Saturday, April 10, 2021

Texas notes: Iron in the blood

     Honestly, I don't view Caren Jeskey leaving Bat City as EGD losing its Austin bureau chief so much as our gaining, not just another set of eyes on Chicago, but her particularly perceptive peepers. We'll just have to re-christen Caren our "Albany Park bureau chief" and keep right on rolling along. Yes, I had to look up "plutonic" too. No, I won't tell you what it means.   

     California didn’t keep me for long. I moved there in the 90s and only lasted a year and a half. One cannot dispute that the redwoods, dolphins frolicking in saltwater just off the shore, and complicated plutonic rock formations are captivating. Yet somehow not enough for me to consider calling it home.
     Is it possible that the Windy City’s copious ferromagnetic materials pull upon a giant magnet attached to my insides? It sure feels that way. My feet have roots that have burrowed—for many of my years on this planet—deeply into the concrete of the city streets, and are still firmly planted from over 1100 miles away. Perhaps my thousands of miles of walkabouts in Texas were a roundabout way to try to get back home.
     If I say Bari foods and you can imagine tearing off a piece of a freshly baked baguette and dipping it into olive oil and oregano you might be of the same ilk. If you love the clang of metal doors being pulled down over storefronts, are not afraid to explore Lower Wacker Drive, and gazing upon smoggy steel mills might as well be a misty mountain range in your eyes, we will get each other. Maybe we have microscopic bits of steel dust inside of us that make us feel incomplete unless we are in the city of wild garlic, near canals and the steady wheels of industry.
     Or maybe we’ve been cryogenically frozen enough times that we start to feel old and shriveled up without subzero temperatures. It was in the 90s in Austin today. Here we go! Months of above one hundred degrees to look forward to for those who are staying. After 7 years I have had enough. Maybe all of the sun damage on my neck, face and chest will reverse with the next polar vortex.
     Chicago is so much in my bones that when I drive through rural Texas I stop at every oil rig I pass. I park the car and get out, and I’m captivated by the slow and steady up and down of the arm of the rig. I could sit and watch that forever. Machinery. Is that normal? Do non-rust belt folks feel that too? The Austin music scene is special, but give me a blanket and machines become my drive-in movie.
     In my travels to the deserts, mountains, rainforests, oceans, lakes, and plains all around the world I am always aware that I’m a person from Chicago. It’s my identity. For the first five years of living in Texas I introduced myself as “Caren with a C from Chicago.” It was a way to be sure folks would not forget my name, and it often worked. But I also saw it as a badge of honor.
     Whenever I read an Anaïs Nin quote I feel seen and understood, and less alone. I Googled her name and the word “cities” to see what she had to say about all of this. I learned that she put together a compilation of novels called Cities of the Interior. How very apropos. I’ve written about what Carl Jung calls one’s inner partner her on EFD, er—I mean EGD, in the past. With the right intention, it seems all roads can lead to a sense of inner peace. We just need to have the courage to be engaged in the world around us. To be creative and adventurous, and whether homebound or sojourning, stay true to ourselves.
     In three mere weeks I will say goodbye to Austin for now and start heading north. I will hike and kayak along the way, and see as much of nature’s beauty as I can. When I roll into Chicago it will be a soft landing. I found a sweet coach house to rent—in the city of course!—with knotty wood paneling and a large outdoor deck. I can’t wait to be back in the city of big shoulders, embracing and being embraced.
     “The enemy of a love is never outside, it's not a man or a woman, it's what we lack in ourselves.” Anaïs Nin

Friday, April 9, 2021

Secret proof of UFOs banning all vaccines

 

