A Smoke Bomb and a Baylor Confession

Pat Neff

Photo of our beloved Pat Neff at Baylor University by Judy Graham Allen, accomplice extraordinaire.

And so, a new year is underway, and the snow falling outside my window is beautiful, white and pure.  Reminds me of that old saying, “pure as the driven snow.” Many thoughts run through my head as random fireworks explode in the area.

Hmm, “pure” – a pure mind, a pure heart…fireworks…a new year…Baylor…friends…fireworks… secrets…fireworks… love that smell of sulphur…

Oh, hell, its just plain time to make a confession after “thirty-something” years!  But, make no mistake, this is not a confession in the true sense of the word, because I do NOT regret what I did ONE. SINGLE. BIT. Nope; not even for a moment! Well … at least until I found out “thirty-something” years ago that “Allison” had gone home for the weekend.

It is important to note that I would have been described as “a good girl” or “such a sweet girl” back in my East Texas hometown of Jacksonville. The same holds true for my accomplice, Nancy, who hailed from Henderson. At first blush, both of us could have been described as “somewhat shy.” Yep, believe it or not! [Stop. Laughing. Walt!] It’s true!!

As freshmen, Nancy and I lived on the 6th floor (the top floor) of Collins Hall at Baylor University, but we were not roommates. Trouble did not follow us, but on this particular weekend night, we gleefully invited Trouble to join us for a “harmless prank.” I don’t remember the particular way we decided to bring the smoke bomb into the dorm with us, but suffice it to say, that the guy I was dating gave it to us.

Scared, but giddy, Nancy and I decided that we would light the smoke bomb in the bathroom on our wing. After all, the whole area was tiled. We watched and waited – the coast was clear.   The floor sloped a bit toward a drain in the middle of the room, so we selected that area to light the smoke bomb. At the last minute, Nancy got the idea that we should wrap one of the brown paper towels around the wick to give us more time to make our escape. Good thinking!  We lit the extended wick and retreated to our separate rooms –as a couple of “badasses”!

On one of the lower floors of Collins, a girl named “Allison” lived with Trouble.  In fact, the Dorm Mother would have said that “Allison” and Trouble were, actually, the same person.  “Allison” snuck out through the window at night (yes, we had a curfew back then), wouldn’t return to the dorm for a couple of days, and caused a lot of disruption pretty much everywhere she went. We all knew of “Allison.”

Back in my room, I waited…but not for long. My roommate, Melissa, burst through the door crying, and pretty soon everyone on our floor was out in the hall getting pretty hysterical. Oh Lord, the smoke bomb didn’t just cause “issues” in the bathroom, the smoke had invaded the ventilation system and was making its presence known throughout the whole dorm! (We didn’t have smoke alarms.)

Nancy and I could not look at each other; we had to act all girly- scared and terrified for our lives, too!  Soon, we heard tromping on the roof and clanging in the ductwork, and male voices – FIREMEN!!!  What the…THIS wasn’t part of the plan.  Of course, we had no plan because we were those “good girls from East Texas” who didn’t have experience in planting smoke bombs in…well…anything!

Suddenly, the most frightening voice EVER boomed, “I KNOW WHO DID THIS.”

The Dorm Mother was on our floor! The firemen had determined the cause of the smoke. I gasped, held my breath, and envisioned what my Mom would say when I called to tell her that I had been kicked out of Baylor – my life was O.V.E.R.

“I KNOW WHO DID THIS,” she bellowed again. “I’m going DOWN to “Allison’s” room and she will be leaving this dorm TONIGHT.

Huh?!!!

Whew, we were off the hook! I breathed once again as my heart- rate returned to normal.

And THEN… reality set in…”Allison” was going to get kicked out of Baylor! I felt like I was going to throw up!  I certainly didn’t want to confess to the “crime,” but I knew that I couldn’t let “Allison” get kicked out of Baylor for something we did! But, I didn’t want to get kicked out of Baylor either!!  For a moment, I wished we had never brought that stupid smoke bomb into Collins.  It was only a momentary regret, though, as word came back that “Allison” had actually gone home for the weekend!!!! And I…I still carry that exploit as a badge of honor!

For some reason, the Dorm Mother dropped the whole matter and no one was ever questioned. Perhaps she was irritated that she didn’t have that last reason for getting rid of “Allison,” OR perhaps she determined that a couple of girls had decided to be “bad for once,” and that wasn’t such an awful thing!

Oh, and another thing; the Baylor “adventures” continued with Judy, Jerry, Susan, Barb, Walt, Nancy, Ray, Mary Lee, Sandra, Marti, Cathleen, Brad, Alan, and how could we leave out, Steve …   “Chew the earth.”   The best part is that  “thirty-something” years later, the adventures roll on.

