Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Prince

If "my people" in this city have had a prince, then his name was Billy.

When first I met Billy, he was at the same favorite, local restaurant on the same night every week as my group.  He reigned at a table of pretty boys and always seemed to have a beauty on his arm.  He was friendly, but at "their" table.  Looking back, I know that some of my high school insecurities creeped in and I was somewhat jealous of a table of such pretty people.  But Billy was always very nice.

A friend of mine that I had met through work belonged in his crowd.  And for some of Billy's annual Christmas parties would invite me.  They were top notch social affairs at the grandest rental hall in the city.  Social events thrown by a group of people, they were parties like grown-up proms complete with bands, booze & de-bauchery, all thrown for a good cause.

And one night, quite a few years into it, Billy asked me out for dinner.  No romantic interludes, no subtlety, just two friends going to dinner together.  And I learned more that night about the man than I had learned in years of sitting one table across from him.  He came to life as a real and genuine person. And my ideas of him existing as one of the "pretty ones" just fell to the side.

We never developed the kind of friendship to call each other, and have never been to each others homes.  And in the last couple of years seemed to be not in the same places at the same time. I never even realized that I wasn't seeing him, because I guess I always assumed he was right around the corner somewhere.

And last night I found out that he died.  Suddenly.  Early heart failure.

I've spent today feeling like our Prince has died. He knew and had friends from every walk of life.  He could hold court in a crowd of few or hundreds.  And he always did so with a trademark smile and attitude that life was to be lived.

Posts on social sites are replete with comments about his friendship and his personality.  I don't know his surviving family, and don't think I could convey in a few words on a funeral home's website what I learned from him or how I feel.

The Prince has died. 

Kindred, The Embraced

A favorite show of mine was a short-lived series based on different vampire clans living in the city, with each clan having a leader, and all clans showing fealty to the Prince of the city. The prince ruled and kept peace between the clans, as well as ensuring everyone existed under the rules that kept them hidden from centuries.

It was a short lived series, but I thought it had promise, as the story lines were not just merely about vampire this and vampire that, but seemed to be evolving around common themes of life, love, angst, jealousy, etc.  And I found the evolving back stories of the different clans interesting as well.

Kindred, The Embraced.

Wedding Invitations

On the radio this morning, the dj’s were doing one of those bits with a letter for advice.  In the letter, a bride to be noticed that her fiancĂ© has a friend-girl on the list, a long time friend who has not been romantic with the fiancĂ©, but has been jealous and non-supportive.  Especially with comments like, “You never have time for me anymore.”  The bride wondered if she could just “lose” the invitation before it went out in the mail.

No other information was given. We don’t know if the bride has discussed this with the groom, we don’t know if the groom has discussed this with the friend.  We only know what was in the letter.

And I only know what happened to me twenty five years ago. 

In this mini play, I was starring in the role of “unsupportive friend.”  There were two sisters, both beautiful in my eyes and both shining stars in my life.  I would argue their faces were identical twins, the rest of them were as opposite as night and day. Like Danny Devito and Arnold Schw, one blonde, one brunette, one tall, one short, and both wild as a mad hatter.

The older one went off to college in what I considered at the time the greatest emotional valley of my short life – I had to use both hands to count all the friends who had graduated a year ahead of me and left me to finish high school without them.  Now, I was hardly friendless.  But focusing on the positive would not have played well with the melodrama in my head.

Or the real life drama that would enfold when I took my first look at him. 

She brought him home from college and I met him at her parent’s house.  I won’t go into detail about how I behaved, because to this day I am so embarrassed by my behavior. Words like rude, juvenile, condescending barely begin to explain how I treated him.  And why?  Because I knew the moment that I looked at him that she was in love with him, that she would marry him, and that she would spend her life with him.

It had nothing to do with his appearance, his build or attractiveness, nothing to do with his behavior.  But in what must have been my one life moment of being psychic, “I knew.”  And knowing somehow just rolled over me in waves.

I would receive an invitation to the wedding, and I went.  And discreetly left without attending the reception.  After all, I knew I’d been horrible to him, I had no right to be there. 

