I answered the phone. It was Willie. “What?”
“We’re cooking at your house tonight.”
“It’s time to clean out the freezers. Doc is bringing venison, I’ll bring some dove…”
“No, why my house? I don’t have any backyard that isn’t swimming pool, and it’s too cold. I know, because yesterday a plant blew into the deep end and I had to shuck my clothes and go in after it. You won’t believe how cold it is.”
“Yes I would.” Willie was quiet for a moment. “Have things returned to normal?”
I resisted the urge to check, and simply adjusted my britches. “Yes. Why is everyone coming over here? You have that new place out in the country, Woodrow has nearly fifty acres, Doc lives on the lake, and Jerry Wayne, oh wait, he’s out because he’s building a house. You all have grills and smokers.”
“Doesn’t matter. We like that outdoor kitchen of yours, and besides, all the others are too far to drive.”
I didn’t believe them, but the gas grill was hot when they arrived on that Saturday evening. Cooking wild game with these guys is always an experience. Though I’m officially the guy behind the grill, they come in and slap meat on the grates like it’s theirs.
At one point, there were sizzling hamburgers, bacon-wrapped dove, backstrap, turkey breasts, chicken drumsticks, and even a redfish on the halfshell. I was a little concerned about all the grease dripping onto the burners, because I’d been negligent in cleaning the grill after the last few meat parties.
It’s always crowded around the outdoor kitchen. The refrigerator is only a couple of feet from the drop-in grill, so there’s a constant stream of people behind me. On the backside, there’s a high counter. Guests sit facing me, and lean on it like they’re in a bar.
After over an hour, all the grilling was done. The girls had everything else done in the house, and we heard laughter and shrieks coming through the open door. I closed the lid and left the fire going, to burn off the grates.
Our youngest daughter, Taz, came in off the patio with a calm, offhanded questions. “Dad, here’s a fire in the grill.”
“I left it on to clean the grates.”
“No, something else is on fire.”
I glanced through the door to see flames flickering underneath. I trotted across the patio to the pool pump area and shut off the natural gas. When I went back, the flicker was as small as a candle.
Wrong Willie joined me, holding a drumstick. “Everything all right?”
“Yeah, I turned off the gas. It’ll go out.”
When I turned, the entire drip tray underneath the grill was on fire.
“Got it.” Jerry Wayne trotted past, leaned over, and blew.
The flames grew in intensity.
Doc joined us. He grabbed the tray to pull it out, but it was already too hot. He blew on his fingers.
“That’ll make it worse,” Jerry Wayne said. “I just tried that.”
“My fingers aren’t on fire, they’re just blist…”
With a whoosh, the entire grill burst into a roaring flame. Thankfully, it’s all rock, so no wood was involved…at the moment.
I hurried inside for the fire extinguisher that took that moment to play hide and seek like a four-year-old. I looked under the counter, in the bar, in the pantry, in the refrigerator (don’t ask me why, things were getting exciting), under the sink with the cleaning supplies, and I finally found it, behind a cabinet door with the liquor.
When I returned, everyone was outside, holding their phones toward the fire and roiling black smoke. The boys were changing, “Fire! Fire!”
“Y’all calling 9-1-1?”
“Taking photos.” Willie frowned. “Where’d you go?”
“To get this.”
He looked disappointed. “Oh, I thought you went inside for some marshmallows.”
I pulled the pin on the extinguisher and aimed it toward the grill. The chemical dust shot out in a cloud.
“You might want to raise the cover.”
I turned to Doc. “You saw how hot it was.”
The War Department hurried out with a wet dish towel. She flipped the lid open and stepped back. Flames roared.
I attacked. More chemical shot out, covering the grates. The overhead ceiling fans distributed the powder evenly across the grill, the counter, and most of the patio, including the observers.
The fire refused to go out. I charged in again, spraying it at all angles.
It was finally over. The grill was totaled. Smoke and soot covered the counter.
Powder was everywhere.
In response, we returned inside and continued the party.
We installed a new, high-end stainless steel grill one week later.
It was beautiful, pristine, glowing with five burners, rotisserie, and griddle. I admired it and shot a photo which I posted online.
My phone rang give minutes later. I answered. It was Willie. “What?”
“We’re cooking at your house tonight.”
“Saw your new grill. It needs breaking in, but we don’t need all the excitement like last time. It was almost too stressful, and we really just want to relax.”
So did I, but that’s an impossibility when you run with these guys.
Email Reavis Wortham at [email protected]