Canoeing

There is something about transporting a large, awkward object like a canoe or a chifforobe in something other than a pickup truck on the interstate that makes for good character development.

My father-in-law gave me an old canoe last year. We hauled it the three hundred miles back home tied to the top of our minivan. There is something about transporting a large, awkward object like a canoe or a chifforobe in something other than a pickup truck on the interstate that makes for good character development.

Not far from the house is the perfect place to take a canoe: Duck River. It’s a relatively new reservoir with three boat landings and a 17 mile hiking trail around the perimeter. The whole family has gone to the hiking trail countless times, but only Wes and I have ventured out in the canoe. The first time we only had one paddle.

Like anything, there is an art to canoeing, but you’ll have to read someone else’s article if you want to know more about that. I do understand, because of firsthand experience, that the canoe is keelless and can be turned with just the slightest stroke of the paddle. If you are located more or less toward the rear of the vessel, you’ll quickly get a handle on how to maneuver the boat with a single paddle. This is what we call, faking it.

The second time Wes & I took the canoe out we each had a paddle. Initially, I decided to sit in the back so I could steer the canoe. It became immediately apparent that the weight in the boat was not equally balanced, so we pulled ashore opposite our launch and redistributed the weight. Which means we swapped seats. Then we realized that since we were facing each other it would be difficult for Wesley to help paddle. So we rearranged the seating once again with Wesley aft and me fore. This was the position I was trying to avoid, because it meant that Wesley would have to be responsible for the main steering of the canoe. But he is good at following instructions, so I gave him a crash course in using his paddle as a rudder and we shoved out into the water again.

It is a funny thing, communication. Something so glaringly clear to you can become a convoluted mess whenever you try to put it into words and convey it to anyone. Especially a child. And if you’re in a hurry.

It was so frustrating to exert a lot of energy paddling only to watch the canoe turn in a wide circle. I looked back and saw that Wesley was steering us the wrong direction. I wanted to be mad at him, but I realized that in my haste all of my instructions had been opposite of the right instructions.

After about the third loop we made, and some heated dialogue, Wesley exclaimed very clearly, “I don’t know what you want me to do! If you tell me exactly what to do I’ll do it!”

After this, I pulled up next to the shore and turned the canoe around backwards so I could show him-in detail and patiently like I should have done in the first place-how to use the paddle as a rudder. It really was quite amazing the canoe instantly responded to such subtle movements of rudder. From then on, we had no more trouble steering the boat. We even executed a couple of loops on purpose in order to get a better look at some water snakes.

A map of our canoe route shows a clear difference between the crooked trip out and the straight trip back.

As I was sitting in that spinning canoe frustrated at myself for rushing out into the middle of what could be a stressful situation and expecting my seven year old son to read my mind as well as react like an adult this verse came to mind.

Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithsoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things… James 3:3-4

No matter the amount of fierce wind-or in our case how hard we paddle-the direction will be set by a small rudder.

But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. James 3:8

I am of the firm belief that only God can tame your tongue. Until then, regardless of how much energy you put into your life, an untamed tongue will be steering the ship.

Barbecue, Barbeque, BBQ

It’s that time of year. Barbecue season. I’ve always struggled with how to spell that, but WordPress autocorrect just informed me that the proper spelling was “Barbecue”. I bet they won’t tell that to Golden Rule Barbeque in Irondale, which has been around at least hundred years longer than autocorrect. They probably won’t tell Fat Man’s Bar B Que in Pell City either. Or Full Moon Bar-B-Que. Anyway, I’m still not sure how to spell it, because I “ain’t never eat no” BBQ that WordPress cooked. But even if I can’t spell it, I can define it. At least I’ll give it a try. Defining barbecue is like defining women. You’ll excite half the people and offend the rest.

First off, barbecue is a noun. I think it’s pork. Mainly Boston Butt’s, but if you want to throw some ribs on the grill while we’re waiting for the butts to get done I’ll still eat them and call it barbecue. I eat so many ribs one year when I was a boy that it was several years before I had another one. If you want to get deep and go to the root meaning of the word barbecue, it means “cooking a whole hog on a wood fired grill”. Which is where we get the term, “Whole Hog.” Which means that you go all out doing something. I’ll use it in a sentence so you’ll understand it better.

“Zane is taking this writing thing seriously, I heard he’s going whole hog and trying to write a book.”

