Friday, August 29, 2003

Bay Area Rapid Transit

I depend on BART to get me to work daily, and occasionally I use it to get to other places in the San Francisco Bay Area for personal reasons. It works amazingly well. I live about a mile and a half from the MacArthur BART station which is walking distance. I have resented the way MacArthur station has been maintained from the beginning of my experience with it.

This is what it looks like.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Seen Mars yet?

You do know that it's going to be so close that you can almost reach out and touch it? That close. You do have to stay up till midnight, but it's a once in a 60,000 year sight, so plan on staying up on Thursday and finding some dark sky. Here's a list of places to see the Angry Red Planet.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

There's this guy over on a blog called Ross Judson: Sprial Dive. He's a good read. He wrote this today and I happen to agree with him.

"The Right Hates America"

"They hate the prospect that gay people might get married. They hate dissent. They hate any form of criticism of their ruling party. They hate the separation between church and state. They hate a woman's right to choose. They hate being forced to choose between a clean environment and corporate welfare. They hate the prospect of losing their guns. They hate being asked to sacrifice anything past racism has given them. They hate the idea that market forces might not be uber alles, because that invalidates a great deal. They hate people who demand some form of proof that their policies work, people who don't share their faith. They hate people who commit crimes but also hate people who don't commit them, by supporting the death penalty for innocent people. They hate people who are committed to principals, instead of probability-driven lives (as in, I probably won't get falsely arrested and, well, if someone does, they probably did something else wrong, or it's just their tough luck)." -Something to Think About ...

Wednesday, August 20, 2003


My maternal grandmother, Minnie Ashworth Droddy, did not tell stories as much as she "remembered." Living with her all of her life was her eldest daughter, Elsie, who was simple. I want to remember Elsie also, but that's for another story. My grandmother and Elsie could remember the most incredible details of their lives. Because mostly what they remembered occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s, I sometimes feel as though I have one foot in this century and the other foot in that one. Only now, I have a third century to factor into the analogy, and I'm out of feet, so I'm going to drop it for right now.

Mama and Elsie remembered life when it was simple. Poor, but simple. Between them they could recount the genealogy of individuals I considered total strangers at the time of meeting. They could remember the intricacies of kinship. They didn't always remember things in the same way, and they didn't always end the subsequent argument in agreement.

As a child, I sat through these regressions and discussions and arguments, sometimes paying attention, more often not. I cannot remember the details. I told my sister I was willing to be hypnotized so that someone could get me to channel either my grandmother or my aunt Elsie because you know in the recesses of my mind there are some delicious stories.

Even without channeling or hypnosis, I think the details of their remembering color my perception of life today, and do absolutely lend detail to my ability to imagine our stories. I don't remember as much as I tell stories, richly detailed with vague recollections of my grandmother and aunt fussing with each other about the specific details.

After the Civil War, the dominant White society lost its impetus to keep expanding the definition of Black. Since we had never identified ourselves with Blacks, we continued to identify ourselves as White. Another generation and the core was not quite as dark as the generation before it, and the edges were lighter still. By the time of the birth of my grandmother in 1888, the only place the core remained dark were in the tiny homelands: DeQuincy, Starks, Lunita, Singer, DeRidder; places like that. Those Ashworths and Perkins and Basses and Hoosiers and Clarks and Johnsons living on the perimeter, now thought of themselves as White without having to worry about fighting about it. By 1890 and 1900, they were no longer being listed as Mulatto on the census. When communities became wealthy enough to have schools, Redbones went to White schools. Race was no longer a legal issue. From now on, the game would be played by different rules.

The Civil War

Since almost all of my first 17 years of education were in the South, I was never taught anything that resembled reality regarding the Texas Revolution, the Mexican War of 1845, or the Civil War. Nothing. Nada. Zip. I was taught mythology as history. There was always a right and wrong side, and we were always right. There's something to be said for creating mythologies. Damn, sometimes I hate how reality has to devastate mythology. The way it happens is personal.

For me, I discovered that I probably wasn't descended from plantation folks, but rather from folks that the plantation folks would just as soon have turned into Black slaves. Damn, but that makes it personal.

Then once you start looking at the details, you notice other aberations. For instance, my great-grandfather (mother's father) and his brother were both charged with desertion from the Confederate forces. The ggguncle, was also charged with being a "copperhead." After becoming aware of that fact, I read where they were not alone in their reactions and behavior from the other "crackers" of central Louisiana.

