Saturday, January 15, 2011

Stuff Dad Would Eat

My Dad, though not a world traveler, was very open to other cultures' philosophies, arts, and foods.  And, I think it was this that drove him to introduce us to all kinds of foods not found on the school cafeteria menu.  As adults, my youngest brother loved to tease about Dad mowing the lawn...then serving it for dinner.  This exaggeration is certainly entertaining...and not terribly far from the truth.

Dandelion sprouts in early spring (before the grass), so it makes an ideal candidate for harvesting-by-child.  Basically, Dad could send us children out with various cutting implements (to sever the greens from the root), with really simple instructions, and have high confidence that if we gathered something green, it was edible.  Mom cooked them like mustard greens, and for-the-most-part they were pretty good.  Now naturalists like to promote the benefits of eating of which is here.

Dock is most obvious in North Texas during the winter season.  I'm not a plant specialist, but it seems to die-back as soon as temperatures are consistently above about 80-degrees.  Wikipedia lists these plants as part of the Rumex genus, and I'm not sure what variety grew around our neighborhood, but I still see them occasionally, growing at the side of the road.  They are remarkably large plants, with leaves around a foot long, and 6+ inches wide.  Collecting Dock was usually a one-person job, as one plant can provide all the leaves one can fit into a cooking-pot.  Dock must be par-boiled (boiled until soft, then drained and cooking completed) to remove Oxalic Acid which is natural to the leaves.  The amount of Oxalic Acid is not dangerous, but it can make you pretty sick (which one of my brothers learned when, as an adult, he put fresh Dock through a juicer).

Calf Fries (aka Rocky Mountain Oysters) were a favorite of Dad's.  And, on our periodic trips to Oklahoma to visit Mom's parents, he liked to stop at one particular restaurant for this treat.  One day, Dad ran-into a "great deal" on calf-fries.  He found a meat market that would sell items wholesale, provided you purchased a box-full.  The boxes were waxed cardboard boxes, and I would guess that they held 30 to 40 pounds of meat.  Significantly, meat purchased in this fashion is not prepared for display.  That is to say, stuff goes from the slaughterhouse into the box, without benefit of a butcher.  Each of the testicles (which I assume were from bulls, rather than calves, as they were about six-inches-long) had to be peeled and sliced prior to cooking.  Dad did all of the cleaning (which my brothers and I watched VERY briefly), and packaging for freezer and cooking.  As I remember them, they had all the flavor of a rubber eraser, and were MUCH tougher to chew.

Beef Heart was another of Dad's box-buys.  Like the other boxed meat, it required cleaning/trimming.  This time, I was enlisted to help.  And, I found the cleaning process to be tedious and distasteful.  An attitude exacerbated by my certainty that heart would be as palatable as calf-fries (since I'd never before tasted it).  Hearts have an abundance of connective tissue, and a good deal of fat.  As I remember it, we took the better part of a weekend to complete the cleaning task.  But, unlike Calf Fries, I enjoyed the flavor of Beef Heart, and still occasionally partake of it. 

Calf Liver was something that Dad enjoyed, but his sons hated.  He knew of our dislike, but felt that it was his responsibility as a parent to make certain that we ate things that were 'good for us'.  These meals became a marathon ordeal.  We could not leave the table until our entire serving was consumed.  I'm quite certain that my body classified calf liver as hazardous.  Because, as soon as it hit the back of my throat, by body tried to expel it.  But God-help the poor kid who allowed that reflex to turn into action.  Because Dad was certain that we hurled on-purpose.  Thankfully it only appeared at our table about once a year.  And, to the best of my knowledge, my sons have never tasted liver.

