I opened the grill cover and flames lunged at me suddenly. Forget grilling; I was now rescuing beef patties from a burning building. I swiped my arm in between flames and brought one brick to safety, then another, then another. I reached in for the fourth, but it was cheese-glued to the metal.
I took a breath, readied my arm, thrust the spatula through a bright orange barrier and under the brick’s backside, and forced it free. I flipped it onto the plate and admired the withered-up hairs of my forearm.
I spun the burner dials to “Off.” The fires remained. It was the grease; whoever had been using my mother-in-law’s grill hadn’t been maintaining the grease tray. Everything in or on the grill was ablaze — including two more patties, that were beginning to look like Wile E. Coyote after he detonates TNT on himself.
I felt like Mickey from Snatch watching his mother’s caravan burn. To my immediate right stood a priest.
“Is there something I can do,” he asked. “I can go in.”
“I’ve got this,” I said, blatantly breaking whichever commandment covers lying to a priest.
Father worked his magic anyway. He flicked water at the remaining patties as I dug in with my spatula. He did it just right, no fireballs or anything. I turned to him, sweaty, wet like I’d just come out of a pool.
“You holy men,” I said, “always good with the water.” He just nodded, while I mourned the loss of my arm hairs.
Since our last rounds, he’d gone to Guatemala for a mission trip and came back with a virus that kept him in bed for two weeks. There were no cures; he had to “just ride it out.” He recalled feeling every inch of his body, toes and all, in tear-making pain. It was so intense at time, he nearly passed out from it.
While my wife and I met this with oofs and cringes, he of course called it beautiful. It reminded him of his dependence on Christ. Perspective like this is what separates a priest from a food writer. I’d have rummed it numb.
The patties, though. My in-laws welcomed Father to the table with this great idea: A Juicy Lucy mystery party. My wife and her brother spent the better part of two hours plunging their digits into vats of ground beef, fashioning patties, filling them with off-the-wall ingredient combinations, and pressing them together with a stuffed burger-making contraption
Among them were a sauerkraut, muenster cheese, bacon, salami, and cheddar-stuffed burger; a pepperjack, bacon, Cajun seasoning, and shrimp-stuffed brick; and — this was the chamber with the bullet inside — cashews, bleu cheese, pepperjack, pesto, salami, mozzarella, and sauerkraut.
Of course my sister-in-law wound up with that one. It had to be that way — a suffering redhead makes everything funny. Father and I drank pints of Pitchfork’s Big Bottom Honey Blonde and exchanged Sir Mix-a-Lot references, but he switched to description of a tantalizing debate invitation.
“We have these end-of-month debates,” he said. “They’ve got beer, meat, cigars, and cheeses.” I felt my eyelids jerk open like one of those Jetsons doors.
“Those are my four food groups right there!”
This air of puzzlement spread around the table like the scent of a milky fart. Why was this news to people? I didn’t understand until my wife replied with her you-idiot look, the one she gives me when I mispronounce “Lana” or make a monkey pile in the dishwasher.
“He said JESUS,” she deadpanned, “not cheeses.”