Roosters I Have Known

In case you wonder where I get blog ideas, this one came as our associate pastor wrapped up her scripture reading for last Sunday’s sermon with, “and then, the cock crew.” Memories of experiences with roosters came to mind although I did, indeed, follow her sermon about the significance of that particular cock.

My first memory came when I was four and our family of five rented half a large house from the owner. She had a nasty mean rooster. Having been warned about his temperament, I was duly cautious. However, on this particular morning the bird was nowhere in sight as I ran out the back door to play. The sneaky varmint had hid himself behind a bush and flew out at me before I could get out the back steps, pecking at my bare legs, and scaring the bejabbers out of me.

I thought about the nights we slept at Papaw’s house, his big windows open for the night breeze in the hot summer. Morning was welcomed by his big rooster atop a fence post calling out his “Cock-a-Doodle-Doo.”

As Al and I discussed this over Sunday lunch, he recalled a rooster in his mother’s flock that chose to light on his head. He couldn’t remember whether there was any pecking involved. I had to mentally shrink him to a small boy and put hair back on his head to get that picture in my mind. 

So, cocks or roosters, seem to have their place in life, but since my preschool days, I have chosen to give them a wide berth and admire them from a distance. That is, unless they turn up majestically as a favorite jigsaw puzzle.  


My Name Is Venus Black

I love finding a debut novel such as My Name is Venus Black by Heather Lloyd that keeps me mesmerized and turning pages. Readers learn the reason behind Venus’s name in the prologue and learn whodunit in the first chapter. If they should decide there was little else of interest, they would be very wrong.

Soon after her arrest, Venus’s developmentally challenged brother is kidnapped for no apparent reason. Much of the story centers on Leo who has obsessive compulsive traits as well. Just when one is engrossed in Leo’s path, the author switches back to Venus and vice versa. The reader feels compelled to turn the next page.

The title hints that Venus will come back to her name after she takes an alias to hide her identity when she is released from prison. Other secondary characters include Inez, the addicted mother; Danny, who would like to be more than a friend; and Tony and Tessa who wind up taking Leo in when he is abandoned by the original kidnapper. These well-drawn characters flesh out a story of blame, love, loss, and a need for forgiveness.

The problems of Leo’s disability and Venus’s abuse add color and authenticity to the novel. Yet they do not call attention to the issues themselves so much as they add dimension to the tale and linger as things you think about when you are finished. I found the ending satisfying but hated for the book to be finished. Maybe Heather will write another one.


Sorghum Boycott?

If Papaw happened to be looking down from heaven, I think he would have chuckled, too, but for a different reason than the CBS anchors. The CBS Morning Show repeated an amusing clip from Jimmy Kimmel’s show the night before. He got his laugh from his audience and the anchors by reporting China’s trade war threat to reduce their purchase of sorghum and then his guess as to what sorghum was. Gayle King, John Dickerson, and Alex Wagner knew no more than he did and could not google fast enough to get an answer.

This farmer’s granddaughter was mostly amused by their lack of knowledge of this common variety of molasses, at least if you come from North Mississippi. To be fair, a quick check of my computer thesaurus yielded no synonyms. The Merriam Webster on my desk gives three: (1) any of an economically important genus (Sorghum) of Old World tropical grasses similar to Indian corn in habit but with the spikelets in pairs as a hairy rachis; esp: any of various cultivars (as grain sorghum or sorgo) derived from a wild form,  (2) syrup from the juice of a sorgo that resembles cane syrup, (3) something cloyingly sentimental.

My grandfather grew the cane to make the pungent syrup – definition 2. If we were lucky enough to visit at harvest time, he’d give us stalks of the plant so we could chew the sweet juices from it. After a trip to the sorghum mill with his load of cane and a cooking down of the thin syrup until it was thick and strong, he had an abundance and was set for the coming year with enough to share with friends and family.

