Homemade Ice Cream

A nightly ritual of eating ice cream is something that I need to stop. Doing so doesn’t help in the battle to lose weight in which I only half-heartedly engage. Giving up a cup of Blue Bell homemade vanilla ice cream is hard, especially when the stuff tastes as close to homemade ice cream as any on the market. Besides, I’ve always had a weakness for freezer ice cream.

Years ago, many of my relatives had birthdays that fell during the month of June. For that reason, Mother used to have a get together at our house each year. On a determined date, she would invite the Rector and Balch clans to the house. Back then, three of the four grandparents were alive, as well as uncles and aunts, and we gathered for plenty of home cooked side dishes and some kind of meat. It was all washed down with a large class of sweet tea or milk.

Adults chased the shade with Adirondack chairs in tow while we kids played softball games, tag, or hide-and-seek. Mother would yell Dinner, and the crowd would circle around the table to load plates and then return outdoors to eat. For the next twenty minutes silence reigned as we stuffed green beans, new potatoes, and corn on the cob in our mouths.

Afterward, adults settled and previous chattering gave way to more subdued conversation. No doubt, several adults with filled stomachs longed for naps. We kids, gobbled the food on our plates and hurried back to interrupted games or turns riding bikes in the yard.

Before long, Daddy brought out a green wooden bucket with a crank on the top. Mother came from the kitchen with a cylindrical silver container that she placed in the middle of the bucket. Daddy, attached the crank, poured in ice and rock salt, and began turning the handle that moved freely and easy. Adults took turns cranking the handle, and the longer they did, the more difficult making a revolution became. More ice and salt were poured in the bucket. At some point, weight was applied to the top of the bucket to stop its movement. That meant one of us kids had to sit on it, and even though a towel was placed on the top, our bottoms still numbed from the cold.

Mother would pronounce the concoction ready, and when the lid was removed, we peered at a container filled with dessert. Everyone received a dish of the stuff, and with a little luck, seconds were available. Ooh’s and aah’s greeted every bite of the stuff. The end of a perfect day was punctuated with home-made ice cream.

I didn’t have much of that ice cream for several years, but then Amy and I fell in love and got married. Summer trips to Cookeville to visit her Mother and Poppa were fun. He enjoyed cooking hamburgers on the grill, and we’d eat meals outside on the covered patio. Sometimes Amy’s Uncle Walter and Aunt Mildred would join us. The women prepared the rest of the food in the kitchen as one male manned the grill the other two kept him company.

With meals finished, Poppa and I smoked cigarettes to cap off our food. When he’d waited as long as possible, Ike would go inside and bring out a white bucket with an attached electrical cord. He’d plug it up and place it in a wash tub; for the next half hour we listened to the motor whine louder as the mixture thickened. The best part was when things stopped.

Poppa would unplug the machine and remove the container of ice cream. My love for home-made vanilla ice cream was matched by his. We’d fill our bowls to the top and spoon it in our mouths so fast that our hands could barely be seen. Suddenly, Ike would set his bowl down on the ground, bend at the waist, and grab his head. Brain freeze! For the next couple of minutes, he’d sat incapacitated. Then he’d shake his head, look up with a sheepish grin, and begin spooning the ice cream in again.

I never eat Blue Bell ice cream that I don’t recall those good times with loved ones who have been gone too long. My son Dallas is addicted to home-made ice cream as well, so maybe soon we can enjoy a bowl together and hope to avoid that freezing pain that shoots through our heads when we eat it too fast.

Sad First Days of School

With day cares and children activities so prevalent now, kids don’t find anything special about the first day of school. For those of us who are just a bit older, that date was something that brought plenty of excitement. We’d get to see our friends after a long summer. The excitement of discovering who our teachers for the year would be was another big part of that first day. However, on a couple of occasions, that opening session was filled with pain and fear.

The beginning of first grade wasn’t particularly exciting for me. For the first time in my young life, Jim and I were separated for more than just a few minutes. He was in Mrs. McNew’s class, and I’d landed in Mrs. Longmire’s room. The place was filled with boys and girls, but I didn’t know any of them. My desk was in the back, and there I tried to shrink from sight. It was an impossible task; no one could miss the burr haircut on a head that looked to big for the shoulder upon which it sat. During that first day of formal education the reality about my “buck teeth” also sunk in.

