It was very cold outside; a thick layer of ice grew on the inside of the single paned and poorly glazed window. It was only inches from my face as I slept in the bedroom next to the kitchen. The bed covers consisted of flannel sheets and two heavy quilts that Grandma Turner had made ... the 'prettier' one was on top. I knew Dad was up, even though it was dark outside, because I woke up in a sweat. When Dad got up and came into the kitchen he always closed the bedroom door, trying to minimize the noise. He didn't realize that the space heater in the bedroom quickly turned the top bunk into a roasting oven.

For some reason, this time, I got up, instead of shedding covers and feigning sleep. I opened the door asking if breakfast was pancakes or waffles, there was a pause, a plan was forming, and I heard, "Get dressed. We're going out for breakfast. You're going to work with me today." I made a mental note for the next time similar circumstances occurred.

It was early, too early for the cafe downtown to be open, but I didn't ask questions. I got dressed, with minimal whining, and Dad filled up the silver and the green thermos with coffee. He put sugar in the green one. He sent me out to start the pickup to get it, and the defroster, warm. A shivering return, without jacket or hat or gloves, prompted his barely perceptible head shake, my corresponding weak nod and a trip to the closet.

Soon we were at the warehouse (WAHR-house), fueling up the bobtail and filling its tanks with alcohol (AL-kee-haul). The alcohol was for the natural gas pipelines up north, to keep them from freezing. Exhaust from the diesel engine ran through a large cylindrical pipe, that served as the front bumper, and exited underneath the right front, a good place to warm your feet. Liberal, Kansas was our destination and I was already wishing I had grabbed a few other clothing items from the closet.

The first leg of the trip was to Perryton, 70 miles north. Sugared coffee, a symphony of drafty whistling from the bobtail's poorly fit cab and the occasional security light at a ranch house were the only things worthy of attention in the dark of the early morning drive. We stopped at the Dutch Inn for breakfast and since the company was picking up the check I got the chicken fried steak and eggs with biscuits, cream gravy and a short stack of pancakes. I had milk to drink since my stomach was already suffering from a coffee induced acid wash. Dad had toast and sausage and orange juice. I asked why he didn't get the steak and eggs and he replied that he had had enough of that stuff growing up which confused me, since I knew he grew up dirt poor.

He grew up on a homestead farm and ranch in Gray County, near Alanreed. They fed themselves with what they raised or bartered for and occasionally bought. They had steak and eggs every morning, unless the hens didn't lay, and then they just had steak, or some form of beef. They slaughtered their own steers for meat, but they had no refrigeration. They were also feeding 10 or 12 people at every meal so it didn't make sense to salt or smoke the whole thing when they would probably be eating it soon. The solution was to haul the carcass up to the top of the windmill with a block and tackle, "where the flys couldn't blow it." Every morning one of the boys would lower it down, Grandma Turner would cut off what she needed for the day, and then they'd hoist it back up. Gather some eggs from the laying hens and there you have your steak and eggs.

What they didn't have was toasted fresh bread. Toasted usually meant the bread was stale or moldy; fresh bread was eaten with churned butter. Nor did they have sausage, unless they made it themselves, and then it was usually smoked, not fresh breakfast links or patties. And orange juice was a true luxury. He said that oranges and pecans and socks were usually what he got in his Christmas stocking, in the good years. I could usually tell when Dad was stretching the truth, making an insignificant story into an epic, but this wasn't one of those times. My fine breakfast was difficult to finish, but I did, in appreciation of my new interpretation of 'feast' and in the hope of avoiding the "you're a dang sight better off than I was" speech.

We stopped at various booster stations on the way to Liberal near Booker, Darrouzett, Follett and Beaver, OK. The booster stations were impressive. The huge natural gas fired engines, with over-sized radiators, had a pop-pop-pop-pop exhaust you could hear from miles away in the flat, rural landscape. They shook the ground around them. At each booster station was an overhead tank, with plumbing that connected to the natural gas pipeline. Our job was to fill up those tanks with methanol, to be pumped into the pipeline, to prevent any water vapor that happened to be there from freezing. It had been below freezing for days. At noon on this Saturday, it was still in the single digits.

At each station there were always several various sized rubber balls scattered around. After a few stops I was curious enough to pick one up and Dad explained that they were used to clean the line. Somewhere farther north the balls were put into the pipeline and the pressure of the gas moved them down the line. They were different sizes because of wear and almost all of them, at least the ones on the ground, were cracked and brittle.

We stopped at the cafe in Elmwood, OK for lunch, though us working men called it dinner. The waitress knew Dad; it was a regular route and he stopped there often. I had a cheeseburger and Dad had the chicken fry. It was still freezing, but we drank iced tea. We each had a small bowl of cobbler ... cherry for me and peach for Dad ... and then it was on to Liberal.

Even then I viewed vehicles as having personalities ... the trusty steed, the tireless worker, the gracefully aging. The bobtail was the ornery bastard. The clutch was going and I just knew it would leave us stranded at some remote location. The exhaust, despite being a good foot warmer, sent too many fumes back into the cab. The cab had more than drafty rattles, it had un-closable floorboard vents, which might have been great in the summer. The seats had no head rest or arm rests or seat belts so there was no napping, only perching and sliding on the vinyl. The more methanol we unloaded, the bouncier the ride got. And, of course, there was no radio. Dad sang.

