Happy birthday, Mom

Today is my mother’s birthday! I owe this woman a big debt of thanks, not only for my existence, but for my love of reading, cooking, and (in large part) music, as well as my sense that the world ought to be better than it is.

I can’t hug her in person today, but I’ll get to do that next weekend when I fly to the family reunion. In the meantime, happy birthday, Mom, and many happy returns.

Summer is passing

Last night we visited a new wine bar in town, the Purple Café, and then put ourselves to bed early. Coming back to bed from brushing my teeth, lights out, I could still see a yellow and blue corona around the trees through our north window, the remnants of the sunset on Lake Washington. Summer is passing and our days are growing shorter.

Moxie’s post about summer with her folks and picking gooseberries made me think about my own summers, often spent with one grandmother or the other. With my Grandmother Brackbill, picking peas, stringing beans, and shucking corn. Or with my Grandmother Jarrett learning to appreciate the mountains and slowly coming to understand my family connections in that strange to me place. I remember more summers in Pennsylvania, as we generally saved trips to North Carolina for less-hot times of the year.

To South Carolina for pig-pickin

So, what’s the story with South Carolina, Greg asked me last night. Well, I’m not sure how best to describe the setup, but here goes:

  • My uncle and aunt live one hill over from my parents on the family farmland in western North Carolina
  • My uncle retired as an executive in a transportation company; his company has an executive retreat in a forest in South Carolina
  • Said retreat features fishing, hunting, horseback riding, and other outdoor sports facilities (when I was younger (11?) I rode a horse for the first and last time there; it bolted and I got a bloody tuchus)
  • My parents, my aunt and uncle, and another couple or two are sharing a multi-bedroom house at the retreat for a week next week
  • I managed to squeeze in two days off next week to join them
  • I will arrive on Saturday, the day before the pig-pickin’

What’s a pig-pickin’, my Northern readers are now asking. It’s something like a barbecue, if by barbecue you mean “cooking and eating a ridiculous amount of pork cooked on a fire.” But that doesn’t do it justice; neither does this (though it gives a little of the flavor and some of the recipe). All I can say is, after you’ve been cooking a whole pig on an enormous grill for a day, you’ll be hungry enough to eat anything. The fact that even without the anticipation the meat (dressed in a vinegar sauce only, please, no “smoky barbecue” tomato sauce here) is ambrosial is icing on the cake. And of course there are all the side dishes, and beverages, and occasionally (if it’s a pig-pickin’ that my uncle organized) live country music.

Why is it called a pig-pickin’? Well, because after being cooked over a slow fire all day the pork is soft and moist enough to be pulled off the pig and eaten with one’s bare hands, if one is feeling barbaric. And after a taste of the stuff, one could certainly feel that way. It does seem to awaken a deep hunger. In fact, I’m hungry now…

So this has been a dry week for posting, partly because I’ve been crazy busy at the office, but partly in anticipation of the stories to come.

Happy birthday, Al

My father-in-law celebrated his birthday today with us at Szmania’s. I only hope that I can be half as feisty, and in half as good a shape mentally and physically, when I’m an octogenarian-plus. (Yes, my in-laws are in town. A suspension of garden postings is in order, since my mother-in-law, a true pro, is here to straighten us out.)

A promising arrival: Johnathon Levengood

Add my voice to Esta’s congratulating my cousin Catherine and her husband Jeremy on the birth of their first child, a boy; and to my grandfather on becoming a great-grandfather (not that he wasn’t already. Ba-dum-pssh!). I’m definitely going to have to plan another East Coast sweep in June when I go out for the Sloan reunion so Lisa and I can meet little “Chonnie.”

Updated 3/5/2003: Okay, I got the name wrong (now corrected). It is in honor of my uncle, but it’s Johnathon, not John. And apparently they don’t want to use diminutives (which I can understand), so “Chonnie” is out. After this post.

