Under Santa Fe Skies

by Susan Tungate

Memoir Monday: Gumbo for 2,000

In 1986 I was a member of a church in McKinney, Texas. The flock was led by minister Father John White.  John would lead me every Sunday to a place I needed to go by way of his thoughtful sermons.  I followed and supported him in every way I could.

The Vestry was a group of parishioners charged with conducting the church’s business.  I gladly accepted the position as a member when asked by John.  I was on the Vestry with Bob Richards and that was great.  Bob was the Chief of Police, power weight lifter, ex-football team member of the Southern Methodist University and a good friend.  He grew up in Nederland, Texas forty miles from my childhood home.

The Vestry meetings were mostly cookie cutter affairs with little excitement or drama. After one meeting John approached Bob and me for a favor and, of course, an opportunity for service.  Two local high-school girls had an invitation to go to China to play volleyball in an international tournament.  John asked us to come up with a plan to raise money for their trip.  One of the girls could not afford to go, and the other was from a wealthy family in town.  I suggested “The Chief” and I take the father, with all the money, hold him up by the legs, and shake all the money we needed from his pockets. They suggested another plan was needed.

As I said, Bob and I were from similar areas both close to Southern Louisiana.  Gumbo was an easy call. We knew how to make a pot.  The target amount to send the girls to China was $10,000.  That’s a lot of gumbo.

We were both big boys. In calculating the amount each person would be served , we used our consumption formula of $12,000/$6.00=2,000.  Since our target profit was $10,000, we knew our cooking goal: 2000 bowls of gumbo. Neither of us ever used a recipe.  The fun was just beginning.

We made arrangements to use the McKinney High School cafeteria for food prep and service.  My only reservation was that I refused to wear one of those little hair nets.  On inspecting the kitchen, we found two fifty-gallon steam heated soup cookers.  We thought we would make seventy-five gallons. If we went over that, fine.

Bob and I met with the local Brookshire’s food market manager who agreed to supply produce, chicken, stock, and sausage for our event.  Next came a question I had not anticipated.  “How much of everything do you need?” asked the Brookshire’s manager.  Bob and I looked at each other and both said, “Plenty.”  We settled on 250 chickens,  100 sausage rounds, a fifty pound sack of onions, and thirty pounds of celery.

The ticket sales went briskly, and we did not see any wisdom in counting sales.  All I wanted to know was how much money we had received.

Bob and I were busy the week before the event.  Bob was in charge of the roux preparation.  We needed ten pounds of the brown gold. Bob did a masterful job.

The Friday before the Sunday we were to serve the gumbo, we picked up the supplies from our new best friends at Brookshire’s.  There was plenty of room in the chill box at the school for our ingredients. We were all set to cook.

Early Sunday morning Bob and I met at the school cafeteria to begin the gumbo. We filled the two soup caldrons with water and put the chickens in the cool water.   One hour later the chickens were still swimming in cool water.  No one had shown us how to start the cookers.  Soon help arrived and the steam valve was opened.  The gumbo was saved.  The chickens cooked quickly and were then removed from the stock to cool for deboning.  While the celery, garlic, green peppers, and onion were cooking, the chickens were stripped by less than enthusiastic family members.  We mistakenly thought we could handle all the cooking, but family was summoned once again to bail us out.  The job was too much for two guys.

“How much roux do we use?” one souse chef asked.  We said, “Just cut the ten pound brick in half and use each one in the two pots.”  Great! We were well on our way to becoming the star chefs of McKinney.

Service was to begin at three that afternoon. At noon the ninety-five gallons of gumbo was simmering and ready to be tasted.  Bob had the honors. “Where is a soup spoon?” he asked.  A cold shutter came over me.  We had no silverware, no napkins, no soup bowls, no plastics cups.  We did have enough tea and gumbo to drown a horse.  Family to the rescue!  Any store open on Sunday was relieved of its picnic supplies.

At 2:00 p.m. the plates and supplies arrived as did the hungry church crowd.  The line began to form and spread out the door of the cafeteria.  John thanked each diner and took the money.  Very few paid the $6.00 per head.  Most contributed $10.00 to $20.00 dollars each.

