The other day my mom was grilling for lunch – Hamburgers, hot dogs, vegetables, salad; The table was adorned with ketchup and mustard and barbecue sauce, and salad dressing. As we entered this delicious scene, I noticed (and knew but perhaps in that moment had forgotten) that she had made vegetarian baked beans and sauerkraut to go with the hot dog; Both of which I’m usually always game for. I first had my salad – Fresh romaine lettuce with balsamic vinaigrette. On top, my hamburger – no bun – a nice dollop of barbecue sauce for good measure. Afterwards, when splitting the last hot dog with my mom, I lumped some sauerkraut and beans onto my plate. But when I tasted the sauerkraut, I almost spit it out. As I crunched down on this fermented cabbage, the taste was unexpected and I wracked my brain (and taste buds) trying to place it. Suddenly in came to me; That this didn’t taste like sauerkraut at all, but rather hot pickles. And I told my mom so. Turns out it was a brand we don’t normally buy and had a lot more vinegar than other brands. Even my dad agreed with me. Where I was at first repulsed, as the meal continued, I found it to be perhaps an acquired taste, but different – Very different from what I was used to. I had said to my dad that I had never had hot pickles before, which was why the taste was so jarring to me. And he replied, “I have”. And I said, “When?! Where?!”. “Fried pickles,” he matter-of-factly stated. And he was totally right. And of course I’ve had fried pickles. Then at the table I brought up pickleback shots. “What’s a pickleback?” my mom asked. “It’s a shot of whiskey,” I explained, “or any alcohol, I guess. And then once you do the shot, you chase it with a shot of pickle juice.” She seem intrigued but also somewhat repulsed. “It’s an acquired taste,” my dad explained. Then I began talking about the first time I did a pickleback shot, but couldn’t remember if I had been with my dad or someone else. But I knew I was sitting at the left end of the bar at Cowan’s and the bartender at the time (perhaps I nice-looking-
Summer BBQ scene. Folding chairs and tables are being brought to the yard on a hot July summer’s day; It’s Independence Day. The meat ordered for this grand affair is profound in its weight and sheer bass, sheer mass: Ribs, hamburgers, hot dogs, sausage, and chicken. Neighbors are bringing potato salad, macaroni salad, corn on the cob, and chips. From the early morning hours, when the first bird chirped at the hint on the dog, hint of the sun, I laid in bed with my eyes open, excitable and waiting. Excitable paralysis. I now hear Mother put on the radio, hear the buzz and static as she surfs for her station. She finds it, and the tinny noise finds me making sense of Pop music with horns, jubilantly playing out, affirming today will be good day.
Now the barbecue is in full swing and I am halfway into a juicy hamburger, watching a few friends do cannonballs in the pool. The radio is still on, Dad’s on the grill. Mother filling up everyone’s glass with crisp, cool lemonade. There are little choruses of ‘thank yous’ as she makes her way around, red checkered apron tied firmly around her waist. My cousin Marty sits down across from me and I hear him crunch loudly. “What’s that you’re eating?” I ask.
“Pickle,” he replies. Then looks at me strangely. “You’re never seen a pickle before?”
“Well, what is it?”
“It’s a cucumber, pickled in vinegar. You wouldn’t like it,” he says with another loud crunch.
“How would you know?” I ask, defensively.
Marty ignores the question. “That’s okay. More for me!” And with eyebrows raised, he finishes the pickle in one final crunch before jumping up from his chair and going inside the house.
Mad and determined, I turn toward the table filled with barbecue bounty and see the jar of pickles open. They look strange; The jar in greenish liquid, little bumps on the side. Maybe Marty is right. I wouldn’t like this. And while I’m grappling with this indecision of whether or not to get up and try it, I see more and more people start taking pickles to go with their meals, until there’s only one left. I have to try it, I say to myself. And moving my pool damp hair out of my eyes, I get up and before I know it I’m taking a big bite.