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Work Can Wait: Here's To Wishing Everyone A Happy July 4th

It took 65 years, but I finally replicated the 4th of July cookout I grew up with.

The old man loved his holidays, and food was a big part of it. Christmas would see Southern Italian foods that you wouldn’t get a chance to taste at other times of the year; Thanksgiving was the same basic fare everyone else had, but he’d throw in his own twist with a fruit salad he’d had as a kid that I’ve never had anything similar to since.

Independence Day to him meant a cookout. Didn’t matter if it was 70 degrees or 170 degrees outside, we were grilling. If you didn’t fill every part of the grill with every kind of meat you could get, you weren’t trying. He had a platter that was about the size of a small boat that he would just stack up what he cooked throughout the afternoon, and when everything was done, he’d bring that surfboard of a plate inside, put it in the middle of the table, and we’d all eat.

My memory advises it was always hot, but growing up in Norfolk, there was always a cool breeze blowing, or as my Dad liked to say, in Norfolk if you don’t like the weather, wait an hour. It will change. These were the days before cable television and wall-to-wall sports on TV, so I’d occasionally have a transistor radio with a baseball game on.

The mood was relaxing, the pace was slow, and the smell of smoke and grilled burgers, hot dogs, sausages and chicken ended up being seared in your memory. That was the smell of the 4th of July.

When I moved to Ashburn 22 years ago, I intentionally tried to gather the elements to duplicate this experience. It shouldn’t have been hard, and over time, I got the big gas grill, the outdoor patio furniture…even ran speakers through the overhang of the back of the house and connected it to an old AM/FM receiver so maybe one afternoon I could also hear the likes of Charlie Slowes, telling me the sad details of how my local Washington Nationals were about to lose another baseball game.

It should have been easy, but it wasn’t until I retired I realized the most important element to the 4th of July recipe was time. Sure, I had cookouts in previous years, but they were always situations where you rushed out to cook things as quickly as possible, then came inside to eat just as quickly because tomorrow we all had to be back at work and there were other things to do. Relax? Heck, it was just one more chore to do on the highway of life and once that was done, there were 10 other things on a list waiting to be done.

Not this weekend. Friday I complied with the first rule of Italian cooking, which was go to Giant and buy more food that you could possibly need. Then I did something I’ve never done. I spent an hour and completely cleaned the grill so when the time came to cook, there were no thoughts of “why didn’t I deal with this after the last time I grilled?”

Sunday I walked out to the patio, the sun was shining, the Nats were on the radio, an old dog was laying at my feet and a cool breeze was blowing. The forces of the universe said “it’s time to cook, young man” so I went back upstairs and started grabbing food from the refrigerator (or to be more accurate, asking my wife to help with the prep). My Dad always overcooked in quantity when grilling because he said the smoked flavor for some reason was even stronger the second day, but at least yesterday, my intention was to just grill a few things.

By the time I was done, I realized the power of genetics was too strong, and I acted just like the old man, filling the grill to the brim. With time on my side, I turned the grill on low heat. I sprinkled apple wood chips in a smoker box and let them heat up. Slowes and company were on the radio, and I just enjoyed the afternoon. Unlike the old man, who was always hollering for someone to bring something out to him, I just texted my wife and would meet her halfway at the basement stairs. Technology can be a wonderful thing when the kitchen is on the second floor and you're grilling on the ground floor.

It was nice. It was peaceful. It was the revival of a warm childhood memory. And I enjoyed it so much, I cooked enough stuff for not only Sunday, but the 4th as well. To be honest, probably for the 5th, 6th and 7th too. Chicken and burgers were Saturday, sausage with onions and peppers today (served on a sub roll covered with a pound of melted mozzarella), hot dogs tonight, and a smattering of potato salad, deviled eggs and baked beans across all days past, present and future.

Did I mention there's only two of us?

So to all who follow this site, Happy 4th! Turn the grill down. Take it slow. Realize work can wait. Enjoy the moment.

Celebrate the freedom to unwind.

And don’t wait 65 years to figure that out 😊

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Comments 1

Dave Fulton on Monday, 04 July 2022 15:18
The War Refought

What a wonderful replication of growing up memories. We always cooked out, too, on July 4th. But nothing so elaborate as you. Very standard hotdogs & hamburgers on big charcoal grills. We usually alternated with Mom's sister. There'd be homemade deviled eggs, potato salad & baked beans. There'd always be at least 1 salad made from a recipe on a Jello box. Those I avoided. Somewhere during dinner on the patios Dad and Uncle Eddie would begin to relive WWII. Dad was in South Pacific and saw no combat. My uncle had been bayonetted in Italy. Sooner or later Mom would halt the war stories by reminding Dad we'd all heard them a hundred times. I wish on this July 4th I could hear them just once more surrounded by all those folks who've passed on.

What a wonderful replication of growing up memories. We always cooked out, too, on July 4th. But nothing so elaborate as you. Very standard hotdogs & hamburgers on big charcoal grills. We usually alternated with Mom's sister. There'd be homemade deviled eggs, potato salad & baked beans. There'd always be at least 1 salad made from a recipe on a Jello box. Those I avoided. Somewhere during dinner on the patios Dad and Uncle Eddie would begin to relive WWII. Dad was in South Pacific and saw no combat. My uncle had been bayonetted in Italy. Sooner or later Mom would halt the war stories by reminding Dad we'd all heard them a hundred times. I wish on this July 4th I could hear them just once more surrounded by all those folks who've passed on.
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