Bob and I proudly served bowls of our gumbo and surveyed the cafeteria for anyone choking on an errant chicken bone.  No calamity, only praise.  We ladled until the last one in line was served.  I called back to the pot crew, “How much gumbo is left?”   “A little over one pot,” they responded.  That was over seventy gallons!  At that we announced, “Free seconds and to go gumbo is available.

Some came up for an extra bowl or to go portion, but in the end we had over fifty gallons of gumbo.  Bob asked, “Ok, what are we going to do with all this stuff?”  I handed him a serving spoon, and said, “Let’s start eating slowly, and maybe we can put a dent in it.”  He rolled his eyes, and said, “You are going to jail!”

John said, “I’ll take it.”  I asked him how he wanted to take the fifty gallons of gumbo home.  He looked around the kitchen and saw two empty garbage cans in the corner.  “Let’s put trash bags in these cans. I’ll put them in my garage until I figure out what to do,” he said.

Kitchen cleaned, gumbo loaded, and money stashed. A day well spent.  We cleared more than enough to send the girls to China and give them some spending money.  The extra cash was a contribution to our dear John White to spend as he desired on his ministry. Oh, what became of the fifty gallons of Gumbo?  Well…

The gumbo “containers” were put in the back of the Whites’ garage.  The weather was cold, so the gumbo was safe for a day or so.  Later that night my phone rang with “gumbo news.”

“Drew, Judy came home after dark and pulled into the garage. A light was out, it was dark, and Judy ran into the cans.”

I stopped him and asked, “Did any of the gumbo spill?”

“Yep, ” he said, “all of it–down the drive way and into the street.”

“Can I come over to help with the clean-up?”

“Nope. The neighborhood dogs and cats are doing a fine job.”

©Drew Scott 2014

Drew Scott was raised in Goose Creek, Texas. He and his wife Jane Scott live in Santa Fe with their two poodles. “With each story, I allow myself to visit the people and places who helped make me the man I am today at age sixty-seven,” says Drew. “Pretty cool stuff!”

Memoir Monday: “The Power of -ish” by Lisa S. Harris

“-ish” changed my life. It sounds a bit overstated, but it’s true.

In the early days of Video Library, I tried hard to get the store open on time. But as Yoda says, “There is no try, there is only do or do not.” Unless I am up against an immovable deadline, like catching a flight or making a movie on time or else, I only can do or do not, but generally, I’m afraid, it’s do not.

Being on time is tough for me, since I have been running late since five minutes after the dawn of time. This is a fact. For I was supposed to be born at the end of June, but kept my parents-to-be waiting and didn’t manage to arrive until six laborious weeks later, on August 7th.

I haven’t been on time since.

True, it’s not always my fault to be exiting the house later than I should to get the store open on time. People who know me realize I have always lived with many animals, and I mean many. So, with feeding, cleaning, playing, and dealing with the frequent artful escape, I’m almost always running behind schedule.

I have to admit, it’s not always the animals. The other morning I was in the driveway, car running, almost gone, and when I glanced in the rearview mirror and, to my utter horror, I saw I’d forgotten to put on my mascara. That’s like going out naked! So naturally I had to run back inside, apply the precious stuff, and run get back into the car, making me four minutes tardy, when for once it actually had looked as if I were going to make it on time.


For a long time, I tried to make up for lost time by being an observant and opportunistic driver. Not aggressive, oh no, not me. Since I have driven the same route to work for decades, I well know the one current ultimate set of directions that quickly will get me through traffic. Those driving directions include: Take Cerrillos only in the morning, never at noon; Avoid the Plaza, too many pedestrians; Evade the RailRunner wherever it crosses the road; Remember the efficient UPS drivers’ mantra of “Right turns only”; Be open to opportunity; And always have one eye scouting for a new, shorter back alley route that gets me to work quicker. On a good day, like a Sunday morning when all the lights are with me, the drive can take eleven or twelve minutes. A bad day, like one with a downtown Special Event Ahead!, or with encountering some jam-up due to road construction or a detour, it can be twenty.

