I am happy to report that Americana is alive and well in Neihart, Montana, as evidenced by the installation of a brand new, shiny black, name-brand barbecue at the Bennett house. The Bennetts consist of a gaggle of brothers and sisters who hail from all over the country – and, indeed, the world – who gather here in the cool mountains for summer vacations. One interesting thing about the Bennetts is that the brothers and sisters are, in fact, brothers and sisters; or at least one is a Jesuit Brother and one is a Catholic Nun. The rest being just plain old brothers and sisters of the secular variety. Here is a family that can go around saying “my brother, the brother…” and “my sister the sister” and mean it. I’m not exactly sure why this sounds like a good thing, but it is. Somehow, it makes the entire clan seem trustworthy.
But back to the subject at hand: the barbecue. Mike and Maggie the brother and the sister were attempting to assemble a barbecue out of a box one evening when I happened to be visiting. One thing being in a religious order seems to teach is meticulousness. That and strong opinions on the right and wrong ways to do things. Apparently Mike, with his dubious ways learned in such farm-flung places as Zambia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania (I think he specialized in working in countries that have Zs in them. The south-eastern portion of Africa is simply teeming with Z countries, with the notable exception of Malawi, but I think we can safely assume it is an honorary country, being surrounded by them. Why Malawians chose to stick out like a sore thumb on the map of south-eastern Africa is really beyond me, but I digress….), Mike was taking liberties with the instruction manual that were so intolerable to Maggie, with her solid mid-western American training that she, simply put, had a hissy fit.
If you’ve never seen a nun throw a hissy fit, you’re missing out. I can assure you it is an impressive sight. I don’t doubt that she disguises her frustrations a little more carefully when ministering to her flock, but here in the bosom of her family she know how to let it fly. And Mike is no slacker either when it comes to stating his point of view, especially in regard to the relative merits of instruction manuals when it comes to assembling barbecues. When the mutt and Jeff routine seemed like it might come to actual blows (how much would you pay to see a monk and a nun duke it out? $50? $100? What if they were in their habit and cassock ((presuming they have said items of clothing. I’ve never seen them.))? No, really: how much? Think it over and let me know), I realized that since the other brothers and sisters were used to this and knew when to shut the heck up, I offered to assemble it for them.
I said “bring it to the post office tomorrow and I’ll put it together for you.” Well they jumped on that idea like a 49er on a nugget, and next morning bright and early I found myself in the midst of a huge pile of parts. I got it together all right, with only about 15 pieces left over, only one screw was discernibly missing, and the legs on backward, but you couldn’t tell by looking, so it was okay. After discovering that I was misssing one 2 1/4″ screw I said to Hardy – my personal peanut gallery and an experienced do-it-yourselfer – “I need a long screw here.” “Right now?”, he asked, eyebrows raised so high they were about to slide off the back of his head and down his collar. Is everyone a comic except me these days? I showed him the picture of the necessary piece of hardware in the instructions (page 18). No luck. Speaking of the instruction manual: it was, I would say, above average as far as instructions are concerned. It was filled with sterling prose such as “slide washer EE over Grill stake T and then screw leg Q to support P using screw AA and washer L.” But if you mind your Ps and Qs, and stick strictly to the script, blindly performing each procedure precisely as described, using frequent, careful references tot he pictures, you have a fighting chance. I’m certain Mike would have made a hash of it, with his free-and-easy ways.
This is especially true because this grill was not your average “some assembly required” kind of item. Now that I think of it, I’m curious whether it said ont eh box “some assembly required”, or if it just said “assembly required”. I think its an important point because if it said some assembly rerquired, they’d be in deep do-do with the truth-in-advertising folks. If there was any more assembly required for this barbecue, I would have had to forge the parts myself. STEP 1: purchase a smelter. STEP 2: acquire and advanced degree in metallurgy. Lets just say that there were a LOT of small parts to assemble, and if one neglected the advice of the instructions, one could have conceivably wound up with not a barbecue, but, say, a lawn mower. To get a lawn mower, you’d have to fill in with a few spare gadgets from the garage to be sure, but not all that many, really. What I mean to point out here – in case you’re asleep already and failed to notice the point I’m trying to make – is that there were many, many small parts to be assembled. Just as you can take a bunch of carbon atoms and throw in a few assorted other atoms and come up with a (soul-less) person, and you can re-arrange those carbon atoms and maybe throw in a couple extra atoms you had lying around the garage and come up with a chair. It all depends on how you put them together. That is how much assembly was required.
So I’m pretty proud of myself. I staved off bloodshed and gained the equivalent of a Master’s Degree in engineering all in one shot. Not only that, but I was treated to a tasty dinner of grilled veggies and salads galore. Of course I’m sure you noticed that the Bennetts seem to be serving vegetarian fare at their summer retreat, but this is not always the case. They did it in my honor, and I deeply appreciate the scrifice made.