In addition to graduating from Baylor, I am the mom of a Baylor graduate. And let me just say that the Baylor exploits of my son, David, make me so proud that what I started, he surpassed.  In fact, he even…..“MOM, seriously….”

Ok, I’ll write about what your bro (Jonathan) did at DePaul University, when he…“Hey, you guys leave ME out of this…”

Sigh…another day, dear readers; another day I’ll sneak that “stuff” about David and Jonathan into The JoMo Journal under  “Family Secrets.”

Dressing or Stuffing?

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East Texas.  Thanksgiving.  Dressing.

My mouth waters thinking about the many Thanksgiving meals inhaled at my respective grandmother’s kitchen tables. The turkey, and the carving of said bird, seemed to always be the biggest concern and event of the day (except for whatever football game was on TV); but for me, the big deal was — the uncovering of the dressing!

Mammaw cooked her cornbread dressing in a large Pyrex casserole dish.  With the combined aroma of cornbread, celery, sage, and butter – LOTS of butter — the BEST portions of the entire dish included the crispy edges surrounding the four corners. I would fight uncles, aunts, cousins, anyone who got in my way, to make sure that I scooped out a hefty serving of one of those corners. For the record – I prevailed!

Mama Jackie always cooked her dressing in a large oval roaster. She probably used even MORE butter, because with MJ, if one cup of anything was good, well…then…two or three cups would be even better! Walking into her kitchen made you want to “throw down” and get to the business of eating before anyone else realized the food was ready. MJ’s dressing was great for mixing with the rolls, the green bean casserole, hot peppers, candied yams, gravy, turkey……

So, the dressing for the Thanksgiving meal does exactly what its name implies – makes it look great and pulls all elements together in a pleasing fashion.

Chicago.  Thanksgiving.  Stuffing.

First Thanksgiving in Chicago was a beautiful snowy day – something very different from growing up in East Texas.  My food anticipation remained the same as I looked forward to finding out if the dressing of the day would be baked with cornbread.

Upon arrival, I was in awe of the gorgeous feast spread out from the kitchen to the dining room – appetizers, cheeses, drinks – it was lovely. The turkey was still in the oven, as I assumed was the dressing.

The timer went off and we all gathered around to see the bird emerge from the oven.  And, I, of course was excited to see the dressing.  The turkey came out, the oven door closed, and the oven was turned off.  WHAT!  NO DRESSING!  I looked around; no dressing.  Finally, I turned to ask about the dressing when I saw an unconscionable sight – something was being scooped OUT OF THE TURKEY!  “What is THAT,” I exclaimed, and without taking a breath, “Where is the dressing”?

My new family looked at each other, and then at me.  Chuckles began and soon the laughter started.  “Charla, this is stuffing.  It bakes INSIDE the turkey.  Not, sure what dressing is, but we eat stuffing up here.”  Ahhhhh.

This Thanksgiving, my daughter-in-law will prepare her AMAZING stuffing!  Yes, I said, “stuffing.”  After 33 years I realize that at some point, I joined the stuffing bandwagon.  BUT, my daughter-in-law does NOT cook it INSIDE the turkey.

Whether you dress your meal or stuff your turkey, may your blessings be many and your stomach be full.

Poetry, Escargot, and The Flesh-Eating Birds

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Anyone who spent much time with my Uncle Carroll knew that he loved poetry. You knew this because there was at least one poem or verse he shared with you — usually more than once. It would not have been a randomly recited poem or one selected to demonstrate his memorization prowess. No, Uncle Carroll chose carefully because he knew the power of words, and he desired to inspire and make a difference through the gift of poetry.

He bestowed upon me the following verse in the summer of 1976:

“For of all sad words of tongue or pen,

The saddest are these:

‘It might have been’ “

               From “Maude Muller” by John Greenleaf Whittier

I had completed my freshman year at Baylor University, and had some decisions to make.  As I had done, many times since my Dad’s death, I turned to his brother for advice and counsel. Uncle Carroll’s approach was not to tell me what to do; he wanted to empower me to make the decisions myself. And perhaps, most importantly, to trust those decisions once I made them.  So, he quoted “Maude Muller” to me, and as he came toward the end of the poem, he stopped and said, “Cha, this is the most important part.”  And, in reciting the stanza above to me, he wrote the words on my heart.

One of the things that pleases me the most about Uncle Carroll’s love of literature and poetry is that it was his brother, and my Dad, Charles Payne Moore, who introduced him to this love. In fact, I see this as a gift of love from one brother to another!  My father died suddenly, when I was 12 – a heart attack on the golf course.  And, just as my Dad had opened the world of literature and poetry to him, Uncle Carroll, stepped in to open new worlds to me.

