Friday, August 7, 2009

A True Buffalo Tale

Today I turned on the news to see increasing violence at town hall meetings and a growing insurgency to strike back. Will the violence continue to grow? Should I write about this? I think not today. Instead my mind drifts back to another time and place. I'm not sure of the date, but I think it was around 1956. It was time for summer vacation, and Daddy had something planned for all of us.

Sitting at the kitchen table, Daddy says, "How would you all like to take a road trip?" Momma looked up a bit surprised.

"Where to?" I ask.

"Perhaps to West Texas and maybe New Mexico. Maybe even detour around by Old Mexico. I've got two weeks coming next month."

Momma seemed okay with it, and my brother and I were excited already. "Will we see the Alamo?" I asked.

Daddy grinned. "Yep, we are going right through San Antonio and that's on the agenda." No child at that time missed the Disney show and a very popular series was "Davy Crockett" starring Fess Parker.

"Daddy?" I asked. "Um... can I eat buffalo meat there?" I guess watching them eating buffalo on television left a real taste in my mouth for it, though I hadn't a clue what it tasted like.

"Hmmm they may serve it. We'll have to see. If they got it, you can order it."

It seemed like no time at all before we were on the road. As was my habit, I watched every twist and turn in the road, asking what was growing in the farm fields along the way. I kept asking, "When do we get to San Antonio?"

Every time Daddy answered, "It's over the hill and around the curve."

One hill and one curve later, "Are we nearly there?"

"Over the hill and around the curve."

After about half a dozen of these I figured out I was being had. I settled back in the seat and slumped over to take a nap.

"Pull over!!" Okay, did I mention that as a child I was very much subject to car sickness? Over they pulled and I jumped out and lost the last meal from a roadside cafe along side the busy highway. Before I crawled back into our blue and white Oldsmobile dad had bought the year before, Momma wiped my face clean, had me blow my nose, and then it was okay to reenter. "How far now?" I asked.

"Over the hill and around the curve." You know he was beginning to get on my nine year old nerves by this time. I sat back and was cranky for awhile. "Over the hill and round the curve" I muttered quietly to myself in the most sarcastic voice I could muster.

It was nearing dark when we arrived in San Antonio. Daddy got us a motel room, and I learned we would see the Alamo the next day. Now it was time to find a restaurant, one preferably that served buffalo. Daddy pulled into a such an establishment, and in we went. I was just beside myself, I was so excited. After being seated, Daddy opened the menu and looked it over, frowning ever so slightly. "Do they have buffalo Daddy?" I asked.

Momma gave Daddy a look like, now what are you going to do? Those two talked more using nothing but their eyes than anyone I ever knew. He sat there a second looking over the menu, then said, "I'll be right back." He rose from his chair, then walked over to our waitress. Daddy was one of those people who talked with his hands as well as his voice, and I saw him in animated conversation with the woman, then coming back to the table, smiling.

"Can I? Can I order buffalo?"

"Well I was worried because I didn't see it on the menu. I talked to our waitress though and she has a side of buffalo meat in the fridge. They weren't going to offer it till tomorrow, but for you, she's making an exception."

I was ecstatic. This was a huge thrill for me, and I couldn't wait. Buffalo just had to taste really good. After all the pioneers lived off the stuff. The waitress came to our table. Daddy and Momma ordered, then it was my time. "I'll have some buffalo meat!"

"How do you want it cooked?"

Daddy spoke up, "Better make it medium. don't overcook i though." My brother was not so certain, so he got a hamburger.

Every few minutes, I asked, "When will it be ready?"

Then here she came with our meals, setting the large tray on the table next to us, she served up Momma and Daddy's food first. Then right there in my plate before me, I gazed at my first glimpse of buffalo meat. I had not expected it to be served that way. It was covered in gravy and sauteed onions. Eagerly I took my knife and cut off a big piece and stuffed it into my mouth.

"How's the buffalo?" Daddy asked. Momma just smiled.

What could I say? Waves of horror and revulsion swept over me, and how could I ever admit after all this that I didn't like buffalo meat? Why this was the very stuff that made our nation great. Yet here I am, struggling to chew it up and swallow it. I 'mumble, "It's okay." How am I ever going to finish this plate with my dignity intact.

It tasted exactly like liver! With each bite, I struggled more. Today I enjoy liver, but back then, it was very near the top of things I did not want in my mouth. Every swallow was followed by a powerful urge to toss it back up.

With maybe two bites left, Daddy asks me, "Want some more? I know how much you love buffalo!" He began to giggle and momma joined in.

In that moment, reality set in. There was no buffalo meat at this restaurant. I was eating liver. They had both fooled me! I felt really stupid and small in that moment of realization. I tried to laugh along with them, but it was half hearted. Many years later I would eat buffalo, courtesy of an uncle who raised them. But in that moment and time, it was the last thing I would ever consider eating. Secretly inside I was furious, but as children of that age do in adult child relationships, I sucked it up as a lesson learned. I should've known better. Perhaps next time I would.

We would see the Alamo the next day. Then to West Texas, and Big Bend, then a trip to Mexico. Standing out in the mercado, my one memory from that trip was an old man talking to me, showing me a rattle he had carved and was selling. In Big Bend we almost got caught by a flash flood which was kind of exciting. Then there was a very long trip back home. I'm glad we went, and saw a bit of our history. I am not glad I ate liver.

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