Thursday, December 27, 2007

Musical Diversity

The other morning my son Benjamin was watching Hip Hop Harry on tv. It is a kids' show that has positive messages but many are packaged in hip hop music. I started thinking about kids shows and the music featured on them and realized that nearly all kids shows use hip hop music. I like hip hop and rap but I'm concerned that kids will grow up liking only hip hop music and upping their noses at other musical forms.

Growing up in the 70's, I was an avid Sesame Street viewer and that show provided a good mix of music. One week Stevie Wonder might be the guest host, the next John Denver, the week after, Roy Clark. The modern Sesame Street has had Yo Yo Ma, Nora Jones, Sheryl Crow, Alison Krauss, and Wyclef Jean. Sesame Street continues to provide a rich musical mix while the rest settle for hip hop homogenization.

Listen to all kinds of music!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Jelly Jars

I realized a few weeks ago that a very important item had disappeared from the grocery store landscape -- character-themed jelly jars. Growing up in the 1970s it feels like I drank most of my milk from Peanuts, Loony Tunes, and Flintstones jelly jars. Some of the scenes reminded me of scenes from Charles Schultz's television carton shows. I would gaze at the scenes while eating cinnamon toast and imagine my own dialogs for the depicted scene. I would imagine the scenes that lead to the depicted scene or what might follow the jelly jar vignette. Now, something that I thought would always be there has disappeared. No warning, no public notice. Just gone.

It is true that you don't know what you have until it's gone. I had assumed that my children would make it through their formative years drinking milk from jelly jars, a right of passage. In our house we have several small Welch's jars with Peanuts scenes circumnavigating them. Then there was the startling grocery store epiphany. At least we have a few jelly jars at home. Maybe they would be enough to leave an indelible mark on my children's psyches. Just maybe. But maybe not. Children make mistakes, they knock glasses off the table while innocently playing with their food. The dog breaks one making a lunge for a child's lunch. Things happen, things that cannot be undone.

Children should experience some fundamental things while working their way towards adolescence. Taking a lunch box to school, getting in a fight, making and losing a best friend, drinking milk from a jelly jar. Think of it. Jelly jars are a hip, lesson in recycling. I checked ebay for jelly jar auctions. Fantastic! There are several dozen jelly jar auctions; complete sets of Peanuts, Loony Tunes, Dr. Seuss, Flintstones, and others. The jars aren't very expensive. You can buy them for a few dollars but the shipping charges will likely exceed the auction price. I quietly wonder if I should buy and stockpile jelly jars as insurance against extinction.

Most families pass down fine china and flatware to their children and grand-children. Perhaps a hundred years from now, one of my great-grand-children will quietly enjoy drinking milk from a 20th-century, re-used jelly jar. Hopefully Oreo cookies and Moon Pies will still be around and not go the way of the do-do bird or character themed jelly jar.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Ike and Bobby Lee

Many folks do not understand the South's long standing reverance for Robert E. Lee. President Dwight Eisenhower laid out the reasons Lee should be respected as an American icon in his letter to Leon Scott, details below.

President Dwight Eisenhower wrote the following letter in response to one he received dated August 1, 1960, from Leon W. Scott, a dentist in New Rochelle, New York. Scott’s letter reads:

“Dear Mr. President:

“At the Republican Convention I heard you mention that you have the pictures of four (4) great Americans in your office, and that included in these is a picture of Robert E. Lee.

“I do not understand how any American can include Robert E. Lee as a person to be emulated, and why the President of the United States of America should do so is certainly beyond me.

“The most outstanding thing that Robert E. Lee did was to devote his best efforts to the destruction of the United States Government, and I am sure that you do not say that a person who tries to destroy our Government is worthy of being hailed as one of our heroes.

“Will you please tell me just why you hold him in such high esteem?

Sincerely yours,

“Leon W. Scott”

Eisenhower's response, written on White House letterhead on August 9, 1960 reads as follows:

August 9, 1960

Dear Dr. Scott:

Respecting your August 1 inquiry calling attention to my often expressed admiration for General Robert E. Lee, I would say, first, that we need to understand that at the time of the War Between the States the issue of Secession had remained unresolved for more than 70 years. Men of probity, character, public standing and unquestioned loyalty, both North and South, had disagreed over this issue as a matter of principle from the day our Constitution was adopted.

General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865 was still an arguable question in America; he was thoughtful yet demanding of his officers and men, forbearing with captured enemies but ingenious, unrelenting and personally courageous in battle, and never disheartened by a reverse or obstacle. Through all his many trials, he remained selfless almost to a fault and unfailing in his belief in God. Taken altogether, he was noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history.

From deep conviction I simply say this: a nation of men of Lee’s caliber would be unconquerable in spirit and soul. Indeed, to the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities, including his devotion to this land as revealed in his painstaking efforts to help heal the nation’s wounds once the bitter struggle was over, we, in our own time of danger in a divided world, will be strengthened and our love of freedom sustained.

Such are the reasons that I proudly display the picture of this great American on my office wall.


Dwight D. Eisenhower

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Catfish Stew

I grew-up eating my grandfather's, H.E. "Pee Wee" Gates, catfish stew. Every year my grandparents hosted a Christmas Eve drop-in at their house in Ballentine, South Carolina and folks from all over the Columbia area would stop by. Nearly everyone had a bowl of catfish stew and a slice of my grandmother's red velvet cake. The stew was cooked in a large 30 gallon pot and stirred with a yard long wooden paddle. My grandparents moved from Ballentine and stopped hosting the Christmas Eve drop-in. My grandfather died in 2003 and my uncle Wes started making catfish stew for the family Thanksgiving Day meal. Pee Wee used the red stew recipe below, my uncle Wes makes a both the red and milk-based stew variation.


