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A smoky right of passage

There are several rites of passage one goes through in life. The first time you drive a car without adult supervision is pretty memorable. The first apartment or house you move into on your own is amazing.

The month of May, with its warm air and the need to engage the elements, always conjures up memories of the first time the torch was passed to me.

The torch of which I’m speaking, of course, is the long-nosed cigarette lighter my family used to fire up the grill on Memorial Day.

Now, in passing me the torch, I don’t know if my mother sensed my extraordinary culinary abilities — made evident by my constantly being in her kitchen and by my ever-expanding waistline. Perhaps the frustration of having to prepare another entire barbecue herself prompted her decision.

But given my past record of household incidents — such as jumping off the house with a parachute made of a single pillowcase to see if I could fly, and having set my brother’s hair on fire by turning myself into a human flamethrower using rubbing alcohol and a Bic lighter — my mother was truly taking a risk in moving me up in the ranks to head grill man.

Clearly, as mothers have a tendency to do, she saw something in me that I simply did not.

Either way, I was 16 when my mother decided to send me out to the backyard to fire up the grill for the first time. It was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life. There’s just something about dealing with fire that makes a boy feel like a man and a man feel like a gourmet chef.

So, possessed with that feeling, I took to the task of making a fire, both intentionally and for the sake of an actual purpose.

I did everything as I had seen it done before. I lined the grill with foil as my mother did. I poured in just the right amount of charcoal briquettes. Then — and this is where the genius and spirit of innovation that comes with being a teen took over — I grabbed the bottle of lighter fluid.

Now, my mother told me to use the stuff carefully. But what I think I actually heard was, “The more lighter fluid you use, the quicker the fire will start.” So I decided on a half of a bottle or so to get the barbecue kicked off quickly.

I don’t remember much after the flick of the lighter. All I recall from the rest of that day are singed brows and nose hairs. And everything tasted like smoke for a week. But I didn’t care. I felt like a man — a medium-rare young man who had lit his first grill.

So every time I see a grill in use or a holiday like Memorial Day rolls around, when grilling out is so popular, my eyes just well up and I get a little sentimental. I also check my eyebrows to see if they are still where they should be.

Happy grilling, everyone.