I remember growing up in a quiet little neighborhood. There were about 24 families on our street. I didn’t know all of them. I only knew the ones that had children close to my age that my parents considered appropriate playmates. For example, if the parents drank beer, I was not allowed to play with them. Our neighbors on one side had two girls who were a little younger that I played with. Our parents were great friends. Our families frequently cooked out together during the summer and early Fall. The men would cook and talk. The women would sit in the swing and talk while the kids played freeze tag. After dinner, we would catch lightning bugs. We would always save our bugs in old mayonnaise jars. By then, our dinner had “settled” and we would either roast marshmallows on sticks over the coals or eat homemade ice cream. Sometimes Mrs. W would make a chocolate cake. No one could make a cake that was as good as hers! It was a wonderful evening!
Mr. W was “the” official griller. My dad was the helper. They would go together to purchase the meat several days before the cook-out. Sometimes we had hamburgers. Sometimes chicken. But my all time favorite was grilled ribs. They were scrumptious! Mr. W was a stickler for perfect ribs. So at the grocery store, he always asked to see the head butcher so he could have exactly the right ribs to cook. My dad didn’t mind the questions. Well-except for one! Mr. W always wanted to know the date the pig was killed. It had to be killed under a specific sign of the moon or he would NOT purchase them! The head butcher at the store we used was from our church and my Dad was always embarrassed by this sign of the moon question. But the butcher generally was able to come up with a date and then Mr. W would decide whether to get the ribs or not. I am not sure if the date was really correct but the men would go with what was said.
When ribs were going to be the star at the cook-out, the two men would gather in Mr. W’s kitchen to make the sauce. No one was allowed in the kitchen during this time. It was a secret. Then the ribs were massaged and covered with a secret rub. Then they rested in the refrigerator all night. And the special sauce spent the night in the refrigerator so the spices could marry.
The day of the cookout started early. The two men would head off to the “ice house” to get a block of ice for the ice cream freezer. In those days, our town had an ice house. There were no bags of ice. The men would make the ice cream base and start churning the ice cream. They would drink coffee and take turns turning the handle. Although we made several different flavors of ice cream, vanilla was the most requested. Next the charcoal had to be reduced to the just right kind of coals, before placing the ribs on the grill. The next period of time was critical. The ribs must sweat for a bit so they would be tender. Then came the secret sauce. By this time, all of us kids would be sitting at the picnic table waiting for the feast ahead.
When I was in ninth grade, Mr. W had a massive heart attack and died. I was so sad for his wife and children and for my dad because they were best friends. I will always remember him as that gentle soul who loved his family and who had a special place in my heart, too.
And frankly, ribs have never been the same for me! But then it might be because I didn’t check the signs of the moon first!