I am a child. My father is young, shirtless. My grandfather still has color to his hair, although there isn’t much hair left.
We are outside. It’s Labor Day weekend. So it’s the last days of summer. School is about to start again, and we children know we will once again belong to communist dictators known as schoolteachers.
My father is getting ready for the shindig at hand.
Daddy is the kind of guy who works hard for a living. I have no memories of him that do not involve denim, Budweiser, or profanity.
My grandfather is always followed by children and dogs. He fought in two wars. Was wounded once. He was leading a charge, and he extended his right arm and was yelling, “Charge!” A bullet bit him in the armpit.
He was in R-and-R in “Itlee.” Where an Italian woman thanked him for delivering her people from Mussolini, and gifted him a mandolin. He impressed her when he played “Turkey in the Straw” and “Soldier’s Joy.”
Together, Daddy and Granddaddy are digging a shallow pit in the backyard, with shovels. They are scrawny, bare chested. They are three sheets to the wind. Maybe four.
The pit is the size of a grave. Except nobody has died. At least not yet. Although my mother has insinuated, several times, that if I don’t go outside to play, and get out of her way, the pit will be my eternal resting place.
The men line the newly dug pit with concrete blocks. Then, they start a fire inside it with p’cawn and hickree.
Party goers arrive. First, my aunt: a woman who is such a staunch Methodist; she has to take Metamucil just to stay alive.
Next, my uncle, who wears overhauls, and smells like Old Spice.
More people come. Most have kids with them. We children are turned loose, without supervision. These are our final days of summer, which means we are feral.
We take full advantage of our freedom. We tramp through creeks, which we call “cricks.” And hollows, which are called “hollers.”
Because we come from people who talk weird. My aunt, from rural North Carolina, for example, pronounces the word “white” as “hu-what.” She also says “I swannee,” instead of “I swear,” which would be swearing. And swearing is a sin.
The women bring food of all kinds. There is sweet potato pie, which is pronounced as: “swee’ tater pah.” And potato salad, which is pronounced “tater salat.” There are baked beans, which is pronounced, “type II diabetes.”
Gingham table cloths are spread out. Someone has made funeral potatoes, which is a dish you cannot find anymore. Topped with cornflakes and enough cheese to short circuit Congress.
The conversations are all over the map. Men are cussing the president. Women are talking about someone’s baby who was born 7 months after the wedding.
A whole hog is placed onto the pit. The aroma that fills the air is a smell I cannot describe. I have attended barbecue competitions in eight U.S. states, and even judged a few. But I have yet to smell this exact odor again.
When the meat is ready, it’s time for the prayer. So, men set down their beers. Women all bow their heads. Rowdy children are silenced.
Cousin Tommy Lee, who is a lay preacher, dressed in golf apparel, says the prayer. And it’s time to eat.
Which we do. We all eat so many ribs, and pork shoulder, that our ears ring and our feet swell.
Then, as the sun is setting, we children are busy playing a game called Red Rover, which was recently outlawed by modern-day public schools due to excessive violence.
The women eat dessert. Old men are busy chewing wads in their lower lips that are the size of softballs.
They are all dead now. Those days are gone.
Today, people use propane grills, Big Green Eggs, or Japanese porcelain cookers. Children now have cellphones. There are no “hollers” anymore, and nobody has ever heard of a “crick.” And any parent who would allow their child to play Red Rover would be sentenced to community service.
But I still remember it all. I still remember the smells. And the laughter. And the way I felt when a few dozen people said “Amen” in unison.
Especially on Labor Day.