When I think of summer holidays I immediately think of the grill. All the greatest memories I have of Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day revolve around the grill and the distinct summer flavor that only grilling can impart on food. When I was a kid after a long, cold winter we swiftly tore away the all-weather tarp, threw open the lid and lit that baby up! As adults, when the temperature rises we count down the days to each holiday giving us one extra vacation day to spend in our backyards barbecuing with friends and family. We forget about work and turn our attention to the master memory maker, the grill. But what’s all the fuss? As we approach Fourth of July, do we really need the grill to make it memorable?
The average New Yorker has never opened her backdoor to go outside and grill. Heck, the average New Yorker doesn’t even have a backdoor or a grill for that matter. I’m positive that we all count down the days in between each warm weather holiday just the same even without a grill. The long days and warm nights alone are enough to lift our spirits and lure us into any number of summer traditions that are just as memorable as any backyard barbeque, but somehow the grill always takes the spotlight. For years, my summer life in New York City was spent either anticipating or missing the grill in my childhood backyard. Considering my aversion to the outdoors, this doesn’t make any sense. There must be more to it than a grill.
Don’t get me wrong. I love a perfectly charred drumstick or a brown-on-the-outside, pink-on-the-inside steak cooked over an open flame just the way my dad made them for years! I really do miss having a grill outside my back door, but I don’t think that was the true appeal of summer holidays for me. The real appeal was my dad who was rarely allowed to cook in my mom’s kitchen. The grill was his domain and he was so good at it. Yes, he really did make the best burgers and I would give anything for one more, but somehow, I think if his specialty was boiled kale and if he made it with as much joy and finesse as he grilled, I would probably miss that too. I think that the United States’ ubiquitous grill has just been in the right place at the right time for decades, taking all the credit for the memories we make. When I was a kid most moms were in charge of cooking. Dads back then really missed out on that part of our lives, but the summer time barbeque changed all that. It made the simple act of cooking food even more memorable and special just by putting our dads momentarily in charge of it.
Nothing proves this belief more than moving to New York where aside from my friend Gwen’s brief stint with outdoor space, we almost never see a grill of any kind. I don’t even like the outdoors but I automatically miss all of it – the grill, the backyard, even the brief contact with nature that was required. Just the mention of the word grill and those memories and feelings come rushing back. You realize we’re talking about a piece of steel and some valves and hoses, right? We’re talking about something you buy at Sears! It’s not the grill making me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It’s not even, dare I say it, the food. I miss what the grill represents and the nostalgia that comes with it.
As delicious as they always were, it wasn’t the burgers with that perfect summer flavor that made the holiday so fun and so memorable. Mike and I make awesome burgers and steaks and all kinds of meats in our tiny kitchen without a grill. It was my dad. I miss seeing him in the backyard so confident and in control behind the grill; the tongs an extension of his hand like a knife to a chef. I miss our crazy family quirk of bringing platters of grilled meat in through the backyard and up the stairs to the dining room to join the rest of the feast my mom had already prepared, the feast we would eat around the dining table, in the air conditioning on real plates with the whole family together.
No, it wasn’t the grill that made all the fun and happy memories. It was the people connected to the grill, specifically my dad. The grill was simply the catalyst. Like the water cooler that invites conversation, the grill invites nostalgia and ignites our memories season after season. It’s been years since my dad was here to work magic with the grill. These days it remains covered in our family’s backyard, a link to another time of life allowing us to reminisce with rose colored glasses. I wonder if you can relate. If you stop to think of picnics past, what lies beyond the grill? What is it about those summer days that lights you up? What is it that you continue to look forward to with eager anticipation or miss dearly? What is it that you couldn’t possibly bare to have missing from those days? Whatever it is you see beyond the grill, that’s the draw! With Fourth of July just days away, it’s possible that the grill might just take second place in your plans and eventually in your memories. Go ahead. Tear off the cover. Throw open the lid. Light that baby up! Just don’t forget what lies beyond the grill and really makes your summer holiday worth remembering.
Happy Fourth of July everyone!