The place? Woodstock, Vermont or for that matter, any Small Town, USA. It was always a warm virgin summer day when they all gathered. They came in the Chevy station wagon, rode their bikes, carpooled with the uncles who had a van, or just skipped along that cement sidewalk - all following the waft of the family barbecue. Summer was announced. Everyone was happy.
Under the afternoon blue skies, with the host house nearby, we heard the murmur of family gossip, the clink of a horseshoe, a kazoo resonating while a marching little kid dodged adults and picnic tables forming figure eights, as he or she traversed the grassy flat, lawn “jarts” flying high by the brook... This backyard was a meeting mecca for stories and food. Everyone saved up these “stories” for the annual family barbecue. Although we loved most of the people that we call family, there were always those who more or less were just tolerated. We all have them; no denying it, but we always chose our words carefully around them, sometimes, depending on how much beer and wine flowed. Along with the sporadic evil eye, lots of hugs, kisses, and cheek pinches were expected.
If we were fortunate enough, the house had a front porch. We gathered under it – a blue ceiling above us; a wind chime annoying some of us – bringing comfort to others hung by the fuchsia plant that was abundantly making a mess on the floor – water dripping from the pot (it was a hot day – after all, they too, wilt). Folding TV trays, a porch swing, sweaty lemonade glasses, Citronella candles, the music of Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, and others bringing melancholy and passion to the older folk. It all pretty much had stayed the same, but different too, as we have grown up, raised our own families, perhaps moved away. The one thing we could always count on was the food - and boy, there was and is always the food!
Oilcloth adorned the splintered picnic table, with a brick or two to hold it down, just in case the weather turned – you can pretty much count on that in Vermont. “Everyday” white napkins were in abundance, as we were having Baby Back Ribs – we always did, and the mess always breathtakingly worth it. Pyrex bowls of all patterns arrived in strategic formation: Deviled eggs with paprika (it always made everything look pretty), Cole slaw – the freshly-shredded-not-from-a-bag kind with Hellmann’s, a splash of white vinegar, and a pinch of white sugar (you all know what this is about), biscuits studded with fresh chives from your Aunt’s garden; the Jell-O salad that glowed like an extraterrestrial meteorite, lavished with grated carrots, grapes, and pineapple. The salads and sides kept coming – women and men led the parade. Whispers arose as the baked beans made their appearance. Everyone’s was the best blue-ribbon winner. Trays of buns of all shapes and sizes entered into the picture, and yes, they were buttered, ready to meet their fate on the hot coals. We loved them crispy and slightly charred. A heavy silence permeated the air as the grill items, the stars of the night, appeared on silver trays – nice little hot dogs lined up so close that we could count at least a hundred of them, and burgers, perfect little disks of the best Angus this side of the Connecticut River Valley. Wait, no, did we smell freshly cut onions and green peppers? That would mean only one thing – hot sausage, just like Uncle Frank used to make. The sizzle of the grill parlayed another tune - we had begun to salivate and were in begging mode. Let’s get this BBQ on!
This Memorial Day Weekend, we gather to enjoy our families, to reconnect with friends – most importantly to remember our veterans who served our great country – those who made it possible for us to have a safe and happy family barbecue. We miss you and know that you will be part of our barbecue this year, and always.
F.H. Gillingham & Sons thanks all families for their patronage of our general store. We honor those veterans who are no longer with us. We wish everyone a happy beginning to a wonderful summer season.
F.H. Gillingham & Sons is located at 16 Elm Street in Woodstock, Vermont. This year, we are celebrating our 130th anniversary. Stop by for a truly unbelievable Vermont general store experience.