The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

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THE VANILLA CHRISTMAS TURKEY

This is a re-blog of a post I put up soon after I started my blogging “career”.  Because I was new at this whole thing, there weren’t many people who saw this post  But those few who did seemed to find it enjoyable.

Now that I have a larger audience, I thought I would share it with you since we all need a little good cheer and a hearty laugh at this time of year.

I had known Amos for many years. He looked and sounded as if he could be James Earl Jones’ twin. We first met when I had directed him in a community theatre production of the Cole Porter show, “Anything Goes.”

Amos and I were different in almost every way and disagreed on almost everything. Possibly for those reasons we became the very best of friends.

I was a good cook. Amos had difficulty heating a can of soup. Amos thought that William Faulkner was the greatest author and genius the world had ever brought forth. I made six attempts at reading, “As I Lay Dying” – and never made it past page nine before I fell sleeping. I couldn’t wait for opera season to begin. Amos couldn’t understand how anyone would choose to attend the opera unless a gun were held to his head.

One year, about a week before Christmas, I ran into him on the street as I was walking Tristan my Irish Setter. Tristan did what he did best, jumped up on Amos and started licking his face. Tristan was well-trained.

Amos asked, “So what are you doing for Christmas?”

I replied that I would probably make a small roast of some kind for Tristan and me.

“Well, I was going to call you but I’m glad we met. I would like you to join mother and my sister and me for Christmas dinner.”

I readily accepted the invitation – expecting that we would be going to Amos’ mom’s house for dinner. He had told me on any number of occasions that his mother was an outstanding cook.

Then came the bombshell.

Amos said, “I’m cooking. Dinner will be at three o’clock.”

I politely inquired, “Could I help you – or is there something that I might bring to add to this festive meal?”

“Not at all. I have everything under control.”

So I went my way, wondering what was in store for Christmas dinner.

On Christmas day I called Amos about nine – just to see if he might have changed his mind and could use some assistance. He assured me that everything was under control – but said that if I wanted to come by at about one we could have a few glasses of wine together before his mother and sister arrived.

When I got off the elevator of his apartment building, I was struck with the aroma of vanilla which filled the rather large hallway. I went to Amos’ apartment and found that he was the source of this.

He greeted me at the door – and the vanilla aroma in the hallway had graduated to an overpowering smell. I asked, “What are you making for dessert?”

Amos said, “Oh, I bought a cherry pie at the store and got some Redi-Whip to top it off.” He pointed to the can of Redi-Whip sitting on the counter next to the stove. I suggested that he might want to refrigerate it.

“So what is the source of this wonderful vanilla smell?”

Amos said, “Well, I knew that you were supposed to rub the turkey with some sort of herbs and such but when I went to my cupboard the only thing I had was vanilla – so I used that.”

“I’ll take that glass of wine now, if you don’t mind,” I said. And he poured one for both of us.

The wine helped – a little.

“May I ask what else you’re making?”

“Well, I made rice stuffing to go with the turkey.”

“Oh, that sounds good.” I couldn’t help but ask how he had prepared this.

“The recipe said to cook the rice and add all the other ingredients – some chopped celery, a little onion, some mushrooms. But I figured since it was going to be sitting inside the bird for six hours (it was a 14 pound turkey), why bother with the cooking part. It would be nicely done if I just put the raw rice in with the rest of the ingredients.”

I asked for a second glass of wine – which helped a little bit more.

Thankfully, at that point the downstairs buzzer rang. Mom and sis had arrived.

Amos’ mom and I immediately bonded and the two of us agreed that since KFC was open, I would go and purchase a 16 piece bucket of chicken and a sufficient quantity of mashed potatoes and other side dishes to feed the four of us.

We all enjoyed the store-bought cherry pie (replete with Redi-Whip) for dessert.

That was the most interesting Christmas dinner I ever experienced – and the only time I almost got to eat a vanilla turkey.

Merry Christmas to my dear friend Amos and to all of you.

DEAR JOHN

The world may not have ended on December 21, 2012 – but we did lose a great citizen.  I received a call this morning that a good friend, John Hamilton had passed away at the age of 72.

You don’t know who he was – but you should.  He was someone who was an example for all of us – a kind, righteous man.  He happened to be black – but that is not something that should be all that important to us.  It was not all that important to him.

I heard the news from his sister, Delia who is the person who introduced me to John at a Christmas party which she hosted many years ago.  I was immediately struck with his warmth and genuine kindness at that party and we became good friends over many years.

John sold insurance for a livelihood.  That’s a tough gig – but he handled it well.  He never made millions of dollars, but he worked long hard hours to support himself.  He was an immaculate dresser – which brings me to how I got to know him the best.

I was having coffee on a Saturday morning when the phone rang.  It was John.   The reason for his call was that he wanted to buy a new suit and wondered if I would be kind enough to help him pick it out.

Frankly, that surprised me. As John always dressed impeccably, I had always assumed that he had an eye for fashion.  But it turned out that his sister helped him pick out his wardrobe and she had gone to California to work on her Master’s Degree in anthropology.

The reason he asked for my assistance was that he was color blind.  I had known John at this point for at least five years and neither he nor his sister had ever mentioned this.

John had a disability.  But he found a way to cope with that.  As I came to learn, he numbered every article of his clothing so that he could co-ordinate his outfits.  He took pride in his appearance and in himself. 

He didn’t cry or moan about his red green confusion.  He dealt with it and found a way to work around it.

