Common Ground: Gator’s visit causes stir at cookout

An alligator’s visit (or alligator sighting) on our street last weekend turned an otherwise mundane graduation cookout into a memorable, noteworthy highlight.

Our neighbors discovered a 5-foot-long alligator in a ditch near their home. Once word reached our backyard cookout, it wasn’t long before a small parade of guests, some walking and others driving, traveled down our street to catch a glimpse of the rogue swamp creature who’d probably wandered from a nearby swamp. My stepson, the grad cookout honoree, took a photo of the gator.

I opted to stay in my yard, far away from the gator. Though I don’t know what ultimately became of the reptile, I do know that it is no longer in our neighborhood.

Other wild animal sightings are not unusual in our area. Our home is backed against a forest and we’ve seen snakes, raccoons, deer, opossum and even a few stray cows wander into our yard. But never did I expect an alligator to visit our block.

The jokes that evening and on the following morning were unnerving, though disturbingly funny. What if the gator had made its way to our cookout, where tents and tables were set up to entertain our guests?

Would it have set off mass hysteria, similar to those campy SyFy channel monster alligator flicks?

I’m glad we never had to find out. The cookout continued the way a cookout should. My brother-in-law, Rufus, boiled loads of spicy, hot crawfish, as only he can .

Our uncle served up fresh, golden fried catfish, and other family members provided smooth, creamy potato salad.

Those moments make most cookouts the enjoyable and relaxing sort of thing that most people recognize them for. Everyone has a chance to share something and comfort foods bring people together. My sister-in-law’s homemade strawberry-crème smash cake can always draw a line.

Though there was no barbecue served at the cookout, my husband and Rufus continued to entertain their usual bout over whose barbecue tastes best. They will usually ask their mother or me and the other wives to judge, but we know better. That’s a secret best kept to ourselves.

Backyard cookouts also encourage folks to talk and share things about themselves. It’s a good time to get to know new people or re-establish friendships with old friends.

A successful cookout is also dependent on pleasant weather, a nice breeze and forgetting about life’s usual worries for a few hours.

Of course, the relaxation part ended later into the evening after the alligator sighting. I’m going to always feel a little nervous when I walk into my yard. Before my children caught the bus this week, I walked them to the edge of the driveway and cautioned them to look for gators in the ditch.

This will not be our last backyard cookout. However, I will offer sound warning to guests in the future: Beware of gators on our block.

Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at