4th of July weekend is just a few days away; the start to every summer I’ve known for my entire 60+ years. When I was younger, that meant celebrating my grandfather’s birthday. As kids, we always found it very cool that Bill’s birthday was July 4th. It meant fireworks, cookouts, and a big cake for the patriarch of my family. It was the one day guaranteed that my father would have off, and the one day we’d usually gather at my grandfather’s beach house in Houghs Neck in Quincy, MA. At least until my father stopped working for his father.
You can’t pick your family but you can pick your friends
My grandfather was a rounder, no doubt about that. He did things and said things that were not okay and someone should have done something, but that’s how it goes with families. And it wasn’t just with family. I was on a trip with a friend to Fort Lauderdale around 1990. We planned on staying our first night with a friend of hers before heading south to Key West. When we finally got to the house, just ahead of a huge storm, the woman asked me where I was from. She quickly realized my grandfather was the monster of a landlord her family rented from years before. Why monster? Because he was the guy who beat her father up every month when they had trouble paying the rent. Small and skeleton-filled world, right? I apologized to her, but you can’t be held responsible for the sins of your ancestors… or I hoped I wouldn’t. But she had to consider whether she was okay with my staying in her home. Eventually, she agreed I could stay.
Doesn’t everyone have skeletons in their closet?
But sometimes families set aside the ugly things relatives do, or pretend these things don’t exist. In my family’s case, my father worked for his father. He was the primary breadwinner in our house, and losing a job would be disastrous. My grandfather also owned the house we lived in, and my grandfather was an absolute ruler. It was a scary position to be in. One year at Easter, he punched my cousin out cold for taking too many mashed potatoes at Easter? So yeah, he treated me fine, and we celebrated his birthday, but I can’t pretend ours was the perfect family. Is there such a thing? We’ve all got skeletons.
First hand knowledge
The only details I know first hand about my grandfather’s behavior relate to having to picking him up at the police station when he was in his 80s. He’d get into bar fights, but had suffered numerous small strokes and had lost the ability to speak. He carried our phone number in his pocket and on more than one occasion I had to go get him. He’d also had numerous car accidents and once, when he tried to hide at my aunt’s house to avoid the police, it took three of them to hold him down. He was a big, ornery rounder. Like I said.
But for the purposes of this post, let’s just say, until I was around 12 or so, we went every 4th of July, to the beach house in Houghs Neck to celebrate. And at least for my brothers, sister and I, we had a great time.
A house that’s a store and a boat, well kind of
The beach house had 4 rooms (2 bedrooms, 1 bath) and a store along the side. The store carried beach towels, flip flops, popsicles, candy, and beach toys, plus some random low-grade fireworks. My grandfather no doubt stocked it from his shop in Chelsea. He also had a personal cache of cherry bombs that he lit and threw into a steel drum to accentuate the explosion. We always wondered whether those drums contained oil, kerosene or water, but thankfully, other than a LOT of noise, no one got hurt. Random kids would run up into the store and knock on the door to the living room asking if they could buy a popsicle or a box of black snakes or punk sticks or sparklers, or whatever. Whoever was handy would take their pennies and let them take what they were looking for. I can’t imagine my grandfather made any money, but he was providing something the neighborhood wanted.
But I do remember the punk burns we’d get every summer. Walking around in the dark on the deck, carrying punk like it was a cigarette (because that was glamorous and cool at the time), and bumping into each other with that lit end. Most of us went home with a few burn marks added to our small pox vaccination scars.
Falling asleep to the tide rolling in
The other unique thing about that house was that when the tide was in, the waves rolled right beneath the house itself. The big deck out front, and the house itself were built on pilings. In the winter my father had to go down and help the winter renters board up windows, and repair the wave damage from snow storms, wind, and ice. A few summers we got to spend a weekend at the beach house. I remember the smell of cigarettes and beer, and the sound of the ocean waves rolling under the bedroom floor. It was like sleeping on a boat, with people coming and going at all hours, drinking beer, playing poker, and fishing for eel off the deck with flashlights. We got up early and walked what seemed miles to get the dingy from the mud flats, and drag it back to the house to float in when the tide came in.
A birthday celebration means food
Every year my mother or one of my aunts would coordinate a cake for my grandfather. It’d have to be red, white and blue. We’d all wait anxiously for the signal, and we’d sing happy birthday and then eat slices of cake with chocolate or vanilla ice cream.
My grandfather definitely loved being the center of attention, and when he got older (he passed away at 90) he used to conduct us as we sang, with a big smile on his face. In younger days, when we were all gathered on the deck in Houghs Neck, the crowd was made up of multiple familes; cousins of all ages, babies, neighbors and extended family packed into every corner and even under the deck itself.
And what else did we eat on those 4th of July days in the 60s? Salad was unheard at that point in my life. Burgers, hot dogs, potato salad, macaroni salad, and of course all the clams and snails we could dig and steam (but that’s another post). But definitely not a lot of healthy food. Which is why today’s post features a healthy and simple dish. Cousa Squash sautéed with garlic scapes.
A new vegetable from the local farm stand
I doubt Cousa Squash was even around back then. In the past 20 or 30 years, I’ve been introduced to many fruits and vegetables I’d never heard of. We stopped at our local farm stand last weekend and low and behold, I noticed a vegetable I didn’t recognize. I thought maybe the name was a joke. It looked like a cross between zucchini and yellow squash, but a bit fatter. On the way home I looked it up because we’d purchased two of them. There it was! And now that we’ve tried it, we will definitely be looking for them again. Actually, there are a lot of squashes out there. I’m going to be looking for new ones.
Sauteed Cousa Squash with Garlic Scapes
- 2 or more Cousa squash (you can substitute yellow and zucchini but the taste is different), halved and sliced thin
- 2 or more garlic scapes chopped
- Lemon olive oil
- himalayan sea salt
- A few grinds of black pepper
- A few sprigs of lemon thyme
- Add 1 – 2 TB lemon olive oil to a large saute pan over medium heat
- Once the oil is hot, add the sliced squash, garlic scapes, and leaves from the thyme
- Sautee, stirring occasionally to make sure the squash gets browned on both sides.
- After 10 minutes or so, I covered mine with a large lid to allow the squash to cook through a bit faster
- Sprinkle with salt and pepper in the final few minutes of cooking
- Serve with your favorite meal!