Paul Ruffin's Blog


by pauldruffin


If you recall, last week I told y’all about the photograph one of our Mars rovers snapped up there (or over there, wherever) while a couple of them were prowling around for soil and rock samples to bring back: I mean the shot of what appears to be an ark.

Professor Ernest Breakley, an astronomer, noted that an “on board alpha proton X-ray spectrometer” analyzed it and “determined conclusively that it is made of wood.” He did not go into detail about the particular kind of wood, but I just figure it was made out of Marpher Wood, the Martian equivalent of gopher wood (or bois d’arc, if you want to get technical). It doesn’t really matter, I suppose, the wonder being that an ark made out of any kind of wood should be on Mars.

Well, speculation (educated and otherwise) holds that the planet was ravaged by a tremendous flood (and do recall that there is evidence that once there was water on the surface of Mars) at some point, and Noah and his family built to ark to keep at least his family alive. Since the measurements of the Marzark, as I prefer to call it, are roughly the same that those of the one in the Good Book, we must theorize that he also rounded up a whole lot more than family or took onboard some Marzanimals.

After the waters receded and Noah judged the place unsuited to his future plans, it is surmised (again, by some degreed authorities) that he designed and built a space ship of some sort that could transport him and at least part of his brood to Earth. I cannot imagine that he had to turn away anyone attempting to board. I mean, it’s one thing to clamber on an ark, with water lapping at your heels, quite another to slip into a little ol’ spaceship, whatever it was made of and looked like. I know from experience that bois d’arc is tough, but I don’t think that it could stand up to the trip. Our authorities have carefully skirted the issue of propulsion and availability of oxygen and all. But these were probably minor issues for ol’ Noah, wise as he was.

However it happened, Noah brought at least part of his family to Earth, and they started over.

Skipping on a bit, we all know that eventually Noah and the thunder squared off again, and he knuckled and built another ark to save his family and a pair of every kind of animal on earth. (It is doubted that he had room on the spaceship to bring in Marzanimals with him, so these would have been regular animals, the kind you might see roaming around or in zoos.

There seems to be little contention over the size of—and materials used to construct—the new ark. It was gopher wood all the way.

In my new book of stories, “The Day the Waters Rose” and Stories of the Gulf Coast (due out from the University of South Carolina Press late this year), I allow the Noah story to be told through the eyes of one of the rednecks who conspire to take over the ark. Yes, there were rednecks there and then. There have always been (and always will be) rednecks. Count on it.

At one point, my narrator is crouched in the bushes watching and listening to Noah just after he’s busted his thumb with a hammer.

“Then he [Noah] turned his face up to the sky and yelled out, ‘Why have I got to use gopher wood, Lord? Why the hell–how come I can’t use something softer, something that you can drive a damn–something you can drive a nail thoo without busting your hammer and thumb and without using a thousand strokes to finish the job? It’s enough to make the most devout man cuss!’

“Didn’t nobody laugh. I guess when a 600-year-old man that has the inside scoop from God about a coming disaster loses his cool, you just take it in stride. But he wasn’t finished.

“‘And why in the hell–why have we got to measure all this stuff out in cubits, which ain’t the way our rulers are calibrated? That stuff went out over 200 years ago. Cubit, my butt. They teachin’ different stuff in the schools these days, but nawwwwww–You gotta make me use cubits on this d-d-d . . . on this boat.

“‘Why me, Lord, what have I ever done? I ain’t responsible for the heatherns on this Earth, and I don’t think it’s fair for You to lay all this on me. I got eighteen boys working for me, and all of’m together ain’t got sense enough to pour pee out of a wine jug, with the directions wrote on the bottom, or build a sheep shed or donkey cart, much less build a boat big enough for all them animals.

“‘And how, by the way, am I gon’ be able to round all of’m up, them animals? Some live thousands of miles from here, and I am 600 years old and can’t walk that far, much less herd a bunch of animals–even a turtle can outrun me. Ain’t got enough family to do it neither.

“‘And how am I gon’ pair’m up? Donkeys and goats and camels I got no trouble with, but how about snakes and armadillos and ants and stuff like that? How I’mon sex’m, Lord? If there ain’t no equipment down there, how I’mon know? Muskeeters? Lizards? Turtles? Ants? I just don’t know enough about their equipment to know how to pair’m up. I might screw up and ruin their chances down the line, Lord. It’s a heavy burden.

“‘And, Lord, ain’t nobody outside the family takin’ me serious.’”

But then ol’ Noah turned around and went back to work on the ark. If you want to know the rest of this story, you’ll have to read the version in my book.

