Was it the aroma of burning charcoal or the cooking pork, which triggered the old one’s taste buds? His mouth watered, and the wolves in his stomach began to growl, but it was his memories that hurt him the most. The memories of days gone by, the events that transpired long before his stay in prison and his exile to the frozen north. Those memories were what hurt him now.
He relived earlier days when he bar-b-que’d a butterflied boar hog for a large group of people. He along with the help of a dozen or so other people prepared the tasty edibles. The old one was very particular when it came to his culinary delights, the food: was prepared from scratch, no mixes, no ready to eat, and no heat and serve.
He made the dry rub and the basting sauce for the pig from 10 different herbs and spices. He didn’t use a measuring spoon or cup to measure by, he used his hand, a pinch of this or a palm-full of that or a hand full of some spice or herb. He would mix it and taste it, then mix some more, add more of this or that until it had just the right combination or layers of flavors. After pounding this rub into the boar hog, he would use the remainder to make the mop to baste the hog while it cooked.
He remembered other long gone days, other times, when he was cooking for family or friends and family oh what good times those were. Now he was alone, living at the 2100 with 400 other souls and 50 of them veterans he had talked to the nobles who dealt with the veterans and they had agreed to allow him to bar-b-que a shoulder or two of hog to feed the veterans
The old one was pleased that he was going to cook some hog for the vets that they soon wouldn’t forget yet in spite of that he was cooking the hog for his own personal reasons he was cooking the hog to regain something he had lost.
In five days he would begin, he would buy what was needed, he would concoct his spices and pound the rub into the hog and let them sit overnight to help marinade and meld the flavors before he dropped the meat on the fiery hot coals. The shoulders would slowly cook all day long. He would begin early in the morning, and by three in the afternoon, the meat would fall from the bone. The meat if done correctly would be moist and succulent with the delicate blend of spices and the smoked effervescence of the hickory, the taste would delight even the most discerning palate, but to the old one it would be nothing short of damn good.
Now he would wait the four days, he had money on his food allowance card to buy what was necessary he was not worried about the rest of the menu. People talked and said many things about what they were going to do, but when it came time, he was the only one he could count on. He did have a few who would be there to keep the riff raff away while he was cooking, but they did this in order to eat. Would this get-together be a success, the old one did not care he was going to eat bar-b-que some pork and really, that is all that mattered to him.
Twas the night before the bar-b-que when all through the shelter, all the creatures were stirring including Fred the mouse. The shelter, which was to provide the balance of the food for the meal had conveniently forgotten to pick up the food from the market, the old one smiled to himself and said “par for the course, another case of one hand not knowing what the other hand is doing.” At least there would be time for them to go pick it up before they were to eat. The old one laid down wondering what else would happen to him.
Twas the morning of the bar-b-que and as expected he was alone. He moved the grills and cleaned the ashes out from the under the grates, and low and behold just when he thought everything would be alright a black skinned toothless man came storming out from another unit screaming, that we were to have only one grill, he was going to use the other one. The vets couldn’t use both. It had been weeks since another black man had called the old one a racist but now… today… his thoughts turned to pure evil, how easy it would be to shove that grill down his throat, but the old one did not. He started to do as he had done in the past just say, to hell with it, and chuck it all into the trashcan. Nevertheless, he didn’t, no not this time; he wanted to taste the hog meat he was going to cook.
Where was the camaraderie of the vets? The old one knew where it stopped. The camaraderie stopped at the color line. What a shame. Each color was as much to blame as the other, however; that was unimportant, to the old one today but it still bothered the old one.
The old one started the grill, he had to undo what another had done and lit the grill. While the charcoal coals heated to a cherry red and a thin layer of grey ash began to cover them. He made the spice rub, and pounded it into the shoulders so much for marinating it for 24 hours. He was lucky the kitchen help had not stolen the pork during the night.
He organized the tables made things right, positioned them where he wanted them he made the mop. He was ready,
The meat went on the grill, more charcoal was added to the already burning coals, and then he closed the top and the waiting began.
The old one sat down, broke out his notebook and his pencil, and began to chronicle his day, He would stop his writing about every 45 minutes to baste the hog, and add more charcoal to the fire. One of the vets brought out a Boom box and selected a soul music channel; the old one listened, and reflected as he wrote. The music, the aroma of cooking meat, the cool breeze, and the incessant chatter of men both great and small surrounded him. He felt a glow of inner peace and he felt that all was right with the world, well today it was if only in his little world. He thought one day that he might join the larger world that encompassed him. The old one paused, took stock, still he was sad, and sorrow was a constant companion for him. He thought, hide it, mask it, and bury it, as he had done a thousand times before in the recesses of his brain. Therefore, he just buried it and carried on.
