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Ben Online - typing, reading & reacting

Monday, November 17, 2008


When we moved to 732 James Street in Tomball, there was a birdhouse behind the garage. The previous owner had cages and nests for his pigeons. They were racing pigeons but I guess they also have to be homing pigeons to complete a race. For a race he would take them some distance from home and release them, noting the exact time and their number from a leg band. The pigeons would then fly home, tripping a clock wire as they entered their cage. Their miles traveled divided by their hours would give the MPH flown. Not all birds return. Some are shot by hunters, some are killed by hawks, and some are confused by radio and microwave signals and never find their way home.

This reminded me of a story about a tomcat that had a similar ability. AF Simpson – only his wife called him Austin, everyone else called him Bull – owned this cat. Bull was employed by Humble, now called Exxon, and was also a builder, building some of the better homes in Tomball. I occasionally did the electrical and air conditioning on these homes. He also served for some years on the city council and was a councilman part of the time that I was mayor of Tomball. That is where I heard this story. Bull worked three days in the Tomball oilfield and two days in the Conroe field. He checked the oil production of the wells and had at both places a small 6 x 8 building called a “dog house.”

The family had a large tomcat and since the children were grown the cat was banished to the garage. Every morning the cat did what all cats do, walk in the wet grass and then jump on the hood of Bull’s pickup, leaving muddy tracks. Bull would throw the cat down, which the cat thought was a game, and the next morning the cat would be waiting to do it again.

One day Bull had an evil thought while wiping the tracks from his truck. The next day he took the cat along to Conroe. He placed some food under the edge of the dog house and while the cat was napping drove away. In his rear mirror he saw the cat running after him but speeding up he soon lost sight of the cat. Five days later when he returned to the Conroe field he looked for the cat but did not see him.

Several months later, returning home from a visit on Sunday afternoon, Bull and his wife saw, sleeping on the hood of his truck, the tomcat. He seemed to hold no grudge against Bull. Stretching when Bull approached, he started purring and licking his hand. Bull stroked him and gently placed him back on the hood of his truck and said, “You rascal, you can live here the rest of your life and sleep on the truck any time you like.” Bull could not explain how the cat made the 30 miles from the oilfield, crossing a 6 lane freeway and the San Jacinto River, crossing FM roads 1488, 2978 and 2920, and finding the house in Tomball.

I Shook Hands with the Man Who Shook Hands with Mikhail Gorbachev

I grew up in a rural German-speaking community. We shook hands, but it was often the “dead fish” shake, never a grabbing of the elbow. Hugging in public was rare and in some families never practiced. In the Army I saluted when required but never shook hands. In the last several weeks of WWII we had a large number of German soldiers surrender to our unit, mostly teenage boys or elderly men, late recruits to Hitler’s army. They always wanted to shake hands, which I refused, remembering that just weeks before they had been shooting at us.

I can remember when I felt uncomfortable being hugged and hugging in public was not common. Times have changed. Now our church has a time of greeting during the service and I notice a lot of hugs being exchanged. Maybe handshaking is no longer done, but I can recall one particular incident.

One evening in about 1990-1991 my wife announced, after reading a letter from her sister-in-law, that on a certain day her brother and his wife were flying back from vacation in Mexico and had a 4-hour layover at Houston Intercontinental Airport. I was to meet their plane and take them to lunch. Their plane was on time and after hugs we took the underground trolley to the food area. Beverly said Eugene could not shake hands with me because he had not washed his right hand since the previous evening. After we ordered lunch Eugene told the story.

They had noticed in their hotel lobby that there seemed to be a large number of men in dark suits, most with radios in one ear, that looked like Russians. On their last evening at the hotel Eugene spotted a man who seemed to be in charge and asked if the group was Russian. In broken English the man said Mikhail Gorbachev was in Mexico to meet with the Mexican president and that they were occupying the top floor of the hotel. Eugene said he admired that Mr. Gorbachev was trying to bring about cooperation between Russia and the US and he would like to personally thank him and shake his hand. The guard, after consulting with someone, said Eugene should stand beside him and hold out his hand when the elevator doors opened.

In a short time the guards, standing in rows about 6 feet apart, made a passage from the elevator to the door of the hotel, and Eugene stood where directed. When the elevator opened, Eugene thinks he said “I’m Eugene Bartels from Nebraska and I want to thank you for working for peace.” Mr. Gorbachev shook his hand and said in good English, “Thank you, I know where Nebraska is in the United States.”

Eugene remembers that Gorbachev was taller than he expected and that the birthmark on his forehead was hardly visible. I don’t know when Eugene washed his right hand.

Ben the Cook

Ben the Cook
Action shot from the 1970s



I recently made Tuna Helper, following the instructions on the box and adding margine, milk, etc. Priscilla and I had generous portions for lunch. When she asked about my recipe, I pointed to the kitchen table where the box was sitting...and only then noticed the unopened can of tuna sitting next to the empty box.

Well, we enjoyed our macaroni & cheese lunch and already have the tuna on hand to make another box of Helper.


I watched the TV news show "The Eyes of Texas" for years. When in the mid 1980s they announced the publication of a Texas cookbook I wrote down my grandmother's honey cookie recipe. I asked Priscilla to type it, and she mailed it along with several of her personal favorites.

When the book was published Priscilla's recipes were not included but mine was, with a special mention in the cookbook's introduction. I was invited to the signing in Houston, where I got all three of the main Eyes of Texas contributors to sign the front and while standing in line got a number of contributing cooks to sign their recipe pages.

Some might consider the description "somewhat chewy" an understatement. For those who are dentally impaired, I recommend soaking a cookie in milk or hot coffee before trying to chew it. The good news is, these cookies will keep indefinitely.

Eyes of Texas Cookbook introduction:
My great-grandparents August and Caroline Weiss operated the first cotton gin operated by steam, near Salem in Washington County, Texas. They were among the first German settlers in that area. Money was scarce; however, they always had bees and native pecans...consequently, this recipe was a favorite.

1 1/2 pints honey, warmed
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
Dash of salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup chopped pecans or other nuts
1 tsp. baking powder
Enough flour for a very stiff dough

Mix all ingredients well. Roll dough out on a floured board and cut with a cookie cutter, or drop the dough in a greased pan and flatten with a floured glass. Bake at 325 degrees until golden brown, with edges slightly darker. These cookies will be somewhat chewy.

Ben's Bio

I was born in Rose Hill, Texas in 1925 and at age 18 drafted into the Army. After my discharge I settled in Tomball, which although a small town had more opportunities than Rose Hill. I ran my own appliance installation and repair business for many years and in 1977 accepted a position as Plant Engineer and Director of Maintenance at Tomball Regional Hospital, where I worked until retirement in the late 1980s. In the 1970s I served two years on Tomball’s City Council, was elected mayor and served for six years during which major streets were paved and guttered, utility lines were extended, and a new jail and city hall were built. After retirement from the hospital I spent time on a genealogy project that included two trips to Germany to visit relatives and look up archival records. I have also gotten into writing, chronicling my WW II experiences and authoring Growing Up in Rose Hill, published by private press and sold as a fund-raiser for the Tomball Community Museum Center, where I have served as a volunteer, trustee and Chairman. I am still involved with the Tomball hospital as a weekly volunteer and serve as General Manager of Tomball Emergency Assistance Ministries (TEAM), a church-sponsored operation that provides food and other assistance to area families. I continue to be involved in writing about my childhood and personal interests, and I still enjoy woodworking and other handyman projects. My wife and I still live in Tomball and are not far from most of our 8 surviving children and 14 grandchildren.