Still, my husband Casey says my philosophy of motoring always reminds him of that Stephen King story “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut,” based on King’s wife Tabitha, about a woman eternally obsessed with finding the fastest way from one point to another, but it sure costs her. I do not necessarily count myself in that category, but that’s what Casey says.

Man, I really do remember this one particular morning, as I was characteristically running behind. There I was maneuvering through traffic as usual, when suddenly a bicyclist comes out of nowhere, and I mean nowhere, like out of another dimension, causing all the cars to slam on their brakes simultaneously. In about two seconds, we all went from doing forty to going zero. I was surrounded by, and immersed in, screeching tires, fishtailing autos, and panicked lane-changing. I rose out of my seat as far as the seatbelt allowed and literally stood on the brake pedal, shuddering to a halt after several            l-o-n-g seconds.

I recall so many details. The scared face of the driver in front of me as reflected in her rearview mirror. The terrified pedestrian who had appeared seemingly out of thin air. The huge truck behind me that was drew closer without apparent slowing. Then, at last, the adrenaline jolt that flooded me as I realized it was over and that nothing had happened. Astoundingly, no one had hit anything! No sickening crunch of steel to hear eternally, no horrifying splattered person to haunt my three a.m.’s forevermore. A total escape, accomplished only by timing and/or fate.

Traffic flow resumed haltingly. Deeply nerve-rattled, I continued to wend my way to The Vid, despite a now-nauseous gut and the familiar metallic taste of fear in my mouth.

As I pulled into the Vid’s parking lot, I saw a woman waiting for me. When I stopped, she hurried up to my driver’s side open window, thrusting her rental in my face, belligerently saying, “This didn’t work. So you owe me.” At that moment, I realized I had raced, risking my life and others’, simply to get to my store so that somebody could yell at me, first thing.

Not worth it.

Never again.

That same morning, after unlocking the door and getting ready for the day’s business, I collected all three of the signs displaying our business hours, erased the hours, and re-wrote our opening time as “9:30-ish.” Every day. The near-miss changed my driving habits and helped cure that ulcer I was working on.

So I never set a new record getting to the store any more.

Reassuringly, most of my customers have embraced “-ish.” A few have brought their out-of-town guests by just to see the signs. Sometimes in summer I see tourists walk up to the window and take photographs.  Personally, I have to say, I like the unforeseen way that “-ish” resembles my initials “lsh” in lower case, like it’s fate, like it began at birth. Like I have always been right on time.

©Lisa S. Harris 2014

In 1981 Lisa S. Harris opened the first video rental store in New Mexico. She has been behind the counter of Video Library dispensing movies, recommendations and therapy ever since. She loves Casey, cats, movies and bacon.

International Day of Happiness

Today is the International Day of Happiness. I am of two minds about this Day of Happiness. On the one hand, happiness has become a money driven business with a myriad of books on happiness, songs on happiness,  blogs on happiness, and even a degree in happiness. On the other hand, happiness is a good thing. If it takes raising happiness to a commercial level for people to focus on staying present and viewing the world with wonder, so be it.

In that spirit,  as I lived my life this week, I took note of people and things that  brought a smile. I highly recommend the exercise. Seek and you shall find. Everywhere. Here are a few smile producers to celebrate International Happiness Day:

What were they thinking?

A car that looks worse than mine!

The Mets season opener in Virginia!

A mural painted on the back of a building facing the railroad tracks. Someone painted it even though few would see it.

A mural painted on a wall near the Farmers’ Market. Note the sky above is indeed the sky above.

Inside the Farmers’ Market, lovely racks of tea from Artful Tea. The teas are delicious.

Apricot blossoms on the neighbor’s tree. And they were not killed by last night’s frost.

Look how my tulips fan. How do they know? I cut each the same length.

Lisa Harris, owner of the one and only Video Library, always makes me smile.

And Georgia and Sofie and Harry make me smile every time I see their little faces.

Your turn. Have a Happy Day!




Memoir Monday: “Plenty of Fish” by Freddi Fullington

My friend Candice and I were having coffee when she told me she met a nice man on an Internet dating site. Candice, who was divorced and newly turned sixty, was looking for someone to hike and travel with her. She found him on the Internet site and encouraged me to check it out.

