McBride At Rest

McBride At Rest

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Frog Legs and Cave Paintings

As a teenager in the 1960’s I went frog-gigging just one night. If you are thinking You did what?, it’s a fair question. You see, I grew up in East Texas behind the Pine Curtain where fried catfish and fried bullfrog legs are both popular meats. Except for raw oysters just scraped out of their shell, there’s probably no uglier, nastier looking creature that mankind has learned to eat than an East Texas mudcat or bullfrog. Oddly, after you get past the wide mouths and skin that doesn’t have scales like normal fish or reptiles, both catfish and bullfrogs have tasty white meat that cooks up real nice.

Back to the sport of frog-gigging, two friends and I did it in a flat-bottom aluminum fishing boat during a dark summer night. One paddler sat in the back and eased the boat along near the lake’s bank. One spotter sat in the middle and ran the bright circle from a powerful flashlight along the weeds growing in the shallow water near the bank. In the seat of honor, the hunter perched himself upfront, wielding the frog-gig trident spear. Our trident was homemade in a metal-shop. The three points were barbed like big fish hooks and the spear was an old garden tool handle.

When the spotlight caught the sparkling eyes of a bullfrog, we eased up until the hunter could make a quick thrust, aiming between the two eyes. We took turns at the three positions and after a couple of hours had impaled nigh-on a dozen croakers, and missed as many more. Smart bullfrogs quickly disappeared underwater when we made noise or were too slow or off-target with the gig thrusting. But some frogs just stayed still like deer caught in the headlights of a truck and met their end. The dumb ones, I guess.

The only danger in our night of frog-gigging came from the chance that a pair of gleaming eyes in the dark water would belong to an aggressive water moccasin and not a passive bullfrog. I don’t remember if we actually saw any cottonmouths that night, but knowing they were around added some spice to our adventure.

Cleaning the frog legs was less fun, since the legs had to be amputated and skinned for cooking. It was also a little freaky since the legs would not stay still, even after being severed from the rest of the frog carcass. Honest. A last protest to meeting such an unnatural end.

Here’s the point, our East Texas bullfrog legs were big. As big or bigger than fried chicken wings—not drumsticks which are chicken legs, but the hinged wings. Our froglegs were so big that four of them, battered and deep-fried, made a big serving.
Fast-forward fifty years to my ordering frog legs as the main course at a country restaurant in France last week. Here’s a photo of my plate before I began munching my way through the little bitty things.
They were cooked up real nice, seasoned and tasty, with or without a garlic sauce. But they came from mini-frogs, way too small to be called bull frogs.

Since I’m talking about French cuisine and I mentioned raw oysters earlier, here’s a photo of French tartare—raw hamburger meat that my sister ordered at a different cafe. I snagged a bite from her plate and decided beef is best eaten at least somewhat cooked.
And since I’m an old Civil War reenactor, here’s a photo of my mock battle with a native Frenchman who took umbrage at our visiting his 18,000 year-old art museum in a cave. 
It is the last place in France where a limited number of tourists are permitted each day into the cold narrow cave to see the actual paintings just a few feet from your face. The life-size and colorful wall renderings of buffalo and horses were very darned beautiful and remarkable, It was worth taking on that skinny hairy guy to see them.

As for a book link, my visit to the French cave to see the prehistoric artwork has caused me to upscale the size of the cave painting of my giant flying horny toad dragon in my new manuscript. After all, we have to do everything bigger in Texas—frog legs and fictional cave art. J

Friday, June 29, 2018

Two Airborne Rescues by Women of Valor

I’m writing another novel about early Texas in the 1840’s. One of the characters is the child of a ‘mission Indian.’ The girl’s name is Scottish, Angelina Cromarty, because the character’s father was Scottish.

Yes, I’ve written a plot in which a priest from Scotland knocked up a Native American who lived in the village next to the Alamo Mission. This was in the 1700’s, before San Antonio grew up around the old mission, that turned into a fort, that turned into a US Army warehouse, which finally turned into Texas’ most famous iconic structure and tourist attraction.

I was brooding about whether creating a horny priest  was being fair to the situation back in the 1700’s, when the Catholic Church worked diligently to Christianize as many Native Americans in this part of of the world as they could. Then I saw an online image of this wonderful 1930’s mural. It is still on display on the wall of an old mission building near Goliad, Texas. Apparently, during Texas’ Centennial celebrations, at least one artist shared my less than pure suspicions. Take a look at the entire mural, then the segment of special interest with the padre and the bare young native woman, and see if you agree with me.

