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Charcoal Living in a Propane World

by Bryan Dupuis on June 23, 2020

In the summertime...our family stayed alive by grilling.

Grilling was my Dad’s responsibility, and he worked very hard to convince my Mom that grilling was hard and dangerous work.  This one lie has been upheld for thousands of years. Most men willingly join in this deception for fear that, if their wives actually came outside, stood around the grill and saw what little work it was to cook meat, then women all over the world would head outside to start the grill while the Fathers were left to prepare the rest of the food, set the table, break up fights between the children, and doing all this while talking on the phone to their mothers. No, it was best to carry on the illusion that sitting on the driveway watching coals ash over was a sacrifice performed for the good of the family.

My Father was an architect when it came to charcoal placement. He meticulously placed each briquette in the bottom of the grill; replacing broken pieces with better looking ones; constructing and deconstructing until a replica of the pyramids of Giza stood before us.  He poured a quart of lighter fluid on the structure, lit a match, and set it ablaze. He sat down in his chair, put his toothpick in his mouth, and opened The Daily Journal newspaper. I sat nearby and studied his every move.

Of course, when you cook with charcoal, you are forced to sit, wait, anticipate and respond. The extra time necessary to prepare to grill provides just enough space for you to lift your head, see the world around you, and take a deep breath.  In the waiting and the quiet, you see and hear all the things you miss in the rush of life – listening to the far-off voices of children riding bikes down the street and waving to neighbors driving home (before pulling in to the garage and closing the door behind them).  You notice the trees with thick trunks and gangly roots pushing the sidewalk up a little more each year. This is lost with the rise of propane grills. Now I walk outside, push a button, turn a knob, and 15 minutes later we are eating dinner. Convenience has once again trumped the intentional, production has conquered the experience of producing.

I went out to start the grill for dinner last week. After I pushed the button and adjusted the temperature, I grabbed a lawn chair and sat down next to our propane grill. A few minutes later my son found my hiding spot, walked outside, grabbed his lawn chair and set it up next to mine. I was staring out into the woods trying to triangulate the position of a noisy woodpecker, when I could feel someone watching me. I looked over to find my son, staring at me, studying me and looking curious. I smiled at him and rubbed his head. “What?” he asked with a grin. “Nothing,” I said.

I don’t think there will ever be a wholesale return to charcoal grilling. But maybe, just maybe, we can return to charcoal living, even in a propane world, a culture that thrives and feeds on busy schedules and productivity, a world in which one’s self worth is derived from how many plates one has spinning at the same time. 

Maybe in this world there is still space to be found, silence to be heard, and life to be observed. God is always speaking to those who choose to sit and listen.

Bryan Dupuis

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