Oh jeez. It was the damn Olds again.
They’re the ones that throw the parties. They have the green. They cater the pulled pork and brisket and whatever else their food intolerant old friends require. But back to the pork and brisket. There’s coleslaw and super bacon-ey baked beans and the most decadent macaroni and cheese that was drawn from a secret pond by nymphs who loved butter and eggs and noodles and cheese and more cheese. And a bit more cheese.
There was salad, too, with ranch dressing and a gross mistake of a vinaigrette. The latter was only drizzled on the greens by the aforementioned food intolerant old friends of the Olds or by those who were late and found no ranch dressing left. But the latecomers didn’t really care. They may have been high.
The Olds relived their youths a bit by bringing on a keg or two. There was a half-barrel of Bud and a quarter-barrel of some fancy beer that tasted of tar and citrus rinds. Youth friends were grateful for the former. Olds’ friends were impressed by the latter but drank the former. It was lite.
Except for the females Olds. They drank “wine.” But it was so gross. It tasted of a time in a frigid midwestern winter when your tongue got stuck on the metal swingset or like a big bowl of berries that went bad and were tossed into a pile of loose tobacco or like something that tasted sweet going down but after a few too many clear plastic cupfuls came back up full of bitter bile.
Under the wooden beamed canopy at the party section of the state park, seated on the picnic table facing out, and with sneakers or work boots tapping on the concrete slab defining the social space, sat the uncle. Skinny and scraggly with black-rimmed glasses that would be considered hipster on a younger man and a camo colored trucker hat with a commercial symbol that none of the youths recognized, he had his guitar on his knee. He picked it fiercely and expertly, his thinning ponytail switching back and forth in time. His baby brother sat next to him.
The “baby” was almost six inches taller and was holding on to his hair. So far. His mustache was an impressive, slightly abbreviated, horseshoe. His guitar was on his knee. He hung back. His brother took the lead. Big brother leaned over to help his middle-aged sibling get his chords right. Honestly he had it, but his big brother always made him nervous. He could play much better without him, but his brother also made him play better.
It was a family event with live music. The music was played more for the sake of nostalgia, of the times when their entire family would pull out all types of instruments for the funnest jam session. Today, the draw of Dixie Chicken, Give Me Three Steps and Ring of Fire drew some of the guests like bugs swirling around a lamp. Not many, but those who fondly remembered the live music of their own juvenescence. They grinned, swigged from their solo cups and sang, too.
The Youths were doing their youthful things. Shotgunning beers, sneaking to the outskirts to smoke, eating more BBQ, throwing a sports ball and flirting.
The Olds continued to play.
The big baby brother shouted for his daughter. “We’re doing your song next.” Her mother skitted off to go find her. She was on the swingset. She was flirting. “Dad says your song is coming next.”
There was a worry, like it was live TV and they had to get another segment in before the commercial break. It was driven by the baby brother’s deference. His brother was the band leader, and he called the next song. Outsiders would not understand his anxiety. He really didn’t either, but he felt it.
She hurried but was not hurried as she grabbed her guitar case from underneath the picnic table. The “band” was on break, so she had enough time to fiddle with the knobs on the neck of her guitar. She handed the instrument to him. She could tune it, but he had the experience. After he was done, he double checked with his brother. No sour notes.
The skinny, scraggly man nodded then tapped his foot one, two, three, four and strummed the intro with a 4/4 beat. Three fingers, three strings along two frets. Fingers shifted for the next chord, and they were all in time. The leader looked up and signaled another round of intro and the dad translated the signal into words for his daughter. He didn’t need to, she knew to follow the band leader.
The brothers had been singing together for forty some years. They naturally harmonized, their intonations in sync. She brought a richness to the chorus with her strong alto. She weaved her voice in and around her father’s and then her uncle’s, holding her notes and joining their nasal twang as they drew out the words.
There was a baby in a stroller who clapped and gurgled along, his mother swaying back and forth, peaking into the pram and making big eyes and forming her mouth like a life saver. That was meant to encourage the baby. Grandma came and released the baby. She twirled him around. It was his first dance to live music.
The boy who was flirting with the daughter at the swingset sat on the top of a picnic table, keeping her in sight. The rest of the youths found themselves with fresh beers, singing along and throwing out requests to the “band.” And so the party tradition passed to another generation. Score one for the Olds. And the Youths.