Sunday, December 20, 2015

Hope of Christmas future

Rural Roots
Hope of Christmas future
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

            Breakfasts at Cliff played a huge role.
            There was never music playing or television blaring. It was just chatter centered on Nana’s kitchen. Her culinary skills were immense. She taught us anything store bought was suspect and the proof was what she set before us.
            Frank and I talked about that during our 5:15AM call Thanksgiving morning. From his rock house near the Point of Rocks on the old Santa Fe Trail, he told me he was going to have pear preserves on biscuits for breakfast. He suggested neither was as good as Nana’s, but he’d never tasted anything that was that good.
I suspect the source of the original pears came from her in-laws’, Lee and Mary Belle Rice’s, orchard, but later year supplies came from a wild tree that had rooted along the ditch bank. Canned annually, the preserves were a golden brown color and chewy. Layered on her hot buttered biscuits, the result was nothing short of sensational.
The discussion continued through a short list of “best” memories from her stove. Her mincemeat pies were out of this world. Too many people turn their noses up but have no idea what real mincemeat tastes like. In Nana’s case, it was the neck meat of a deer. She would boil and then mix it with her suet, citron, raisin, and whiskey secrets. The result was holiday pie and a Christmas mainstay along with her cream, pecan, and pumpkin counterparts. The mincemeat took center stage. A slice of longhorn cheese laid over a piece of that pie and warmed under the broiler would make a lunch for days.
Her rolls, taffy, plain cakes with chocolate icing, chicken and dumplings, fried chicken or chile rellenos may each be nominated as “best”, but her breakfasts were as good as any I’ve ever experienced anywhere. She was inventive which came from reliance on what was at hand. Even marginal cuts of beef in the days following a butchering were something to behold. Brains (and eggs), heart, liver (and onions), tongue, and sweetbreads were featured. Wrinkle your nose if you will, but, if you had the opportunity to eat those wonderful old recipes with unbiased grandparents, the gastronomic outcome was much different than your reaction. Modern opinions are too often simply wrong.
Hugely important issues were also at play. Grandparental love was the feature. Intergenerational knowledge was shared as were life’s lessons good, bad, or indifferent. The opportunity for independence from parental structure was offered. Ideas could be expressed without modification, and self confidence was encouraged. After all, we were the product of our grandparents and they wanted what was best. They recounted their lives. Even complications were simplified.
Whether it was food or stories, nothing was wasted. Holidays or not, morning discussions around that table and in that warm kitchen setting remain locked within me … every day of my life.
From out of the failed federal stimulus process, the acronym SIFI emerged. Systemically Important Financial Institutions (SIFI) were those few major institutions that the government declared too big to fail. AIG, Prudential, and Metropolitan Life were three of the so called SIFIs. The suggestion was that if even one of those institutions failed, the entire economic system, the market, could collapse. Money was spread around like it grew on trees. Ostensibly, nothing was spared in their defense.
SIFI was a huge waste of national treasury.
What if the acronym had actually been conceived as Systemically Important Fundamental Institutions? That ‘Fundamental’ could be several things as long as it started with ‘Faith’ and ‘Family’. The point is it should have referenced our most basic foundations.  Where would we be today if that was the highest priority of our American system? We couldn’t be more imperiled if it was. Our country has lost all pretenses of protection for its most basic cornerstones, and … we are divided.
Hope for Christmas Future
 Striving to be objective has become a greater challenge. Our SIFI complex is under attack. It is made worse by assuming the highest leadership in our land is not loyal to the same underpinnings that make us better and offer hope in our daily lives. Condescension, confusion and instability simply don’t make us better.
I want more.
I want an America that suggests to us that we are children of a greater God not a lesser and our role in the future is just as important as it has always been. The lessons of my youth were tied inexorably to the preference of rural America. It was there that a guidepost of self reliance was cemented. It taught me the only way we could make ourselves better was to assume the role of agent for that task. In turn, the only way we could make our surroundings better was through the very self improvement that self reliance generated. I can’t make anything better if I can’t touch it. You can’t make anything better without being able to touch it, either. As such, we take huge risks in transferring our trust to others who have found they can distort and alter the pledges they have made to us without recourse.
But, Christmas looms, and it offers an opportunity of renewal. You don’t have to dispense with the toys and the hoopla of the ceremony that it has become, but put it into perspective. It is a most sacred day. Assume the role of teacher to your kids or grandkids and elevate it into its original importance. Savor the traditions that arrive variously but include the tastes, the smells and the sounds that make Christmas past worthy of best memories.
If there is a wish of highest importance I can offer my grandchildren, it started with the mix of words and inferences herein, but those were feeble attempts. It was best demonstrated in my grandparents’ actions to me. It started with unconditional love. Certainly there was a price, but I knew I could count on that one thing. Today, I equate it to their gift of reminder of our God’s unconditional love. It was the only worldly proxy that could be offered, and they succeeded in their committed task.
Similarly, the institution of parenting and grandparenting remains a most vital responsibility. Perhaps I’ll do it too often in misguided or overbearing emphasis of rural importance, but that is singular logic to me.
Merry Christmas, and … may the grace of our living God touch us all.

Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “In memory of our grandparents …”

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