A pitcher of sorghum molasses graced his table at every meal. Since he was a dairy farmer, he poured it over his hot buttered biscuits in the morning and finished his other meals with a treat of the syrup over his hot buttered cornbread.

I have no idea why China wants our sorghum in the first place, but I’m guessing they are going with definition 1. Nor can I fathom why this is such a dire threat. Did Papaw miss out on something profitable? You can do your own checking about a “hairy rachis” since this foray into the dictionary leads me to conclude that we may all be ignorant, just about different things.

All the same, I’m chucking with Papaw at knowledgeable people who don’t know what sorghum is.



Tara Westover begins her memoir with a prologue description of the land on which she grew up as the wind whips her hair across her face and she looks upward to the mountain at the dark form of the Indian Princess. The princess, buried in the snow as if covered against the cold during the winter, reemerges each spring.

The mesmerizing memoir shows a young girl, one of seven siblings, first finding a way to endure with a father who stockpiles supplies and plans for shelter against the end times and a mother who is an unlicensed midwife collecting and selling homeopathic remedies. Little contact is allowed with the outside world except for their church where the parents’ ideas take Mormonism into an extreme form. From a young age, Tara works in dangerous conditions in her father’s scrap iron business with little regard for safety before a brother bullies her unmercifully with tacit parental approval as she begins to come of age.

Tara starts to find her way out of this situation through education, entering Brigham Young University without having been to public school and with little in the way of homeschooling that she has not taught herself. Yet she continues to be drawn back to family and the mountain with its Indian Princess. Her family leaves the reader head-shaking as they waffle between denial, rationalization, accusation, and occasional glimpses of something that could be taken for love if you look hard enough.  

Some of the fascination of this memoir comes from watching which of the siblings get out of this restricting situation to become survivors and which ones buy into it and continue its hurtful pattern. I read an advance copy of the book that came out on February 20. I’m predicting you should read a copy if you want to join the book conversation that will have book lovers talking.


Olympic Reflections

I’ve loved the unexpectedness in the Olympics for many years, relishing “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” I have a love of ski jumping for its sheer beauty and of snowboarding for its risk that is spectacularly odd since I can mount a good bit of fear on a step stool putting books on the high shelf in the bookcase.

I have a big problem with commentators who insist on pushing the microphone and the questions at people like Nathan Chen and Marai Nagasu who have just failed in some way to deliver on their overpromised hype from the media. In their final long programs, Nathan’s skating was sheer beauty along with the six quads that he nailed. Marai, who could have yelled “foul” and gone home after being left off the last Olympic team, instead kept working and performed a near perfect program with a first triple axel. I love when athletes don’t take failure as the final answer but get back up and nail their challenges.

I may need to take back some words I said about curling being less entertaining that watching the dandelions push themselves up in my front yard. Evidently many people were glued to the TV for curling matches that seemed to be ever-present. I did watch the gold medal match and enjoyed seeing all the USA team members actually singing at the Gold Medal Ceremony. When they got the mikes to do a bit of karaoke afterwards, it made me glad I had only seen and not heard them. The ladies’ hockey team also sang the anthem with great joy, but no mikes so I won’t critique their musicality.

I think Red Gerard was my favorite character to come out of this Olympics with his “Aw, shucks!” kind of attitude. It was hard to believe that someone who made it to the Olympics would almost oversleep and have to borrow a too-big jacket. At seventeen, being the youngest male snowboarder ever to win gold didn’t seem to impress him. Answering questions about winning the gold medal and about what’s ahead for him, he majored on having fun on the snowboard and just wanting to get a good run every time. In fact, he advised other ambitious athletes to enjoy their sport rather than obsessing over coaches and such. I’m guessing he’s not going to want or need a sports psychologist.

So now I wait two years for the thrills and agonies of the summer Olympics with sports I enjoy even more than winter ones. I can only hope that somebody will teach the commentators some empathy and courtesy in the meantime.