4th of July: A Two Day Affair

Beef BrisketFirst off, in my family, it is all about the food. When it comes to our 4th of July parties and food, we mean serious business.

My dad and I, with my grandpa (as veteran supervisor, mischief-maker, and taste-tester extraordinaire) begin the slow smoking of the meat the day before, on the 3rd of July, at early hour of 9 in the morning. That can be difficult for someone who has been delighting in the late nights and alarm-less mornings of summer break, but I always seem to manage. The past couple of years, we have been using a Horizon Ranger Backyard Smoker, a 600 lb. beast of a smoker.

We keep it on a flat bed trailer for easy storage and moving around the property. Even with a large barrel and a smoking chimney, it takes most of the 3rd to finish smoking the meat. And there is a lot of it. This year, we smoked about 24 lbs. of beef brisket, 4 full racks of spare ribs, 30 bratwurst, 6 Lousiana hot links (extras from last month’s gumbo), and a dozen chicken breasts over the course of about ten hours.

While the meat was cooking, the rest of the prep work continued apace. Others were there to help and there were day shades and tents to erect and stake down, white plastic tables to wash and set-up, chairs to hose down and line up. Yet, for the better part of the day, we sat and relaxed and talked.

Table Full of FoodSecondly, my family has been all about the stories. We looked at old family photos from when days before my memory: when I was white blond and chubby, my dad and grandpa didn’t have grey hair, and only two of my many cousins had been born.

We rifled through a crumbling cardboard box that I fished out of a corner of the garage. Dozens of blood obsidian chunks, cut ad uncut geodes, fossilized clam shells, pumice stones, and other gems and minerals filled this box. As we looked through it, my dad and grandpa regaled us with stories of searching dried up river banks, fields in far away places, and forests for the collection that now sat before us.

For the hottest part of the afternoon, we sat inside with the lights off and the fans on, as we talked quietly about random topics that came up, or as we watched news of Hurricane Arthur descending on the East Coast. We all wished we could have slept through the heat of the day.

Today was all about tradition. Since we cooked the meat, everyone else brings side dishes: watermelon, potato salad, green salad, tomatoes, pecan pie, Jell-o, sodas, ice, and everything else a BBQ in Southern California needs. It is also tradition for the family to graze throughout the day as we come back for seconds, for a run-by snack, or as we stand and talk. Tradition also says that we invite practically everyone we know to come enjoy the festivities. Cousins from Kansas and from local areas, aunts, uncles, friends of the family, friends that have been around so long they are family, neighbors, friends without a place to celebrate, people from church, college friends; if we know you, you’re welcome to stop by and eat up.

The last tradition began I don’t know when, but it has been happening for almost as long as I can remember. My grandma used to make us participate in an ad-hoc 4th of July Erikson parade down the street and around the corner and back, which always seemed to interrupt my play time as a child. Now she can sit back and relax as others have taken up the torch and continue the parade. To the fanfares of music and the banging of anything we can put our hands on (from pie tins to old water jugs), we make our strung out and unorganized way through the neighborhood; yet, it is something that the neighbors have come to look forward to, and anyone we invite is welcome to participate.

4th of July ParadeWe very rarely do fireworks anymore. Now-a-days, it’s sparklers for the boys to enjoy and that’s it. Enough of the neighbors buy fireworks that we can enjoy theirs. In truth, though, now that most of us are older, the day is more about good food and the ties that bind us as a family, and much less about the sparkling lights.

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