I’m sure most of you readers are looking forward to the Fourth of July. There is something about that holiday that stimulates some sense of childhood excitement in me. I’m not exactly sure why because when I was a kid my family didn’t do anything very exciting for the Fourth.
For a lot of people the fireworks shows take them back to their childhoods, but the only fireworks in my town were at the annual Firemen’s Carnival and that didn’t coincide with the Fourth of July.
Parades will bring back memories for a lot of people, but not for me. There was no such parade in my town. No patriotic ceremonies. No concerts in the park. Now that I think about it, I came from a pretty boring town.
I’d like to be able to say we always went to the beach or had a family cookout, but we never did. My father would usually get hold of a couple of fire crackers and set them off under a tin can and we kids would look on in awe as the can was propelled several feet into the air. That lasted all of about five minutes. Imagining how high the can would go was always more exciting than how high it actually went.
We never had a grill of any kind so we never had a cookout. I don’t remember ever having gone on a Fourth of July picnic. We did, however, have watermelon and strawberry shortcake and that’s probably what I remember most.
My brothers and I would sit on the back steps eating our giant slices of watermelon and having seed fights with each other. We always hoped that the seeds that landed willy-nilly all over the backyard would take root and produce more watermelons, but, of course they never did.
The evening meal, whatever it may have been (no memory of that at all) always ended with strawberry shortcake and whipped cream. Sometimes it was with fresh homemade biscuits and sometimes with store-bought dessert cups. Most of the time we had real whipped cream, but sometimes it was Dream Whip, Cool Whip didn’t exist. It was always very good.
Now, very well into my adult years I can do whatever I want on the Fourth of July. Usually that means a family cookout. Now that my children are also way into their adult years, they have their fancy gas grills. I generally yield to them as far as the cooking goes.
I think my kids’ Fourth of July memories are of the many disasters that took place because my grilling skills left a lot to be desired, at least on that day. It seemed that no matter how many other occasions I created char-grilled culinary masterpieces, on the Fourth of July I became a barbecue bumbler.
My timing was one of the problems. I was always so optimistic that the charcoal briquettes would light right away and be ready for grilling in 10 minutes. There were no “ready-to-light” briquettes then and I have been known to go through an entire can of lighter fluid just to get the darn fire going.
Meanwhile, hungry kids would be stuffing themselves with marshmallows and I didn’t even have the grill lit.
If getting the grill ready wasn’t the problem, it was my inept attempt at placing hot dogs and hamburgers where they would cook the best. I can’t tell you how many hot dogs have either rolled off the grill completely and landed on the ground or they would land in the briquettes. Have you ever tried to scrape ashes off hot dogs?
Too many cookouts were spent waiting for the heat and then waiting for the meat. Too many Fourth of Julys I served burnt hot dogs or undercooked chicken. Guessing the condition of the food and how long it would take me to over/under cook it became a family tradition.
Last year, however, I was ready and was going to be the Queen of the Grill. The family gathered at a nice picnic spot at the lake and I brought my grill and charcoal. My son-in-law, who considers himself to be the “Grill Master” brought his fancy gas grill. I cooked ribs, which I had actually pre-cooked and marinated in barbecue sauce.
I fired up my grill with instant light briquettes and got the fire going in record-breaking time. Jay fired up his fancy gas grill. The ribs were cooked to perfection 20 minutes later. The hot dogs were burnt and the burgers were dry. Oh yeah, one of the hamburgers didn’t survive Jay’s flip technique and landed on the ground. Na, na, na!
You have no idea how many years I’ve waited to cook the perfect Fourth of July meal. And did I rub it in Jay’s face? Oh yeah! I don’t think it bothered him though because he was stuffing his face with ribs at the time.
By the time I got done picking on my son-in-law and doing a victory dance the only food left to eat was burnt hot dogs and dry burgers, the ribs were all gone. Oh well, at least I finally got the grilling right and the way I see it, it was worth the dry burger. And later on, strawberry shortcake and whipped cream took me right back to my childhood and was the end to a perfect Fourth of July. I hope your Fourth of July and anything you may grill will be perfect, too.

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