My nerves were shot by milk break. Names of some kids in the class were called. They left for a while and returned back red, swollen eyes and tear-streaked faces. From the sobbing and murmurings of other students, I heard a word that sent panic and fear through me—SHOTS. Some children had failed to get the required inoculations for beginning school, so they were sent to a room where compliance could be completed. My worry was that my name would be called and I’d be marched to the line where a giant needle would be stuck in my arm. At the end of the day, I sprinted from the room to find Mother, who was teaching an upper grade, and she assured me that I had all my shots.

Ball Camp Elementary School housed students in grades 1-8. By the time my class had reached the final year, we’d experienced the burning of part of the school. Our sixth grade year was spent in a converted hardware store, and during the following year we lined up during breaks outside a large outhouse with one side for boys and another for girls. That last year, the school was reconstructed, and we were the first class to reign over it.

That first day of school that eighth grade year was more than a relief. Daddy had been diagnosed with lung cancer during the spring, and the summer saw him travel between the hospital and home. Our home was a sad one that was unusually quiet. Jim and I refused to believe that our dad would die and tried to do things to ease the burden that Mother already felt.

I was placed in Mrs. Slusher’s class and Jim in Mrs. Taylor’s. My excitement about the school year was tempered with a healthy dose of fear of the meanest teacher in Ball Camp. Still, it was the first day, and eighth graders changed classes, so we had to survive her for only a short period of time. On that first day, Mrs. Slusher instructed us to take out the grammar books she’d assigned and begin work.

Only about ten minutes into that morning class, Mr. Fowler, my sixth grade teacher, appeared at the door and asked to speak to Mrs. Slusher. She stepped into the hall and then came back in. She called my name and asked me to step outside. A bit scared and confused, I did as instructed. When I exited, I looked down the hall and saw Mother. She was crying, and I knew—Daddy died. I walked back into the room to get my things and felt the stares from the curious faces of my classmates.

Most of my first days have been wonderful times that I recall fondly. Those two occasions were exceptions—big ones—but exceptions all the same. It’s a shame that school isn’t an exciting place to kids these days. Those of us with a few years remember those first days as ones complete with new clothes, shoes, and school supplies. I almost wish I could go back myself. There’s still plenty to learn.

Garden Hose League

Sometimes I wonder just how smart we parents are. With the best of intentions we do things for our children, all under the belief that they are receiving the best possible things from us.

Center stage in this is our determination to involve them in organized recreational activities. Kids are members of leagues—football, baseball, basketball, soccer, gymnastics, and a hundred others. Every mom and dad is going to make sure that Little Johnny and Sweet Susie are involved with teams that will allow them to flourish.

Some of us have determined that our kids will excel in a sport, so they need to be on open league teams. They’re the ones that travel all over hell’s half acre in search of weekend tournaments. Parents spend fortunes on motel rooms, bats, bags, gloves, and an assortment of equipment so their children have every advantage. Sports that aren’t in season offer camps, so no one escapes the cash drain or a vacationless summer.

I was as guilty as any parent about pushing my kids into organized sports. I spent too much time and effort coaching teams on which they played, even though my athletic gifts are few, if any. It’s because of my mistakes that I urge parents to unite in an effort to create a new youth sporting experiment---the garden hose leagues.

Actually, this isn’t something new. It was the primary means of games for kids a generation ago. When I was a child, our yard was the setting for football games. On any particular afternoon during the week, a gang of elementary school aged boys could be found in the “lower lot.” In the fall, we played football. Most of the time, the games were tackle. Touch football was for sissies.

Several times a game, play was halted as boys clutched legs, arms, and heads that had been bumped, banged, or bruised. Tears were sometimes shed until the sting of an injuries passed, and then the stricken were back in the game and giving as good as they got.

Usually, a fight broke out between two boys. They’d exchange insults and pushes until one threw a punch. Windmill fists filled the air until the fight went to the ground. After some grappling, the two separated and hurled more barbs, and on occasion, a boy might utter a profanity. We all knew that the next school day the two combatants would be friends again.

