[dropcap]P[/dropcap]laying tag is a terrible game. I wouldn’t wish a round of tag on my worst enemy. You remember how it goes: when a player is touched, that person is “it.” And if that child is nonathletic, he will be marked for the rest of his life.
Consequently, I’ve been “it” since the eighties.
The last time I was tagged was when I was a child. I remember it was a beautiful autumn, because my grandfather was smoking a pork butt at the time. He usually barbecued during the fall. He’d smoke pork butts, pork shoulders, ribs, and anything else that had a pulse. He cooked his meat low and slow, until it fell off the bone.
He’d begin the process early in the mornings. After bathing the pork in mustard and paprika, he’d place it over smoldering hickory chips. Then, he’d shut the lid and remain in that little chair until supper. He’d puff a cigarette, drink coffee, and tell inappropriate jokes to slow-running freckled boys who’d been tagged “it.”
I was one such boy.
That day, I collapsed beside my grandfather from physical exhaustion.
“Why’re you breathing so heavy?” he asked.
“I can’t catch those kids,” I said, panting. “And I’m it.”
“I’m a slow runner.”
My grandfather thought for a moment. He lifted the lid of the smoker and pinched a sliver of meat to test it. Then, he handed a small piece to me.
When I ate it, I let out a ceremonious moan.
“There,” he said. “That’s what you get for being ‘it.’”
Maybe tag wasn’t so bad after all.
Illustration by Alyson Thomas of Drywell Art © 2015