The Gym Show

sample cover pic 5  I despise tired and overused clichés just about as much as I hate Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, Ron Artest—excuse me, Metta World Peace, and random sports metaphors, but I guess I’ll make an exception just this once.  Here goes:   I’ve crossed one item off of my—ugh–bucket list.

I have written a novel.

Every small town, I believe, has its quirks, its idiosyncrasies, its colorful characters, and gossip a-plenty, at least I think so.  I’ve only lived in one small town in my lifetime, and that town was Linesville, Pennsylvania.

A few people with whom I was acquainted with still live there; many others have no idea who I am, who my parents were, and really wouldn’t care anyway.  And that’s how it should be.

But for a few decades in the latter half of the 20th century, anybody who went to Linesville-Conneaut-Summit High School couldn’t help but to have known my parents.  In a present day educational milieu where school principals are shuffled around more often than Peyton Manning calls audibles, it’s rare to find a high school principal whose tenure lasted as long as my father’s did.

Linesville put up with my father as its high school principal for twenty years; my mother as its girls’ physical education teacher for nearly as long.  My brother, sister, and I were literally brought up inside of that school, and if I close my eyes, I can still remember every hallway, every nook and cranny, every smell—sweaty locker rooms, redolent ditto machines, the cafeteria after Johnny Marzetti days, the cigarette smoke in the lobby during halftime at the basketball games, even the smell of the tall countertop in the school office where I would lay sprawled out, drawing pictures of cheerleaders and horses, while Myrna kept an eye on me until my mum and dad were ready to leave school and take me home with them.

Once I decided to leave teaching and do something—anything—else, I figured it was time for me to write a novel.  Lord knows I’ve read enough novels to get the gist of what goes into writing one, or so I thought.

Writers are always told, “Write about what you know.”  So I did.  I wrote about a small town, its quirks, its idiosyncrasies, and its colorful characters.  Oh, and there’s plenty of gossip.

In doing so, I had to be careful to not only protect my family’s privacy, but the privacy of the town that I will always call home.  I believe I have.  My family has many secrets, and my town has many more.  However, you won’t read about any of those secrets in The Gym Show.

I would derive absolutely no satisfaction out of exposing anyone’s dirty laundry, and I would never disrespect the town that gave me and my family so much during our time there by hanging it all out to dry.

The Gym Show is a work of fiction.  Some of the characters were inspired by real people, but if you’re looking for traces of yourself or shadows of events you may have been a part of during your time there, you won’t find them here.

I can’t wait for you to read it.

A Hero Among Heroes

88th Division

Monday is Veterans’ Day, and I’d like to take this opportunity to recognize, thank, and pray for all of those who have served and are currently serving our country, especially my nephew Lynn Panko.

Godspeed to you, Lynn, and I pray that our Lord keeps you safe from danger and harm, returning you home to us very soon.

Lynn follows the footsteps of another one of my heroes, my dad (and Lynn’s Pap-Pap) Ray Abercrombie.  My father was a veteran of World War II serving in the 88th Infantry Division in Italy.  I’m in the process of reading about the entire Italian campaign in Rick Atkinson’s The Day of Battle

As I read, I am amazed that anyone ever made it out of Europe alive after World War II.  Understand that in 1944, the world was without the conveniences we so depend upon today—I nearly choked reading about Eisenhower receiving a cable about a planned invasion, and I’m thinking, cable?  Hell, Ike’s relying on dots and dashes to determine the outcome of the war in Europe?  But, then again, he could not have foreseen today’s technology, so he most likely believed that the U.S. was on the cutting edge of wartime gadgets, gizmos, and whatchamacallits.

During my dad’s later years, I spent quite a bit of time talking to him about life stuff—all kinds of life stuff, but one thing that he rarely talked about to me to or to anyone was his experience in combat.  Oh, he went on and on about his escapades while “in the service”, about the various pranks he pulled, the places he’d been (Pisa, Rome, the Italian countryside) , about the little aide-de-camp who was assigned to him after the war who had some convoluted German name that made my dad’s throat hurt when he tried to say it so my dad just called him “Fred”, and he made it clear to all three of us why our family would never ever go camping—it went something like this:  “I spent way too many g*damn nights sleeping on the ground.”  We knew that he hated having his feet covered up at night—something about trench foot–and he was obsessed with having clean socks.  When I asked him once if he ever learned to speak Italian, he told me (and I think I was, like, ten years old at the time), “I speak a little bedroom Italian.”  That didn’t sink in until I became an adult, at which time I started wondering just how many half siblings of mine might be dotting the Italian boot.

But he never talked about his actual experiences in combat.  What few recollections my brother, sister, and I had gathered from him about his time “overseas” was usually only amid the pitiful utterances, shouts, and cries during one of his nightmares or when he was “in his cups”, so to speak, and would let slip some detail that gave us a tiny glimpse into what his life as a combat soldier had been like.

