By Eve W. Engle

The dogs rule in our house. They are fed first, allowed in our bed, have their own bed in the guest room and sneak up onto the sofas when we aren't looking. Maxie, short for Maximus, is a Golden Retriever/Newfoundland mix, Sammy is a Black Lab/Border Collie mix. His full name is Samuel L. Jackson after my favorite actor. Both were abused and rescued from their former owners. They get cookies every morning.

Monday, January 31, 2011

True Grit

True Grit 1969    My father took my mother and me to two movies during his lifetime: "True Grit" and "Patton". What does that say about the man? He wasn't much of a movie goer obviously. But he also was a man's man. He had spent the "war years" (meaning WW2) living in L.A. (no I don't mean "Lower Alabama"!) working for Lockheed so he met and knew many actors in his day. I believe he thought they were less than magical. Anyway, he didn't want to waste time or spend the money or whatever so he just refused to go. My mother went with her friends or took me. But those two movies stand out in my memory because they were special events since my father escorted us. I wasn't old enough to be familiar with the book. And the title confused me since my experience with grit tended to be after it had been cooked on the stove.

    John Wayne was always himself. He was such an icon it was difficult to focus on the character he was playing. Instead it seemed you were only conscious of the thought "I'm sitting here watching John Wayne pretend to be Rooster Cogburn in a movie called True Grit". And since his co-stars were an unknown girl named Kim Darby and a country music star named Glen Campbell the movie had the "it's probably going to suck" potential. I'm actually surprised my dad wanted to see it. However, it was memorable for more reasons than the company I was with. I remember feeling ill when the scene in the cabin took place. Cutting off a guys fingers wasn't the most appealing sight to a ten year old girl whose taste was more Disneyeske. And during my tenth year I was taking English riding lessons on a coal black horse so I instantly fell in love with "Little Blackie". His death at the end devastated me. Let the silly girl succumb to the rattlesnake bite, just leave the horse alone!

    This past week I received a message from Eldest Son. He was gushing about the latest remake of the movie. He and some friends had just returned from the theater and he had seen the new "True Grit" starring Jeff Bridges. He thought I should go see it. Frankly I had known about the movie and been a little irritated that once again something sacred had been tampered with. But after hearing Eldest Son's enthusiastic message I thought I should give it a try. So my sidekick husband and I headed to the theater yesterday to see the movie.

    It wasn't disappointing if you had never seen John Wayne. It wasn't disappointing if you had read the book. Certainly the Coen brothers who directed the new version attempted to stick to the actual manuscript by Charles Portis. I cried (again) when Little Blackie died. Matt Damon is an actor instead of a singer like Mr. Campbell - enough said. I could tell that Mr. Bridges wasn't wearing a girdle (as it was suspected of Mr. Wayne), looked authentic enough to smell (and probably did after all that time in the saddle), and teenager Hailee Steinfeld actually looked the part with braids instead of sporting a "Beatle's cut" like Miss Darby (who wasn't a miss at all but a married woman of 21). And heaven knows Josh Brolin was better eye candy as Tom Chaney than Jeff Corey. The scenery wasn't as beautiful but with the haunting soundtrack it felt less like a Wonderful World of Disney film.

But I missed John Wayne's drunken antics. I missed his voice and rolling swagger. The climactic scene where Cogburn faces the other riders lead by Ned Pepper seemed less dramatic. And finally, the last scenes, though true to the book, fell flat to me. I left feeling disappointed.

When I arrived home the first thing I did was call Eldest Son. When he answered I told him we had just seen the movie. I began to discuss the differences. He informed me he had never seen the original. I was shocked. How could I have neglected to show my sons such a classic man's movie? I began to relay the scene by scene differences. Eldest Son stopped me. Apparently there was a crisis that needed his immediate attention. His cat had been to the vet earlier for a procedure and had on an Elizabethan collar. One leg was caught in the neck hole. He had to go. He hung up.

I was left to stew in my disappointment. I'll show him though! I'll get a copy of the "real" True Grit and prove how much better it is!
I'll . . . be wasting my time. Sigh. This is his True Grit, not mine. The times they are indeed achanging.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Spirit

It's been a while since I felt like blogging. Last month I made a valiant effort to write my novel for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as most of us call it. Starting a blog up at the same time was a mistake! I have had serious carpal tunnel ever since. Now I'm not whining mind you, just explaining why I haven't felt like blogging. But dispite the annoyance this morning I had something to say, even though no one seems to be reading this but me, myself, and I. In fact, last night something rather profound happened. Not earth shattering. Not even a blip on the radar for community changing events. Nope. Just something personally thrilling.