Not all of the Ashworths that could serve in the war, did. Quite a few managed to avoid it. Quite a few others did serve. Whether they were drafted or volunteered is one of those details still hidden to history. In the mythology of Southern history, there isn't even a mention of a draft, except in reference to the North, where it was always coupled with a footnote remembering the fact that one could buy their way out. Well, let me tell you, friends and neighbors, just like the marines drafted boys from our families during Vietnam, the South drafted our boys to fight for slavery.

If I sound bitter about this, it's because I am. In the bloody South, if you owned, or your family owned, more than 100 slaves, you were exempt from service because it just wouldn't be prudent to leave all those women folk alone with all those slaves. Since my families, for the most part, never owned slaves, they had to go be cannon fodder for the rich kids. Sort of like George W. Bush, our beloved president, did in Vietnam. He stayed home out of harms way. Hasn't stopped him from sending other boys to harms way, has it.

But I digress. I can only imagine how the Ashworth cousins dealt with the Civil War. Don Marler, in his recently published book, The Louisiana Redbones, says that we are a violent culture. Violent rather than warlike. Individuals are violent, cultures are warlike. I believe that we were a group of outcasts as opposed to a culturally defined group, or as my grandpa mght have said, "just because we're all outlaws doesn't mean we belong to the same gang." Given another hundred years, we might have become a more distinct subculture, but since we never thought of ourselves as anything but White, we kept assimilating. Our core might have been dark, but our edges kept getting Whiter and Whiter.

To the extended Ashworth families, the darker core seemed to have avoided the war, and those along the edges were more likely to have participated.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Fair and Balanced

Fox News is suing Al Franken for appropriating the words "fair and balanced" which Fox says they own. How the fuck does one own words of common usage? And of all of the news organizations, Fox is the least fair and the least balanced. They shill for the Bush administration. They are offensive to everyone with any taste.

They are not the first. The widow of one of the men killed while mythologicalling slaying the dragon and saving the kingdom wanted to trademark the phrase "Let's Roll."

McDonalds owns the phrase "Mc." Pity the small restauranteur whose name is McDonald.

The Left side of the blogosphere is taking up this cause. Probably for the wrong reasons, but it matters not to me why you hate my enemy as long as you hate my enemy. Today we are friends because we have the same enemy.


I'm going to start refering to the different generations of Ashworths and their cousins simply using the word "cousins" instead of the Ashworths, their cousins, and their friends. There are some who would call this group of cousins and friends "Redbones." I prefer the word cousins because I'm not sure when people started calling us Redbones. And since even to this day it is considered an offense for someone not a Redbone or not your cousin to call you one. I'm pretty sure we just called ourselves White. There is no record of being racially limited while Texas was a Mexican state. They were accepted by their neighbors in Texas as equals. It was only after the Southerners formed a government of anglos did the racial issue arise, and then almost immediately. Cousins were not allowed to join the Texian militia. This was the beginning.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Sam Ashworth

In the summer of 1856, tensions between the Ashworths and those Whites who felt the Ashworths should be eliminated came to a head when an Ashworth was accused of stealing hogs by a White man. The young man's cousin, Sam Ashworth, when getting the young man out of jail, had an exchange of words with a White man. Family tradition says the man, by the name of Deputy, called Sam a "hog stealin' nigger." Sam called him out, probably promising to whip his sorry ass right there on the spot in front of God and neighbor. Deputy declined, but went to the justice of the peace and swore a warrant out for Sam for "talking sass to a White man." Sam had to appear in court on the charge. First it had to be proved that Sam was indeed a non-White. The evidence consisted of White people getting on the stand and saying they knew Sam to have some Black blood in him somewhere in his distant genealogy. That was it. Sam was found guilty and sentenced to be publicly whipped.

Sam was allowed to escape from jail by the sheriff who himself was allied more with the Ashworths than the White parties. Sam went off down the swamp and stayed with relatives. Well, story goes, a bunch of the boys, first cousins for the most part, got drunk and Sam decided he was going to have a little instant justice for himself. He and his first cousin, Jack Bunch, took their guns and put out in a pirogue on Cow Bayou looking for the man who started the whole ruckus, Deputy.

He came along soon enough and Sam and Jack intercepted him. I imagine Sam told the s.o.b. to get right with God, and then shot him. The other man in the boat escaped and went back to town with a story about being ambushed by Sam Ashworth and Jack Bunch. A mob formed demanding the sheriff arrest the two and bring them back to town for hanging. The sheriff dutifully went out looking for Sam and Jack, staying out several days before coming back in saying he couldn't find hide nor hair of them, and that they must of fled the state back over to the Neutral territory which was now a part of Louisiana, but still another jurisdiction.

