Men, enamored by the well made, the neatly formed, the nicely designed, are often seduced by those qualities. The new kitchen table seduced me. When the sales lady at Weir's  demonstrated how easy it was to remove and replace the leaf, I was sold. As soon as the table was pulled apart and the leaf mechanism was exposed the table was awarded my "it'll do" blessing. Simple. Solid. Purposeful. The table is now happily installed in our kitchen.

Prior to the new one our kitchen table was a hard rock maple dinette set, built sometime in the 1950's, and handed down to us from my wife's parents nearly 28 years ago. They bought it new. We had the chairs refinished eight years ago and then, later, re-glued and tightened. The table served us well and it now resides at my brother-in-law's house, still serving well. We also have another table, recently acquired, that is a hand-me-down from my wife's grand parents. It also was probably built in the 50's, but instead of maple, this one is steel and vinyl and formica. It's Pearly's table. The maple one was Frances' table.

Polishing up Pearly's table the thought occurred to me that we should figure out a way to use it in the upcoming Christmas Eve dinner (as in breakfast, dinner, supper) that we are having at our house. Several people attending will have eaten countless meals at that table and everyone knows what Pearly meant to our family. I always associate Pearly with Christmas, probably because that's when I spent the most time with her. It will be nice to have a remembrance of her as we share our Christmas dinner this year.

One non-Christmas memory is "camping"* at Lake O' The Pines. I have often commented on the fact that the Calhouns (my in-laws) organized their vacations around meals and our "camping" was no exception. No sooner would the breakfast dishes be done than dinner (lunch) would begin to be planned. There was little fuss about the quality or type of food, many meals were ham sandwiches on white bread and fresh sliced tomatoes with salt and pepper, it was more about who was going to be there and when. Getting together was the important part.

All our great celebrations and get togethers involve the sharing of food or meals. Wedding cake. Food for the family after funerals. Birthday cake. Thanksgiving turkey. Black-eyed peas on New Years Day. Fourth of July, Memorial and Labor Day cookouts. Communion.

Speaking of communion, Jesus ate a lot. From the wedding at Cana to the Last Supper, food was an integral part of his ministry. Was that because food is simply an important and frequent part of our common lives, or was it because the nourishment and sacrifice and service to others involved in preparing and sharing a meal is such a fundamental concept in being Christian? Could it be that the 'food theme,' ranging from eating with sinners to feeding the multitude, is meant to help us connect with God? The meaning and use of food in explaining the Christian life is part of a complete, finely crafted mechanism that so attracts me.

In any case, we will be serving beef for Christmas (Eve) dinner (lunch), tenderloin and ribeye, but there is no doubt that the sharing will be more important than the food. Did you know that in Hebrew the word table means 'sending?'  We bring people to our table and send them back out, not just with full stomachs, but with a full heart and a desire to do the same for others. The constant, consistent action of sharing and sending, and sharing and sending, adding a leaf to the table when needed to make room for extra family and new friends, acts like a natural force wearing away the hard parts of our selfishness.

We will be using all of our tables ... Pearly's and Frances' and Cindy's ... even if the actual furniture is not here because mothers teach daughters. The tradition and significance of the table and sending continues. Whether you acknowledge it or not, the preparing and sharing and sending back out into the world is a reciprocal, self perpetuating and holy activity. We share because we can. Others share because we do. The blessing gets passed on and we all become more holy in the process.

For all you guys out there who got suckered into reading this post simply because of the title, thinking it would be about a Sawzall, my apologies for the religious sidetrack. However, if you'll take this opportunity to tell your wife how "well made" she is, and tell your Mom or Mother-in-Law how much you appreciate their cooking, reading this may still serve a purpose!

* camping is in quotes because sleeping on a mattress in an air conditioned room at a lodge isn't really my idea of camping, even if we did cook outdoors.



Have you seen the commercial for the 2010 Cadillac SRX ... "the Cadillac of Crossovers?"  It features a song by a band named Phoenix.  The song title is 1901 .. nineteen zero one.  The front man for the band, Thomas Mars, explains the meaning of the song as, "It’s a song about Paris. Paris in 1901 was better than what it is now. It’s still nice, but 1901 was better. This is a fantasy about Paris." Phoenix is not from Arizona, or even East Texas.  They are French.

I actually like the song.  It's catchy, though the chorus sounds like "fallin'" instead of "folded" and lyrically its confusing as hell.  They're French, I'm from Texas, misunderstandings are to be expected, but it's a nice, simple, catchy pop song and who knows, it may actually help sell Cadillacs.  It struck me as something bigger than a good song for car commercial, not because it has any particular artistic significance, but because of what it indicates to me in a marketing sense.

Several years ago, when Elvis and Johnny Cash and The Rolling Stones and The Beatles songs first started appearing in jingles old hippies everywhere must have been cringing with disgust at the crass commercialism of it all.  Even anti-establishment icons like Neil Young, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan have gotten airplay in advertising.  Elton John, Lionel Ritchie, Sting, U2 and KISS were obvious choices as pop artists for advertising; they always seemed as much interested in commerce as art.  Today, a relatively unknown band (Phoenix has never had a Top 40 hit) is actually selling music based on being in a Cadillac commercial.  Surely this says something about the intersection of art and advertising and culture, but damned if I know what that might be.

I can tell you what it means to me.  It means that tail end baby boomers like me are nearing the end of their demographic power.  It wasn't that long ago that every commercial resonated with me, and though I would deny it if asked, Mick Jagger wailing about "can't get no satisfaction" at the very least caught my attention and at the very most made me think the product being advertised was gloriously cool.  And more importantly, they were pitching to me and my peers.  Now? ... not so much.

