“We are never doing this again! Ever!” My Husband is standing in the middle of the picnic tables, arms crossed, shaking his head. I have just emerged from the port-o-potty, thick yellow gloves on, Lysol in hand. You see, I have just cleaned said port-o-potty and stocked it with soft toilet paper, paper towels and hand sanitizer. I have cleaned this particular port-o-potty for the last few years for this thing that we will never do again. Ever.
“I told you I didn’t want to do this again,” my Husband is continuing.
I peel off the rubber gloves and drop them into a bucket along with the Lysol and start pushing the big push broom across the concrete, gathering beer bottles caps and chicken wing bones. “No,” I say, “we talked about possibly not doing this again, and then you harassed me about getting the permit. So, while I can make you the promise right now that we will never, ever, do this again, we are doing it today. We have about 100 people showing up in about an hour and you have about 100 pounds of meat cooking, so stop complaining. I’m the one who just cleaned a fucking port-o-potty”
“I’m going back up to the house to check on the meat. I’ll send Daughter 2.0 down with the Dog. Never again,” he grumbles as he marches away.
We will never, ever do this again, the Memorial Day Barbecue that we have been doing for so many years we have lost count. It began as a smallish get together at our house. My Husband wanted to make pulled pork, real Carolina barbecue, because he had read an article or something and so we had a few folks over on Memorial Day. Each year it got bigger. One year we ran out of food and my Husband had to make a quick trip to the supermarket. We had to change it from Memorial Day Monday to Sunday after the year people didn’t leave the house until 2:00 am and the kids didn’t make it to school the following day. When the guest count surpassed 50 we moved it from our backyard to the picnic area in the park near our home. When we hit 100 people we stopped trying to provide all the food and drink and limited ourselves to the protein and some beer and wine and lemonade, asking guests to provide everything else.
Still, it was a huge undertaking. My Husband cooked for days – pulled pork, brisket, ribs, whole chickens, salmon, even portobello mushrooms for the veggies among us. He made sauces – red BBQ and white BBQ and vinegar for the pork. I made bags and bags of coleslaw to go on pulled pork sandwiches. We bought hundreds of potato buns. We hauled plates and cups and napkins and coolers of ice and Maui brewing company beer in cans and cases of wine. We cleaned the picnic site (including the port-o-potty).
So this was a thing, a thing we did, a thing we became known for doing. If you had ever met us, even once, you we invited to the BBQ. Anyone who came was on the guest list forever. People came and went all day long and ate and ate and ate again. The few who stayed to the bitter end to help clean up, loading cars with trash, came back to the house for an after party – hot tub and bourbon (always freezing by the time we left the park) and poker.
We had it down to a science that last year, two years ago, when my Husband announced never again. He was tired, he needed a grilling buddy. I was tired, I needed to rent clean port-o-potties. But I guess we were also just done, it had run it’s course. That last year I was recovering from a badly sprained ankle and I hadn’t been able to run for a couple of months and I was cranky. On one of the numerous trips back and forth from the picnic site to our house Daughter 1.0 complained about something (who can remember what?) and I responded by kicking the front door with my good foot, probably breaking my big toe, and I sat down on the side walk and cried. “We are never doing this again!” I whined. “Ever!”
By the end of that last Memorial Weekend Barbecue my Husband was beaming, standing with friends, full of beer and meat and compliments. “We can do this again,” he smiled at me. I smiled back and nodded. “It’s fun, right?”
We haven’t done it since, don’t think we ever will again. Last year we had planned to do something at the park, something different, hire food trucks, but we didn’t – the cost and people came for Tom’s meat anyway (we should have made t-shirts). This year Daughter 1.0 graduates from high school in a couple of weeks and it all just feels like too much. By next year people will have forgotten and made other plans for Memorial Day weekend.
I grew up in a small beach town south of Boston. We had a Memorial Day tradition ourselves. Our town had a parade. We would sit at the bottom of our hill (usually in parkas, it was still cold in May!) and watch our neighbors, members of the VFW, bagpipers, cub scouts and girl scouts (and brownies) and the kids from the school marching bands (elementary, middle and high schools) march by waving small American flags. I marched when I was in elementary school and still in the band. My instrument of choice was the French Horn (I always liked to be different) but wasn’t allowed to play that while I marched. Instead I learned the trombone and to bang on the bass drum. The parade ended at the cemetery and we all got ice cream sandwiches. My Parents had a cook out (hotdogs, hamburgers and chicken legs charred black on the little hibachi grill, and Nana’s potato salad and Boston baked beans that cooked in the crock pot and made the kitchen smell of cloves and maple, velvety brown). We huddles outside and ate and the adults drank gin and tonics (summer!) and dreamed about long warm nights and swimming at Sally’s Rock. Then we grew up and my Parents moved to Minnesota (long story) and I’m not at all sure what they do now for Memorial Day. Not even sure it’s a day off in Minnesota. But remember when we used to watch the parade and have the first cook out of the season?
Remember when we used to have that barbecue and hundreds of people came?
I’m not going to give you the recipe for any of Tom’s famous meat because I simply don’t know what all he puts into all the different rubs or how long it takes to smoke on the Big Green Egg (days) and because, well, it’s secret. But I will divulge my coleslaw recipe and Nana’s potato salad recipe (which is also something of a secret, but I’m sure you won’t tell).
Coleslaw (my friend gave me this recipe years ago and I think it’s the best)
1 cup half & half
1/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons mayonaise
2 gloves of garlic peeled and grated
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 head of cabbage grated
2-3 carrots peeled and grated
Combine the first 6 ingredients in a jar and cover and shake until well combined. Mix the dressing with the cabbage and carrots and chill in the refrigerator for at east an hour (better after 24).
Nana’s Potato Salad (or at least my version of her secret recipe)
6 large russet potatoes
One cup finely chopped yellow onion
One cup chopped celery
6 hard boiled eggs chopped
Mayonnaise (must be Hellman’s, Best Foods for you West Coasters)
Salt and lots of freshly ground pepper
Scrub the potatoes clean but do not peel them. Place them into a large pot of highly salted water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Adjust the temperature and boil gently until cooked through but not too soft (poke them with a knife, they should give but not break apart). Drain the potatoes and dump them back into the pot and add the onion and celery. Cover the pot and allow to cool. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, left them from the pot, scraping the onions and celery into a serving bowl. Peel the potatoes and cut into one inch cubes. Add them to the bowl with the onions and celery. Stir together and fold in the eggs. Add mayonnaise to taste (I can’t tell you exactly how much, just enough). Add lots of black pepper and stir. Taste and correct for salt, remembering that the potatoes with be fairly well salted from the cooking water.