The mob decided to go out on their own and look for Sam and Jack. They went to the homes of other Ashworths and their cousins and proceeded to burn their homes and barns. The Ashworths and their cousins formed their own posse and burned a few barns of their own. After a few weeks of this, the state sent in its authority whether by Rangers or militia is uncertain, but the State's authority came down against the Ashworths who were forced to flee Texas.

Jack and Sam had taken refuge, not in the Neutral Territory, but San Antonio where Jack was recognized and arrested. He was brought back to Beaumont where he was tried and hanged. Sam was never captured. He later died serving in the Army of the Confederacy at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. (I can't remember right now. I'll come back later and fill in the blanks.)

About Race

Someone once said to me when I protested being considered African-American that it was no shame being Black. I quickly responded, "It's no honor either, especially if you're not."

I don't mind that history says I descend from Texas' most famous Black family. What I object to was that all it took to convict us of being Black in the early 1800s was an accusation. Not that we were afforded the opportunity to defend against the accusation, but how does one disprove something as nefarious as the race of your great-grandparents? That was then and this is now, right? Wrong. Now, 150 to 200 years later, contemporary historians are validating the racist, kangaroo courts of the early 19th century by saying yes, indeed, we were Black, without the addition of a single piece of evidence. That's what bugs me the most about this argument.
Texas, continued

Colored Outside the Lines

When Texas was a part of Mexico, the Ashworths were no different from their American neighbors. They obtained land, managed herds of cattle and hogs, and lived in relative peace with their neighbors. Some of their neighbors may have considered them "Not White," but few mentioned it to their face. Racism as a state institution may have been coming into being, but its enforcement required one to be able to shoot and fight, and few challenged the manpower of the Ashworths and their allied families or their willingness to fight to protect what was theirs. My point being, no one called us "niggers" to our face.

But racism in the South was more than just personal animosity, it was enforced by the state. In the 25 years between independence from Mexico and the start of the Civil War, the Ashworths and their allied families fought the attempts by the state to marginalize them. When William Ashworth and Diedre Gallier were charged with cohabitating (their marriage not recognized by the state of Texas), they took their case all the way to the Texas Supreme Court, only to lose. There were 15 indictments returned against the Ashworth family for various offences involving their marriage to Whites. Often they just paid the fines and went on with their lives. More often, they looked to their cousins for spouses. I'm not sure where the line was with cousins, historically, but growing up in East Texas, marriage between first cousins and their offspring were off limits, and between second cousins it was discouraged. My aunt married a second cousin and she and her husband were shunned for the first several years. On the other hand, third cousins were fair game.

When wronged by neighbors, the Ashworths sued; and their neighbors sued them. They were in all respects like their neighbors, just darker. By the laws of the Republic of Texas and subsequently by the State of Texas, people considered non-White were not allowed to own property. The Ashworths owned property; owned slaves, too. We have no record of any of the Ashworths or their allied families voting or running for office. I'm not even sure they could read. They did form churches, White churches.

My point here is not to claim that we didn't have Black blood. Probably we did. Don't know for sure. My question to present day historians, is why do you paint us today with the same racist brush you used 150 years ago?

Here's a group of people, white identified, having few or none of the racial markers characteristic of Blacks, but marginalized by the dominant society with only the accusation of being mixed blood.


Friday, August 15, 2003


My blog cousin, Sara, over at Hillbilly Sophisticate is collecting a list of words which are pronounced uniquely by our hillbilly cultures. (And if you don't think East Texas is populated by hillbillies, just go visit and listen to 'em sometimes.) Here are some East Texas, Westen Louisiana specialties:

Hisn. His
Hern. Hers
Pert near. Close
Batry. Battery
Clum. climbed
Cyore. To cure
Puore. Pure
Pizzen. Poison

We got a bunch more, but this this is Sara's project. I'm jist tossin' in a few of iron.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003


The widow of my father's oldest brother lives on the Sabine River where Nichols Creek empties into it. Her name is Winnie Harden Bridges and she is now 81 years old. I call her Aunt Melvin and have since I was 4. I have no idea why, but I must have been persistent enough for it to stick, and now my siblings and my mother also call her Melvin.

Aunt Melvin is a Roman Catholic. It's an important part of how she sees herself, the world, and everything in between. I think my father was infatuated with her from the first time he met her, shortly before World War II. When he got back from the war, he lived with his oldest brother, Cliff and his new wife, Winnie.

Prior to his being killed in December 1952, my father converted to Catholicism and had all of us children baptised Catholic as well. I can't remember if my mother converted at this time, and neither can she. I've asked. After the death of my father, I lived with my maternal grandmother in East Texas who was a Pentecostal. I cannot bring myself to use the term "holy roller" because it fails to reflect the dignity my grandmother brought to her simple faith.

