As the Spit Turns
This Labor Day weekend we roasted a pig and threw a party. We got the wild idea while swimming in my brother’s pool one July evening. My brother John had just grilled our two families a poolside dinner. We were still savoring the meat in our post-prandial dip and someone said, “We ought to have a pig roast!” Everybody’s heads were nodding, but for me the most important nodding head was on my brother’s shoulders. If John was game, we were good to go. John is a master griller who also has a smoker the size of a Prius that puffs out hickory or apple wood smoked ribs, brisket, tenderloin, chicken. Got to have him on the pig team. Especially since none of us had every done a whole on hog.
We got up at 4 AM on Saturday to stuff and truss our 102-pound pig and get it on the spit. It was still dark when John and I lugged that beautifully skewered pig out to the grill. The motor that powered the rotisserie groaned under the load. But turn it did. Barely.
When the sun came up, John and I were lighting more charcoal (in the end it took 160 pounds of the stuff) to keep the fire blazing. For the first three hours we worked like the fiends of Sheol to feed the fire, put out flare-ups, baste the pig and keep the thing from falling off the pole. But after about four or five hours, when the pig was turning a deep mahogany, we had time to relax a bit. To talk. Men like to gather around fires, have for millions of years. There’s something primal about a pig turning on a spit. You feel connected to the aboriginal. Six times a minute the sacrificial animal turns. You think about your ancestors in caves, the hunters who gathered from the land, who survived, who were inspired to paint. And the spit turns on.
Some leaves were slightly yellow, a few even red as the earth turned toward autumn. John was about to start a new job after six months of leave. In a few days the program year at church would power up and draw me into its breathless activity. After the quiet vacation weeks of August, I could feel the coming surge. John and I tended the fire and talked of change. It was hard, he said, to get his daughter settled in her own apartment 500 miles from home as she started her first job. They had dropped their youngest off at college. The nest empty. And the pig turned. It was my birthday. 55. And the spit turned, came round something like 3,000 times in the ten hours we stood watch.
Then our friends and neighbors, our families came for the great Labor Day Pig Roast, and John and I disappeared into the party of people who came carrying salads and white wine and had not stood at any fire that day. But we had, John and I. The smoke still hung in the air as the sun set earlier than expected. The world was turning into September, and we knew it, had felt it together.