By Phyllis J. Lubin
“Why do they keep saying ‘ball’? Aren’t they always playing with a ball?” Lea inquired of my eldest daughter while watching one of the last baseball games of the season last month.
Since our eldest daughter returned from school, Yussie and she have developed a custom of watching sports together. Baseball seems to be their favorite. Recently, Lea joined the team (it was either doing some more reading or watching sports).
I certainly don’t quite understand all the ins and outs of these games. If my sports-fanatic daughter is actually getting Yussie to understand how the games are played, it is certainly educational.
With the lights off in the den (“like a movie theater,” according to Yussie), and all three staring at the screen in awe of game 7 of the NLCS (National League Championship Series—I just learned that), it was a picturesque scene to behold. Certainly after the earlier excitement in the house, it was more of a calming experience.
When we purchased our home almost two decades ago, it came with an outdoor grill. My husband insisted that all it needed was a new grate and we were all set. About ten years ago we received a knock on the door from the son of the original owners of our home. (Our house is about 70 years old.) He marveled at how the house looked almost exactly the same as when he lived there. In fact, he chuckled when he saw the setup in our backyard and explained that they used to use our “grill” as an incinerator.
But this was our system, and my husband had the sentiment of “why replace something that works?” So every time we wanted a barbecue we would fire up the coal in the old “incinerator.” When my husband and I would take our occasional strolls on Central Avenue I would look longingly in the window of the appliance store at all the gas grills. Every time I would bring up the subject, my husband would reply that we have a grill that works just fine.
Please keep in mind that our “BBQ system” was about 120 feet away from our patio. So by the time the food came off the grill and made it to our table, (a) my husband had already eaten straight off the grill, and (b) the food was not that warm anymore. Plus, we would always seem to be purchasing coal. A BBQ could never be a spur-of-the-moment decision, and I did not feel capable of “manning” that grill.
This past June the time had come. I had concluded that my husband would appreciate this “new” concept in outdoor cooking, and I decided to finally walk into that appliance store on Central Avenue and make all our dreams come true. After careful price comparisons and brand analysis with my eldest daughter, we finally decided on the model and store for us. It would be delivered and set up in time for my husband’s birthday dinner.
Next, we discovered marinades. Once we had the fancy grill, we needed fancy meats with fancy tastes to go along with it. Soon we discovered that simply throwing random spices on meat and throwing it on the coal grill was just not enough. We needed six hours in advance for our tenderized meat to absorb the deep flavors of our mixtures that sat in the plastic bags with the meat in the fridge. We have really stepped up in the world of grilling.
As predicted, my husband was elated. He was no longer the only griller, and the schlep across the yard was no longer required. The grill is part of the family, sitting alongside us on the patio as we eat. We even splurged on the side burner, so our corn on the cob and baked beans could enjoy the new era of grilling.
All summer the grill was used. Wednesdays and Sundays became our traditional BBQ nights. Each week we tried new marinades along with poultry and meats we had never experienced before. Hot dogs became spirals, sliced potatoes became homemade grill fries, and vegetables became exciting again.
But then came the question that all gas grill owners face: Do we purchase an extra propane tank? What if the gas runs out mid BBQ birthday party or random meal? With coal, we always knew how many more fires we could light before we needed to restock. But with gas, it’s an unknown! We opted out of buying an extra tank, since we felt unsure as to where to safely store it. So we lived on the edge all season. Each planned grill night came with the added mystery. And each time, it worked like magic. The delicious food kept flowing.
As the summer came to an end, we knew that our grilling season could continue on. According to the appliance store, people in this new era of grilling actually have the ability to use their grill all year round! It was an anomaly to us, but we were excited by the idea.
This brings us to the Wednesday night a couple of weeks prior to “Superstorm Sandy.” After a long hiatus from the grill (being as we all don’t love standing outside to man the grill when it’s chilly out), the weather forecast brought optimism of a somewhat warmer night. The marinades came out of the refrigerator again. Our chicken was prepped hours in advance. My eldest daughter reminded me how to turn on the grill (I am not ready for total independence), and I put the chicken on the grill, still delighted by my newfound abilities.
