Independence Day — My father was born on July 4, 1928, so I always think about him every Fourth of July. Some of my most distinct memories of my father from my childhood years relate to his elaborate fire-worshiping ritual, otherwise known as outdoor grilling. On special occasions, such as the Fourth of July, Dad was always ready to shed his identity as a dentist and get in touch with his inner caveman self. Like most men of his generation, Dad seldom cooked in the kitchen, but his reluctance to cook disappeared if it involved grilling meat outdoors.
For my father, grilling was a primal pleasure. He would have nothing to do with the then newfangled gas grills. He wouldn’t even use lighter fluid. Like our Cro-Magnon ancestors, he would set kindling on fire, although he did use a match instead of flint. After the fire was burning steadily, he would add the charcoal briquettes. He always maintained that meat that wasn’t cooked over charcoal just didn’t taste as good.
As the eldest cave boy, I was the apprentice fire-maker. I gathered the kindling and helped Dad build the fire. He explained to me that the first step was to place a layer of wadded-up newspapers on the bottom of the grill. He then showed me how to arrange the kindling in a carefully constructed grid pattern.
When I asked him why he bothered to arrange the kindling that way, he said it helped the charcoal get started faster because the briquettes would get caught on his grid. This explanation didn’t make any sense to me, but I didn’t say anything. I knew that someday I would be in charge of making the fire, and then I’d put Dad’s grid theory to the test.
I was 13 when my chance to be a solo fire-maker arrived. It was toward the end of June, and Dad called Mom to say that he was working late that day. He and Mom discussed dinner plans, and they decided to have grilled steaks. In order to speed things up, Mom suggested that I get the fire going while he was driving home. The drive took Dad about 40 minutes, which I thought was plenty of time to accomplish my mission. I scrounged up the kindling and wadded up the newspapers like a well-trained cave boy, but then I rebelled. When I placed the kindling in the grill, I deliberately avoided arranging the sticks in a grid pattern.
I had just put the charcoal on the fire when my father pulled into the driveway. He rushed over to the grill to inspect my work and was appalled when he saw that the charred sticks weren’t arranged in a grid. He found a garden tool designed to dig up dandelion roots and used it to push around the burning sticks in a futile effort to arrange them according to his grid method.
While he was brandishing his red-hot dandelion tool, I noticed that the charcoal briquettes were doing just fine. My error, I decided, was that I had taken too long to build the fire. For the rest of that summer, Dad and I battled over the grill. About once a week, Mom would tell me to get the fire going, and then I would rush to have it finished before Dad came home. Now that I was the heretical cave boy, I always refused to arrange the sticks in a grid, but I got to be so fast that the charcoal was usually ready for cooking before Dad could even pick up his dandelion tool. Still, he always made a point of inspecting my fire as soon as he got out of his car, and if the sticks were still burning, he would make a feeble effort to rearrange them to his liking.
The summer of my fiery rebellion was over 50 years ago. However, every Fourth of July, I remember my Dad and our shared love of grilling outdoors using charcoal. In fact, this past weekend I grilled chicken kabobs, and in honor of my late father’s upcoming 91st birthday, I used his grid system to light the charcoal. As my father always maintained, meat cooked any other way just doesn’t taste as good.
News from Recent Graduates of Our M.A. Program — I am always pleased when I hear news from our former students. I recently received emails from two recent graduates of our M.A. program. Peter Fields informed me that he just accepted the position of Assistant Learning Specialist for the Athletic Department at the University of South Florida in Tampa where he will work with at-risk student athletes. Susan Diamond Riley wrote with exciting publication news. She informed me that Young Palmetto Books, a division of the University of South Carolina Press, is publishing her mystery The Sea Island’s Secret this month. For more information about the release of her mystery, please click on the following link: https://www.sc.edu/uscpress/books/2019/7974.html
Kudos — As you know, I like to use my Monday Missives to share news about recent accomplishments by members of the English Department. Here is the latest news:
Pilar Blitvich recently learned that her co-edited special issue on im/politeness and globalization (https://www.sciencedirect.com/journal/journal-of-pragmatics/special-issue/10SFM39G03G) won the Neal Norrick Award for best special issue of the year (2018). This is one of two awards presented yearly by the editors and the editorial board of the Journal of Pragmatics (https://www.journals.elsevier.com/journal-of-pragmatics) which is the flagship journal in her field.
Katie Hogan recently presented a paper titled “Reading for Queer Disaster” at the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment Conference in Davis, California.
Allison Hutchcraft presented creative work in a talk titled “Extinction’s Disasters” at the 2019 Association for the Study of Literature and Environment Conference in Davis, California.
Juan Meneses recently presented a paper titled “A Climate Without Borders: The Figure of the Foreigner in Contemporary Fiction” at the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment conference in Davis, California.
Matt Rowney co-organized a round table at the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment Conference titled “Literature from Below: Soil as Narrative, Soil as Substance.” He presented a paper for this round table titled “Romantic Soil: Dirt and Growth in the Poetry of Felicia Hemans.”
Upcoming Events and Deadlines — Here is information about upcoming events and deadlines:
July 1 — Final grades for the first summer session courses are due by noon on Monday, July 1. July 1 —The first day of classes for the second summer session is Monday, July 1.
Quirky Quiz Question — My Dad’s preference for grilling over charcoal is shared by Alton Brown of the Food Network. Brown said that he uses a gas grill for hotdogs and hamburgers, but when grilling chicken, fish, or steak, “it’s charcoal or nothing.” Brown became famous for a series that ran on the Food Network from 1999 through 2012. What is the name of this series?
Last week’s answer: Candide
What is the title of Voltaire’s famous work that includes the passage about caring for gardens.