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.