Hardtimes
Chapter 4

Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac

The day of the party to celebrate Junior’s birth, turned out to be a blustery fall day. Orange, red, and yellow leaves dropped from the trees to be carried by the wind. The rustle of dry leaves rubbing against other leaves provided the background noises easily recognizable as the sounds of fall. People wore windbreakers, sweaters, or jackets trying to keep warm in the face of the chilly wind, but their efforts failed. It was too cool for a light jacket, too windy for a sweater, and not cold enough for a heavy jacket.

There were worse days to have an outdoor barbecue, but not many. At least it wasn’t raining. The majority of people had retreated inside of Burl’s house. It was very crowded in the house with over twenty people milling around in the kitchen and living room. In fact, it was standing room only.

Two hardy individuals, George and Dick, stood around the grill with Burl while he cooked some sausages. The little kettle grill showed its age. He figured that he would have to replace it next season and wondered if he could pick up a good deal on one now.

Burl was providing burgers, sausages, and wings. There was a lot of food inside the house since most of the neighbors had come over with side dishes knowing that he was providing the meat. Kat was inside helping manage the food.

Holding his hands over the grill to warm them, George said, “It sure was nice of you to do this for us.”

“My pleasure. I just wish the weather was a little nicer,” Burl said.

He felt embarrassed to have squeezed so many people into his small house. The morning had been spent moving furniture out of the public areas of the house so there would be room for everyone. It was still crowded. At least two or three women at a time were down at George’s house visiting Maggie and oo-ing and ah-ing over the baby.

Dick, one of the retired men who lived down the street, said, “You can’t control the weather.”

“That’s true,” Burl said.

He lifted one of the sausages off the grill and put it on a plate. He cut the sausage into bite sized pieces. Dick stabbed each piece with a toothpick. He popped a piece of sausage into his mouth.

“Mmm, good,” Dick mumbled around the piece of food.

“The fellow at the meat market down the street makes it himself,” Burl said.

“It’s good,” George said after sampling a piece.

Burl took another piece of sausage off the grill and set it on the plate. Dick had the knife ready to cut it into slices. There was going to be a pretty good pile of sausage by the time Burl was done with the batch cooking on the grill.

“I keep telling him that he needs to make more and market it to one of those natural food stores, but he says that he just wants to keep his butcher shop,” Burl said.

“I’m kind of surprised that he’s managed to stay open. Supermarkets have pushed most of the specialty stores out of business,” Dick said.

“That’s true. I go there because I know he buys the best meat and he cuts it to order,” Burl said. “You can’t get that at the supermarket.”

“Sure you can,” Dick said.

“Right. They act like they are doing you a favor,” Burl said dismissively. “You try asking a butcher at the supermarket to package meat in half pound packages some time.”

“You might be right,” Dick said.

“When I get my meat at the supermarket, I have to buy their big packages and repackage all of the meat. It’s a real pain in the ass,” Burl said.

George asked, “Do you buy all your meat from him?”

“No. I still buy most of my meat at the supermarket. It’s that one stop shopping thing,” Burl answered.

George said, “I guess we’re all guilty of that.”

After Burl put the last sausage on the plate, Dick went to work cutting it up. George grabbed a piece and popped it into his mouth. He was going to ask Maggie to go pick some up when she went shopping.

Burl started putting burgers out on the grill. “I keep trying to remember to swing by the meat shop, but I get caught up in other things and forget. I guess I’m in the habit of heading over to the supermarket.”

“Strange to think of shopping as a habit,” Dick said.

Burl said, “Maybe I ought to start swinging by the butcher shop before heading over to the supermarket.”

“I don’t do the shopping. Maggie does it all,” George said. He picked up the plate with sausages and added, “I’ll take these in the house.”

“Great. Ask Kat if I need to put more wings in the oven,” Burl said.

“Will do,” George said.

Dick watched George go in the house. Turning back to Burl, Dick said, “Did you hear about someone sending Kat money?”

“She mentioned it to me,” Burl said. “She was very happy about it.”

Kat had been surprised one day to discover an envelope in the mail containing nothing except for two one hundred dollar bills. There wasn’t a return address or a note explaining the money. It was quite a mystery.

“I wonder who would send her money like that,” Dick said eyeing Burl.