Today I watched a short political campaign video of a woman running for a seat in the US Congress. She's from Round Rock, a suburb just north of Austin, Texas. She is married, mother of three kids, has a big upper arm tattoo, and worked as an F-16 mechanic for five years before she went to Air Force flight school.

Next, she served five tours in Afghanistan as a helicopter pilot. She flew rescue missions to pick up wounded soldiers and fliers, until she herself was eventually shot down on a mission. She was rescued by another helicopter, and fired a weapon defensively from the door of that helicopter once she got on board. She was awarded a Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross for her valor.  Pretty admirable military service record. Her name is Mary Jennings Heger.

I have a goofy writer’s connection to Mrs. Heger’s story. By coincidence, today, the very same morning I read about candidate Heger’s impressive actions as a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan, I am writing a similar scenario. Only the Heger inspired character in my Texas history dragon fantasy novel, is the giant flying female horny toad dragon herself.

Six hundred marauding Comanche warriors have burned down the town of Linnville, Texas on the Gulf of Mexico (that happened historically) and captured a few Anglo women during the raid. (also historically true).  My horny toad dragon and her two female human companions/riders are going to fly cover for the Texas militiamen in pursuit of the Comanches, and attempt to rescue the women in the confusion of the coming battle. (the historical Battle of Plum Creek.) The plan will go awry, but there will be brave and heroic women in the middle of the action, both of the human and dragon kind.

To be sure, writing a fantasy dragon-based historical fiction novel about early Texas has garnered glazed-over-eye reactions from some of my men friends. Granted, that most dragon fantasy books seem to be set in the middle ages or on alien worlds. But I love Texas. and I’ve always loved dragon tales, and I’m thoroughly enjoying writing this one.  No apologies here. Maybe no sales either, since Comanches and dragons are not usually paired together in the same tall tale.  We’ll see later this year when it’s a done deal.

Meanwhile, kudos to combat rescue pilot, and now, Congressional candidate Mary Jennings Heger. Good luck in November, Ma’am.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Barbells and Bluebonnets and Murder

Barbells and Bluebonnets.  To me that image sums up Texas as well as any pairing of objects iron-hard and nature pretty.  The photo was taken by my friend Carol Finsrud, who is a life-long track and field athlete, now over 60, and still winning medals at international events.  The framed picture hangs on the wall of the restroom in her husband’s gym, The Old Texas Barbell Co., in little Lockhart. 

Today’s a good day to mention Carol’s husband, Mike Graham, because as I type this post, Mike is undergoing heart triple-by-pass surgery. Mike’s a strong guy, as you might imagine, and I’m betting on a successful operation and a quick recovery. Nonetheless, I’ve been sending up prayers for Mike since I awoke today.

Now for the horror of the week. The most recent mayor of the Mexican border town of Piedras Negras has been a forty-year-old guy named Fernando Purón. He’s also a strong and brave guy who is running for a seat in the national congress. Yesterday, he gave a campaign speech blasting the Zeta drug cartel and promising to stand firm against them in congress, as he’d done as mayor of Piedras Negras. After his speech, Purón stood talking on the front steps, and an assassin walked up behind him and shot him in the back of the head, killing him.

Purón is the 112th candidate or office-holder—almost all of municipalities—to be killed by the cartel terrorists’ assassins since last September. That’s right—112 assassinations in ten months is the current price for defying the Mexican drug cartels. Over 1,000 other candidates have stepped away from their campaigns, quitting in fear for their lives and their families’ lives. Talk about domestic terrorism.

The town of Piedras Negras also plays an important part in my last novel, A Different Country Entirely. In fact, the ‘alcalde’—the mayor—is a minor character, as he was during the historical unfolding of the Texas Rangers’ military incursion into Mexico in 1855. In the historical primary sources from 1855, the mayor is portrayed as a fat man who tried to protect his town in the presence of 150 heavily-armed Texas Rangers.

