Remembering the “Texas Termite”

Tuesday night, while cleaning up the random files on my desktop, I found this:

As I’m writing this, my grandpa is performing his “crack the egg over the knee” bit, trying to distract me.  I watch him try to spread out the fingers of his right hand across my knee. The tip of his pointer finger is missing, the mark of a table-saw mishap thirty years before, back when he made his living slinging hammers, building houses, including the one I live in now. His other fingers have been bent by age and arthritis, and he can no longer straighten them. Since the Alzheimer’s set in two years ago, he has become more and more fascinated by this. He’ll often grab my hand, comparing it to his own.

I had written it May 13, 2009. My grandfather passed away September 6, 2011. What struck me about the passage was that I had thought to write it in the first place. A few folders later, composed an evening earlier, I came across a half-written poem, its focus that same moment:

It isn’t magic, just a trick of touch

The tips of my grandfather’s fingers, stretching out

Like spiderwebs across my knees.

“Cracking eggs,” he says.

Looking back now on those words, to witness that brief exchange again, years later, I can’t help but feel loss sitting like a heavy brick on my lap. Each sentence, each line, taps against a heart that is still tender in places. And it isn’t all sentimentality that has me sitting here at my desk at work, crying like a child, emptying out a box of Kleenex. It is something else.

When I think of my grandpa, it’s hard to see him as a little boy in overalls, his eleven plain-faced sisters in their handmade dresses looking over at him and his younger brother, Glenn.  The stories shared of his youth spent on the farm have all become fragmented and foggy with time. Distant and unreachable are the many details that made up his life. My grandfather’s love was quiet. He didn’t shower us with gifts or compliments. Instead, he listened. He watched. He made us laugh.

I do know that his handle on the CB radio was “Texas Termite,” that he had ears that stuck out farther than mine. His laugh was raspy and always made me think he was choking on something. He made the best beef jerky. When I was a little girl, he took me with him to his BBQ stand and let me hand out the bags of chips and chipped beef sandwiches to the customers. He was funny. He was goddamned funny.  He wore denim, always denim. Maybe some flannel here and there.

At my grandmother’s house, my grandpa’s red chair, arms and seat worn from years of getting up and down and up again, sits empty.  When I go visit her, I don’t feel right about sitting there.  I want to save his place.

Today is Thanksgiving. My two brothers, my two sisters, and I will all lie around on my grandmother’s living room floor like sloths. We will feel fat and sleepy. And, most of all, thankful. Thankful for all the “cracked eggs,” those delicate emotions of shared experience.

Confessions of a Crappy Baker: Blueberry Pie Success!

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I’m not going to lie. I’m a shitty baker. Last time I made cookies from scratch, the fan lights exploded, there was a shower of glass (long story), and that was after I burned the chocolate in the microwave and realized that the vanilla I had bought was actually red food coloring.

I try. I really do. But I’m really bad with simple directions.  Blame it on my mother. I’m a freaking space cadet. I usually zone out, end up mixing the order of when I’m supposed to do what. Tears happen. I curse. I scream. Flour is everywhere. But have I given up on baking? Hell no. Did I eat the cookies that possibly had shards of glass in them? Hell yes.  Give them to a few friends? Oops.

A week ago my friend Rob broke out into hives because he at too many red peppers. So, being the kind lass that I am, I knew I owed him that blueberry pie I’d been promising him.  Thus, armed with a recipe given to me by friend Daniella, (She found it from a blog that I am now completely obsessed with: The Bitten Word), I set to work.

My rent house has a small kitchen, but I managed to make the pie dough with relative ease. I love that this crust calls for a bit of vodka. I smiled as I made it a little more “Texas” by adding that splash of Tito’s (which, as the guys at The Bitten Word rightly assured me, made the crust flaky and perfect).  And, the blueberries that my friend Celine and I had handpicked from Griffin Berry Farm this past May, made a great addition to the fresh taste of this pie. I had to mix two cups of store-bought because we are running low, but in my mind….the blueberries made all the difference.

If you’ve never been to Griffin Berry Farm, you should definitely check it out. I love that place. Ten bucks for a gallon of blueberries. We froze them, and they still tasted great.

The only trouble I had with the pie was cutting out the holes on the top layer of the pie  crust. I didn’t have a biscuit cutter, so I used a shot glass I bought at the Eiffel Tower (How do ya like that mix of trash and class?).  I only had room for four holes instead of six, but I think it still looked pretty nice.

We topped it off with some vanilla ice-cream, and a glass of red wine. Because despite what some say, red wine goes with everything.

Seriously. Check out this recipe. It is so worth it: Best Blueberry Pie with Foolproof Pie Dough!