“Probably one of the men who served with her husband,” Burl answered. He pressed down on a couple of burgers with his spatula creating a flare-up when the grease hit the hot coals.

“I think it was a little closer to home than that,” Dick said.

“That’s an interesting idea,” Burl said.

“You wouldn’t happen to know anything about it?” Dick asked.

Burl said, “If I wanted to give her some money, I could just walk next door. There’s no need to mail it.”

“That’s true,” Dick said. “Unless you wanted to remain anonymous.”

“There’s no need to be anonymous. A lot of people in the neighborhood help her out. George has been taking care of her car. He only charges her for parts,” Burl said. “You’ve helped her with plumbing.”

“Only the simple stuff,” Dick said.

“Still, it helps,” Burl said.

“I liked Jimmy. He was a good neighbor,” Dick said. “It’s a real shame patriotic folks are dying while people who hate the country stay home where it is safe. People like Jimmy are dying so those assholes can ruin the country.”

“I never served,” Burl said.

Dick looked at Burl and said, “Not having served in the military doesn’t make you an asshole. The assholes are the ones who don’t appreciate the sacrifice others make on their behalf.”

“I could serve,” Burl said.

He felt that he could go over and help protect the country. If he were to die in the process ... well ... no one would really miss him. He wouldn’t be leaving a widow behind like Jimmy did.

Dick shook his head. He didn’t know how to say it, but Burl would be the first guy killed in a battlefield.

“You aren’t built for the military,” Dick said, “Face it, you’re a nice guy Burl. You aren’t a fighter. It just ain’t in you. Some kid over there will sucker you into a bad situation and you’ll be dead.”

“I don’t know ... maybe you’re right,” Burl said.

George came out of the house laughing about something someone had said inside. He walked over to Burl. “Kat already put some wings in the oven.”

“Great,” Burl said.

George said, “I’m going to check on the little woman and Waldo.”

“You do that,” Burl said. He was pretty sure that Maggie heard George call Junior ‘Waldo,’ despite the fact that she was indoors and two houses down.

“Junior is going to grow up to be a good looking boy. He gets his looks from Maggie,” George said jokingly.

“You’re lucky,” Dick said with equal humor in his voice. “All my boys ended up looking like me.”

Not having anything to add to the conversation, Burl concentrated on cooking the burgers. He would love to have a kid or two. He felt there was no finer thing to aspire to than being a father.

George said, “I’ll be back in a bit.”

Burl flipped the burgers to cook the other side.

Watching George cut across the backyards to his home, Dick said, “He’s taking to being a father like a duck to water.”

“He’s going to be a good father,” Burl said.

Dick said, “I’m not surprised. His dad was a good father.”

“His dad was always there for him,” Burl said. “He’d have been a great grandfather.”

George and Burl been in high school together, although they were a year different in age. George’s dad had attended every football game and driven the boys home from practice. Burl had made the team, but never got much time on the field. He was big and could fill a spot on the offensive line in a pinch, but he wasn’t aggressive enough to really do the kind of job one would expect of a first string player. George had been a tight-end despite the fact that he wasn’t really big enough to take the punishment of getting hit by the bigger guys.

It was a shame that George’s dad had been killed by a drunk driver two years earlier. It had really hit George hard. Burl had spent many an evening listening to George rant about drunk drivers. Although George talked about drinking, he hadn’t taken a drink since the night his father died. He was the first to demand the car keys from anyone who’d had too much to drink.

“He’d just be a grandfather,” Dick corrected. “When Junior has a kid of his own, he would have been a great grandfather.”

“You know what I meant,” Burl said.

“Just razzing ya’,” Dick said.

“So when are you going to be a grandfather?” Burl asked.

“I don’t know,” Dick said in disgust.

His sons were married, but they didn’t seem to be in a hurry to start a family. It seemed to him that too many people were waiting longer to get married and even longer than that to start having children. His kids were in their thirties and were talking like they were going to wait twenty years before starting a family.

Dick said, “I just hope that my daughters-in-law listen to their biological clock someday soon. They aren’t going to be happy to discover they can’t have children if they wait too much longer.”

“I’ve noticed a lot of women in their late thirties pushing baby carriages in the mall,” Burl said. “It seems to me like the more educated and wealthier a couple is, the longer they are waiting to have children. I don’t know if that is a good thing or not. They can provide for them better, but I’m not sure they are able to relate to them as well.”

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