Wednesday, January 28, 2015

American Sniper-My Turn

Since American Sniper is making money hand over fist, generating much comment, and giving the talking heads fodder for arguing their political views, we went to see what all the brouhaha is about. I am not rich or famous, so my opinion won’t show up on MSN or make the Evening News, but here is my take on this movie.

It is a war movie; one that seems to me to be a graphic, realistic look at the frustration, futility, and unfairness of war, the defeats and victories of battle, as well as the courage, mental and physical strength, and sacrifice it takes to be a soldier. I didn’t see it as anti- or pro- war, but one man’s story told through battle. I am not a scholar on the life and psyche of Chris Kyle and whether he was correctly or incorrectly depicted in the movie, but it is one heck of a story. I understand that Chris’s real-life wife approved of the movie, and since she had a first person view of events, this surely gives credibility to what we watch on the screen. Bradley Cooper gives a compelling performance as her husband who earns the title of The Legend.

I don’t like war. I am not defending or criticizing the war depicted in this movie. I do think the human life given on both sides of a war is a terrible price to pay for politics. Unfortunately, war has been a staple of the human condition since time began, and I’m afraid, like it or not, it is here to stay. Apparently it is the nature of the grizzly side of the human beast. And the rest of that story is that if fight we must, I want to be on the winning side. And snipers exist to help one side win.

As to the opinion that a sniper is a coward, or that this sniper was a coward, well, soldiers kill the enemy. That’s their job. A sniper is a soldier with a specialized skill that is for the purpose of protecting his fellow comrades in arms. As to the idea that a sniper takes advantage by shooting an unsuspecting victim, consider that a sniper is basically a hunter; that this is also what hunters of animals do. My father was a hunter who learned to hunt as a child to help his father keep food on the family table. He certainly wasn’t a coward. But taking down unsuspecting victims, be they wild animals or human animals, is sometimes an unfortunate necessity. Reality bites.

American Sniper is intense, violent, riveting- all those clich├ęd adjectives reviewers use to describe a harsh movie like this. But it is also poignant, sad, bittersweet, human. I don’t think it is giving anything away to tell you that the story ends with the announcement that Chris Kyle, in tragically ironic fashion, died by the hand of a veteran who suffered from PTSD while Chris was trying to help him deal with his issues, and the end of the movie is a montage of actual footage of Chris’s funeral procession and burial accompanied with very soulful, heartfelt music. Not a person leaves; no one makes a sound. Then as the music fades out to silence and the funeral footage is over, still in silence, the credits roll on a black screen, printed in white, and for a long time, no one moves and no one talks.

Gut-wrenching. We walked out wiping the tears away. I’m sure detractors will scoff and accuse the filmmakers of manipulating the audience with this emotional ending. Well, movie makers attempt to do just that in some form or fashion with any movie they make to reach their audience; that’s their job. In my mind, it was, really, the only way to end it, and was an appropriate thank you to this particular man and a show of respect for all veterans who serve and have served our country.

Godspeed to all of them.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Cautionary Tale About Assuming

My friend Nola is compiling a cookbook of 3rd and 4th generation recipes of Texas cooks. I contributed two recipes, my Grandmother Drum’s tea cookies and my Grandmother Graves’ green grape cobbler. In the course of getting all the details right for the cobbler story last week, that pesky pie crust recipe came up again (“Tales From The Kitchen: Learning to Make Pie Crust,” February 6, 2013). I tended to give Nola pretty vague details about the recipes. assuming that some of the details, like measurements of sugar and grapes would just be obvious, I guess. You know, after making this cobbler for years without a recipe, it just seemed natural to know how much sugar to use, what the right amount of grapes looked like, how thick to roll out the crust. Nola wasn’t buying it. She just got real picky and kept asking for specifics. We finally came to terms with all the details, and then at Thanksgiving when we went to AJ’s house for Thanksgiving (“Trip to the Christmas Tree Farm,” December 4, 2014”), I realized that I might have been guilty of assuming, which, as a teacher, I had often been warned about.You shouldn’t assume because it makes an ass of “u” and me… and poor AJ suffered the consequences.

IMG_4117

Holiday tradition in this family dictates that the desserts of choice at Thanksgiving and Christmas will be chocolate meringue pie and  lemon meringue pie. So AJ, being the good son he is, who had asked for my pie recipes after he and Erin married, had the two pies made and ready to eat when we arrived for the holiday. Beautiful they were, but when we cut into them, the crust was thick and tough. As Bill did what he did when I was killing pie crust in the early days, which was to eat the filling and meringue and toss the crust, he quietly asked me between bites if this was my crust recipe. AJ heard him and chimed in that it was and asked what had he done wrong. I couldn’t find anything wrong as he took me through his preparation, so it was decided that since the pies had been effectively eviscerated of their fillings, we needed more pies, which I would make the next day while AJ watched.

The new day dawned; the trip taken to the grocery story for a resupply of ingredients; the pie replication began. As I was rolling out half of the dough, AJ asked me what the other half in the mixing bowl was for. For the other pie, I told him. “The other pie?” he repeated. “The recipe doesn’t say anything about two pies.”

Now, I don’t know if I just forgot to add that critical piece of information to the recipe, or if AJ was a classic victim of the consequences of a dastardly assumption that he would just know to make two crusts out of one recipe! And the rest of the story is that if we had just talked the recipe to death and not gone through the actual process, we still might not have solved the mystery of the super thick crust.

So there you have it: don’t assume unless you want to make an ass of u and me.

