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AMERICAN FAMILY BARBECUE
February 8, 2007
"In Laketown, time is not measured by days or weeks but by the number of eighteen wheelers that drive past my house." Luke Milford held forth on his front deck, drinking his bottle of near beer. What with it being the summer cookout and all that, his wife didn't allow him to drink regular beer before her family arrived.
"What, I used to count trucks under the Roosevelt Highway where I grew up. I only saw one truck yesterday," Carlos Sanchez said, adjusting his fatigues. He was Luke's commander in the Marines. But today, he was merely an observer, a helper and a friend. He wanted meet Luke's family and friends. Jimmy Joe and Sally grew up five states away in Houston and they just wanted a party.
"I'm glad y'all are getting to see my family homestead and a traditional family gathering, but…" Luke paused to drink.
"Why when I was a kid, I used to sit out here in mah yard and count forty or fifty eighteen wheelers passin' just before breakfast, whole caravans of them. Why, it was a sight to see, a sight to tell your kids, a reminder of our wealth and vigor. Now wit' the new highway, we're lucky to see one a day and that one, either headed to the nearest big store or just plain lost," Luke said, his voice trailing off, his eyes tearing. He took out a dirty doo-rag and wiped his nose. Jimmy Joe and Carlos laughed. Sally choked on her beer. She let a few drops drip from her chin onto her breasts.
"Aw foook you guys, you're nuthin' but rich city folk making fun of my home town. Them's were dah best days of mah life," Luke said. Maybe, just maybe, someday these city-folk friends of his might understand country life, he thought. He looked for his wife and not seeing her, snapped the top off another beer, wiping a tear from his cheek before he drank. Jimmy Joe and Tucker howled at the subterfuge, smacking their hands on their knees, slapping each other's back. Sally pulled the side of Luke's head against her ample chest. Luke looked at the house and hunched away.
"So you invited us to your summer barbeque just to show us a good time. Why Luke honey, we coulda stayed back in da city and had ribs delivered on the roof," Sally said rubbing her ample breasts against Luke's head making him blush.
"Sally Mae Johnston, you get mah husband's head out of your boobs or I'm goin' to rip them off and fry them on the grill. Now you gets yourself in here and help me prepare this potato salad and grits," Euphonia yelled, sticking her head out the screen door. Luke and Sally jumped apart. She shook her finger at Luke. Carlos and Jimmy Joe turned away stifling their laughs.
"And Luke, you go help you're Pappy O'Daniel and Uncle Willy start that grill and cook for this here party. Last time they almost burnt the damn doublewide down with lighter fluid." Sally walked to the side door of the rambling, one-story wooden structure that Luke called his family homestead. It seemed to be doublewide, garage, motorcycle repair, pool cabana and flower garden all in one place and one time. It had an existential charm, a comforting presence as if a psychotic decorator had added, and added, and added, and added but never finished. The three men walked around to the back deck, poking each other and giggling like disobedient little boys.
"I've heard your wife give lectures on Shakespeare. I never heard that accent," Carlos said.
"She reverts at family get togethers, especially the aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws," Luke said. He could hear Euphonia's father and uncle arguing over the charcoal and the starter fluid. Flames were already four foot high from the huge grill. Jimmy Joe joined Luke in dumping bags of charcoal into the pit. Before they had a chance to introduce each other, the roar of vehicles approaching distracted them.
"Love to meet your friends Luke, but that's Uncle Twirly and the dear steaks. You better git that beer tapped and flowing cause the family‘s here and the party's startin'," Pappy said, bounding his bulk off the deck, his grey mullet flowing after him and his chin whiskers blowing to the side. Uncle Willy let out a war whoop that left Carlos's ears ringing and ran after Pappy. Sally and Euphonia came out of the house holding large trays filled with sausages, steaks and burgers. They set them next to the huge grills.
"Luke darling," Euphonia cooed. "Would you have Carlos tap the kegs?" She pointed to six kegs mounted in tubs of ice and another half-dozen tubs of bottled beer.
"Sure, where're the soft drinks for the kids?" Carlos asked as he slid the tap into the first keg.
"Soft drinks, oh lawdy, none of these kids drink soda. We was raised on beer, out here," Euphonia corrected him. Astonished, Carlos dropped a tap. Jimmy Joe's eyes rolled to the heavens at the thought of whole families drunk on beer. Jimmy Joe asked a question that common sense told him not to, but he desperately wanted an answer too. It was pressing on his mind to get out.
"You two girls settle your argument?" Jimmy Joe asked. Luke elbowed him. Carlos turned away. Euphonia and Sally giggled.
"Oh yes, it was just a girly thing, nothing a Midol couldn't cure," Euphonia laughed and went back in the house. Sally turned beet red and dashed after her. They could hear the two women laughing over the din of the six motorcycles, two souped-up funny cars and four, oversized country Cadillacs with eighteen deer lights between them. The family flooded the backyard in a sea of denim, cowboy boots, motorcycle leather, western hats, gingham dresses, Capri pants and six young ones in military fatigues. They carried lawn chairs, inflatable chairs, folding chairs marked Redmond Mortuary, blankets, quilts and several beasts on spits.
