By Nick Nunn
“When people think of this Fourth of July,” said a Bostwick resident last Thursday at the annual barbecue, “they’ll call it ‘The Rainy One.’”
As far as most people remember, it had never – or only once, depending on who you asked – rained during Bostwick’s Fourth of July barbecue during the 50-plus years that it has been held.
This year, the little city’s luck almost ran dry.
The weather reports invariably foretold rain on the big day, and the City of Bostwick announced a few days ahead of time that the barbecue would not be held in the pecan grove, as it had been for years, but near the Masonic Lodge instead.
As a Bostwick native, I can’t remember a Fourth of July barbecue that I’ve missed, and, in all honesty, I couldn’t remember any that differed much at all from year to year. They all seem the same after a little time.
My dad even made a joke about someone making a knockoff of the film Groundhog Day centered around Bostwick’s barbecue.
“Yeah,” I said when he asked if someone could do a film like that, “but I don’t know how many people out of this area would watch it.”
Don’t get me wrong; the Fourth of July barbecue is one of the most exciting days in the Bostwick calendar, and I thoroughly enjoy the reassuring monotony of the process.
Every year (except this one, which I’ll get to in time), my father, uncles, brother, cousins, other family and friends, and I unload loads of tables and chairs in the pecan grove of downtown Bostwick and set them all up knowing that, in just a few hours, we’ll be taking them down and loading them up again.
Leaving the actual barbecue and Brunswick stew in the capable hands of the men from Bostwick’s volunteer fire department, my cousins and I prepare the serving lines by stacking pallets of bread at the end tables and set up the little station that we invariably man year after year: pickles and applesauce.
If you’ve never stood in our (often soaking) shoes in the ditch of the pecan grove closest to the gas station, you probably wouldn’t believe what a sticky, soggy, stinking-of-sweet mess a dozen or so gallons of pickles and applesauce can cause.
The applesauce provides fewer issues to the experienced. One simply opens the gallon-sized can with a mounted, “industrial” can opener that looks like something Sinclair Lewis would have described in The Jungle.
If you are able to get the lid off of the applesauce can out before it falls deep into the yellow goop, that’s half the battle, but you can always expect to come away with an ounce or so of sauce on some combination of your hands, feet, and any clothing in between.
The pickles, however, don’t even allow reprieves for the experienced.
The biggest issue with the pickles is that the juice needs to be drained from the jars before they can be taken to the serving line, otherwise, the tubs would be filled with solely juice after only a couple of gallons.
Although less than elegant, the method that we use to solve this problem is quick. We simply crack the lid on the pickle jar a little and use the gap between the lip of the jar and the lid as a strainer, through which the pickle juice can run freely.
And therein lies the problem: the pickle juice runs from the jar, past the lid, over your hand, through about three feet of space, and then into the grass, which is typically less than receptive to gallon after gallon of pickle juice, so the liquid puddles on the surface of the earth and creates an ideal splashing ground, ready and willing to baptize any nearby legs and feet with the briny blood of the gherkin.
The lower extremities aren’t the only body parts placed in jeopardy during the drainage wars, however. The hand, which serves as the necessary go-between for the jar and the lid, catches the brunt.
How could you expect that, after playing the role of a sieve for jar after jar of sweet pickles, you would be able to wash the smell of pickle from your hand in any reasonable amount of time?
In an answer to my own rhetorical question: you can’t. You’re just stuck with that smell for a while. And, to make it all the worse, up until a couple of years ago, I hated sweet pickles with a passion.
Then again, it might have had to do with the fact that the only time I came up against them in the course of the year, they left me with an olfactory mark that could hardly be denied.
Once the pickles and applesauce would run their annual course, we would pack everything up again, clean up what mess we could, and finally enjoy the celebratory after-barbecue swim up and Grandma and Papa’s house.
And, after it was over every year, it was always worth it for that free plate of barbecue we earned as volunteers and knowing that we had helped to keep a tradition going that our grandfather had helped to start.
That’s how the average year goes, but, because of the rain, this year was a little bit different.
The first decision that the impending rain caused was to abandon the pecan grove for the area in front of Bostwick’s post office. A light drizzle from about 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. on the day of didn’t prevent us from setting up the necessary stations, which included two serving lines (only one of which were sheltered), the pickle and applesauce station, the ticket booth, and places for the drinks and the desserts.
As I settled into my standard functions, the sole serving station – the powers that be decided that one was enough while the drizzle from the heavens still fell – prepared to open for business, and the line began to move.
But my uncle David, noticing how slowly people were moving through one serving line available, decided to open the second line and enlisted Alayna, my girlfriend, and I to assist him with the serving duties.
About this time, providence decided to shine its light, which had been blocked by clouds all day long, directly on the back of my neck, and, thanks to my apron, I quickly developed a sunburn that included a “tan” line that vaguely resembled one that would be created by wearing a halter top.
The rest of the day, however, ran smoothly. A steady stream of patrons allowed us to sell out of barbecue; a welcome surprise to the doomsday prophets who feared we wouldn’t even break even this year.
The rain even held off just until we brought the last table back under the shelter of the Masonic lodge, but then the bottom fell out, precluding any chance of taking that after-barbecue swim that we usually depend on.
Oh, well. Everything can’t be perfect.
In comparison to some of the volunteers at the Bostwick barbecue, however, my efforts seem negligible.
The men and women that stay up at the pit during the entire night connecting the third and fourth days of July in order to keep a watchful eye on the hogs that will be served as so much enjoyment to the countless diners on the next day contribute much more than the petty duties that I built up so much during the course of this column.
Their time and dedication to making sure the barbecue runs smoothly yearly is what really counts when it comes to facing another year of getting the barbecue prepared.
The only real lament I have is that my Papa, Earl Nunn, who loves Bostwick’s Fourth of July barbecue had to miss it this year – his first year in absentia – on doctor’s orders as he recovered from the last stages of a virus.
Well, the doctor didn’t say that he couldn’t go, only that Papa couldn’t actually do anything to help if he went, and Papa was wise enough to keep that particular temptation behind a closed door.
One comforting – and appropriate – conclusion from this barbecue stands clear: next year, rain or shine, there will be a Fourth of July barbecue in Bostwick.