I’ve never been a particularly accomplished cook, but over the years, I learned enough to make a decent meal or two. As a teacher, I always arrived home in time to make dinner for my family, so usually this task fell to me.
Unless it was summer. Because once the warm days arrived, it was time for grilling. And I was definitely not in charge of grilling. That was Shawn’s job.
He loved it. When we moved into our current house almost a decade ago, he bought a grill that was way outside of our budget. When I admonished him for it, he said, “Marjorie, we will use this grill forever. We need to invest in it!”
For almost a year and a half, that grill has sat unused in our backyard. I pulled it out for the 90s party, and I think a few of Shawn’s friends tried to use it last summer. But that’s about it. I just figured it would be one of those things I’d get rid of eventually. I didn’t even know how to turn it on.
I’m not sure why I never learned how to grill, but I think I liked not knowing, in a way. It meant that whenever it was summer, Shawn was in charge of the food. It meant that every party we had, Shawn had to prep the food and clean up the grill afterwards. It was his domain, and I liked it that way.
Every time I’d look at the grill over the past 18 months, it was like a wall went up. Grilling was impossible, I told myself. I couldn’t figure it out, even if I tried.
That was silly, of course, and I knew it. I knew it wasn’t really about learning to light the grill. But the mental block remained.
This summer, however, things seem to have shifted a bit. I am not “better” – and I may never be – but I have felt more happiness over the past few months than I have in years. For some reason, this has made the grill seem less intimidating. Go figure.
Anyway, a few weeks ago, I made a goal: I was going to learn how to grill.
In preparation, I watched a few YouTube videos and then tried to light the grill. When I turned on the gas, I could hear a loud hissing sound, and though I know little about grills, I was pretty sure that wasn’t supposed to happen. I texted a group of my friends for help, and my friend Katy immediately called me. We spoke via FaceTime, and I showed her the issue.
“No, that’s definitely not supposed to happen,” she said. “I think the hose is broken.”
Of course the hose was broken. Like everything else, it seemed. A few months prior, I’d finally gone out to the back garage to go through some of Shawn’s old tools, and found black mold everywhere. Without his watchful eye, it seemed like everything in his domain was crumbling.
I ordered the new hose part, and decided to start learning how to grill at our pool grill. At least there I’d be surrounded by other people who could coach me.
It was a good move – people, mostly strangers, showed me how to turn on the grill there, and recommended cooking temperatures and times. I started with hot dogs, because you can’t screw them up, and I chatted with the other parents at the grill. Usually, it was just men. I think they thought it was interesting that a woman was at the grill, but no one ever really asked me about it.
One day, however, a woman was watching her husband cook, and we got to chatting. She was impressed that I was the one handling the grilling. “It’s my summer goal,” I told her.
“That’s great!” she said. “Was there any specific reason that you made it your goal?”
I paused. “My husband always did the grilling,” I said. “But he died a year and a half ago. I didn’t even know how to turn on a grill, so I’m trying to learn this summer.”
“That’s a great goal,” she said. She wasn’t put off by my bluntness. Maybe, I thought, had been so long since Shawn died that it wasn’t as shocking to people anymore? In any case, we ended up chatting some more while I grilled. That day, I burned everything a little bit. But that was all part of the learning process, I figured. I just scraped off the burnt parts and fed the meat to my kids. (This must be some sort of metaphor for my life, I thought.)
A few days later, the part eventually arrived for my grill. I took out the directions to install it, and found that it was pages and pages long. It took at least 30 minutes for me to gather all of the tools and pieces I needed, and then I had a frustrating time trying to get the broken hose out of the grill so that I could install the new one.
I called Katy. She didn’t answer. I almost gave up.
I swore at the grill. “Listen, you motherfucker,” I hissed, “I am going to fix this today.”
I found another wrench and used two of them to try and loosen one of the connections. Claire wandered outside while I was doing it. “Should I take a picture for your blog?” she asked. “This seems like the sort of thing you would want to write about.”
I laughed, and said that yes, that was a great idea. She started taking photos and I stopped swearing. “You can do it, mom!” she said a number of times.
Finally, I got everything loosened and re-attached the hose and regulator. There was some sort of crazy test that involved getting soap and water and seeing if turning on the gas made bubbles form, and though it seemed like something that was unneeded, I did it anyway. No need to blow up the house by accident.
Once everything was cleared, I turned on the grill. “YES! YES! YES!” I yelled as the grill sparked and then began to heat up.
“You did it, mom!” Claire said. She laughed as I jumped up and down with glee.
We had hamburgers that night. They were from a pack of 50 frozen pre-made patties, and I only had ketchup as a condiment.
But this time, I managed not to burn them. And that seems to be quite the metaphor for my life these days.
Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.