My grandmother was appalled at the idea that any of her family could embrace Catholicism. Thus began the competition between my Aunt Melvin and my grandmother for my soul which resulted in my being very conflicted about religion from the time I knew there were different churches until I became a Zen Buddhist Jewish Pentecostal Episcopalian several years ago. Suddenly, it all made sense, but that's another story saved for another time.

Anyways, I was talking to my Aunt Melvin and she asks in her simple Bayou drawl, "Raymond, are you going to move back here after you retire?"

"Sugah," says I, "it's hot as hell there most of the time, except when it's freezing. You have every variety of poisonous snake found in North America: rattlesnakes, copperheads, coral snakes and water mocassins. You have not only black widow spiders in abundance, but you also have the deadly brown recluse, and while not deadly, the tarantula is also plentiful. In late summer you have what we called "fuck bugs" that turn the sky black and ruin the finish on your car. Now the are mosquitos, always fierce and abundant, are spreading the West Nile virus. I don't know about you, but I find it disconcerting to see birds dropping dead around you, y'know? Oh, and the fire ants. Deadly fuckers. And wasps. And probably killer bees. And the worsest of them all, the state is populated in large part by redneck assholes. Who else but Texans could be taken in by an upper class, Connecticutt yankee pretending to be a Texan pretending to give a fuck about common people?

But my story is about Texas. The first record of any of my ancestors getting to Texas was a census taken by a Spanish commandante at a camp near what is now Liberty, Texas in 1807. The ancestors from my mother's mother's family, John Aaron Drake, his wife Chastity, and several of their children were among the first American settlers to make it into Texas. They had been in Louisiana for 20 years prior to the excursion into Texas. They went back to Louisiana the following year.

In the early 1830s, the next two branches of my family would enter Texas. One to the north to San Augustine, the other to southeast Texas, to what is now Jefferson and Orange counties.

The part that always amazes me is that they came, they liked the place and they stayed. Well, I don't know how much they liked the place, but they did stay. They made history, in that their story is the story of Texas. They were players, all of them.

My great-great-great-grandmother's brother, Alexander Horton, was Aide-de-Camp to General Sam Houston. His brother-in-law, my ggggrandfather, Colonel James Whitis Bulloch, a veteran of the war of 1812, led Texian volunteers who attacked and liberated Nacogdoches 4 years before the fall of the Alamo. This is my father's mother's mother's family.

My mother's mother's people, the Ashworths, fled South Carolina around 1803 to Louisiana. Fled being the operative word here. If I were to speculate as to their reason for abandoning South Carolina where my gggggrandfather, James Ashworth, had received a land grant from the English Crown in 1774, I'd probably guess it had something to do with James showing up in the record books as a Tory serving under British command during the American Revolution. Did you know there were over 100,000 Tory refugees who fled the Southern colonies alone following the American Revolution. That was by boat. Probably a lot more, like my family, just moved West. The new nation was not very forgiving to those who had opposed its quest for independence. There was a lot of revenge taking.

James Ashworth's problem was further complicated by the fact that he was a mixed blood, probably Indian and White, although family lore always claimed our swarthiness came from our "Portygee" roots and our Indian grandmother on the Perkins side of the family. I think the Indian Grandmother of our family mythology was Esther Perkins. In the stories of several of my kindred families, the Indian Grandmother is obviously one single character. In Richard Maxwell Brown's book, The South Carolina Regulators, James Ashwroth is described as dark and swarthy with black hair. It also goes on to say that he had a "t" branded in his hand for "breaking out of jail." Odd choice of letters, but I bet he preferred a simple "t" to "BOOJ."

James married Keziah Dial also of South Carolina. Family tradition says that Keziah was an Indian, but I discount this. That she was part Indian I'm pretty certain, but subtle evidence suggests that Keziah's family (who came to Louisiana with the Ashworths) were White identified. For example, Keziah's mother, Elizabeth Hill Dial, sued her sons for failing to support her after the death of their father. That was the action of someone who considered themselves White.

When the Ashworths left South Carolina, they were all White. By the time of the next census, 1810, over half had become "colored." In another 10 years, they were all "colored." My sister says they all just got darker from working in the fields. Good point, but there was something else going on as well.

In 1803, the South was beginning a downward spiral under the weight of racism and slavery. Slavery was not as heavily a race based system in the 18th century as it became in the 19th century. Despite the fact that its not taught in American history, there was a lot of enslavement of American Indians by the colonists. By 1800, this resulted in a lot of mixed blood populations. Indian and White. White and Black. Indian and Black. Indian and White and Black. The United States has the peculiar history of being about the only former European colony without a significant population of mestizos. You see, as slavery became more and more a Black thing, Southerners became busier and busier making all mixed bloods eligible for slavery by classifying anyone suspected of having Black blood, Black.

