With Father’s Day approaching I am keeping my dad on my mind a little more this week.
My childhood memories of my father live in all of my senses. I was just telling a couple of people about his weekly summer time ritual of grilling on his Webber kettle and listening to A Prairie Home Companion on the radio. I always picture our lattice covered red-brick patio with dappled shade. There’s Dad’s frosty mug of micro-brewed beer sweating on the picnic table next to a cellophane bag of salty peanuts waiting to be shelled. My nose tingles with the distinctive slightly acrid smell of charcoal briquette smoke. My ears even now happily perk up to the sounds of Garrison Keillor’s whistling narrative. When I close my eyes and breathe I can still taste those smoky chicken legs.
On most warm Saturdays, in the hours before grilling, two things would happen at our house. The television and radio would be simultaneously tuned to some sport with a ball and Dad would be out mowing the lawn. I found so much comfort in his lawn mowing ritual. Dad was completely committed to his push mower. After dragging it up from the basement onto the grass and attaching the grass catcher he always started near the street and worked his way back to the yard. The rhythmic chop, chop, chop, chop pause was the sound track to our sunny days. The rotating blades played a hypnotic lullaby eventually lulling the rest of us into a rummy trance – especially if there was room cleaning or homework to be done.
Dad almost always left the t.v. on while mowing the lawn. Through some crazy sports induced telepathy (or the radio) the moment my sister or I would try and change the channel he would come tearing into the room yelling, “Quick! Change it back! What happened?!? We gotta see this! Griffey just got a hit over the wall!” My mother would be summoned to the living room while we all held our breath waiting for the instant replay. Then after a couple more at bats he would return to the yard. Twice a year a sunny Saturday was earmarked for trimming the massive (read MASSIVE) laurel hedge that surrounded our front yard. Dad had a full system for trimming the hedge that included homemade ladder extensions, an entire box of 30 gallon trash bags, and my sister and I engaged in what can only be described as torturous forced labor. She and I had to rake all of the lopped off leaves. It may not have been so bad except we stopped every few minutes to stomp, cry, get a drink of water, go pee, poke each other, and sit in time out. (I am sure the future holds some parenting payback with The Little Helping.)
When the yard work was done Dad headed straight for the freezer to grab one of the two mugs that were always kept inside the door. As soon as the warm air hit the glass it would fog up making the beer he poured into it look soft and creamy. Then he would head down to the patio and we would hear the familiar scraping of the black kettle barbecue’s wheels across the uneven brick as he pulled it away from the house. The metal on metal sounds of the vents being opened to let air get to the soon to be white-hot charcoal. Finally Dad would stretch out in a lawn chair and begin grilling. Something that looked an awful lot like sitting with his eyes closed and only half listening to the radio.
Twelve years ago my parents sold the house along with the patio, the lawn, and the laurel, where my sister and I grew up. Now my teenage brother uses an electric mower to cut their grass and Dad has transitioned almost completely to a gas grill. He still grills up a tasty piece of chicken but it just isn’t the same. Perhaps, if the weather cooperates this weekend, I can get him to treat us to a little bit of the “good old days.” I’ll just need to show up with a bag of (unsalted) peanuts and an icy cold beer.
Dad’s Favorite Summer Side Dish
I couldn’t leave you without some sort of recipe so here is a simple side dish for any outdoor meal. There is only one ingredient but the method of preparation must be observed precisely.
Take a large watermelon (Hermiston variety if possible) and wedge it into the back of your refrigerator no less than three hours before you plan to serve it. Get it in there anyway you can, removing other items as necessary. When ready to serve slice the melon into thick wedges and pile them on to a plate. Eat the watermelon leaning forward in your lawn chair letting the juices dribble onto the ground. Don’t be afraid to tuck a napkin into your shirt collar for extra drip management. Feel free to slurp while consuming to capture as much juice as possible in every bite.
Variation for when no refrigeration is available: Find a stream, creek, or river with some boulders in it – preferably fed by snow melt. Remove shoes and wade to the nearest boulder. Wedge your watermelon behind the boulder and leave in the icy water for several hours. Retrieve and prepare as above. Happy almost Father’s Day!