Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Joy of Grandsons

There are several absolutes about the above species. They eschew running water; their feet stink; they are always hungry; if you fry it they will come.

Ensconced at the cabin with soon to be 13 , Benjamin, the absolutes are crystal clear. Nagged about taking a shower - four days into his stay he finally humored me. Used 5 towels in the great dry-off but he certainly smells better.  He has a few idiosyncrasies - weather reports being among the more remarkable ones. "Hey, G'Ma , it's raining in Chicago" - this at 5.45 a.m. The reports for Mumbai, Tripoli and Aix au Provence follow in quick succession. The converging clouds on our little hamlet of Nutrioso are reported at 30 minute intervals throughout the day. Yesterday we noted a 2" rainfall - historic in proportion. The "what if" scenarios followed. "What if the cabin gets picked up in a water flow; what if the horses in the flooded bottom meadow don't  know how to swim; what if the pond overflows and the giant grass carp move in with us and eat the dogs". Enough!

It's the food pre-occupation that gets to me. He finishes breakfast (detailed in conversation the night before) - scrambled eggs, chocolate chip pancakes. "What's for lunch",  he asks as he pops his plate into the dishwasher. This sequence of eating and establishing  the provenance of the next meal is repeated throughout the day.  His mother , the judge, is a superb cook - their house has two filled to over flowing refrigerators. This child has never gone hungry.

His "nuncles" - my sons,  did the same thing. My line of defense was to teach them to cook ( and to learn how to avoid the foot odor - the rule was put your own  socks in the washing machine.) Dinner planned thanks to his insistence before noon , we did a fridge raid and established the ingredients for Orange Chicken and Stir Fried Rice.

He did a great job slicing, dicing the red and green pepper, scallions, just picked from the farm across the lane asparagus, mincing fresh ginger and garlic.  We found a box of tempura batter in the pantry that he mixed to directions.  As the tempura coated chicken sizzled in the oil (hey, I didn't say this was a healthy meal) the "crinklings" - loose batter floated to the top and I scooped them out.  Epicurean Eureka!  - "G'Ma - we should package these and sell them!".

Nostalgia set in. I told him about my cousin Maureen's Gran - Mrs. Morris. She owned a fish and chip shop in Salford, Lancashire and sold little bags of "crinklings" for three pence. Maureen - set me straight if I have the name and price wrong. I got to wondering if the "crinklings" - those free-floating chunks of batter were a Yorkshire pudding of sort - something to fill you out to stretch the meat or fish.

Dinner was a success - as I scooped crispy, battered chicken from the oil - Benjamin set the table and called out -"G'ma - this dinner needs candles". Indeed it did. I shall remember it for a long time - probably have heartburn too. A small price to pay for a candlelit dinner with a charming young man.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

PMS in Tucson

I have serious PMS - Pre-Monsoon-Syndrome - it's a common  affliction at this time of the year, just about everyone I know is suffering.  Symptoms are not limited to heavy sighing; pacing back and forth to windows to scan the horizon; irritability; listlessness; a desire to head for the hills.

These dog days of summer - diēs caniculārēs - the most sultry, dulling days of the season enticing dog   to seek out a cool spot on the polished concrete floor of my study, position himself under the fan and stretch out, panting.  I'm inclined to do the same.

If the old ones are to be believed there was a time here when the monsoons arrived like clockwork on the 24th. of June - Fiesta of San Juan Bautista.  My first monsoon season in Tucson, 1982, I remember 4th. of July bringing in the monsoons and washing out firework extravaganzas. It seems that their advent gets later each year. Here we are on July 15th. still being teased, waiting, watching the cloud build up from the South East.

The monsoons are major flirts - they dangle all kinds of promises - a cloud mass, a certain wind, humidity in the air - they hold  these portents  of imminent action  just beyond reach only to take them away and leave us with another night where the temperature hovers around 80F for a low  and by noon the next day a blast furnace greets you as you open a door.  And they they are selective - even in full flow they  skirt your neighborhood capriciously and drench an area not five miles away - you can see the "walking rain" clouds, you can smell the damp desert  - and yet remain bone dry.

Conversation in line at the coffee shop with total strangers centers on the one topic - not the controversial anti-immigration Bill, not the economy but the promise, the 'will it be today', the yearning for the monsoons.   Friends call to report, "we got a few drops" - it's an obsession. Our arroyos and washes remain bone dry, the desert vegetation takes on a parched, shriveled dull brown facade;  prickly pear pads hang limply. Birds and beasts alike seek shelter under what shade they can find - this morning going down the front steps I brush past a clump of lavender spilling out of a window box - something moves!  Snake radar on high I  part the stems with a stick - 17 walnut sized Gambel Quail chicks squeeze up against one another - Mom and Dad scold me from a nearby wall. "Richard Simmons", one of my regular lizards, hangs out on a rock performing languorous push-ups displaying his sparkly blue beard; a Bob Cat jumps my neighbor's wall to drink from her pool.

And then just when you think you can't stand it any longer, when your head is pounding and you feel as parched as the desert it happens.  The clouds mass, roll in, and the heavens open. Rain, glorious rain. The dry washes become rivers albeit briefly; the cactus flesh out; the creosote bushes release a scent that to many of us desert dwellers is synonymous with home.  Dog stirs , pokes his head out the door. The temperatures drop, sometimes 40 degrees in a matter of minutes. The air is cool, it's bliss. We know the curse is broken - the monsoons have arrived.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Old Fashioned Fourth

There's no parade in my tiny community up here in the White Mountains but just a few miles down the road, the little township of Alpine celebrated in style. Yesterday, the third,  was parade day - not sure why.
On a crystal clear morning with temperatures around 72F, my house-guests and I threw folding chairs into the back of the car and headed into Alpine thirty minutes before start time. Our plan was to get a cup of coffee and muffins at Bush Valley Cafe and then stake out a place along the parade route.

Alpine was jumping! A veritable traffic jam at the T junction. We parked behind the cafe, set our chairs out under the shade of a leafed-out aspen tree and coffee in -hand joined in the banter around us as we waited for the parade to begin.

It was short and sweet! Locals, summer visitors, the Forest Service and Fire department - two services vital to this high mountain area where the fire season has already taken its toll - two guys on mountain bikes, a rag-tag group of little girls desperately trying to follow their leader in a stepping routine. The participants threw candy to the kids along side the road and we cheered. 

Couldn't help but get nostalgic for simpler times in life.

Today a few of us have invited neighbors in the valley to bring something for the BBQ and a covered dish to share - we're hosting a picnic. This is the pace of life I go for.

Happy Fourth to you all, native born Americans, immigrants of all colors - let's celebrate the diversity and generosity of this country and put aside those issues that divide.