James Ashworth, having taken refuge in a Cherokee village in the northwestern part of the state, gathered his family up and moved to Louisiana. In total, about a dozen families joined James in the migration to Louisiana. They settled in Louisiana in an area called "the Neutral Zone." The Americans claimed Louisiana went as far as the Sabine. The Spanish who had just given Louisiana back to the French, claimed the Calcasieu River about 70 miles to the East of the Sabine as the border. The American and Spanish generals facing each other off decided between themselves to avoid war and just let the outlaws have the land between the rivers until it was worked out. The area quickly filled up with mixed-bloods and outlaws. I'm proud to count both amongst my ancestors.

By the early 1830s, these mixed bloods had coalesced into an identifiable subculture in the remote bayous of Louisiana. They had a reputation of being fierce and violent. Don Marler says this was to make them unattractive as candidates for slavery. They were also part of a larger western migration of small, isolated Indian groups and mixed blood groups moving west towards Texas. Word had gotten out that they were welcome in Texas. The Mexicans supposedly wanted a buffer to the Americans.

They were a formidable people: White identified, but not accepted as such by the dominant White culture. An Army of almost 200 men could be made up of first and second cousins. Probably for that reason, no one ever called the Ashworths or their cousins anything but White to their faces, in Texas and Louisiana, until after the Texas Revolution.

After Texas won its independence, it became a Southern nation and eventually state. Our old enemies from South Carolina were not in charge of the government. They immediately started their war against us, calling us "Niggers" and classifying us as Free Blacks. They denied us the bounty lands given to other Texans for their support in the Revolution, saying Blacks couldn't own property. We fought them in courts, we fought them with force. We could form a "posse" of 200 heavily armed first and second cousins in a relative short time.

In February 1839, Texas passed a law which gave mixed bloods now being called Free Blacks, two years to leave the republic, or risk being sold into slavery. By December, after petitions from the leading citizens of Jefferson County, the legislature passed the Ashworth Act, naming my family specifically as excepted from the harsh provisions of the act.


Thursday, August 07, 2003

Let the Circus Begin!

Arnold Schwarzenegger has joined the race for Replacement Governor in the event of the success of the recall against Gray Davis. He joins about one to two hundred others who think they have as good a shot as anyone else. I'm not writing Davis off just yet. As of right now, he gets to run against chaos, and that does give him an edge.

Schwarzenegger hasn't impressed me with an ability to run the state. Maybe if he'd stop being a caricature of himself I'd take him more seriously. He even ended his press conference with a movie line, "I'll be back." The last time we had a governor who thought being governor amounted to delivering old movie lines was Ronald Reagan who is generally considered to have been a disaster as governor. Maybe he was jealous of his actor-buddy, Jesse Ventura who gets to be called Governor Ventura for the rest of his life. I think he'll get bored too easily.

To all of my fellow Californians, let me remind you that you can have it both ways. Vote against the recall and then for whichever clown you like the most. After the election, Gray will go back to work, a little humbler for the experience, the Republicans will cower down for awhile, and stay out of our face while we try to fix our economy and budget woes.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

On Being a Gay Episcopalian

We have a new bishop, the Right Reverend Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who has just been approved by the House of Bishops. He seems like an ordinary, caring, faith-filled man who speaks softly and with a voice oozing compassion. See anything wrong with this picture? Oh, he's Gay. Well, holy fucking Mary mother of God. What's this "In Your Face" shit from Gays? How dare they take a place at the table that's been reserved for others? Dave Cullen, a writer living over in Denver, in a piece entitled A Bishop of Our Own makes it personal.

Dave has about 4 or 5 postings on the subject. I incorporate all of his posts with this one Amen. Dave's right, it is important to us, and it is personal.

I do want to comment on the accusation by David Lewis that Bishop Robinson "touched" him inappropriately. First, background to the story summarized by Dave. I have a few questions for Mr. Lewis. First, did you get all tingly when he touched you? Did you get physically stimulated? You seemed quite sure it was inappropriate and amounted to sexual harrassment when you emailed the charge to all of the bishops. Are you the slightest bit worried, Mr. Lewis, that your reaction to the Bishop's touch says more about you than it does the Bishop? Maybe you have some issues about your own sexuality.

Amongst us flamboyant homosexuals, we have noticed that some straight men think that homosexuals everywhere are after them. We laugh at their sexual paranoia, and consider the issue to be more about them than about us. Excuse me, Mr. Lewis, but I saw a picture of you and I've seen pictures of Bishop Robinson. Dude, you're not in his league.

