember the happy times we shared while they were here.  It is also a time to look back at years past and remember those moments which we have carried into the present with us and incorporated into our lives and celebrations. 

This year my Lovely Bride and I are again preparing to celebrate Christmas.  We will have a couple of the girls and their significant others over, as well as my mother-in-law, for Christmas Day.  So far, decorations have been limited to a few outside lights and a tree.  A new artificial, pre-lighted tree has taken center stage, but as I sit and look at it twinkling, I can't help but think of the first tree we shared back before we ever talked about getting married.

We were both in college; she was studying Food Science at Sam Houston State, and I was deep in clinicals at HBU.  I was living in a ramshackle apartment building in Montrose, existing on 'mater and onion sandwiches since money was pretty tight.  She would come down to Houston on weekends to type my papers and cook real food for me.  Even then, she was taking care of me.  One weekend in December she arrived, finding me sitting staring at the walls in a funk.  She decided I needed to have some sort of Christmas decorations to help cheer me up, and keep me from focusing solely on my upcoming mid-terms.  There was no money for a tree, but I had an old stand and a few decorations.  We loaded up in my '69 Dodge Dart and headed for the country.

I had grown up northwest of Houston on a remote farm which was still in the family.  A decade or so before, I had helped my father plant a thousand or so pine seedlings to try to control erosion.  Most had survived and young trees had sprung up amongst the more mature trees.  These small trees were the perfect size, and price, for us.  The pasture was pretty soggy from recent rains, so we walked the 1/4 mile or so to look for the perfect tree.  Looking back, the only thing which was perfect was the pricetag!  They were the wrong kind of trees, had never been shaped, and each had a multitude of bugs living in them.  But it was what we could afford.

We eventually picked out and cut a tree, and started dragging it across the pasture to the car.  As we got closer, cold drops of rain starting falling, causing us to drop the tree and duck into the hay barn.  We sat in the doorway watching the rain, and immediately every cow on the place headed towards us.  After all, the only time that door was opened was when it was feeding time.  My LB-to-be was fascinated by the cows milling about just inches away.  For a city girl, she got to experience a lot of firsts that day, yet never panicked.  She learned why you wear boots when you work around cows, and I think her love affair with living in the country started at that point.

I don't remember what that tree looked like after it was decorated, and no pictures exist.  I couldn't tell you what I received for Christmas that year.  Thirty five years later, what I do remember is us going together to pick it out, and in the process, learning more about each other and about ourselves together.