At the Twilight’s Last Gleaming

Made some ribs on Saturday and they were not bad. A friend brought them over, smoked ‘em himself, keeping watch over the smoker while his wife worked in the garden and he stained the deck. It was that storm not long ago–the one with all the hail–that got him going on repair work and, eventually, staining the workshop and sun deck and the “Stairway to Heaven” as he calls it. I’m guessing it’s a loft where his grandchildren play, as his workshop is down below.

I served up the ribs with kraut, of course, and corn on the cob and corn muffins and potato salad. The foods of warm, sunny days. Our son, who is home from studying abroad, working nights at the local nursing home for the summer, ate some of everything except the sauerkraut. “It smells,” he says. “I can’t believe you eat that. It smells a Hessian military camp.”

Some foods belong to a season; some are good all year ‘round. Smoked ribs? Any day, any time. Any place. Same with pizza. And enchiladas. And, for me, brats. Cheddar brats, wild rice brats, blue cheese bacon brats, beer brats. We had cheddar brats this evening, the Fourth of July. And potato salad, and calico beans with bacon; dill potato chips and brownies (made with olive oil because we’re at the cabin and that’s all we had) and there were sloppy joes, too, and some pork chops and some cider ale, apple flavored. And watermelon. A whole one, cut into triangles.

Thing is, sometimes what we’re eating doesn’t much matter. Season-appropriate or no, as long as there’s something to eat, what matters most is that we’re together. “We” being any number of family members or friends who love each other, who know each other, who listen and laugh and tell stories and gather on the dock as the sun sets to sing “The Star Spangled Banner,” loud as can be. And there’s the campfire behind us, coals burning hot still with a half-empty bag of marshmallows on the tree stump and some graham crackers on the ground and only the empty wrappers of the chocolate bars. There’s a light on in the cabin, and my brother is playing his guitar, making up the words as he goes while all the kids push and pull to get to the dock for The Song. The dogs are lying near the fire, tired out from a day in the lake, and my mother is waiting on the dock for all of us to assemble.

Someone hollers for more sparklers. Someone else for another apple ale. The sisters-in-law talk in their lawn chairs after a long walk, and my other brother is watching, on his phone, the biggest firework in the world going off. “Wow!” he keeps saying. “More than fifteen minutes of display in ONE firework,” he says. The kids come in looking for cardboard so they can blow fireworks off the dock. It’s the hum of it all. The hum of family and life lived. Our college son, on the couch reading a book about the Plantagenets asks, “Is there any pork left?” Our college daughter is lying on the living room floor sipping a lime margarita from a can, singing a song about summertime. And our pregnant teacher daughter is out on the porch, reading a book about the holocaust for a summer class she’s taking, wrapped in a blanket. “While we are waiting for something to happen,” she announces, “I am going to brush my teeth.”

“Isn’t anyone going to come and SING?” hollers my mother, the grandmother here, and at long last we all stop what we’re doing and head to the dock. The sun is setting over the lake, which is the only thing of quiet here. The lake. I take a photo and send it to Mr. S, who stayed back to chop some wood and give a talk on “The Peace of Walking in the Woods.” He prefers it this way, I think sometimes. The quiet, you know, in the midst of all the traffic and people whooping it up and exploding things. I get it.

And at last we assemble, all of us on the dock, perhaps the only time we’ll be together like this for a good long while. Grandma starts us off. “Oh oh SAY can you SEE!” And we all join in. “By the DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT. What so PROUDLY we hailed, at the TWILIGHT’S LAST GLEAMING…”

Our voices rise up together, over the still water, over and across to the lit cabins dotting the shores along the lake. We hear other families join in, here and there, and by the song’s end we are a massive choir, shouting the words of our national anthem to the very stars emerging in the clear, clear sky: “Oh SAY DOES THAT STAR SPANGLED BANNER YET WAVE? O’ER THE LAND OF THE FREE, AND THE HOME OF THE BRAVE…”

There’s a round of applause. Whoops and hollers and woo-hoo’s. All ‘round this lake. And, I like to think, ‘round all the more than 10,000 lakes in Minnesota. ‘Round each and every lake in this blessed country. And yes, I say, to what is really a question, but isn’t, yes, that banner does yet wave. And will. Always. As long as We may be.

I forgot to mention the rhubarb pilaf I brought along as a kind of experiment, which went over quite well. It was delicious, and goes well with pork AND brats. And, I imagine, just about anything with which you serve it up. Kind of like apple pie. Or pickles.

Rhubarb Wild Rice Pilaf

1/4 cup almonds
2 T olive oil
1 cup chopped sweet onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chopped rhubarb
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 T honey
1 T soy sauce
1 cup cooked wild rice
1 cup cooked long-grain white rice

Spread almonds onto a baking sheet and toast at 400 until fragrant, 7-10 minutes.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Saute onion in hot oil until just translucent, 5 to 7 minutes, add garlic and saute about a minute more. Stir the rhubarb into onion and garlic and saute until softened a bit, about 2 minutes more. Stir wine, raisins, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper into rhubarb mixture; cover the skillet with a lid, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until rhubarb is tender to the bite but still firm, 5 to 8 minutes or so. Add honey and soy sauce; stir. Mix wild rice and white rice into the rhubarb mixture; cook and stir until rice is heated through. Top with toasted almonds.
Serves about 6.



  1. Mrs. Sundberg
    July 17, 2017

    Dear Gail, Thank You. You just shifted things a bit. Re-oriented me. Helped me gain a bit of balance. Perspective. Thank you, my dear heart. Mrs. S

  2. gail in northern California
    July 17, 2017

    I hope this will provide additional inspiration. You really have no idea the impact you have on other people’s lives. How could you? You see, I print your column and send it to nine friends, each of them suffering in some way….

    K – Cancer has returned with a vengeance
    L – Just finished stem cell transplant for cancer
    A – 89 and lonely
    D – Mother is very ill
    J – Faraway family member
    M – Cancer beyond the medical profession’s grasp
    P – Lost her husband after 65 years of marriage
    K – Lost her husband of 43 years. High school sweethearts
    D – Sister-in-law who is being treated for cancer/recent surgery

    Your column gives each of them relief, a moment’s peace, maybe a much-deserved chuckle.
    some way.

  3. Mrs. Sundberg
    July 16, 2017

    I love your story. How sweet. Now I’m craving ribs again… I so enjoy your posts/comments, thank you. Inspiring.

  4. gail in northern California
    July 16, 2017

    How kind of your neighbor to share his smoked ribs.
    My daughter and her husband recently smoked up a bunch of ribs. Far too much for just the two of them so my daughter suggested they invite a friend to join them for dinner — a friend who recently lost his wife of many years. She laughed and said, “Mom, I think Jim got as far as ‘Wouldja’ like….?'” before he responded with a hearty, “I’d love to!”

    The image of the lakeside choir singing the national anthem was wonderful. I’ll bet Mr. S was sorry to have missed that.

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