The side of the road—middle of nowhere. It was too hot inside our busted station wagon, so Mother and I stood outside it.
I found a tree to water, since that’s what little boys live for.
The old man who pulled over had white hair, and in those days, white hair fascinated me to no end. When he opened the door to his truck, a bucket of plastic utensils fell all over the ground. White forks, everywhere.
As it happened, he was on his way home from a church picnic, his truck loaded with warm, foil-covered casserole tins. I guess he was in charge of bringing silverware.
After rolling up his sleeves, he inspected the guts of our station wagon, fiddling beneath the hood, singing to himself in a backwoods accent.
Finally, he got our car going and let out a whooping, “Hot diggity dog!” Then slammed the hood. “We did it, pilgrim,” he said, patting my back, getting grease on my shirt. “Now, why don’t we fix some plates of picnic leftovers?”
And because God created Sean Dietrich for the solemn purpose of eating barbecue, I helped myself to the all the leftover short ribs I could stand.
We sat together, right there on the side of the road. The man cleaned his bones with one lick, then tossed them into the woods like they were boomerangs.
Then he winked and said, “Go on, make a few extra plates for you and your mama to take home.”
I fixed four before he even finished his sentence.
The truth is, you have no reason to care about any of this. And, I suppose, neither do I. God knows, it happened long ago. Even so, if I close my eyes, I can still see the curious image of those plastic forks spilling on the highway. And I remember feeling glad to see a complete stranger.
I remember Mother offering to pay him.
Him answering, “No thank you ma’am.”
When it comes to other things, I have a notoriously horrible memory. I can’t even remember what I had for supper last night. But I’ve replayed this particular memory until I’ve nearly worn out the record. And I wonder where he is. Maybe he’s already in the next world, eating barbecue. Maybe at a nursing home. Wherever he is, I hope he still remembers that little boy who ate ten pounds of ribs.
Because God knows, I haven’t forgotten him.
Or his hair.