By the way, the next time you are annoyed by ants or mosquitoes or roaches or armadillos or lovebugs, just remember that there’s only one person to blame, and it’s not God. It’s Noah. A few stomps of his foot or smacks of his hands . . . . He should have drawn the line somewhere, but he didn’t. He should have, but he didn’t.


by pauldruffin


It is sometimes hard to recall that all of us wouldn’t be here today if some enterprising character from the Old Testament had not been willing to listen to his aching bones and build a huge boat to stash our predecessors on and deliver them from a world of serious water. There are those who question the verity of the story of the Great Flood, but I grew up in a flood plain in Mississippi, so the story was always a little easier for me to accept.

When your father lugs you away from the house on his shoulders, the water swirling about his waist and your feet, and that water is the color of something that hogs might wallow in, it is not an image or sensation easy to forget. Every way you look is water, water, water, and all you want is for your feet to touch dry dirt again.

My folks, luckily, did not turn to the Bible for direction, preferring instead merely to camp on higher ground until the waters receded, as in a couple of days they did, leaving the house a truly muddy mess that Mother must have spent months restoring to the useful and the good. I am fairly certain that my father had neither the materials nor resolve to build an ark, however convinced he might have been that the time might be right.

It appears that every time a planet gets a healthy flood going, somebody gets called on to build an ark and save two of every kind of creature that can generate more of its kind if he doesn’t mess up and pair wrong—not necessarily a damper on the entertainment those long boring months while the boat’s adrift but hell on chances for descendants.

It seems that in all this press about Rover on Mars many year back, somebody decided to hide away the one photograph that would have generated more excitement than a colony of nekkid little green people running around up there: a shot of an ark cocked up at an angle the way it would have come to rest when the waters receded, as apparently they did, given the dry nature of what ol’ Rover found while sniffing away for bones.

Well, I have seen it—at least a photograph of it taken by the camera mounted on Pathfinder. It looks like some artist might have done a little touching up, but the boat’s there, sure as sin in Congress.

According to Professor Ernest Breakley, described by my source as a leading astronomer (leading in what, we are not told), when Pathfinder rotated its camera to follow Rover, it picked up the ark in the background.

“When I first saw that picture, I thought it must somehow be a rock that happened to be shaped very much like a ship,” he is quoted as saying. The “on board alpha proton X-ray spectrometer” analyzed it, though, and “determined conclusively that it is made of wood.” There’s your scientific proof, but anyone looking at the picture should know this anyway—the individual planking is distinguishable, and the gabled roof of the animal husbandry building is quite clear. It does appear to have Tennessee v-groove tin on top, but I suspect that this is an illusion.

Further, Professor Breakley says, “the dimensions of the ark appear to be precisely those described in the Old Testament: 450 feet (’300 cubits’) long, 75 feet (’50 cubits’) wide and 45 feet (’30 cubits’) high.” Among other things, this should quiet those out there who insist that metrics should be our standard of measurement for the solar system. We’ve got precedent here.

Professor Breakley goes on to theorize that Noah, “traditionally believed to be the remote ancestor of all humans now living,” was perhaps a Martian. “And after the Great Flood destroyed most of his world, then he or his descendants developed a means of escaping their increasingly desolate planet: A spaceship.” I’d stick with Noah myself. We know what a mess his descendants are capable of.

One thing’s sure: Ol’ Noah must have been a troubled man most of his life. Do you reckon thunder made him jump?

“Why me, Lord, what have I ever done?” he must have asked himself many a time sawing planks out of bois d’arc (whose hard yellow wood will melt down a new Poulan chain in half an hour), knowing he had to put nails through that stuff, and cursing his luck that he had to go by cubits. Where were the metric people when he needed them?

And no sooner did he get that first ark back on solid ground than he had to turn around and build a spaceship that would bring his folks here. It’s quite amazing to imagine such resources in that age, but you can never underestimate a man with hammer and saw and a vision, divinely appointed or not.

[Next week we get back to Noah and his long, long trip.]

Ah, Those Dear Deer Ears

by pauldruffin


[Barbara Tyson, recently deceased, was for many years a colleague of mine in the English Department at SHSU and for several of those years an office mate. During our time together, she shared with me many funny, strange, and sometimes outrageous stories, mostly true, that later went on to be incorporated into my poetry and prose. She always insisted that she intended to do nothing with them, that I might as well put them to use. And that I did. The following piece, which I ran only a few years ago, was one of the last stories she told me. Here it is in her own words.]

After my father died, I vowed to protect his beloved objects, such as the Chinese chair, his parents’ love letters, and the last of his mounted deer-head trophies. My niece had made off with the best deer head, but I kept the one that had a lowered rack, with beautiful eyes “peering out of the brush.”

