Sunday, May 16, 2010

Painting

The Tower was a teenager hangout in my hometown. The place had the kind of food we craved: big juicy hamburgers that gushed grease when you mashed them, substantial French fries, chili-cheese dogs, crispy onion rings and chicken in the basket.

It was a great place to pick up food if you and a hungry date were going to the “7,” a drive-in movie on Highway Seven. Every Friday night The Tower had a great special--six hamburgers for a dollar. And, you could bargain with the owner to substitute a couple of orders of fries or onion rings for a burger. The manager was a good guy and never made you feel like a cheapskate in front of your date.

One Sunday night after church a bunch of us went to The Tower to get some food. Several of us ordered chicken in the basket. As we were waiting, we heard the manger singing over and over back in the kitchen in mock-Italian opera style, “How many chicken in the baskets do you want?” So, I drew a cartoon on the check when it came of him with a chef’s hat on, chopping a chicken’s head off. When I paid my check, he laughed at the cartoon as if it were the funniest thing that had ever happened. “Danny,” he said, “can you paint that cartoon on the front window?” Of course, I agreed to do so.

I spent a fun Monday evening with my watercolors painting the jocund restaurateur slaughtering a chicken, singing his aria. In the weeks and months to come, he had me come paint other things on his window: specials, pictures of hamburgers, milkshakes, onion rings and whatever else pleased his fancy. He gave me a buck or two, or, if I wished, he would pay me off in food. It was a great, though not very profitable avocation.

And, word got around. There was a Mexican restaurant out on the highway owned by an kinsman of The Tower owner. He sent word that I should bring my watercolors and come to his place. I did so, and he wanted me to paint cacti, donkeys, adobe houses and vendors in panchos all along the top part of the windows. It took a long time. All I ever got out of it was a taco or two and a date or two with the owner’s daughter. Neither reward was terribly satisfactory, though I got a lot of experience painting cacti.

I only had one other window painting job and that was when I was in Germany in the military. A sergeant saw some of my artwork and asked me to come paint a Christmas scene on his window in base housing. I painted baby Jesus with a bluebird landing on his uplifted finger. I think I took the idea from a Christmas card. The sergeant and his family were pleased and he gave me five bucks.

I went back to The Tower after I got out of the service. The manager asked me if I were still painting windows. “No sir,” I replied, “houses.”
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.
http://danielgfordsblog.blogspot.com

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sunshine State

Storms are prevalent in fall and spring. In the fall, winter wants its way but summer won’t relent. In the spring summer strives for dominance but winter is reluctant to let go of its long frigid spell. So battles rage in the throes of transition. But between the storms, the beauties of fall and spring are unsurpassed. That’s the way it has been in my life during times of great change: beauty in the background of the battlefield as a new season unfolds itself.

One such circumstance was when we moved to south Florida for my deanship at Palm Beach Atlantic University. There was a lot of work to do, both on a personal and a professional level. Moving is a chore and starting an academic unit from scratch, as I was required to do, was challenging. And yet, in the frenzied activity, physical, mental and emotional, we could look out over the ocean in the evenings and find peace.

Palm Beach Atlantic University was and is a beautiful place, probably the most lovely urban institution of higher learning in our country. Nestled in the heart of Palm Beach County, population one-million plus, it is a campus full of art deco buildings, palm trees, fountains, alcoves and stained glass windows. It was impossible for me to carry the academic burdens of the abundant meetings all the way across campus. I always walked very slowly and often paused to sit on a bench beside a tropical fountain to watch an ibis or gecko and my troubles would vanish in the warmth of the Florida sun.

One of my friends said this at lunch in the cafeteria one day. “Do you know how you can tell Dan Ford is walking across campus?” My lunch companions came up with several witticisms, but the one who asked the question gave his answer, “Observe the distance between Dan and a palm tree and if the distance decreases slightly in an hour, he’s walking.” There was considerable mirth expressed over my friend’s observation, but the benign ridicule did not quicken my pace.

I am in the midst of another transition even now, as I approach the threshold of old age. On the one hand, I’m having trouble admitting that I need to slow down, mainly because I think I’m going pretty slow anyway. On the other hand, I realize, like Tennyson’s Ulysses, “I cannot rest from travel; I will drink life to the lees. All times I have enjoyed greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those that loved me, and alone. . . Always roaming with a hungry heart, much have I seen and known.”

So, in this autumn of my life, I know that the summer is hanging on, wanting to remain. I know winter is coming, but there is a storm within me resisting its cold. And, strange as it may seem to some, I sense a springtime, too, a springtime in which beauty is the backdrop to my slow walk towards a whole new kind of sunshine state.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.
http://danielgfordsblog.blogspot.com

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Esconcern

When I was a little boy, I used to follow Uncle Curt through the rows as he plowed. He had a huge work horse named Huey P. Long that you could plow without lines he understood the commands so well: get up, gee, haw, whoa and back up.
Uncle Curt delighted in snatching horse flies off Huey P. Long’s rump. It was a sight to behold for a young boy to observe the skill my uncle plied as he captured the pests and sent them to bug heaven with a snap. Uncle Curt hated horse flies more than the devil hates conversions and the big horse seemed deeply grateful for his master’s diligence.

I really liked it when we got to the end of the last row, because my uncle would pick me up and put me on Huey P. Long’s broad back. My legs went almost straight out. He would disconnect the plow and leave it under a little shed at the edge of the patch and I would ride the big horse all the way back to the barn, where Uncle Curt would disassemble the complicated harness. I would sit on a hay block while Huey P. Long got toweled off and brushed out. He would also get a little reward--a coffee can half full of sweet smelling feed.

Then, my uncle and I would sit on the front porch of the dog trot house (the kind of dwelling with a breezeway through the middle of it) and cool off. Aunt Sarah, Uncle Curt’s sister who lived with him, since both their mates were deceased, would bring us each a glass of cool water and a fruit jar full of watermelon hearts from the icebox. This refreshment was welcome after a long spell in the Louisiana sun. Uncle Curt would take off his straw hat and empty the sweet gum leaves he kept in it as insulation and fan us both with it.

Uncle Curt was a talker. I remember listening to adult conversations between him, my parents, and a couple of aunts. These people knew politics, baseball and scripture very well. They listened to news programs regularly and read the newspaper front to back. They could even recount what happened to Dagwood or the Katzenjammer Kids in the funnies.

Once on the way home after a visit, I asked Mother how far Esconcern was from the farm. “What, child? How far is what.” I explained that I kept hearing Uncle Curt and other relatives say “As far as Esconcern.” Then Mother got it. “No, son, we are saying, ‘as far as that’s concerned’.” I appreciated the clarification, but never understood the functionality of such an expression in a conversation. I preferred my vision of the city of Esconcern, perhaps just over the Texas border.

Uncle Curt died of cancer in a nursing home in Haynesville, Louisiana when I was a young adult. We went to visit not long before he passed away, and he was just as talkative as ever, and just as knowledgeable about news and sports. When he looked into my eyes that day, I knew that this enemy of horse flies was going far away, even beyond Esconcern.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.