Friday, November 20, 2015

Aprons I Have Known

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, good Louisiana cooking slides once again to the forefront.  Yes good food is a staple up here at the Old Place.  Whether it’s a home made persimmon pie from the old wood burning stove or steaks, cowboy style, over an open fire down by the lake food at the Old Place was and is always a special treat.  My Grandmother, MahMee, her real name was Nora, didn’t always come up with the Dean Broussard back in the old days, but her old hand stitched apron still hangs on a peg next to the stove. Of course I use the one I wore as Detective Sgt. Porterhouse in the Ray Cooney’s play “Run for Your Wife.”  I don't think our children know what an apron is these days. Back in the day the principle use of a lady’s apron was to protect the dress underneath because. . . she only had a few.  It was also because even back then it was easier to wash aprons than dresses and aprons required a lot less material.  An apron also served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven.  It was wonderful for drying grandchildren’s tears, and on occasion for cleaning out dirty ears.  From the chicken coop, the apron was used for carrying eggs, fussy chicks, and sometimes half-hatched eggs to be finished in the warming oven. When company came, those aprons were great hiding places for shy kids like Ms. Melinda was.  I have a picture of her big blue eye peeking out from behind MeMaw’s. 

When the weather turned cold, MawMaw would wrap it around her arms.  Those big old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow, bent over the hot wood stove.  Chips and kindling wood were brought into the kitchen in that apron.  From the garden, it carried all sorts of vegetables and after the peas had been shelled, it carried out the hulls.  In the fall, the apron was used to bring in apples that had fallen from the trees.  And when unexpected company drove up the road, it was surprising how much furniture that old apron could dust in a matter of seconds.  When dinner was ready, Grandma walked out onto the porch and waved her apron.  The men folk knew it was time to come in from the lake or the fields to dinner.  It’ll be a long time before someone invents something that will replace that 'old-time apron' that served so many purposes. 

And ah how things have changed: Grandma used to set her hot baked apple pies on the window sill to cool.  Nowadays her granddaughters set their pies on the counter top. . . to thaw.  And sadly it’s more likely to be a boy child with that apron around his shoulders playing BatMan than a girl playing Mom at her “Easy Bake Oven.”  Shoot, modern Moms go crazy now trying to figure out how many germs were on that apron and hoping to goodness no one sees them actually wearing it! 

Personally, I never caught anything from an apron - except love.   Sitting in a rocker at the Old Place, I am Col. Jim.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

It’s summer time at the Old Place and interesting things are beginning to happen. The state bird of Louisiana, the mosquito has begun to make its presence felt (Slap my arm, say OUCH!).  The poison ivy starts to climb and sunburns make us all look like Washington Redskins!  Ha!  Oh sure autocross season is in full swing and the bikini girls are out in force but hey, you do not want to see me in a Speedo!  Most of my Southern bretherin’ do revel in the heat, spending long hours after work and on the weekends outside.  Whatever your particular outside endeavor is please allow me to caution you, heat can be a killer.  Ordinarily I would spend this time talking about the importance of taking frequent breaks in the shade, keeping hydrated and how not to confuse fluid replacers with energy drinks.  This morning though I am going to do something I normally would never think about doing. . .  I am going to play the race card!  It’s all right folks, it’s nothing like that.  Anyone who has taken basic first aid has learned about the various stages of heat emergencies and how important it is to be able to recognize the signs.  Whether it is the cold clammy pale skin and heavy sweating of heat exhaustion or the hot dry red skin associated with heat stroke most of us know what to look for and what to do.  But what about folks of African, Hispanic or Mediterranean descent, would they turn red too?  Hmm, good question.  The answer is actually, no.  An African American with very dark skin will usually turn a deep purple color, while Hispanics tend to achieve something of a mahogany tone.  Is this really a safety issue?  I’ll let you decide.  This past week I did an impromptu pole of our African American, Hispanic and Native American workers and found only two who already knew this.  Why does no one teach this?  Likely this comes from the old belief that since darker skinned folks come from tropical regions, they are naturally more tolerant of heat.  Okay, let’s look at that logically. We all know that darker colors tend to absorb heat while lighter colors reflect heat. This is called, “Solar Radiative Heat Gain, and it differs significantly among individuals and between populations.  Studies indicate that lighter skin reflects about 30-40 percent of total solar radiation, while dark skin reflects only 18 percent or less.  That would seem to suggest that darker skinned folk would have MORE trouble with heat rather than less. In fact, there have been over 108 distinct studies related to heat tolerance.  Of the myriad of factors studied the greatest influence on individual response to heat tolerance is acclimatization or “just getting used to it.”  The remarkable aspect of the acclimatization response is the ease by which it is accomplished.  It is rapid, effective, and occurred even when the tests were performed in a temperate climate in winter. That’s right friends the studies even included native Eskimo tribes. Furthermore, all normal, healthy people who were tested were able to acclimate whether to extreme heat or extreme cold.  What can we learn from all this?  When it comes to teaching about the dangers of heat, play the race card.  Everyone regardless of race, color or creed needs to know how to spot the signs of heat stroke in everyone and to treat it as the life threatening illness that it is.

