Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Barbeque/Cookout (09/06/12)
TITLE: Bernie's Barbecue Pit
By Marlene Bonney
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We were a bunch of misfits, my friends and I. Bernie’s Barbecue Pit became a way for us to band together. Girls were taboo, of course, but we welcomed anyone else who cared to join us, knowing none of the popular kids would ever want to.
My mother said God granted me an extra dose of understanding for the underdog. I was pretty even-tempered, unless I saw anyone getting picked on. What got my dander up was cruelty to those who were already vulnerable because of a disability. Take Harold. Born without legs, he was confined to an old malfunctioning wheelchair. He fitted in fine with our group, each of us taking turns wheeling him down the sidewalk from his place to my barbecue pit. It was a funny thing. We’d all huddle around our campfire, blankets draped across our collective shoulders and laps, and Harold looked just like the rest of us!
Then there was Kenny. Kenny stuttered something terrible. It was a humiliating for him, and a sorrowful thing to see other students—and even some teachers—demeaning him. Why couldn’t they see what his buddies did? He was kind and gentle and, wonder of wonders, a talented singer! We discovered that once accidentally when we practiced singing our school song around the barbecue pit. His powerful, rich tenor voice rose above everyone else’s, stunning us all into awed silence. Not just because his voice was so good, but his stutter disappeared when he was singing!
Butch’s face was covered with acne, any leftover space filled in with freckles that matched his fiery red hair and sometimes competed for attention with his bloodshot eyes. He had such a good heart, though, and once you got to know him, all that faded away like the mist of an early morning. It wasn’t long before we found he had a hidden talent: he drew sketches like a true artist! I still have a drawing from him of all of us guys sitting around the barbecue pit, the figures so detailed, you can almost touch them and bring them back to life.
We had a punched out bushel basket nailed to the trunk of Ol’ Oakie and we’d work off our barbecue-filled bellies trying to outdo each other with an old basketball that would make Magic Johnson blush. Denny would give us all a handicap, though, or we’d never been able to beat him. Long, lean and lanky, he was abnormally tall, sticking out like a sore thumb in the crowded school hallways. He was too shy to try out for the school basketball team. He sure shined with us, though, and we laughed ‘til our sides split when he’d hoist Pete (the shortest kid in our school) up on his shoulders for slam-dunks.
I met Chunky Chucky out on the school playground when I was a little kid, my adrenalin kicking in even then, rescuing him from bullies using his chubby stomach for a punching bag. We became fast friends, his dad eventually helping my dad dig out the barbecue pit a few years later.
Me? I was so skinny, my nickname was Beanpole—or, Toothpick, depending on who was addressing me. I wasn’t as frail as I looked, though, and many times I would squeeze my body through otherwise, unattainable spaces to retrieve stray balls—or runaway pets.
The lessons I learned about comradeship, loyalty, and from the Good Book we read passages from on Sundays around that barbecue pit have never left me.
Every five or ten years, as many of us as possible reunion at what is still my parents’ home in the backyard, playing catch-up on our lives around the old abandoned barbecue pit. Harold ended up with new-fangled prosthetic legs and actually entered a marathon not long ago . . . Kenny went on tour as lead singer in a famous choir . . . Butch became a cosmetic surgeon . . .Denny became an all-star basketball champion coach . . . Pete finally settled on a career in orthopedic therapy . . . Chucky chose a career as an exercise gym trainer. Me? I’m a motivational Christian speaker.
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