I grew up in the Midwest, including college and grad school outside Chicago, and then had an opportunity to do my internship in the Bay Area of California. It was a grand adventure. My wife and I quit our jobs, piled most of our stuff in Gram and Gramp’s basement, stuffed our small car to the gills, and headed west on I-80. It took about a week to make the extended trip, driving as far as we could each day, then finding a motel to flop down in for the night. We must have looked a little funny touring Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons with a car bulging with stuff and with bikes hanging off the back, but we loved every minute. Crossing the Continental divide was epic, but crossing the Sierras into California was a bit more stressful as I realized all of the challenges that my internship held. It would be a long year with an uncertain outcome, and I was glad to have such a supportive wife by my side. It was she and I against the world.
Well, not exactly. There was one person out in the Wild West that we knew. Well, sort of. My Uncle Dave was a mostly mysterious figure in my youth. There was an aura of intrigue around him, this guy who had left the very fundamentalist Moody Bible Institute in Chicago to ride his motorcycle to Berkeley, California. He landed at that hotbed of social revolution in the early 60s, and he had never turned back (except that one summer when he toured the Midwest with his son in a VW camper, or the other summer when he visited in his Nissan Z). Now I would have a whole year to get to know him, and he me.
One of our early opportunities was to join him at Thanksgiving dinner at his bachelor pad in Sacramento. It was a gracious invitation, and a perfect opportunity to be with family on this most familial of holidays. We would be guests along with a family who was friends with my uncle, and he told us to come by in the afternoon to relax and enjoy the ambiance before dinner. We did so, pulling up and knocking on the door with no reply. A little awkward, to be sure, especially when it seemed obvious that he was home. So we knocked a few more times, then walked around his neighborhood before trying the door again. After about two hours of this cycle (with my wife and I increasingly wondering when we should just go back home), the door opened and a somewhat frazzled uncle greeted us warmly at the door. He was still dressed in his pajamas, obviously very busy with the preparation of a grand meal.
We offered to help, but he had things well in hand. There were casseroles in the oven, vegetables roasting, potatoes mashed, bread prepared, sauces simmering, wine chilling, and lots more stuff to come. As the preparations continued, I slowly became aware of one glaring omission: I had not yet laid eyes on a turkey. The oven was too full of deliciousness to squeeze anything else in there, and there was no mountain of poultry underneath aluminum foil sitting on a counter anywhere. Perhaps he had a second oven somewhere… surely my somewhat absent-minded uncle hadn’t forgotten the central part of the feast… or would this be my first vegetarian Thanksgiving?…
I was even more intrigued when he invited me outside, onto his patio. It was dark by then, but my memory of what happened next is bright and clear. He walked over to an outdoor appliance that was familiar and strange, all at once. I recognized the iconic shape of a Weber kettle, but it was surprisingly surrounded by a table. The kettle was bright red, set off against a black frame and a shimmering stainless steel table, the square lines artfully contrasting the spherical perfection of the kettle itself. Before I could inquire of this amazing device, my uncle tipped back the lid and revealed a gorgeous turkey roasting away in the cool evening air. I could not have been more surprised, or impressed.
It was delicious, of course– smoked-kissed crispy skin surrounding juicy, tender meat. And I now have my own stainless steel Weber Performer, of course, though a red one still eludes me. But someday, I shall find one, restore it, and recreate this iconic memory.