This week on The Back Burner we are reliving and “re-doing” something from our childhoods. I didn’t do much cocktailing as a 10 year old. I did have a bar in my bedroom however. It was filled with games and books, but when my parents retired it from the downstairs den I begged to have it in my room.
Still I do have a memory and a redo of something that I think is appropriate. I occasionally do posts here on “Tid Bits and Noshy Things”. You know savory little bites that I’ve designed to go with the cocktails I usually serve here.
Today’s Tid Bits are grilled oysters. Grilled oysters bring back memories from my youthful summers in Michigan. These were the summers when I was just beginning to find my life and my place in the world. I have probably mentioned some of this before. But when I was a kid I was painfully shy, stick thin and tough as nails. Not a great combination if your main goal in life is enjoying the summer with other kids. You quickly learn that swimming pools and tennis courts fall behind enemy lines. Day camp is deadly. Even the street in front of your house is a battlefield.
Kids can be cruel. Unsupervised and roaming the neighborhood they can be colossally cruel. Like a wolf pack– on the hunt and in your face. These wolves were particularly focused on me during their rampant summers.
No violins please. I am stating cold hard facts. I told you I was tough as nails. Skinny gay boys in the 1970s grew tough fast- or bad things happened to them. Rest assured nothing (that) bad ever happened to me. I am not the kind of person who allows that… Now you my have known all of this already. Sometimes I pull this information out when I want to get your attention. But what I say next may surprise you.
I loved summer.
Summer to me was pollywogs and mosquito larvae (I never could tell the difference), kind older brothers of dick-faced classmates, sun up to sun down out of the house– often all alone, but never lonely.
Moms who liked me because I was polite and smart and kinda handsome. The sort of boy from a good family that they wished their daughters yearned for, but knew never would. Even a few dads who recognized a bit of themselves in me– not all of the doctors, lawyers and business elite had perfect childhoods you know.
But summer was other things too. Here’s a secret. Come summer, I used to spy on the neighbors. Three doors up the hill. They had a nice house. Nicer than the others, and we lived in a nice neighborhood. But their house wasn’t the same sort of nice. Maybe it was custom. Maybe it was designed with and was not just built to have all the amenities. Maybe their landscaping was better. Maybe they just knew how to live.
Because summers at their house were the summers I remember most from that time. The summers I still try to recreate. They are easy for me to remember. You see sometimes I’d actually be invited into the yard (nobody else in my family ever was, which made it feel special). But sometimes they had “grown up parties” and I was forced to watch from the hedge or way up high in a willow tree. A lot can be learned from a tree branch.
Because I was fascinated with their life, I mean they had oysters on the grill in 1976. Oysters on the grill in 1976?
My mom was an incredible cook. But we never had oysters on the grill in 1976. Sure this was suburbia- affluent suburbia, even. But really, mostly middle-class values. Who were these people? Where did they get oysters in Michigan… in summer?
Of course, there was all the regular summer stuff too. Kick the can, road-trips with my family, forts– even a few close friends. But it was when I’d roam the fields behind my school all by myself and think about stuff that summer really came alive. That’s when I’d think about the neighbors and oysters on the grill. I am pre-pubescent. Is that clear? These are not the thoughts of most of the boys who roamed our streets.
So how do I get back to explaining that all this mess made for perfect summer memories? Well the most direct route is simplest. It made me who I am. I love who I am. I love my life.
Summer may have been a time when I was punched in the gut more times than I care to recall. A time when my own mother made me take my shirt off in front of the bigger bolder boys. While at the same time teaching me to love fancy French food. It was hard to understand how the two could be acceptable to her.
But three doors up the hill there was a place I fit in, no matter how private or misunderstood. Because these parties showed me that there was a future for me. It’s where I got to watch the Pucci-clad harbingers of my future laugh and love and live their life. They seemed golden to me and I did a lot of that watching from the bushes, or quietly at the edges of the party. But eventually– much later in life, I came out of the bushes. And today, it just isn’t summer without oysters on the grill. Screw the “R” month rule, my neighbors never gave it a thought. GREG