About the only recollection I have of his recounting of combat is when he told me—when I was an adult—about watching one of his buddies get blown into bits as he was retreating over the crest of a ridge toward the place where my dad was watching and waiting for him.

I wish I had the language to recall that conversation here, but I would never do it justice.

Those who served in World War II came home and were expected to pick up life where it left off—they were expected to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and move on.  No one ever talked about PTSD or “combat fatigue”, and there were few medical or psychological evaluations made on returning veterans.  After all, if they returned in one piece, wasn’t that enough?

No, they just went down to the American Legion hall and drank themselves into a stupor.  What made sense to these men and women during wartime ceased to make sense once they returned home.

As Americans, it is incumbent upon us to make sure that our veterans return home to a country that is free–at liberty to enjoy the rights and privileges guaranteed by our Constitution—the very same document they have risked their lives to defend.

Anything less makes us unworthy of their service and their courage.

Hot Bubblin’ Cow Fat

 For what is pan gravy but hot bubblin’ cow fat anyway?

                                    –K.A.S.

 Disclosure:  As great of a cook as I claim to be–and if you know me at all, you know that I brag about my culinary skills ad nauseam—I’ve never made gravy.  Any kind of gravy.

Yesterday, whilst keeping company with a dear friend who is infirmed while I was at Becky’s stepping and fetching for her after her knee replacement surgery, the two of us watched “Trisha’s Southern Style Cooking Show Replacing Paula Deen’s Original Southern Style Cooking Show Because a Long Time Ago Paula Said a Bad Word”.  Trisha and her sister, who didn’t have her knee replaced, cooked a roast for Trisha’s pastor.

Here’s what she did:  Trisha and Sista placed the five pound roast in a cozy little aluminum foil bed, folding up the sides like a little pan in order to hold the two cups of vinegar they poured around the meat blob then topped the roast with salt, pepper, and red onions.  They then placed the little guy inside of a baking dish, then together, because two people, apparently, are required to pull off this feat, poured water in the bottom of the baking dish, which surrounded the aluminum foil blanket of beef, and popped that bad boy in the oven for four hours at 450 degrees.

At that point, Becky nearly rendered her flesh because, and I quote, “You never, ever, cook a roast at that high of a temperature!”  The aforementioned exclamation was stated in a rather high-pitched, panicked manner reminiscent of someone who just learned that the doctor replaced the wrong knee.

Once the roast was finished roasting, Trisha and company made gravy.  I don’t remember how they made it because I was too busy making fun of Becky for not polishing her toenails pre-surgery.

Needless to say, Trisha’s roast turned out perfectly—pink in the middle, just the way Pastor Bill likes it.  They had a lovely dinner, Pastor Bill sung Trisha’s praises while his wife wondered if it was the roast or something else that had him at ‘hello’, and then Trisha sang at the dinner table, which was never allowed in the Abercrombie household, but maybe people do things differently in Trisha’s world.  Her preparations inspired me, however, and on the way home from Becky’s, I stopped at Kroger and bought a three and a half pound chuck roast.

Roast for Sunday dinner—what could be more perfect?  Excited, I prepared the roast the same way Trisha did yesterday, and then I got the bright idea that maybe Tim and the boy would like some gravy to go with the mashed potatoes that I was planning on assembling.

Another disclosure:  I only make dirty mashed potatoes, because I can’t abide peeling potatoes.

Since I was not paying attention when Trish and Sis were making the gravy, I did what all good cooks do—I Googled “making gravy AND beef”.  My Boolean search resulted in quite a few hits, but since I figured I could skim the text and figure out the rest (because of my culinary prowess), I did.

I knew enough to reserve the “drippings”—a fancy term for animal fat—and made a roux (see, I do know what I’m doing), then began the process of adding the “broth” to the roux.

At one point in my extensive gravy-making internet research, I noticed that one contributing chef—okay, it was “Carol” from Effingham, Illinois—added coffee to her gravy, making it darker and richer.  As the roux began bubbling, I fetched the Folgers from the cupboard and tossed in an eighth of a cup or so.

And this is where, if Becky had been present, she would have reacted much the same as she did yesterday when Trisha jacked up the meat heat.  She can’t stand my careless, devil-may-care approach to freestyle cooking.

Uh-oh.  I soon realized that “Carol” from Effingham must have meant (and probably had written out explicitly) that she added either brewed or instant coffee to her gravy—hell, as much coffee as I drink, I should know that Folgers doesn’t dissolve, not even in animal fat.  What’s an experienced chef to do?  I thought for a moment.  Maybe if I strain it…but then I remembered that the dog chewed up the only sieve that I owned—the same sieve, incidentally, that I often used to fish out the Betta we once had swimming around in a glass vase surrounded by a pothos plant when, on the odd occasion, I would clean the little  fishy’s vase-bowl.  So without a proper straining device, I tried using paper towels and coffee filters (ha!), all to no avail.