My friendship with her suffered for years due to my behavior.  And to my punishment, rightly should have.  We’re friends now, and probably always were. He graciously doesn’t care if she plans a route near me and we have lunch. I’ve met her children on multiple occasions.  By now, probably I think more about it than he does.  After all, he’s the man she still loves and with whom they have a family.

And I’m the guy that received a wedding invitation I never deserved.

"That was a Good Friday"

It was ninth grade, which was . . . 1983.

We must have gotten off school for Good Friday.  I don't remember it, I didn't, in fact, remember the date at all for years, just the circumstances.

I had gone with my church youth group to a big one day youth convention in Little Rock.  My memory tells me it was in some type of convention hall, the kind that I'm so familiar with today and strike me as variations on the same theme.

Another church in town had also taken their youth group, and two of the guys were new, or soon to be, friends of mine.  One was in the high school fraternity to which I was pledging, the other his younger brother.  Both handsome.  One shorter than the other, but both cut from the same handsome brown haired, athletic cloth.  One had the reputation of being a bit wild, and it was probably well earned.  And both as nice as they could be.

Somehow, out of the crowd, they spotted me.  Came to my youth group and took me, one by each hand, and dragged me over to their church group and sat me down.

Beside her.

For the next 10 years she would be my close friend and constant companion. Weekends would go without discussion as being reserved for the other, at least one night per weekend.

She took me to her Senior prom at her private school. Any trips in subsequent years, for graduations and football games, have me walking through a sort of mist in my mind of magical prom nights with her. I catch myself looking to find a glimpse of us on the dance floor or coming through the gym doors in our dress up clothes.

On Good Friday, I sent her a text for our anniversary.  She replied simply, "That was a Good Friday."


He smelled of sawdust. Always did, that I can recall. For years he and his father owned a sawmeal business. And a gravel hauling business. He would be up in the morning with the sun and come back as it set.

His wife would bake biscuits in the morning, and what was left uneaten she would leave under a metal cake cover (much like the glass cake plates so popular today, but this was a type of tin metal).  So if you came in during the afternoon and needed a snack, there were biscuits there.

He drank tea, unsweetened, out of a Folgers coffee can.  He was just so thirsty that a glass wouldn't do.

Not long ago in their home, I asked her, "Do we have any tea?" and she said, "You're just like your uncle." 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Recipe

Mom has always made a delicious chicken spaghetti.  Sissy has asked me for the recipe a few times, remarking how good it was, and I would try to coax from Mom some semblance of a recipe.  Like so many things she cooks, there's no guarantee it's ever made the same way twice, unless it's a baked good like a pie.  Because, well, pies and cakes just take a recipe.  Fried foods may even take a recipe.  But crock pot dishes?  Not so much. Many times I've heard her say something like, "Well, that's what the recipe calls for, but I use whatever I have on hand."

Knowing that MyFella and I were attempting to make chicken spaghetti this weekend, I called her, the expert on this dish.  She could recall most items, and the steps, but finally referred me to her sister, stating, "I haven't made it in so long, and it was her recipe anyway."

I remember she distinctly told me before that she didn't use very much Rotel because she didn't want the dish too spicy. Her goal is not to have Mexicany spaghetti, it's to have flavorful spaghetti.  So it's no surprise that she would use just half a can of Rotel. But I dutifully called my aunt, and confirmed the recipe. And most importantly, I confirmed the super secret boiling the noodles step that makes all the difference to the recipe.

For the traditionalist, here it is, a quite tasty version of Chicken Spaghetti with Velveeta.

- Chicken.  Whole, boiled, de-boned. Or in my case, not boiled, but slow cooked overnight in the crockpot.
- Broth.  All of it from the above chicken, saved.  Reserve about 3 cups into a separate container to be used later, if necessary, to thin the dish down.  The bulk of the broth (preferably skimmed or strained, in my opinion) in a large pot.
-Noodles. Boil your noodles in the large pot, in the chicken broth.  This step is essential.  It infuses flavor into the noodles which will carry over into every bite.  Boil the noodles to al dente, because remember they will keep cooking in the dish.

