On September 3, Jack and I hopped in my trusty Toyota and headed west and southwest to the 37th World Championship Barbeque Goat Cook-off in Brady, Texas. It was my 20th consecutive appearance as a judge, and Jack’s 3rd time. We were both pumped, not just for the event, but for the opportunity to spend some quality time together, yakking on a variety of topics. First stop was to see barber Rick, then across to Fort Worth for lunch at the Paris Coffee Shop, a venerable old-time Texas place. Anticipating plenty of animal protein and carbs the next day, we both tucked into vegetable plates and passed on the homemade pies and puddings for which the place is famous. Pedal to the metal west on Interstate 30, Jack cranked up his iPod into the Camry’s speakers, a nice mix of country and rock and other stuff – the lad has 12,000 songs on his iPod, so it’s not hard to find some agreeable music.
Somewhere around Weatherford, we had a good chat about the importance of place. Geographers like me understand the concept implicitly, and I am happy and proud that our son does, too – from a combination of my comments through the years (especially when we traveled together), his own organic discovery (partly through music, to be sure), and growing up in our great State of Texas, which has long had enormous sense of place. Jack and I agreed, as we headed south toward Stephenville, through the rolling terrain called the Cross Timbers region, that knowing where we come from – and feeling proud of that – is an important aspect of identity.
We stopped in Dublin, Texas (part of being Texan is adding the state name; even though I am a spare writer, strongly believing that context lends clarity, I rather like the practice, because it reinforces the points above), for a glass of Dr. Pepper from the oldest DP bottling company in the world. There, they still make it with pure cane sugar. We were to Brady and checked into the Best Western by four. Jack forgot jeans, so motored a couple of blocks to the Walmart for some Wranglers. We chilled for an hour or so, then headed to the Hard 8 for some great barbeque – to get in practice for the cook-off. Turkey, sides, nice.
A front had moved through and it was pleasantly cool, perfect temperature for Friday Night Lights, our next stop. Overseas – and perhaps a few U.S. – readers may not know Friday Night Lights means high-school football, virtually a religion in the Lone Star State. Yessir, it is a big deal. We drove a mile west to the stadium to see the local Brady Bulldogs take on the Eagles from Grape Creek, about 90 miles west (it’s a big state!). The pre-game hoopla is pretty much the same whether you’re at a huge suburban game or a small-town match: bands, folks visiting in the stands, young kids scurrying about, the national anthem, pre-game announcements urging respectful conduct. We stayed through the first half, Brady ahead by two touchdowns.
It was delightfully cool Saturday morning. Jack and I motored around town a bit, snapping pictures, then headed to the Judges’ brunch at La Familia, a Mexican eatery in downtown Brady. Soon we were with old friends, and it felt so good to be there. My 20 years of seniority gave me a little cred, but not much. We shook hands with Eddie Sandoval and Kim King and Joe Don Baird and a couple of dozen other Good Old Boys, ate a good meal, and headed out to Richards Park. Jack peeled off with three young judges to decide who won the Best Cooking Rig competition, and I hung out with Weezie and Tessa, mother and daughter cook-off volunteers from Mason, 25 miles south. It was great fun visiting with a couple of older gals; before I arrived, they decided that eleven was a good time for a cold beer, so I joined ‘em. At noon I ambled around the park a bit, admiring rigs and camps and hoopla.
The judging business started about 1:30. Several years earlier, organizers – egged on, I reckon, by the Texas Department of Agriculture – decided that in addition to goat there should be a “mystery meat” competition, and I was drafted to judge about 50 samples of pork butt. Then it was time for the main event. Two decades of service put me as captain (ahem!) of table five. It was, as ever, demanding work. As in previous cook-offs, the quality of the cooking varied dramatically. We knew good goat when we tasted it. And we were done by four.
We hung around for awhile, then said our goodbyes and headed home, stopping by tradition at the Dairy Queen in Comanche, Texas, for treats. We were home by nine. What a blast, and a great way to feel rooted to the Texas soil.