It's been years since I've eaten balogna. There came a point in my life where suddenly, it just seemed like the most disgusting thing ever created (aside from salmon, or canned tuna) and I never wanted anything to do with it again.
But in my younger years, I ate balogna on a somewhat regular basis--fresh off of Grandpa's barbecue.
Grandma and Grandpa had a two-bedroom house in Sacramento, near Hiram Johnson high school, a couple of run-down old Little League fields, and just close enough to some train tracks that I could watch the trains go by from the large living room window. This was, of course, before someone bought the parcel of land across the street and put in apartments. But I remember perching on the sofa, facing backwards to look out the window at trains going by in the distance.
Aaron and I spent a lot of time at Grandma and Grandpa's house. When Mom brought us back from Spain, we stayed there for a while until buying a home in Rancho Cordova. It was at Grandma and Grandpa's house that I slammed my left middle finger in the sliding glass door. It was the first of four broken bones I've had in my life.
Grandma kept crayons in the dining room, and her coaster set made for perfect forts for my Little People. Her fireplace was perfect for toasting feet. The kitchen had yellow gingham curtains. It's been so long since I've been in that house--Grandma and Grandpa have been gone for 15 and 17 years, respectively--but I still have images in my head. And impressions--wonderful, warm impressions of love and family. Fighting with my brother one minute, and then harmoniously dumping his box of Legos all over the living room floor the next. Grandma and Grandpa's place was much like home--but with that added bit of special, because we always got to pick what we wanted for dinner, and stay up late watching Dukes of Hazard.
Grandpa had made one room into an enclosed outdoor barbecue room. There was a pool table in the middle, and a huge brick grill at one end. Grandpa knew his meat. His brother, Al, had owned a cattle ranch in Rio Linda. Barbecuing was an art. You never just slammed some meat on the grill and hoped for the best. I learned at a young age to appreciate a good steak, a good marinade, and to know how I wanted my meat cooked (medium-well. A little pink is okay, but please, make sure it's not mooing).
Grandpa always fired up the grill when Aaron and I came to stay. Sometimes we had steak, sometimes chicken. But it seems like we always had barbecue. Grandma would fix some vegetables, and noodles with butter (Aaron's favorite). And Aaron and I would grab the bologna from the fridge and run outside to the barbecue room. Grandpa would put the balogna on the grill and keep an eye on it, flipping it over at the right time. When it was ready, he'd serve it to us on a napkin. There were always perfect black stripes across the meat, and we'd munch on that with Grandma's voice saying, "don't spoil your dinner!" ringing in our ears.
The more of my life that goes on since Grandma and Grandpa's deaths, the more the images and stories fade and blend in my head. But I'll never forget barbecued balogna, and how special it was. How Grandpa must have loved it, each time Aaron and I came flying in with balogna in our hands. I know I did.