Photo | Courtesy of Andy MacDonald

“I watched him grow up that day, ordering like an adult, behaving like an adult, all different from the way I had so many years before.”

This is a story about food. It may not seem as such at first, but it is. Last week, Sunday, June 10, to be exact, my firstborn became a teenager. Lucas Alecsander MacDonald, the first to make me a proud poppa, went to sleep the night before at his own spend-the-night party as a boy and awoke early the next morning a man. Seven boys aged 11 to 13 were there to cheer him on and witness the transformation at what has been, for the most part, the same-style birthday party three years in a row.

The only changes have been the menu and minor additions to the guest list. Bubble pizza and brownies in place of cake the first year became delivered pizza and brownies with Rotel dip the second year. This year we had plans for crawfish, a decidedly adult thing to do, until we found out some guests were either allergic or just didn’t eat them. Grilled burgers and hotdogs subbed for the mudbugs and the Rotel was supplemented with a full charcuterie board that included homemade pickles with the various meats and cheeses. Our only consistent food for all three years were the Sunday morning blueberry pancakes.

This year the brownies were out and ice cream cake was in, sure trouble when one of your friends is lactose intolerant. We made do with what we had and our milk-suffering pal was happy with the popsicles I found in the darkest parts of the freezer.

The boys were more mature this year. You could see their age in the way they talked, ate and carried themselves. Table manners were better. Even the way they addressed me was adult-ish. Because of this I zip-tied the liquor cabinet shut and counted the beers in the fridge just to be safe. But I wasn’t really worried. These are good boys. But I remembered my 13 birthday …

Like Lucas’ birthday, it was a Sunday and we’d spent the night before having a party. It was the year when everyone wanted a camping party so we could show off our Rambo knives we’d gotten at the fair the previous fall. Dying to use the compass, matches, wire saw and anything else that fit into the handle of a 15-inch survival knife, we convinced my dad to forgo any KOA campground and truly get us away from civilization. The real experience is what we craved. We didn’t know how legendary that experience would become.

In the back of a ’79 Ford F-150 with a camper shell, seven or eight of us crawled with tents, fishing rods, snacks, a jam box blasting “Slippery When Wet” and a battery-powered monophonic keyboard that would record two seconds of your voice and play it back. We made it to my grandmother’s house in Indian Springs, where we hopped a tractor with all our gear and traveled what could’ve been miles or perhaps a couple hundred yards behind my Uncle Dennis’ house into the heart of darkness.

At 13 you’re leaving boyhood behind. The man in you says you set up shelter, ready the fire and search for food. We fished in a pond without much luck other than a “one that got away.” With a decent fire lighting the cool February sky, we trekked deeper into the darkness just after sundown with headlamps and flashlights, making our way to Tallahoma Creek.

Without much more than gummy bears and Pringles left at camp, we set up a trotline across the creek and baited it with the last of our hotdogs in a last-ditch effort to secure some grub without a trip to the grocery store. We headed back to camp for a few laughs, off-color jokes and a visit from my dad’s giant friend, John Adamson, who scared us half to death with his monster impersonation, realistic enough due to his booming voice and 6-foot-5 frame.

Once we settled down, another step toward manhood occurred. Each of us had a cup. Each of us was given an ice cube. On each of those ice cubes my father poured just enough whiskey so we could have a taste. Now, I know both of my kids get more booze in their systems every Sunday at communion, but if our moms (mine included) had known what we were up to we’d have all been beaten, my dad along with us.

There was also an issue of Playboy magazine with pop singer Madonna that was passed around. I told you this was legendary.

In the middle of the night Crico went back to check the trotline. Our successes were a big ol’ mudcat perfect for breakfast and a turtle that was tough to release. Crico reminded me the turtle’s paw was caught in the hook and his head came out like a dinosaur.

At sunup we cleaned the catfish and my dad fried it up in a cast iron skillet nestled in the coals of the fire. It’s by far the best fish I ever had. I remember the following week at school we sat at the lunch table, silent, until one of us said, “That was awesome.”

February 1987 we became men.

Thirty-one years, four months later, I was scrambling to get kids out of my house, relieved I’d not witnessed any debauchery. We headed to church to usher and after had a father/son brunch at The Noble South with pickled shrimp, sausage balls, fried-oyster eggs Benedict and a fried green tomato BLT that Lucas couldn’t finish.

He forced room for a pecan pie with chocolate ice cream, the last remnants of childhood cleaned from a plate. I watched him grow up that day, ordering like an adult, behaving like an adult, all different from the way I had so many years before. It’s hard to say which way was better. I debated telling him my story, but we were two men eating together. Come on, I had to!