Uncle Hark and Aunt Hazel

October 25, 2014

Another one for “Notes About Kin”. This time something for you car lovers in a way.

We had a great aunt and uncle who lived a few miles from us in Bolivar. Uncle Hark (Harvel) and Aunt Hazel Martin. Hark was Muh’s brother and Hazel his wife. They had a son but he died from leukemia and in many ways they never got over that loss since he was their only child. Regardless of that tragedy they were always special to us. Not just because they were kind and loving to us but also for a possession of theirs that also as special. And what was that unique and wonderful thing Jeff? A Model A Ford that Hark had restored.

By trade Hazel, like most women then, was a housewife and Hark was a car mechanic and worked in Denton at a garage near our old house on east Congress Street near downtown. Of course dad and mom took our cars there for repairs but we went and saw him there too when we were out and about. I can remember his big smile as he would come up to us in his oil stained overalls inside the garage. Nowadays no one wants you in the garage due to OHSA’s zealous pursuit of safety. But not then, we would just go in like the cars.

Due to his trade, Hark had bought and apparently restored an old Ford Model A. And that is the ultimate reason for this Note. Sometimes on Saturdays he and Hazel would jump in it and drive to our house in Ranch Estates which was about ten miles south of their house in Bolivar. I do not know if he came down I-35 or drove the farm roads down through Krum but come he did with the Model A’s motor running loud and fine.

When they arrived my sister and I would pile in it and we would go for a ride. To us it was almost like riding a carnival ride, the experience was something wondrous and fun that we always looked forward to and loved just as much as we loved him and Aunt Hazel too. But after we grew up we did not see them as much and they grew old and the cars of our own lives went down different roads.

Over time cars wear out, run no more, go to the junk yard to be disassembled, and are largely forgotten. All while the shiny new model takes you for a ride. And like an old car Hark and Hazel passed on too and were buried. And someone I do not know got his old Model A and like them it too is forever gone. But unlike some non-descript, mass-produced new car Hark and Hazel live on forever young and gleaming in the familial car showroom of my mind and drive strongly still like that old Model A once did.

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Bruto’s Pizza, Taco Inn, and Captain Nemo’s

October 18, 2014

Another one from “Notes About Growing Up & Kin”. This time food consumed while suffering from college “drunk munchies”.

From time to time I mention food or restaurants in my books and here is another one of them, which also mentions one place I have written about before as well – Taco Inn in fact. But this Note will cover more than just the food; it will weave in the sometimes dark subject of college drunkenness and the always resulting munchies.

Let’s start with Taco Inn, described above as you know. When I was a freshman and sophomore at UNT – then called NTSU, and before that NTSC when my parents went there – I lived in Kerr Hall by Eagle Drive on the south side of the campus. Looking out the window by my dorm room which looked south over the parking lot and Eagle Drive what was just across the street? Yes, beloved Taco Inn where I had happily eaten I was a kid. And eat again there I did. I was drunk most of the times I did it then unlike before. Well, many of you know that when at college and mom and dad aren’t looking you get wasted more than you once did. And when you got blitzed you got what? You got the munchies. So on nights when we quaffed at the dorm we stumbled across Eagle Drive to get piles of nachos, tacos, and burritos. We sat in the restaurant and ate, probably talking loud and belching like human foghorns, or sometimes we got it to go and ate back in our rooms perhaps with our last cold beers. Even if the food might have been average it was a grand feast to us, perhaps only because of the booze, and was a regular thing we did even after leaving the cocoon of the dorm.

Now Captain Nemo’s was another beloved place for grub and was just east on Eagle a bit. Nemo’s had subs like New York Subway did but these were hot and filled with all manner of meat & melted cheese goodness. And the bread was grilled or toasted which added a crispy texture to the molten mélange held between the baked and bready folds. And these hot hoagies were long and narrow too, no short, chubby grinder was built there for hungry students. And you always got a double – especially the legendary cheese steak – when you ordered, never a half. A single size sandwich was reserved only for the weak and unworthy. Or sober. If you were a man you ate a whole Nemo’s especially if you were blitzed of course, but that goes without saying.

