Sunday, June 21, 2009

BBQ and the Fourth of July-Happy Father's Day

One day in May or June during the sixties my dad brought home a 50 gallon drum that had been cut in half. The next Saturday we sat on the front porch just outside the carport with a host of screws, washers, nuts, and two hinges. That day I learned how to screw –how to hold the screw steady with a screw driver and turn the nut with a wrench or vice versa, whichever was easier, failure to work the two in tandem resulted in a lot of twisting and no tightening.

We hinged one part of that cut drum to the other in such a way that it opened liked a BBQ pit. We cut a little door on one end and fashioned a latch. This would serve as a damper. We then took some metal duct work and formed a stove pipe that we bolted to the top half. We found a can left over from supper and used as a damper. We fashioned a handle out of something I don’t remember. Perhaps it was wood or a piece of metal pipe or Ila Jane’s old baton. Either one would serve to lift the lid. We used the grates from and old frig for the grill. We fashioned a metal support to the bottom half in the front and the backside of the barrel to support the grill.

We attached the whole barrel to some sort of support that my dad had saved from the garbage man. I do not recall the support, but the BBQ barrel I recall quite well. I have seen similar BBQ contraptions all through the south and even in Gary.

On the Fourth of July that summer we invited the whole neighborhood over for a party. That homemade BBQ was filled with Royal Oak –the only kind of charcoal the old man would use. (I’m a Kingsford man myself unless I find Royal Oak then I’m tempted to switch).

My dad would use the door on the side opposite the stove pipe and the tin can on top to control the temperature of coals. On the grill he placed halves of chicken. As the chickens cooked he would baste them with his on special sauce. A sauce made with ketchup, mustard, tarragon vinegar and a quarter cup of whiskey added after the sauce boiled.

The chickens took some time so in the interim the kids were able to shoot off firecrackers. Mostly red fingers –not very powerful- but a few black cats if you were good. My dad kept the firecrackers in a coffee can and us kids had to go to him to get our supply. We had strict instructions to place the fire crackers on a brick or something else. Light them and run away. It was permissible to twist several firecrackers together and place them under a Maxwell House coffee can and see how high it would go. I put one in my mom’s gourd bird house and guess what…. It blew the bird house up.

We lived in the city limits of Little Rock and it was against the law to shoot off fireworks. So before the chickens were done we had a little visit from the Little Rock Police. They instructed us that we could not shoot off fireworks. All of us kids felt like we were in trouble and we better eat and go home quick. The policeman eventually wished us a happy fourth and left the backyard. He got in his car and turned around in the cul-de-sac then headed up the hill. As he headed up the hill my dad dropped his cigarette in the coffee can and all hell broke loose. The adults were jumping up and knocking over their lawn chairs and running for cover! The kids were scattering and swearing that the cops would be back. I am certain that was accident rather than an act of defiance. One thing’s for sure that chicken sure was good and my mom was more irritated at my dad than at me for blowing up her gourd.

Happy Father’s Day, Joe.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Johnny Cash; Dyess, Arkansas and Grandma's Guest Room

Recently our paper ran an article on a Sunday about the Legacy of Johnny Cash and a town's future. That town would be Dyess, Arkansas. I read the article and immediately turned to my book, Cash by the editors of Rolling Stone to compare the stories. Then I tried to reconcile the facts with tales of my grandma and my dad about how Johnny Cash grew up in Kingsland, Arkansas and slept in the guest room of the house in Rison.

The Rolling Stone book says, Johnny Cash remembered the first house he lived in which was near Kingsland, Arkansas. He was just a boy back then.

I have been to Kingsland and I was just boy then too. It was a little town at the end of gravel road we took south out of the bottoms near Bob and Neely's. That would be the Saline River bottoms. There were a few houses or shacks might be a better word. I think I even saw something that looked like a high school. Okay, it was the sixties and it was Arkansas so anything out of brick with more than one story, a patch of grass and goal posts would pass for a high school!

I pictured that was where Johnny Cash went to school and he probably came to Rison on Friday night for football. Afterwards he and the boys from Kingsland probably got in a fight with my dad and the Rison Tigers. Afterwards, Johnny Cash stayed the night in Grandma's guest room lickin his wounds from the lickin he took.

Well I don't think it happened that way and then again it may not have happened at all.

The paper said Dyess was a town developed by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration which farmers like the Cashes who were ruined by the Depression could resettle on land the government had bought. You could buy twenty acres of land with no money down, and a house, a barn and they would give you a mule and a cow. They would even furnish groceries through the first year. When your crop came in you could pay it back. The paper referred to it as a socialistic experiment.

Johnny Cash's brother died there after an accident in the community saw mill. Johnny went fishing on that day and his daddy never forgot it. Johnny Cash graduated from high school there in Dyess. (Guess that blows that childhood fantasy.) Johnny left Dyess to join the air force and eventually fell in love with June Carter, greatest love story told 'cept me and gawilli!

In the Rolling Stone book it says that Cash remembers it took them two days to travel the gravel roads from Kingsland to Dyess. That would be from southeast Arkansas to northeast Arkansas. They had to stop overnight by the roadside in the truck the government had sent for them. I bet that was when Johnny Cash slept in my grandma's guest room. I bet she and JW seen 'em on the side of the road and said, "Why don't ya'll come to our house over here to Rison where you'll be more comfortable."

Oh well, may be not. Knowing my family they probably just made that story up because they knew that had a gullible grandson. But if that ain't a great spin on the story you can always settle for the greatness of the tale of socialism in America. You know that dirty little thang that saved us from the Depression and the Dust Bowl that latter came to be something that would keep you from teaching school in Indiana, but that's another story!