The Rangers had crossed the Rio Grande chasing after Apache raiders who regularly terrorized the Texas frontier and then escaped to their mountain strongholds in Mexico, where it was illegal for the US Army or the Texas Rangers to pursue them. My book is about the time the Rangers ignored the international border, defied international law, and went after the Apaches in Mexico anyway. The Rangers certainly did not assassinate the alcalde of Peidras Negras, but they did intentionally set fire to the town to cover their escape from Mexico after a battle with the Mexican army. You can read all about that episode in my novel.

My blog point is two-fold. First, history is harsh. Maybe border towns have an especially hard time, especially those towns that are gateways between two countries.

Secondly, the murderous drug cartels scare the poop out of me. It’s hard to imagine 112 assassinations of candidates and office-holders in neighboring Mexico in the past ten months. My hat is off to those brave candidates for public office who are still standing firm in the face of the physical threats and ongoing assassinations.

In my third McBee Civil War novel, Defiant Honor, the title references the Texans in the Confederate army who persevered until the end, and the regiments of blue-uniformed US Colored Troops who fought bravely against those iron-hard Texans during the last year of the war.

But that was 150 years ago. Right now, today, I do believe the Mexican men and women candidates for office are earning that title, and I salute them for their defiant honor.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Then and Now Road Trip

Nita and I are on a road trip to see the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona and the Grand Canyon. Just she and me. No kids, no grandkids, no parents, no siblings, no friends, not even a dog. It’s been a few years since we’ve done such a trip. As I drove and drove crossing the great Southwest Desert in three big-ass states, I kept making comparisons to Nita’s and my first long road trip made as newlyweds in 1972.

Then: Our car was an 8-year old Chevy pick-up truck with over 100,000 miles on it. No air-conditioning, no seatbelts. Crank-up windows, 4-on-the-floor standard transmission.  It drank oil by the quart and had a leaky radiator. The truck bed was covered with a plywood camper shell my dad and I made and was painted blue and green on the outside and yellow and orange on the inside. Home on the road.
Now: Our car is a 6-year old Japanese Nissan 4-door sedan with power everything and 84,000 miles on it. Still runs like new.

Then: We drove 50-60 mph on state highways marked as blue lines on big folding highway maps. We listened to local AM radio stations when we could get a signal. Otherwise, I guess we chatted a lot. After all, we were still getting to know each other.
Now: We drove 75-80 mph on Interstates using Nita’s cell phone map app. It talks to us giving directions, and warning of traffic jams. We listen to satellite radio, NPR podcasts stored on Nita’s phone, and custom-designed music CD’s Nita made at home. And we still talk, now about kids, grandkids, the woes of aging, and politics. I wish I could remember what we talked about back then.

Then: We parked overnight at little roadside parks and state parks, sleeping on a piece of foam padding in the camper under grandma’s homemade quilt for cover. For entertainment, I read a novel holding the paperback just-so as to catch enough light from the liquid-fuel Coleman lantern that had to be pumped up to burn and had a cloth wick that turned to ash, but magically never fell apart. After the light went out, we…well, we did what newlyweds do before we went to sleep. You know, if the truck be rockin’, don’t come knockin’.

Now: We stay at Holiday Inn Express hotels and bed-and-breakfast inns, sleeping on a new-age no-springs mattress in air-conditioning under synthetic sheets. For entertainment, I read a novel on my backlit Kindle and we watch NBA play-off games on TV. After the light goes out we…well, we sleep.

Last Holiday Inn Note: The only thing we did at Holiday Inns back then was steal ice to fill our Coleman ice chest. They put the ice machine on the first floor as a public service, right?

Then: We bought food at local grocery stores and ate sandwiches or cooked meals on a Coleman stove, also something that used liquid fuel and had to be pumped to work. We used the truck tailgate if no cement picnic table was handy. Sometimes we used the park-built fire grate or even a campfire.
Now: We spend a lot of money at restaurants.

Then: To see tourist sites, we parked and walked on sidewalks and hiked on trails. We took the commuter train-subway to downtown Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell.
Now: We take day-tours, this time in a pink jeep one day, and a van the next.

Then: Happy hour was a couple of cans of cheap beer quaffed outside leaning agianst the truck.
Now: Happy hour is a shared bottle of Chardonnay. (For my reenacting pards: That’s white wine.) Usually sipped outside in some garden or restaurant patio.

