Blubbering over chicken in Crested Butte

Hello, reader!  Long time no post, I realize…but I’ve been away.  I’d say I was “off”, but surely you realize, I’ve been “off” for years.  Be that as it may, my family and I took a ski vacation to Colorado week before last and life is just getting back to normal.  Several good things happened whilst we were away:

  • It snowed.  A LOT.
  • The plane(s) didn’t crash on the outbound or inbound trips.
  • We did not suffocate our children or each other in our sleep due to too much togetherness.
  • Our house didn’t burn down while we were away
  • We had beautiful accommodations and enjoyed cooking and eating in a great deal.

But the most wonderful thing happened the last night we were in Crested Butte.  During dinner at a restaurant called The Secret Stash, I returned via taste sensation to a childhood memory that literally brought tears to my eyes.  It may have been the 2nd glass of Cabernet after a long day on the slopes or it may have been the complete bliss of the moment, but either way, a snippet of time that had long been buried was unlocked and I was so very grateful to go to that place in my life again.

I had not realized how powerful the taste of spare ribs cooked on a charcoal grill in the back yard could be.

Funny thing was, I was not eating spare ribs at all.  I was eating grilled barbecue wings.  The sweet sauce the cook used caramelized on the juicy plump wing to create exactly that bite of extra rich, sweet burned and crisp taste that is part and parcel of grilling.  It might just as well happen if one were to slather a piece of shoe leather with BBQ sauce, but who’s to say?

I bit into the wing, silently wishing at first that we would have chosen the stuffed mushrooms, when a slightly tangy crunch stuck in my back teeth.  In a flash, I was taken back to New York at a time before my mother had passed away.  We didn’t have a lot of money and neither did anyone else who lived on our block in Ossining.  Times were simple.   On the 4th of July, the neighbors gathered in somebody’s back yard around 4 pm.  The memory I traveled back to was a year when the cook out was in our back yard.  The Salazzos, Sterns, Sabliches and Eggoloffs came over.  Cases of beer were brought, potato salad and deviled eggs were prepared and massive amounts of meat was thrown on a rickety charcoal grill (or grills, if the neighbors wheeled theirs over).  The fare was burgers, hot dogs and spare ribs, as I recall…but I was very young so my recall may be questionable.   I think I remember at least 3 things:

1. Running barefoot from yard to yard with a passel of other children amid the smell of freshly cut grass as the evening cooled.   We played freeze tag and kick the can.  The older kids played tricks on the younger ones to scare them.  Mostly, anything we asked our parents was answered with a “yes” because they didn’t want to be bothered and they figured the whole pack of us were not likely to be harmed, lost or stolen if we stayed together.   We were free unlike any other time of the year. It was an intoxication the like of which I have only found in childhood and no other has ever matched it.

2. Waiting for the charcoal to get hot was interminable.  Not only could I not wait to eat, but mostly, I could not wait until the coals were just right so I could find a grubby stick and put a marshmallow on the end of it, just to burn the treat and enjoy the velvety middle inside the charred skin.  Luckily, there were plenty of fireflies to catch while I waited.

3. The sweet taste of the spare ribs, the watermelon and the corn.  This was the only time of the year we ever grilled out.  Dad was busy ladder-climbing, so mom did most of the cooking (inside) and it was a rare treat to get anything grilled.   It was the unbelievably tasty surprise of biting into that chicken wing that brought me back my first smoky, sticky, sweet spare rib when I was 4 or 5.  It only took a second to unlock that door, but once unlocked, the floodgates opened and caused me to cry like an idiot 40 years later and hundreds of miles away.

Last Saturday as I tele-ported to that time and place in my back yard in New York, I missed my mother and father with an intensity I have not experienced in many years.  I missed large, connected yards and the fresly cut, cool dewy grass tickling my bare feet as I ran with abandon and belly-laughed with other children.  I missed feeling slightly afraid of holding my first sparkler and the wonder of learning to write in the air with it.  I missed settling down in the dark afterward to warm up on my mother’s lap, wishing that night would never end.

The night didn’t end, apparently.  It burrowed down into my soul and laid dormant until last Saturday night.  I wonder what else I’m carrying around?  I can’t wait to find out!  Better get back to Colorado, fast!


4 responses to “Blubbering over chicken in Crested Butte

  1. Leslie M. Rupracht

    Beautiful, Claire, thanks for sharing. The power of taste memory never ceases to amaze me… scent memory, too… sensations intrude sometimes with such heart-breakingly unexpected force, it’s easy to lose one’s bearings in place and time. You inspired me to write about a sensory experience I had at the very moment when I learned of my grandmother’s passing, at once an eerie yet wonderful sensation I’ll never forget. xo

  2. Richard Allen Taylor

    Nice piece, Clair. Of chicken and of writing. Food rarely takes me back to childhood, maybe because food didn’t really get all that interesting until I left home. Mom was a traditional Southern cook. She couldn’t stand spicy foods, so our spaggetti sauce was barely distinguishable from ketchup. Tamales came out of a can. The barbeque was good, though. Enjoyed your story! See you soon.

  3. Great Post. I totally remember those events. They were good times. The parents all in a big circle drinking and talking while we ran around like crazy. And then when the coals were just right, you picked out a stick that wasn’t too dirty and stuck a marshmallow on the end and hoped it did not fall into the coals. But if it did, there were more in the bag! Warm summer nights chasing the fireflies! Lots of hot dogs hamburgers and cold soda.

  4. What a beautiful post! Now I know what my horoscope was telling me today … “Memories from the past may be stimulated by someone today, but your recollections may be quite different than they were before.” My recollections are different – from yours and from mine then, and your words speak the essence, nevertheless. You hit a special place and feeling for me when you so eloquently said, “It was intoxication the like of which I have only found in childhood and no other has ever matched it.”
    We were lucky, weren’t we? Still in a time when we could safely play and feel like kids. Yet, there were many times it didn’t feel that way in my house as a child. I suppose that’s what truly made those “intoxicating moments” so much more meaningful.
    Thank you for sharing this. What a bright, shining chocolately treat on an otherwise dreary day. You make me smile, my dear.
    anne 🙂

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