Then I decided that I may as well taste my debut gravy—it might just be that the coffee would give it that added flavor, you know, the flavor that sets it apart from all other gravies with the additional benefit of disguising itself as pepper.  The kind of flavor that would inspire future dinner guests to beg me for “that recipe for your delicious gravy!”  So I dipped my little finger in the fat-flour-broth-coffee mess and tasted it.

I don’t want to spoil anyone’s future desire for gravy by describing for you the taste of this brew; suffice it to say it was inedible.  It tasted, not of coffee, but of vinegar—the two cups of vinegar that Trish and Sis poured all over the roast yesterday.  Pastor Bill is a liar.

So there you have it—my failed attempt at gravy making, a basic skill most women of my age should be able to perform in their sleep with both hands tied behind their backs.  But it’s probably better that I didn’t infuse my family with any more animal fat than necessary, right?

Know that at this point, my mother-in-law Beverly is shaking her head, and my sister Becky is trying very hard not to pee in her pants laughing.

Animal House

Logic:

  • This weekend is Dad’s Weekend at Purdue University.
  • Tim is the dad of two Purdue University sorority girls.
  • Therefore, Tim is at Purdue with his daughters who plan to take him out to party at the fraternities tonight.

I don’t think he realizes what’s about to hit him.

All of this sorority and fraternity stuff is new to Tim.  He’s a graduate of Goshen College, where the most radical thing a student there could do is vote Republican.  I was in a sorority at the University of South Carolina for two years then I transferred to Penn State where I could barely afford three squares a day let alone sorority fees.  I was, however, a frequent flyer at the fraternities because I could barely afford three squares a day and, sorority or no sorority, the beer was free.

Last spring when I went to Mom’s Weekend at Purdue, I was one of the few moms who didn’t stay over and go out with her daughter(s) to the fraternities that night.  I really should have, though, if for no other reason than to provide Tim with some reconnaissance.  As a former party girl at a large university, it was incumbent upon me to have scouted things out for him, and now I feel bad, because if anyone could handle the rigor of a night out at a major university, it would have been me, not Tim.

About Tim:  When we met, Tim was a baby–well, not a baby-baby, but younger than me, and not cougar younger, but let’s just say if we had been in high school when we met it would have been weird.

I thought, of course, because I was older and had gone to a BIG girl school and had lived in a BIG girl city longer than he that I was more sophisticated, and for the most part I was right.  He was smarter than I was in stuff that mattered, though, like basic math, you know, stuff like calculating a mortgage and reconciling a checkbook, so, there’s that.

An example of this preciousness occurred the summer before we were married.  I had been asked to be a bridesmaid in a well-heeled friend’s wedding in Dayton, Ohio, and Tim went with me as my date.  Since Tim wasn’t in the wedding party but was with a member of the wedding party, there were some responsibilities he shared with me; others not, like pictures.  Once the wedding was over and we began the good-thing-I-put-Vaseline-on-my-teeth process of having about 13,456 pictures taken, it was time to get in the limo and go to the reception.  At the country club.

I, however, couldn’t find my boyfriend.  Finally, right before I was ready to hail a cab (okay, call a cab—one doesn’t hail a cab in Dayton, Ohio) he showed up back at the church.  Relieved, I hustled him inside our waiting limo.  “Where were you?”

“Well, I was hungry, so I walked over to that diner and got some supper.  Aren’t you hungry?”

I just looked at him.

“Oh,” he said.  “Cake, right? We’re going back to their house for cake.”

Bless his heart.  No, my sweet boy, we’re going to a country club for a five course dinner followed by an open-bar reception featuring a live band.  But true to his nature, he laughed at his own naïveté, fit right in, and we had a blast—and of course his absolute drop-dead-gorgeous-stunning good looks made up for just about any gaps in his urbanity rulebook.  Four months later, we danced at our own wedding—after the ceremony and in our hotel room—but it was a helluva dance.

Which brings me back to his weekend sojourn at Purdue.  I’m sure that our daughters believe that their über cool dad is going to rock every party they drag him into, watch him play a mean game of beer pong, do something utterly stupid that they’ll Snapchat to all of their friends, and throw up in some bushes somewhere before he passes out.  They may think that, but I’ve got news for them.  One, that’s not Tim, and he feels no need to make up for any chasms in his own collegiate party life, and two, he’s their daddy–he’s not their buddy.

I just hope he’s prepared to babysit some of his fellow Purdue padres who will, no doubt, party just like they did in 1984—you know, back when Tim was at Goshen College and voted for Ronald Reagan.

Ooh…such a badass…