I'm having a cookout today, my first in some time. This weekend, I got all the necessaries at the store, except a grill: I have one, a gas grill, here at my house, from one of my predecessors. My youth minister wisely suggested I make sure it works. I tried it out yesterday afternoon: gas worked, but no ignition. It looked pretty rusty, too.
Well, I had a choice: I could borrow my youth minister's charcoal grill, from his back yard (but I'd have to get someone with a pickup to drive it over), or I could run to the store and get a new charcoal grill; I did that latter. (I like charcoal grills better: low maintenance, and it'll work until the bottom falls out, seems to me.) While at the store (it was a surgical-strike, my favorite kind of shopping: I looked it up on the Internet, knew exactly what to get, so I could go in, collect the items, pay the ransom, and get out quickly), I picked up some lighter fluid and charcoal -- oh, and I needed some "Off" or something to drive the bugs away* (uh-oh, I began to think: I'm getting sucked in to shopping! I wisely withdrew after this); I got a massive can (it was the only size) of something that looks rather frightening and the directions seemed only to tell me what not to do, such as this helpful advice: "not for use on people." Dang! Whether the insects will be intimidated, we'll find out later.
Well, anyway, all that is in the trunk of my car, and the grill is in its box, in the back seat; God willing, "some assembly required" won't necessitate any welding, or else I'm SOL (if you don't like that expression, just remember it stands for "so out of luck"). After I've had all my coffee, and prayed all my office this morning, I'll go assemble it.
As I put off that task, I am reminded of the most interesting 4th of July I celebrated, 4 years ago, in Korea. (South.)
I was in Korea that summer as a seminarian; a Maryknoll priest, in Cincinnati, had gotten word from a confrere in Korea that the seminary of the Korean Foreign Mission Society wanted an American seminarian to come over for a month, and essentially hang out with a group of their guys, and help them work on their English. The rector announced it at dinner one evening, and I thought, "what an adventure!" So I was chosen to go.
Well, it was all a great adventure, and I could tell stories all day about it, but I will focus on the 4th of July. I remember waking up (I wonder how many of you have ever slept on a bed such as I had: a wood frame, with a solid bottom, and then, a fairly thin, dense, distinctly unspringy "mattress." Fortunately, they gave me several blankets, which I laid over it. I got used to it, but I had to turn over every couple of hours.) feeling a little blue to be away from the U.S.A. on the nation's birthday. It was just another day in Korea, of course.
Well, I was rather touched, at Mass that morning, when the priest included a prayer for the United States; after all, I didn't even expect anyone to know it was anything special. And I thanked him, afterward. The day went as usual; and toward evening, I was online.
Now, one of the weirder experiences involved the time-difference. I don't mean the physical effect: I quickly adjusted after arriving in Korea. I mean, rather, the experience of trying to relate to what was going on back home. The difference is 13 hours, and (this still boggles me) because of the date-line, it would frequently be one day where I was, another back home. The world's day begins where I was: so, by the time the 4th of July came round in the U.S.A., it was coming to an end where I was. In like manner, when I got up on the morning of the 5th, y'all were still celebrating the 4th.
So that morning of the 5th--in Korea--I wake up, and discover it's a huge feast day for Korean Catholics. This was St. Andrew Kim Taegon Day (the day for him, and his companion martyrs, in the universal calendar is September 20); and my brother seminarians excitedly told me, "this is a big day! We're going to have a big celebration later!" The big deal was . . . wait for it . . . a cook out!
Well, it was a great party, and a great cookout! They got out these huge grills, and cooked up loads of thin-sliced pork; a lot like thick bacon, only not cured.
This was the centerpiece of a kind of buffet table, featuring piles of food: leaves of lettuce and some other plant I didn't recognize (reminded me of my mother's house plants), sliced, raw garlic (very hot: my Korean friends were amazed an American would eat anything hot and spicy), a red-pepper sauce, Kimchee (a kind of fermented vegetables, akin to Saurkraut, but not shredded, and made with lots of garlic and red pepper; can be made from almost any vegetable, but most often cabbage. I believe Kimchee was on the table at every meal; I loved it), some other sort of dipping sauce, and of course, rice.
The way you ate this was to take one of the leaves, and fill it with whatever combination you liked, then popped it in your mouth. I dubbed it a "Korean fajita." To wash these down -- we all ate quite a bit! -- we had Maekju (beer) and Soju (rice wine). Most of the Korean Maekju I had was a lighter, pilsner-style, such as our mass-produced brands; but for this special occasion, they also had "black beer," which was Stout.
Well, it was all a great party; a number of dignitaries came down from Seoul (we were in a rural area outside Suwon, a city of over a million, I believe, about an hour south of Seoul), including the American, Maryknoll priests who had been there for many years.
And, although by the time of this cookout, it was the wee hours of the 5th back home, this was my most memorable "4th of July cookout," which I shan't try to replicate today.
Meanwhile, I'm looking at the sky; it's fascinating, but not very cheerful, mottled shades of grey. (There's a puddle of rainwater, from last night, in the gutter in front of my house, where no doubt the mosquitoes are donning their chem-warfare gear and plotting their attack). Hum-hmm...
*Not those candles! I've sat at a party with those, and watched a mosquito land on me!