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Monday, July 28, 2014

Gray Matter: Memories of a unique friendship   

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

I was reminded recently of a wise, witty woman who was our neighbor for several years while we spent time in Texas.  I think you might enjoy her story.

Loraine had grown up in the small community of Mc Gregor, Texas, a town you may have heard of as it is just down the road from Crawford, location of the Texas White House.  As a bright and precocious student, Loraine had won a University of Texas scholarship, a scholarship she didn't accept for she knew college would have taken other available family funds, not leaving enough for her brother to go on to high school. She always considered that sacrifice well worthwhile, for her brother, CJ Scruggs, did go on to high school and college. He eventually became the editor of Southern Farmer and founding editor of the even more well-known Southern Living Magazine.

Soon after graduation, my friend married a good-looking ranch hand who apparently had little else but looks to recommend him.  Work didn't seem to interest him nearly as much as whiskey.  When their two children were old enough for her to manage, Loraine applied for the postmaster job in a nearby village.  The application went through the hands of Texas' then newest representative, Lyndon Baines Johnson.  This was the first federal appointment made from his office.  She never forgot that and, apparently, neither did he.  Whenever Johnson returned to the district, he assiduously canvassed his constituents for their opinions and he always came to see his first appointee.

While Loraine was essentially making the living, her no-good spouse was taking advantage of her absence.  In time, the hanky-panky surfaced and a divorce ensued.  She didn't dwell on all of this; it just came out bit-by-bit as our friendship grew.  The stories she did tell were fascinating. 

Her daughter had married an army officer whose overseas service had included both Iran and England.  The timing of the Iran stint was fortuitous as they were among the last to leave before the infamous hostage crisis.  While they were stationed there, Loraine was able to visit them.  With her keen mind and adventurous spirit, she took advantage of every opportunity to see and understand the people and their ways, all so different from our world.  While they were in England, she also spent time with them. Here, once again, she saw so much, absorbed so much of what she saw, and retained it in such a way that I could spend hours listening to her stories.  Friends like that are rare!.

Loraine's people were originally from Tennessee.  In fact, Earl Scruggs, the famed banjo picker, was a not-too-distant cousin -- a fact of which both she and her brother were justly proud.  Those Tennessee origins brought a distinct deep-south flavor to her cooking, which we really enjoyed. 

For instance, it was she who explained that yeast breads were seldom baked in that area before they had refrigeration.  It was either sourdough or quick breads -- chiefly corn pone or either bran or corn muffins, all baked in heavy cast iron.  She considered putting little paper liners in tins and calling the results "muffins" a real travesty.  Her southern-style beans and all manner of "greens" were wonders, as well.

In addition to being a fine cook and great story-teller, Loraine was an artist of considerable ability.  This talent, by necessity, had been suppressed until her retirement from the high-level federal job in San Antonio, to which she had risen from her humble postal-clerk beginnings..  She had started studying with a local art teacher and was doing lovely oils and acrylics by the time we met.  One of her delightful pieces hangs here on my wall where it gives me visual pleasure and arouses fond memories of a fabulous friend every single day of my life.