But sometimes it also will get you two more pies.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Bill and Alice’s Big Adventure-The Liberty Bowl

IMG_4422 
The Aggies made it to the Liberty Bowl, and we decided we needed to go. So two days after Christmas we set out for Memphis.

IMG_4320 
We spent the night in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, where Bill spent his teenage years and where his dad and his wife Lucille are buried in the Ft. Smith National Cemetery, which we visited the next morning. These cemeteries put a lump in one’s throat on any day, but at Christmas it breaks your heart.

IMG_4324 IMG_4322
The wives of veterans can be buried on the other side of their headstone, which is inscribed with the wife’s  name and information.

Then it was on to Memphis. I wanted a neat picture of the Mississippi river and the skyline upon arrival; what i got was a good close-up of the bridge railing.
IMG_4343
Then it was into the city. I wanted a neat picture of the Mississippi river and the skyline upon arrival; what I got was a good close-up of the bridge railing.
But that railing connects to a really cool bridge as you come to the middle of the river, so I did get this shot of the river and bridge from our hotel.
IMG_4401 
But look how pretty it is at night all encrusted with lights.
IMG_4399
And this is the skyline up close and personal from our hotel room window.
IMG_4403
Notice the gray, dreary sky. We had that weather to look forward to for the game, too. In fact, the whole time we were there the temperature stayed 37 degrees and below.

But we had arrived in time to make the Liberty Bowl parade downtown on storied Beale Street. We jumped off the city bus where the parade would end, which allowed us to see everything up close and personal. 

IMG_4347
IMG_4355 
IMG_4359

The Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band and the Yell Leaders were the grand finale to the parade, so the Yell Leaders led a yell and then the War Hymn, as I suspect they had done all along the parade route. IMG_4362 
IMG_4365 

IMG_0214
We of course had to have our picture taken after the parade.
IMG_0248
IMG_4372
We ate somewhere on Beale Street and made our way to W.C. Handy Park for something of a combined pep rally. Both bands were there, and I guess West Virginia’s cheerleaders were there; it was hard to tell. We walked down to the Peabody Hotel in hopes of seeing the ducks do their thing, but they were already tucked in for the night. This building on the roof is called the Duck Palace, and it is from there they ride the elevator down to the lobby every morning and then back up in the evening.
IMG_4387
Back on Beale Street, we did a little shopping where we met a celebrity quite by accident. While I was looking at t-shirts, Bill was deep in conversation with a  man who turned out to be Mike Logan who had played college ball at West Virginia and then for the Pittsburgh Steelers and was there to support his alma mater in the bowl game. But it was funny because Bill had noticed the giant ring on his finger and made a comment something to the effect of “Wow! That’s a big ring. What bowl game is that from,” to which Mr. Logan deadpanned cheerfully, “The Super Bowl.” So of course I had no choice but to take a picture of him and his ring after he had been so pleasant to talk to.
IMG_4391
IMG_0287 
The next morning it was still dreary and cold as we rode the shuttle to the stadium, arriving at around 10 am. Plenty early. Not going to miss this kick-off. We wandered around, bought a Liberty Bowl scarf, discovered the really nice warm rest rooms, tailgated at the Aggie Outfitters trailer they brought all the way from College Station, watched a dress rehearsal of the half-time show, and pretty much froze our butts off waiting for kick-off. Reveille was there, of course, but this was the only chance I had to get a picture of her. She and the band stayed at our hotel and we saw her leaving for the game, but I wasn’t quick enough to get a shot off.
IMG_4412 
 IMG_4409
IMG_4419 
The National Anthem was sung by this young lady, who had been successfully treated at St. Jude’s, which is located in Memphis. She did a lovely job, a cappella, and I wish I had caught her name to share with you, but I didn’t, and I am sorry. Her performance was a fitting opening to the game. I took this picture of her on the giant video screen to show her pretty smiling face up close.
IMG_4430 
We sat by two Aggies from Conroe whose daughter was in the Aggie band, and we enjoyed sharing the game with them. We were barely ahead one point at halftime, but the Aggie band definitely won Halftime. But then, we always do…
IMG_4456
The West Virginia band performed before the game, and the Aggie band performed at the first of the halftime show, after which they had one of those over-produced extravaganzas where they fill the field with high school bands and drill teams and a name performer, in this case Big and Rich, which was fine. But we still won the halftime…

As the game went on and the Aggies did a better job of executing plays and overcoming some truly bad calls, as well as stopping what Coach Sumlin has been known to call their own “dumbass penalties,” things were looking good. When we would finally cover the required ten yards and the chains moved, the announcer would start, and we would all gleefully and loudly chime in to the crescendo of “-and it’s a Fightin’ TEXAS AGGIE FIRST DOWN!!”  The poor Mountaineers had to settle for “It’s a West Virginia first down.”
IMG_4474 
And after all the first downs were made, all the flags thrown, the Aggies were victorious.
 
IMG_4480

Coach Sumlin accepted the trophy, and we hotfooted it to the shuttle bus which we were firmly told would leave 30 minutes after the game was over. but not before I was able to take this picture of the stadium, which took on a colorful aura after dark.
IMG_4482 
Back on Beale Street we warmed up and ate at BB King’s place and listened to some blues provided by guest artist Blind Mississippi Morris before turning in after a long, cold but happy day.
IMG_4483

Up way before the crack of dawn, we left Memphis at 6:45 a.m. and were back in Texas at 5:30 p.m. It wasn’t bad enough we sat through a ball game at 37 degrees; by the time we drove through Amarillo, it was 16 degrees and blowing snow.
IMG_4486 

But we made it home by 8:37, after covering 1665 miles.

IMG_4490 

An adventure, indeed.