Hank Howls For Stories That Need To Be Told

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Don’t get me wrong.  My mother was a wonderful person and a good cook.  Her apple pies were right up there with Linda Conyers’.  However, when I was a young boy our meals were  —  Well, you be the judge.

My mother was raised on an 80- acre farm by the daughter of Prussian immigrants.  Maybe, that’s why she served the food that she did.  If it wasn’t meat and potatoes, it was bean soup with a big chunk of fat floating in it.

My mother believed in a strong central government so my brother and I were not allowed to say anything, but we could get away with giving our father a questioning glance.  Dad was no help as his standard reply to our looks was to remind us that “the Germans conquered most of Europe on black bread and beans.”  This was cold comfort.

Almost every meal included a concoction made of canned tomatoes and bread that I have never seen anywhere else.  We had dozens of Ball jars in the basement filled with bread and tomatoes.  It tasted pretty good, actually.   It’s just that nobody else’s mother ever served it.

Two things we almost never had were desserts or snacks.  The best we could hope for was some saltines left over from bridge club.  Maybe that’s why I like crackers so much today.

I don’t know why I’m telling you all this.  It’s just that it is a story that needed to be told.  Here is a list of books I have read and enjoyed whose common theme is that they each tell a story that needs to be told — and do it in an entertaining fashion.

The Path Between the Seas by David McCullough     Ever wonder why the French failed in their attempt to build a canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific while the Americans succeeded?  Which President had the courage and power to overcome all obstacles and bring off the mammoth undertaking?  McCullough tells it all in a way that covers every detail of the project, and provides portraits of the interesting and powerful people involved.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls     This biography proves once again that truth is stranger than fiction.  Jeannette and her four siblings were raised by a brilliant, alcoholic father and a spacy, mentally ill mother.  The early life of the children was spent traveling about the southwest and the later years in a gloomy west Virginia town.  Walls treats her parents with unconditional love and finds humor in the odd experiences she encountered growing up in a very dysfunctional family.

The River of Doubt by Candice Millard     After Theodore Roosevelt’s unsuccessful third party presidential run in 1912, TR was ready for a physical challenge.  He agreed to accompany a Brazilian explorer on a journey to chart an unexplored Brazilian river.  Accompanied by a group of followers that included his son, Roosevelt and the grossly under-prepared party embarked on a harrowing 400- mile trip.  How harrowing?  At one point Roosevelt asked to be left behind to die rather than continue with the others.

Having Our Say by Sarah Delany     In this remarkable oral history, the Delany sisters relate their experiences living as pioneering African-American professionals between the 1890′s and 1990′s.  Sadie and Bessie spent their whole lives together, living mainly in North Carolina and New York.  You will find warmth and wisdom included in their descriptions of the struggles they endured fighting the evils of racism.  The women are outspoken and honest but not bitter.

Devil in the White City by Erik Larson     In 1893, Chicago was getting ready to host the world’s fair.  People, including single women, were coming and going in large numbers.  Some of the single women picked the wrong hotel.  No, it wasn’t the Bates Motel.  It was worse.  Larsen tells the story of serial killer H.H. Holmes interspersed with descriptions of the planning and execution of the 1893 World’s Fair.  Both plot lines are compelling and true.


You Know You’ve Had Too Much Coffee When —

  1. Juan Valdez names his donkey after you.
  2. You grind your coffee beans in your mouth.
  3. The only time you’re standing still is during an earthquake.
  4. You can take a picture of yourself from ten feet away without using the timer.
  5. You lick your coffeepot clean.
  6. You spend every vacation visiting “Maxwell House.”
  7. You’re the employee of the month at the local coffeehouse and you don’t even work there.
  8. Your eyes stay open when you sneeze.
  9. You’re so jittery that people use your hands to blend their margaritas.
  10. You can jump-start your car without cables.
  11. All your kids are named “Joe.”
  12. Your only source of nutrition comes from “Sweet & Low.”
  13. You go to AA meetings just for the free coffee.
  14. You’ve built a miniature city out of little plastic stirrers.
  15. People get dizzy just watching you.
  16. When you find a penny, you say, “Find a penny, pick it up. Sixty-three more, I’ll have a cup.”
  17. The Taster’s Choice couple wants to adopt you.
  18. Starbucks owns the mortgage on your house.
  19. You’re so wired, you pick up FM radio.
  20. Your life’s goal is to “amount to a hill of beans.”
  21. Instant coffee takes too long.
  22. When someone says. “How are you?”, you say, “Good to the last drop.”
  23. You want to be cremated just so you can spend the rest of eternity in a coffee can.
  24. You go to sleep just so you can wake up and smell the coffee.
  25. You’re offended when people use the word “brew” to mean beer.
  26. You name your cats “Cream” and “Sugar.”
  27. You get drunk just so you can sober up.
  28. Your lips are permanently stuck in the sipping position.
  29. You can outlast the Energizer bunny.
  30. You don’t even wait for the water to boil anymore.
  31. You think being called a “drip” is a compliment.
  32. You don’t tan, you roast.
  33. You can’t even remember your second cup.
  34. You introduce your spouse as your “Coffeemate.”
  35. You think CPR stands for “Coffee Provides Resuscitation.”
  36. You knock a computer off the reference desk causing a crash that gets the attention of every patron on the first floor.


Top 35 Oxymorons

  1. Government Worker
  2. Legally drunk
  3. Exact estimate
  4. Act naturally
  5. Found missing
  6. Resident alien
  7. Genuine imitation
  8. Airline Food
  9. Good grief
  10. Government organization
  11. Sanitary landfill
  12. Alone together
  13. Small crowd
  14. Business ethics
  15. Soft rock
  16. Butt Head
  17. Military Intelligence
  18. Sweet sorrow
  19. Rural Metro (ambulance service)
  20. “Now, then …”
  21. Passive aggression
  22. Clearly misunderstood
  23. Peace force
  24. Extinct Life
  25. Plastic glasses
  26. Terribly pleased
  27. Computer security
  28. Political science
  29. Tight slacks
  30. Definite maybe
  31. Pretty ugly
  32. Rap music
  33. Working vacation
  34. Religious tolerance

Author: hank

I am married with two daughters and one grandchild. After teaching in the inner city of South Bend, IN for many years, I now work at the St. Joseph County Public Library. I started keeping track of the books I read when I was sixteen years old, and now have read over 1700 books with a page count of more than 500,000.

One Comment

  1. Good essay, Hank. I read the Glass Castle & the Delaney Sister’s “say” — both are wonderful and leave you marveling at the human spirit’s power to endure and even flourish. And, since you brought up you mother’s cooking. I’ll return the favor. My mother was absolutely the worst, unrepentant cook ever! She took the guesswork out of cooking by just burning everything. Toast? Black, crispy squares which she presented with a butter knife. “Here, scrape it the color you want.” Pancakes were flat, black circles with a fine, black, crispy lace all around. The first time I was given normal pancakes, I almost gagged. Bacon? Black, crispy rectangles. Like your mother’s cooking, my mom’s also instilled in us the power to survive. Thans for the memories, Hank.

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