Remembering the Days of Our Innocence: Eating from the Party Table

Hover over the table with your friends. Everyone is commenting about how pretty the layout is. Stab an olive with a twice-used toothpick. It’s about saving the forests after all. Or glance furtively around the table. No one is looking. Grab one between thumb and index finger. Double dip the cheese melt with a cold green bean. No one noticed that first bite. Dip the other end. Hands are clean and dry. Now reach across the table and shake hands with a friend you haven’t seen in at least a week or two. On the return from that greeting, swoop down and land a chunk of sweet pineapple.

Moving on to the new year.

The crowd is still forming. Scotch eggs, maple-iced doughnuts, French roast coffee, artichoke dip, veggies, nuts, wassail. Before the morning passes, sixty or so friends will crowd in around the table, serve a plate, exchange greetings, and tell tales of the year gone by, hopes for the year ahead and mostly true stories from all the walks of community life.

Our love is manifest in food and words.

How will we greet 2021? There is virtually no safe and healthy way to do it the way we have been doing it. But January is so far in the future. We can hope.

Maybe You Miss It, Maybe You Don’t: Shaking Hands

Dads gave their sons lessons on the proper handshake. The lesson included the rule of never offering your hand to a lady unless she offered hers first. It emphasized the importance of a firm grip, but never a bone crusher. And that one should never, ever linger too long hand in hand.

The Queen looks on as the steward of Warwick Castle shares the warm embrace of hands with the master of the house.

By the time I was out of college, ladies (actually, they preferred to be called women by that time) offered their hands in greeting without forethought or remorse. It was so commonplace in our social life that we never thought much about its disease transmitting potential.

But then there was coronavirus and COVID-19. The gentleman’s warmest greeting was suddenly a life-threatening gesture. By the time we went into lockdown on March 13, I had already mastered the elbow bump but found only a couple of folks who knew exactly how to respond to my apparent act of aggression. Since then, I have not been around enough people to even think about elbow bumps, handshakes, cheek kisses, or anything else. At most, I offer a weak quasi-military salute. It works for most people.

Perhaps it will be the death of the handshake. Will anyone even remember the custom by the time (or, perhaps, if) we ever come out of lockdown? Will anyone miss it?

101 Days Into the Lockdown: LJ’s Slow Awakening

Our summer opens to the thrilling possibility that the Trump Show may be cancelled after a four-year run. The Tulsa MAGA-palooza fizzled, and the embarrassed president could only wave his arms and blame everything “democrat” for the half-filled arena and the yawning media response.

As Trump’s poll numbers plummet, I wonder if our senators will begin to behave like independent agents with the responsibility for bearing the needs and wishes of Texans into the legislative arena. As “the base” falters, Republicans slowly, ever so slowly, seem to be growing spines of their very own. It was a sad thing to see educated men like Cornyn and Cruz dragging themselves past capitol reporters, unable to stand erect, able only to shout out a quick, “I haven’t seen his tweet.”

Meanwhile, people of my age who may not be science-educated but who nevertheless have developed an appreciation for the medical profession – including the public health specialty – are staying home and stepping out only when necessary. Grandchildren have been available in Zoom and Facetime meetings. Church has lost some of its power without the warm hugs and handshakes of real Methodists. Even my pharmacy has succeeded in persuading me to have prescriptions mailed. And the HEB Curbside Pickup service has become my regular contribution to our shopping. So even grocery store and drug store outings are becoming things of the past.

But life goes on in Lake Jackson. I still get out for evening walks if it cools enough by seven. There are a good many people walking. I have run into former colleagues from Brazosport College, other volunteers from the Center for the Arts and Sciences, and just pleasant people whom I have not met but share happy greetings with, nonetheless.

Five Minutes that Can Help You Stay Sane

Coronavirus entered my consciousness somewhere around March 6. I had heard the term and read a few stories about it, but it didn’t seem like much of a threat at the time. Some people were dying in China and Americans were becoming trapped on pleasure cruises. But people in China have been seen wearing masks during outbreaks of various viruses for years. And pleasure cruises? Why do people even spend their money on them? Major diarrhea outbreaks on Carnival cruises are so common they barely make the six o’clock news any more.

The evening of March 6, I attended a retirement party for a friend at The Wursthaus in LJ. There was, at that time, beginning to be some nervousness about being in crowds, but no one really thought much about picking up a life threatening ailment as a result of hanging out with our friends that night. We were there to toast one of them who had served our Center for the Arts and Sciences for some 35 to 40 years.

You could still have that kind of a party on March 6 without tempting death and we all made it into the month of May without anyone testing positive for COVID-19. (Have any of us been tested? Sorry. That was a needless distraction.)

The next day I got a haircut. Life went on pretty much as usual. Then LJ and the rest of the country started locking down. We learned about curbside grocery shopping from HEB. We learned how to order and pick up at The Local’s curb. Some were even learning how to cook at home. We learned how to wash our hands properly and how excruciatingly difficult it is to keep from touching our faces. And we got constant news of the horror coming out of Washington (the state with a snake for a governor), New York City, California, Spain and Italy. For us Lake Jackson folks, those were faraway places and, while we had concerns about loved ones in those places, we felt fairly safe here.

So How’s the Coronavirus Spiral in Lake Jackson?

I know you have been logging on daily hoping to see the report titled “Coronavirus in Lake Jackson.”

