Sunday, November 30, 2014

Caught in a thought

Sometime around noon on Thursday I suddenly found myself wading through a Norman Rockwell illustration.

It was Thanksgiving Day.

And somehow, here I was, smack dab in the middle of a cozy kitchen with 16 other people, each taking our turn with polite jabs at pieces of turkey, or honey-baked ham, while loading our plates with sweet potato casserole, creamed corn, cranberry sauce and that irresistible dressing from Kim's mother's secret recipe (it's not written down anywhere).

Rockwell and I share the same Thanksgiving vision.
 I stepped to one side for a moment's reflection while the others were helping themselves to the feast and instantly I became a brushstroke in Rockwell's  famous "Freedom from Want" portrait, the one where somebody's grandparents are serving a whopping turkey to the rest of their clearly extended family.

Rockwell always considered himself to be an illustrator, not an artist, but this particular work has almost always generated such a strong emotional current for me that I can almost smell the turkey and hear the table chatter.

Illustrator, indeed.

I'd seen that picture as a child and, God help me, it's one of the first images that fills my brain every Thanksgiving since then. I don't know why. It just does.

For the first couple decades of my life, my Pennsylvania Thanksgivings resembled Rockwell's very own vision. But then life intervened. One of my brothers moved to Alaska. Another to Iowa. I moved to North Carolina. Our grandparents passed away and so did our parents. Curiously, our Thanksgivings depended on others of no blood relation.

Here's the spread with bits of the gathering. Dressing is at bottom left corner.
 So this year — and we've done this a few times before — we were invited to Kim's brother's in-laws for Thanks-giving in Asheboro. I think by the time Kim and I rolled in, there were 17 of us, which might have set some kind of house record for attendance.

I met at least three people I'd never seen before. Talk about extended families...

Anyway, the next three hours or so were a slice in time to be savored along with the pumpkin pie, and I found myself not only thankful, but grateful, too.

Thanksgivings are like that, aren't they?

Kim's mother's secret dressing recipe:

Hushpuppies from Backcountry Barbecue and Stamey's Barbecue
Cornbread from Southern Lunch.
Toast from Mayberry's in Winston-Salem
Some buttermilk
A package of Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned Classic Stuffing mix
A hard-boiled egg or two
A couple of fresh eggs
A pinch of sage
A stick of butter
Celery, onion
Real cooked chicken
Chicken soup broth
A dollop of love

The hushpuppies, cornbread and toast are all leftovers from actual meals we ate at those places and brought home in to-go boxes. Mix all of this stuff together and put it in a flat pan. Stick it in the oven at the usual 350 degrees and bake until it smells great or looks like it might be done. Enjoy.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Disappearing act

I'm disappearing.

Really. Literally. Physically. Vanishing.

This realization came to me several months ago during my annual physical examination. I stepped on the scale (we won't talk weight here) and when I got measured — without my Crocs — the nurse said I logged in at 5-foot-5.


I didn't say anything, of course. I knew she was wrong. That sliding, head-topping measuring thingy on the doctor's scale was also wrong. I've never been a tall guy, but I'd always been 5-7 in my adult years.

Five-foot-seven is considered to be short by most modern standards, although I would have been of average height during the Civil War. The current average male height in the United States is approaching — but not quite — 5-10, and I've never been that. Or even close to it. The short gene runs rampant in our family.

I let this new information stew in my noggin for several months, certain that my medical professional had gotten this all screwed up. That is, until a couple of weeks ago in the coffee shop. Somewhere in the conversation at our round table, I mentioned that I was shrinking. Ha ha ha.

"I'm 5-6," chimed the barista, a girl who I guess to be is in her early 20s, if not actually a teenager.

"Come over here and stand next to me," I said, rising from the table. She looked ridiculously short to me.

We stood back-to-back, without our shoes. "Who's taller?" she asked the table.

There was a slight murmur. A slight hesitation. "You are," the consensus told her, "although not by much."

Well, I'm glad they added that disclaimer because I could feel my male ego deflating faster than a bald tire over a spike strip. There it was. It was official. Irrefutable. I'm 5-5.

There is some precedent in the family for this intersecting of gravity, spinal compression and fading bone mass. The last time I visited my grandmother Wehrle in Pennsylvania, I was shocked by how short she was. I imagine she was a woman who stood 5-4 or 5-5 in her prime. But now, in her late 90s, she barely reached my chin. And I'm a short guy.

At 63 years old, I have no way of measuring how fast I'm fading. I suspect one day I'll simply shrink to nothing like something in a plot out of an Edgar Allen Poe (ahem) short story.