Frog Legs are something that Dad apparently grew-up with. He always maintained that his mother could cook the best frog-legs.  So, on those rare occasions when she came-to-town, Dad would have to go frog-gigging.  I've never actually participated in frog gigging, but it apparently involves beer, a boat, a multi-pronged spear on the end of a stick, a flashlight, and a burlap sack.  I recall the story of one night of frog-gigging.  There were 3 or 4 men in a flat-bottom boat, rowing along the shore scanning the plant-life for the tell-tale glow of eyes.  They were apparently having quite a good night, with a number of frogs in the sack, when one fellow gigged a monster frog.  Just as he got the frog over the boat, it fell-off the gig.  Several of the men lunged to grab the loose frog...tipping the boat, and sinking it.  Eventually, they got the boat on the right side of the water. They had lost their sack-full of frogs.  But there, sitting in the bottom of the boat, was the monster.  As I remember it, he measured 21-inches from nose-to-toes.  People frequently compare frog-legs to chicken.  But, whenever I hear that, I wonder where they get their chicken.  Because frog-legs have a very definite 'fishy' taste. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Travelin' with Dad

In many ways, my Dad, James Abbott, fit many of the stereotypes for a father in the 1960's and 1970's.  We never flew anywhere, but road trips were fairly common.  And, even in a large car, he demonstrated remarkable "Vacation Elbow" (A condition that suddenly develops in a father's arm during a vacation trip that allowed him to reach out and slap you from incredible distances).

When I was quite small, my parents had an early Volkswagen "bug".  Those old cars had a small storage compartment, behind the rear seat, and above the engine.  This was my favorite place for long trips.  This was in the days before seat-belt laws.  And, in truth, before the time when they were standard equipment.  On a trip "back east", we were in the Appalachian mountains, driving through snow.  As I remember it, my mother was very concerned about our safety.  And, while I think Dad was very concerned about the road conditions, and was quite focused on driving, he also was trying to reach a destination.  Suddenly, the bug spun-out and went off the road.  The undercarriage hit a tree stump, and our travel was abruptly stopped.  According to my parents, I was heard to have said "that was fun...but not much".

At one time, Dad had managed to buy a used Jaguar MkII "Saloon".  This car continues to be listed among the "most beautiful cars every made".  And, even today, it is noted for being extremely road worthy.  Dad claimed that the car "loved 90".  That is to say, he had trouble keeping it below 90 mph.  I remember him spending days-on-end working on that car.  I never knew exactly what he was fixing, but I could tell by the volume of parts on the floor that it must have been major.  And, it didn't seem to run for more than a couple weeks at a time before requiring more major work.  At one point, one of his very good friends had been transferred to Arizona.  So, for our vacation, we piled in the car and went to visit.  Somewhere in far-west Texas, we had a wheel bearing go bad.  He stopped at the first "service station" he saw...which was a long way from any town.  And, the mechanic there happened to remember that (a) the Jag used the same wheel bearing as a common American-made car, and (b) that he had one of those among his parts cars in the back.  Together, he and Dad removed a used (presumed to still be usable) bearing from a wrecked car, and installed it on our car.  As far as I can remember, that bearing remained in the car until it was sold.  As I recall, this event happened on a Saturday, not too long before the station was scheduled to close.  For many years, Dad spoke of how fortunate we were to have found that bearing, because there were literally no buildings for miles.

When I was 13 or 14, Dad learned of a ski resort in New Mexico called Sipapu.  It is a smaller resort, well off the-beaten-trail.  It was very inexpensive compared to the famous resorts, and not very crowded.  The draw-back to a small resort, being that the roads may not be as well maintained or cleared as high-traffic areas.  As I remember it, we had a 1966 Oldsmobile station-wagon the year the brake master-cylinder died.  Dad must have had some warning sign that things were getting bad.  When, for no reason that I remember, we headed down the mountain to the nearest town of any size.  This mountain was STEEP.  I don't remember the road name or number.  But, we were probably at the limit of safety most of the trip.  Long before we reached the bottom, the master cylinder had died, and Dad was using the parking-brake.  Riding in a  4,000 behemoth, careening down a snow-covered mountain road will stress anyone.  So, none of us was at our best when we found a town with an auto-parts store, and learned that the only option was to "rebuild" the master-cylinder...outside, in the parking-lot.  As oldest, I was expected to help with this task.  The ambient temperature was around 20ยบ, the wind wasn't terrible, but brake-fluid has this remarkable ability to draw the body-heat out of anything it touches...and my gloves didn't help.  Soon, I was miserable.  I assume that Dad was equally uncomfortable, but stoicism was still in-vogue among fathers.  So after, oh I don't know, 10 or 20 days in the cold, we finished the task.  Naturally, Dad did the greatest part of the is not easy to get two bodies within arm's reach of a master cylinder.  To Dad's credit, the rebuild worked on the first try...and it was back up the mountain for us.

