- Associated Press - Saturday, November 11, 2017

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) - Faint images pepper Arianna Frazier’s memory. The 10-year-old can remember the sight of her father’s red hair, the smell of the food he let her season and the weight of his steadying touch as he helped her aim a rifle.

“My dad was a redhead just like I am, and he was very, very nice. I’m his twin right here,” the Hartselle fifth-grader nicknamed Ari said with a smile.

She heard stories of his toughness, shyness and patriotism, of how he loved to hunt raccoons, cook deer and how, while serving in Iraq, he called the hospital and heard his oldest daughter being born.

“When I look at Ari, it’s just like looking at her daddy. She acts just the way he did. She loves to cook and hunt, just like he did,” said Murrell Frazier, Ari’s grandfather. “Each of her younger sisters has some of his traits, too. Jantzen will never be gone, he lives on in his kids.”

Scanning the dozens of plaques with images of deer, fish and fowl and the trophies topped with pig figurines won by her grandfather, father and herself, Ari nodded contentedly.

“I think my dad would be proud. He’s the reason I wanted to start cooking. He would take me to competitions when I was 5 and let me help. It was so much fun,” Ari said. “Now my papa is teaching me, just like he taught my dad.”

Through cooking, the grandfather and granddaughter found a way to deal with their grief. Over the grill, they mourned, shared stories and celebrated the life of Jantzen Frazier.

An Army Ranger and five-time Purple Heart recipient who served two tours in Iraq, Sgt. Jantzen Frazier died in October 2013 while responding to a house fire. According to a report by the Alabama State Troopers, the water in the engine’s tank shifted, causing the 28-year-old member of Morgan County’s Oden Ridge Volunteer Fire Department to lose control of the emergency vehicle. The 2003 Hartselle High graduate, Army veteran and father of four died instantly.

While the community lost a hero, Murrell Frazier lost his son, best friend and cooking companion, and Ari lost her father and mentor. For a year after his son’s death, Frazier, who teamed with Jantzen to compete in barbecue and wild game cook-offs, avoided competitions.

“Two weeks before Jantzen died, we won at Morgan County’s Wild Game Cook-Off. It was what we did as a family. After he died, we did nothing for a year. I just couldn’t imagine doing it without him,” Frazier said.

He returned to the competition circuit in 2014 with Ari by his side. Last month, the Rib Ticklers, headed by Murrell Frazier, won the best overall dish at the Morgan County Wild Game Cook-Off for the first time since Jantzen’s death. Ari, who assists her grandfather and leads the Jr. Rib Ticklers team, won second place in the junior division.

“It’s hard to explain how much it means to me that Ari wants to do this just like her daddy did. It’s a bond that we have that’s been there for a long time. It was the same bond Jantzen and me had when we cooked together. He would take leave and come in from Fort Hood for contests. When Ari was born, he would call me, wanting to know how to cook certain things for her,” Frazier said.

Ari, at the age of 7, earned her first plaque with a top finish in the youth division of the 2014 regional Wild Game Cook-off. Her other honors include first place in the Wild Game Cook-Off’s youth division in 2016, first place in the River City Wing-Off’s youth division and second place in the Wing-Off’s best hot wings.

“She was the only kid in the River City Wing-Off, so she had to compete against adults and she still took second place. I was proud, but I couldn’t believe she beat me. I had to hear about it all the way home,” Murrell Frazier said with a laugh.

“I think that’s my favorite trophy because it’s pretty cute and because I beat my papa. When they called my name, I started freaking out. I couldn’t believe it because my papa makes the best sauce. It is hot hot and good good,” Ari said.

Outside of family, Frazier only allows individuals 18 and older to try the hot sauce he makes with grape jelly, ghost peppers, Trinidad scorpion peppers and Carolina Reapers.

The conversation flows easily between the grandfather and granddaughter as talk goes from using orange wood to grill salmon to smoking deer patties with peppers and onions to Jantzen winning the gold medal in standing air rifle at the 2009 Warrior Games hosted by the U.S. Olympic committee and Department of Defense.

During the event, participants fired bullets the size of pencil erasers at a target the size of a pinhead, Frazier explained.

“And he didn’t even have a laser sight,” Ari said. “That’s amazing. He must have been a really good shooter.”

Every time the duo step into the kitchen or behind the grill, Jantzen, at some point, becomes the center of conversation as the two talk about his childhood growing up in Hartselle and his service in Iraq.

“The cooking competitions are fun because we make them fun. We make them about family. That is what is important,” Frazier said.

The Rib Ticklers and Jr. Rib Tickers compete in six cooking contests a year. The team’s best overall finish at the Morgan County Wild Game Cook-Off earned the Rib Ticklers a spot in the state finals, which will take place next summer.

“I want to keep cooking until I die. I love it. But, like my papa says, it’s not about the winning, it’s about the family time and the fun,” Ari said.


Information from: The Decatur Daily, http://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/index.shtml

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