The Grill of Life

“What’s for dinner Joe?” my neighbor yells out the window of his work truck. “I got some burgers, you stopping over?” I say, already knowing the answer. “Yes sir!” he replies as he accelerates to his driveway. 15 minutes later, my neighbor shows up, 6-pack in hand, at the exact time the food is ready, his timing is impeccable. As I defeat my son in a game of “P-I-G” with a trick shot off of the roof, the meal begins. As my neighbor and I discuss the days going ons, I start to take the food off the grill. This night was a simple meal, hamburgers, sweet corn from the farm up the road, and baked potatoes. My favorite is the fresh corn. Soaked in water for about 30 minutes prior to putting on the grill (husk and all), then cooked until you can smell the corn (“That’s when you know it’s done”, according to Uncle Sonny). I like mine with some butter, a pinch of salt, and some hot sauce. It’s the perfect blend of sweet and spice. I could eat it forever. My son’s favorite is also the corn, but it’s because when he finishes his ear, he launches it as far into the woods as possible from the deck. This was started as a way to get him to actually eat the corn; a bribe so to speak, but now is a tradition. Everyone that comes to eat now throws his or her empty ear into the woods. I figure it’s fun, saves on trash bags, and possibly helps to feed the feral cats. It’s payment to the cats for keeping the field mice out of my house. Thanks guys!

As long as I can remember, my family has been grilling (or “cooking out” as east coasters call it). Growing up in southern California this is something you can do virtually any day of the year. We have even grilled on Christmas. My mom took advantage of this, and is a certified grill master. She is undoubtedly the best griller in the family (although Uncle Sonny smokes a mean brisket!). Neighbors showed up as soon as they smelled the charcoal. “What’s for dinner tonight Mary?” was a phrase heard hundreds, possibly thousands of times. The one thing my mom made sure of, regardless of what was on the menu, was that if you were hungry, you were welcome to eat. Even the neighbors we didn’t always get along with in our complex were welcome. My mom understood the situation. She grew up in a tough part of Philadelphia. Her family was very poor, and being hungry is something she doesn’t ever want anyone else to feel. We were far from rich when I grew up, but we were also far from the poverty that my mother’s family faced. Point being, this is exactly where she learned to be kind, and generous. She was the eldest sibling, and it was her “responsibility” to make sure the younger siblings were ok. This is something to this day my aunts and uncles praise my mom for. It is something I have learned to admire and appreciate, but also emulate.

The food was always a highlight, but it wasn’t always the best part of the get together. By the time it was time to actually eat, you spent an hour (sometimes more) just hanging out and spending time with others, which for the most part, were your friends or family. As the grown-ups conversed over some adult beverages, us kids would be playing basketball, or football, or wiffle-ball in the street. All the while the fragrance from the grill kept our mouths watering and stomachs rumbling in preparation for the meal. Sometimes the meal was as simple as hot dogs and hamburgers, and sometimes something a bit more complex, but always delicious. Years would pass, kids would become adults and some would move away, but the grill still cooked. But it hasn’t always been a slam dunk good time, there was the time when my son was about 3, when he decided he didn’t believe dad when dad told him it was hot, and touched the grill with his finger tip. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds, no emergency room visit was necessary, but he learned that he should always listen to his dad. Ok, maybe not, but he did learn the grill was hot! The other almost catastrophe came during the freak Halloween weekend snowstorm we had a couple of years back.  Our power had been knocked out, so I decided I was going to grill. It was still snowing, and very windy. My house is in the woods of French Creek, and hundreds of trees line the woods behind my house. As I started the grill and popped on some veggie burgers (my friend Katrina was stranded too, and she is a vegetarian) the wind began to pick up a bit, but I figured I had already started, not to mention we were hungry. After I flipped the burgers, and closed the grill, the weight of the snow on the branch above me snapped and fell. The branch came crashing down onto the grill, literally inches from hitting us. Although we were almost severely injured, we laugh about it still to this day.

The connection to the time when my mom grilled for us is the reason I grill today. Yes, I make a great cheeseburger (thanks to my mom), but it’s not only about the food. It’s about playing catch with my son. It’s about having a cold Coors Light with my neighbor Luke, or lemonade with my son. It’s about the radio playing one of my many favorite bands the Jackson 5, or The Grateful Dead, or even the Sugar Hill Gang, while the food cooks. It’s about when my dad and I listened to the Lakers vs. Celtics NBA Finals basketball games on the patio. It’s about burnt fingertips and almost getting decapitated. It’s about the smell of not only the food, but the freshly cut grass on a nice spring or summer day. It’s about feeding your neighbor, and vice-versa. It’s about having smores (yes, plural, cause who can eat just one smore?) for desert over a bonfire. It’s about relaxing and enjoying good company. It’s about memories and connections that will remain forever. It’s about life.

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