I believe in the spiritual idea that God hides her light from no generation. Those who believe that God hasn't revealed herself to humans since the Bible are too silly for words. Maybe their God is dead and hasn't spoken for two thousand years, but mine lives. She lives in me. She lives in the love I have for my family, my friends, my partner(s). She lives, Mr. Lewis, she lives.

Congratulations, Bishop Robinson. Thanks, Dave for your help in expressing the range of feelings about this subject.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Hurricanes and the Planet Mars

This just off the wire, folks. Okay, not off the wire, but from my blog cousin, Sara, whose blog, Hillbilly Sophisticate, alerts us to a request from Rep. Sheila Lee of Houston that the names chosen for hurricanes include names more common in the Black community. Sara snickers at the whole thing by wondering aloud why names more common to West Virginia aren't used.

And just in case Hurricane Kinesha isn't obscuring your view of the sky, comes word that Mars will be the closest to the earth as it has been in recorded history, and may not be this close again for another 60,000 years. Whoa! This is from my cousin who raises horses somewhere in New Mexico. Want to see some pretty horses? Visit Victoria and check out her Tiger Horses. I'll quote her email to me since she didn't provide a link:

"The encounter will culminate on August 27th when Mars comes to within 34,649,589 miles of Earth and will be (next to the moon) the brightest object in the night sky. It will attain a magnitude of -2.9 and will appear 25.11 arc seconds wide. At a modest 75-power magnification Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. Mars will be easy to spot. At the beginning of August it will rise in the East at 10 p.m. and reach its azimuth at about 3 a.m. By the end of August when the two planets are closest, Mars will rise at
nightfall and reach its highest point in the sky at 12:30a.m. That's pretty convenient to see something that no human being has seen in recorded history."

Be there or be square.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

Cooking Gumbo

I was at the Famers Market this morning and bought half a pound of the prettiest okra.

I like okra. Not everyone does. Last summer the French kids were over and they fought for the okra cooked in the crowder peas. It impressed the hell out of me. But I'm digressing. I'm talking about gumbo, not French kids and not okra.

For three years now I've donated a gumbo cooking lesson for 4 to the San Francisco Choral Society. It's a huge success. For me, it's a chance to be the center of attention and share a tradition given to me by the women of my family and community from when I was growing up. Although I ate a lot of good gumbo at my grandmother's table, it was Hilda Roberts Marioneaux, a neighbor, who taught me to cook gumbo.

Okra is used in gumbo to thicken the broth. The alternative to okra is file, which is ground sassafras leaves. Bet you didn't know that. Most of the time, I cook gumbo I use file, but this okra was too pretty and I decided I was going to do a chicken and andouille gumbo with okra.

First you make a roux. Using about half a cup of oil and a half a cup of flour, begin stirring in a large cast iron skillet. Does it have to be cast iron? Yes, now hush. Cook the roux slowly, taking your time. We don't want to burn the roux. Used to, I'd get ready to make my roux by freshening up my drink and calling my cousin Sue on the phone.

When the roux is dark brown, and I do mean dark, as dark as brackish swamp water, I add about a cup each of chopped onions, bell pepper and celery. My aunt Winnie calls this the "holy trinity." It with the roux is the basis of 90 percent of Louisiana cooking. Personally, I like the taste of garlic, so I ad about 4 or 5 cloves of chopped garlic and cook it with the rest of the holy trinity.

After about 15 to 20 minutes of cooking the vegetables (I'm calling the holy trinity and the garlic vegetables, so y'all stay with me here), I add about a cup or so (this isn't rocket science) of sliced okra, and continue to cook until the okra is hot, then I add my vegetables to a large soup pot of heated chicken broth (approximately 4 cans). Now, I live in the city, work full time, and have a very busy social schedule, so yes, I use canned chicken broth. If you've got more time than me, make the shit yourself. I don't have time.

At this point, you add the chicken and the sasage, which you have previously sauteed a bit. When I was growing up, the chicken might have been pecking in the yard a couple of hours before I started the gumbo, but see the above paragraph about living in the city and being busy, so now I buy chicken parts. Quick and easy. I especially am fond of chicken thighs. Make it easy on yourself and buy 3 or 4 pounds of chicken thighs, season them, dredge in flour, and saute for a few minutes and they're ready to add to the gumbo. Prepare the sausage by cutting it up into bite sized pieces and searing before adding to the gumbo.

SECRET INGREDIENT: I add about a spoonful of liquid crab boil after everything is in the gumbo. Not more than that 'cause it's hot, very hot. Just about a spoonful.

