The temperature in late July in the South hovers around the mid- to upper-90s. The humidity is oppressive. It is, of course, the time of year that the Men of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church hold their annual BBQ. Why they choose to stand in front of a hot smoker during the month of July is beyond me, but Southerners always seem to chose the hottest part of summer for these events.
There are certain rituals that are strictly observed during the cooking of the pork butts and chicken for the BBQ. First of all, no girls allowed. The men won’t actually tell you this, but you can feel the bad mojo if you try to intrude on their Friday night ritual before the Saturday event. They gather across the street from the church, load up the cookers with meat and load up the coolers with beer. Then they sit around in lawnchairs and drink and tell stories. They get hot and sweaty and by morning they smell pretty bad. They’re actually proud of this.
The men also erect huge tents on a side street that’s closed off for the event. They rent the tent, they rent chairs, and they rent a giant refrigerated truck that drones incessantly all night long and into the next day. It’s always been unclear to me what is in this truck, because all the side dishes are prepared in the church kitchen. But it’s a big truck and that may be the object of the exercise. I’m just saying.
Every year to support the Men of St. Paul’s, the Women of St. Paul’s operate a bazaar and strolling bake sale. The bazaar takes up the entire social hall and it is a doozy. “We Don’t Do Junk” is the motto. And we operate the Strolling Bake Sale, in which adorable children wander around with baskets of the finest sweets produced by the good ladies of the church.
Well, as I said, tradition dies hard. This recession thing has thrown a real monkey wrench into the BBQ and it had ripple effects on both the bazaar and the bake sale. The men decided that instead of renting the tents and chairs (they kept the big truck, naturally), they would have people eat in the social hall. Inside. Where it’s cool. Where only WEENIES would eat because it’s July and you’re supposed to enjoy your BBQ while sweltering under a canvas tent. But moving the dining to the social hall meant there was NO ROOM for the bazaar. Can you tell I’m getting a little worked up here?
And what about the Strolling Bake Sale? Tradition is that we send little children out into the oppressive heat, carrying baskets filled with confections that melted almost instantly. But people bought them because they felt sorry for the children and even paid too much for them because the children were verging on unconsciousness and couldn’t make change.
Well, I hate to say it, I really do. But the BBQ was today and everything was better. People actually liked eating inside. The women set up the bake sale on a table in the social hall and nothing melted. We did not require a single EMT for the children.
And the bazaar? We’re having it over the Labor Day weekend. The men have offered to cook hotdogs and hamburgers to make up for having kicked us out of the social hall. I can’t tell you how dispiriting it is to have been absolutely wrong about this whole thing. I envisioned complete disaster and, instead, the 49th Annual St. Paul’s Episcopal Church BBQ was a resounding success. I guess after 49 years, maybe we could tweek the BBQ a little. Tradition does die hard, though, at least with me.