However, one day I noticed that the ears were not only fraying–they were splitting and falling apart. So I took the head to a Houston taxidermist to see about a repair. I was hoping for new ears, or rather, new hide on old ear forms, but this idea, like new wine in old bottles, was folly. My wrangle with the shop guy was one dismal scene:

“You mean you’ll have to replace ALL the hide? Over the entire head?”

“Yes ma’am, but we don’t use the old head form either. We start with a new poly resin form, and use all fresh hide.”

“Are you telling me that all that’s left of the original trophy head is the antlers and the eyes? And that’s to cost me two hundred dollars?!”

“Yes ma’am, but we don’t use the old eyes either. We have a form just like this one of yours. But it cost that much cause it’s all new but the rack.”

So I brought my dear old scruffy relic back to Huntsville and thought about things. My next plan was far fetched, but it seemed fun and doable, especially to Miss Can Fix Anything. I would get my own deer ears (fresh ones), prepare the hide myself, and somehow patch the remodeled ears back on that dusty head. I knew that many of my East Texas students were country boys who would go deer hunting in the fall, and I would simply ask them to bring me some fresh ears.

Winter came. I gathered my facts and chemicals for preserving hide, and one day a student came to my office saying he would have to miss a major test he was going deer hunting. Perfect! I told him fine, I would give him a late test if he would bring me a pair of ears.

This seemed like a fine trade to him, and sure-nuff, a week later in he came with a small freezer box, the fresh mole gray ears safely iced in baggies. This project was looking ready for lift off! But as the poet might say, dawn hadn’t yet come down to day.

I left campus at noon to go have lunch, and one hour later I found myself sick and miserable with the flu. I drove home, called the office, and took to bed, where I toiled and moiled and sought oblivion long past nightfall. Then, around midnight, I surged up from some Hieronymous Bosch sleepworld and remembered the box of deer ears! Ice now melted. Janitor checking tomorrow. Strange odors! My severed ears now looking like . . . body parts! Dismemberment! Anyone looking in that box of tepid water and soggy plastic would see hair and flesh and . . . ANIMAL EARS! They would KNOW that I was into some CULT practices, for sure!

I came out of that bed like one who’d been buried alive, threw on my raincoat, drove to my office, and grabbed that ice chest, and raced home to put those suckers in my garage refrigerator. Then I sank back into the flu.

If a night watchman had stopped me, I realized later, the spectacle of my madwoman night caper would have doomed me forever. Rumpled, fevered, clad in nightgown and raincoat, clutching my box of ears, I was an Edward Gorey [American writer and illustrator of the bizarre] wretch escaped from God knows where. Headline in the Huntsville Item: “Sam Houston Female Professor Suspected Member of Mystery Cult!” But then, my students might have said, “What’d you expect? She was always teaching stuff like ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and ‘Winesburg, Ohio’ with those creepy women crawling around the floor.”

I finally threw the deer ears in the garbage. The box of love letters are in my bank safety box. And my sister and I just sold the Chinese chair to an antique dealer for four thousand dollars. I think Daddy would have loved it!


by pauldruffin


If you recall, last week I told you about the team of Armadillo Annie (Barbara Tyson) and Scout, a pair of retired English professors who had finally suffered enough at the snouts and claws of armadillos that they decided to take arms against the sea of dillers and by opposing end them. Scout was to maintain strict vigil when Annie was not poised in her lawn chair, .410 at the ready, and call at any hour when there was an intrusion into the No-Root Zone, whereupon Annie would rise from book or bed, snatch up her little shotgun, and take said intruder out of the gene pool forever.

Recently the two of them were joined by a third diller hater and became a triumvirate of vigilantes dedicated to maintaining law and order on the property covered by the artillery umbrella of AA, though the third member came on board uninvited.

Champ his name is, according to Scout, who theorizes that he is “part German shepherd, maybe some husky, maybe some alaunt (for one ear is always up, the other down).” Not a lap dog, she’s saying. Whatever, he is a big dog who likes to bark so much that he sports a bark collar, and Scout was keeping him for her daughter when the event about to be described took place.

Now, the agreement between Scout and Armadillo Annie was that no matter the hour, if Scout spotted a diller, she was to rouse Annie and call out the proper coordinates, and Annie was to bring her artillery to bear on the target.

“I told her to sound the alarm any time she saw one of the little devils in my grass. I had the gun and shells propped by the patio door, ready for any sign or call,” Annie told me.

It was a simple and effective plan, and it worked to perfection for some time.

On this particular morning Annie was awakened at 7, “after a restless night,” with the word that a diller was at work behind a pile of pine straw in her back yard.

“So I staggered outside in my nightgown, loading a shell and trying to get my eyes to work. Sure ’nuff, there he was, digging holes, oblivious to the world. One blast was an easy hit, but he didn’t die on the spot. He was wiggling around like an earthworm on a fishhook.” Meanwhile Scout was standing at her kitchen door watching, having done her part of the job in exemplary fashion.

