A Letter from Stay-at-Home: A Good Pork Sandwich

Dear world,

I’m writing this afternoon from my dining room table. It’s the place that I frequently steal for a quick home office morning when I work away from my office or not on the road. For the last two weeks, as we’ve been changing and rechanging and finally closing the physical library where my office is/was/will be again someday, I’ve been making temporary office camp here. Since Friday, it’s been my permanent home (office).

In front of me are a can of compressed air and some silicon lubricant, a wrench and a screwdriver, as this is not just my office but also my workspace for all the home improvement projects I’ve stumbled into over the last week. There are some tax items to deal with, and a small stack of books I’m hoping to get to.

I’m keeping busy with things that used to seem less important but now can help to fill the day. Some of them are essential -but I’m not always sure how important the thing I’m working on is at the moment I’m working on it. Clarity often comes after.

Weekends, the time we use to take breaks from work, are time for more work, and the lines between home life and work life are as permeable as they’ve ever been as my family and I work to figure out what our stay at home time looks like.

We’ve been fortunate. Incredibly fortunate. Both my wife and I’s jobs have changed, not dissolved into thin air. She’s living the day to day of teaching in a time of COVID-19 while I support others to do so and a library figuring out what our library is when it’s not a physical place for people and stuff.

My children have each taken up their various learning experiences. As a family we’ve mapped schedules and planted flags in and around our work spaces. We’ve held a couple of family meetings to reshuffle responsibilities around the house because, for now, we’re all around the house.

I take deeper breaths when I run our weekly errands. Grocery stores and hardware stores and trips for odds and ends of our new routines. We’ve built a gym and an entertainment center in our basement, and we schedule access to those spaces, too, when they’re not doubling or tripling as classrooms or the place-where-the-current-puzzle-is.

Other than the breathing, and the gut checks, and the constant reminders to NOT TOUCH MY FACE, I think I’m coping fairly well. The hobby I seem to have adopted as my mind-occupier for this experience is barbecue, a hobby that feels more discovered than intentionally sought. I was always more of a fan than a practitioner.

Three years ago, my parents announced their departure from Colorado and return to South Carolina as a quick heads up and a request to bring things by the house. The biggest thing was my father’s smoker, which I set out to weather until I was told to use it or lose it by the aforementioned teacher in our household.

A first attempt (smoked try tip and pork tenderloins) turned into reading and research on something I understood from a distance but had never bothered to learn. Hickory or mesquite? When to let things alone. How to salt cure a cut. All trivia for me until recently.

When I was a boy, probably nine or ten, my father became a judge on the North Carolina pig pickin’ circuit1.  This meant weekends were spent traveling around the state, staying in a cheap motel room on a Friday or Saturday night to spend the following day sampling the wares of serious barbecue people. I’ve eaten all the slaw and tried every variation of pork there is to try.

And I’m finding that, right now, tinkering with and fine tuning my recipe and process are ways of remembering my heritage, occupying my mind, entertaining and feeding my family, and finding escape, if just for a little while, from the news of the virus.

Next to me as I write right now is a bowl of my latest perfection. Yesterday’s 15 hour pulled pork mixed with a slaw of cabbage, a little Duke’s mayonnaise, and an Eastern North Carolina vinegar sauce I’ve been fiddling with these last few smokes. If it isn’t a bowl of memory and safety and nostalgia, I don’t know what is. And a bowl of safety is a welcome comfort.

As I think about what tinkering’s left to do, and what’s going to come after the right now that’s at least a month of staying at home, I can see a future of explaining these recipes to my children, and perhaps to theirs, and one day inviting friends and family back to the house to celebrate together. I’ll work on my sweet tea skills, too, to best prepare for those parties.

Peggy Noonan, in her column from last weekend, wrote, “How fiercely we love people we don’t know we love.” I think this might be true of memories we’ve never bothered to unpack. Or forgot to. Or just didn’t notice or mark as significant. Until my first taste this afternoon, the one that brought back memories and comfort, snapped my memories to the forefront, I had forgotten about plenty of the times with family and friends that we dined together around the remains of a pig. I loved those times, and those people. Still do.

I’m trying to pay close attention to what I love and didn’t realize and to lean into those people and things in ways that help both them and I see things. I’d rather catch love in the moment and work to create moments where that love is acknowledged, if even just a little bit.

I hope you’re noticing your loves, too.

Until next time. Your pal,

Bud the Teacher

  1. The clinical Wikipedia definition linked here is a good description of the event, actually. Most of the ones we were involved in were fundraisers for various charities. Giving money never tasted so good. []

One thought on “A Letter from Stay-at-Home: A Good Pork Sandwich

  1. Like you, I’m trying to pay attention to what matters, and to be grateful. It’s definitely a challenge, though. While I may be able to make some sense of what’s going on with my rational mind, the emotional part of my brain is upset about all the change and seems to be throwing a tantrum.
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