Saturday, March 19, 2011

Small Victories

I don't recall the last time Tom changed the propane tank on the gas grill, but I do specifically recall coercing a visitor to change it for me once, probably in the fall of 2009. We are big time grillers, and Tom used to grill at least once or twice a week, year round. But I used this last propane tank judiciously, often lighting only the first of the three burners, which was usually enough heat for my purposes.  That tank of propane lasted me until just after Christmas 2010. I know this because I was at a New Year's Day open house held by some dear friends and asked the Mister for a quick propane tank changing tutorial while he was grillmastering his wicked awesome steak tips. He made it seem simple enough.

My grill spent the season under that hump on the right
But I am embarrassed to tell you how terrified I am of propane tanks. Those suckers can explode, you know, and they probably do on a daily basis even though I've never actually heard of it happening (propane tank industry lobbyists probably paid to squelch any negative press), nor do I know anyone who knows anyone who it happened to.  When Tom and I would refill the tanks at BJ's he'd have me in the front passenger seat with the tank (sometimes two of them) at my feet.  I would be wearing my worst backseat driver hat, heart in my throat, begging Tom, "Hey, watch out for that pothole;" or instructing, "Do you see that car? There? That car there?" (said vehicle likely being a half-mile away, down a side street, going in the opposite direction), and the ever-helpful, "For the love of God, slow down!"

Between my fear of driving with the propane tank in the car, the sixteen feet of snow that covered the grill for much of the last three months, and my absolute certainty of the explosion that would ensue once I connected the tank and lit the grill, well, I just never got around to changing the tank.

I had a bit of a quandary, though: I can't quite ask the neighbor, "Hey, Mister, would you please come to my house and connect my propane tank and ignite it for me, so that I am not the one harmed during the inevitable explosion.  Whenever it's convenient, thanks."  I mean, he has a wife and kids, and they live just a few houses away.  They'd probably hear the explosion and blame me.

With 96 off at a school event this Saturday afternoon,  98 was home with me doing a chores. I called him down, and quite nonchalantly explained that when you install a new propane tank and light it the first time, it's usually a good idea to have someone else around.  You know, like when someone spots you in gym class.  I didn't say anything about explosions or fireballs, and I was very calm, indeed. But 98 says, "Hmmm, that sounds pretty dangerous. You're not going to make it explode are you?" My lips said, "Of course not."  (Did I just see a flicker of disappointment on 98's face?)

My eyebrow furrow might have sent a different message:  Oh, 98, you have no idea how scared of an explosion I am.  I still don't have all my paperwork taken care of, so I really don't want to die in a fireball today. But man, I  really want that steak I've been marinating since yesterday.

No. Instead I continued, "It's just a good habit to get into.  So come outside with me, okay?"  No suggestion to take the phone with him and pre-dial 911.  No precautionary unwinding of the garden hose. Not even so much as a reminder that the fire extinguisher is inside the cellar door. We just we head outside with a wrench to free up the old tank and tighten the new one, and a package of fireplace matches so that once I have opened the burner valve I can drop in the wooden match and at least step back.

Old tank, check. New tank, check. Valve, burner, match. Check, check, check.  Then the best sound I'd heard in three months, the tiniest little whoosh as the flame kicked on.  Fingers, lips, eyebrows: check, check, check.

A few minutes to preheat and that other sound that was music to these ears: the sizzle of the steak hitting the grill.

Oh, medium rare ribeye steaks from the butcher shop at Hilltop Steak House, come to mama!


  1. When my mom became single for the second time (from my sister's dad, when I was about 14), I remember a lot of things that she just made herself do because she had to. The propane tank story is really funny, especially your bit about really wanting the marinated steak enough that you'd even consider becoming a fireball, but so much agonizing truth told in jest. You know what I mean? For you, it's a big, brave step. For my mom, I particularly remember her having to learn lots of basic car-care tips, including how to change a tire. And there have been things for me, what with my husband traveling for business most of the week, that I've just had to do in his absence (and still others that I'm horrified to consider if I ever lost him for good). I'm really glad you were able to enjoy your steak and the satisfaction and gratification of what it took to get there. That might just LOOK like a steak of a plate, but it's so much more!

  2. Thanks! Making my son witness me possibly becoming a fireball without having finished my will ... made me feel a little selfish! But he enjoyed the steaks, too, so it worked out.

    There's still a gazillion things Tom would so scoff at me hiring someone for, but I try to challenge the perimeter of my comfort zone, and hire in for the rest.

    On the to-do list for tomorrow: call about those papers.