The Joy of BarBie Q
Yet another excerpt from my forthcoming book, We Found the Vacuum Cleaner.
Every first Saturday of June, the whole state of Kansas smells like barbeque. Look at the map. Cook-offs everywhere! And Pancake Flats has one of the best cook-offs in this part of the country. A person can put on four pounds just walking around smelling all those delicious aromas.
Our cook-off is a fundraiser for the Pancake Flats Volunteer Firefighters and Police Association and it's always here in the park behind Buffee's. They raised a lot of money this year. It was a great weekend; and it was not a good weekend at all.
This year, for the first time, the cook-off has a name: The Annual Pancake Flats Roaring Lamb BBQ and Chili Cook-off. And for the first time, some teams from outside the state set up their grills. The Sled Dawgs, all the way from Alaska; Mile Hi Grillers Club from Denver; Show Me the BBQ from over in Missouri; and Tuna Temptations from our sister city, Tuna, Texas. It was nice of them to come all that way.
Of course, Kansas was well represented with the Pork Pullers, Kansas Kookers, Wheat Straw BBQ Boys, 3 Dog Knights, Slab Happy Grillers and some others. These teams come every year and I enjoy nibbling on all their fine barbeque. The Mile Hi Grillers brought over some really good buffalo meat this year.
A new entry showed up this year: Joy of BarBie Q. Joy Hedgewright and her slim, yellow-haired girlfriends came from Topeka and are as friendly as I've ever run across.
"Sir, come over here and get yourself a little free sample," they beckon. "Oh, get more'n that, honey! Get yourself a good helpin'. That's it," they sing. "Inn't that just almighty delicious, honey?" they charm. One of their sandwiches is only five dollars, and it's "…for a good cause, inn't, honey?" You can buy a can of their cheap, warm beer for only five dollars, too.
There was a good-sized crowd around their booth all day long. They cook so good, I sure hope they come back next year. I have to confess that I feel a little guilty for ignoring those other teams.
Ben Fletcher must have bought a hundred dollars worth of cold sandwiches and warm beer in that booth. His wife, Joyce, leaned into his ear several times and quietly said, "We need to go home."
"Not right now," he replied. "It's still pretty early." Joyce didn't want to make a big public fuss, so she just wandered away and didn't look back.
I'm sure the Volunteer Firefighters and Police Association earned a fine commission from Joy and her girlfriends. But like every year, the Kansas Kookers came up from Winfield to win the championship. They won enough cash for gas money and they got fancy golf shirts that say, "Pancake Flats Roaring Lamb BBQ and Chili Cook-off Champions." Champions is in great big letters.
The firefighters also earned a fine commission from something they learned over in The Big City last year. Those firefighters over there wore nothing but their big yellow pants. They showed off their muscles and let the ladies give them five dollars for every picture that got taken.
So our volunteer firefighters did the same thing. They set up their booth close to the front entrance. They parked their fire truck on the grass for the kids to climb on. And they took off their shirts.
"Alright, who's going to be first? Come on, now." yelled Wilson Lundgren every fifteen minutes. He's a skinny runt, but he strutted around with that old Polaroid camera like he owned the whole park. His hands and face are dark brown, the rest of him is as white as the Iceland. His muscles are not that attractive. The only person that stood with him for a photo was his own son, eight-year-old Willie.
Nevertheless, he managed to cajole quite a few women to giggle and get their pictures taken with one volunteer firefighter or another—usually it was a husband—and always for a good cause.
Big Surprise! Right after noon, those Big City firefighters showed up, all smooth-tanned and muscular. They climbed out of their gleaming engine and strode around in big yellow pants, a helmet and straight, shiny teeth. There wasn't a shirt in sight. Every one of them glistened. Not a one of them was more than thirty years old.
Oh, boy! They smiled at the ladies. The ladies smiled back. My First Wife Chancie slipped over there while I was ordering some more of Joy's fine brisket. She had her picture taken with a sunburned, red-headed fireman. Every lady in Waddle County lined up for a giddy picture with a Big City fireman. Chancie lined up again.
Joyce Fletcher slipped over there and stayed over there. When Ben Fletcher heard about that, he wiped the sauce off his cheeks and slipped over there, too. He quietly suggested to Joyce that they both go home.
"Well, not right now, silly" Joyce smirked while she folded herself into another hunky fireman's arms. "It's still pretty early," she said sarcastically.
"Now Joyce," he said quietly, "I think people are starting to talk about us."
She just waved him off and smiled at her fireman.
"This ain't right, Joyce," Ben told her. "We need to go home."
“After these boys go home, Ben,” she snarked. “Then I’ll go home.”
“I want you to come home—now!” he insisted. “I mean it.”
“Maybe you didn’t hear me, Ben,” she cooed. “I said I’ll go home when these gentlemen go home.” Then she exploded: "So why don’t you just go on back to your dinner with Little Miss Barbie!"
“I’m all done,” he said quietly. “I’m all done!” A line of women watched him shuffle away, embarrassed. A few minutes later I saw him drive away.
About four o'clock, the Volunteer Firefighters got an urgent call. They bolted from the cook-off like a swarm of bees after a bucket of honey, their siren wailing.
“I wonder what’s happened?”
"Anyone know what's going on?"
Most everybody high-tailed it out behind the wailing volunteer fire engine. Except The Big City firefighters. They discovered some shirts and headed back to The Big City. The park emptied out quick, but it sure did smell good.
Joyce Fletcher, true to her word, decided to go home, too. She asked Chancie for a ride and Chancie said “Sure,” since it wasn’t that much out of the way. I drove my pickup back to the house. The Joy of BarBie Q team smiled and waved as I pulled out. I could see smoke rising south of town. It looked serious. When Chancie got back home she told me that Ben Fletcher had set his barn on fire.
But The Big City Fireman had left and Joyce was home.