My jaw dropped. Candice was the last person I’d ever picture using an Internet dating site. She was so together. I mean, people who used those sites were losers, right? Desperate. Candice was none of these things, and I certainly wasn’t.

“No way I want to meet someone on line,” I said. “No way.”

“It is the new way of meeting people. Better than a bar, ” she said. “Just check it out. It’s free.”

I had separated from my husband of thirty years two years previously and divorced a year ago. Initially, I had sworn off men. Now I was beginning to think it might be nice to have someone to go to dinner or a movie with once in a while or those occasions like a wedding when I need a date. I certainly wanted nothing more.

I had hated the dating scene in my twenties and now it seems much worse. I had no luck just running into someone at the market (daddies with kids), the Laundromat (too young) or events I volunteered my services (I knew those guys too well.)  So, one boring evening I decided to take a look at Candice’s site. And I did just want to look. Period.

Hmm, some of these guys looked okay. I could only see the photos and could not access the full site unless I signed up and completed my profile. Alright, I will put in my profile. I had to pick from lists. Let’s see, I’m divorced, a non-smoker, a light drinker, a non-drug user, Christian, female-looking-for-a-male. The next questions asked what I was looking to get out of this match. The only choice listed that did not make me squirm was “friendship and maybe more.” Okay, I picked that. Not marriage or a one night stand for me.

Then I set my parameters: male, ages 56-60 years old, non-smoker, light drinker, non-drug user, no preference for religion, and single, divorced or widowed. He also had to live within 50 miles of Santa Fe. I clicked the button. I now had full access to the site.

“Oh, this guy looks perfect,” I muttered to myself as I read his profile and looked at his photo. I sent him a message.Then I sat back and waited, expecting nothing to come of it. I gave myself a limit: three strikes and I’d get out. I would not tell a soul. Days later Mr. Perfect sent me a message saying he was taken.

Okay. I tried another guy, Joe. He made a date to meet me for a drink at the bar of a restaurant.  ”Why did I agree to do this?” I asked myself as I tried to find something to wear. I had not been on a date in 30 years. What do people wear? I found my good black pants. Had to be careful about potential panty lines and dog hair with these pants. I took a tape roller to the pants. Four sheets later I was satisfied. I would do a last minute roll off of dog hair when I got out of the truck, which of course was covered in dog hair. I prayed the bar was dark. Next, the top. When I tried on my first choice, a slightly snug knit top, I heard my mother’s voice, saying, “Are you trying to look like Elizabeth Taylor?” Right, I wish. Took that one off and put on another blouse with buttons. I am not good at buttons with my M.S. I got frustrated and pulled it off. Too low cut anyway. After trying on six more tops i settled on a simple black and white pull-over and my leather jacket. I left for my date, which felt more like I was going to my own hanging.

I looked into the bar and looked for Joe. I asked one man if he were Joe. He was. Yikes! He had white hair. An old man! Then I remembered the color of my own hair but for the blonde hair dye. Joe was courteous. He asked me if I was hungry or wanted a drink. I was too nervous to eat. I asked for a glass of white wine and a glass of water. He was drinking a beer. Joe was apparently a regular at this bar. I calmed down as we chatted with each other and the people working the bar.

Joe had been divorced for many years. His three grown children wanted Dad to find someone so he would not be alone. His daughter had offered dating tips on what women expected on dates. He also shared the fact he had survived three heart attacks, but was now healthy. It was certainly positive that he was now healthy, but I figured he might not be out of the woods yet and I sure did not want to be his nurse. He told me he had just completed a major remodel of his house so he was skilled and creative, both pluses. I declined another glass of wine, we chatted a bit more, then it was time to leave. He walked me to my truck. We both had a nice evening, but neither of us found who we were looking for. Strike one.

The second man Tony said he belonged to a Christian rock group and sent me some of his music. It sounded weird, but I had vowed to keep an open mind. He asked me to lunch at a downtown restaurant. When we first set eyes on each other, I think we both decided to get lunch over quickly. I really don’t know what it was, but something did not click and it was obvious.