For the cheesy sauce part:
- Big block of Velveeta cheese
- Can cream of chicken soup
- Jar of pimentos
- Rotel

Here's where the "whatever I have on hand" part comes in.  Mom will use only half a can of Rotel, and will often skip pimentos anyway. Mom often said her dish is not supposed to be spicy, just flavorful. My aunt, while telling the recipe, stated that she doesn't use Rotel at all, though all of her daughters do, and they mostly make the dish now, not her. As for pimentos, I don't know anyone who knows what a pimento even is, just that it's red and comes in a jar.  So for this, I'd go with "to taste."*

As an example, in today's dish, we used a very big crock pot and a whole lot of noodles.  So we went with two cans of Rotel and no pimentos.  No pimentos were on hand.  We also didn't have any cream of chicken soup, but using my Mom's advice, we used the cream of onion in the cabinet.

To me, when I would occasionally stir and mix the whole concoction in the crock pot, I couldn't help but think it was way too thick.  So I added back in the reserve chicken broth, and I think the end result of the whole dish was a nice and flavorful chickeny, cheesy, noodley dish.

And at least one of MyFella's cousins was overheard calling it "great."

So that's a win-win. 

P.S.  In all fairness to all parties involved, I did not cook nor debone a chicken.  Or as a friend of mine said today, "We could say you did it." There was the implied, "But no one who knows you will believe it."

*I've since discovered that pimentos are just mild peppers.  So you can go with one or the other - pimentos or Rotel.

Just One Dish

MyFella's family hosts two separate family reunions a.k.a. potluck lunches a year, one around Christmas time, and the other in early Summer. 

You see, for a couple of years now, MyFella has asked me to attend the meals with him. He said he wanted me to go.  The first go around, I recall being slighly uneasy about it - not that I didn't know enough people there to be comfortable, just that, well, it's not my family.  And it's a family reunion. And exactly why would anyone think I would be going?

But since a good half of the people there I know, and half of them I probably eat with at least once a month anyway, it just sort of didn't matter.  And besides, there was always good food there.

I have finally figured out which two of his aunt's make the great fried okra dish.  His mother usually makes a very good cornbread dressing. And there's always a great assortment of dishes from which to choose.

Which brings me to MyFella.

Last night he said, very clearly, "I'm only taking one dish tomorrow."  Just one.  I heard him.

We had already planned the one - a chicken spaghetti dish that most Southerners will recognize as being a version of Rotel tomatoes and Velveeta.  That's the one.  Super good.  We had already decided that MyFella would boil a chicken and debone it, as we've learned the hard way that a chicken dish is so much better when you take this extra step.  We had already decided that it would be ok to use the penne pasta on-hand and not spaghetti noodles.  The chicken was put in the crockpot before we went to bed - a healthy batch of chopped onion thrown in for flavor.  I awoke to a house that was smelling quite nice with the chicken that was slow cooked on low all night.

So since all was just as we had planned, how was it we walked out of the door with chicken spaghetti, a buttery peppered corn dish, a dessert made with graham cracker crusts and lemon pudding, and an igloo container full of unsweet tea?

Try as I might to recount what we took, I just keep coming up with a whole lot more than "just one dish."

Brown Hair

His brown hair was perfect.  It fell in a smooth, pretty to look at part on one side and lightly feathered back.  If people with curly hair want straight hair, and vice versa, et cetera, his is the type of hair I want. It nicely framed a man's handsome face one table over on the patio of the restaurant.  The four seats were taken by what appeared to be his family of a wife and two pretty daughters.

He wore a polo style shirt and plaid shorts that showed off his hairy legs.  Legs that were a bit skinny for my taste, but proportioned right for his tall body. The wrought iron table and the distance from us gave me a nice view of the legs slightly open. I couldn't stop myself from looking at him.  I don't think I was attracted to him, I just found him to be pretty to look at.  I probably looked at him once too often.  And once is being understated.

Their meal finished, he and his wife continued a conversation while the daughters sat in laps and played around the table before the wife departed with the children in one direction.  He went another with the ticket and smiled at me.

Yea, I think he caught me looking.

One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three, Mississippi, "He looked back" my dinner companion said.  I looked forward.  There's no looking back.