Summer officially ends Sept. 22, but for many people it closes when the grill cools down after the Labor Day cookout. (See page 14.) The neighborliness of summer seems to fade as the briquettes do. We leave behind the picnics and go back to our indoor selves.
But before then, the act of gathering around a fire or sharing a smoke-kissed meal seems to make us more open, more generous.
I remember toasting marshmallows as a child. My little sister and I squabbled constantly, so we would stand on opposite sides of the grill with our sticks, as far away from each other as we could get.
But as my third marshmallow began to turn golden, I'd begin to soften, just a little. I'd even toast one, just one, for the pest after hers had gone up in flames.
The grilling phenomenon didn't happen just in our backyard.
One time my family went up to Lake Winnipesaukee, N.H. We stayed in the chilly water until our lips turned purple. Then my dad fired up the grill.
He made quite a show of building up the flames and getting the charcoal to just the right color. Then he called for the cooler, which turned out to be full of hot dog and hamburger rolls nothing but hot dog and hamburger rolls. No one had remembered to pack the meat.
We were all famished, and then it started to rain. We ducked under a nearby tree to wait out the brief shower. And once the clouds parted, the universal spirit of the grill prevailed.
A family two picnic tables down offered us a dozen ears of corn. They stayed and chatted while we grilled the ears in their husks. Summer does make us friendlier. And I can still taste those savory, smoky kernels.