Karin and I were invited to Ernie’s house yesterday for some barbecue. Ernie works with me. We’ve been together for about twenty years. He’s 63-years-old. Ernie was at our anniversary party last year, but Karin never got to meet Ernie’s wife, Merry. I didn’t know who else was going to be there besides Ernie and his wife, but Karin and I were pumped to go. Ernie lives in a bungalow near 18th and Capitol. The neighborhood is nice, but some of that area of town is very hoody. Karin and I drove up to the north side of Milwaukee, fully expecting to be like two grains of salt in a pepper shaker.
Ernie was in the backyard when we showed up. He was busy grilling ribs and listening to Albert King on his stereo. Ernie loves the blues. I brought some beer with me. Karin went in the house to talk with Merry and her daughter, Tanya. I stayed out back with Ernie. We sat under his canopy. Ernie gave me tips for barbecuing. We drank some Sprecher beer, and talked smack. Ernie is recuperating from a hip replacement. He’ll be off from work until Labor Day. He can get around well enough to flip the slabs of ribs, but otherwise his hip is still too tender for walking around.
Ernie has a beagle. It’s the fattest dog I’ve ever seen. Its belly almost drags on the ground. Well, he’s been getting leftovers from the barbecue for years. That explains it.
I mentioned to Ernie that my grandparents made wine in their house during Prohibition. Ernie said, “Frankie, don’t you be telling me about bootleggin’. I’ll tell you about it. Hell, my family down in Hattiesburg, all them bootlegged. Made damn good money too. All them folks in Mississippi was makin’ moonshine. Hey, you want some? I got me some in the house.”
I agreed to have a sample. He told me to have it with ice.
Ernie brought out two glasses, and a bottle that said “Patron” on it. Ernie said, “Now I know this bottle say ‘Patron’ on it, and I do drink Patron, but that ain’t what’s in the damn bottle. This here’s moonshine. Now I don’t pour other people’s troubles for them. You got to do that yourself. You pour your own problems.”
Well, I never had moonshine before, and this stuff was fine. It looked and poured like water, but there was no other resemblance.
Ernie gave me more moonshine tips. “Now Frankie, I never store moonshine in anything but glass. One time, I was talking on my HAM radio and I smelled something funny in the house. The moonshine had eat through the plastic jug. So, I only use glass bottles now.”
Good to know.
Ernie likes to tell stories. God knows, he has some good ones. He moved to Chicago from Mississippi when he was a teenager. He had some wild times. He told me about drinking Mad Dog and smoking weed with his buddies. He talked about packing heat while delivering liquor on the south side of Chicago back in the ’70’s. He talked about bringing moonshine up from down south.
Ernie told me about his sister working at Speed Queen, the source of the best barbecue in Milwaukee. Ernie said, “Your brother, what his name? John? Man, I ain’t never seen somebody eat Speed Queen like your brother. Damn. He love that food.”
By that time, Karin and Merry were outside with us. We ate ribs and potato salad, and cake that Merry had baked. There was a ton of food. The ribs were amazing. They didn’t need any sauce. They rocked.
Ernie and I kept talking and drinking. Merry looked at Ernie, and she shook her head and smiled. She loves the man. They have been married for thirty-two years. Merry and Karin both married crazy men, so they got along just fine.
Well, it got to be about 6:00 PM. Karin looked at me sweetly and said, “Well, maybe we should be going.” (translation: “You’ve had quite enough. Let’s go home.”). So, we got ready to leave, and Ernie and his wife insisted we take home food with us. I sliced off a slab of ribs for Stefan. We also grabbed some cake. We all hugged, and Karin drove me home. No surprise there.
Before we left, Ernie talked to us about a retirement party. “Frankie, when you gonna have your damn retirement party? Tell you what: I’ll do all the grillin’.”
Done. I guess we’re having a party next summer.