I’m at a barbecue. At least that’s what they call it.
The man who threw this party is a doctor. He’s the friend of a friend, and his house deserves its own zip-code. The propane grill looks nicer than most Japanese SUV’s.
Someone offers me a beer. It’s a European brand. Never heard of it.
I shake a man’s hand. He’s an attorney in Atlanta. He just bought a summer home on the Gulf. He shows photos of it to anyone within eyesight.
I meet a woman, she’s the owner of a big-city PR firm. She cannot begin a sentence without saying, “I have to be completely honest with you.”
I don’t belong here.
I have to be completely honest with you, this doesn’t feel like any barbecue I’ve ever been to.
The cookouts of my childhood were pitiful affairs. We had smoke pits. Not the kind from Sears, but the kind your granddaddy makes with cinderblocks and chain-link fencing.
If I close my eyes, I can see the whole thing.
On the grill—if you can call chain-link a grill—sits a recently skinned pig. Men sit on stumps. They wear work-shirts with snap buttons. They have coolers of cheap beer. And clear stuff.
Behind the pit: a structure called the “hut.” It’s not a barn, nor a shed, but a half-building, rusted to hell. It houses a broken tractor, a Ford, and an orange sofa.
From time to time, men lift the pit cover. They shovel glowing red pecan embers into the smoking hole. Some talk about baseball, hateful boss-men, or their war-hero daddies.
While they jaw, I notice a white-haired man missing his pinky.
“Lost this finger in the gear-drive of a stock-roller,” he tells me.
“Did it hurt?”
“What do you think, boy?”
Somebody’s wife exits the house. Men notice her. Everyone stands when she nears because she’s female. One man removes his hat—a practice I hope never disappears.
Later, the meat gets transferred to a bloody table. Daddy grabs a cleaver. He chops the carcass into pulp.
And this is us. These faceless roughnecks, whose names you’ll never know. These wives and husbands who come from double-wides. Who eat hog suppers cooked over glorified holes.
These are humble people, who act cocky when threatened. They’re laborers. They have little. They drink too much. They cuss like truckers because some are truckers.
Our mothers are patient. Our fathers change their own oil, and weld column splices. Some die young, and their sons try to bring them to back to life on paper.
The truth is, I spent part of my life feeling embarrassed about me. About chain-link pits. About the color of our collars. About dead daddies.
I don’t feel that way anymore.
Thanks for the beer.