We went to a house concert the other night. An old friend from school had called and told us about it. He and his family often got together with mine of an evening and we’d sing folk songs, and the new songs of the, then novel, Texas singer songwriters. It was good getting back together. I enjoyed the music, the musicianship, and the upbeat feeling of it. Mostly I enjoyed the excitement in his face when the singer cranked up an old familiar song with a good rift of the guitar and clever, poetic lyrics that we both remembered from earlier days. I drove Home with my Sallie humming “New Mexico rain” and other old favorites. We reminisced about Sand Mountain, the Checkered Flag, and the Rubaiyat, old coffeehouse haunts of our school days, where we would soak up the magic of Michael Martin Murphy, Diane Colby, Bill and Bonnie Hearne, and Steven Fromholtz. They were our bards, our troubadours. They sang of creeks and gullies, skinny cows, mourning doves in flight, west Texas highways, and pickup trucks. Their songs had the smell of Juniper and dust and “clear mountain mornings.” They distilled our youth, and our parents and grandparents lives, into a lyrical and melodious memory. The unique character of Texas in the drought of ‘57, the muddy rivers, the patch pants cowboys, the yaupon brush, prickly pear, and the Llano Estacado were all there. Like the night I drove a U-Haul truck back into Texas, returning from the military, and through the open window, smelled rain soaked mesquite, while the radio wafted out Ray Benson’s group Asleep at the Wheel singing “I saw miles and miles of Texas”
For many of the early years of our marriage we lived in apartments, duplexes, modulars and mobile homes. That’s what I said – trailer– Tornado attractants! So, when in the early eighties we got the chance to build a real house on our land we wanted big rooms. Only problem was that our minds were so accustomed to one dimension being the width of a highway, we almost couldn’t break out and really make big rooms – except for the kitchen. We wanted a kitchen we could dance in! So now, the kitchen is probably the biggest room in the house, and it is largely unobstructed by island or excessive furniture. We’ve dried off freezing newborn calves in it. We’ve set up tents in it. At one point in our learning to spin lariat ropes we even shoved back the table and did the “canasta “or “wedding basket,” a horizontal spinning lariat loop that two people can stand inside of, spanning a good 6 to 8 feet!Whenever the whole family gathers for a meal, the cooks are clambering over guests and each other because everybody clusters in the kitchen. I’m reminded of Don Williams song “Louisiana Saturday night”. The line “Well, you get down the fiddle and you get down the bow, kick off your shoes and throw them on the floor dance in the kitchen till the morning light”!So it was no surprise when a friend gave us a dish-towel that hangs from the oven door proclaiming “My kitchen is for dancing!”
And we do!
No matter how you slice it, Texas is a southern state. We endure more than our share of hot, humid weather. We have sub tropical plants and animals, and we are told that we speak with a southern accent (sounds normal to me). Our influences, culturally and gastronomically speaking range from Old Spanish to French to Hill Country German to Appalachian, depending on what part of the state you find yourself in, and where the immigrants came from. Some of the food we love even has Native American origins. ( though the archaeologists tell us that even they migrated from Siberia!) The singing group “Alabama” has a song “sweet potato pie and shut my mouth. “
Well, I’ll do the latter, right after I tell you how to cook the former! Them sweet potatoes are getting ripe!
Boil several sweet potatoes after they are peeled, so that you can mash them to a beautiful orange pulp. Now add a quart of the pulp to a quart of milk, four whole eggs, beaten lightly, a teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of nutmeg, a teaspoon of cinnamon, and as much sugar as you need to satisfy your own personal sweet tooth (but not enough to raise your doctor’s eyebrows!) Make up four aunt Betty’s pie crusts, and pour in the mixture. Bake them for almost 10 minutes at 400°F then turn down to 350°F and continue to bake them until they’re solid in the middle.
Now that’s southern! (But I’d never slap m y granny!)
So, you ask, when do we talk about what to do with our hands when riding a horse. It’s when we are finally convinced of the power of our seat bones and legs. The hands are used to communicate with the horse’s mouth, which is at least as a sensitive as our own. Hence, please use your hands slowly and with empathy, lest you make your horse nervous and flinching. Of course a green colt must be ridden a great deal more with the reins and hands than a trained horse until he begins to feel the control of the seat and legs.
The hand can direct, or be active, as when they are turning the horse’s head. The hands can be passive or following, as when the rider with a soft contact follows the undulating, back-and-forth movement of the horse’s head at the walk. Then the hands can be fixed, or immobile, as when doing a half-halt to ask for increased collection. One should rarely (if ever, in some opinions) pull, and never for more than a half second. And if you pull it should be slow, not fast, and immediately followed by a slack in the reins, even if only slight. You can softly close the hand, feeling for the “give” of the jaw, or you can vibrate the reins, like the vibrato of a violinist, to get a response from the horse. Mainly the hand should slowly feel for the mouth, then slowly coax the jaw to relax, then release. Many soft repetitions will eventually get the idea across to the horse much better than few hard jerks. A horse ridden with educated, interactive hands, will be a happy, fluid moving, athletic steed and will be fun to watch, and smooth to ride.