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JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT With friends looking on, Ron Morales, right, prepares to take a shrimp burger off the grill during a neighborhood cookout last Wednesday in Vidalia.
JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT
With friends looking on, Ron Morales, right, prepares to take a shrimp burger off the grill during a neighborhood cookout last Wednesday in Vidalia.

The Dart: Cookout combines friends, family

Published 12:02am Monday, February 18, 2013

Vidalia — Ron Morales was manning the grill Wednesday afternoon day dreaming about his future appearance on Iron Chef as his friends gathered around the grill in anticipation of his shrimp burgers.

Friends surrounded the grill in a festive mood. There was no birthday or holiday to celebrate, but to this group of neighbors, a Wednesday afternoon off work was enough to celebrate on South Spruce Street, where The Dart landed.

JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Dack Banks, center, laughs with friends while sitting between his twin daughters Maya, left, and Mia during a neighborhood cookout last Wednesday in Vidalia.
JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT
Dack Banks, center, laughs with friends while sitting between his twin daughters Maya, left, and Mia during a neighborhood cookout last Wednesday in Vidalia.

The friends generally try to get together once a month for a cookout, and Morales is always ready with a variety of grilled meats to satisfy his friends’ big appetites. Vidalia native Tony Hawkins said the group’s previous get together was for the Super Bowl.

“Today was my day off, and we just got together, because everybody was off together,” Hawkins said. “We just enjoy it. It’s good times with good friends.

“Most of us grew up right here, and over the years we’ve had a lot of friends out here.”

Much of the conversation is friendly banter between the friends, who all seem to have different allegiances when it comes to their favorite sports.

Hawkins donned his Dallas Cowboys shirt as he talked some trash about the Redskins, Saints, Steelers and 49ers, all of which were represented by at least one member of the party.

“There ain’t no Saints fans around here,” Hawkins joked.

The cookouts also allow the friends to relive their glory days when they played under the lights at Vidalia High School.

But the festivities are not all for the guys. As the fellows laughed outside, 4-year-old twins Mia and Maya poked their heads out the door, and slowly walked outside each sipping on the juice cartons they held in their hands.

The two girls eased over to their father, Dack Banks, who scooped them up in his arms and placed them on his lap — one girl on each leg.

“This is my pride and joy here,” Banks said about his girls.

Banks lived in California for much of his life, but made his way to Vidalia, settled down and started a family.

He said the culture shock was big, but he is happy about his life in Vidalia.

“It’s very different,” he said. “The food is better here.”

Banks said his friends treat his family like their own, and the parties are a great opportunity to catch up with one another.

“We’re all friends, and it’s like family,” he said. “We get along and talk about old times. It’s a good atmosphere. This is better than the Super Bowl. This is our Super Bowl here.”

JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Ron Morales places a slice of tomato on top of a shrimp burger while manning the grill Wednesday.
JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT
Ron Morales places a slice of tomato on top of a shrimp burger while manning the grill Wednesday.