It is funny how we mostly remember the bad things that happen when traveling.  If everything goes as-planned, it just doesn't seem to build the same kind of lasting memories.  So, lest you think that our vacations were all miserable, let me say that most of our travels went pretty-much according to plan.  And some, were even more fun than we expected.  When I was about 19 or 20 (legal drinking age at that time), we traveled with friends to another ski resort.  To our great surprise, we learned of a unique 'restaurant' essentially below the lodge.  The owners basically allowed free-range of the facilities.  There were no menus, and no prices.  You helped-yourself to whatever you wanted, and left whatever donation you felt was appropriate.  The owner was leaving to go cross-country skiing when we arrived, and soon we were the only people in the room.  The younger family members went skiing, and 5 or 6 "adults" were left with gallon jugs of wine, cheese, crackers, and probably some other stuff I don't remember.  For hours, we talked, laughed, sipped wine, ate crackers, and generally enjoyed each others' company.  I remember I was completely surprised at being intoxicated when I arose from the chair.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Motorcycles and Mayhem Part 2

Around about my 18th birthday, I purchased a used Yamaha RD350.  It was a two-stroke, two-cylinder street bike, that was very quick and handled beautifully.  Like most two-strokes, it had a lot of torque in the upper rpm-range.  And, as I remember it, was powerful enough to lift the front wheel in 1st, 2nd, and occasionally 3rd gear.  Yamaha claimed something like 32 maximum horsepower.  And, as I remember it, it only weighed something like 300 lbs.  This bike had the reputation for being second only to the Kawasaki 900 in stretching drive-chains.  Before it was stolen, I logged over 30,000 miles on this bike.  For those who have never ridden something like this, that is a LOT of miles.

The first summer I owned the bike, I was car-pooling with a neighbor to our place of employment.  When weather was threatening, he would drive his car.  On nicer days, we'd take the motorcycle.  At that time, in that state, helmets were required by law.  Having previously tasted pavement, I didn't find that law too limiting.  Our route to work required utilizing a significant thoroughfare; two lanes each direction, with a speed limit of 40 or 45 mph.  We had to turn left across traffic.  Thankfully, there was a turning-lane, but one did not want to even think of slowing down until IN the turn lane (the commuters were very unforgiving about being slowed-down).  This bike had great brakes.  And, unless cars were already stopped in the turn-lane, getting from 40+ mph down to zero, in the space available, was no big deal...until the day I hit the wasp.  Normally, hitting a bug is nothing more than a minor distraction.  But, this wasp managed to find a gap between my face, the hard shell of the helmet, and the pieces of the soft foam liner.  Basically, I had just entered the turn-lane, and had a live (yet dazed) yellow-jacket IN MY EAR.  That helmet had no quick-release mechanism for removal.  No, it required two hands to withdraw the strap through two "D" rings.  So, I let-go of the handlebars, removed the strap from the D-rings, removed, the helmet, set the helmet in my lap, grabbed the wasp with my hand, firmly threw the wasp to the ground, re-grabbed the handlebars, and applied the brakes...all before reaching the stop-light.  As one might expect, my passenger was confused and concerned.