“We both were waiting for the creature to die,” Annie says, “when suddenly, the dog came bounding out from her house, the sound of the gunshot having stirred all his hunting instincts to the max. He dashed down to the bloody thrashing creature, grabbed it, and proudly took it to Scout. She was trying to shoo him off, so he just sidestepped her, and darted INTO HER HOUSE with his prize, headed for her carpeted den, laid it on the floor, and with one crunch broke its neck. Then he looked up with supreme pride and giddy joy. Scout was almost autistic, but she called me inside with a little ‘help, please!’ I told her to fetch a towel, and I retrieved the corpse in a wad, surprised that there was not much blood at all on her carpet.”

Scout adds a few more details to the episode: “Anyhow, the morning I got Annie out of bed to shoot the armadillo, Champ was in back (l00 feet down the hall) eating his breakfast. I was at the open kitchen door pointing at the critter. She hit it, but it was still bouncing around, when a whoosh of wind flew past me, missed most of the stairs down, jumped the ravine, and had the thing in his mouth before I knew what happened. I tried to control the dog but he whizzed up the stairs into the kitchen (door was still open) and I heard a crunch (now a dead armadillo) and blood was splattered all over. I tried to get the thing loose from Champ. No way.”

So she yelled for help. “At this point the dog moved his catch to the den rug, bleeding-side up, thank God. Annie told me to go get an old towel. So I went another 100 feet down the hall. When I got back, she had Champ locked into my bedroom, sans catch, had closed the door, then wrapped the critter in the towel and left. I had to clean up all the blood.”

Annie: “I bagged it for the garbage can, and was trying to collect my wits and savor the hilarity, when Scout called to say that she too was laughing and laughing. We both agreed that if it hadn’t been for the dog’s neck-break crunch, that pitiful dying thing would have flung blood all over her den! [This is a charitable attitude, since if it hadn’t been for the dog, the armadillo wouldn’t have been in the house to begin with.] She assured me that the dog would have been barking for days over this very armadillo, if she hadn’t had him in that bark collar. If he weren’t so large and a barker, I would be asking to adopt him!”

So it appears that Champ has earned a spot on the legendary diller killer team out there at Autumn Lake and might very well appear in the history books alongside the other two. Let us hope so.

For those of you who might find fault with these gentle ladies and the less-than-gentle dog for their role as armadillo nemeses, let me point out that the armadillo is not a legitimate animal anyway. It is a mere fluke of nature, both it and the possum, neither of which Noah would have allowed aboard the ark. The Bible mentions nothing about either one of them being allowed up the plank or begetting, once they were onboard.

It is true that both the possum and armadillo came off the ark, but they were the result of begetting by a couple of genuinely desperate and, thankfully, unnamed creatures during forty-seven weeks of boredom at sea (just guessing at the length of the voyage).


by pauldruffin


(One day years ago, Barbara Tyson dropped by the office with a painting she had done, her artistic interpretation of Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” [very nice painting indeed], and she mentioned that she was still having armadillo trouble. This piece and the one for next week are about her early encounters with them. I ran this piece six years ago, but Barbara’s death compels me to run it again. This time I name her, which I’m certain she would approve of.)

I have from time to time been a hired gun, riding shotgun into some rough sections of Houston, though packing only a pistol, since they’re easier to hide and since I have a permit to tote one concealed. But when, a few years back, a long-time friend of mine asked me whether she could hire me to sit in a lawn chair in the yard of her lakeside home and shoot armadillos for her, I declined. Not that I like armadillos any more than she does but because I just didn’t think that would look right: you know, an English professor blowing away armadillos with a shotgun (which you have to use, inasmuch as a pistol or rifle round might just decide to skip across the lake and take out a guy standing on his deck).

But I told her she could borrow my .410 single-shot and I’d show her how to use it. She had a .410 that had belonged to her father, though, and she already knew how to load it, so it was simply a matter of her learning how to aim it.

“Look down the top of the barrel,” I told her, “and hold the bead at the end anywhere you see armadillo, providing he’s not right at your feet or beside your cat, and send a string of #6 shot out there and let’m do their job. At the very least you will scare him into Montgomery County.”

Then I said, “Are you sure you can pull the trigger on a critter like that, something that’s just doing what nature tells it to do?”

“He can do it in someone else’s yard. I am fed up with them. And with deer eating everything I try to grow. I saw where a deer was killed a truck or car the other morning, and I found myself saying, ‘Yes! One more down!’ So you bet I can do it. Put that bead on one of his beady little eyes and put his lights out. You bet I can.” (The conversation went pretty much like this, though I might be a word or two off.)