Eldest son met me at church last night!

That may not have come across quite as exciting as I would have liked, so let me explain. You see he hasn't been to church since 2002. But a couple days ago he called and talked to me about the possibility of a job for a college. One of the questions on the application inquired about his religious preference. The question bothered him. He called mom. Mom asked him what he thought and held her breath. He answered that he had put down "Episcopalian". Mom let out her breath. "Good answer" was all I could come up with. But that was when he admitted the real reason he was calling. He felt guilty.

When my boys were little we went to a wonderful church in Huntsville Alabama. There we found a dynamic group of intelligent, caring, and committed congregates who welcomed us with all our faults and set about including us in every activity imaginable. I sang in the choir, taught Sunday School, became the parish hostess for events, was a den leader for the church sponsored Cub Scout Pack, and settled in for a long life there with the expectation that I would someday be buried in the columbarium (a niche for ashes in the church). My children went to Sunday School, participated in Cherub Choir, Cub Scouts, every child event imaginable, and spent their free time with other children from our church "family". Both Eldest Son and Middle Son did the "God and Church" requirements and won medals for Cub Scouts. And finally, as tradition dictates in the Episcopal Church, Eldest son became confirmed.

But then the worst thing imaginable happened. Their father and I divorced and we moved away. We tried the church in our new town but it never was a good fit. After a decade even I gave up on it and moved to a smaller congregation attached to the college. When Eldest Son began taking classes there I encouraged him to attend but he dismissed me saying he was too busy and that he wasn't interested. And now, after 8 years, he came back.

He will never know how happy I was sitting there beside him, nor how amazed I was at how tall he has grown as he walked to the Eucharistic table in front of me. I am keeping it to myself (he'll never read this), a few cherished moments for a mom.

This truly is the season of hope and miracles.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Joe, Sam, Tony, Mel and the General

Tuesday evening was quite an event in my little town of Auburn Alabama. It was the 45th anniversary of Ia Drang and the dramatic story of LZXRAY told in the 1992 book Lt. General Hal Moore wrote with author Joe Galloway. Both men were honored Tuesday evening by the mayor, the city management and citizens. Hal Moore is an icon of our town, but he is a greater icon of the U.S. Army, which extends into other services as was evident that evening when USA, USAF, USMC and USN personnel showed up along with us civilians to meet and share time with him. The general has other admirers too, namely the actors who portrayed him and his sergeant in the movie "We Were Soldiers" and his good friend Tony LaRussa the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. They each called in to speak to him and Joe. Sam Elliot's voice is a like a deep drum, thrumming melodiously. He seemed emotional and greatly honored by his association with the 88 year old hero. Tony was teasing. Mel Gibson, who portrayed the general in the movie was goofy but sincere.

From where I was standing I couldn't see all the activity. Little Boy and Eldest Son went with me and both got autographs. Little Boy, who has enlisted in the Navy, shook the general's now fragile hand. My proudest moment came when he purposely went and sat next to a combat veteral who was there in full dress uniform accompanied by his service dog. Little Boy quietly thanked him for his service and then walked away. The young man was seated but you could clearly make out the shape of two prosthetic legs under his uniform trousers.

Given the general's age we may never have another chance to meet him. He lives quietly now, and attends  regularly at St. Michael's Catholic Church but we are not members there. But it was one of those rare moments when I was really glad we moved here and they could look one of the greatest generals ever in the eye. And I could see my sons are men who he would also respect if they were his troops.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Divided House

We live in a divided house. My car sports a front tag that proves it.

You see I am a double graduate of the University of Alabama (BFA,MLIS). My father was a professor emeritis there, my mother is a triple grad from Bama (BFA,MFA, and EdD), my grandfather played football there, was a member of Skull and Bones there, and received his Law degree from Bama. My first husband and I met there while we were students. His twin brother is also a graduate. The "Bear" was the Athletic Director and Head Football coach during my entire childhood. My blood is definitely crimson.