We made it to Liberal, which must be the nexus for all natural gas pipelines because we made several stops with none of them very far apart. The work was done and we started the 3 hour drive back home. Along the way Dad sang Bob Wills, talked about "batchin' it" in a line shack on some old ranch and told stories about one-eyed mares, pickin' cotton, how to set a corner fence post and various other handy tidbits. I still don't believe he roped that white tail deer.

We had made a big circle through the small towns in the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, with a quick, short dip into Kansas, and now we were makin' a bee-line back home, to Pampa, due south on US Highway 83 in a bobtail truck that I'd just as soon cuss at as ride in. The sun set somewhere along the way home; it was a glorious high plains one. I watched its glory fade from overwhelming to what happened, bouncing along, snatching snippets of panhandle from Dad's running monologue, soaking in the high lonesome and wondering how in the hell I wound up in a near broke truck, anonymously delivering alcohol, and freezing my ass off. At least we were heading home.

When we got home there were two plates of left overs, covered with other plates, in the oven. It was Saturday night, Mom was at work. We ate quickly and as I scraped the plates Dad made dessert ... peanut butter and syrup, with torn up pieces of white bread stirred in. After that, the dishes were rinsed and stacked and I went straight to my unmade bed, being sure to ask Dad to leave the door open.

It was cold here the other morning, though not below freezing. It was hot upstairs when I went to wake up the boy. He'd kicked the covers off and though his eyes were closed, I'm sure he heard me and the dog coming up the stairs. He forgot to take a jacket to school that day. His mother was not pleased, but I sort of understood.

Heat rises. You are what you eat. Like father, like son. Heading home is a good feeling. Some things don't change ... and shouldn't.


Bad Guys

Getting old(er) is so cool sometimes, especially looking back and finding an appreciation for how you got from there to here. Being on the road, moving forward to a destination, it's usually the immediate scenery and situation that is your primary concern. Reviewing the journey, looking back, can lead to powerful insights. You can see the evolution of your choices, and begin to understand how wisdom is only possible through experience.

I was reading the synopsis and reviews for 'Watchmen' ... "Set in an alternate universe circa 1985, the film's world is a highly unstable one where a nuclear war is imminent between America and Russia." I thought, America vs. Russia, I've seen this movie before ... but it wasn't an alternate universe, it was this one. At the time Olympic boycotts, naval incidents, KAL flight 007 and SDI were just headlines to me. Being on the road, it was hard to imagine that the destination those events would lead up to would be the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In 2009, twenty years after the demise of communism in Central Europe, we have a top box-office movie with a sub plot of the United States struggles against the Communists, who represented the antithesis of the American ideal. Communists were a popular choice for fictional bad guys, from Boris Badenov to 'Red Dawn'. Prior to that, the Nazis were the bad guys in everything from 'The Great Escape' to 'Rat Patrol'. Now, of course, we have Islamofascists and terrorism ... Hollywood even updated 'Casino Royale' so that James Bond is battling a terrorist banker, instead of a Soviet labor union treasurer like in the original Ian Fleming novel.

With all this experience behind me, and available for my analysis, you would think I could easily figure out who the bad guys are. The bad guys have historically been people like the fascists, the communists and radical Islam ... you know, the people who want to promote "the needs of the group" to a higher priority than "the rights of the individual." If the interpretation of my experience is correct, the bad guys are indeed easy to spot.

We've got ...

... environmentalists, who want to dictate the type of light bulbs I use and eventually, no doubt, my posture when urinating ... all for the benefit of "the planet."

... multiculturalists, who want me to be open and accepting of all other cultures, while criticizing and demonizing my own all in the name of "diversity" ... which seems a bit incongruent with "unity", though, of course, I'm not oppressed enough to have a valid opinion.

... hollywood, who wants me to accede the moral high ground in the name of "political correctness."

... the main stream media, who want me to accept their bias as fact because they represent "objective journalism" and they know what's best for me.

... Obama and the Democrat Congress, who want to take away my earnings, individual freedoms and American principles to 'pitch in', 'solve this crisis' and 'give back' the "disproportionate share" I took from the economy.

It seems so obvious to me who the bad guys are, but apparently I am wrong.

Another way to identify the bad guys is to see who is being punished, who is being portrayed as evil or who is being pushed to the margins of acceptable society. When I look at it from that perspective, it's clear that the bad guy is me. I'm being punished with taxes, and if I raise my son to be productive, he too will be punished. If I disagree with Obama's policies I am, apparently, un-American and "wishing and hoping for economic failure." And people who disagree with the Democrat power grab, like the House Republicans, are quickly marginalized.

It looks like I'll need a few more years to figure out how I managed to go from productive, law-abiding, tax-paying American citizen to greedy, puritanical, tax-avoiding bad guy. I'm hoping it will all make sense to me again in 2012.


Two Cents

The ideas and observations continue, but the time to write them down has significantly declined. Hopefully, regular posting will resume shortly.

In the mean time, and speaking of significant declines, Obama sucks.

From my friend Roger ...

An elderly man suffered a massive heart attack. The family drove wildly to get him to the emergency room.

After what seemed like a very long wait, the ER Doctor appeared, wearing his scrubs and a long face. Sadly, he said, "I'm afraid he is brain-dead, but his heart is still beating."

"Oh, Dear God," cried his wife, her hands clasped against her cheeks with shock!
"We've never had a Democrat in the family before!"