By Katherine Johnson
The Cowboy Grocer – 1411 6th Street – Umatilla, OR 97882
A core part of my American mythology came to me through Hollywood westerns such as The Searchers. Released in 1956, it starred John Wayne as Ethan Edwards, a Confederate Civil War veteran who wandered through the American West, idealized by Monument Valley, on a journey of rescue and revenge to secure the freedom of his niece who had been kidnapped by the Comanche Indians led by Chief Scar, played by the German born actor Henry Brandon.
This mythology was also formed by road signs that announced that just over the next horizon would be found an oasis of spectacular things to see and experience after being stuck for hours in a blisteringly hot car during summer road trips. There one could find monumental works of art such as Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, gigantic dinosaurs, fish, or buffaloes.
Years later I would come to realize two things. First, that these things had nothing to do with wonder and enchantment and everything to do with getting people to stop at these out of the way places so they could be sold gas, sodas, and trinkets. Secondly, contrary to a popular a cliché, we are not the modern Romans. The Romans reserved marble for statues of people and concrete for building while we use marble for building and concrete for statutes of dinosaurs, fish, and buffaloes.
American food also has a spectacular mythology ranging from ingredients like Crisco Shortening (I always called it lard because it is, well, lardy) or Spam to Betty Crocker, a fictional person, that taught many an American to cook such classics as cheeseburger pie or carnival ice cream cake.
She also found time to dispense culinary wisdom like “Keep favorite condiments on hand, such as ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar and salsa.”
Of course this aspect of my mythology would not be complete with paying homage to the ubiquitous hamburger stands that, here in Seattle, are represented by Dick’s, the one place a straight guy can say with an equally straight face to his equally straight pals, “lets’ go get some dicks.”
Because of a lifetime of these types of experiences I have become a bona fide connoisseur of the finer points of our unique western mythology that is expansive as Monument Valley and also tall enough to include a giant cowboy with green skin and John Wayne’s face.
For good measure I also need to note that John Wayne, mirrors my experience with Betty Crocker, by being a real person that pretended to be a cowboy. And like Betty, John also dispensed culinary wisdom from time to time: “Slap some bacon on a biscuit and let’s go! We’re burnin’ daylight!”
Copyright 2016 – Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved