Lloyd Lewis, caretaker at Oakland Camp for 32 years, is retiring after this Memorial Day weekend. Those are the facts, which say nothing about who he is and what he means to 32 years worth of campers and to this community as a whole.
These facts say absolutely nothing about the barbecue sauce that has made Lewis a legend in his own time and brought adults near to tears at the news that Lewis’ barbeque will no longer be synonymous with Oakland Camp.
Lewis came to Quincy in 1944, as a child. In the ‘40s, he worked for Quincy Motor Sales, in “what they call the Cadillac Showroom,” he said. Then he worked at the mill, hauling lumber from Quincy to Sloat. Life’s meanderings took him to Los Angeles and into the service. Eventually, though, he made his way back to Quincy in 1979, signing on as caretaker of Oakland Camp, and he’s been there ever since.
The camp is made up of 58 acres of land, a whole lot of tents, cabins, outbuildings, bathrooms, kitchen, plumbing ... it is, in short, difficult to fathom all of the work that Lewis has put into the place over the years.
Still, what people remember most when asked about Lewis are his kindness, his good humor and that incredible barbecue sauce.
Comments left on the San Francisco Chronicle’s website after an article on Lewis appeared in its May 3 issue, include the following: “The article does not exaggerate. I’ve been to the Oakland Family Camp and have met Lloyd and Grace (Lloyd’s wife). They really are that kind, and the sauce is that good. Their presence at camp will be missed” and “That guy does not look anything like 82. I think that I’ll eat more BBQ.”
Lewis’ wife, Grace, had a long, successful career as a school principal in South Central Los Angeles. She retired seven years ago, and has served as camp nurse since then, so both will retire from the camp this year.
The couple bought a house on High Street in Quincy seven years ago and when they retire, they’ll move into it and away, finally, from the caretaker’s residence at Oakland Camp.
“It’s been great,” said Lloyd, of working at the camp, “but I feel good about retiring. It’s time to be retiring.”
For those panicked about the loss of the sauce, Lewis said he’s been doing barbecue for weddings in Quincy, and he’ll “probably continue to do it at home. Maybe somebody want a wedding done or something, I’ll do it. I don‘t want to sit down. I want to keep doing something,” he said.
Asked the inevitable questions about the secret of his sauce, Lewis leaned forward conspiratorially and said, “It’s a secret.”
Then, he told the quintessential secret sauce story: “One time, the Fourth of July, I started barbecuing on the third. And, I barbecued all night long, until four in the morning, I come take a break. Then, you go back later. So, this lady, about 2:30 one morning, came down and said, ‘I can’t sleep.’
“I said, ‘What’s the matter, you sick?’
“She said, ‘No, this barbecue is driving me crazy.’
“I cut a piece, she started eating it. She started telling me how she fixed things, what she put in it. Well, I had a long line of ribs to turn over. I was turning them, she said, ‘By the way, what do you put in your barbecue sauce make it taste so good?’
“I said for a joke, ‘You know the little small pine trees like this?’ I just put my hand back for one. She said, ‘Yeah.’
“I said, ‘Get the tender part of the needle, put some smoke, and catch it, bring it to a boil, and you got it.’
“So, she didn’t laugh. I didn’t know she was writing it down, you know?
“She went back home, she made it, said, ‘Lewis, I made some barbecue sauce.’
“She said, ‘Mine didn’t taste like yours.’
“I said, ‘Oh, you used too many pine needles.’
“She came back to the camp and said, ‘Huh. Pine needles!’”
Grace is clearly proud of her husband. “Barbecuing for people is the love of his life,” she said.
“I enjoy doing it, you know? I have fun,” Lloyd concurred.
The two are looking forward to visiting family in their retirement. They have three children — Antoinette Parks, Rose Greer and Lloyd Lewis Jr. — and seven grandchildren.
Asked if he had anything further to add, Lloyd said, “I want to thank all of my friends in Quincy for standing by me and being my friends. I know Grace says the same thing ... It’s just been wonderful being here.”Share
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