John was one of the small minority of the black community who rejected the Obama administration in the last election.  He held to higher standards.  He was an individualist.

You’ll remember that he asked my help selecting a new suit.  When we arrived at the store where he did most of his clothes shopping, he asked the salesman why the buttons of one that we had selected had the letters PC inscribed on them.  Of course, this was decades before we had heard of Political Correctness.

The salesman, thinking this would be a good selling point said, “This suit was created by the famous French designer, Pierre Cardin.  When you wear this suit, those in the know will know that you have excellent taste.”

John paused for a moment.

“So when I wear this suit, I will be advertising Mr. Cardin’s business.  Will I be receiving royalty checks from him for promoting his enterprise?”

The salesman laughed, obviously thinking that John was joking.  He was deadly serious.

John went on, “It seems to me that if you do something to benefit a commercial venture you should get compensated for it.  And since Mr. Cardin apparently doesn’t share that view, I’ll take the suit – but only if you replace the buttons with plain ones that are appropriate to the material.”

And that’s what the tailor in the store did.

Over the years, John and I had many conversations about the “mob mentality” in clothing as it reflected on the lack of individuality in our society.  Think about all the clothing and accessories which you or your friends own which are emblazoned with a company logo or name, items that were purchased in an effort to look trendy and chic.

Inanimate objects do not empower us.  Only we have the ability to do that for ourselves, with the help of family and friends.  John knew that.  And he lived that.

Delia requested that I deliver the eulogy at his funeral.  I consider it a great privilege that I was asked to do so.  Since I learned of his death I have been trying to put together some thoughts that reflect on his life.

Maybe I will talk about the man I knew who loved kids and cats and dogs.  The man who held the door open for the person behind him and who always allowed ladies off the elevator before him, stretching out his arm to make sure that the door didn’t close unexpectedly.

I will always remember his beaming smile and his hearty laugh.  I will always remember how he would swoop down to comfort a child who had skinned her knee while she and a friend were playing hopscotch.  

John was a kind man and a gentleman. You couldn’t help but notice as he was so proficient at his craft – having practiced it every day of his life.  And with his passing, there is one fewer of that dying breed who are left to shine their light upon us. 

ABUNDANCE

For most Americans, our national day of Thanksgiving is wrapped up in family, over-eating, football and a general euphoric sense of joy.  The same may not be said for the turkeys involved in this whole thing – although I consulted with the yams and cranberries and they seem to be okay with it all.

Oh, and let me not forget.  This begins the kickoff to that most important part of the Holidays – shopping.

Our insatiable lust for more “things” has compelled our retailers to begin pulling back the onslaught of prospective buyers from the Friday after Thanksgiving to the night of the holiday itself.  Perhaps they have conducted studies that prove that a person who has consumed vast quantities of l-tryptophan is more likely to part with his money if he can only stay awake long enough to get in the store’s welcoming doors.   Inside can be found the keys to happiness wrapped up neatly in packages made in China.

There is no recession here – unless it is one of the spirit and of values.

It was a bitterly cold day in Chicago that December 23rd.  I had nearly finished checking every one off my Christmas list – but there were still two holdouts.

I remember that even under the multiple layers of clothing my body was telling me to go someplace warm.  My fingers were numb even through my faux fur-lined gloves.  I would have put my hands in my coat pocket but I was carrying two bags of gifts which I needed to go home and wrap.

Home.  That sounded cozy and welcoming and I wanted to be there.  But first I had to find those two last presents.

I remember walking into a little store in the neighborhood which had merchandise that was made in Scandinavia.  All sorts of little pieces of glass, blown into the most wonderful and imaginative forms.  Frankly, I didn’t think these were things that my last two giftees would care about – but that didn’t matter to me.  The store was warm and I was beginning to return to room temperature.  That was my greatest reason for deciding to linger, taking my time in deciding which present each of them would receive – whether they wanted it or not.

I would probably have stayed longer as the blood in my feet was only just beginning to re-circulate but one of the sales people explained that they were getting ready to close.  So I made my decision, paid for my two purchases and added them to the others in my shopping bags. With some discomfort at the thought of what lay ahead in the mile walk home, I bundled up and opened the door to be greeted by a blast of wind that was so shrill and so sharp it made my eyes tear.

When I got home, I set down my parcels, took off my gloves and immediately went into the kitchen to start the kettle so I could make myself a cup of Russian Caravan tea.  I remember turning on the warm water in the sink and running my hands under it to speed up the process of getting the blood flowing through them.

And as I sat at my little kitchen table waiting for the water to come to a boil, I began thinking about my day and about all this shopping.  And I began pondering how I had, like so many of us, bought into this “bill of goods” that our sense of self-worth could be measured by the amount of money that we spent on presents.

That was the last Holiday season that I went out buying people gifts.  I turned my focus in later years to doing things that were more meaningful to me and, I hope to them.  I made things and those were my presents to my friends.

One year I taught myself to crochet and my friends all got scarves.  Another year I ventured into the world of yeast and people got  a variety of breads.  And then I taught myself to make jams and jellies and preserves and helped boost the sales of the Mason Jar Company.

I hope that those who got these gifts enjoyed receiving them as much as I did in creating them.  I know they are simple things, probably not as exciting as the latest electronic gadget.  But they were made and given with love right here in America – a land of abundance.

And that we are fortunate to live in such a place, we should all be grateful this Thanksgiving.

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