From across the table it looked like two small piles of heaven. Thinly sliced. Smoked for who knows how long. The slices slumped into each other, glistening with fat. This was good barbecue.
“Maybe if there was a little ketchup?” my oldest son asked. The question hung there, suspended between the children’s side of the table and where my husband and I sat, leg to leg.
The food on our plates had been touched. It had been cut and forked and almost wiped out completely. When he didn’t answer the ketchup question, I could feel the mental tag of parenting: You’re it. I paused, stretching the silence to see if he would cave and jump in, but then I remembered the night before he had been up late with the baby. Yep, I was it.
“No ketchup,” I said. “Not on your barbecue.”
My younger son eyed the condiment table. He didn’t understand I meant “You will not taint your barbecue with ketchup.” He thought it was a ketchup availability issue. I saw the lightbulb go off in his head. “What about all those Whataburger ketchup packets in your glove compartment?”
I looked urgently at Andrew: It. It, it, it, it, it, it. Those packets were for fry emergencies.
“Your mom said no ketchup,” he told them firmly, but I thought with just a little sadness too. Was he remembering the Brussels sprouts and broccoli of his youth? Either that or he was sad because, yet again, our children were so disinterested in this food adventure.
He and I have sat just like this, leg to leg, eating barbecue in small towns and big towns, at restaurants that have been written up by magazines and on pop-up picnic tables somebody set up next to a smoker and their big dream of being so good people would line up at 6 in the morning with empty coolers they wanted to fill up with brisket. We are fans of the food, but sometimes I think even more than the food we like to read about the barbecue and talk about the barbecue. We like it when we are sitting in the kitchen with his dad who happens to mention that he tried a new barbecue restaurant in Houston last week. And how was the brisket? What sides did they offer? Would you go back? Would it be worth getting in the car right now to drive there and try it? Even though we can’t do that as easily as we used to, we still can dream about the game changers.
“You know,” I say to the kids, gearing up for the life lecture they’ve heard before. “barbecue is about more than meat.” Their eyes glaze over, shining like the brisket.
I am about to start in on my key messages of “going outside your comfort zone” and “trying new things” when it hits me that I am the only thing standing between them and this new thing. Would ketchup be the end of the world? Or could it be the start of something big for them?
I stand, preparing to sacrifice my not-so-secret stash of miniature ketchup tubs.
“I still draw the line at whole wheat bread,” I say solemnly. But as I walk to the car I realize I don’t even know that for sure. I’m in uncharted territory now, anything could happen. And that is the dream come true.