Then: I had an old 35mm SLR Canon camera and a hand-held light meter that I’d bought used for a college class, and it had no auto anything. Great camera, nonetheless. But we had to ration the number of times we pushed the button, because film was expensive and developing film was expensive.
Now: Our damned cell phones take great pics. Point and shoot, of course. And there’s no limit to the number of clicks we can afford. And getting the chosen just-right photo from the camera to this page appears to be beyond my technical abilities. So, imagine there's a picture right here of our nice B & B with a great scenic view.

Then: Practically everyone we knew was ‘poor,’ so the scrimping didn’t bother us. It was nice to be very young newly weds, seeing places for the first time--together, starting a box of ‘Phil & Nita’ memories.
Now: I freely confess it is nice to not to have to scrimp on every expenditure. We really like eating out and driving a car that hums along year after year. And we’re still adding layers to that box of Phil & Nita memories.

By the way, this very day is Nita’s 70th birthday, and we’re going off-the-pavement pink-jeeping (as tourists in the back seat of an open jeep) this morning, hiking this afternoon, and out to a nice restaurant for dinner.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Meet Theodore James McBride

Here is the first portrait photo of my new four-hour-old new grandson, Theodore James McBride.

Handsome little rascal, ain’t he? Except he's got my extra chin and except for the fact he’s sideways, maybe still not sure if out of his mama’s nice safe womb is where he wants to live after nine months at a different address. Granted it can be a rough place out here, but before long he’ll be glad he’s in the glorious light of the world.

Of course, that's Teddy’s beautiful mama Maggie adoring him. 

His dad is our son Todd, and trust me, Maggie’s much more photogenic. But there’s something I can't pass up about a great big man holding his own tiny newborn child. Lots of unspoken promises being transmitted from father to son.

Teddy doesn’t know it yet, but his granddaddy will soon be making a trip to the Menger, the grand old hotel next door to the Alamo. Robert E Lee stayed there for a night or two in 1861, and the Menger is where in 1898 another Theodore, last name Roosevelt, parked himself in the hotel bar and recruited a bunch of Texas cowboys into his army cavalry outfit, which he called the Rough Riders.

They are still serving cold brews in the dark wood paneled bar, and I may just buy one for everybody in the place to celebrate the arrival of little Teddy McBride, my newest grandson. Back in the mid-1800’s, Mr. Menger brewed his own beer to serve in his hotel bar, but that recipe is long gone. So, in honor of Teddy’s April birth—the same month Texas won its hard-fought independence from Mexico, I’ll bypass my favorite brew—Negro Modelo—and make it a round of Lone Star.

Teddy is the fifth grandchild for Nita and me. We are sort of surprised by the count, since neither of our sons indicated they might actually marry some pretty girl until they were into their 30’s. To our delight, once they sweet-talked those two lovely ladies to the altar, they didn’t hesitate in regards to making us grandparents. Now I’m glad I was always too embarrassed to have ‘that’ talk with either of them. They appear to have figured things out just fine. And we have Eva, Violet, Jackson, Rory, and now Teddy to pamper and spoil.

Mind you, we don’t want to be the parents of any of them. Two decades of those high-energy, chaotic days were ample. We remember too often hearing those magic words from a young voice as we were either putting the boys to bed or going out the door to school—“Oh, by the way…”  If you don’t connect with that, you are not yet a parent, or you have had a brain fart about your own years of parenting.

Teddy’s older brother Jackson is at our house today while Maggie and Todd smother their new one with love and happy tears. Jackson may be a stinker after dark around bedtime when he sorts out that his world also changed in a big way at 5:52 this morning. But that’s OK. We’ll get him through this first night of brotherhood.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Sunflowers, Enchanted Rock, and High School Latin

Look at the size of those sunflowers.

Higher than my sweet wife’s head. Bigger around than a serving platter. Trouble is, the dazzling yellow field of giant flowers were growing in Germany, not Texas. But we have them, too. I’ve seen other dazzling fields of blooming sunflowers in the Rio Grande valley, within a few miles of the Mexican-US border. They are a cash crop for their oil, and the seeds are sold in little plastic sacks at gas station stores for nibbling.

Sunflowers apparently were ‘discovered’ in the 1500’s by early European explorers as crops grown by Native Americans living in the southwest. Archeologists date Native American use of sunflower seeds to 3,000 B.C. Folks, that’s Babylonian and Egyptian kingdom era, when Europe was still a howling wilderness.

