At twenty-one years old I was still impressionable and very much learning about life. There wasn’t necessarily a clear direction for me, so when I got the opportunity to spend a summer at the lake on F dock, I grabbed it with everything I had. Summertime in the south can be quite humid. So much so, that you can work up a sweat simply getting out of the shower. Life on F dock meant that you could never really tell if someone just went for a quick dip in the water or was sweating profusely.
Generally speaking, cooking on F dock meant that you fired up the grill, threw a few processed burger patties and hot dogs on, then consumed them as they cooked. Buns were sometimes optional although I’m positive that the idea of “open face presentation” was well above our conscious level. At my age, I could live on this junk forever. But occasionally we had the good stuff.
Jerry was a fifty-five-year-old widower, which at the time, seemed old enough to know Jesus personally. A short stocky man, Jerry carried himself with the confidence of a king. He would stroll up and down the dock methodically and slowly, wearing only his Jeff Gordon Nascar swim trunks and flip flops. Silver mirrored Ray-bans framed his sun-washed face. A freshly poured Seagrams 7 and 7-Up was grasped firmly in his gold and turquoise ringed left hand while his right hand rested comfortably on his protruding pot belly- ripe with years of consumption. Having been in the local real estate business his entire life, Jerry had amassed a small fortune for a man living in this zip code and was basking in the glory of his retirement. There wasn’t a single person on the dock that he didn’t know.
“Who the fuck are you kid?”, Jerry says in his baritone gravelly voice, produced by years of cigarette smoking. “My name’s Mike sir and I’m here for the summer”, I responded. We shook hands. Jerry sat down and placed his half empty drink on the table in front of me and says, “Ok kid. Let’s get to know each other. But first, how about you refill this drink?” For the next hour, mixed with an abundance of dick jokes, I was privy to Jerry’s philosophy on life, work, women and drinking. I liked him right away. His advice over the course of that summer was always entertaining and appreciated. But if I was going to be around then I needed a job. Everyone on F dock had some type of job.
Much like a casino with no clocks, you could easily lose track of actual time on F dock. But everyone knew when it was Saturday. The early morning crisp lake air would give way to ripples of smoke floating slowly through your bedroom carrying the amazing smell of Pork Shoulder and Ribs on the grill. This intoxicating aroma was so good, it had the ability to cure a freakin’ hangover. This was my signal to pull my lazy ass out of bed and get to work.
Jerry’s pork rib preparation was simple. Use fresh meat and a good homemade dry rub. Wrap it in tin foil for 3-4 hours and cook slow and low. After that, open up the foil and start spritzing with the nectar of the Gods- one from nature and one from Tennessee. My job was to ensure a thorough soaking of Apple Juice and Jack Daniels; alternating the individual liquids every other hour.
You see, Saturday nights were always the big party nights and Jerry was the grill master. He’d need to cook enough pork to feed about 50-60 sunbathed and alcohol soaked guests. It took about 10 hours but was always perfectly timed. The feast would be ready to come off the grill just before sunset.
The slow cooked Pork shoulder was easily pulled apart using just two plastic forks. An ice cream scoop was used to transfer this succulent treat onto a giant butter bun with a spoonful of Williamson Brothers BBQ Sauce on top. It was served with a side of coleslaw and potato salad. Alternatively, there were forty pounds of fresh pork ribs to go around. People would come from all over the lake to have some of Jerry’s famous pork ribs and that made F dock the place to be.
For the rest of the summer, this was a weekly occurrence that punctuated evenings that were straight out of a Hunter S. Thompson story. For the holidays like the 4th of July, Jerry would add rib eye steaks and filet mignon to the menu. There was no chicken here. This was strictly a meat and potatoes crowd. Throughout the remainder of the summer, I continued to fulfill my duties as Jerry’s sous chef. This allowed him to share stories of his past while always including sharp advice on how to be a man. But alas, all good things must come to an end.
At the end of the summer, it was time to say goodbye to Jerry and the wonderful people of F dock. It had been an amazing life experience and I highly recommend it to everyone but I never returned.
I’m happy that I met Jerry and was able to have this wonderful experience. It instilled in me at an early age, my love for good barbecue and living on the water. And, the advice that Jerry had given me has served me well.
It’s been twenty-five years and, like myself, many of the good people there have moved on. It’s my understanding that Jerry is now cooking ribs and telling dick jokes with Jesus. And, I’m sure he is explaining to him how to be a better son.
“To give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania.”
~ Hunter S. Thompson