Sitting in a rocker at the Old Place, with a glass of iced tea, I am Col. Jim.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Happy Farther's Day

Yes it is "Farther’s" Day here at the Old Place and as the author W.P. Kinsella would say, “the memories are so thick you have to brush them away from your face.”  You heard me right, Far-Ther’s Day. You might remember farther back when I introduced you folks to the Old Place, I told you my Grandfather built it and my father used to bring me up here. Farther back in the day some Native American’s father likely discovered this lake while out hunting.  It was pristine of course and a lot smaller, probably not much more than a mountain stream backed up behind a beaver damn.  Farther back than that, well who knows?  Not able to look farther back with any certainty let’s look farther ahead.  We’ll be headed to church at 10:00.  Farther on after that Ms. Melinda and MaryHannah have a special day planned for me.  Farther back in this blog I mentioned W.P. Kinsella.  Most of you know the Kevin Costner film, Field of Dreams was based on Kinsella’s novel, “Shoeless Joe,” the movie tells the story of a novice Iowa farmer named Ray who lives with his wife Annie and his daughter Karin. Ray had a troubled relationship with his father, who was a devoted baseball fan. Walking in his cornfield one evening, Ray hears a voice whisper, "If you build it, he will come." Ray then sees a vision of a baseball diamond in his field. Annie is skeptical, but Ray plows under his corn to build the field. As months pass by, nothing happens. One evening, with despair and creditors closing in Ray’s daughter comes to him and says, “Daddy, there’s a man out there on your lawn.”  It is “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, a deceased baseball player idolized by Ray's father. Thrilled to be able to play baseball again, Joe returns with the seven other players banned from baseball in the 1919 World Series scandal. The story rolls on with Ray helping "Ease the pain" of a disillusioned 60’s radical and author Terrance Mann who dreamed of playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Ray tries to do the same for a long dead nobody named Archibald "Moonlight" Graham who became small town doctor after one game with the New York Giants in 1922, but never got to bat.  As things move farther along Ray gets angry wondering out loud at last, “what’s in this for me?”  It is Shoeless Joe who reminds Ray why he sacrificed so much saying, "If you build it, he will come."  Joe glances toward home plate. The catcher removes his mask and Ray sees it is his father as a young man. Shocked, Ray surmises that "Ease his pain" referred to his father, but Joe counters that the voice referred to Ray himself.  Ray introduces his father to his wife and daughter, then asks, “hey. . . Dad, ya wanna have a catch?”  The farther I go down my time line, the more I realize why God designed us to need a father.  Some fathers are living legends some fathers are just plain folks.  As fathers ourselves let us all resolve to go farther than needed, farther than required, farther than expected.  Then Our Father Who art in heaven, He will take us there, father than we ever imagined!

Sitting in a rocker at the Old Place,

I am Col. Jim.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Why We Care About Safety

Here at the Old Place we look out for each other.  One morning I was taking my walk around the lake when I noticed Ms. Edith sitting on her back porch with a stranger.  It was a young man; his head was bent over, he had a cup of coffee in his hands and he was crying.  Edith got up patted his back and walked over to me.  The fella had recently lost his young bride to an act of violence leaving him a widower at 28 and his 7 year old daughter Teresa motherless.  All of a sudden all my problems seemed like Disney World.  As I began to pray with them the names Edith and Teresa kept appearing in my head, and I wondered what God was trying to tell me.  I had been reading recently about a rather unique saint, a Prussian born Jew and former atheist named Edith Stein.  Moved by the tragedies of World War I, Edith became a nursing assistant in a hospital.  Drawn to the Catholic faith, she was admitted as a Discalced Carmelite nun taking the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.  Eight years later she was martyred in a Nazi gas chamber.  God had chosen that moment of tragedy to show me again why safety is a ministry.

Of course safety is also the law.  The philosopher Aristotle said that, “Law is reason free from passion.”  Does that mean that law is sufficient reason on its own to be safe?  I believe rational arguments and inferences alone do not give us trustworthy knowledge.  Safety is about people.  Silly, emotional, passion filled children of God.

As I reflected on the young man’s pain, I remember St. Teresa saying that, “Our knowledge of someone else’s pain is direct knowledge.” Say what?  Well, we know other people have a mind like ours sure because we know that we think, feel, decide, suffer, rejoice and etc.  Think of Rene’ Descartes’ phrase, “Cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I am.”  We all have experiences influenced by the world outside our own bodies but what makes those experiences interchangeable between us?

