Not that you would care, but I thought he was a genius. I’ll call him Zeek. And the things Zeek could do with pork shoulders made even devout Baptists use exclamatory cuss words.

“Damn, Zeek, that’s good,” someone might say. And I’ve cleaned up the language considerably. My mother reads these things.

Old Zeek was as smokey as the grill he worked behind; two fifty-gallon drums welded together, on wheels. The thing sat in a parking lot behind the supermarket. And every Saturday, he muddied up ten miles of air with hickory smoke. Barbecue aficionados like me could get as much hog as we could stand.

Or, you were welcome to sit beneath the shade with him, listening to him talk. Which he was glad to do.

“You should’a been alive fifty years ago,” he said once. “White folk never gave us the time of day, if’n you was a ni—” He stopped himself, but I knew what word came next.

“Matter of fact,” said Zeek. “In my daddy’s day, black folk was nothing. Juss nothing.”

“What do you mean?”

“Means my daddy knowed what it was like to get whooped on.”

“For real?”

“Yes, for real,” he said. “At one time, it was no crime to strike a black man. ‘Course, you’s too young to even know what I’m talking about.”

Thank God for that.

“Things got worse, too,” Zeek went on. “When I got older, the world changed.” He made his eyes big. “Riots everywhere. ‘Lotta hate during that time. Lucky you’s born after all that.”

Lucky me.

“But,” he said, “It ain’t like that no more. Everything’s getting better.”

“Better, really?”

“Yessir. Did you know my daughter is a nurse? Long ago, that would’a never happened.”

“Yeah, but things aren’t really better.”

“Yes, they are. This world’s gettin’ more loving. No matter what you hear on TV, there’s ‘lotta strong folks been fightin’ for love since before we got here.” He winked. “We believe in love, that it has power to change the world.”

Well, I understand Zeek passed a few years ago. But there’s something I want to say, if he’s listening out there:

I hope you’re right, sir.