You know, I can still taste those sausages: The first early-spring bratwurst cooked over an open flame in a beautiful setting among good friends; nothing so surprising, really, in recalling a good meal in classic context. The thing is, though – I was propelled back more decades than I care to admit – and transported roughly a thousand miles across our nation – back to the banks of the Mississippi River. Good grilling can do that to you.
See – I was standing next to the open pit brick oven at the pavilion in Foxridge Park – just down the street from my house in Leesburg; I’d busied myself in trying to imagine all the fun-filled neighborhood and family meals cooked on that massive contraption: Hamburgers, hot dogs, probably some burned chicken somewhere along the way – and most likely, some pretty darn good steaks, too. Yup, I’d made a quick walking tour of the grassy slopes of the Park, kicked around some of the dust at the ball field, wandered through the small stand of trees out near Catoctin Circle, and then made my pilgrimage to this little shrine of American cooking.
All of a sudden I was in fantasy land – guided across the years and miles to stand once again along the Father of Waters, with my college room-mate Rick, an adult beverage or two in our hands, with some hastily-grilled meat on a bun. I really hadn’t planned this imaginary outing; I just wanted to do some mild exploring of a local site in Loudoun County, Virginia: Take some photos, gather some new experiences, nurture a few unique (new) memories in order to share another story about my outdoor excursions in these parts. So, I claim no responsibility in the matter of those bratwurst (I think actually, it was the smell of the old coals, a bit of grease on the grill grates and years of wood-smoke lathered onto those bricks that did it) from Saint Anthony Park along the Mighty Mississip.’
If I were a star baseball player in my youth, perhaps I’d have been flooded with memory as I stood next to the diamond that quiet Sunday morning: I’d have remembered games played, opponents beaten or not, fellow players who’d left impressions. Yes, if I had dealt with our world in other ways, with other experience, I’d possess a vastly different memory bank from which to draw forth little treasures from the past; however, I was left holding that tasty meal on a cool spring evening in Minnesota.
And as I stood there – at the brick-oven grill at Foxridge Park, present-day – I started wondering how many other, memorable times were preserved right under that pavilion – for local kids growing up in Leesburg, for the Moms and Dads who made those experiences happen, for the friends and neighbors who showed up to lend a hand, to laugh and tell stories, to share in that well-cooked meal made over an open flame. And then I thought, all those memories will perform their own little time and space travel on some of those folks – decades later, perhaps- as they enjoy retirement in a milder climate, or study for college exams on some distant campus, or start a new career far across the country.
And, as the rest of us ‘Leesburgians’ pass by Foxridge Park on Catoctin Circle on early mornings or late evenings, and see the empty pavilion and unattended grill, we may think, “Hm – it’s empty – no one’s there.” And most would agree. But, if you ask some of those gifted – or wacky – daydreamers across our nation – who long ago may have had a great time at an outdoor barbecue at this little, local gathering place – they may tell you a different story. “No, “they’ll say, “I was right there, eating that wonderful hamburger my Mom made, listening to that great story from my Uncle, watching my sister play in the grass.”
And, so it goes with all of our neighborhood ‘memory-makers’ that we may see as unpeopled at certain times of the day or season; just don’t be too sure that it’s as empty as it seems. And make sure that your family, circle of friends, neighborhood and community have their own ‘Foxridge Parks’ where you can plant the seeds of memorable experience – and, if I’m not stretching the metaphor too thin – to draw from at a later date, as we would reap the fall crop.
So – what do you remember as you stand at the big, brick-oven grill under that pavilion on the little hill?