But back in 1999 I set in motion the great "transformation". I had the audacity to take a job in Auburn, Alabama and move my three sons there. THEN two years later my ex-husband's sister decided she would also move here and finally finish her degree. Can you figure out where this tale is going?  It was I who is to blame!!!! Muuuhahahahaha! As a result all three sons have chosen to go to Auburn for undergraduate school (or at least started there since Little Boy decided to withdraw and enlist in the Navy). In fact Eldest Son graduated at the same time his auntie finished and they both walked the stage during the same commencement.

Now it gets a little more complicated. Eldest Son then turned around and went to Bama for graduate school. So that would make him the "Divided Man" in the "Divided House".

If you follow SEC college football then you know the "Iron Bowl" takes place right after Thanksgiving. That is the nick name we Alabamians coined for the annual meeting of the University of Alabama's Crimson Tide Elephants and the Auburn University War Eagle Tigers. Well that's not really what they call themselves, at least not the "Tide". Big Al the elephant is the mascot but they haven't ever called themselves "Elephants" the way Auburn says "Tigers". When these two teams meet anything goes. The team with the most wins leading to the Iron Bowl may not leave with the winning score that day.

So, what's a mom to do in a house full of Tiger fans on the day of the big game? COOK! And basically keep her mouth shut about whom she supports. Just for fun I thought about a menu for the big day. If we were a family who actually had our own tailgate party then this is what I would serve:

Bama Menu                                  
For an appetizer: Red and White Corn Chips with Sagan Salsa
Elephant Burgers (supersized beef, bison, or venison burgers)
Roll Tide Rolls (supersized for the hamburgers)
Bama Baked Beans with brown sugar and bacon
Crimson Tide Punch (a red fruit juice based punch, spiked)
Bama's Best Banana Pudding

Auburn Menu
For an appetizer: Blue and Cheddar Chips with Chizik Cheese Dip
Tiger Tails (Polish sausages- grilled)
Orange and Blue salad (fruit salad)
War Eagle Punch (orange juice and Grenadine, spiked)
Plainsman Pie (peanut butter)

Sound good? Well, my family better not get their hopes up. The problem with all this is that the Iron Bowl is traditionally the day after Thanksgiving. So after spending all day in the kitchen the day before, the best you can hope for me to cook for the Iron Bowl is a turkey sandwich with some leftover pumpkin pie!

Roll Tide, Roll! War Eagle, Hey!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cookies for Horses!

What a glorious morning! Once upon a time I was a horseback rider. Once upon a time, a long time ago. Now after 30 years I have begun dreaming like a little girl again. Horses, horses, horses. Sigh. Never mind that I am out of practice, I CAN DO IT. So today I got up and put on my jeans and boots and headed to a local stable. There is a little lady there (or old lady if you prefer since she is over 30 - like me, lol) who is willing to put up with me. Her name is very apropo. It is Charmer. And she is, even at her age.

Once upon a time she was a little chestnut colored filly with a white blaze and white star and stripe on her nose. But now she is a little grayer (aren't we all?) and her face is a little less full but she is beautiful. She doesn't belong to me. In fact she doesn't belong to the friend who introduced me to her, but when I am seated on her back I feel like she is. I wish she was. Her owner doesn't ride her anymore so the rest of us are privileged enough to enjoy her charms.

Did I tell you she still jumps? She does. I don't jump her. I barely canter since my legs aren't what they once were and posting is tiring. Riding English is harder than Western. Since I've done both I know what I am supposed to do but it isn't that easy. Oh to have the back and leg muscles I once had! Anyway, my girlfriend coached me and guided me and put up with me and so did Charmer.

When I was a little girl about five years old my uncle had a horse. Poor thing was really an old nag. He called her "Patsy". She was also a little chestnut horse like Charmer. I loved her as if she were mine even though I barely ever saw her since she lived on a farm in another county. Then when I was ten my parents paid for English lessons at a local stable. I rode a beautiful black Morgan horse named "Carbon Copy". What an absolutely nasty horse! He always tried to knock me off. But I suppose he realized I was clueless and vulnerable. After that I rode whenever I had a friend who was willing to share her horse.