Finally, my trifecta of taste ends with Bruto’s Pizza which was just across the north edge of campus and down the street from Voertman’s beloved book store. What was special about Bruto’s was the crust. It was more like a savory pie crust than the usual floppy stuff that adorns most takeout pizza. It was always crunchy in a good, firm way that was a great contrast to the gooey goodness of the cheese and toppings that covered its thin, round shell. We never ate Bruto’s when we were sober, never that I can recall (maybe I was too drunk to remember?). We always had tons of beer and sometimes pot which we primed our consumption pumps with before calling in our order. Of course we had to drive to get it since they never delivered. No matter how we got the fresh pies they hungrily vanished down our gaping young maws into our ever deepening stomachs bloated by too much junk food and cheap beer. And then one day Bruto’s was no more…..

Yes, like many good mom and pop joints Bruto’s went of business for some reason. I do not know why, but I Googled it once and saw that the owner had died via his obituary in the Denton “Wretched” Chronicle – sorry Bill P., you know folks call it that. I also saw a name of a relative and found her on Facebook and after a decent interval sent her a message asking for the crust recipe for my own personal use (I am bad at cooking pizza). I never heard back from her and thus the secret of Bruto’s fabulous and unusual crust passed with him, at least as far as we outsiders are concerned.

And what a shame that is to me. So many restaurants come and go like the wind changing – it is a hard business to succeed in – even when they have a product that rose far above the usual mundane fare you normally eat. But mundane was not Bruto’s name and when I try to make pizza crust like his and always fail I still honor his name and crunchy, perfect crust. If you look back on your life I bet you too have more than one beloved and now lost recipe that you yearn for even now.

Author’s note: Captain Nemo’s lives on as the founder’s son and his family still own and operate a store in Irving, Texas. Taco Inn and Bruto’s sadly remain lost and remain only as memories to the generations who once ate there now age and move on to other hopefully tasty fare.


He Does Not Read Kid’s Books

October 11, 2014

This will be in “Notes About Growing Up And Kin” one day. It is about reading above your age level….

I have always been a book worm and have a lot of books. And what do I read? History and current events not “fluff” like tomes filled with movie star gossip and who’s sleeping with whom. This was evident even when I was a little kid. And here is a Note about that.

Before the Internet, book store chains, and Amazon.com there were public libraries (and thankfully there still are). Those repositories of knowledge were where you went to get a book on Roman history or other things considered boring and dense by many folks who stuck to The National Inquirer or the like. And I was one of those who wanted something deep and serious to read even when I was a little kid. Given that desire my mom would take to the Emily Fowler Public Library in Denton just around the corner from where we used to live on east Congress Street. We would drive up and go in and thus I would enter my bookish Nirvana and peruse the seemingly endless rows of interesting books.

One summer day when we went in I turned left past the librarian checkout counter and the librarian spoke out to my mom “The children’s books are to the right”. My mom used to what I read simply replied back “He doesn’t read kid’s books”. The librarian was silent, obviously non-plussed by this surprise and I walked on down to the history books.

Why did I read “On Thermonuclear War” by Herman Kahn and similar things even before I was in junior high? I simply read FAR above my grade level from a very early age. Yes, I read children’s books too when I was really young but quickly progressed to other things like reading the encyclopedia and the dictionary even. Yes, no Hardy Boys or such things for me and instead “The History Of The Decline And Fall Of the Roman Empire” by Gibbon was a typical choice for my “light reading”.

Yes, yes, yes I still read things like that now. Have you ever read “The Decline Of The West” by Oswald Spengler? I’ve read that ‘little’ treatise too. My sister told me I should write history books. I said that was too much work and I can simply pick up a nice fact-filled volume someone else wrote! It’s easier you see…a thousand pages here and a thousand pages here is nothing…but fun to me.