"I got good news and bad news, boys. Good news is dat Cousin Twirly's wife done runoff wif an eye-tinerate encyclopedia salesman. The bad news is that she took the venison with her. But, be not afraid, Cousin Twirly spent all day finding us game to eat. We gonna spit roast one of his hogs, two possum, a family of groundhogs, four rabbits and a goat. They's already got the critters spitted and smeared with pork fat so's they cook up real tasty," Pappy O'Daniel announced to a cheer from the crowd. The cousins took over the grilling, positioning the spitted animals above the coals. Carlos and Jimmy Joe slipped away to drink beer.
"Must be a Pigwell thing, road kill smeared in pork fat courtesy of a broken marriage," Jimmy Joe said hoping that hearing the words would make them sound better.
"In my family it's habaneras and mole' sauce," Carlos shrugged. Occasionally the pork fat flared and flames kissed the sky. The cousins simply slathered the flaming carcass with the good stuff – a barbeque sauce that resembled blood pudding, tasted like fermented pesto and raised blisters on the tongue from the raw capsaicin in it. Cousin Twirly redeemed his loss of venison and wife by finding a new bride, Sally. They summoned Preacher Haywood who married Twirly and his new bride; blood tests could wait for Monday when Preacher Haywood would become Mayor Haywood. Preacher Haywood proceeded to join the barbeque by adding his presence along with a few well-chosen blessings.
"I'm glad we got regular hamburgers, hot dogs and sausage," Carlos said. Luke laughed. He knew that the cousins would overcook the beef burgers turning the meat into overcooked, blackened and bacteria free lumps of semi-coal, laden with carcinogenic combustion products. The local sausage, tasty as it was, in reality contained every animal part that no one dared mention in polite society – lips, dicks, fat, sweetmeats, hooves, ears, bollocks and tails.
Euphonia's amply-extended family devoured the roasted feast and stuffed their gullets to the point of bursting. Jimmy Joe thought he might be participating in some ancient Roman festival the way some of the family visited the port-a-potties and still, continued to stuff their already bulging bellies. Several drunken fights broke out but Pappy O'Daniel immediately arbitrated with settlements consisting of homemade Jack Daniels and Johnny Walker. By the end of the meal, no one was sober enough to worry about anything other than wobbling back and forth to the dessert table and standing upright.
As the sky darkened from bright blue to a deep orange, Luke and his uncles set up fireworks down in the lower pasture. Carlos passed out sparklers and bottle rockets to the kids who seemed to have their own supplies of cherry bombs and M-80s. Bits of flaming mayhem terrorized the drunken adults laying and sitting around the backyard. One of the cousins, not Twirly but some nickname like that, used a CO2 fire extinguisher on any real flames and being drunk, some imaginary flames. Luke and his Uncles sent skyrockets aloft and everyone oohed and awed at red and yellow chrysanthemums, silver screamers, blue violet sprays and thunder-buster salutes. They ended with a red, white and blue fire-burst flag ground display. The crowd of relatives stood at attention, waved small flags, sang America the Beautiful and finished with the National Anthem. Their tenderness and sincerity brought tears to their eyes.
As Euphonia said goodbye to her relatives, Luke and Jimmy Joe banked the fire in the barbeque. Carlos passed out generic aspirin and bottles of water-diluted, peach Juicy Juice. They sat, listening to the crickets chirping. The cars, pickup trucks and motorcycles drove away leaving a stillness untempered by eighteen-wheelers.
"Cousin Twirly sure saved the day with that game of his. The barbeque was good, dontcha think?" Carlos said to Jimmy Joe and Luke. They made half-hearted high-fives and lay back on the cheap metal and plastic lounge chairs.
"Only one thing missin'– the trucks," said Luke bleary eyed and tired. "It just ain't the same wifout it."
"You miss truck noise?" Jimmy Joe asked, teasing.
"Yeah, I miss the truck noise," Luke said.
"Remember, time is not measured by days or weeks but by the number of eighteen wheelers that drive past," Carlos said, touching his index and middle finger to his forehead in a small salute.
"Truer words have never been spoken, Sir," Luke said, returning the salute. Euphonia called from the bedroom, Luke belched and laughed, then went to his wife. Carlos and Jimmy Joe discreetly unrolled their sleeping bags on the deck. After a successful barbeque for your friend's wife's family, they thought it best to camp out on the deck and let love take it course. Besides, Cousin Twirly and his Sally were sleeping off their wedding night in the living room of the doublewide, too.
1815 words more or less
FUTURES YET UNKNOWN
Ten Stories by Dave Fragments
*An Alien serial murderer and a furry detective with fleas.
*Murder on a world with altered humans.
*Disturbing apocalyptic visions *Monstrous dystopian societies.
*A man on trial for betraying the human race to robots.
*Devils, demons and ghosts.
*Survivors of a plague war.
*Cyborgs trying to be human.
*Six friends in a strange sinkhole.
*The truth about a world drowning in rain, without sun, without hope.
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