The 17-year-old -- with mustard-rubbed wing sauce rolling down the right side of chin and the remnants of the greatest brisket known to man covering the left side of his face -- turned to me.
"Dad,'' Jackson Marx said, a 10,000-watt smile crossing his face. "You have the greatest job in the world.''
Seconds later he was back to work, this time inhaling some taste-bud tantalizing jalapeno-flavored ribs.
Saturday past was our first trip through the Barrz Rib-Off, an annual team (families enjoying each other's company) barbecue competition held on the palatial in-city estate of Geneseo's Pat Barrett.
The Barrz Rib-Off is the brilliant brainchild of Barrett, one of life's good dudes, a combination best friend to all, idea man, great husband, dad and deep-thinker. Barrett has a solution to every Barrz Rib-Off related problem -- and a few of life's iissues -- and is loved and admired by all who share the day.
Always the first Saturday in August, competitors for the 15th Barrz Rib Off created ribs for cash ($900 split among three places). One year Zach Koning, a three-time Barrz Rib Off champion and owner of a pizza oven that had to be forklifted in for the 2020 competition, was awarded a repossessed car as first prize. Truth-be-told, the Barzz Rib Off is as much about great people sharing their best barbecue than it is about competition.
And the food is amazing.
"Everyone says they make good barbecue, so several years I called people on and it and here we are,'' said Barrett, a cold Modelo beer in one hand, cigar in the another, resting in his tricked-out golf cart. "It starts early (7 a.m) and before and after judging, it's just people sharing. You want to teach someone to share, watch these people.''
Challenged with social-distancing issues, the 2020 Barrz Rib Off kept preparation tents at a comfortable distance, while Barrett provided a bevy of sanitizing options.
"Fun,'' said Kevin Rusk, maker of the best brisket I have ever tested. "It's what the day is about. There's competition and it's great Pat has prizes, but we all really work to share what we make. It's why we are here at 7 (a.m.) and leave at 11 (p.m.).''
A few months back, Jerrette Bernahl, maker of the chicken wings Jackson Marx declared eternal love, was on his back in a Peoria hospital fighting a brain injury. Saturday, Bernahl was competing, much to delight of those around him.
Just having a great guy back to 100 percent was a big part of all that was the Barrz Rib Off.
"So cool "JB'' is better,'' Tom Rusk said of Bernahl, another one of life's good dudes. "We kid him he probably won't remember this, but we are all glad he's OK. And his food is amazing.''
Bernahl, it must be noted, has a fan for life.
"Off the charts might better explain his wings,'' Jackson Marx said of his work. ''I tend to fancy myself an expert, but I have never had anything like his (Bernahl's) wings. The best ever.''
Sporting a green bandanna as a headband, a Hawaiian shirt and a three-days worth of facial hair, Barrett compares the first Saturday in August to Christmas.
"Two days I look forward to,'' he said, smiling at the fact his son, his daughter and their families made it this year's celebration. "And my wife is great. She bought in a long time ago. It really is a well-oiled machine.''
Oh by the way, Ryan Dwyer captured the 2020 Barrz Rib Off crown. Kevin Rusk finished second and Rich Stach and Jeff Newton tied for third.
The other big winner was me. I witnessed small town life at its best and did not have to spring for dinner for my son.
What a great gig have I.
Columnist John Marx can be reached at 309 757 8388 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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