     “Walgreens,” observed the medical technician at a CVS in Franklin Park Tuesday, reading the vaccine card I handed him as I sat down behind the little blue screen and bared my upper right arm.
     Busted, patronizing the competition. I hadn’t considered the Cubs vs. Sox, Field’s vs. Carson’s aspect of crossing from Walgreens to rival CVS for my second dose of COVID vaccine. My older son, who set up my first appointment in Springfield, shifted the second to Franklin Park. Considerate boy.
     Not only a far shorter drive, but by changing, the doses were now the proper three weeks apart. Turns out Walgreens was giving the Pfizer shots a month apart, because it was easier for them to schedule. Until they were called on it and stopped.
     Considering an employee of CVS was about to jab a needle in my arm, an explanation seemed in order.
     “I actually prefer CVS,” I said. “Because of Nicholson Baker’s ‘The Mezzanine.’ A man breaks his shoelace and goes to a CVS to buy a new one. That’s the entire plot of the novel ...”
     I tend to babble when being given a shot. (“Annnnnnd...” my wife thinks, reading this, smiling sardonically, “when NOT being given a shot ...”)
     As this was happening — I didn’t even feel the needle — Vice President Kamala Harris was in Chicago, imploring “those who have received the vaccine” to “please tell all your friends and aunties and uncles and grandparents and kids” to get vaccinated.
     Were it only that easy. Because you either already know to get the shot ASAP, to spare yourself an arduous, often deadly, illness, and protect your community. Or you haven’t figured it out and probably can’t. Being urged to do so will only cause you to dig in, in the knee-jerk contrariety that so many mistake for independent thought.
     Did you see the government slogan, attempting to reach the vaccine resistant? “Let’s Get Vaccinated.” The heart breaks. Putting that chirpy slogan — who dreamed that one up, the Muppet Babies? — up against the widespread serf fear of doctors and the wasp nest of crazed conspiracy mongering.

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Thursday, April 8, 2021

Flashback 2013: "'Repent Gay People to God, be Saved"


    Facebook disinterred this chestnut, and it seemed an apt follow-up to Wednesday's column about religion.  Ever wonder why certain issues—like gay marriage—burn brightly for a while, then vanish? Because haters hate whomever they think they can get away with hating then, denied that pleasure by the shifting sands of public opinion, fall back, and defend a new line in the sand. It's almost as if the object of their scorn doesn't matter half so much as the act itself of despising someone. Which seems to be the case.

     'To Mr. Steinberg," writes reader Robert Zuback. "Once again the Sun-Times intervenes when they shouldn't. They should remain neutral on the Gay Marriage issue. But the media like yourselves wants to go against the Catholic Church and its Bishops, who oppose Gay Marriage."
     Sometimes you find a moment of clarity where you least expect it. Such as reading Mr. Zuback's letter, which arrived in an envelope decorated with an American flag sticker and the scrawled slogan, "I prefer believers in Christ, Not sinners like the Gay People."
     "It shows their disrespect for Catholics like myself and my Church," he writes, "disrespect to the Holy Spirit as a whole, too."
     Well, no disrespect intended. Though I suppose you don't have to be gay to offer, by your very existence, what can be seen as implied disrespect. As a Jew, my entire non-baptized, non-confessed, Christ-a-nice-guy-but-no-Lord life can be—and God knows has been—seen as an insult and, believe me, I am grateful the question of my rights has been taken off the table. I can marry. I can hold a job. I can check into fancy hotels, now, which wasn't always true for my parents.
     "Gay marriage is an offense against the Bible, the word of God," writes Mr. Zuback. "This union is sinful."
     As has been stated repeatedly—the argument worn smooth, like a pebble—society happily shrugs off many grave Biblical sins.
     Why gays? Why marriage? Why this sin?
     "Marriage once again is between a man and a woman. Gay people should apologize to Christ and myself, being their neighbor."
     That is surprising. You'd think a guy would warm to the neighbors. Then again, my ancestors' neighbors in Poland, well, not to re-open old wounds but, let's say: not so nice.
     "Gay people have the right to vote, work and pay for their insurance as I do."
     Broad-minded. The right to work goes back, what, 30 years? Depending on the job. A reminder gay marriage is not a battle in a vacuum, but the latest skirmish in a long war.
     "The Gay Rights people are responsible for their acts by involving the Courts System that favor them," Mr. Zuback writes.
     Here we agree. Courts favor them—or will—because justice is on their side. There is no reason gay people shouldn't marry, except for the religious qualm he so eloquently expresses. Back in the day . . . OK, the world up to this moment . . . the church held so much sway over our government that certain key facts—i.e., being gay is an intrinsic quality that doesn't make anyone a less fit spouse or parent—were overlooked. Now they are known and, barring some unimaginable cataclysm in modern society, always will be.
     "It should have been settled by a natural vote, up or down. We the people, that's me."
     And me, don't forget. And the rest of Americans, the majority supporting gay marriage now, increasing as the years roll on. We did have an election in November, and the leaning-toward-gay-marriage-as-soon-as-it's-politically-safe-to-do-so candidate, Barack Obama, won over the ewww-back-into-the-closet-with-you candidate, Mitt Romney.
     "Gay people lack faith and wisdom. One judgment day is for all, even Gays. Hell's eternal pain, or Heaven's paradise. Repent Gay People to God, be Saved."
     And here he signs it, "Believer in Christ, Robert J. Zuback, Catholic."
     Thanks for writing, Mr. Zuback. Though you never did explain how gays marrying would detract from your life, except of course for the agony of knowing it occurs (though, I would think, if you truly believe in that Hell stuff, you wouldn't begrudge them their eyeblink of earthly happiness now, considering the eternity of superheated suffering ahead).
     While the harm to you is assumed, though not demonstrated, your religion—having its hooks into the law as it does—hurts gays in very real, factual, no-need-to-take-it-on-faith ways. In taxes and inheritance, health care and housing, not to mention plain old dignity.
     The gay marriage issue is, I clearly see now—thank you Mr. Zuback—a question of whether we live in a secular society of laws, or whether government is an arm of the church; Mr. Zuback's church, in his view, or the church of whoever happens to hold office. Those who push for the latter always assume it is their church in the driver's seat. If you don't believe that, ask them about Sharia law and watch their faces do a little confused contortion. Even though gays must be kept from marriage for the exact same reason women must wear veils—because God says so or, rather, God tells men to say He says so, or so the men say. But the funny thing about God is, we all have access to Him, in theory. Indeed, I was talking to God just yesterday, and He told me He loves gays—he certainly made enough of them. Though I'm not expecting you to immediately respect my beliefs just because I say so, Mr. Zuback, which is one of the many differences between us.
      —Originally published in the Sun-Times, April 7, 2013