Something I omitted from the previous paragraph was the fact that we were working at Langley Air Force Base, as civilian grounds maintenance.  If I remember correctly, the speed limit on-base was 20 mph.  And, I remember EVERYONE paying close attention to speed limits, and other traffic rules.  I don't remember seeing anyone pulled-over, but it just seemed like natural common-sense to be on your best behavior while on a military base.  So, I was really surprised the morning that several base police-cars passed us (we gave them plenty of room).  And, they were still within sight when the pulled into a parking-lot on the left side of the road.  And, they were directly to my left when they pulled their weapons, and pointed them directly at those of us still in traffic.  Believe me when I say that an event such as that will immediately clean-out any morning cob-webs that may have still been lingering in your brain.  What I did not know, of course, was that an alarm had gone-off at the credit union on base.  And, if I had not been completely fixated on the muzzles of those firearms, I might even have remembered that the credit union was on the right-side of the road.  What I remember being most thankful-for was that traffic was still moving, and I was quickly out of the line-of-fire.  In all honesty, being inside an automobile is not really any safer than being on a motorcycle if bullets are flying.  But I felt very exposed.

The RD350 had amazing handling.  As an exercise in poor judgment, I would periodically try to double the speed limit on roads with a lot of curves.  I remember being followed by a Honda 350 on a road with back-to-back "S" curves, and a speed limit of 35 mph.  I was in excess of 75mph when I exited the second "S".  And I don't really know when the Honda exited that turn.  I kept looking over my shoulder for the next mile-or-so, and never saw him emerge from the trees.  The balance of the RD350 was also impressive.  One day, I was in another "S" type of turn.  And, although I may have been speeding a little, I don't think it was intentional.  Anyway, as I transitioning from turning left to turning right, I hit some kind of automobile fluid; probably oil, maybe antifreeze...but very slippery.  The bike tried to slide out from under me until I put-down my right foot forcefully.  My boot hit the same slippery fluid, and to my great relief and surprise, created a 'tricycle' effect, in that both tires, and my boot slid smoothly across the fluid until reaching dryer pavement.  With only a little screech-and-wobble, and very little lost momentum, we continued on our way.

While in college, I made VERY active use of this motorcycle...but not without perils.  After my Dad was transferred from Virginia to Austin, I would periodically ride home to visit.  I preferred using the farm-to-market roads for this trip for a couple of reasons, (1) the ride is a lot more interesting when compared to flat, straight highways and (2) traffic was quite light, and a light-weight motorcycle is pretty easily blown-around by large vehicles.  The drawback to driving farm-to-market roads is that they are used by farmers and ranchers...and things fall out of their trucks.  A fencing staple (alt. "fence staple") is a sharpened "U" shaped device driven into wooden posts to hold fence wire.  Not surprisingly, they can pierce a rubber tire.  In my case, the rear tire immediately went flat.  So, here I am traveling ~70mph with a flat rear tire which is causing the entire rear end of the motorcycle to "walk" from one side to the other, about a foot to each side of the center-line.  Thanks once again to divine intervention, I was able to stop the motorcycle without getting a close inspection of the ditch on either side of the road.  Within a few minutes, it became clear that this was not going to be a simple repair (a postmortem on the tube revealed a split over a foot-long...well beyond any tube patching technology).  And, to my great relief and surprise, a pickup-truck driver soon drove down that road and stopped to help.  He was also a student, at the same university, and was also returning to campus.  In short time, we had the motorcycle loaded in the pickup bed, and on our way back to school.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Motorcycles and Mayhem Part 1

I have loved motorcycles since I was about 13.  And, I bristle whenever I hear somebody ranting about how dangerous they are.  But, in fairness, many (probably most) of my life-threatening experiences have occurred on a bike.  Some were the direct result of my poor judgment, many were just freak events. 