In his 1995 Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II, now St. John Paul the Great clarified this when he wrote, “Recognizing the reality of a person as opposed to a mere human organism is as fundamental as recognizing the reality of being.”  In other words, recognize the soul in all persons.  So what’s it go to do with safety?

I must go back to St. Teresa for an answer.  The object of our awareness at first is awareness of a consciousness outside our-self, let’s say one that “appears” to be in pain.  When we allow this awareness to unfold to its fullness, we find ourselves actually aware of becoming of the other person, in a sense “remembering” or “recognizing” their pain as if it were a memory in our own personal experience.  We achieve what amounts to intimate knowledge of others, a caring that transcends any desire to merely prevent pain but to eliminate it all together.  The struggle for safety is a supreme act of virtue and as St. Thomas Aquinas said, “nothing, except sin, is contrary to an act of virtue.”

Sitting in a rocker at the Old Place, I am Col. Jim.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

No Time For A Parade

All over the country there are parades this Memorial Day honoring our fallen heroes.  There are no parades up here at the Old Place, but there is plenty of time for reflection.  I’m reading a small blue binder.  The author paints a vision of a terrified young sailor standing on the smoking, listing deck of a US destroyer.  A Japanese torpedo has just blown off the stern taking 19 of his shipmates to their deaths and leaving the ship dead in the water in the middle of a major sea battle. I could almost smell the cordite and hear the explosions.  As I close the binder, I see a patch glued to the front of it depicting a young wild Indian shooting a bow and arrow.  The arrow is pointed down.  I like to believe that is because he is shooting at that Japanese submarine, the preferred prey of our WWII destroyers. That patch is the unit insignia of Destroyer Squadron 23, “The Little Beavers” activated on May 11, 1943.  Under the command of then Commodore Arleigh “31 Knot” Burke, DESRON 23 earned a Presidential Unit Citation fighting 22 engagements while destroying a Japanese cruiser, nine destroyers, one submarine, several smaller ships, and approximately 30 aircraft.  That young sailor was a small, “Foote Note,” if you will, to this story aboard the Fletcher Class Destroyer USS Foote, interestingly the same class as our own embattled USS Kidd.  Wilbur V. Rogers was not even old enough to drink when with seabag hoisted over his shoulder he gazed up the gang way toward the ship that would be his home for the next two years. There was nothing special about the young sailor from Jonesboro, Louisiana.  Rog served in the Main Battery Director targeting enemy aircraft with the deadly twin 44 mm cannons.  He told me once, “You could get those guns to fire together or alternate.  I never liked it when they fired together.  If I could get them firing alternately that meant there was always lead in the air!”  Rog ultimately told me about the Battle of Empress of Augusta Bay. “It was 3 O’Clock in the morning and we had just executed a hard left turn to come up on the starboard quarter of the USS Converse.  A minute later a Japanese torpedo struck us at an angle behind the aft 5 inch gun mount.  We were making 31-knots and immediately went dead in the water.  All we could do was watch as the stern section, with 19 of our shipmates, turned slowly and began to sink.”  The Foote was repaired and returned to the war ultimately taking part in siege of Okinawa.  So, what’s it got to do with safety?  Those of you who know the Old Col know I’m a bit of a submarine nut.  So one day my father-in-law introduces me to his best friend Wilbur Rogers, with Marathon Oil and a tin can sailor.  Needless to say we eyed each other with some suspicion.  As I got to know Mr. Rog and listened to his stories he gradually became the grandfather I never had.  He took me on personal guided tours using our USS Kidd as a substitute for his long gone Foote.  As Rog shared, his stories of his shipmates, their battles and their laughter came alive.  This is a very difficult story for me to end.  “We all get old if we live long enough,” Rog once said.  Well I guess that’s true.  Mr. Rog and his sweet bride Ona Vee have had to leave Baton Rouge for Shreveport to be closer to their daughter.  To say I will miss him is not enough.  My world will be just a bit dimmer without Rog around.  His life and his character are a brilliant and blinding devotion to his family, his friends and of course to our country. Sadly, there will be no parade for Mr. Rog, but I send him on his way with “Fair winds and following seas” Mr. Rog, you will be missed.  

