Friday, June 25, 2010

Thank Goodness, It's Not a Hard Tack Life We Live

This was meant to have been written and posted on Memorial Day. Thank goodness, the soldiers who protect us in any day and age are not as lackadaisical about deadlines as I am. For your service, you are admired, thanked, and placed on a mental pedestal. You sacrifice your own safety, your family's sanity, and so many small moments of what would be a normal daily routine. I would like to say I understand what you do, but I can't, simply because a civilian can come no closer to completely understanding your life than an occasional foreshortened glimpse of your day. If I am honest with myself, I have to admit that you are taken for granted many days of my life. So, when there is an opportunity to reflect closely upon what you and your forebears have done for our society, then I owe you time and thought. . . and I apologize for what a small drop in the bucket of gratitude that is, and I hope you won't think writing about my small personal experiment trivializes your life in any way.

Here's what I did. During Memorial Day weekend, my sister, the kids, and I stopped at Fort Duffield to see what the reenactors were doing. We stopped late in the day, but we did get to see a couple and look at their tent and campfire. They were generous with their information, as well as their hard tack and snickerdoodles! James and Kate happily chose snickerdoodles, but I figured I ought to try the hard tack. The "soldier" let me attempt to nibble a corner of the "cracker" and then let me in on a little secret. Most Civil War soldiers would bust it up with the butt of their gun before attempting to eat it. They would sometimes soak it in their coffee cup, making coffee pudding. Hmmm, I thought, I guess I could try that. I carried the rest of my chipped off hard tack. I carried it in my sweaty palm while we finished walking around the fort. I carried it in my sweaty palm while we walked farther up the bluff to the cemetery. I carried it in my sweaty palm while we swam through the ninety-ish temperatures and almost visible humidity on the way back to the car. It still looked exactly like it did when I first put it in my hand.

That's tough stuff, that hard tack. You can find an official Army memo about it here. Did you read the ingredients? Four cups flour, four teaspoons salt, and about two cups water are mixed and baked in an oven. "The fresh crackers are easily broken but as they dry, they harden and assume the consistentency of fired brick." I think the sample I received had reached that kiln brick stage.

Memorial Day morning, I cracked my hard tack (no gun butts involved) and put it in my coffee cup. I indulged in my usual sugar, even though I imagine sugar in a soldier's pack after so many days and years at war would not have been likely.

As I poured my one cup of coffee for the morning into the hard tack and sugar, I had a very mundane thought-- this stuff is going to absolutely ruin my coffee because it's going to dissolve and turn the whole thing into a starchy mush. I quickly sipped what I could, hoping to avoid any globs of hard tack, hoping that didn't make my Memorial Day tribute too trivial. You know what? The hard tack stayed hard. I caught a crumb or two, but they were more like grit than mush. For once, though, I didn't finish my morning coffee. Figuring that wasn't in the spirit of my experiment, I poured the leftovers into a travel cup and took it with me to town, just in case I got the urge to cheat and get a hard tack free cup of espresso while I was at the bookstore.

I did finish most of the coffee, but the hard tack had soaked up some of it. When I opened the travel cup the next morning, here's what I saw-- leathery pieces of moist hard tack. Soldiers, thank you for what you do, that's all I can say!

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