As June busts out all over, I gotta throw stuff on the barbie just like Pops did.
It’s part of my genetically underperforming DNA. With burners on liftoff, I showcase my talent for making charcoal briquets out of Gelsons’ ribeyes. Converting anything once $24.99 per pound to carbon is my specialty.
And Daddy-O, that’s when I picture you at work in our backyard on Adair Street.
Though he signed off for that great smoker in the sky 35 years ago, I can still see him presiding over the grill, seated in his favorite yellow and lime green folding lawn chair with a martini in one hand and BBQ tongs in the other.
His theory was simple: if you keep it moving, it won’t burn. So he’d fire up that mountain of briquets to resemble Kileuia and after melting Mom’s clothes’ line a few times, he’d carefully grace the grates with his marinated madness, with the tenderness of a brain surgeon.
Enter the sound of a sizzle followed by endless spins. What is known today as a grill, then was a “Bar-B-Que,” not a Weber, not built-in, not propane, nothing fancier than a basic kettle and a round grill perched on the slab under the once functional clothes’ line. And that grill would spin, baby.
Remember, as long as it moves . . .
Across the neighborhood, smoke signals shot from Dad’s BBQ, prompting our loudest neighbor to pry his way through our creaky back gate, martini in hand.
“Hey Bird Legs,” he’d holler, “smells like sirloin.”
“Hey Knucklehead, ya got nose trouble??” Dad shot back, offering a handshake and a refill.
There stood two buddies admiring Dad’s big hunk of spinning meat. Which had soaked all day in Boompa’s custom toxic marinade of ketchup, soy sauce, brown sugar, Worcestershire, sherry and a heavy shot of liquid smoke. For that “dark brown flavor.”
“NEIL,” Mom begged, “Take it easy on the liquid smoke.”
He ignored her. Like he did most of the time. When he died, we scattered his ashes along with his last bottle of liquid smoke.
On this particular summer day circa 1960, the two fellas celebrated getting a hall pass from their usual suits and ties. Because those were formal years when a starched shirt, a Windsor knot, and a sportcoat from the Wilger Company went everywhere— the office, church, a baseball game, or dinner at the Flame. Oh, and you didn’t leave until your shoes were spit shine, buddy.
Free at last, there they sat, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum in flip flops. Businessmen during the day with mortgages and payroll to meet. Grown-up kids on a Sunday afternoon at the BBQ with new jokes and old lies. What you couldn’t miss were those pasty white birdlegs and black socks.
Partially hidden by faded Bermuda shorts, those funny looking pins held up barrel chests and the biggest hearts west of Des Moines.
Always the gracious host, Dad put down his tongs for a minute.
“Harold,” he’d say, “here’s a chair and a fly swatter.” It was another old aluminum lawn chair, circa White Front 1957, once blue, now resembled the grit of our cement walkway. “But it still works fine,” Dad always said.
I couldn’t find a picture of Dad in those shorts, only this one in businessman mode. I guess it works fine.
So on this summer day, Dad, I’ll hover over the grill, missing you, your bird legs, that “dark brown flavor” and your big heart.
And don’t worry, I’ll keep it moving.
Elizabeth Kirby has been around a long time—a resident of Thousand Oaks since 1983, whose glass is usually half full if she can find it. Reach her at email@example.com or kirby. firstname.lastname@example.org. To read all her columns, check out her Facebook page.