My senior year of high school one of my best friends had a pony (for me to ride) and a handsome young quarterhorse. He was her pride and joy. Though poor, her father had made sacrifices and not only bought the horse for her but found a little horse trailer. She rode that horse every day. He was her best friend. She competed in barrel races and other contests and made the rounds of all the horse shows in West Alabama. I went with her and mucked out the trailer and stalls, fed that horse, curried him, watered him and anything else that was needed. Then one day she came home from school to find that fine horse with a broken leg.

Her father shot him.

After that I never rode again. It broke my heart, for her, for that fine horse, and for all the other horses out there in bad pastures next to shacks where there was no shelter and there were holes in the ground.

But here I am, almost 40 years later, riding again. The aches and pains are worth it, just to smell a horse that close once more.

And to feed her cookies. Did you know they make them for horses too? Just like dogs.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hanging the Flags for Veterans Day

Today we hung Old Glory all over Auburn. Actually the Civitans, of which I am a member, hung the flags. Over the years the Auburn club has hung the flags for all state and federal holidays but for me personally Veterans Day is the most meaningful. As I place each of the flag's poles into the holders (we have parking meters with a special receptacle for the flag poles) I think about the many people in my own family as well as those I've known who are veterans. It is a long list. You see, we are a military family.

That didn't really dawn on me until just a few years ago when my own sons became old enough to register for the Selective Service. Then it hit home like a sledge hammer. Never mind that the two oldest were both in ROTC. It was when they turned 18 that I began to really think about what that might mean. Little Boy didn't take ROTC. He prefered sports in high school. But this summer he decided to put college on hold and enlisted in the Navy. So now I am not only a former Army wife twice over but a Navy Mom! Ouch. That really smarts when I start to think about it. I can't help but think about all the mothers who have sacrificed their sons and daughters and wonder if I could handle it gracefully. My head is so proud of him it aches, but my heart aches more.

I wonder how my great grandmother felt when her youngest son left her embrace as he headed to the European theater in WW2. And I also wonder about how my great great grandmother handled finding herself suddenly alone in 1861 when not only her husband Asa but both her sons Adoniah and Amaziah marched off to war. Amaziah was only 17. All three came home, but one was gravely wounded at Little Round Top and was crippled for life. Two of my ancestors also fought in the Revolutionary War. Both died.

Last year I made a list of each of my family members in the last four generations who have served. They are:

Name   War/Era   Branch  Relationship
Waldrop Windham, WW2,  Air Corps, grandfather
Thomas Martin, WW2, Navy, grandfather by marriage
Peyton Bobo, Korean era, Marines, cousin
Walter Engle, Vietnam, Marines, half brother
Jerry Conaway, Vietnam, career Army, father in law, 1st marriage
Andy Conaway, Grenada/80s, Army, 1st husband
Tom Conaway, 1980s, Airforce, brother in law, 1st marriage
Betsy Conaway Wolfe, current, Army Wife, sister in law, 1st marriage
Malcolm Wolfe, current, career Army, brother in law, 1st marriage
Trey Wolfe, current, Army, nephew
Jonathan Conaway, current, Army, nephew
Ginger Delvalle Eads, current, Army Wife, niece
Richard Kneeland Jr. , 1999 - 2003*, Army (Disabled Vet), husband *9/11 veteran
Richard Kneeland Sr., 60s,- 90s,  career Air Force, father in law, 2nd marriage
Carla Kneeland Abba, current, Air Force Wife, sister in law, 2nd marriage
David Abba, current, career Air Force, brother in law, 2nd marriage
Patrick Conaway, current, Navy, son
I included my sisters in law who are currently married to active duty personel as well as my niece. As a former Army wife I know they are serving as well!

So once again the flags wave in downtown Auburn as we mark the Veteran's Day holiday, and say "thank you" to those who put us first before themselves.

I am proud to count myself as part of a military family.
And lucky to be an American.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Doggie Chunks

Nothing is worse than dog vomit. The term "chunks" is real. It describes what comes up. It's gross. It smells. And what's worse, they always do it IN THE BED! Why is that? And why does it usually happen at an unopportune time such as AFTER you leave to go to work so you come home to find your present waiting for a clean-up only after it has soaked through all the covers and into the mattress?

Dogs do it on purpose. I'm totally convinced of that. They KNOW it will cause you to panic. Okay, so maybe that's just me.  I panic.

But, the best thing is they feel great. If it were me, I'd be on the sofa.

Oh well. Break out the white vinegar.