But all good things must come to an end.
“Is it normal to see flames coming out of the bottom of the grill?”
My daughter laughed at my question, since the answer was so blatantly obvious. I was on the phone with my mother at the time. “I think I need to call the fire department now,” I told her.
I rushed my kids to the front yard as I made the call. Soon we heard sirens as several police cars and a fire truck arrived on our block. The neighbors all trickled out of their houses to watch the excitement.
My relatively new grill, my proud purchase of the summer, was soon sprayed with fire extinguishers by the firefighters. As they analyzed the propane tank to determine its safety, the team was able to assure me that we still had half a tank of propane left!
It’s always better to be safe than sorry. I must say that we were all calm in an extremely dangerous situation. We had the fire department’s sticker on the phone ready for just such an emergency. All three of the children I had at home at the time walked to the front of the house swiftly, and, with the help of the fire department, a terrible outcome was promptly prevented!
My husband entered the house with a shocked, questioning look on his face as the firemen were finishing up their work. I turned to him and said, “I think we will have take-out for dinner!”
• • •
I wrote the first part of this column the week prior to Superstorm Sandy. Now for the addendum: The Sunday of preparation for Sandy (October 28) we spent our time putting away the lawn furniture and paying attention to things that had the potential to sway in heavy winds. My first concern was for the grill. What should we do with it? Where should it be placed?
“I think we should move the entire grill into the garage,” my eldest daughter suggested.
“Not with the propane tank attached,” my husband warned.
But where should the propane be stored? We wouldn’t want that blowing in the heavy winds!
I did a lot of Google research, got differing opinions, and finally concluded that a call to the fire department made the most sense. “Where should I put the grill to protect it from the impending hurricane?”
“I know I tied mine to my deck, since I feel that way it won’t blow anywhere,” the kind fireman suggested to me.
But we don’t have a deck. We don’t even have a fence that I would find trustworthy. After much thought I turned to the most stable piece of furniture in my backyard: the swing set. The swing set has been in our backyard since the summer we moved in almost two decades ago. So my husband schlepped the grill to the swing set and I figured out a way to use the ropes of the swing to securely attach the grill to protect it from the howling winds.
As the winds blew furiously that Monday night, I was confident that the grill was safe.
Tuesday came. The block was eerily quiet. With the lights out, there was no television droning, no computers humming, just the sight of the aftermath. Fortunately, our house seemed intact. Looking outside we noticed trees down all along the street. We ventured tentatively into our backyard. A jumble of leaves and branches, and the tree right behind the house that scared me during the night was holding its own. What we did notice was a tree that we had not even considered—a tree that stood alongside the swing set and that was now toppled onto the set and hovered over the grill. Who would have thought that would happen?
The jury is still out on the condition of the grill. The swing set seemed to have protected it, and after my husband managed to saw the fallen tree to pieces, we have not had the energy to determine if the rains might have permanently damaged our precious grill.
But in the scheme of things we have so much to be thankful for. I mistook the real potential damage that the storm could pose—to our lives. We are, baruch Hashem, all physically whole and safe. Grills can certainly be replaced. I feel for the thousands that had extensive damage to their homes, but with the support of our community (and hopefully insurance, FEMA, and other sources) they will be made whole again. This Thanksgiving, we shared with others what we have to be thankful for: our families, our wonderful community, and the strength to go forward. v
Phyllis Joy Lubin is an attorney with Maidenbaum & Sternberg, LLP, who resides in Cedarhurst with her husband, Leonard. They have six children: Naftali, Shoshana, Rivka, Rochel, Yosef, and Lea, and a daughter-in-law, Nina. The author welcomes your questions and comments at MothersMusings@gmail.com.