With the unofficial beginning of summer at hand, permit me to turn the clock back several notches to another Memorial Day weekend in a far, far different time. The year: 1973. Yogi Berra was managing the Mets, Sister Camillus was walking me through the finer points of Language Arts, and my all-time favorite small screen police detective would very soon be sucking on lollipops every Sunday night.
In the middle of May that epochal year, something occurred within my family that would transform all of our lives. My father made a considerable purchase. It was a state of the art piece of equipment, actually, and serious eye candy to boot. It was to be officially unveiled at our Memorial Day cookout—this charcoal barbecue grill unlike anything any of us had ever seen. This cooking apparatus could be wheeled right out of the garage to our concrete backyard, and then wheeled right back from whence it came. Wow! Astonishingly, it had a small countertop, too, right alongside the charcoal pit. We actually could leave plates there, along with various utensils, while our foods were cooking! What would they think of next?
It was all heady stuff. Friends and neighbors gathered around our ultra-cool orange-colored barbecue to celebrate both the special holiday and the new grill on the block. We posed for pictures. For posterity, we just had to commemorate this key moment in history.
However, despite this technological marvel in our midst, Dad tenaciously clung to the past and started his charcoal fires as he always had. He soaked pages and pages of wet newspaper with lighter fluid, covered them with coals, and tossed a lit match into the muddle. For the next five minutes or so, he made very liberal use of the lighter fluid on hand, which inspired flames and flying pieces of newspaper ash aplenty—never-fail entertainment for us kids. In retrospect, I at long last understand why our barbecued foods frequently tasted like they’d been marinated overnight in lighter fluid.
(Photo from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)