Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The melting pot

It's been a pretty good New Year's holiday, considering I'm still intermittently clocking a hundred point something fever, and if I cough one more time I'm afraid the top of my head will come off. But at least I don't feel like my skin is icy-hot anymore, or that I'm going to need a double hip replacement before the day is out.  And my sense of taste is coming back, though that can be a mixed blessing with the stuff that's being manufactured in my head and chest. Hopefully, I'm also making a little more sense. The weekend is a bit of a blur, but I would be willing to bet that little of what I said was worth writing down.

Once again faced with the biennial 1500 mile Christmas tour, Biscuit and I decided that longer stays weren't going to make the drive any shorter, so we scheduled two nights at each homestead for a total of five days away. It ended up being only four.

All went pretty much as expected at Biscuit's parents' house. Many treats and goodies were eaten, relatives' health issues discussed, Christmas Eve candlelight service was attended, and the latest project presented for consideration. Biscuit's father is a tinkerer on a scale which typically only mad scientists approach, and a visit to the shop out back is a high point of every visit. It was sometime Monday afternoon when the weather entered my consciousness.

I had checked the forecast around 700 times before we left, because I'm a middle-aged man and that's what we do. Apart from some possible light showers on our Christmas Day drive from Biscuit's homestead to my mother's house, it seemed like clear sailing, and even a little milder than usual. But by Christmas Eve, a monster storm had appeared from nowhere and was predicted to cross our path the next day*. Luckily, it looked like we would be driving well ahead of the storm, and safely at my mother's before we saw more than cold drizzle, whatever was going to happen.

Well, "whatever" turned out to be the largest snowfall since I was in elementary school**, over a foundation of a daylong rain and an inch or so of ice. We arrived at my mother's in plenty of time for Christmas dinner, since they were predictably two hours late (and losing ground) on preparations when we arrived at mealtime. We had a lovely meal, my mother gave her annual tearful speech on how special it was to have the whole family together, and everyone got home (just barely) before the roads became impassable.

Many people in my hometown are rethinking the whole "dreaming of a white Christmas" idea. The trees on the right are normally taller than the house, but are bent almost flat by the snow load.  Everyone in my family got power back on the fourth day, which is quite good by hurricane standards. Of course, after a hurricane we typically don't have to worry about freezing to death.

Little Rock is a city of steep hills and many trees. On Boxing Day morning it was also a city largely without electricity, nine inches of snow and ice on the streets, and exactly four snow plows. Since only one of my siblings had electricity (and heat), and since his house has four fewer than the six bedrooms required to put up the family, we decided that home was the better part of valor, arranged for my brother to fetch my mother, and we set off for our own blessedly electrified house. We had to shovel our way out of my mother's cul de sac, but after that we had no real problems getting home.

We observed another tradition of this trip, which is that one of us bring home a cold or the flu. This year was my turn. Probably because I dared to enter a church. I started to feel that nagging rawness at the back of my throat on the drive home on Wednesday, and by Thursday night I was feverish and unable to sleep. I've spent most of the last week tossing and turning on various horizontal surfaces around the house, coughing, and browsing for things on the Internet that I immediately forget having seen. But one or two things have managed to stick in my frying brain.

The diversity of New Year's traditions listed by my FB friends over the last couple of days reminded me that the American Culture many of us were raised to believe in is a myth, or at least a subculture made up of a dwindling -- if influential -- minority. Television would have us believe that we all party hearty on the Eve, and then watch football and make resolutions all the next day. I know millions of people do that -- I have been one on occasion -- but it may not be as common as some people at Disney or NewsCorp would have us think. I know a lot of people with different ideas on how to commemorate the turning of the year. Many African Americans pile into churches on New Year's Eve to hear the Emancipation Proclamation read aloud -- a tradition considerably older than college bowl games. Most Southerners that I know share the tradition of eating black-eyed peas for luck on New Year's Day, but the details of the meal vary widely from region to region, and even family to family. (We had black-eyed pea hummus (my first attempt), coleslaw with Greek salad dressing, and Mediterranean pork tenderloin.***)

I'm not really sure what I'm trying to say here, except that when I was a kid we heard a lot about America as the melting pot of different cultures and traditions. We celebrated the diversity of our origins, but assumed that all of the pieces would merge into some homogeneous American fondue. A great many people still believe in this vision, and more than a few of them think we have enough different flavors already. In truth, I think the United States is more of a stew pot. The flavors blend, but individual chunks remain. It's the partial blending that gives the dish its richness. Damn, now I want stew.

In any case, Happy New Year Internet Friends, however you celebrate. And whatever your hopes and dreams may be for this year, I hope enough of them come true to make this your best year yet.

* I'm not sure when was the last time I saw local television weather-casters so confused by a storm. They had essentially predicted somewhere between zero and ten inches of snow for Biscuit's parents, with the promise that they would have a better idea "tomorrow", which was of course the day the storm arrived.

** When we still didn't know what the Moon was made of.

*** In Southern Louisiana the tradition tends to go black-eyed peas for luck, cabbage for money, and pork for good health.


  1. If your fevered brain came up with "In truth, I think the United States is more of a stew pot. The flavors blend, but individual chunks remain." then i'm afraid you need to get more fevers....

    that captures what we've become - and it's not a bad thing...

    hope you're feeling better. i had 3 days of fever, and the lung butter generation machine is still crankin' out the hits...

  2. Thanks. Glad to hear you're feeling better. I'm on the mend. Still coughing through the night and occasionally feeling a little feverish, but back in the saddle.


    We've had two winters in a row with no snow now. I'm thinking of moving south.

  4. You, Biscuit, Scout and VooDo have a wonderful new thanks to you I shall be making stew this week...