When I was 15, I purchased a used Kawasaki G4TR "Trail Boss" motorcycle.  This bike was of the "enduro" variety, in that it is street-legal, but designed to be used off-road.  Of particular note was that this bike had a dual-range transmission, much like four-wheel-drive trucks.  With only a 100cc engine (actually 99cc, but marketed as a 100), this was the biggest bike I could legally ride on the road at the age of 15.  A popular (and legal at that time) off-road site near Benbrook Lake included a steep hill.  I would judge the hill to be at about a 40° angle, and about 100 feet 'long' (base to crown).  Most riders would get a running-start in first gear, approaching red-line and drive-hard to the top without shifting.  One day, I decided to try the low-end gears on that hill.  As I remember it, I hit third gear just before the bottom of the hill, and shifted to fourth about ½ way to the top.  I had enough speed at the top that the bike and I launched quite a ways into the air.  We landed in very loose black dirt, and immediately the bike was flat on its side.  Unknown to me, my buddy was close behind me.  So, as I'm standing there, trying to get the bike up-righted, I hear the whine of a 120cc dirt (only) bike being revved beyond its design limits.  I look-up in time to see the bottom of the bike as it tops the hill.  The first thing I noticed was that the bike had legs.  That is to say, the only part of the rider in-contact with the motorcycle was his hands.  "The Rack" could scarcely have stretched him to a greater extent as he desperately clung to the handlebar grips.  And, a critical observation at the time, was the fact that no part of him or the motorcycle was touching the ground.  Further, it seemed that within very brief moments I would be providing a landing cushion for motorcycle and rider.  To my great relief, I found that I misjudged his momentum, as he and the bike came abruptly to the ground, and slid to within an inch of my boot.  We quickly righted both bikes, and pushed them under a local tree before anyone else could crest that hill.

Some months later, we were riding a dirt road along a river.  There were three of us, and the road was deeply rutted from the tires of a truck which had driven the road when it was very wet.  On the ride back, my two 'friends' decided that a little bit of a race was required.  As we careened down the dirt road, I got pushed into one of the ruts, which, once entered, were very difficult to disengage.  The bike went-down, and when forward motion had ceased, I found my left boot pinned between the exhaust and the ground.  Well, it is surprisingly difficult to lift a motorcycle from a sitting position.  And, I found that nothing I did would allow me to extricate my foot.  So, I beeped the horn a few times...there was no response.  Some time later, my 'friends' noticed my absence, and one returned to look for me.  Now, whenever we cross paths, he reminds me of "the day he saved my life".

The Kawasaki probably served me better than I deserved, for what I demanded of it.  One day, I had been working on the bike, and I remember taking it for a test ride along railroad tracks near our house.  I had ridden this particular trail dozens, if not hundreds of times, and was well aware of several large piles of dirt which the path crossed.  In fact, I had used those piles for jumping ramps on many occasions.  On this particular day, I was paying more attention to how the bike sounded and felt, than where I was going.  I remember having my head near my right knee, listening for something, when I looked-up and saw the first pile.  I had been traveling a little too fast, and recognized my mistake immediately.  The bike completely left the ground, and via some mid-air manipulation, I was able to land the bike in a more-or-less straight line.  But, the second pile arose before I could fully recover.  Even so, I was able to land the bike better than I expected.  But, I was completely crooked when I left the third pile, and landed almost perpendicular to my direction of travel.  When I landed, I was immediately thrown from the bike, landing upon the forehead-portion of my helmet, and sliding for some distance with only the helmet touching the ground.  Meanwhile, the motorcycle had left the path in the direction opposite of the railroad tracks.  And, because of my landing, it was spinning horizontally.  Imagine a motorcycle center-line running through the front wheel, engine and rear wheel.  Further, imagine that center-line is an axis about which the motorcycle is spinning.  Well, while all of that was going-on, the bike encountered an old barbed-wire fence, and wrapped itself in several yards of 50+ year-old rusty barbed wire.  The wire cocoon was such that the motorcycle could not even be pushed.  About an hour, and many cuts, later the bike was freed of the wire.  And, although I'm sure I didn't deserve it, it started quite readily and saved me the additional embarrassment of walking home.