He took time to slice the dill pickles into spears, a man volunteered to clean up the area for him, the old one was delighted and agreed right away “please be my guest any help is gratefully accepted,” the old one said smiling, and he started a new page in his journal.
That new page stared at him, waiting to be defiled, defaced He stared right back at the page. When the old one was good and ready and his brain was full of words thoughts and visions, he would, yes he would defile that pristine piece of parchment and leave a piece of him behind all who cared to read it.
The old one watched the flames dance on the hot coals as the grease from the hog dripped on them. The fire was hot, just right, it couldn’t be better, he watched it flare and then just as quickly as it blazed to life that flame consumed itself in a flicker of defiance and then died a solemn death. The old one stirred the coals, and it was as if he had stirred up a hornets’ nest, the fire blazed to life hot, hotter than he had expected. He worked feverously to contain and control a force that man in millions of years had not conquered but control it he did the fire just smoked, the flames hiding, waiting, to jump out and blaze itself to life, just to spite the old one.
The old one tasted the hog, Oh! What memories those tastes stirred within him. Decades of time, Thousands of cookouts, the good times, he shaved off a good portion of the hog, placed it between two slices of bread, and had a sandwich. When he had finished the sandwich he looked around, he was alone, no one, nobody, made a sound except the chirping of birds and the occasional sounds made by cars that passed by the alley. He thought to himself, this is what he craved; he got up from where he sat and turned off the music box. He listened, he heard the flutter of wings, the coo of the pigeons the singing of the sparrow and then the floodgates opened, people, all the people in the 2100 came pouring out the doors to smoke and talk as loud as they could… the silence was shattered and it was gone.
Silence, like peace was elusive to the old one, he yearned for the silence, he yearned for the inner silence, he yearned for the peace, he yearned for the inner peace, he thought, “what would he do if all the noise in his head was gone, what would he do.” What could he accomplish if all distractions that kept his mind in turmoil in his head were suddenly gone, the old one could only dream and dream he did.
The clock struck two and those two bells signaled the rain to begin, first it appeared as a mist, then as a drizzle, and finally as large bombarding drops. The drops wet the ground, the tables, the grill, even the old one, but this wasn’t enough to dampen the old one’s spirit, it just rained on his parade. Ah, such is life.
At three o clock, his help began to arrive, each trying their best to arrange or prepare food or they tried to second-guess the old one and for once in his life, he decided to sit back and let them have at it. When they were through, he would arrange things to his liking and when he had the chance, he did exactly that. The pork was chopped the pickles were sliced, the rice, the macaroni salad were placed in the serving dishes the potato salad was dished into the trays the drinks were put on ice and the dinner gong was rung.
People, people from everywhere and every direction appeared they grabbed hamburger rolls and hamburger patties from the grill as if it was their last supper and then gobbled them down as if they were starving. Then they made their way into the serving line for the bar-b-que they were served two sandwiches that were piled high with the hog and then they made their way through the line choosing for the other foods what they wanted to eat.
The first three shoulders pulled from the grill and their meat pulled from the bone and finely chopped. It was placed in a large pan. That meat was soon exhausted the old sour man grabbed the last two shoulders and pulled the meat from them to finish feeding the people who had arrived late and about the time that meat was extinct, the arguing and order giving began.
People who were not even involved in the preparation or even the purchasing of the food began giving orders. The old one stood and when the bombastic man that began the arguing had finished.
The old one asked him, “Did you donate any money or volunteer any time to help with the bar-b-que, I know you didn’t do either because I bought all that you see here, you don’t have the right to tell me what I can do with what I bought I will do with as I please.”
The bombastic veteran said, “This food needs to be saved for the vets as left over’s so we will have something for tomorrow or for a snack tonight.”
“You ass,” the old one shouted, “Save the food, so you can have lunch next week, damn you, that will never happen not while I’m alive. Hey, all of you come eat. What’s not eaten will be thrown away.” Within minutes the horde that had gathered picked clean every bowl, pan, tray, bag, and bottle and the bombastic man stood there with his mouth agape.
The old one owed no one nobody nothing, he had done this for himself and maybe, just maybe, he had done this to give some of himself, to the others and find a little inner peace, only time would tell, hell he thought time was all he had.
When it was over, everyone disappeared. He began to clean up and just as he had begun the day alone, he happily finished it alone.