And so it was that another Western legend was born: Armadillo Annie of Autumn Lake (name of woman and lake changed to protect the guilty). In no time at all she had a line of notches in her stock. She’d just establish herself in a lawn chair late in the day, with the .410 laid across her lap, eyeball the lawn carefully, her eyes adjusting naturally as dusk settled down, let a scaly rooter get within a few dozen feet, slowly raise the shotgun, then blow him to Kingdom Come, that place you’re always hearing about things and people, good and bad, being blown to. She’d just leave him lying there while things quieted again and wait for another, maintaining vigil until it got too dark to be certain what she was aiming at was an armadillo. After the evening’s hunt was over, she would pick her kill up by the tail, drop it in a bag, and throw it in the garbage.

It came to pass that Armadillo Annie enlisted a neighbor to help her spot armadillos, lest one should enter the no-root zone, with the clear understanding that HER property as well would be covered by AA’s artillery, since Scout (let us call her) despises the creatures too and loathes the damage that they do to lawn and plants.

So, any hour of the day or night, when Scout happened to spot an armadillo waddling into either yard, she’d call and Armadillo Annie would snatch up the little .410 and go nail that sucker before he did much more than decide where he wanted to start digging. Why, I hear tell that there have been some nights when Scout has actually held a flashlight on the target for AA. Hell of a team there, heller on the armadillos.

Now a problem arose after a while. If Annie take’n out a armerdiller (as Daddy would have put it) after the garbage truck ran on Thursday, then the carcass might lie and fester for nearly four days, making it most unpleasant for those very necessary gentlemen who rid us of our leavings, the only thing worse being maybe shrimp or crab remains. What to do?

Well, Armadillo Annie and Scout are smart ladies, so they hatched a plan: Anything killed between the time the garbage truck ran on Thursday and Saturday night, they would simply bag and put in the freezer of whichever one owned the property the trespasser was shot on. Then, Monday morning, before the truck came, she would dump the bag, ka-plunk, and the man snatching up the garbage would have no idea he had in his possession a four-day-dead armadillo, hard as concrete.

When Armadillo Annie told me this business about freezing the armadillos, I pointed out how strange it might be if something happened to her and while family and friends were tidying up the place they just happened to find armadillos in her freezer. That would be as strange as a bag of deer ears.

I told her, “Imagine one of the kinfolks saying, ‘My Lord, you remember that secret ingredient in her chili that she never would disclose? Now we knows.’ It’s not going to be good for your image.”

“I’m more worried about annoying the men who haul off my garbage. We are going to go on freezing them.”

So there you have it. Two perfectly intelligent, kind-hearted ladies have teamed up to do battle with one of life’s great evils. Now we must wait to see what history makes of them, Armadillo Annie and Scout.


by pauldruffin


Well, Barbie, it appears that at long last the scythe of the Glum Harvester (as opposed to the Grim Reaper, a cliché that you would never forgive me for using) has taken you down, as it has done a number of friends and acquaintances over the past few years. Looks like the Great Speckled Bird of Mortality is coming home to roost.

I’m sorry that I dodged your funeral. Except for my mother’s, the last funeral I attended was that of the irrepressible and irreplaceable Don Stalling, our friend and former colleague whose absence shook me to the core. After that I swore off funerals for good. (Yeah, mommas are an exception, but she was cremated, so I dug the hole myself with posthole diggers and eased her down beside Daddy, the two family plots having been paid for for years. The graveside services were simple. And quiet.)

I am so glad that you managed to visit me and Amber at our home last year. At the time I was less able to travel than you were, so you volunteered to drive down. It was a grand visit. I still have some of your photos and recipes from the visit, but I have no notion where to send them, so I’ll hold onto them until someone comes calling.

In my study I have the last painting that you gave me, an interpretation of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” which I intend to run on the cover of a book we’re currently trying to get to the printer: a history of the SHSU English Department. That painting is a splendidly done piece.

I’d like to thank you for all the ideas for stories, essays, and poems that you shared with me over the years, assuring me every time that you intended to do nothing with the notions, that I might as well run with them. I did, each and every one of them, and a number of my poems, essays, and stories are filled with the spirit of Barbara Tyson as Prime Mover. I just wish that you had collected all your tales and memories and filed them for me to publish. Lawerd have mercy, what a collection that would be.

There’s no way of knowing where you are now, what route you might have taken, but I can believe nothing other than that the path you took was a bright one, leading up.

What I’m envisioning is that you are sitting around somewhere out there with Stalling and A.J. Koinm and Jack Kerr and the very punny Larry Black (who once said that he had come up with a football term appropriate for me: Unnecessary Ruffin), among others, including ol’ J.J. Dent, who must be a real thorn in God’s side, insisting on making wine out of anything that can be fermented and rounding up and barbecuing all those manna-fattened critters running about.

Y’all are probably creating such a ruckus that the Lord must be shaking His head and saying, “Now I know why I get so many prayers from English department Chairs.”

There’s not much more to say, just that you will be terribly missed and that your impact on the lives of those who knew and loved you surpasses anything you might ever have imagined.

Spread those wings wider, girl. They’ll get you where you want to go.

Love and all.



by pauldruffin


As I mentioned in last week’s column, the only seafood that I was ever exposed to at home was salmon patties, which Mother would on occasion prepare. Shrimp, oysters, fish, crab? Nope, not a trace until I left Sand Road and discovered those delectable creatures elsewhere.

In fact, what Mother fixed was not patties at all but salmon croquettes, which differ from patties only in shape. She would mix things up and form egg-shaped balls, which she then fried in a cast-iron skillet. I have no idea what she put in them, but they were really good, and sometimes I begged for them.

I have in recent years developed my own recipe for salmon patties, and I plan to share it with you, without charge. Ain’t that nice?

OK, land y’self two 14.75 oz. cans of Pillar Rock Red Salmon, which you can buy by the case online, if you prefer, or maybe purchase at a local supermarket. I buy by the case, being the hoarder that I am.

This salmon is all-natural wild Alaskan red salmon, which means that it was not raised in some dank tank with artificial supplements and all that stuff that’s supposed to jack the fish up to the level of wild salmon in terms of nutrition. I mean, if you believe what’s printed on the can . . . . But for the fact that I know it is shipped to me from, I have no notion where the fish comes from.

The salmon is in tapered cans, meaning that they stack well in the pantry and the contents will come out without the application of heavy earth-moving equipment. Pop the lid, and the salmon slides right out.

It comes complete with skin and bones, as God intended, so the only thing you really need to fret about is forking out the spine, whose little nuggets are a bit chalky when you bite down on one. The skin and ribs are fine as they are.

Now, using a big fork, flake up these two cans of salmon and stir the contents until you have a fairly reasonable consistency. You don’t want to pulverize and liquefy: just break down the chunks.

Let’s say that you have your salmon in a nice, big stainless-steel bowl. (If you don’t, you’ve already screwed up.) Lightly whip a couple of eggs and stir them in, followed by half a cup of mayonnaise. Now sprinkle in some dehydrated chives and parsley flakes, a touch of garlic powder, a teaspoon of black pepper, and a smidgen of onion powder, and stir all that in.

Finally, dump in two cups of Panko bread crumbs, regular if you want the patties mild, Italian if you want them spicy, and stir them in.

Now you’re on the way.

After you’ve stirred all these ingredients to the point that they appear to belong together, cover the bowl with a piece of plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for a couple of hours. This chilling period will make the patties easier form.

Now you’re ready to cook.

I prefer cooking my salmon patties in a Fry Daddy: I love the way that it cooks them evenly on both sides and around the edges. Use a pan with a little oil, and the patties will break up on you, sure as sin in the inner city.

I take a plastic tray lined with non-stick aluminum foil and dump the bowl of mixed ingredients and spread everything out to form a three-quarter-inch-thick loaf. I mean, it’s a raft of good stuff.

Pour a cup or so of Panko bread crumbs in a shallow square plastic bowl and spread them evenly into a bed for the patties. You may add Old Bay Seasoning or salt or whatever, if you wish, but it’s not necessary.

OK, take a large margarita glass and coat the opening with peanut oil or whatever you have in the Fry Daddy. Be certain to coat it at least an inch deep, inside and outside. Then wedge the glass down into the loaf on the tray and rotate it a couple of times and lift up a nice round salmon patty. Then ease it out into the bread crumbs in the bowl, press it down lightly, and sprinkle bread crumbs on the top and press it onto the edges of the patty.

Using a metal slotted spatula, scoop the patty up delicately and ease it down into the hot oil of the Fry Daddy. (If you haven’t already figured out that you need to have the oil hot and ready, you don’t need to be in a kitchen at all.) Gently slide the patty off into the oil and stand back and watch the magic happen.

In a couple of minutes your salmon patty will take on a nice golden-brown color, at which time you will scoop it up and lay it on a paper plate lined with a paper towel to soak up the extra grease. (Again, you ought to have enough kitchen sense to know to have this paper plate ready for the patties.)

You’ll get six or seven patties out of this recipe, and I can just about promise you that once you’ve had these, you’ll never want salmon patties any other way again.

Again, no charge. Just buy my books.


by pauldruffin


My folks did not believe in seafood, except in the Bible, where Jesus rounded up enough fish to feed the multitudes, however many a multitude amounts to. Something over a dozen, I’d figure.

