We had to roll up our pant legs and walk barefoot into the frigid stream, build a little corral with river rocks, and stock it with jugs of Chablis and cases and cases of Heineken and cream soda and root beer. Having to walk barefoot into the cold stream to get a beer instead of just comfortably reaching into one of those ice-packed bright red coolers that normal people would use was, in our new vernacular, bone-afide. I had to mow the meadow and rake it, and the smell of fresh cut grass was bone-issimo. We had to fill hundreds of brown paper lunch bags with sand and plumber's candles, then set them out all along the stream's edge under the weeping willows and at all the groundhog holes so nobody broke an ankle or fell drunk into the stream later when it got dark. And we had to juice up the glow-inthe- dark Frisbees in the car headlights so we could play later out at the far dark end of the meadow. Those glowing greenish discs arcing through the jet black night, sent and received by the invisible bodies of my older brothers, were bone-ificent.
The lambs were arranged over the coals head to toe to head to toe the way you'd put a bunch of kids having a sleepover into a bed. We kept a heavy metal garden rake next to the pit to arrange the coals as the day passed and the ashes built up, moving the spent coals to the edges and revealing the hot glowing red embers. The lambs roasted so slowly and patiently that their blood dripped down into the coals with a hypnotic and rhythmic hiss, which sounded like the hot tip of a just-blown-out match being dipped into a cup of water. My dad basted them by dipping a branch of wood about as thick and long as an axe handle, with a big swab of cheesecloth tied at its end, into a clean metal paint can filled with olive oil, crushed rosemary and garlic, and big chunks of lemons. He then mopped the lambs, slowly, gently, and thoroughly, back and forth with soft careful strokes like you might paint your brand-new sailboat. Then the marinade, too, dripped down onto the coals, hissing and atomizing, its scent lifting up into the air. So all day long, as we did our chores, the smell of gamey lamb, apple-wood smoke, and rosemary garlic marinade commingled and became etched into our brains. I have clung to it for thirty years, that smell. I have a chronic summertime yearning to build large fires outdoors and slowly roast whole animals. I could sit fireside and baste until sundown. Hiss. Hiss. Hiss.
The rest of the meal was simple but prepared in such quantities that the kitchen felt hectic and brimming and urgent. There were giant bowls of lima bean and mushroom salad with red onion and oregano and full sheet pans of shortcake. Melissa, with a pair of office scissors, snipped cases of red and black globe grapes into perfect portioned clusters while my mom mimosaed eggs - forcing hard-cooked whites and then hard-cooked yolks through a fine sieve - over pyramids of cold steamed asparagus vinaigrette. Melissa and my mom worked quickly, efficiently, and cleanly - mother and daughter together in the kitchen, both in bib aprons each with a dish towel neatly folded and tucked into her apron string, "doing the bones" of our lamb roast.
Todd gave the lambs a quarter turn every half hour. Simon parked the cars. Jeffrey politely kissed the older guests, who arrived more than punctually, on both cheeks. And I plunged in and out of the stream to retrieve beer and wine and soda.
Then they started pouring in, all these long-haired, bell-bottomed artist friends of my dad's and former ballet dancer friends of my mother's, with long necks and eternally erect posture, and our friends, too - the Drevers and Mellmans and Bentleys and Shanks - the whole pack of us dogs, muddy, grass-stained, and soaking wet in the first fifteen minutes. I hardly recognized the washed and neatly groomed Maresca brothers with their father, Mr. Maresca, out of their butcher coats.
Excerpted from Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton. Copyright © 2011 by Gabrielle Hamilton. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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