The Cookout

 

Yesterday, Matt and I took advantage of the unusually nice seventy-degree weather and took a walk through the park in Frederick. Rather than compete with traffic, we parked on a side street and cut through a bit of downtown. We happened by a rundown apartment building and some houses in need of attention on a sadder street just as the occupants were setting up for a neighborhood cookout. I was struck with a note of longing.

Poor, black neighborhood cookouts were a way of life for me, growing up. There was no money for family vacations (most people didn’t have those kind of jobs anyway). There was no money for a lot of things. But what you could do, was pool your resources, hang out, let the kids go wild and catch-up on community.  When black people get together, anybody walking down the street can eat. I missed that.

Especially given our circumstance. We don’t live in a neighborhood that favors block parties. I offend half the people we know, by virtue of my existence (I’m okay with it. Most of the people I offend, need it). They only party with people who agree with them, and BS overload gives me indigestion, anyway.

We enjoyed our walk and detoxed a little from the acid we’re constantly wading through, but that cookout lingered in my thoughts. It was a classic example of the ‘Gutter Flowers’ I’m so into. The area wasn’t pretty. The people didn’t appear to have much, and yet there was laughter and fun and the camaraderie that comes from having to make do with what you have. There’s no one-upmanship. No, who-has-what that’s better. Your job or your look didn’t have anything to do with what went on your hotdog.

On our way back to our car, we caught sight of the party in full swing.

They waved us over.

They would not take no for an answer. Because when black people get together, anybody walking down the street can eat.

It was a moment. We didn’t have to. We didn’t know these people. We had things to do. The area wasn’t pristine. It wasn’t racially balanced… We had an arsenal of excuses at our disposal. We ignored them all.

There were three older guys sitting on a tailgate. One of them may have been white or mixed. I’m not sure, but my husband is white. He had a burger. Because they didn’t have a preference on who was welcomed. It didn’t matter, that I was a black girl, with a white man instead of a brother. What mattered was, where I put the ketchup when I was done using it.

We talked and laughed and looked and listened. I wanted to take a picture, but I didn’t see a cellphone anywhere. If you’ve ever seen a group of ten-or-more people not on electronic devices, it’s a work of art. That’s not to say, they didn’t have them. But, they were doing community, it wasn’t worth a picture to interrupt that. I left my phone in my pocket.

Ernestine a.k.a Tater, has seven kids, twelve grandkids, and eight great-grandchildren. She drove an over-the-road rig for ten and a half years- the first year, without a CDL license. She says she didn’t have a choice.

Charlie and Wilder took turns manning the grill and Gwen sat there, nursing a beer. She told me, she didn’t contribute a thing- she couldn’t. She lost her job two months ago, but everybody made sure she had food…and today, a beer.

As far as the state of the nation, they had opinions. But only a few. Ferguson is like a third world country, somebody said. The racial divide is one of the reasons they came out and fired up the grill. They hoped, they prayed, somebody like my husband-somebody white would rather eat than fight. That’s as far as politics went.

Just as we were leaving, a lady with two kids were being wooed by the aroma coming off the grill and the temptation of games.

Those awesome neighbors, who clearly had less than many, put a table full of love in the midst of a time of hate. They challenged us to trust. They rewarded our effort with acceptance and food…good food.

There’s your Black Magic.

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