My introduction to BBQ came in the early Fifties during Independence Day celebrations held at my school. As a family, we would load up the car and go to the school for an afternoon of celebrating our independence from Great Britain; fun, games and, most importantly, BBQ. I cannot remember if there were decorations, I am sure there were, but I remember going to the field behind the school and seeing the pole that had been set up for the greased pole climb and a small cage with a greased pig. Hum, greased pig, greased pole and BBQ sounds like we have a trend going. No, that statement is not true – there was nothing greasy about our BBQ. I have no idea who had cooked the pigs but I do know my Uncle James had donated them and had overseen the night-long festivities and I was too young to know what that might have entailed. All I know is that you could smell those hogs cooking and see the smoke rising out of the soil that covered the pit. The smell was almost too, too, too… I am at a loss for words but I think it was as close to heaven as I want to get without actually dying.
Besides eating the BBQ there were patriotic stories to be told, games to be played and winners to be awarded. There might have been a softball game before the older boys attempted to climb the greased pole. And then there was the contest to catch a greased pig – a contest in which I once excelled and won. Actually that year it wasn’t much of a chase. As I started toward him to make my grab, the little porker ran right at me and lay down. What a bummer, I didn’t even get my cloths dirty. It was kind of like a “tag you’re it” scenario. We also ran sack races and three-legged races. For the less mobile athletes, pie-eating or watermelon-seed-spitting contests were enjoyed and I’m sure someone also broke out horseshoes. After all of that excitement it was finally time to eat.
We sat down to succulent pulled-pork BBQ served with Dutch Fork mustard sauce, hash (not to be confused with Brunswick Stew) served over long grain WHITE rice (not the healthy brown stuff), cole slaw, white bread and, what I guess, was a pickled “bread and butter style” cauliflower medley on the side. Yes sir! It was truly heaven-on-a-plate and an argument for why immigration is a good thing. Also, it was a time that you could thank God for having a belt buckle that would allow you to ease the pressure on a BBQ-stuffed stomach. Thinking it couldn’t get any better, I finally reached the age where I was old enough to participate in the festivities associated with the production of hardwood coal – drinking and storytelling.
During my college days, a group of us “summer schoolers“ decided that a pulled-pork BBQ party might be in order for those of us not going home for the Independence Day break. Several of us who actually had experience in this Southern tradition were tabbed to prepare the feast. (This should not be confused with a pig party.) One of my jobs that night was to stir a big iron kettle full of hash. For the uninformed, and you may want to remain that way, hash is all of the “lesser” or unrecognizable parts of the pig, coarsely shredded and cooked with potatoes, onions, spices and cider vinegar until it all falls apart into an unrecognizable hash. I’ll never forget as I stirred the hash that night with a boat oar I saw something white roll to the top. What the…? As I kept stirring, it turned over and I saw …an eyeball staring back at me! Gulp. As I said earlier, stay misinformed.
After such a hard night of stirring, drinking and lying, I mean storytelling, it did not take long after dawn for someone to point out the need for breakfast. Several of my fraternity brothers went to Winn Dixie and came back with enough chicken halves to feed us all. Winn Dixie actually donated them. Those roasted chickens may have been the best breakfast that I have ever eaten. All the great chefs say that good food is first about taste and then about presentation. I think they should have added that it is all about the company you are sharing it with. Good friends will make bad food better.
Hours later the BBQ was finished and it was time for the moment of truth. I got my plate with the hash and rice, and for the first time ever concerning BBQ I hesitated a bit before my first bite. Remembering that white thing floating in the hash, I had a little moment of contemplation along with a big hunger for that BBQ. It was then that I made the decision that if I had liked hash before I knew there might be an eyeball in it then I could probably still like it after… and I did! Eyeball and all!
Independence Day is about much more than BBQ, bottle rockets and patriotic music despite being a great way to celebrate it…as long as you remember sacrifices Americans have made to maintain it. From George Washington and his troops at Valley Forge, to the 54th Massachusetts attack on Battery Wagner, Marines at Iwo Jima, the Chosin Reservoir or Que Son, along with Freedom Riders and Civil Rights Marchers. All of these and many more have made sacrifices, some ultimate, to insure their and our independence. We don’t need to forget that fact and allow it to get lost in mounds of BBQ. Especially, this year. I do not believe we can continue our divisiveness and maintain our independence. We are STILL the greatest country in the world despite the many issues facing us that must be worked out. Maybe if our leaders sat down with a mound of BBQ. It is hard to yell at each other with a mouthful of pig.
A portion of this came from Don Miller’s book PATHWAYS, stories from his
youth, which can be purchased at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM