“The beers’ on ice, the tea is extra sweet and the grill is smoking. Plenty of burgers, hot dogs and chicken for everyone so make sure you come with a big appetite. Save room for dessert because your grandmother has made an apple pie, banana pudding and strawberry shortcake and a whole table full of cookies.”
My grandfather could get us all excited about anything, even the simplest things like a BBQ. My grandmother said he could lure a hibernating bear in with the smell of his cast iron pot of beans.
We never knew who would show up for the afternoon cook-outs. We just did whatever we were told: go get the ice from the big freezer in the barn and restock the buckets of beer, go in the cellar and bring a few more jars of bread and butter pickles that were canned the year prior. We always had plenty to keep us busy and out of trouble. Grandfather always said idle hands were the devil’s workshop.
I always watched to see who would show up. Sometimes it would be the rich people from the other side of town just coming over to make fun of what my grandfather was doing. Most times it was just relatives and good friends. They came, arms filled with bowls of potato salad, macaroni salad, watermelons and many other mouth-watering treats.
Today the first visitor was a bony older man with wispy, thin white hair. I didn’t know it then, but that was the first and only time I saw an albino person. He was dressed in white from head to toe; white shirt, white pants, white shoes and he even wore white gloves. My grandmother told me that he dressed that way because he worked on type writers and it was very important that he keep clean so when he went to work on them, there would be no dust or anything to ruin the keys. I think she made that story up. He was just so strange-looking and I never noticed him eat a thing.
An hour later while making a trip to the barn to fetch some more ice I saw a little girl named Cecilia. She always wore ragged old clothes to school, and she looked like she didn’t own a comb or a brush. Everyone made fun of her and no one wanted to be her friend (me included). At one point she caught lice and after that she never had any friends. She was with a man somewhat skeletal in stature, with a drawn in face. He wore a green Army coat and his hair was stringy but combed back with some sort of Brylcreem or something similar. He was a strange cat that would walk and stop every few feet. He would put his index finger up to an imaginary chalkboard and he would seem to be carrying the numbers of a complex math problem. He was quite interesting to watch, but I didn’t want to be caught staring so tried my best not to.
As I was stuffing my third hot dog into my face I saw Bobby. He was known around town as the freak of freaks. He had Tourette syndrome and would go off at a moment’s notice on a tirade of explicit language filled with vehement. I thought it was funny. He walked around town always in a hurry and occasionally he would look back and brush away the imaginary people he thought was constantly following him.
My grandfather welcomed every one of these eccentrics. He offered them the comfort of his home and did not judge them for their idiosyncrasies. I thought they were a wayward group of minorities and I didn’t want to have anything to do with them. They were just weird.
Later that day after everyone went home, Grandfather asked me what I thought about our special guest. I didn’t know what he was talking about. “What special guest?” I scoffed. “We didn’t have any special guest!”
“Oh, but we did,” my grandfather spoke with such wisdom. “Today, Jesus visited our cook-out.”
“Oh, but yes, He did, more times than I think you realize. You see, he was the man with the wispy hair, the little girl who didn’t own a comb, the counting man, the man who spoke obscenities’.”
Isn’t it interesting how people can exist in the background of our survival and we can live our lives not even acknowledging them or giving them the time of day? They stick out in our mind and we remember them, not for anything great that they have done, but for who they were. Nevertheless, we shy away from people like them because they are not like us. They are different.
Our human nature is to crave attention and appreciation. We all crave to have a pat on the back or an occasional “Atta-boy”. The people mentioned above got plenty of attention, but not appreciation; laughed at, pointed at, ridiculed, made fun of, mocked. Most likely not the attention they craved.
My grandfather spoke with such wisdom. “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some have unwittingly entertained angels, that’s Hebrews 13:2,” he recited from memory. “Obedience to His word will gain us much wisdom and knowledge.”
I can’t wait for the next BBQ!