The sun is low, the gnats are out. A barbecue grill is smoking with pecan wood. My wife is asleep in a lawn chair. She is out like a porch light.
Thelma Lou, the bloodhound, lies beside me, chewing on a two-by-four she found.
I’m cooking Chicken à la Beer Can for supper. I’m using my uncle’s secret recipe.
I remember when he would cook this chicken dish long ago. He’d smear on the seasoning, shove a Budweiser can up the carcass, and (voila!) redneck gourmet.
Pecan smoke during my childhood was always accompanied by stories. I’m talking big tales told by men with gray hair who held sweaty cans and wore jeans during the summer.
It would’ve been blasphemy to sit before a fire pit without stories.
So I need a story to go with this pecan smoke. After all, it’s part of my ancestry. Let’s see here…
I’ll tell you about this sleeping woman.
Our first phone conversation lasted nearly two hours. We were strangers then.
That night on the phone, I hardly spoke. She used enough words for both of us. I did, however, manage to ask her to be my plus-one at a friend’s wedding in Birmingham. She agreed.
The next Friday, I wore khakis and a necktie. My mother remarked that she’d never seen me wear a necktie of my own volition.
I used cologne, too.
The cologne had been my father’s. The irony here is that my father was not a cologne man. Still, on my twelfth birthday, he gave me a bottle of French toilet water. For years, I wondered why he did this—since we weren’t toilet-water people.
I asked why he did that.
“Because,” Daddy said, “One day, you’ll be around some girl you REALLY like, and you’ll wanna smell fancy. Trust me.”
So this girl showed up at my apartment, driving her mother’s green Oldsmobile. She was wearing a black dress.
She sniffed the air, then coughed. “You smell like you…” she said.
“Thanks,” I said.
“I can’t breathe,” she said.
We rode four hours toward Magic City with the windows down.
The wedding ceremony was in a big, old, tall, scary-looking church. When the preacherman said, “kiss the bride,” I heard sniffing from the girl beside me. I started sniffing, too.
Weddings do that to me.
The reception was at a fancy restaurant. They barely served enough finger food to say grace over. The DJ played ear-splitting music, everyone shook their hindparts in rhythm. Everyone except me.
I don’t dance. I wish I could, but I was raised Southern Baptist. My dancing muscles are underdeveloped. When I try to dance, I look like the lovechild of Barney Fife and Eleanor Roosevelt.
The girl and I snuck away from the party early. We found a Mexican restaurant nearby. We sat on a patio. We talked. This girl knows how to talk.
Give her ten minutes and she could make pleasant conversation with an IRS agent.
After our meal, I drove us home. She fell asleep in the passenger seat. Her head rested against the window. She held my hand. And I felt invincible.
I rode I-65 in a dumb daze. Now and then, I’d glance at her, sleeping.
Love didn’t happen the way I thought it would. I thought it would be fireworks and nuclear explosions. It was more like watching ten acres of daisies bloom on a hillside. It was gentle and easy.
I asked that girl to marry me. Mercifully, she agreed. We’ve been married for fifteen years. She has made me who I am. Without her, you wouldn’t be reading this. Without her, I wouldn’t be writing at all.
I still can’t dance worth a cuss, and I don’t touch cologne.
Sometimes I wish I had more to give this woman than a trailer home, a dog, and barbecued beer-can chicken.
But I guess this story will have to do.
I love you, Jamie.