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Rockets and Barbecues

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									Rockets and Barbecues, What Do They Have in Common?
I tried to kill my husband once ("Only once?" you say). He wasn't my
husband yet and to be perfectly honest, I never did actually tell him to
put his face over it after lighting the match and dropping it in. But I
am getting ahead of myself.
My father worked for the government. He was a quality control engineer
overseeing a defense contract with a private sector company that built
missiles and missile delivery systems. "Ahhh," you are saying, "Rockets."
During the time that he was working with this particular company, a
General, who was my father's immediate superior, had cause to visit
Japan. The General knew of my father's love of the art of barbecuing. Dad
loved nothing better than a good steak, carefully barbecued, rare and
dripping with juices. While in Japan, the General came across a truly awe
inspiring hibachi. This was not your garden variety hibachi that you may
purchase just about anywhere. I laugh, ha-ha, when I see what passes for
a hibachi these days. The General shipped it directly to our house. When
it first arrived, we had no idea what it was or what to do with it, but
it was attractive. Mom was heard to say, "Okay..." on a rising,
questioning note.
A real, honest to goodness, Japanese hibachi is a sight to behold.
Standing at about three feet tall, it looked a lot like a giant Chinese
ginger jar complete with cap. The outer surface was pebbled and colored a
nice dark, peaceful green. The trim was black as was the inside in
anticipation; I am sure, of the blackening that would ensue as it was
used. The Japanese have always given great thought to the aesthetics of
their products.
The base was probably at least two feet in diameter and had a plug that
could be adjusted to control the flow of air or remove spent charcoal. At
about the two foot high mark, it flared out significantly and there was a
seam that created a hinged lid. The lid tapered drastically to a short
chimney, with a diameter of maybe six inches, which had a removable cap.
So now you are probably saying, "All right already. Enough about the
hibachi. Let's get to the killing part." But this is important and you
will see why in a moment.
My dad died in August of 1969 and I met my husband-to-be in September of
1970. I tell you this to give you an idea of the era in which this all
transpired. It was a more innocent time. Kids, teenagers, didn't know
some of the things then that 12 year olds know today. Well, okay, there
probably is no way to put a good spin on this.
Sometime during the autumn of 1971, the family was having a barbecue. It
was a Saturday. I know this because my grandmother (Dad's mom) was there.
She always visited on Saturday. Also present were Bernd (the husband-to-
be), my sister (Deb) and mom (Sue), her fiancé (Lew) and me. Some how, it
fell to Bernd and me to light the barbecue...excuse me...hibachi.
My father had always done this and it never seemed to bother him. He
would stack the charcoal just so, douse it thoroughly with starter fluid
and nonchalantly toss in a lit match. Voila! Barbeque. Bernd and I were
not nearly so sanguine about the whole thing. Both of us were a bit
nervous about the explosive fuel and subsequent fire. Hey, give us a
break! We were young and inexperienced.
We had loaded the charcoal and were standing there discussing the best
technique for lighting it when Lew opened the sliding glass door and
said, "Come on. Light the darn thing already." By that time, we had come
up with a plan and implemented it forthwith. The plan was mostly mine
which is why I shoulder the blame, but Bernd did agree it sounded good on
"paper." We had little practical knowledge of certain principles of
physics and were fairly confident in our plan. They say that ignorance is
bliss, but I am not so sure. Considering what my father had done for a
living, I probably should have known better.
I thoroughly doused the charcoals with starter fluid as I had seen my
father do. Bernd slammed down the lid and quickly lit a match. Leaning
over the chimney (at six feet and two inches he was well able to lean way
over), he dropped it down the chimney. Immediately, there came a massive
"whump" followed by a loud "whoosh."
Fortunately for Bernd at this most critical moment in his life, he was
quite near-sighted and always wore eyeglasses. This saved his sight, or
this story might have had a different beginning.
The "whump" was the sound of the starter fluid vapor exploding and trying
to blow the very heavy lid up and open. It failed. If only it had
succeeded. The "whoosh" was a lot of hot gas and flame exhausting out of
the chimney in a condensed stream. Picture a rocket nozzle. What were we
thinking!? Bernd's somewhat longish hair (remember the Hippies of the
60's and early 70's?) was blown back and away from his face. The whole
thing was over in a second. He looked at me and I think I may have
screamed.
Poor Bernd (I've said before that he is severely beset upon and long
suffering for having married me) had instantly acquired a really good
imitation of a very bad sunburn. His eyebrows were completely missing as
was all his hair for about two inches back from his hairline. In its
place was a very foul smelling stubble. The rest of his hair, while still
on his head, looked a bit too crispy to survive any kind of hairbrush or
comb. When I looked closer, I saw that his eyelashes appeared to have
been melted. I turned to look at the sliding glass door and saw Grandma
standing there. She was kind enough to open the door just a crack and say
to me, "I knew you shouldn't do that." Thank you, Grandma.
We decided he should go home. We thought maybe taking a shower and
washing his hair was a good idea. He smelled really bad. We piled into
his car, rolled all the windows down and headed across town. My mom,
unknown to us, had called his mom and told her what happened. So I was
greeted with a very loud and indignant, "You did what to him?" in her
lovely German accent. Boy was she upset.
On Monday, Bernd did not go to his classes. Instead, his mom took him to
a hair dresser to assess the damage and discuss options. To this day, I
don't know why she was so upset that the only course of action was to
buzz off the rest of his hair. She had been trying for weeks to get me to
talk Bernd into cutting his long hair. I had refused to use my influence
in that way. Be careful what you wish for.
The roasted smell left him, eventually, and his hair grew back. He wore
it defiantly long for several years after. It took me a long, long time
to get over the guilt I felt at blasting him in the face with a rocket
motor. We laugh about it now. He has never stopped loving me and he has
never stopped doing what I tell him. You'd think he'd know better. He
does, however, give it a good think through first.
So, the next time someone says to you that this, that or the other thing
is not rocket science, you may safely say, "Yes, but lighting a barbecue
is."
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