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

See you in church ... oops, no I won’t

Belief + Doubt = Sanity, by Barbara Kruger (Hirshhorn Museum)

     On May 11, 1833, “Chicago’s first reformer,” Rev. Jeremiah Porter, arrived here to find “a wide, wet prairie, as far as the eye could reach, on a muddy river winding south over a sand-bar to the Lake with a few scattered dwellings.”
     The Presbyterian minister also found, to his horror, a priest, John M. I. St. Cyr, who arrived 10 days earlier, and got busy raising a Catholic church, St. Mary’s, at State and Lake.
     Not one to accept fate passively, Rev. Porter knelt beside St. Mary’s late at night and prayed for its destruction. Setting the tone for interdenominational relations for centuries to come.
     That prayed-for doom has been slow in arriving. But a milestone was sailed past last week, as the Gallup Poll reported that for the first time in its 80-year history of prodding the American soul, most people in this country don’t belong to a religious congregation.
     Only 47%t of Americans are members of a church, mosque or synagogue. In 1999, it was 70%.
     That figure will only dwindle, since, like using a handkerchief, regularly sliding your keister into a pew is an elderly practice. The Gallup Poll found 66% of those born before 1946 belong to a congregation, but only 36% of millennials do.
     The press is supposed to be the dread Beast, dancing around the bonfires of pagan secular humanism. But the story barely made a ripple.
     Could all those naysayers be right? Does the media really ignore good news?
     Is the decline of organized religion good news? Scratch any act of meanness, cruelty or spite and half the time you’ll find a religious person nodding vigorously, explaining how his big imaginary friend in the sky demands acting in an otherwise indefensible manner. Look at all the evil that faith has endorsed and it’s hard not to view religion as an engine of suffering, like disease.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Back in the city

 

 
     West Fulton Market is not actually all that close to Franklin Park. A solid 45 minutes to the east and south. But circumstances Monday dictated that I be in the near western suburb at 11 a.m. sharp, and then down at 111th St. in West Morgan Park at 2 p.m., on the dot, and I had to concoct something for us to do during the two hours and change in between. Going back home would be pointless.
     It was close enough to 12 noon. So I pointed our party toward Bonci Pizza. You really can't get pizza like it anywhere else, outside of the Vatican, and I had only had Bonci once in the past year. I parked right outside on Sangamon Street, went inside, ordered three inches of red and orange peppers for myself, then waited outside. A helpful employee not only brought our hot pizza, but a towel to dry the seats off, and we perched, and ate and talked. I thought this was my first meal at a restaurant in Chicago since ... last September, when we went for our 30th anniversary to Gene & Georgetti. 
     I'd paid for 60 minutes of parking, and thought I'd get my money's worth by strolling east on Randolph, across the river. 
     Walking down the street, looking at the storefronts, the construction workers—lots of buildings going up, cranes in every direction—felt great. A word bubbled up that I seldom think, never mind feel, or write. But "joy" came to mind. Truly, it started blinking like a flashing neon sign. It was joyous to walk down the street in Chicago. I know a lot of people are wondering whether the city will regain its pre-COVID mojo, or whether people will just stay put and not venture out of their deep cocoons. I think they will. Some really good pizza and a half hour walk. It gave me a lot of hope. We're going to come out of this thing.
     The assumption is that regular, pre-COVID life will return in some huge event, a concert, a festival, that life will come back with a gong and ceremony. Maybe that'll happen, for some. But it can just as easily be a small moment. For me, I'll always remember, walking down Randolph Street on an overcast day, thinking, "What a lovely city. I've missed being here so much. I'm so glad to be back again."