In fact, there isn’t anything to report that you haven’t already seen on the national news. Schools are closed. Now we know there is something more important than the STAAR tests. No hand sanitizer. No church services on Sunday. A town without toilet paper!!

Digging around for a local twist, I thought I could at least give you access to Dr. Ron Paul’s contrarian view of recent events. He is our former member of congress who has run for president some number of times. (Google his name if how many times is important to you.)

His son now serves in the U.S. Senate. Rand’s latest senate adventure was to hold up consideration of the first House coronavirus relief bill to talk about the war in Afghanistan. If you go to his dad’s web site and listen to the coverage he delivers from over on Plantation Drive, it should help your understanding of Dr. Paul, the younger.

A friend in New Mexico (formerly of Lake Jackson) wrote that his daughter in L.A. couldn’t buy flour and yeast to make bread. I suggested he check the King Arthur flour web site. He responded that they, too, are having trouble with heavy ordering, difficult shipping problems, and thinning out of staff due to quarantining. So, don’t expect a bag of flour any time soon. Besides, even before the plague, the cost of shipping five pound bags of flour from Vermont to Texas was prohibitive.

But let’s talk about Lake Jackson.

My last two trips to HEB found the shelves spare on the first trip and virtually empty on my second the day before yesterday (Monday, March 16). Since we tend to the foodie side of the political spectrum, I was able to snag a couple of items we needed to make a pot of chili — the very last can of black beans on the shelf and a jar of tomatoes.

Now, I was looking for 14 oz. can of some ordinary diced tomatoes. Of course they were not available. What they did have was larger and a tad more upscale: some organic diced tomatoes from San Something-or-the-Otherino in Italy. I scored those and they made the most delicious chili we have ever enjoyed here at our house. Then, today, I remembered that everybody in Italy is dying. Oh well.

I was also instructed to pick up fresh cilantro if they had any. Of course, fresh cilantro was almost the only thing they had left in fresh produce. No surprise there. But there was a woman at the cilantro bin going through every bunch with her bare hands. I have no reason to believe her hands were any more unclean than mine, but just watching her made me uncomfortable enough to decide to move on without fresh cilantro.

And, did I say it was the best chili we ever made at our house?

Moving on. Organic capers? (Not for the chili.) No problem. They should still have plenty if they are on your list. Just pray they don’t give you diarrhea. If you have trouble making the connection, then you haven’t shopped for toilet paper lately. None in sight, friends.

On the bright side, the next night we were hoping to help a friend stay in business by ordering a carry-out. We found The Local to be very much open and ready to send out meals. We trust them to wash their hands, sneeze into their elbows and stay home if they are sick.

The meal was brought to me without having to get out of the car (a cell call after I arrived was all it took) and it was still hot when I got it home. Best of all, it didn’t have to be handled by a third party delivery service with gig economy health insurance. Always good eats at The Local. But we missed the people, the atmosphere and the occasional chat with the owner who is willing to manage the enterprise from a seat in our booth while we talk about our families, the way business is going, issues at our church, etc.

And, on the subject of trying to be good patrons of local enterprises, I direct your attention to the Blue Water Highway Band. They are offering a live-stream concert tomorrow night since, as they pointed out, they are finding themselves with time on their hands since social distancing doesn’t work so well with their mosh pit crowds. Their live concerts were being cancelled about as far ahead as they had them scheduled. So, give it a look. We will be “there” tomorrow night. And leave them a tip. The ticket is only $20 and you can enjoy it with as many people as you can squeeze in 6 feet apart around your computer. We love these kids. Help them, please.

And be entertained as you watch the world spiral downward. And downward.

Remembering Father Williams

Father Charles Williams (1989-1994) had a keen interest not only in setting the intellectual tone of the parish but also in enhancing its artistic environment. The emphasis on the arts was most appropriate, for the parish served as a place of rehearsal, performance, and research for fine arts students, especially from TWU, for many years. Father Williams encouraged the remodeling of the altar area. After his death, the parish published a book of his sermons. Though known for his intellectualism and quiet nature, Father Williams also provided a good laugh. After telling the children at a Blessing of the Animals ceremony that pets did not go to heaven, he was petitioned by the children to reconsider. By that point, he had acquired a much-loved dog and deemed that pets did, indeed, go to heaven.

From the history of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church (Denton, Texas) posted on the church’s web site: https://stbarnabasdenton.org/about-us/history/
Father Charles Thomas Williams served as Rector at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church from 1989 until his death at the age of fifty in 1994. He was my friend in college and best man at my wedding.

The parishioners at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Denton, Texas, must have thought it rude for a tourist to show up just before the morning service Sunday (February 23) as the congregation gathered for worship. My wife and I were just starting our trip back to Lake Jackson after spending Saturday watching our granddaughter compete in a gymnastics meet. We had discussed the possibility of looking up the church in Denton where my college roommate and our best man had served as rector until his death in 1994.

I was was pretty sure I would not enjoy being among strangers, most of whom would be too young to know my friend and none of whom, certainly, would know the Charles Thomas Williams I knew in college at the University of Houston. Moreover, I didn’t want our presence to be disruptive of the worship environment.

“But there may be a memorial of some kind and we could at least look around the outer grounds,” my wife argued. I acceded and she parked the car while I strapped my monster camera around my neck, slapped on my big Stetson crushable, and did my best to look like anything but a person hoping to be drawn into conversation with an Episcopalian in a worshipful mood.

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