At this point, everything is in the gumbo. Cook it for about an hour and let it sit for awhile. If I'm doing a dinner party, this is all done in the afternoon. Then I take my nap. Naps are very important. About the time your company arrives, put the rice on to cook (this takes 20 to 30 minutes), and put the gumbo back on the fire at a low heat and bring to its serving temperature.

When the rice is done, we're ready to eat. What kind of bread, you ask? Well, if you're going to be traditional, throw a slice of white bread at them. I prefer to be fancy and will often serve a hot baguette if I haven't had time to make cornbread. My people are bayou people, without pretention to being French. We're a lot more likely to serve cornbread than store bought bread, but you do what you want. Bread don't matter. This is about the gumbo.

Bon appetit!

(Note: Gumbo is a soup made in Louisiana and East Texas made from vegetables and meat (such as chicken, or seafood, and is thickened with okra or file powder). (That's pronounced fi'lay. Please bear with me since I can't figure out how to do an accent aigu on my blog.) It's one of those "culturally defining" dishes of the French in Louisiana, like chicken soup is to Jewish cooking, or haggis is to the Scots.)

Determining Priorities

I'm with this guy. I'm copying rather than linking because that's all I can do. I just want him to get the credit for highlighting an important point that no one seems to have raised. It is about priorities.

"Guns vs. Butter, or Children vs. Seniors.
"So we're gonna hand $400 freakin' BILLION dollars of cash to drug companies, as a freebie to seniors. Is this really and truly the best way that we could be spending our health dollars? Is this the single most effective place, in terms of return on investment? Let's rephrase the question: Exactly how far would $400 freakin' BILLION go when it comes to insuring the uninsured children of this country? As hard as I might, I just can't seem to find a scenario under which I'm more sympathetic to a senior citizen, living in his own home, driving his cadillac to the doctor four times a week because of aching back, than I am sympathetic to the child of a poor single mom somewhere in an inner city...where a tiny fraction of that drug money can save a life or provide the regular medical care that is so important in a young life.

"Where does the AARP get off, exactly? Let's call this what it is: A gigantic giveaway to the drug companies. We're just going to take out a huge debt and hand the slip to them. We'll say to them, "Come up with the most expensive drugs you possibly can! Do it now!".

"You can BET on the fact that drugs are going to get more expensive. Why? Because as these drugs are directly marketed to senior citizens through the airwaves, they'll be going to their doctors and demanding these medications, which will now be covered under these stupid programs; drugs companies know this, and will raise prices, knowing they're gonna get paid. And as the population continues to age, this voting block gets stronger and stronger, wants more and more under these programs, and will finally succeed in burying a younger generation under the weight of their parents' greed."

All I can say is amen.

Friday, August 01, 2003

I've Screwed Up

I've fucked up my template. This will all seem wierd for awhile. I was trying to show some sophistication and fucked up. I will recover.
Bless Your Heart

This appeared in the blogosphere half a dozen or so years ago. It bears repeating. Anyone knows the author of this piece, let me know. She has a fan.

Bless Your Heart

Someone once noted that a Southerner can get away with the most awful kind of insult just as long as it's prefaced with the words, "Bless her heart" or 'Bless his heart." As in, "Bless his heart, if they put his brain on the head of a pin, it'd roll around like a BB on a six-lane highway." Or, "Bless her heart, she's so bucktoothed, she could eat an apple through a picket fence."

There are also the sneakier ones that I remember from tongue-clucking types of my childhood: "You know, it's amazing that even though she had that baby seven months after they got married, bless her heart, it weighed 10 pounds!"

As long as the heart is sufficiently blessed, the insult can't be all that bad, at least that's what my Great-aunt Tiny (bless her heart, she was anything but) used to say. I was thinking about this the other day when a friend was telling me about her new Northern friend who was upset because her toddler is just beginning to talk and he has a Southern accent. My friend, who is very kind and, bless her heart, cannot do a thing about those thighs of hers, so don't even start, was justifiably miffed about this. After all, this woman had CHOSEN to move south a couple of years ago "Can you believe it?" she said to my friend. "A child of mine is going to be taaaallllkkin' a-liiiike thiiiissss."

I can think of far worse fates than speaking Southern for this adorable little boy, who, bless his heart, must surely be the East Coast king of mucus. I wish I'd been there. I would have said that she shouldn't fret, because there is nothing so sweet or pleasing on the ear as a soft, Southern drawl. Of course, maybe we shouldn't be surprised at her "carryings on." After all, when you come from a part of the world where "family silver" refers to the large medallion around Uncle Vinnie's neck, you just have to, as aunt Tiny would say, "consider the source."