Monday, April 5, 2021

Trumpish fear roils leafy suburban paradise

Julie Schaeffer, right, and Cal.
    Julie Schaeffer lives in Northbrook with her husband and their two kids, 17 and 19. The younger is a senior at Glenbrook North. The older, Cal, who goes to college in Wisconsin, studying remotely on campus, is the reason she phoned.
     “Cal is nonbinary,” she said.
     I asked how she learned about this.
     “When Cal was about 15 years old, they had gone to a gaming convention with my husband,” she said. “When Cal was there, they asked my husband if they could put a different name on their tag. That was the first time they sort of felt comfortable enough, emboldened to put it out of the rest of the world to see.”
     How did the Schaeffers react?
     “We hadn’t heard much before then,” she said. Her husband had an easier time, referring to Cal with the third person plural pronoun “they” and such. “He did better than I did. I just didn’t understand it at first. I didn’t know anyone else who was nonbinary, I didn’t understand it.”
     There’s a lot of that going around. I asked her to explain what being “nonbinary” means.
     “Cal does not identify as either male or female,” she said. “It’s not that they ever woke up in the morning and said, ‘I feel like a girl,’ or ‘I feel like a boy.’ Neither gender resonated with them.”
     That news might shock a parent.

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Sunday, April 4, 2021

Unflappable duck

 


     Donald Duck and Daffy Duck are very un-ducklike, now that I think of it. With all the sputtering and the flapping and the agitation, the harsh voice, of the former, and the cries of "Sufferin' Succotash!" of the latter. Crude stereotypes, really. A slur against ducks. It never occurred to me before.      
      Because actual ducks in the living world are quite placid. Particularly this fellow, noticed in the middle of the intersection of Greenbriar Lane Saturday while taking Kitty on her morning walk. Our presence didn't perturb her. Nothing seemed too. We drifted closer—I thought the dog would cause it to flap away. The duck sat down instead, as if to say, "See if I care."     
     There must be a lesson there, because we live in a very perturbed time. With the outrage porn on Fox News, every minute filled with indignation and chest-beating, clutching at themselves and finding new ways to declare themselves victims of this or that, using these imagined harms as excuses to harass others, instead of helping them, as their supposed faith commands. Were I them, I would get tired of it. The hypocrisy would wear me down. But they never seem to. Not that I watch it, but my safe guess is they never pause to take a breath, and do a segment on, oh I don't know. fresh pie. Or unflappable ducks. More the pity.    
     Kitty pulled me away, and I hesitated, gazing backward at the duck. Just sitting there. I wondered if it were hurt. Maybe I should investigate. How? Ask a question? Lift a wing? And were I to determine that it is ill. Then what? Administer aid? Take it to the duck hospital? "I found this sick duck..." As I was watching, a car came by, slowly, edging around the duck. I can't let all those red election signs give too grim a view of this place. We're still kind people, generally. Just some of us are scared, advertising our fear on our lawns and manifesting our terror through constant complaining about others instead of trying to improve themselves.  
     I let Kitty take me around the block, and we returned, the duck was gone.



         



Saturday, April 3, 2021

Texas notes: Whole big world

     Austin bureau chief Caren Jeskey is not only interesting herself, but knows so many interesting people. Her report.

