I was up early on Sunday morning. I wanted to get the baked beans I was making in and out of the oven before the house got over-hot. Since it was an early September morning, the outside air was delightfully cool in the hour before sunrise, and the air in the house was cool without being chilly. But with the day’s high predicted to hit 99 degrees, getting the oven turned off as early as possible seemed a good idea.
Not that baking these particular beans is a short process. I make them from scratch, which includes soaking dry beans for eight hours before stovetop simmering for another hour. After final assembly, they have to bake for three hours. It’s a lot of work, but in this instance, they were for a family reunion which made the job a joy rather than kitchen drudgery.
I call this particular baked bean recipe “Baxter Black’s Vegan Baked Beans.” If you’re familiar with the famous cowboy poet and cow doctor, you get the joke. If not, search for Baxter-Black-Vegetarian on the interwebs and you’ll probably figure it out.
Cutting to the chase, I got the beans done in time to prevent overheating the house and got them delivered to the side dish table at the reunion on time. They were a big hit, and all the old people got the joke. The youngsters had more important things to do than try to understand old people’s humor. Which is how it’s supposed to be.
I enjoyed catching up with family. Some of the folks I hadn’t seen for more than a decade and more than a few of the kids who attended the last reunion arrived at Sunday’s event with their own kids in tow. Funny how that happens.
Speaking of kids, I spent a lot more time with my little ones and their newly met cousins than I did with the crowd in my age cohort. As is so often the case at such reunions, most of the grownups spent a lot of time talking about the folks who’ve recently departed this mortal coil. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s kind of like a wake and part of the grieving process. For me, though, that’s just not my jam. I know full well that my clock is ticking down, and I prefer to spend time embracing and appreciating the beauty of living. As Augustus McCrae said in Lonesome Dove, “It ain’t dyin’ I’m talkin’ about. It’s livin’!”
Big fun for the kids included an above-ground pool, a wading pool-water slide bouncy house, a swing set, and a kid-sized electric car. At the end of the day, I took some exhausted kids home, kids who had played all the play from a long and lovely late summer day. As for me, my Sunday was filled with fun, enjoyment, gratitude and appreciation.
A lot of years ago, way back when I was a young adult convinced that I knew how this life thing works, I happened to ask an elderly person for tips on how to live a good life. Her response didn’t make a lot of sense to me at the time, but her words have always stayed with me, and I’m beginning to understand.
“I try to be childlike,” she said, “to hold on to a sense of newness and wonder, to be happily surprised at all the cool stuff life throws at me. You have to be careful, though, because if you get it wrong, you become childish instead of childlike, and that’s a very different thing.”
Last week when I took the little ones to the park, they eschewed their usual delights of swings, the slide, and merry-go-round for the drinking fountain, which was a brand-new experience for them. The drinking fountain has always been there, but up until last weekend, we’d always packed bottled water on our park excursions. However, this time I forgot, and it didn’t take long for the kids to get thirsty. Once they were introduced to the fountain, they thought it was better than a water park. The grownup part of me frowned at the idea of playing with the water fountain. It’s not a toy, after all. It’s for drinking water! The childlike part of me recognized that kids are supposed to be in charge of their own play. Grownups should provide safety and guidance in appropriate social behavior, but the grownups should never be in charge of actual play. Play is a journey of growth and discovery for children, and grownups aren’t anywhere near smart enough to dictate how it’s done. The little ones wanted to play with the drinking fountain, to figure out how it works and how best to drink from it, to find out what happens when the drain is stoppered by a little hand, and to splash and get wet and have a fun little adventure. I introduced them to the concept of the public drinking fountain; how they should share and care so that it can serve everyone. So, the kids got an appropriate lesson, asked good questions, and had a great time. Life is filled with precious moments, but they’re easy to miss, particularly for those of us who like to pretend we’re in charge and in control of the whole thing.
One final little random slice of life. A relatively young female cat showed up at the ranch a couple of days ago. She was very friendly and very hungry. She was clean and well cared for and had obviously had kittens in the fairly recent past. She was sweet and loving and very well socialized to people, though not completely socialized to my Mom’s cat. The big, wide world of the Nebraska Panhandle is a pretty safe and tame place for people, but it’s a dangerous place for house cats. There’s no shortage of coyotes, foxes, hawks, owls, and other predators who would love a tender meal of a kitty. The immediate question then was how to figure out where the cat belonged and how to get her there. Fortunately for everyone concerned, the interwebs provided access to a county-wide missing pet database. Within an hour of putting the cat’s picture and info up, we were in contact with her owners. Within another hour, she was home. In this instance, the little cat’s adventure ended on a good note, and that’s something to appreciate and be grateful for.
Be well and embrace the blessings of liberty.