6 11.5 oz. cans of V-8 juice

This recipe is for 25 gallons so downsize accordingly.

Directions:Add water to pot covering fish 3” to 4”. Add seasonings including Worchestershire sauce and bring pot to boil. Cook approximately 20 minutes, until fish is done (cooked and falling apart).

While fish is cooking – cook diced potatoes in another pot, approx. 20 minutes.

While fish and potatoes are cooking – fry fatback.

When fish and potatoes are done, strain potatoes and add to pot with fish. Then add onions and broken pieces of fatback and some fatback grease if desired. Allow to cook on high heat an additional 10 minutes stirring often. Lower heat and add ketchup and V-8 or milk.

If stew is not thick enough, thicken with instant potatoes.

Wes' Milk-based Catfish Stew
To make white catfish stew, substitute evaporated milk for the ketchup and V-8. It would take approximately 20 cans of milk to make 25 gallons of stew.

Al Sharpton, Southerner

As many of you may have heard liberal, Democrat, Reverand Al Sharpton recently discovered he is a descendant of one of former South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond’s ancestors. In an interview on National Public Radio, Sharpton stated that he was conflicted concerning this revelation. He was honored by the plight of his enslaved ancestors and appauled by his connection to the one-time, staunchly segregationist, Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond. Many conservative Southerners may be equally distraught over the news that, yes, Al Sharpton is a Southerner by blood.

I welcome Reverand Sharpton as a newly ordained Southerner. Hopefully Reverand Sharpton will embrace his new found Southern roots and seek to honestly understand why the South is such a special place. Perhaps he will learn that Southerners invented Jazz, the Blues, and gospel music; wrote many of America’s great literary works; has provided much of America’s military leadership; and birthed many great statesmen. Yes, Reverand Sharpton, you have many new reasons to be proud!

Perhaps Sharpton will seek to understand the South, not simply hold it up as an example of everything that went wrong in America — slavery, poverty, racism, etc. (You knew the South was the soul environment for those afflictions, didn’t you?) Maybe Sharpton will discover the simple joys of fishing in a pond with a cane pole; the joy of a Moon Pie and RC Cola on a hot summer’s day; the sound of cicadas in the trees at night or bob whites calling in the morning; the thick scent of gardenias; the wonderful taste of collard greens seasoned just right; and the smell of a freshly tilled field. I hope Reverand Sharpton will take this opportunity to embrace his heritage — He should, he has a great deal to enjoy and even more to learn.

The Rant...

I heard the following piece by Robert St. John at a Sons of Confederate Veterans meeting in 2001. I loved it. It captured many of the things that make the South the wonderful place it is. It also addressed some of its faults with honesty and truthfulness. It is fitting that St. John's rant should be the first post.

My South
By Robert St. John

Thirty years ago I visited my first cousin in Virginia. While hanging out with his friends, the discussion turned to popular movies of the day. When I offered my two-cents on the authenticity and social relevance of the movie “Billy Jack," one of the boys asked, in all seriousness: “Do you guys have movie theaters down there?” To which I replied, “Yep, and we wear shoes, too.”

Just three years ago, my wife and I were attending a food and wine seminar in Aspen, Colorado. We were seated with two couples from Las Vegas. One of the Glitter Gulch gals was amazed, amused and downright rude when I described our restaurant as a fine-dining restaurant.

“Mississippi doesn’t have fine-dining restaurants!” she demanded, as she snickered and nudged her companion. I fought back the strong desire to mention that she lived in the land that invented the 99-cent breakfast buffet, but resisted. I wanted badly to defend my state and my restaurant with a 15-minute soliloquy and public relations rant that would surely change her mind. It was at that precise moment that I was hit with a blinding jolt of enlightenment, and in a moment of complete and absolute clarity it dawned on me—my South is the best-kept secret in the country. Why would I try to win this woman over? She might move down here.

I am always amused by Hollywood’s interpretation of the South. We are still, on occasion, depicted as a collective group of sweaty, stupid, backwards-minded and racist rednecks. The South of movies and TV, the Hollywood South, is not my South.

My South is full of honest, hard-working people.

My South is colorblind. In my South, we don’t put a premium on pigment. No one cares whether you are black, white, red or green with orange polka dots.

My South is the birthplace of blues and jazz, and rock-and-roll. It has banjo pickers and fiddle players, but it also has B.B. King, Muddy Waters, the Allman Brothers, Emmylou Harris and Elvis.

My South is hot.

My South smells of newly mown grass.

My South was the South of The Partridge Family, Hawaii 5-0 and kick the can.

My South was creek swimming, cane-pole fishing and bird hunting.

In my South football is king, and the Southeastern Conference is the kingdom.

My South is home to the most beautiful women on the planet.

In my South soul food and country cooking are the same thing.

My South is full of fig preserves, cornbread, butter beans, fried chicken, grits and catfish.

In my South we eat foie gras, caviar and truffles.

In my South our transistor radios introduced us to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones at the same time they were introduced to the rest of the country.

In my South grandmothers cook a big lunch every Sunday.

In my South family matters, deeply.

My South is boiled shrimp, blackberry cobbler, peach ice cream, banana pudding and oatmeal cream pies.

In my South people put peanuts in bottles of Coca Cola and hot sauce on almost everything.

In my South the tea is iced, and almost as sweet as the women.

My South has air-conditioning.

My South is camellias, azaleas, wisteria and hydrangeas.

My South is humid.

In my South the only person who has to sit on the back of the bus is the last person who got on the bus.

In my South people still say “yes, ma’am," “no, ma’am," “please” and “thank you.”

In my South we all wear shoes . . . most of the time.

My South is the best-kept secret in the country. Please continue to keep the secret . . . it keeps the idiots away.