I had a particularly bad day the spring after my 16th birthday.  I had been working at a fairly up-scale restaurant as a busboy, dish-washer, kitchen-help, and all-around lowest-person-on-the-totem-pole.  The manager had resigned, and the owner had put the assistant manager in-charge.  The 'new' manager called me (at home) to come see him.  When I arrived, I was one of several people being notified that we were no longer needed.  Now, I won't claim I was the world's best busboy.  Or even the best in this restaurant.  But, I was very aware of who among the servers, cooks, etc, took their jobs seriously.  And, I could see a very strong negative correlation between those being released, and those who sat around the bar and chatted with the former assistant manager.  That is to say, the new manager was keeping his buddies.  I was miffed...maybe even peeved, and I rode home at too high a rate of speed.  At the end of this quite straight road, was a mandatory right-hand turn (enforced by a concrete curb), and ramp onto a major thoroughfare.  I slowed-down, and leaned into the turn.  BUT, somebody had spilled gravel on the roadway.  The tires hit the gravel, and the bike immediately laid-down on the right-side.  The tires hit the curb, and I was thrown across two lanes of traffic.  Forces of Inertia, Leverage, and immovable objects had instantaneously created an extremely effective catapult.  So, I found myself on the pavement, sans motorcycle, in the middle of the thoroughfare, facing what appeared to be a solid wall of automobiles doing everything in their power to stop.  God must have saved me that day, because I made it off the road before the cars reached me.

By-the-way, the restaurant closed about six-weeks later.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Stuff My Dad Did

As I remember my childhood, James Marvin Abbott was very much a do-it-yourself-er.  At least in part, this was due to us never having too much money.  But, I don't remember any money fights, or anything like that.  Just that we did stuff ourselves...which seemed pretty normal to me.

The Roof

When I was around 8 years-old, I tried to help Dad to lay a new shingle roof on our house.  As I recall, I was only able to carry about 2 or 3 shingles at-a-time.  So, in fairness, "help" is probably the wrong word for my contribution to the project.

On one of our trips to the roof, our ladder somehow fell-over, leaving us stranded atop the roof.  Dad was very athletic throughout his life.  So, he barely hesitated before jumping off the one-story dwelling, landing safely upon his feet.  My assumption was that he would stand the ladder back against the house, and I would climb-down.  I was more than a little surprised when he told me to jump.  I suppose it is the same distance, regardless of your height.  But, somehow, it just didn't seem fair for me to have to jump the same distance that he had just jumped.  But, he tried to calm me by assuring me that he would catch me.

This was the greatest height from which I had jumped to-date.  So, I really didn't know what to expect.  And, I sure didn't want him to miss catching me because I didn't jump right.  So, there he stood, with his arms outstretched...and I jumped.  Apparently, I jumped a little too well, as it was necessary for him to back-up to avoid being landed-upon.  I fell neatly between his arms as he sought safety.  My feet hit first....then, my knees hit my chin...then I was all over the ground.  I remember being very upset that Dad had promised he would catch me, then failed in his obligation.  I suppose that his laughter included a little embarrassment at failing to catch me.  But, at the time, it didn't seem right for him to blame me.

The Plow

Dad liked to plant a garden every spring.  Some years, he would rent a motor-driven tiller, most years he would use a shovel to turnover the soil (something I was expected to help-with every day after school until it was done).  One year, he borrowed a plow.  This was the first of these I'd ever seen.  And, it sure didn't look like anything I'd ever seen on the 'western' movies or TV shows.  As an adult, I've seen them at flea-markets, and as best I can tell, it is called a 'high-wheel cultivator'.  And, it apparently is intended to be pushed.  And, I can only assume that they are/were used on soil that had previously been plowed, but needed to be shaped. 

Unfortunately, Dad wanted to use this plow to extend our garden area into previously (as far as we know) unbroken soil...Pushing didn't work.  Soon, I...and a length of rope, were recruited to double the power being applied to the very stubborn soil.  A simple loop, consisting of a manila rope tied at each end to the plow, served as our harness or yoke.  As I remember it, I was the first to serve as the draft animal.  I don't know exactly how old I was, but probably less than ten.  So, I wore-out pretty quickly.  Then Dad did the pulling, but I didn't do a very good job of managing the I was too short.  The plow was not intended to be pulled, and the rope was tied above the wheel axle.  So, it tended to pull-over.  I think my best technique was to 'hang' from handles by my hands, and use my feet to 'steer'.  But, keeping the plow vertical was problematic.  We worked in shifts, alternating from puller to steer-er.  Upon completion, the plow was returned to its owner, and never again suggested.