I can see my epitaph now:

Bruce was a short guy
and from dusk to dawn
he kept getting shorter
until he was gone.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


Every once in a while, as a source of amusement, I'll check the stats on my blog to get a feel for the size and reach of my readership.

I can't vouch for the accuracy of, the platform I use to write and publish my blog, but it tells me the number of hits I get daily, weekly, monthly and all time for each individual blog that I post. It also tells me which countries in which my readers live, which is kind of interesting. Does that mean somebody in Uzbekistan really cares enough to read about the concrete driveway I put in last year? Holy smokes.

I'm flattered and thankful for the small number of faithful readers that follow my blog on a fairly regular basis. I write this thing mostly to entertain, perhaps provide a chuckle, to raise an eyebrow, maybe even to express a simmering outrage and to finally get that off my chest.

A typical blog post will generate about 40-50 hits on the day of publication. I figure 25 of you are regular readers, the other 15 or so are occasional readers or simply found me by accident. And I am more than satisfied with that.

Every once in a while I'll write something that touches a common core. When my friend Kent Crim passed away several months ago, the blog I wrote about him went through the ceiling, generating nearly 900 page views, about 700 of them on the day of publication. That was gratifying.

But this past month something really bizarre has been going on. A blog I wrote three years ago, entitled "Weighty issue" (see here), was lingering at about 60 pageviews ever since it was first published in 2011. Then, for some reason, it recently started smoldering, and then it combusted.

For the past month, "Weighty issue" was getting 40-50 hits per day. Go figure. I couldn't understand it. The world map on the stats page shades each country green when a reader from that nation pulls up my blog, and for some reason, France was always green. Dark green. Green when every other country was blank. Suddenly, it seemed, the French couldn't get enough of me.

As of today, "Weighty issue" has gotten 1,526 pageviews, although the upward trending seems to be slowing down. The story about Kent Crim is a distant second with 892 hits.

Incredibly, I had 2,200 hits for the month of October. Yikes.

I don't get it. I don't have any friends or relatives in France, so why the sudden international interest in my weight?

Then it hit me. Frenchmen are crazy. Their most popular Hollywood actor is Jerry Lewis, for crying out loud. So why shouldn't I be a popular bloggist in France?

I'm still not sure what to make of all of this. I don't know whether to be humbled for the increased readership or annoyed that the sudden impact of 1,526 readers could be skewering the stats.

I guess I'll be humbled. Merci beaucoup.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Burning daylight

As I hammer away on my computer keyboard this morning, my wife remains sound asleep.

We gained an hour of sleep because we changed the clocks last night. Back to standard time. Thus, my wife — who sleeps like a cat anyway — gained an hour of sleep.

Lucky her. It didn't work that way for me — I just got up an hour earlier.

I don't know why we change the clocks. Without getting into the politics of it, the whole concept of saving daylight in the summer seems like a good idea to me, so why don't we save daylight all year long? Especially in the winter, when there's less of it.

OK, OK. It's 6:30 a.m. as I write this, and there's daylight right now where there was none yesterday. Great. Who's awake to take advantage of this moment? Who's outside cutting grass or raking leaves? We seem to be adjusting our daylight for the wrong part of the day.

I went to Wikipedia to read up on this to get a clue as to what I am talking about, but the thing read like a Master's thesis and it lost me when it got to the part about disrupting circadian rhythms, which I was surprised to learn had nothing to do with the Bee Gees and disco music. Clearly, resetting the clock is a different kind of Saturday Night Fever.

As a child, clock changing always seemed like a mid-night event to me, a peculiar precursor to Christmas. I was excited about it without knowing why. I'm still not sure why. Do we actually lose an hour? Do we only have 23 hours today? Or did we repeat an hour, similar to the Twilight Zone time shifts in Ground Hog Day? Is that why the official changing hour is 2 a.m., when nobody is awake?

The blue nations observe daylight savings time. Everyone else is normal.
 And how does the rest of the world cope with this? Wikipedia showed me a map of the world where certain western civilizations observe time changing, but others on the planet don't. How can you conduct international commerce and business with an arrangement like that? How can Federal Express keep a tidy schedule with this mess going on?

Changing the clocks also makes me aware of just how many timepieces I own. There's my watch, and there's my wife's watch, which is like a miniature and I can hardly get to the stem to wind the thing back. There's digital clocks on my appliances and my ancient stereo tuner, yet miraculously I don't have to fiddle with anything on my TV or computer, which somehow know to change the time automatically. So, I wonder, what else do the TV and computer know? Then there's the clocks in our cars, which I always try to change while I'm driving. Probably not a good idea.

But I'm probably overreacting and all of this may be a moot point anyway. I'm sure I'll reconsider everything I've said, you know, after I take my nap. At 3 p.m. Or maybe 2 p.m.