Block Burgers for the 4th of July

July 4th back home was always a big deal. I told y’all that Dad was in the army, so respect for our country was something we all grew up with. You put down your drink, put your ball cap over your heart and stood up straight when they sang the National Anthem before a Smokies game.

I know it probably sounds uncool to a lot of people out here in California, but I do reckon we have a great country. Know what proves that? The way it’s possible for people to complain about it so much. I wonder how many of the people who do the complaining realize that.

There’s another great thing about this country: we invented baseball.

Maryville didn’t have a fireworks show, so we celebrated the 4th without them. Unless you count lightnin bugs lol. We celebrated the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence by inviting a whole bunch of people over for Block Burgers in the backyard. We’d have close to 30 people counting us, and we’d all sing “America the Beautiful” before having supper. All four verses (Mom had song sheets printed up) – which explains why all the Block kids knew what the word “alabaster” meant before they started kindergarten lol.

People usually came over around 6 or 6:30, when it starts to cool off a little. (It doesn’t start getting dark until 9 at this time of year.) Tennessee summers are hot and humid. If you’re from California, you got no idea what I’m talking about.

I had another way of celebrating my country earlier in the day. Y’all know me some already, so you can guess what it was.

Playing ball.

Once I was out of little league, we had to get our own July 4th games together, although that wasn’t too hard, since we had a good core of players from high school, and you could always get some older brothers and guys who’d graduated to fill out the teams. They weren’t the greatest games ever I ever played, but they were some of the most fun. Sometimes a game where you’re not trying to bury each other each other can be great…you laugh a lot, you sweat a lot…and then you get together over Block Burgers to talk about it and laugh about it some more.

I know I just said that Tennessee summers can get real hot and humid, but I loved playing ball in July and August. When you’re in high school and college, your season is over by mid-June at the latest, so you don’t get to play in the heart of the summer, and baseball and summer go together like…like Block Burgers and the 4th of July. That was a great thing about playing for the Crawdads: all the July and August baseball a dude could wish for. So I thought those July 4th games were awesome. Maybe I just like getting sweaty.

Although there would be gallons and gallons of sweet tea to wash down the Block Burgers and Meemaw’s pies, when I got home all sweaty from a summer ballgame, Mom always gave me a Coke (that’s a Coca-Cola coke, not a Mountain Dew or an RC, which are also “cokes” in the South) with a few drops of ammonia in it. Hold on, before you start thinking that our moms were out to poison us. I don’t mean like she poured a cap full of Mr Clean into a Coke…she just put in a few drops of what she called “ammonia spirits”. They had one hell of a kick to them if you smelled them (like those capsules they use to wake up knocked out boxers), but you didn’t really notice them in your drink. The ammonia spirits were supposed to help cool you down, and, even if they sound weird, they worked. Mom swore by her ammonia spirits. I’m not sure where to get them out here, but sometimes when I get home totally hot and sweaty, I wish I could have one of Mom’s ammonia cokes.

Ok, so y’all are probably wondering what all is a Block Burger…

It’s something Dad invented. It’s a burger with chili inside. And not just any chili: Dad’s special chili made from a recipe he got from a Texas army buddy 30 years ago. Making a ton of it at the beginning of the summer was the only time I ever saw Dad cook anything in the kitchen more complicated than coffee, and he and Mom would usually get into a big fight before he was through because she said he used every spoon in the kitchen and left a huge mess for her to clean up. (She was right: the kitchen did look like a disaster area after Dad was done.) There was a special huge chili pot, and the reason Dad made so much was because it would go into the deep freeze so we could have Block Burgers all summer long.

The grill was Dad’s thing. It wasn’t until I was 16 that I was allowed to help him. Before that, my job was eating as many Block Burgers as I could. I usually had 3…then went upstairs to get a clean t shirt. Block Burgers are even messier than they sound.

Grilling Block Burgers ain’t easy. If you’re too rough with them, the chili leaks out and the fire goes crazy and you’ve ruined one. Dad invented a special tool for flipping them. He made it out of a bunch of spatulas and tongs he bought, and it worked. He made a second one for me when he started letting me help with the grill. Even with one, though, I messed up a quite a few Block Burgers. I could tell Dad seriously did not like it when that happened. I think he was torn between having a son who knew how to grill and not having the chili from half a dozen burgers end up in the fire. My last summer at home was in 2014, and by then I had the hang of it. I have a feeling I’ve lost the knack lol. I also don’t have the chili recipe. Or a grill. Or permission to use one on the balcony of my apartment.

Probably just as well lol.

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