Two months after my father died, Neil Armstrong took the first walk on the moon.  Watching that fuzzy black and white image on TV ingrained in me a life-long love for NASA and all things space-related.  Later on, Uncle Carroll, who lived in Houston, took me to NASA, where I saw a moon rock, and walked inside a mock-up of the lunar module. I announced that I wanted to work for NASA.  He helped nurture my love of space and encouraged this “dream.”  However, as it became apparent in high school that my gift was writing, and NOT math, chemistry or physics, he gently suggested “perhaps I could WRITE for NASA, since most other positions there required, hmmm… some pretty good math skills.” (Years later, when my son, David, was being tutored for a math class, Uncle Carroll suggested that I might want to sit in on the sessions!)

So, in the summer of 1976, I went to Houston to visit him and Bette for a few days. Uncle Carroll selected a very nice restaurant for dinner.  I ordered something like… spaghetti…, and we were talking, and waiting for our food, when he said, “Cha, I’ve ordered some escargot.”  And I’m like, “es car go, WHAT is THAT”?  He replied, “snails.” I think that I probably looked at him like he had three eyes, while I said, “I’m NOT eatin’ snails.” This was a fight I was not going to win.  “Cha, yes you are. You are going to try one.”  To this day I love, Love, LOVE escargot, and I remember how he talked with me about being an adventurous eater.  I’ve eaten unknown meats with injera in Ethiopia; some manner of insects in the Philippines, sea urchins in Indianapolis (seriously), and Lord only knows what was on my plate at one particular meal in Hong Kong. But, every time I try or do something new and different in this world, I think of him.

This bond with Uncle Carroll was cemented early in my life.  As a little girl, he would “throw me to the flesh-eating birds,” and I loved it!!  The game consisted of me being swung back and forth by two uncles, (one was always Uncle Carroll) and then I was tossed up in the air, landing on my grandparent’s bed!  I remember giggling and loving that feeling of “flying through the air.” And I learned that I could trust him.

In many ways, he was larger than life to me!  When Mammaw would say, with a gleam in her eyes, that Uncle Carroll was coming for a visit, I COULD NOT wait until he arrived.  I knew, oh, yes, I knew, that I would hear a good story and learn more about his — shall we say — “adventures” growing up in Jacksonville, Texas.  From “recollections of” painting the WWI statue in the park green, to being driven to fights by Mammaw, to putting a possum in the school desk of English teacher Miss Mary Francis Childress at Jacksonville High School, to failing a PE class at Stephen F. Austin University – on purpose — no visit was ever dull!  I believe that this legacy must be what made me light a smoke bomb in the 6th floor Collins Hall bathroom at Baylor! (Oops!  That’s a story for the “Papa Shot Willie and Other Family Secrets” category.)

He would have turned 76 this week, but I still think of him as the amazing 30- to 40-something Uncle, who changed my life. I could go on and on and on about this favorite Uncle of mine– how he touched my life, how he took care of me and my Mom after Dad died, and how he inspired me to grow, learn, and expand my world. But, most of all, Uncle Carroll taught me that no matter what, no matter when, (and the Moore’s had A LOT of “what and when”) no matter the circumstances, family trumps everything!

IT’S About Time…

the-walrus-and-the-carpenter“The time has come,” the Walrus said,

To talk of many things:

Of shoes – and ships—and sealing-wax—

Of cabbages –and kings—

And why the sea is boiling hot—

And whether pigs have wings.”

  From “The Walrus and the Carpenter” by Lewis Carroll

So here’s the quandary regarding “time” – how do you know which one to use?  I mean, I’m not talking about the old 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour or 24 hours in a day kind of thing – soooo limiting! The “time types” to which I refer are:

  • This time
  • That time
  • Another time
  • Next time
  • One time
  • Anytime
  • Short time
  • Long time
  • Charla time— (used by family and friends; I don’t get it…)

I’ve been saying for a long time that I was planning to write a blog, sometime.  A short time ago I began to pull things together, but that time, my muse went to sleep. One time, a friend said, “Just START writing.” Another time she said, “ANYTIME, now, you can make this happen by getting off Charla time (I still don’t know what that means).  

So, this time, I’m really trying to do “this thing.”

When I announced to family and friends that I was going to dip my toes in the blog world, almost every one of them said, “Well, it’s about time! Seriously, I can’t wait to read it.”

And then…a pause……”But you’re not going to write about me, right”?  Right…?

Ah, the rub!