Summer time brought the same group of boys to the yard. This time, we played softball as small kids and baseball when we’d reached ten or eleven. We’d set out the bases for the game—slabs of marble that lined flowerbeds or made walks. Teams were chosen after captains’ hands climbed the neck of a bat to see who went first. For the game we’d have one, maybe two, balls, a couple of wooden bats, and no catcher equipment. Boys shared gloves with those who didn’t own one.

Baseball games weren’t usually interrupted with fights. Sure, teams exchanged insults or argued whether or not a batter was out at second base. However, we sometimes halted a game to look for a ball that had been hit into the woods. With luck, we’d find it and renew the contest. If not, the game would be called. When Amy and I built our house, I found some of those old baseballs as I cleaned undergrowth from the area.

Regardless of the type of game, one thing was a constant. We boys would play hard and end up covered with dirt, grass, sweat. Breaks were held, and all of us lined up to get a drink. I’d turn on the water, and each guy would slurp water from the end of the garden hose. No Gatorade or sports drink was available. Neither were energy bars or other goofy snacks that parents brought. Oh, another thing for sure is that not one of us got a trophy because we participated.

The games we played were every bit as competitive as those of today’s league.
Parents need to form Garden Hose Leagues in communities everywhere. It’s time that kids got back to playing for the fun of it. Neighborhood groups of boys and girls can play football or baseball or soccer or basketball at someone’s house. They’ll get plenty of exercise, make plenty of friends, and enjoy being young and pressure-free, and all it will cost parents is the price of a garden hose and some water.

I've Still Got It!

I’ve still got it. Yep, I’m knocking on the door of 60; in fact, I’m close enough to kick it in. That’s all right because I’ve still got it.

What I’m talking about still having is the ability to work like a dog throughout the day. I did it again the other day. When I got out of bed, nothing pressing was on my agenda. It looked as if the day would be one to spend in the air conditioning and pecking on the keyboard or reading a book on my Kindle. By 9:00 a.m. things had changed.

I decided to work part of the morning in my tool shed. Things had been thrown in there to the point that the 10 X 12 space was so crowded that only a narrow pathway was left. I moved my Pathfinder from under the attached car shed and began lugging everything out and placing the stuff on the asphalt.

Only about thirty minutes into the job, I spied my neighbor mowing her yard. She’s in her 80” and has no business, in my opinion, to be fighting a lawn mower. The shed clean up was put on hold. I walked over to her house and told her to hop off the mower. For the next couple of hours, I mowed. It’d been a while since the yard was mowed because the heat had burned up most lawns. However, her yard, like mine, has Bermuda grass, and the hotter the temperatures, the more that kind of grass grows.

After finishing the yard, I returned to the tool shed and continued emptying the place. Brother Jim had called me a couple of times, and I’d returned them until finally we made contact. He needed some help tearing down a structure attached to the side of his house. I drove to his house, and we began taking off siding and separating 2 X 4’s. We removed every nail from the boards and sheets of siding. The pieces that Jim planned to trash we ripped into several sections with a circular saw. With the job finished, I made the trip home.

For the next couple of hours I got stuff out of the building, separate things, placed them into containers, and culled bunches of junk. I moved several items into the basement where they’d be handier. Then I cleaned the floors by using a blower to get rid of the cricket poop that was covering the concrete.

By the time I’d finished, my clothes were wet from the sweat that poured in 90-plus degree temperatures. I took a quick shower and put on clean clothes. Dallas, his girlfriend Diana, and her mom were coming for supper, so I took out the vacuum and quickly cleaned the floors and dusted the furniture. At about 4:00, everything was finished. I retreated to my office to do just a little work, which included this piece.

Yep, I’ve still got it. I can go all day. Tell you what else I’ll have. There’s a sore back that will keep me up half the night. I can’t forget hips that ache or feet that throb. Oh yeah, I don’t won’t to leave out a stiff neck. I’ll be sore in no less than a dozen places for the rest of the day. Some Aleve for my aching back and neck will help. Sometime during the night my calf muscles will cramp, and I’ll jump from the bed and try desperately to unknot them. My hope for tomorrow is that the rain will fall so I won’t be able to tackle any more jobs. I might still have it, but it’s in a much smaller supply and more difficult to muster than as in years before. Perhaps I should learn to use my “I still have it” in moderation so that the well doesn’t permanently run dry.