Models, Army Men, And Wargames Too

October 4, 2014

Here is one from the in-progress “Notes About Growing Up And Kin”. This one is for the little boy in us guys….but the girls can read it too.

Like most boys in the 60s and 70s I played with hordes of plastic army men and built plastic models. Even now as a grown man I still do in some ways which I will explain. But first let’s go back to the time of my childhood so my current hobbies will be understood.

I do not recall my first set of army men but I had more than one type and size of them. I had the big stereotypical green variety, usually bought at a grocery store or five and dime, but also piles of little 1/72 scale figures too. And of course tanks, half tracks, cannons, and other equipment for my little imaginary wars. Besides GIs and Germans I also had spacemen, cowboys & Indians, and some men in Blue and Grey. The color and type of army men defined the “battle du jour” fought on the bedroom floor or out in the sandbox.

As I got older we arrayed our armies against monsters not other human hordes. Our plastic dinosaurs and other creatures dealt death blows to the little men until they were defeated by our playful but serious counter-attacks. One favorite minster was “The Eep” which was sort of a large monstrous crustacean and was colored somewhat pink. A “wussie” color concealed a mighty foe – at least in our minds and boyish games.

The wars with the army men went on but they also were done with plastic models, especially ships from World War 2. I had American ships of course but my favorites were 1/700 scale World War 2 Japanese ships. Why did I prefer them to the USN’s fleet? Looking back I liked them simply because they were more unusual looking than most of the US designs. The lines of the Imperial Navy’s battle cruisers were sleeker than the lines of the mass-produced US types. And we fought the monsters with these ships too. Or each other’s fleets – we’d load up our ships and the moms would drive one of us to the other’s house for an early teen Leyte Gulf. Sometimes we added model spaceships for a sci-fi element too. Our imaginations and our parent’s allowances were the only limits to the scope of these youthful frays into the study of war.

And what happened when our model ships wore out or were literally damaged beyond repair? We “expended” them in little Pearl Harbors down at the stream. The ships were filled with firecrackers and gasoline and set afire. They went up in flames just as the USS Arizona did in 1941 on the Day Of Infamy but in this case no sailors or soldiers died. If I did not have any models I sometimes built ships with cardboard and up they went in flames too. Nowadays kids doing this would be sent to jail but none of us became arsonists as a result of this childhood tendency.

But I grew out of the models and the army men but still liked military subjects so what did I do when it was not cool to drag out the 1/72nds and The Eep? I started buying wargames which I still do today. What is a wargame you say? It is a board game on a battle or a war using rules which “simulates” warfare on that subject or scale. I bought my first one at the age of eleven – “Panzerblitz” which was tactical warfare on the Russian front in WW2. I still have it and it is considered to be a classic. And I have bought and played them since then with breaks in college and high school to drink too much beer.

And yes I buy and play them even now; I have around 400 of them in my big game room and library upstairs near my office where I write my books. And what else is in there? My “new” army men are barracked in there with my board games and books on war (and history too of course).

What Jeff? You play with plastic army men now? Are you crazy? Actually I have metal tanks, vehicles, and infantry to play wargames with using “miniatures” rules. Yep, there is a branch of war gaming that does that too. I have around 1200 1/300 scale vehicles. Oh, and I have THOUSANDS of little 1/6000 scale ships too. You can game out a sea battle with those on one of my 4×8 tables overlaid with a sheet of blue for the water.

Well, you get the picture I think. While I do lots of “grown up” things I guess I still am a little boy in my heart sticking with such hobbies. It just proves that old saying about the difference between men and boys is the price of their toys. Well, maybe it’s not so true since I played the same board games as a kid too…..

Author’s note: I still have many of the little 1/72 scale soldiers and tanks in a box but the mighty Eep is unaccounted for and is assumed to be “missing in action”….