Porch Revival Tour: Lighting the Fire

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I felt a small amount of anxiety the day before hosting the June stop of the Porch Revival Tour at my house.  Almost everything was in place. The budget for the event determined, supplies calmly resting on my porch, and a buzzing pre-party energy in the neighborhood confirming the word had been making its way around town. However, this lingering weight of doubt wouldn’t leave me alone.

My colleagues Hudson and Brentton, two go-to grill masters who regularly feed the masses, were out of town. The entire week I was hoping a maestro of the grill would appear. No one did.  It dawned on me that afternoon that this time the grill master would be me.  I have never been the primary person responsible for grilling at a party or event. I usually stand by whomever is grilling and give my sarcastic ESPN play-by-play commentary as if I know what is going on. Now I would be the player subject to the commentary,  performing arguably the most key role at a cookout.  Let’s just say I was a tad nervous.

It’s crazy how the universe delivers exactly what you need to hear at the most appropriate times, especially when the mind is full of doubt. Ms. Kathy Atwater, lifelong resident of Northside and Jackson Center Community Advocacy Specialist, delivered the message this time on her way out the door at four p.m. Thursday afternoon.

“Did you ever find a grill master?” she asked.

“Nope,” I said. “That’s the one thing I don’t have.”

“Oh well … hot dogs are easy. You can do it.”

Impulsively, I responded, “Yeah … you’re right.”  And like that, I was now grill master.

Four p.m. the next day arrived quicker than a summer storm.  I snuck into my day several YouTube videos of burley men giving their manly tutorials on grilling tips and strategies.  Even though every person had a different process, I picked up enough to have a general idea of what to do and how not to burn myself. I was setting up the last few chairs in the front yard when my neighbor Jim, who lives across the street, came out on his porch and hollered, “You need any help?”  Again, I impulsively responded, “Do you know how to work a grill?”

“Is it charcoal?” Jim asked.


“Oh yeah, that’s easy” Jim said. I was beginning to see a trend.

He called me over to his porch and gave me the rundown.

He told me to first put the charcoal in– not too much, but a good amount to get the grill hot, then add lighter fluid and let it sit for a little bit. The key was to light the charcoal with a flaming piece of newspaper and make sure the whole layer gets an even burn. When all the pieces catch–and he assured me they would catch– he told me just to wait until the coals turned white. That’s when you know it’s nice and hot. Then you can put the grill over the charcoal and put the meat on the grill. The drippings and grease from the meat will drip down on the charcoal and keep the coals hot, he continued, adding that it might be necessary to light the coals again a little later.

He repeated the process to me again to make sure I had gotten it all. (I’m not surprised he did  because when I’m intensely processing new information I squint my eyes and open my mouth giving me a dazed and confused countenance.) Then he sent me off to get the grill started.

I gathered the needed materials and dove into the step by step process Jim had explained. By the time I got to lighting the newspaper Jim and Della, MCJC executive director and experienced griller, were standing around me watching, commentating, laughing, and cheerleading.  With Jim’s assistance lighting the coals with the burning scrap paper, the black coals began their color transition, and we were in business!

The porch party was a huge success! Over forty of my neighbors came to wind down and fellowship over delicious food and company. I have many memories from hosting, but learning to grill from my neighbor Jim is particularly special. I learned a valuable skill that I will take with me for the rest of my life.

I’m privileged to be a student of Northside. I’m privileged to learn history, values, strategy, creativity, life skills, and most importantly, what it means to be a member of a community. My classroom is not contained within walls. It is not contained by geographic boundaries. My community is the improvisational and boundless university of life, love, faith, and justice.

What will the next lesson be?

–George Barrett, MCJC Associate Director, August 2018

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