Carve it and they will come

LadyBee and Honey

Having turned in at a ridiculous hour the previous day, it was delicious to have the luxury Wednesday morning of not being in the least bit of a hurry to get anywhere or do anything.  After we dragged ourselves out of bed at a much more reasonable hour, we congregated in the kitchen and did what people always do in kitchens: hang out.  It's tempting to think of the kitchen simply as a place where you go to cook, but no - its primary function is actually to be the space in your house that people feel most comfortable hanging out in and we put it to good use.

We cheered Kenny on as he made his signature cottage cheese pancakes (DAMN they were good) and watched as Andy plated (or bowled I guess) an expertly prepared Ugli fruit for our enjoyment. Our breakfast was just as lovely and delicious as it could be.  We even sat down at the dinner table like a family, with napkins and everything!

After brunch, we lingered on, slipping into conversation after conversation as we began the motions of departing.  It was hard to tear ourselves away, but we managed shortly before 2:00 and headed off toward the bustling metropolis of Beaumont.  Now, I don't think I've ever before consciously elected to go to Beaumont of my own volition, seeing as how most of the descriptions I hear from people that have lived there are, shall we say, less than glowing.  But I had remembered while planning our itinerary that there was a curious little collection of carvings I wanted to see that was housed in the Lone Star Steakhouse, nestled close beside the ever lovely Eastex Freeway in central Beaumont.

"Poppa" John Gavrelos was a Greek immigrant who made his living in the restaurant business, which provided him a convenient and steady supply of wood in the form of produce crates.  Poppa used the crates to carve elaborate tableaux of a wide array of subjects between the years of  1923-1948.  A good many of the tiny dioramas are scenes drawn straight from the bible, but there are also scale replicas of monuments like the Statue of Liberty and the Parthenon, sitting shoulder to shoulder with important scenes from history such as Betsy Ross sewing our nation's first flag and the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Poppa used a little bit of everything to augment and detail his carved scenes, and I especially appreciated his use of a variety of different silver spray painted seed pods, meant to represent exotic trees in foreign lands.  Like so many works born of mania and passion, however, the years have taken their toll on the pieces, especially since the notoriously meticulous Poppa has been gone for a while now.  Still, the dust and the spider webs and the faded khaki chenille palm fronds lining the road to Jerusalem didn't dim the charm and whimsey of the figures one bit.  Probably my favorite part of the whole display was the wild juxtaposition of scale that reigned from one end of the 30 foot case to the other.  A tiny 1" schooner sits at the fit of a giantess dressed as Lady Liberty sporting a glamorous discarded ring crown. Chickens and horses of identical sizes frolic outside the Parthenon, but they'll have to watch their head as they stoop over to enter, due to their enormous height. 

When we had had our fill of the frenetic landscape, we left the watchful eye of Poppa that gazed steadily and mirthfully down from his portrait on the wall, and exited through the Steakhouse so we could express our appreciation.  LadyBee met Poppa's great nephew John who now runs the place after she remarked on the stuffed armadillo she spotted laying on it's back drinking a long neck.  (Just wait 'til she sees the purse!)  She and I talked about it as we drove away under the bleak gray sky, and agreed that it was stoic of John to preserve his great uncle's work - not an easy task, but vital in an age of fast food chains and designer museum displays.

Our itinerary took us next toward Lufkin, Texas where we'd spend the night so we could visit the Diboll History Center the following morning.  We drove north from Beaumont and watched as the land began to roll gently and pine trees started to appear in forest quantities.  As dusk approached, it became obvious that we needed to find a place we could take our daily walk, so we picked a lonely road leading off into the pines that a sign by the side of the road had promised would lead us to some sort of park.  Evidently, it was one of the area's well kept secrets because we never did find anything resembling a park or trails, but we did find a good place to park so we could meander down a nearby dirt road that appeared to lead to a group of rustic hunting shacks.  The only evidence of civilization we encountered was the ramshackle wreck of an old barn dotted with the detritus of intermittant itinerants.  It was a lovely walk though, sweetened as it was by the scent of fresh pine and soundtracked by the exhilirating sound of the wind moving briskly through the tree tops.

After we reached Lufkin and checked into our hotel, we walked to a nearby restaurant to get a bite to eat.  It was the kind of place that had deep fried gator nuggets and glossy vapid desserts arrayed on a tray for waving before bloated diners.  We managed to eat a decent meal involving gumbo and salad, and then trotted on back to the hotel so we could turn in early in a vain attempt to make up for our previous evening's lack of sleep.  Not to mention we'd be getting a pretty early start the next day.  All I remember after finishing up my blog entry was how silky and wonderful my giant bed felt as I crawled between the covers. 

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