The place was busy and noisy. Tony had a strong voice that carried so I had no trouble hearing him. After we ordered he started going on and on about his loaded BMW. He complained, though, about how there was even a sensor that tells him when the tires are low.  One time when he was out in the middle of nowhere he got a flat tire he could not change because the wheel needed a key. The salesman had neglected to tell him the key was in the glove box. Tony needed to have his car towed at great expense. I am thinking, too bad he didn’t buy a Ford or Chevy like we commoners then he would not have such  problems. And why did he think I was even remotely interested in cars? Nothing in my profile suggested I wanted to be a motor head’s girlfriend. Then the food arrived. In the middle of a busy restaurant, with his booming voice, he proceeded to pray over our lunches. Strike two.

Then there was Jack. He had a sense of fun, was polite online and was into the cowboy thing. We arranged a date. I decided to drive twenty miles north and meet him for lunch near his home. Jack was waiting in the parking lot when I drove up. He had white hair, but I had worked through that issue. He also had quite a paunch, but then again he was wearing a terrific cowboy hat. After we ordered lunch, he said he needed to call his mother and check in. Huh? Jack said his 90-something year old mother lived with him. She was a widow and still quite lively. In fact, she was dating a younger 80- something year old man.

“She either had to live with me in the doublewide or go to a nursing home, and she is no where ready to do that,” he said. “You have to meet mom. She is a character.” So, after lunch we drove in tandem to Jack’s doublewide. Every square inch of the interior was covered with stuff–magazines, newspapers, large bags of water softener salt, pellet stove pellets, and empty cereal boxes. I moved aside a stack of magazines and sat down on the sofa.

Mom was a character and very sweet. She told me Jack was building his own house next door. Jack gave me a tour of his new house. It was really very nice. One unique feature was that the garage door allowed his truck to be parked inside the house.

He told me he had never married.  Hmmm,  a sixty year old man who never married and who was still living with his mother. The red flags were waving. But I kept an open mind. Jack was actually a lot of fun. On the second date, however, Jack turned into a groping octopus. Strike three.

Oh, well, I had my girlfriends to go out with and my dogs to keep me warm at night. Life could be worse. But I didn’t want to live my life as one that could be worse. I wanted a couldn’t be better life. So , I went back on the site, reset the parameters to include men a few years younger and eliminated the non-smoking requirement. I hit the button.

Oh my God. There he was, dressed as a gambler wearing a Western shirt, brocade vest and black hat in an old-time photo. He was looking over a hand of cards with a dead, poker faced stare that looked so dangerous. This man would probably not give me the time of day, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. I sent him a message. He responded almost immediately. His name was Alan. He was a widower with no children, retired from the Army.  No negatives.

We agreed to meet for coffee. We had arranged to meet outside under the overhang over the door. He was there when I drove up to the place. I was early so I watched him as I calmed myself. What a unique impression he gave. He was dressed in dark blue canvas pants in a vintage style with the pant legs tucked into tall, black well polished boots. He stood tall and straight and wore an old fashioned shirt under a suede Mexican jacket and hat. I was very interested in hearing his story.

I walked up to him. “Are you Alan?” I asked. He gave me the sweetest smile as he shook my hand. When I first meet someone I take note of their eyes and their hands. Alan had very dark brown eyes with long lashes. His hands looked strong with well shaped, long fingers.

We ordered coffees. I started to pay for mine. I never wanted any man to feel I was taking advantage of his generosity by assuming he’d pay my way. Alan would not allow me to buy my own coffee. I kept it to just coffee, no scone or muffin. We talked. We talked about everything for three hours.. We both came from a strong military family background, we both studied our family genealogy, we had been raised in religious families, we liked many of the same movies, actors, recording artists and on and on.

When it was time to leave, he walked me to my truck. He called me later to be sure I made it home safely. We set another date. When I look back, he was hooked already. I soon followed.


©Freddi Fullington 2014

Freddi Fullington lives, writes and pet sits in Eldorado, NM. In her past life she has been a nurse, teacher, beekeeper, firefighter and EMT. Along the way, she found the love of her life on the Internet.