Daddy did not fish. I never saw him bait a line or clean a fish or eat one. I don’t know what his problem was. His folks were not fisherpeople either, none of them that I knew about anyway. There might have been a closet variety somewhere down the line that I didn’t know about, of course.

Now, my maternal grandparents both fished, and they were good at it. My grandfather on that side was into bream big-time, and he used for bait anything that he thought they might be going for on a given day. He’d dig worms just outside the kitchen door, where my grandmother threw the dishwater—this was before they had indoor plumbing. The ground was always damp and had food particles and coffee grounds lying around all over the place, so a single turn of a shovel might yield enough red wigglers to half fill a coffee can.

There were always crickets to be had, hiding under clumps of leaves or straw or under old boards, and in time my grandfather built his own cricket breeding boxes out of screen wire. I could run my hand in there and snatch four or five at a time and transfer them to our portable cricket boxes, which we lugged to the creek or river. Bream apparently thought that crickets were a gift from heaven.

And roaches. Oh, my Lawerd, those big, fat, milky-gutted roaches would fetch any bream within swimming distance. They were too nasty to fool with raising, so we set roach traps at a local feed store. They were little screen-wire structures about the size of half a large cantaloupe with a funneled opening in the top. Put a little sweet-feed in the trap, and by morning you’d have a dozen or more well-fattened bream targets.

He also kept some catalpa trees about their house. Fine bait there too. One week there would be fully-leaved-out catalpa trees, and the next, the leaves would be gone, with worms dangling and crawling all over the place.

Mealy worms? You bet. He raised them, since they were hard to come by otherwise.

Now, the bait that we could absolutely and resolutely count on to load the stringer with bream was wasp grubs, preferably the ones in red-wasp nests because they were big and plump and could be threaded on a hook without tearing up too much. Bream swooned over them.

My maternal grandmother, though, was a bass fisherwoman. She called them trout, but they were creek- and lake- and river-variety big-mouth bass. We’d walk whenever we went fishing, since my grandfather didn’t have a car or truck, so we’d drop by a service station with a minnow tank, and she’d buy two or three dozen silversides, which would attract catfish as well.

We probably looked like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting as we headed off down the highway toward the river with our poles over our shoulders and bait boxes and a minnow bucket dangling. We didn’t care what we looked like, because we knew that when we came back up that highway, we’d also be lugging a long stringer of fish. That’s the way it went when you went fishing with Mr. Shade and Miz Mattie.

Now, my mother wouldn’t have cooked a fish unless Jesus just happened to swing low in His sweet chariot and asked her to, and even then she’d gripe about it, but my grandmother would flat fry up whatever we brought home.

My grandfather and I would scale or skin and gut and remove the heads and tails and fins from the fish and take them into the kitchen, where she would either fillet them, if they were large enough, and cook them whole if they were not. The bass and catfish usually got filleted, and the bream bodies went into the hot grease whole. She would roll them in seasoned cornmeal and fry the fish, all the while knowing that the entire neighborhood would be salivating. If you have never eaten properly fried bream, you just have no idea what you have missed. I mean, bass and catfish are fine, but bream falls into a divine category of its own. You just gotta watch the bones.

Soooooo, when I had fish to eat, I did not get them at home. If I brought fish in from a trotline or set-hooks, I’d end up burying them in the garden, and I wasn’t trying to duplicate the Indians’ technique of fertilizing the corn. Nope. Momma just didn’t fix fish.

The only thing remotely resembling fish that ended up on our table was salmon patties, which for some weird reason I’ll never understand she would occasionally fry up, probably because Daddy would eat them.

Uh, yeah, salmon patties . . . . That’s where this all started . . . . Sorry about that.

[Next week I’ll tell you how to make some really nice salmon patties.]


by pauldruffin


The western sky having fallen to full dark, it’s well into the night now and I am walking along a field road at the Winship ranch in Segovia, near Junction, going fishing with my son, age ten, who’s facing a homework-free weekend. He is taking the absence of homework well, I think. He has not complained about it a single time.

Tomorrow we’ll be scouting for leaves, though, to complete his science project. While I am off in San Antonio at a conference, Uncle Bob, as he calls Winship, will roam the hills with him in search of leaves we cannot find in East Texas. It is all the schoolwork he is willing to bear on a trip to the ranch.

But tonight we are fishing. And what we are fishing for cannot be found in the crystal clear river that cuts across the corner of Bob’s place. Or maybe they can.

See, we are fishing for satellites. Out here there is little competition from the glow of civilization, so stars stand out so bright and sharp that they almost hurt the eyes. The glare of Segovia Truck Stop, maybe five miles off, is only a minor nuisance.