     Sarah has flaxen hair and a ready smile that crinkles up the corners of her blue blue eyes. She’s a Minnesotan, and peppers her speech with “you betcha.” She has a quick wit, is full of puns, and keeps others laughing. Her Whippet’s name is Snippet. Sarah has completed several triathlons. She has great taste and introduced me to some of the best music I know—Yo La Tengo and Heartless Bastards to name a couple. She is bright and inquisitive, and sie spricht deutsch (she speaks German). If all of that that wasn’t impressive enough, she’s a great adventurer. She takes enviable journeys every chance she gets, which is often since she works as a private school counselor. If she’s not camping solo on an island that takes two ferries to get to, she’s exploring Machu Pichu or Timbuktu.
     I’m grateful for the day in the mid 2000s when I was in the locker room changing clothes at the Galter Life Center, the gym connected to Swedish Covenant Hospital. On that particular day, as usual, I kept my eyes down and avoided looking around at others in various stages of undress. I was surprised to hear a voice gently say “Caren?” I looked up and it was Sarah, my old pal from graduate school. We’d lost touch when I left the program mid-stream for a one year hiatus about five years prior.
     Not only was it good to see her, but she’s one of few people I’d want chatting me up while I had nothing but a towel on. We realized that we were neighbors, and a friendship ensued. We started running around town together, taking long walks in Lincoln Square or along the River in Albany Park, and going to concerts at the Harris Theater and Lincoln Hall. We snow-shoed to Over Easy on Damen for brunch the day after a blizzard once. Of course she had two pair of snow shoes.
      We had some unusual experiences, such as seeing an adult skateboarder with a broken leg trying to propel himself, belly to board, to the hospital. Another time we were at an acquaintance’s home in Garfield Park and I was offered a caramel. I popped the whole thing in my mouth, chewed and swallowed—what can I say? I’m a chocolate lover. Unbeknownst to me it was a magic candy, aka full of THC and meant to be eaten (for those who eat weed) a nibble at a time. Sarah nursed me through hours of laughing and turned me over to another friend for the crying spell that ensued after the joy. Another time, a flasher got our attention right near a children’s playground—he actually laid in wait by a tree until we approached. Of course we called 911 and warned the parents in the playground. So many stories.
     This past week Sarah texted me “hello from Japan!” with photos of cherry blossoms and white goats on the streets of Osaka. I was shocked. How could she be in Japan? Well, it IS Spring Break week and Sarah is known for jetting off to fabulous places. I thought “wow, I can’t believe she got on a plane,” but I knew she was vaccinated and I trust her judgment. I even got a little bit emotional. I texted her and said “thank you so much for sharing. I forgot there’s a whole big world out there!”
     I realized how traumatized I’ve been. I also like to hop on a plane or a train to take a break from life, and it’s been stultifying not to be able to do so with this wretched virus. Sarah’s trip inspired me to get on the ball. I looked up flights to Maui for February 2022 and emailed my family “let’s plan a trip!” Sarah’s journey to Osaka opened up a longing in me and gave me the impetus to plan an epic journey of my own.
     As I searched Kayak.com for air fare I noticed I’d missed a call from her so I called her right back. “Sarah?! How can you be using your phone in Japan??” “Caren. I need tell you that you’re right. There IS a big wide world out there, but at the moment I am at Six Corners, just leaving Pearle Vision in Chicago.” Oh. It was April 1 after all. She got me. I deserved it; Neil and I had gotten her earlier that day.
     Sure, I did not have my thinking cap on when she fooled me. Of course she was not in Japan. We are not even allowed to travel there with COVID restrictions. But I wanted to believe. Call me naive but I’d prefer to say that hope springs eternal within me, even with all of the loss and chaos we’ve endured over the past year-plus. May you all have a Spring full of cherry blossoms, good udon, and sake or fine sanpin cha.


Friday, April 2, 2021

Baked goods manage to outlive coronavirus

Marc Becker, left, with Once Upon A Bagel owners Shana and Steve Geffen

     Marc Becker is a baker, the son of a baker, and the grandson of a baker. Baking is his life. When he moved his Leonard’s Bakery—named for his father—Chicago to Northbrook in 1987 he was 28 years old. Last spring, when COVID struck, he was 61.
     A lifetime worth of almond horns, poppyseed cookies, onion bagels and cinnamon rugelach, of customers and suppliers and days that start at 3:30 a.m. Then it just stopped. Leonard’s was a small space; behind the counters was hard for two clerks to pass each other. In the spring of 2020, the pandemic was new and surging. He shut the bakery down for five weeks.
His friends and family urged him to re-open. So he gave it a try. That lasted another two weeks.
“Then I said, ‘This is it. I’m done,” Becker remembered Wednesday. “I don’t want to be under these conditions.”

     Why?
     “I felt like I’m going to hell every day,” he said. “I used to go to work and have the best time of my life. I loved it. Now I hated, hated, hated it.”
     That was clear. I happened to go to Leonard’s just before it closed for good. Usually I’d chat with Marc. But with social distancing, a line out the door, there wasn’t time. Becker seemed frazzled, anxious. He was worried about his employees.
     “For all these people to get sick?” he said. “The customers.”
      Leonard’s permanently closed last May. A shock, then then it never should have been there in the first place, an authentic outpost of Chicago Yiddishkeit in a strip mall next to a suburban Dairy Queen. I wasn’t a regular customer; in fact, I had a personal rule: I never went to Leonard’s alone. “Because if I did, I’d go every day.” I explained. So I’d take the boys after a game, or guests—out-of-towners insisted on visiting Leonard’s on their way home, to stock up.      It was that good.

