A crawfish boil. A big party. This is the kind of deal where you stand in an hour-long line for a box of mudbugs and corncobs spicy enough to require an EpiPen.
The band is loud. They have a washboard, an accordion. They holler in French.
The Rotary Club is putting this on. The tents, the boilers, propane burners, the whole nine-yards.
Rotarians wander through the crowd with yellow wagon-wheels on their shirts. They’re collecting plates, emptying trash, conversing.
The money Rotary Club raises goes toward real charities. Not CEO salaries. Not televangelists with Malibu mansions and saltwater swimming pools. Ninety-one percent of Rotary money goes out the door into the world.
This, I learn this from an old man, standing in the crawfish line. He has a tube running from an oxygen tank to his nostrils.
He was a Rotary member in North Alabama once. He claims that Rotary Club is more than a tin plaque on the welcome-to-our-small-town sign. He says Rotary is changing the world.
It’s a bold statement.
“We’re teaching illiterate folks,” he says. “Donating to small-town farmers, giving clean water to third-world countries.”
He’s as passionate as any Holiness preacher.
“Joined when my wife died,” he goes on. “Was lonely as hell, I needed friends, and they ALWAYS have food at meetings.”
When he first joined, he attended a few gatherings, then missed three weekly meetings.
Depression claims many a man.
One Saturday, three Rotary men came to his house unannounced with six-packs and fried chicken.
“Wouldn’t get off my doorstep,” he says. “We watched a game, had a few laughs. They were really concerned about me. I’m telling you, this ain’t just a club.”
He and I find a seat beneath a white tent and listen to the band play, “Jambalaya.”
The crawfish makes my nose run.
He is chatty. He talks about life. About his daughter. He says he has stage-four cancer.
All I can do is say, “I’m sorry,” like a thirty-five-pound dumbbell.
He tells me doctors gave him bad news. Very bad news. His daughter is having a hard time with it.
A man in a Rotary shirt takes our empty crawfish boxes. He asks if anyone wants refills on beer.
My old friend wants another cold one. His days are earmarked, if he wants more Budweiser, he deserves to carpe this diem as much as he can.
Rotary Shirt hands him a fresh beer. The band plays something peppy. People dance. A white-haired man dances with an infant. An elderly lady in a Rotary shirt shows off her new hip.
A woman sits beside my old friend. She introduces herself as his daughter.
Like most people here, she wears a Rotary shirt. I ask how she got involved with the club.
“Oh, I’m not a member,” she says. “This is Dad’s old shirt. I’m wearing it ‘cause I wanna be just like him when I grow up.”
He kisses her cheek. She holds his hand. They say a hundred and ten words in one look.
I’m glad I came tonight.
I wouldn’t mind having one of those shirts.