Sitting in a rocker at the Old Place, 

I am Col. Jim.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Good Safe Food

Cooking around the Old Place has always been an adventure.  Back in the day there was a wood burning pot-bellied stove which doubled as a heater.  It’s still a heater to this day, but now we have a separate wood burning stove/oven combination that uses propane as a starter.  As you can imagine, the safety challenges of cooking on a wood burning stove are manifest.  Burns are a given and in defiance of the old saw, an unwatched pot boils over so fast you just can’t believe it.  In preparing a proper Job Safety Analysis or JSA for this task I found that all the steps had the same hazards fire and burns so wearing gauntlet type oven mitts and keeping a full bucket of water close to hand are advisable.  Today I’m cooking bacon for the delicacy of day is the shamelessly male satisfying delight, chocolate covered bacon.  Oh yes, fellas, you heard correctly, chocolate covered bacon.  Please note, the bacon is not atop the stove rather it is sizzling happily on a foil covered cookie sheet inside the oven.  This increases the crispiness by allowing the grease to run off.  I find that “Wright” brand bacon works best when cut into 4 – 5 inch long sections.   Wood fires heat up quickly so put the tray in immediately after lighting.  15 – 17 minutes should do it.  The bacon is then placed on cookie racks to dry and cool.  Chocolate bark is best for coating as it melts quickly in a double boiler.  Take care not to burn the chocolate or the body on the stove top, the whole thing is hot.  Before proceeding, layout some wax paper on the table to receive the coated bacon.  Dip the dry, cool bacon in the melted chocolate.  Pay close attention here, the goal is to coat the bacon not cover the cook’s fingers in scalding hard to remove goop.  Keep a pot of cold water nearby, just in case.  I use a pair of Magill Forceps, grab the bacon on the end and slowly dunk it into the sweet confection.  Remove immediately and allow to drain.  The chocolate must be kept hot and the bacon dipped quickly.  Too thick a layer of chocolate will mask the taste of the bacon.  Layout the coated bacon to cool, then refrigerate for 10 minutes before boxing between wax paper layers.  Oddly enough the last step in this task is the most hazardous: that of not making enough chocolate covered bacon to go around.  

Sitting in a rocker at the Old Place I am, Col. Jim

Friday, March 8, 2013

Why We Must Change and What We Must Change Into

Change is inevitable wouldn’t you say?   I grew up with change watching “Superman” on the old black and white Magnavox.  George Reeve would dash into the store room wearing his street clothes and leap out the window a moment later, changed, transformed from the mild manner reporter into the invincible Man of Steel.   My grandmother Nora taught me about change with stories of the mysterious east where the cunning horseman Rewagunga changed into the beautiful Afghan jihadist, Yasmini.  And who can forget how the leopard changed his spots with a little help from his Ethiopian friend who had, “just a little color left over on the finger tips of his fine new black skin.”  Yes, change is inevitable my brothers and sisters.  Sometime it is brought on by necessity and other times it is forced on us a knife point.  There has been a change in our safety world my friends, one which we ignore at our peril.  I am not talking about some deadly new chemical or dangerous new process, no.  In this case it is one both famous and infamous.  It is, the trial lawyer.   The Workers’ Compensation system has been turned on its head.  First off, since all of the comp judges used to be trial lawyers and since all of the comp attorneys are trial lawyers, well you can see it is rather like the fox guarding the hen house.   For years they have tried to find a way around the basis for the existence of workers’ comp that of “no fault.”   At long last, they have succeeded. 
In the last few years illegal immigrants injured while working in the US have been awarded huge settlements in addition to their workers’ comp benefits.  These settlements have now been upheld by the various supremes court.  Sadly, this means that the legal protection of workers’ comp for employers has been breached.  Oh sure, your basic simple comp cases will still work their way through the system no harm/no foul as usual just to make it look good but let some trial lawyer smell blood in the water and ohhh Ricky!
So what’s it got to do with safety?  Well you may ask.  Simply this, those employers who do not have proactive, preemptive and effective safety programs will soon be out of business.  Gone are the days of sitting presidents pardoning company officials and vacating their fines for multiple fatalities.   Gone are days of laisse’ faire safety attitudes of “they’ll never get me.”   The predictions of former OSHA Secretary, John Henshaw made just a few short years ago right here at our own Safety Council are about to come true, and I quote, “those companies who do not comply and continue to hurt workers will be run out of business.”
Mr. Employer, this means that now more than ever your corporate safety director needs to be more than a company man with a suit and secretary, and much more than a book worm with a high test score.  The modern corporate safety director must be a man who has come up through the ranks.  A man who has worked on his tools, swung the hammer, run the bead and the backhoe and climbed the scaffold.  The modern safety director is creative, a bit artsy, after all he was and is still a craftsman.  He should have a love of music and be musical himself.  The modern safety director enjoys the limelight, and even excels in it.  The modern safety director must be all of these things because he must be able to use all of these things to teach, coach, challenge, and entertain.   If your safety program is to prevent all accidents, it must change minds and touch hearts.
Sitting in a rocker at the Old Place, I am,
Col. Jim