As we wait (at time of printing) for the folks in Washington, D.C. to vote on the newest round of healthcare, and with the Louisiana Legislature having wrapped up, I’m taking this lull around the holidays to drop into the first person and tell a story that always brings a smile to my face.
The year is 1995 and, as is tradition for the David family, we have traveled to Pensacola, Florida, for our annual summer retreat.
An odd place for a dynamic threesome of fair-skinned, easily-scorched individuals ... but I digress.
Under normal circumstances, both my parents and my mother’s brothers and sisters all dive in for a large house somewhere on the beach. The extended family - usually 20-25 strong - then piled in as few cars as possible and migrated over to the beach for a week or two.
And, under normal circumstances, fair-skinned, easily-scorched, introverted little McHugh was never really ... settled with the whole thing.
It was, however, a great time to knock out summer reading.
At any rate, this particular summer most of the family could not make it, for one reason or another, so the final tally was myself, my parents, and my two cousins from Texas.
Both boys - one two years younger, one four years my senior - had taken a variety of trips with my parents and I over the previous years, and I had visited their house in Canyon Lake, Texas, many times.
So, their company was not foreign and usually ended with us getting lost, in trouble, or both. While also sharing many of the same hobbies, it was going to be a great summer trip for three young men.
The trip went like most others, to begin with - we’d disappear for hours and scare my mother half to death; my elder cousin stole and hid my father’s Beach Boys album, because he’d start blaring it at 6:39 a.m.; my father, then, took no prisoners in the board game RISK, just to make it a little extra miserable for we three.
But nothing could compare to that fateful Thursday.
For those of you who knew my father, you probably know that the 1980s and 1990s were my dad’s glory years - and he was a force of nature.
So, when the 6’3”, 240 pound man walked into the living room that day and proclaimed ‘I think I’ll grill steaks tonight’ - no one argued. My cousins thought it was a great idea, while I remained confused (my father never grilled) and my mother was ... concerned, to say the least.
Never one to stand on ceremony, off Jeff David went to collect the food and BBQ necessities, leaving a split household - two concerned, two excited.
He returned and set to work, loading up the grill that came with the house with charcoal and lighter fluid, struck up his match, tossed it on the coals, and created the single greatest calamity I’ve seen on a porch.
As anyone who has been to the beach will attest, it is windy. So, within minutes, my father had created an inferno that would make even Dante envious.
But he would not be deterred - after turning red-faced he sent my cousins and I inside to “watch from safety,” attached a pair of tongs to the end of a broomstick, grabbed a beer and continued work.
Those of us left gathered around the table to play cards, as I saw red flames dance in the window every so often when the wind caught it just right, all the while my dad dancing in and out of their reach to adjust the meat.
Then, the screaming.
Not fearful screaming, but angry. We burst out the door to six-foot flames, and my father had lost both of his eyebrows. My older cousin grabbed the hose, and within five minutes the raging flames had been quieted.
You’re probably wondering - did we eat the steaks?
Of course we did.
As each piece of charred delight was plated, my younger cousin looked to my mother and asked, with the most mournful look, “Aunt Nancy, do we have to eat it?”
My mother comforted him and said, “Yes. We’ll go get ice cream after.”
My two cousins never came by themselves with us again, and chef Jeff David never again touched a grill.