Monthly Archives: January 2013

To The Last Bite

I lost a life-long friend yesterday. For over 50 years I knew him intimately, but not by name. The dentist called him Number Fifteen, one of my four 12-year molars and a veteran of mastications too many to mention. It was sad to see this loyal buddy go; we shared roots, after all. For over 5 decades he knew everything I ever ate or drank and most of anything else I did with my mouth. We were that close.

Number 15’s demise wasn’t unanticipated. More than 25 years ago, a dentist now long-retired, first told me the molar’s days were numbered. “It’s just a question of when,” he advised. Over the years, two other dentists, six highly professional hygienists, and one expensive periodontist all pronounced similar sentences. Number Fifteen’s days were indeed numbered, but it turned out to be a pretty big number.

Alas, yesterday—nearly ten thousand days and some thirty thousand meals later, not to mention innumerable snacks and sticks of gum—it came time for Number Fifteen to give up the ghost. I could have said “bite the dust,” but that would be insensitive. He can’t bite anything now. Toward the end I wished Number Fifteen were less sensitive himself. You see, he’d reached the point where he couldn’t take the cold anymore, and the pressure of everyday work had gradually worn his nerves raw. Worst of all, he was losing his grip on my left maxillary bone.

After examining x-rays, my current long-time dentist shook his head slowly and tsked a little behind his sterile mask. “It won’t be long now,” he said, more to the molar than to me. This doctor has presided over many dental deaths in his career, but I could feel his sadness and resignation at losing another. Or maybe he was mourning the loss of the nice little income stream he’d derived from Number Fifteen. For years that molar had received more attention and special treatment than all his 31 brothers combined. He was high maintenance for sure. And in his final weeks Number Fifteen could, without warning, emit sudden, silent, cranial-splitting screams right in the middle of otherwise enjoyable repasts.

We were beyond the point of heroic measures. I reclined in the dentist’s chair, numbing, awaiting the final deed. I was grateful the pain in my head and in my wallet would both be over. If the tooth be known, Number Fifteen’s pockets were deeper than mine.


Winter Solstice 2012

A Light Look at a Dark Day

Twice a year we arrive at a solstice. It’s an astronomical term, which is not to mean that it’s an extraordinarily big word. It’s pretty average-sized as far as words go, but I think it has extraordinary meaning.

(1) Either of the two times a year when the sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equator: about June 21, when the sun reaches its northernmost point on the celestial sphere, or about December 21, when it reaches its southernmost point.
(2) A furthest or culminating point; a turning point.

Solstice springs from compound roots, the most apparent being sol, or sun. The -stice part of solstice comes from a root meaning “to make stand still.”

North of the equator we’ve been having just a bit less sunlight time every day since last June. Reaching the solstice, our days now start becoming gradually longer over the next six months, until we again reach the longest day, the summer solstice, in June. The days stop growing, then begin to shrink again; the cycle repeats.

At each solstice, the days stop getting longer or shorter, and reverse. The sun seems to stand still for an instant, and then the daily duration of sunlight slowly changes. The shift is only a few minutes per day, and it can take weeks to really notice much of a difference. But solstice perfectly defines the culminating phenomenon. It’s the moment the sun appears to stand still.

We all have our own solstices too, though probably not twice a year at perfectly regular intervals. These are times of change, when something that was, is no longer. Milestone events are solstices. What was before—high school student, for example—ends, and graduate begins. The pregnancy is over; you’re a parent. Like a swinging pendulum, motion in one direction ceases just before going in another. What was going on concludes, and now it’s something else. Solstice. The actual point of shift may be obvious—you’re a mom now!—or subtle: “How did I get this old?”

Every solstice, whether summer’s or winter’s start or personal turning point, may remind us of life’s cyclical rhythms. From the pulse of our hearts to our sun’s speeding around the Milky Way’s center, from subatomic particles to systems of galaxies, you and I are part of it all. Maybe all too often our oh-so-important personal lives distract us from this grandeur, but then along comes a solstice, our sun stands still for an instant, and we remember.

—John Clinton Gray
December 20, 2012

Veggies On My Mind

I’m omnivorous with girth as proof, and a gourmand of the garden. Is there a vegetable I cannot stomach?

veggies2 Give me artichokes and arugula, asparagus, beets, and beans of all kinds. I love bok choy and broccoli, and brussel sprouts (yes, even brussel sprouts), cabbage, carrots, and cauliflower. I delight in collards, and eggplant; peas, kale, leeks, and parsnips.


Give me every squash, and spinach, and yams. I’m happy with them all…  But, alas, there is one vegetable the very thought of which makes my throat constrict, my intestines roil and stomach convulse.


It’s okra. Disguised in flavorful batter and deep fried in garlic doesn’t count. You can get most anything past your palate with the right accompaniments, but straight boiled okra… The very word, let alone the vegetable, starts that bowel curdling retch. It’s the texture, the hairiness, the gelatinous interior, the seeds, the fibrous husk… Yuck, and double yuck! Even the most otherwise wonderful Southern dishes can’t hide it.

okra2 There. I’ve confessed. It’s okra, cursed okra…