September is looming, but there’s still time for picnicking and backyard grilling. And aren’t these just the perfect place mats for the job? I found these some time ago, and possibly even showed them off a little, but a lucky find last week made me want to write about the whole post WWII backyard culture.
The lucky find being these grill plates. Same theme, different approach, but still exactly right for the 1950s.
Some times when looking at prints like these and at post-war advertising, you get the feeling there there must have been a brick barbecue grill in every backyard; that it was a necessary part of the landscape. And while it is true that there was an awful lot of grilling and picnicking going on, most people I knew just had a portable charcoal grill. All the boomer-daddys I knew were too busy trying to make a living to support us all that they didn’t have time for masonry projects. And just speaking for my own dad, when he did have time off, the last thing on his mind was unnecessary work.
But, it must have been a popular trend, as the Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines of the day are full of instructions for brick grills and barbecue pits. And I do know of one such homemade grill. It was made by my Great-Uncle Corky. He was a real DIYer, with a woodworking shop in the basement, and lots of little buildings around that he had made. He made birdhouses to hang from every tree and post, and there was a great fake wishing well. But the showpiece of his backyard was the grill, made from brick he had gathered from here and there.
Here is the only photo I could find of it. Uncle Corky also had a knack for odd photo compositions, managing to include many people in one shot, but making most of them unrecognizable in the process! That’s my dad on the left, and then Uncle Ray. The woman seated is my mother. The stool she is perched on was also made by Corky, as is the table behind it. Both are made of concrete, and were about the sturdiest things imaginable. (I’ve now got to go by their old house and see if they are still there. My guess is yes; how does one dispose of a huge concrete slab table?)
They were used a lot. My grandmother’s family loved a good cookout, and we always had them at Corky’s, for obvious reasons.
As a kid, I wanted to grow up and live like Corky and Adore, his wife and my grandmother’s sister. They had the most stereotypical Mid Century American life of anyone I knew. From the backyard picnic ground, to the Chevy station wagon, to the annual trips to Florida and long Sunday drives on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I could see that they were living the good life.