Barbecue also has to have some sauce. My Uncle Johnny was always the self appointed grill master at all of our family get togethers in the summer. Not without good reason though, he is an excellent cook. He would crupper up his own sauce recipe using Kraft Original as a base. “Cattleman’s tastes too much like ketchup, don’t use it.” He would say. When the meat was done, he would pull it apart or chop it up, put it in a deep pan and pour enough sauce over it that it would  almost simmer and bubble as it sat on the grill. He always made two pans, one regular and one hot. He liked it hot. He didn’t have any teeth and chewed tobacco. I don’t think that affected his taste buds though. Once he ate breakfast with us and drank the tomato juice out of the serving plate. I watched him in wonder as he slurped the juice, set the plate down and lick his lips. He sat there a moment enjoying his draught. Then he said,”There was a bad tomato in there.”  Anyone with taste buds that sharp wouldn’t have been inhibited by tobacco juice. Anyway, Uncle Johnny liked his barbecue hot. He liked everything hot. He made gravy so hot one time that the cats wouldn’t eat it. As a kid, my mom would warn me about the hot pan of barbecue. “It’s hot baby, you won’t like it.” I grew up thinking that the hot pan of barbecue was going to burn through my esophagus. When I was finally old enough to fix my own plate, I tried some. It was delicious.

I’ve rambled a little bit here. We were defining Barbecue and I’ve already offended all the Texans and Carolinians. It’s probably just easier to tell you what barbecue ain’t, and that’s hamburger and hot dogs. You’re supposed to fry hamburgers in an iron skillet and roast weenies in the fall around a fire. If you get invited to a barbecue and they’re cooking hamburgers and hot dogs, I’m sorry, but those people have misled you. I’m sure they’re nice people and all, but I wouldn’t let them watch my kids if I were you, next thing you know they’ll have them playing soccer or something crazy like that. 

A Barbecue (see how I capitalized it) is also defined as a sacred feast for Southerners, where pork is cooked on a wood fired grill outside. This feast usually lasts about three days.

In general, we had about four or five Barbecues a year. We did have the official family reunion at my Great Uncle Freddie’s on the river, and sometimes we barbecued there. But all the same people came to the barbecues at my Aunt Edna’s, just up the hill from Pop’s, on Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day. And whenever Pop deemed it was angood time to have a Barbecue.  Since the location, menu, and people were the same each time, the only way that I could tell a difference in all of those holidays was that we shot bottle rockets on the Fourth of July. To me, these summer holidays were simply Barbecues.

The Barbecue would start on Friday night. “We’ll serve dinner on Sunday at noon.” Pop would say. Up until then, we feasted. We might have a fish fry while the barbecue was slow cooking. Somebody might through some Cornish game hens on the grill and eat them while we were waiting on the main course. One time my Uncle James put a Boston Butt on the grill and then left. He come back about six or five hours later and his meat was about half gone. He singled Uncle Johnny out, “You done eat all my barbecue Johnny.”

“I can’t eat t’at James, I ain’t got no teeth!” Uncle Johnny retorted.

“Yeah, but you kin bite a railroad rail in two with them gums of yores.”

Barbecuing a whole hog is a lot of work, but man is it worth it. There is nothing like slicing the meat off of a hog and eating it around the grill. All it needs is a little bit of salt.

This is the grill that Pop & Uncle Johnny used throughout my childhood. You can see the front peice is on the ground. You can cook whole hogs or just use the grill to cook Boston Butts and ribs. 

When Sunday finally rolled around, we would eat, not just barbecue, but we had a buffet of sides that was five tables long under Aunt Edna’s carport. It was also about fifty yards from the grill. I’m not writing about sides though, I’m writing about barbecue.

When I close my eyes and work up a hankering for barbecue, I still see my family sitting outside around a humongous oak tree. Many of them have passed on now.  I envision myself as a little boy with thick glasses walking to the grill down by the tree line. They were pine trees. Uncle Johnny pulls the front of the grill open to throw a couple of pieces of hickory wood on the fire. Sparks fly everywhere. I walk in front of all the old men sitting around the grill and ask Uncle Johnny to dip me out some of barbecue on my bun. “No sir, I’ll have the regular.” I say. I take a bite of that barbecue sandwich, and blink to get the smoke out of my eyes. That’s really how I define Barbecue.

That giant oak tree finally died and they had to cut it down before it fell on Aunt Edna’s house. I’m sure they used some of that wood for a barbecue. Uncle Johnny showed my brother how to barbecue a coon’s age ago. He wanted to pass it on to the next generation. Although Zach learned on the other grill, I feel like he mastered this one. I’m going to get one of these someday. 

Since I’ve moved to Virginia, I haven’t been to a proper Barbecue in over a decade. Perhaps that’s why I’ve expanded my definition of barbecue to include Brisket, chicken, and dry rub. I even like that old nasty vinegar stuff they try to pass as barbecue down in the Carolinas. No matter what barbecue I try, nothing is quite the same as those summer Barbecues of my childhood in the blazing Alabama heat. It’s hard to capture that whole experience in a restaurant. 

It seems like every year when the weather changes I get invited to someone’s place for a barbecue. I’ve learned to be polite and go, but I know it’s going to be hamburgers and hot dogs.