Many aromas mark the start of summer — flowers, pollen, sunscreen, etc., but for me, summer tastes like charcoal. 

I burned my way through a pair of gas grills over the past 20 years, and planned to buy another one when we moved from Dalton to Old Forge last year. Because gas grills are much cheaper in the off-season, I bought a tiny, $20 charcoal kettle grill as a backup while I waited for a fall bargain.

Fall came and went, and I didn’t think about summer until spring, which weather-wise was just winter in a windbreaker. I figured I had plenty of time to get a new gas grill. The coronavirus closed my window. Big Box stores never shuttered, but I decided my grilling pleasure wasn’t worth waiting in long lines and possibly endangering myself and others.

I stay home unless I have to go out. I’ve been bored during the shutdown, but I’ve never felt oppressed.   

On Saturday, I pulled the kettle grill out of the shed and filled it with a pile of Kingsford match-light briquets from last summer. They fired right up and Chrissy and I had our first backyard barbecue during a global pandemic. It was a blissfully normal experience in the strangest time we’ve spent together in our 21 years as a couple. 

Our little grill fits four burgers, and we sat at the picnic table and ate to the music of songbirds, lawnmowers and a neighbor’s wind chimes clinking in the lazy breeze. Chewing my first bite of charred flesh this season, I savored the Kingsford infused in the meat. The taste takes me back to the summers of my youth, when Dad manned the grill, Mom made her mother’s potato salad and my brother and I shucked ears of corn on the cob. 

All of those memories taste like charcoal — sweet and savory but with a hint of the bitter truth that sooner or later, we all run out of summers. Mom and Dad are gone now, and my brother is a dad who barbecues on the other side of the state. I missed them all Saturday, but in the healthy way that makes you grateful for the good souls God puts in your life. 

Memorial Day is Sunday, and together or apart, American families will celebrate the official start of the season, no matter how strange the 2020 edition is bound to be. I figure our little grill can get us through another summer. I’ll look for a replacement come fall. Or not.

There is no replacement for local journalism. Today’s Times-Tribune is chock full of community news you can’t get anywhere else.  Digital monthly subscriptions are $4.95, less than a pack of all-beef hot dogs or a bag of charcoal. Get a subscription here

The Times-Tribune is still here, and so are you. We will get through this together, one day at a time. Hang in there, hunker down and wash your hands. Don’t go out unless you must, and wear a mask around other people. Happy grilling!