Friday, July 8, 2011


After Leon and I were placed in charge of the 4th of July celebration, things went downhill fast. Due to failing health, Wyatt and Eleanor Griffith asked the homeowner’s association to let Leon and me take over the responsibility until someone of high character could be found to replace us.
The Griffiths were both confined to wheelchairs, and Leon and I had been doing all the leg work on the celebration for the previous eight years. Leon and I rolled Wyatt and Eleanor up the ramp and through the front door of their cabin.
“We would like to thank you for that glowing recommendation,” I said.
“We hope to be able to do as good a job as you and Mr. Griffith have done all these years,” Leon added.
Since Mr. Griffith was sound asleep in his wheelchair, Eleanor replied, “It’s the least we could do.”
Leon and I stood at the doorway, preparing to leave when she decided to deliver a parting shot.
“If you two run into anything you can’t handle, Wyatt and I will be right here to guide you.”
Our first order of business was food. We depended upon our residents to cook up a bunch of it for the celebration. As an incentive, the association holds a barbeque contest with prize money for the top three winners of the Barbeque Cook Off Contest. The winners are announced right before the fireworks display begins. On the way back to our cabins, Leon and I agreed to approach last year’s contestants and make sure they were all on board again this year.
But the following day when word spread that Leon and I were in charge of the celebration, things began to get ugly.
“I ain’t participating in the contest,” Eddy said, after I asked him if he was going to cook up another one of his fabulous briskets this year.
Last summer Eddy babied a large brisket in his smoker over night only to come in fourth place, just out of the money. He couldn’t understand how a widow woman, working a minimum wage job, trying to raise four school age kids, could win the 300 dollar first place with hotdogs heated up over an open fire. Especially, when one side of the hotdogs were burned black.
Leon tapped me on the shoulder. “Let me take this. Look here, Eddy, who helped you and Darla with her tuition money?”
“You did.” Eddy looked down.
Leon placed his hand on Eddy’s shoulder. “Don’t take it personal. Everyone loved your brisket and all that praise you received from the residents should have been reward enough.”
Eddy didn’t look convinced, so I decided to give it a go. “That woman is doing everything she can to give her kids a good home, and we felt she could use a little help. Leon and I thought we were doing the right thing last year by giving her that prize money.”
He looked up at us. “When she accepted the award, she said she didn’t know she had even entered the contest. She thought she was just cooking those hotdogs for her kids.”
Leon glanced at me. “That must have been the reason she cried when we handed her that check.”
In an effort to get Eddy back on board, I said, “What if we bring in unbiased judges this year? Judges who will be fair and honest.”
That got his attention. “You mean like real judges who don’t live here.”
Leon and I both nodded.
“Okay then. I’m in.”
With the first crisis solved, Leon and I left Eddy’s house and put our plan into motion.
By the night of July 3rd, everything was in place. A ton of fireworks, plenty of soft drinks, a little bit of beer for me and Leon, and lots and lots of great food being cooked and prepared by the residents of The Hamptons Lake Estates.
Later that evening, Eddy began smoking a brisket and two pork butts. Leon and I even helped him monitor his smokers during the night. Mainly we drank beer and watched Eddy keep the heat within the correct range.
The next day, the sky was a beautiful bright blue. By midday, the temperature hovered around ninety-three degrees. American Flags were flying all over the place. Tables were set up on the grounds. We brought in fans and placed them around the pavilion, so the older folks could stand the heat. Even Zelda, a ninety-eight-year-old retired psychic, told us we had done a good job. Rumor had it she predicted disaster when she learned Leon and I had been put in charge of this year’s event.
At ten-thirty that night, after the last fireworks were set off, people started cleaning up, and the judges were driven back into town.
Eddy, carrying his first place ribbon in the Barbeque Cook Off Contest, walked up to Leon and me.
“Congratulations, Eddy,” Leon said. “That was the best pork butt I ever ate.”
“Thanks,” Eddy replied, sticking the ribbon in his pocket.
I patted Eddy on the back. “They really liked your barbeque. I’ve never seen judges eat that much food.”
Eddy gazed at me. “You and Leon didn't fool anybody. Those judges you brought in were homeless Vietnam war veterans. They told me they go to the shelter for food.”
Leon stopped picking up empty soda cans from the ground and stood. “Yeah, Eddy. That’s right. We thought they might enjoy celebrating the 4th with us.”
           Eddy didn't say another word about the judges nor the contest, but stayed to help us clean up.
Four days later, the association received a long letter in the mail. It was from the shelter. The veterans had all hand written an individual thank you to the association for inviting them out for the celebration. At the end of the letter, a note had been added by the shelter administrator. She wanted to give a special thanks to the young man who signed over his first place prize winning check and gave it to her to help buy food for homeless veterans.