We assume our spot high in the rocks at the foot of Hill Three, the northernmost hill that stretches back from the river valley like a stubby finger. Germann, Bob and Shirley’s dachshund, is with us, and he is standing guard against all evil, two-footed or four or none or more. He checks in with us every few minutes to let us know that all is safe on the northern front. We are armed with only my Leatherman tool, which puts us at poor disadvantage should Kiowas or Comanches spill down out of the hills. It has all the appearance of a peaceful night.

To fish for satellites, you need only a set of eyes, which you cast here and there in the broad expanse of Texas sky, drag slowly across, reel in, and cast again, and you do this until against that great speckled dome you see something moving, a simple point of light that zigzags a little, like it’s weaving its way among the stars. You must be certain it has no green light or red light attached to it, a sure sign it’s a plane. This is the way it is done.

You see how many you can spot in an hour, maybe make it a game with your companion. It’s a fine form of fishing, since you don’t have to lug cumbersome tackle or haul a heavy stringer back or get all messy cleaning what you’ve caught. Sometimes out here my father-in-law and I will lie back in the bed of my pickup and have a couple of beers while we’re fishing. (Of course we have to sit up to take sips of beer–anyone who tells you you can drink beer lying down is simply lying another way.) We’ve done the same thing on his boat off the Mississippi Coast, but the lights of Biloxi and Pascagoula interfere. Out here, though, out here . . . .

I want to tell the boy that when you spot a satellite you are seeing the sun reflected, like the moon–the sun is still shining over the curve of the earth and deep into space and the little things we send up there throw back its light; but I know from decades of dealing with literature that to over-analyze is to risk the loss of magic, so I keep my mouth shut and wait for him to ask if there’s something he wants to know about what we’re seeing. He says nothing.

Then he gets the munchies–fishing always make you hungry, you know–so I rummage around in my vest and find a box of Altoids and bag of cinnamon jellybeans one of my graduate students gave me; he votes jellybeans, so we split them. Germann politely turns down both. He’s probably thinking as he heads out to scout again, “Always candy and breath mints and stuff. Don’t nobody tote bones nomore. Don’t nobody think about the dog.”

As I lie back on a boulder and cast across the sky, I get to thinking about how down at the river we could study the stars on the surface of the big still pool behind a sandbar and maybe spot a satellite scooting through the water, but I don’t mention it because my son would want to go down there and try it, and it’s already late and the river is all the way at the other end of the property. So I keep quiet and fish on into the night, while he lies beside me doing the same. Lord knows what he’s thinking. But I hope it’s good, and I hope he’ll remember this night sometime far off in the future when maybe he takes his own son out under a wide Texas sky to fish among the stars.


by pauldruffin


[Charlie continues . . . .]

Sometimes I marvel at the way he can express himself, but I don’t say so.

“Reminds me of a poem by Cummings,” I say, “titled ‘[pity this busy monster manunkind].’ He makes reference to man playing ‘with the bigness of his littleness,’ deifying a razor blade into a mountain range, his instruments doing little to set his mind at ease. Or Frost’s ‘The Bear,’ in which he has the poor, confused human being pacing like an imprisoned bear, with the telescope at one end of his cage and the microscope at the other, and neither of the instruments gives him any peace.”

He laughs. “Well, poetry’s a bigger mystery to me than the universe.”

“By the way,” I say, “that Cummings poem has the first use of the terminal not that I know about: ‘Pity this busy monster manunkind, / not.'”

“I’d of thought Saturday Night Live come up with it. Shows what I know.”

He goes in and gets us another couple of beers. When he comes back out he settles beside me on the step and starts up again.

“We been rummaging around finding out things about ourselves for a long time now, and we still get born and we still die, and the seasons go around like they’ve always done. We look at a baby and we know where we come from, and we look at a cemetery and we know where we’re goin’. So we can sit around wondering, squinting through what they call an intellectual fog, maybe get out there and pursue the truth with some kind of instrument. Or we can say to the Devil with it all and go out and romp with the kids and dog or go in and play with the children’s momma, neither of which requires much understanding of universal laws, creates anxiety, or raises taxes.

“Building big ol’ rocket ships to go lookin’ around way out there. I don’t know what they figger they’re gon’ find.

“The most complex machine I want to lay my hands on is a pickup. Or a shotgun. One can haul you around, and one can keep you fed. What else you need?”

When I leave him, it is full dark. He’s lit another cigarette, whose little red speck I see glow and fade behind me until a clump of mesquites slides between us. Stars are firing up in the northern and eastern sky, the way they do, the way they always have, like pinholes in velvet, with no way for us to get to the light on the other side, and no really good reason to want to.

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