One of my strongest memories of my childhood were the big family BBQs at my grandmother’s house. And of all the BBQ’s at Grandma’s — the big Fourth of July feasts were not to be missed. Relatives came from far and wide for yard games, fireworks, and to eat their fill.
The meals were not what anyone would consider “fancy.” I remember long picnic tables covered with newspapers and crammed with large platters of those perfect summer foods: corn on the cob, fried chicken, big juicy tomatoes, cucumber salad, and her famous kidney bean salad. She didn’t do anything fancy, or new fangled, and certainly not nouveau. She did it all the old fashioned way — the hard way — and it showed in the results.
There is a certain quality to a meal where the cook refused to cut corners. I can still almost taste that corn on the cob, bright yellow and steaming, with butter slowly melting across the kernels. I recall the crunch of each bite of that corn. I tell my kids that food tastes better when you grow it yourself, and corn in particular tastes better if you shuck it yourself. I’m not sure they believe me yet, but I know someday they’ll understand.
To this day my mouth waters thinking of the thick slabs of firetruck-red Indiana summer tomatoes. They were still warm from the sun, freshly picked from the garden a stone’s throw from where we sat. A little salt and you had a juicy treat that needs no accompaniment and has no comparison.
Those big meals at Grandma’s house are a thing of the past now. They died with her many years ago, only living in memory. My attempts to make similar memories for my kids never seem to live up to my recollections.
But, maybe that’s how memories work.
And maybe I’m OK with that.