The Separation of Rice and Gravy

As a precaution to others, not that I’m all that particular about caution myself, be aware that all things that mix well for you do not necessarily produce appealing concoctions for everyone around you.  For reasons that may befuddle some of us, there are folks that insist on the butter for the toast, and their salad dressing being served “on the side”.

Then there is “sallet” (a seldom used today Southern term referencing to poke salad or turnip greens).  There are those (usually women) who don’t care to have the pot liquor run over onto the cornbread, but these people may have never been trained in the proper ways to sop up gravy with a biscuit, either.  They take their gravy…on the side, and often don’t eat any of it.

Why would a person who does not want the peas and carrots to touch each other, much less the mashed potatoes or meat entrée, relish the idea of feasting on a dish called chicken pot pie?  The same said group might appreciate a nice bowl of vegetable and beef with barley soup, but if the ingredients were to be cooked separately on the stove, they must remain so separated on the plate!

This kind of segregation is unknown in the canine world: dawgs eat whatever they come to first, and that is usually matters of smell and proximity.  If placed just so, they can eat their cake and ice cream and move gleefully to the Lima beans without so much as a glance, then go straight to the toilet bowl for an after-dinner drink and think nothing of it.

Topper makes no distinction between drinking vessels.  He’d just as soon drink from a commode as from a pan, bucket or mug, and this concerns Brenda.  She has said that it isn’t proper and that we should tell him to stop.  The other night, while Ashley Cooper and Penny Lane (our cat is not selective with drinking partners) were quenching their thirsts in the open door of the dishwasher, Brenda became a little unglued.  I could see it coming, but those animals, having had no experience in the “we need to talk” department, barely got their noggins retracted in time when the door slammed shut.

To my wife, it is a matter of principle, like the separation of church and state.  The orderliness, thus the partitioning of all things, are to be to her standards which is trying for a fellow who would pour gravy on the beans as well as the rice.  Her shoes can be left anywhere, but mine cannot be left outside the approved zone which is located in a small corner on my side of the bed.  My shoes are not to touch her shoes, which is insane when you consider what must be going on in the dirty clothes hamper!

At dinner time, I would be perfectly happy to make a stew out of whatever is available, but my wife insists on some kind of method that is more discriminating.  Peas and carrots must hold to their space with no juices from either allowed to mingle.  And on her plate, there is to be a clear, no nonsense separation of rice and gravy.  I just mix it all together and eat with a tablespoon.

Normal dawgs (excluding the finicky kind that like to have their toenails painted and go to the beauty parlor at least once a week) don’t mind their food stuffs touching each other.  A popular brand of feed is called “Gravy Train”, and anything that will eat any part of a railroad won’t ask for the gravy on the side: they’ll eat rocks if you make a soup out of them.

People and things may intermingle in some ways better than others.  Folks attired quite appropriately for a trip to the beach may feel a little self-conscious dressed that way at a funeral.  But a dawg who wears a kerchief around its neck would willingly go anywhere a dawg might want to go without being expected to change clothes first.

A friend told me of a one-eyed dawg that marched in the Veteran’s Day parade in Raleigh, North Carolina this year.  When I asked what people said about it, he said:

“Don’t think most people noticed.  She just kinda blended in with the rest of ’em.”

As a veteran myself, I took no offense to it, as there were several in my old outfit that behaved like dawgs a good bit.  They spoke of each other in a way that implied some reference to such a heritage as being sons of those kinds of mothers.  Besides, the dawg probably knew what she was doing about as much as I did back in 1968 when I paraded off to become a veteran.

I was mixed in with a diverse assortment of young men from all over the country.  We were being trained by the more experienced who, by all appearances, had given up their diversity, and we were expected to follow suit.  Those who would fit in well, learned to take their humor and all other fine cultural interests…on the side.  There was a lot of innocence that was going to go away like so much gear adrift, and never to be recovered.  Any that has remained with me would bore most of you, so we’ll let it go.

My relative innocence to how dawgs behave is becoming weaker than a tea bag that has been floating in Lake Erie for six or seven years.  My education in this fine college of philocaninity is at the post-graduate level with information coming in avalanche proportions.  Beyond personal experience, I am bombarded with stories and instruction from other folks who have dawgs now that they know I’ve taken up writing about them.

In payment for my efforts (though I’ve posted no invoices), I’m frequently told about every canine peculiarity that you can imagine.  I’m told of tri-pod dawgs that lift an invisible leg; tree-climbing dawgs, and those that dance and sing.

One fellow says his basset hound knocks over the food dish; eats from the ground, then barks at the empty dish.  Says he’ll not bark at a living soul–just the dish.  Said he thought it to be a curious behavior, but I understand it:  it is a prayer…a blessing of sorts.