Having been at the center of the advertising demographic target for the past 20 some-odd years, and recognizing the end of my run as a prime target, I can speak with some authority about how being catered to skews your perspective.  It's all a bit shocking when the "new thing" makes no sense and you realize that the advertiser isn't talking to you anymore.  It seems that when generations slip from the center they start grabbing for the foundations of their life, and principles become more important than fashion.

My time as the center of attention seems wasted; I should have gotten more out of it.  That is probably how most people and most generations feel about it, because things seem to have changed without reason.  One day your lusting after an Oldsmobile 454 then boom, you're shopping for cars and comparing the miles per gallon.  It's sobering to think that your individual purchasing decisions have influenced, however minutely, the direction of something as vast as the automobile market.  It's hard to connect the dots from muscle car to turbo diesel, but they are there.

Having a perspective from outside the target zone, after so long in the crosshairs, is somewhat refreshing.  Drifting from the center of attention makes it easier to recognize the loss of power and be more objective about things.  Decisions in retrospect are much easier to categorize as rational or emotional, practical or extravagant, honest or expedient.  Looking back also leads to "old timer's syndrome," when memories of the past make the present seem shoddy ... like Paris today compared to 1901.

Many people associate "old timer's syndrome" with conservativism, that unless we return to 1955 we are doomed, but that's just a word game that liberals play ... liberals are progressive and therefore conservatives must be regressive.  Conservatism is about keeping what works, discarding what doesn't and being open to new things that do not destroy what is already proven.  I wonder if the young Frenchmen in Phoenix realize that a band from Texas called The Light Crust Doughboys paved the way for them?

Pump Jacks and Windmills

I actually wrote this last year on December 4, 2009. When I got back from my Thanksgiving trip to Pampa this year, I sat down to write something about it and realized I never published this one. It's somewhat of a cop-out, but I didn't publish this originally because it was so depressing. It made me want to stop writing, and I pretty much did. I've decided to publish it, for catharsis (thanks, Mr. Nooncaster) if nothing else.

The south end of Christy St. dead ends into a pump jack.  Looking west, across the street, through the gap provided by the Crawford's empty lot and the vacant lot on Farley St. that we called 'Sandra's Lot' (because it was next to Sandra Green's house) and the horse corral across from Sandra's, there were more pump jacks and tank batteries and pipelines.  You could also see Celanese and the carbon black plant.  There were no trees or hills blocking the view.

Farley and Christy were the last two streets in our town.  I don't recall ever seeing the Christy St. pump jack actually running, but I do remember seeing plumes from the stacks at those plants and the smell from Celanese making me nauseous on hot summer days.  I marvel at the things I learned in those few blocks in the southwest corner of Pampa, Texas.  And I wonder if I've done the right thing in abandoning my small town for the big city suburbs.

I drove through the old neighborhood the other day.  Things have certainly changed.  It is an epidemic of bare dirt front yards, chained up dogs and rickety fences around tired houses.  One house, on Faulkner St., across from Hobart St. Baptist Church, was mercifully being repaired.  On the back of that house a sheet of plywood was nailed over the spot where the sliding glass door would be and on that plywood was a sign spray painted with foot high red letters that said:

"Stay Out Or Die Drug Attics"

Since I moved away, whenever I go back to visit, regardless of the circumstances, a profound melancholy always sets in.  It's worse when I drive.  The landscape pulls me inward.  It forces me to reflect and remember the countless trips I've made over that same road for funerals and weddings, for celebrations and interventions, for running to and escaping from.  Over the years each trip has gotten harder and the sadness lasts longer.  The questions never change and I have yet to find an answer.  I don't go up there very often anymore, and I when I do, I usually fly.

Pampa, and my connection to it, has always amazed my wife.  I have lifelong friends from Pampa because simply being from there is enough to build a bond upon.  For the past 25 years we have steadily run into people with connections to Pampa ... 'my Grandmother lived on Somerville and we used to climb the trees in the median' ... 'my Aunt taught school at Horace Mann' ... 'my college roommate was from Pampa' ... 'I used to date a girl from Pampa'  There is, of course, a simple explanation for this phenomenon.  Everybody leaves.

Well, not everyone, but many if not most.  Of course, it's not just Pampa, it's every small town, particularly the ones that are isolated or that have a limited economic base.  Celanese has shut down and you can feel the impact that loss has had on the community.  With limited opportunity many young people choose to leave.  When I was younger I never understood why anyone would stay.  At about 13 years old a big part of my future plans revolved around getting out of Pampa.  Well, at least I accomplished that much.

Now, at fifty years old, I understand why some people would want to stay, and in some ways, I wish I would have.  On the long drive home I usually wonder what would need to happen to make Pampa vibrant, or at least as healthy as I remember from my high school days. What would ease the economic burden, or improve their schools or revitalize their churches?  And then I remember that I left, it's not my home anymore and there is really nothing I can do. I suffer from the curse of always wanting to fix things, to make them better, and the depression that comes from knowing that on the really important things, I can't.

Going home should, I suppose, trigger powerful feelings. They are not totally unpleasant and the resulting introspection can make you feel like you almost get it, like you are quite close to an answer, perhaps even the answer, but so far I have not put my finger on it and I am left with the melancholy of not quite knowing. Me and Don Quixote, tilting at windmills. His were hulking giants to be slayed and plundered. Mine are just Aermotors.