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Marc Becker behind the counter at Leonard's Bakery in 2017





Thursday, April 1, 2021

Texas notes: Midweek beckons your best self

Watercolor by Jim Koehn

     Over the past year, readers have come to look forward more and more to Saturdays, when Austin Bureau Chief Caren Jeskey shares her insight, observations and philosophy from the Lone Star State. Her feature has become popular—incredibly popular, really, with a readership exceeding the other six days, umm, combined.
     So in the "Give the lady what she wants" spirit that has always informed my blog, Caren has agreed not only to come to Chicago, but to write the blog jointly with me, her only stipulation being that the "goddamn"—which she was never comfortable with, it violating her sense of joy in the divine in all of us—be changed to something more positive. I readily agreed. And to try to encourage readers to check out the blog on days that AREN'T Saturday, I've asked Caren to write once or twice—or more—on weekdays. So welcome Caren Jeskey to a more prominent role in the EGD —whoops, EFD—family! Times change, and we change with them!
     

     When I visited Präzision (Precision) Western Wear I was greeted warmly by the great-great grandson of Anja and Franz, Stefen Weber, and his wife Theresa. They offered me coffee and kolaches. The Texas Kolache is more like a pig in a fluffy blanket. They explained that Germans brought hot dogs to our shores, as well as hamburgers and the original cooking methods that became known as barbecue.
     Precision Western Wear has been tucked away in the town of Shiner, Texas since 1937. Germans make up the fourth largest population of the Lone Star State after Anglos, LatinX, and Black/African American residents. In the 1840s, the Adelsverein (The Society for the Protection of German immigrants) organized on the Rhine in Biebrich to assist citizens who wanted to emigrate. The Weber family hailed from Bavaria, and for generations had farmed hops on a small plot of land. While they were able to survive off of their modest profits, the promise of more success and better treatment of working class families drew them to the United States of America.
     Anja and Franz Weber were both 18, and they forged the trail. They each collected a small parcel and made their way to the shores of the Rhine, where they embarked on their 12 week journey to Ellis Island. From there they made their way, financed by Adelsverien, down to the Wild West. The Webers dug right in and with the help of their community, started brewing beer. What started as just enough brew to serve their local church community on Saturdays turned into what's now Spoetzl Brewery. You may know them as Shiner.
     Once my belly was full of a hotdog kolache and a jelly filled one to balance things out, Theresa insisted that her mission was to get me fitted for a pair of custom boots. Not only that, but I’d also get a glimpse of the process from start to finish.
     First I was invited into the curing barn where giant cow pelts hung from the rafters. I picked out a black and white spotted pelt. Hey, I am leaving Texas soon and at least I can come home with a proper pair of boots. Theresa personally fitted me for a boot that won’t destroy my feet as I break them in, but will still look authentic. She told me stories of her Irish Catholic upbringing in Boston, and meeting her husband at SXSW (South By Southwest) music festival nearly 20 years ago. Her 10-year-old son watched us from a distance, a little too shy to get to know this Yankee stranger.
     Their homestead grew, and they acquired cows, goats, and chickens, and over the year the family business grew into a little village unto itself. The original Webers had four children, whose families settled down on the compound and contributed to their endeavor.
As their cattle herd grew, the possibilities became endless. They sold pelts, milk, cheese, and eventually decided to fill another great need in their town. Boots. Their small empire grew, and they are now the largest boot and beer purveyor in the region.
     Their earlier beers were created with hops that were delivered to them from the Pacific Northwest. Despite the Texas heat, this young entrepreneurial couple manage to start growing their own Humulus lupulus (hops) vines. They were the only outfit in town, so all of the neighbors did what they could to help supply them with water and hands on help to keep the crops alive.
     We spent the rest of the day riding horses on a dusty trail (I could not walk for a week after that), touring the brewery, and finally sitting around a roaring fire with friends and family while Stefan prepared a brisket extraordinaire.
     Days like this will make it even harder to leave this complicated state, but at least I’ll have proper footwear to prove that I was here.

     For a complete schedule of Caren Jeskey's midweek columns for the month of April, click here. 

The watercolor above, and other marvelous artworks, are available for purchase here.