Now don't get me wrong. Some of my dearest friends are from the North, bless their hearts. I welcome their perspective, their friendships and their recipes for authentic Northern Italian food. I've even gotten past their endless complaints that you can't find good bread down here. The ones who really gore my ox are the native Southerners who have begun to act almost embarrassed about their speech. It's as if they want to bury it in the "Hee Haw" cornfield. We've already lost too much.

I was raised to sware, not swear, but you hardly ever hear anyone say that anymore, I sware you don't. And I've caught myself thinking twice before saying something is "right much," "right close" or "right good" because non-natives think this is right funny indeed. I have a friend from Bawston who thinks it's hilarious when I say I've got to "carry" my daughter to the doctor or "cut off"" the light. That's OK. It's when you have to explain things to people who were born here that I get mad as a mule eating bumblebees.

Not long ago, I found myself trying to explain to a native Southerner what I meant by being "in the short rows." I'm used to explaining that expression (it means you've worked a right smart but you're almost done) to newcomers to the land of buttermilk and cold collard sandwiches (better than you think), but to have to explain it to a Southerner was just plain weird.

The most grating example is found in restaurants and stores where nice, Magnolia-mouthed clerks now say "you guys" instead of "y'all," as their mamas raised them up to say. I'd sooner wear white shoes in February, drink unsweetened tea, and eat Miracle Whip instead of Duke's than utter the words, "you guys." Not long ago, I went to lunch with four women friends, and the waiter, a nice Southern boy, you-guys-ed all of us within an inch of our lives. "You guys ready to order? What can I get for you guys? Would you guys like to keep you guys' forks?"

Lord, have mercy. It's a little comforting that, at the very same time some natives are so eager to blend in, they've taken to making microwave grits (an abomination), the rest of the world is catching on that it's cool to be Clampett. How else do you explain NASCAR tracks and Krispy Kreme doughnut franchises springing up like yard onions all over the country?

To those of you who're still a little embarrassed by your Southernness, take two tent revivals and a dose of redeye gravy and call me in the morning.

Bless your heart.

Why do some men name their penis?

I've called mine names (like, opportunistic), but I've never like, given it a name. Do women name their vaginas? I think not. Okay, now that we know men do, here is a list of the 50 worst names you can choose.

Hepburn and Tracy, NOT!

I'd like to say I don't watch much tv, but that's not exactly true. I don't pay attention to a lot of tv, but I watch it more than I have time for, and the only part of tv that interests me is news about people, i.e., gossip.

Now because I watch it peripherally, I see different aspects of it, and miss others all together. I mention all of this as a background for my next topic, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. All I know about either is what I've gleaned from tv gossip, advertisements, and information I think I pick up from the commentators on the morning entertaining news shows. I think Ben Affleck must be one of the smartest young newcomers to hit Hollywood in a generation or so. Notice I didn't say he could act. Doesn't matter. He's cute. He comes across as nice. His friends are nice. He may be as mean and nasty as Joan Crawford, but he's got a clean image. Ms. Lopez has come from a different direction. For all her talent and determination, she's mentioned as much for the men whose company she has kept as for her own skills and talents.

Her greatest skill so far has been looking out for the JLo phenomenon. She's going strong. Same for Ben. He's going strong. They have one shared strength: the camera likes them.

Still can't act. Either of them. She better than he, but that doesn't make her good or even close to good.

About a year or so ago, I heard that Ben and Jennifer had obtained the rights to remake Casablanca. Oh my God, I thought. Is nothing sacred?

Okay, that was a silly question, but I shuddered at what I imagined their updated and "cool" version of Casablanca would be like. If it's anything like this, there oughttabe a law. Apparently others dislike the new movie also.

I certainly wish Ben and Jennifer the best. If they do a porno flick, I'll buy it in a minute. But they can't act. Their problem is they have too much power, and they think they're smater than they really are. People like them need to let directors, writers and producers be in charge. A good director can make a mediocre actor look good. A good writer can give cute people actual words to say to give their beauty context. And a good producer can . . . well do whatever producers do better than someone who's done what they've done so far because they're cute. If they need a warning example, I give them Kevin Costner and Barbra Streisand. (Hasn't her decline into mediocrity been sad?)

Meanwhile, Ben, Jennifer, please leave Casablanca alone. Oh, and leave those other Hepburn and Tracy movies alone, too. I don't care how cute the two of you are together, you can't act. I feel bad for you about that, but heck, you're rich and beautiful, ain't that enough?

Oh well, there goes my invitation to the wedding.