One Fair Summer Evening
We ate dinner outside that night. Sometimes we would dine with the guests of our backpacker’s hostel, but this was just for family.
Evening breezes tempered what remained of the day’s heat, but it was still warm enough for shirtsleeves and sundresses. Father and Uncle Ezra carried the big table out to the lawn behind the main building, Abel set up the sunshades and I carried condiments and side dishes out from the kitchen. Everything was set on the red checked tablecloth, casually but with a certain ritual formality.
Grandpa, of course, was master of the barbecue, presiding over that huge grill like a priest, orb and sceptre replaced with a flipper and a tub of secret recipe barbecue sauce. He never told us what part of the recipe was secret, but I know he added herbs from a corner of his garden to give it an astringent tang that barely made it past the chipotle. Grandpa did the best barbecue in the family, maybe in the whole county. I asked him once why he didn’t enter it in the county fair, but he just looked at me for a minute.
“Girl,” he drawled, “some things are just meant for family. You hear?” I liked it best when it was just family. Mother and Auntie Miriam are good cooks, but when we ate with the guests it was all vegetarian or vegan food. That was why a lot of them came. Our hostel was not very big, and not luxurious, but it was clean, and we only served locally grown, cruelty-free food. A lot of it we grew ourselves, in the back garden, and people who said they were “conscious” about what they ate made sure to stop. Word got around. We didn’t even advertise anywhere, but these folks kept coming from the west, east, north. Folks came from everywhere. I liked talking with them, finding out where they came from and what they did for a living. They all had good stories, of their neighbourhoods in the city, of the interesting people in their families, and where they’d traveled before ending up at our place, usually on the way to somewhere more exciting.
Occasionally we’d have guests who didn’t have a plan where they would go next. They’d come from Europe, or Japan, or Canada and they would just travel where the wind took them. Abel and I would sit down with them in the guest lounge and talk their ear off about all the places, and what it must be like to have that kind of money, and nobody expecting them back any time soon. Some of those times I’d just get a faraway look in my eyes, and if Abel wasn’t around I’d ask if they were looking for some company. Things aren’t very exciting here, after all, and you need to make your own fun.
I remember some of these folks fondly, and I keep mementos of some of them. Sometimes I’ll have a business card, or a little photo. There was a young man from Norway here this past week. He told me lovely stories about Vikings and frost giants and fierce winters. I didn’t want to forget him, so when I cleaned his room the other day I kept his iPod and a gold ring. Now I can listen to his music, and look at the pictures of his travels and, when I put on the ring, pretend I married him and we traveled around the world together, staying at places like this and moving along to the next stop.
I didn’t tell anyone, but as I sat at the table, with my family, caressed by a warm evening breeze, I played with the ring inside a pocket of my dress, slipping it on and off my fingers until Grandpa brought over the meat for dinner. I was surrounded by perfect summer smells; cut grass, fresh biscuits and Grandpa’s barbecue. Mother handed me a plate of meat, the perfect pale Northern skin browned and tender. I put the ring back in my pocket, cut easily into the flesh, and once again took him into my mouth.
Having our family together on a summer evening was wonderful, but I loved foreign food the best.