The BBQ Grill
I don't remember us having a grill at our house until my 8th grade in school.  One of my classes was metal-shop.  And, before the year ended, I brought-home a welded steel cooking grill...just the part the food sits upon.  It was welded of mild steel, mostly strips about one-half inch wide.  We built a fire enclosure of dry-stacked (no mortar) bricks.  The entire unit sat in our back yard about 4-feet from the back of the garage.  And notably, about the same distance from a storage room door when closed.  When fully open, the door was within about 18inches of the BBQ.

At that time, "match light" type of charcoal was not available.  And, we didn't use commercially-made lighter-fluid because of the expense and the fact that we didn't grill that often.  Besides, gasoline was very effective, only about 30¢ a gallon, and always on-hand for the lawn mower.  In Dad's mind, it made far more sense to use gasoline.  Before I get into the details, remember: don't try this at home.

An average, typical day of grilling involved stacking charcoal, pouring gasoline on the stack, standing-back and throwing a lit wooden match at the grill.  The ensuing 'woosh' provided an audible verification of ignition.  However, if one was too generous with the gasoline, the dry-stacked bricks allowed the gas to seep out into the grass.  And, allowed that gas to ignite.  Very soon, there was no longer any grass at-risk, as it had burned-away.

Gasoline is an effective "accelerant" for charcoal about 99% of the time.  But, one day the gasoline burned-out without having any apparent effect on the charcoal.  Our gas was kept in a one-gallon steel can, which Dad was easily able to grasp, and manipulate, one-handed.  He decided the proper course of action was to add more fuel.  Unfortunately, there was at least one live ember in the stack, and fire raced up the flowing gasoline.  With amazingly quick reflexes, and using only his wrist, Dad tossed the potential bomb about 20 or 30 feet.  And, the unwanted fire was fairly easy to extinguish.

Wind can also be an enemy when using gasoline as a charcoal lighter.  One day, we were following our normal routine; take the gas-can from the storage room, stack the charcoal, pour the gasoline, stand back, then throw a lit match.  This particular day, the storage room door did not get closed completely.  And, it was windy.  In a freak bit of bad timing, the door blew open, just as the gasoline went 'whoosh'.  And, the flash of gasoline fire was hot enough and large enough to immediately set the door ablaze.  So, here stand my Dad, my brother and myself watching a blazing, intentional, fire alongside a blazing, unintentional, and potentially catastrophic fire.  Somehow, we got the door extinguished before we lost the house.  Ironically, we never moved the grill.

Scuba Diving

Dad became involved in Scuba-Diving in the early 1960's.  I know his first tank was a conversion.  That is, it was not made as a SCUBA tank, but was converted from another use.  As I remember it, it must have originally been an oxygen tank scavenged from an Oxy-Acetylene welding rig.  He had no 'frame' (or whatever you call the part to which the tank is mounted).  Instead, he had a variety of belts and buckles which reminded me of seat belts.  And, as I recall, it took him quite some time to get all of the parts in-place.

To my knowledge, Dad only had one opportunity to get paid for diving.  A golfer had missed a shot and lost his temper.  He threw his entire set of clubs into the Trinity River.  Apparently, they were an expensive set.  And either he, or his golfing buddy (I think it was the friend) felt it was worth a little money to recover them.  By North Texas standards, it was a fairly chilly day (probably in the 40s).  As a child, I remember being cold, and completely confused as to why Dad would willingly jump into (assumed-to-be) cold water.  Anyway, he found the complete set of "irons", but the "woods" and bag had apparently drifted downstream.