Get well soon, Dad

A quick shout out to my father. As Esta reported, he went in for carpal tunnel surgery today. The preliminary news is that he came through the surgery well and is okay to travel. This is actually the second time he’s had surgery for the same condition, which gives me lots of confidence in the procedure… Carpal tunnel syndrome appears to be another one of those conditions that runs in the family. I have at various times felt stirrings of the distinctive pain, and Lisa has had fairly severe bouts with it at various times. Here’s best wishes that Dad’s surgery is a complete success and that he’ll be back to painless wrenching on the MG’s twin carburetors soon.

Presentses, my precious

Almost forgot. I gave Lisa a few presents this year to make up for a couple B-school Christmases without: an All-Clad 8 quart pot, a Cuisinart mini-prep, and a couple books on dogs to make up for the fact that we didn’t manage to get any puppies under the tree. We’re still working on finding a breeder for the Bichon Frise puppies she wants to get.

Emptier house

I just got back from taking my parents and sister to the airport. It feels weird not having a totally full house. Lisa’s folks will be here for another week, so we’ll be able to taper off slowly.

Now that our five-guest experiment is back to two, I can report it was mostly a success. One thing we figured out a few days in is that it’s a lot harder to get seven people moving in the morning than two or four. We had a long list of activities, but each morning by the time everyone ate breakfast and showered it was almost time for lunch.

We’re off to do a bit of after-Christmas shopping. Should be fun, he said grimly.

Found: history

Family history, to be exact. The unpacking has progressed to the point that I’ve found the box that had the pictures from my office and—more importantly—of my family. Pictures of the University, of the barn up the hill from my Grandmother Jarrett’s house, of the ancestral Brackbill farmhouse, of my Pop-pop and Grandma, my parents and my Aunt Marie. Plus some other odds and ends: a framed Glee Club poster that I designed, a signed Edward Gorey print, a framed photo of the Rotunda taken from the vicinity of my Lawn room door, an antique mirror. Plus some Legos, for some reason.

All this stuff has been in storage, not just since we moved from Boston, but from our move from Cambridge in the early spring of 2001. I’ve particularly missed having familiar images to hang in my office; not any more.

Esta: No red ears for our grandfather

Esta was in Lancaster County this weekend visiting our relatives and found my grandfather in great shape:

Pop Pop was more like himself than I’ve seen him since the accident. On Friday night we somehow got started talking about old farming methods, and he told stories for nearly 2 hours about planting and harvesting corn and pumpkins, and the shucking parties they’d have in the fall. If you found a red ear, you got to kiss your girlfriend! Even at 85, Pop Pop’s chagrin that he never found a red ear was quite evident…

Fifty-four year old blog

Yesterday Esta started one of the cooler genealogical blog projects I’ve seen recently: Great-Aunt Eva’s blog. She’s transcribing our maternal relative’s 1949-1951 farm journal one page at a time. It’s astonishing how much it reads like the happenings of a far distant past even though it’s only fifty-four years old. The entries aren’t floridly written; most are only a single sentence. But her voice still comes through.

My Dad, local TV celebrity

One of the family’s newer traditions, now that everyone is back on the farm in Buncombe County, is to spend a day after the apple harvest making apple butter by hand the old fashioned way — in a cast iron pot over an open fire outdoors with lots of people on hand to stir. My uncle Forrest has a trout pond down the hill from his house, in a little dammed-up river valley he calls “Quail Hollow” (random aside: the second word is generally pronounced holler), and they meet up to do the work there.

This year local TV got wind of the event and did a spot on it in last night’s news. The transcript will linkrot tonight, but I’ve transcribed the text in its entirety (lowercased for everyone’s sanity).

Dad (Olin), as always, hits the tone just right:

I’m a retired aerospace engineer.
Is this rocket science?
I think it’s harder.

Also, trust my uncle to claim that he had to go back to the family farm to be important–this is a guy, after all, who’s had pictures taken with presidents over legislation that he got lobbied through Congress.

One note: my mom was a little miffed they didn’t interview her–she was the only woman participating. Mom, if you have anything you want to add to the story, shoot it over and I’ll publish it…