Saying “Grace” (or at least the appearance of it) is not as uncommon among dawgs as some folks might think.  My own mother was taken aback during a recent visit.  She observed a dawg feeding that was a little different from the way it was done out in the country when she was a little girl.  Back then, feeding time amounted to slinging whatever was left over (old dry biscuits, melon rinds, grits, beans, corncob not scheduled for the outhouse, along with squirrel and chicken bones) out into the yard so that the hounds, cats and surviving chickens could establish a hierarchy.

With some effort, our dawgs have been trained to sit; to shake hands, to beg, and to speak.  With the normal commotion associated with excited and hungry animals (works with the children, too) we found a benefit in calming them down and getting them situated not one on top of the other.  We weren’t so much concerned that they eat from each others bowl as much as we didn’t want to get knocked down in the process.

It became custom for us to put them through their maneuvers at each mealtime: first to sit; then to shake hands, then to sit up with paws in a begging pose, then to speak.  As time went on, the commands became unnecessary…the dawgs knew the drill, and seem to enjoy a routine as much as any civilized conformist who keeps up with train schedules and organizational calendars.

As soon as the food appears,  the dawgs immediately sit, position their paws under their chins, and say:  “Woof!”, then, I place their food before them. Well, on that particular night of my parents visit, Mama went downstairs with me when it was time to feed Topper and Ashley.  I held their dishes, and (knowing exactly what they would do) said:

“Now, y’all say the blessing.”

When my mother saw this, she was impressed.  She placed both hands to her mouth as if to suppress the escape of a little “oh my!” I knew she would be anxious for the opportunity to brag about this to her pastor.  If the pastor is wise, he will smile and say something kind and appropriate, and in no way try to throw water on the story, or on my insightful spiritual leadership, drunk or sober.

It is fairer to note that most adult dawgs are fed once a day.  When the food (which has been on their minds a good bit since the last feeding) finally arrives, they may think something similar to “Thank God!”, but that is probably about as close as they ever come to vespers.

Well, the stories continue to come in of hounds that sun-bathe on the roofs of dawg houses as if they were at the beach, nocturnal howlers, newspaper thieves, and those who indiscriminately mingle with the legs of innocent by-standers.  I’m told of mutts that swim and of those who are afraid of water.  I hear of incredible accounts of bravery beyond what most humans would do, and try not to mention that this is a sign of stupidity, and the dawg shouldn’t be judged too harshly for it.

The days are getting shorter and the nights are colder now.  Ashley spent her last winter in Charleston near the beach, so she hasn’t mentally or physically prepared for the season the way it happens up here in the northern part of Georgia.  She still wears her summer coat, but Topper began adding layers as early as September.

Fall came all at once with leaves covering the ground making a walk through the back yard more treacherous.  The other day, it was 71 degrees during breakfast, but dropping to about 32 by sundown.  The wind chill factor made it feel even colder.

Nathan, with a kindness not found in the average 4th grader, brought the dawgs into the den at supper time.  As I have mentioned before, Topper eats slowly and chews every mouthful while Ashley’s intake manifold is more like an Electrolux.

Topper barely finished his salad when Ashley swung her front end loader into his main course and consumed it in about 25 seconds.  Topper never knew what happened.  He just looked at his dish thinking he’d eaten it himself.  He wiped his mouth with his paw, then laid down and burped like a grateful dinner guest: a custom acquired by observing the children.

Ashley can eat from either dish, and go back and forth.  Between the bowls she can drool on the floor, and lick it up along with any dirt, buttons or old beer bottle caps that might be down there.  If it is in or near a bowl (touching something or not), she will eat it, and eat all of it.  She has never opened a savings account other than a few old dry bones buried in the garden and flower bed.

That night, Nathan had given them about twice as much as we normally feed them.  He has no restaurant training in portion control, so lacks an understanding of that kind of economics.  Ashley Cooper  is also limited in concepts of balanced equations, so she took in more than her stomach could sensibly hold.  But it was a matter of content and not just volume: a good dawg food being usually both high protein and high fiber.

Had she been able to get to the water bucket, I’m sure an explosion would’ve occurred.  She is too selfish to regurgitate any of it, but digested it instantly deciding to move her extra cargo right on to baggage claim where my two younger sons would be waiting (up to there knees in leaves) with shovels.  I got the door open in time.

Ashley’s table manners are causing Cosmo Topper to lose weight.  Unwittingly, he has been primary in a clinical study of dieting that has developed a new self help program called “take a glutinous friend to lunch with you”.  Participants should remember to just smile whenever the question: “Are you gonna finish that?” comes up.

Another thing that might curb the appetite for some of you is allow the peas and carrots to touch the mashed potatoes.  Trust me, your friend won’t care; neither will the dawgs.


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