The explorers ‘exported’ seeds and plants back to Europe where they became an agricultural success, but were ignored by the colonists in North America. It wasn’t until the 1800’s that seeds from Europe were brought back to the New World and joined the agricultural economy of European-Americans.

So what do huge sunflowers have to do with my novels?  Just this: My Texas horny-toad-dragon character needs an alternate food source if she is going to co-exist with the settlers of Central Texas in the 1840’s. She can’t just eat every settler’s cows and horses, and she hasn’t got the knack for noodling big catfish out of the rivers. I can’t say I’ll turn the dear dragon into a Vegan, oh no. But there’s a dragon-related place in this story for mammoth sunflowers. You’ll see.

I just wrote a segment in A Different Dragon Entirely  that takes place on and near Enchanted Rock in the Texas Hill Country. Here’s a photo of that remarkable huge hunk of stone  that is now a popular state park. For a sense of scale, those are full-grown oak trees around the base of the knob, not little shrubs. Crabapple Creek flows hidden under the trees. In real frontier history, a solitary Texas Ranger named Jack Hays held off an all-day Comanche attack from his hidey-hole on top of Enchanted Rock. He survived by virtue of having two Colt revolvers and lots of lead and powder.

Finally, I’m proud to show you my ‘bonafides’ for using Latin as the language telepathically linking the two main characters A Different Dragon Entirely—the dragon Leine and the teenager Mally Gunn. You see, I took two years of Latin in high school. I fared poor to middlin’ since I didn’t study much, but I got by, and I’m still glad I endured the gray-haired Mrs. Montgomery’s class for two years. But I was not a Latin scholar for sure.

In spite of my academic laziness as a high school Latin student, here’s photos of my just rediscovered third place medal won for a project at the Texas High School Student Junior Classical League convention in Waco, Texas in1966. I earned my way to the convention, not through scholarship, but by virtue of a homemade broomstick Roman Legion standard topped with a plaster-of-paris-filled rubber glove hand and a square red guidon with a big gold V sewn on it.

Anyway, those Latin root words I learned in high school Latin class still keep popping up all the time and remain helpful to me as a reader and a writer. As does the Google Translate software on the internet, I confess. After all, fifty years after my last Latin class, how else could I have translated, “Quod suus 'non cibum! Quod Marmor est meus equus!"  In English--“That’s not meat, that’s Marble, my horse!” which are Mally’s first words in Latin to the flying horny-toad dragon. Regardless of her protest, it wasn’t a good morning for Mally’s pretty appaloosa mare.

Thanks for tuning in today.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Wildflowers and Rebellion

March and April are the two months when Texans remember our war for independence from Mexico, 182 years ago. It is also the time of year when wildflowers bust out across Central Texas. So this blog post is a meshing of wildflowers and rebellion.
     The pretty color photo is of the monument built in 1936 (oddly, paid for with Federal dollars, not state or private funds) to commemorate the massacre of over 300 captive Texas militiamen at Goliad on Palm Sunday in 1836. The granite monument sits atop the charred bones of the Texas patriots in a mass grave.

The next image is also from 1936, the year of the Centennial celebration of Texas’s victory over Santa Anna’s army, which established Texas as an independent nation.  This photo is of course the Alamo in San Antonio during a renovation project, putting a new roof on the chapel.

This final photo is once more from 1936 Centennial and is the frame of the giant three-dimensional ‘Lone Star’ that sits atop the tall monument at San Jacinto, the site of Santa Anna’s unlikely defeat.

I like this one because my grandfather—Jackson Robert McBride, Jr.—worked for the pattern shop that designed the star and made it. When all the star skeleton’s fasteners on top of the completed tower did not fit exactly, Granddaddy McBride was the guy who climbed out on the scaffolding and the skeleton on top of the tower and fixed the fasteners. The San Jacinto Monument tower is as tall as the Washington Monument in DC. The star hasn’t fallen off after 82 years, surviving who knows how many hurricane-force winds, so I guess Granddaddy did a good job of it.
     All this relates to my new manuscript, A Different Dragon Entirely, by virtue of the 1840 setting for this Texas adventure with a fantasy twist, and that three of the main characters fought with General Sam Houston at San Jacinto—in my imagined world.

To everyone—Happy Easter. Christ Has Risen! He Has Risen Indeed! Rejoice!