My Turn: Family history: The grill


Published: 8/27/2020 6:39:47 AM

As I set up my folding chair and arrange my towel to get ready for a cherished swim at the Green River swimming pool, I watch the caravans arrive. I watch as families unload their ice chests, beach balls, volleyballs, music, shovels and whatever else the day requires and make the trek across the bridge to a coveted picnic table. I watch the babies, the older children, the parents and the grandparents as they set up camp.

It brings back memories; I see them now — only they are my grandparents, dressed in their unsuitable dark clothing, my uncles, aunts and cousins. And it was our caravan that inched its way out of the city to a park for a much anticipated weekend gathering. We headed to a park that welcomed our family and not all did in those times. The explicit signs may have come down but the message was clear. “So sorry you won’t be able to park here,” as we entered an empty parking lot.

But that day, a day etched in memory, we were welcome, and what’s more, we had arrived with our first-ever outdoor grill. However, it was not yet an assembled first-ever outdoor grill. The uncles, assigned to grill duty, gathered in serious conference to study an array of parts. They were intent on putting these parts together, a task that will take them an inordinate amount of time. They were not practiced in construction. They were not skilled at the choreography of their collective industry. No doubt, if one uncle had taken over — say, Uncle Willie — it would have been done efficiently, effectively. But no, they were determined to share mis-directions as they vied for authority and volume. Much time was wasted — or enjoyed — arguing instead of doing, ignoring the prescribed steps read to them from an instruction manual by my mother, in her best teacherly manner.

Meanwhile, the aunts did what they always do. They arranged the nest: They covered several wooden picnic tables with ironed tablecloths; unpacked their goodies and chattered happily as they complained or praised someone else’s children. Aunt Claire will have made her prized Jello salad, which bore no resemblance to salad, but instead was a delicious concoction of lemon and orange Jellos with buried mini-marshmallows and sliced orange rounds. Aunt Dinny will have delivered her deviled eggs, more mayo than egg. While Aunt Fanny and Aunt Rose unveiled their sliced brisket and pastrami, devoured by the uncles with generous swaths of mustard on rye. My mother, with her supreme patience, would have stuck to her task, coaxing the uncles through the manual they felt duty-bound to contradict and resent. They knew better, didn’t they? They didn’t, but pride was in the appearance of authority over facility with nuts and bolts.

Meanwhile, the cousins, my cohort, would have moved well beyond the grown-ups, though still somehow overseen by the Bubbes, who may ignore a water fight but not name-calling. “Bobby, don’t let me hear such words. Nobody in this family is stupid. You hear me?” He did. Still, there was enough freedom in the chase, the noise and the club of beloved cousins.

Eventually, despite their efforts, the uncles assembled the grill, which was then ready for the miracle of that American summer event of cooked hot dogs and lightly browned rolls. An achievement the family duly noted with appetite and applause. Hours later, after the family baseball game with highly biased refereeing in favor of the youngest players, after games of gin rummy (aunts) or pinochle (uncles), the grandparents, the aunts and uncles, the cousins are packed up and sorted in the right vehicles, along with that very first grill (now disassembled?) for a tired and utterly happy trek back to the city

In time, my extended family dispersed. Two generations have died off. The aging cousins and their off-spring have moved from one coast to another and many places in between. During these many decades, they (more likely their off-spring) will have learned to assemble computers, never mind simple grills. And yet here I am watching, with something like envy, the multi-generational families at the Green River. And I am hoping they feel welcome and all enjoy all the gifts of a summer day.

Ruth Charney is a resident of Greenfield.

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