As I think about the Fourth of July, somehow I smell vinegar and my grandmother's approach to the holiday observance. Lily Rose made potato salad. Like most of her cooking, the dish was simple, but don't ask me how she made it. All I remember is that it tasted good on the first day, better on the second - if there were any left.
She was never into food styling, but the potato salad went a white bowl with bold red polka dots. Her iced tea went into a big azure bowl decorated with Concord grape leaves. It looked like punch and tasted like summertime.
About this time of year, she turned off the oven for the duration of the summer but engaged in one last twist of her Oriole range's thermostat. She made date-nut bread and served it with cream cheese. Once July settled in, Lily stuck with a cast-iron frying pan until the fall, when her energy returned and she made a year's supply of homemade ketchup. Years after her death, we tried to find some decent homemade ketchup. Never could.
She had a way with a handful of sugar and some pickling spices, if that's what made it so good. A basket of over ripe, inexpensive September tomatoes helped, too.
She wasn't averse to going out to eat and then reaching for the check. There were only about a couple of vacation restaurants she approved of. She would stand for only strictly traditional Maryland-Eastern Shore fare.
I know she approved of the Angler's in Lewes and the Avenue Restaurant in Rehoboth Beach. I have some distinct memories of once-a-year trips from Rehoboth to Ocean City, to a place called the Adelphia, which had changed little since the 1930s when Lily and my grandfather spent a year in the resort town when he was supervising the construction of the big jetty that gave OC its wide beach.
Lily, of course, never went near the beach's sand, which she considered gritty and a menace to cleanliness. But she wasn't happy unless her vacation residence overlooked the Atlantic. She liked a fine sunny day and would tell me, a 7-year-old, about how the ocean was full of diamonds.
She liked the boardwalk and took in the ocean air there every evening before a trip to the auction rooms to watch other people buy Oriental rugs and diamond rings. Her purchases leaned more toward sets of English china - practical because they held the fruits of her kitchen labors.
I know this sounds screwy but I recall quite a few cool early July evenings along the ocean. She, her sister, my Great-Aunt Cora and mother had weather protection: light wool spring coats they donned for the evening.
If truth be told, Lily hated a Baltimore summer's heat. I can see her now, nearly 70 years old, energetically racing through the Guilford Avenue house at the end of June, shutting down rooms and covering furniture with old sheets.
It should also be said that Lily Rose had a rather strict side and was not one to bend the rules without a fight.
If I were to be in bed by a certain hour, there were no exceptions. Well, maybe she would look the other way on a Fourth of July as the semi-illegal fireworks went off over the ocean.
Who could sleep anyway? I bolted one night and appeared on the boardwalk in my pajamas - actually, winter pajamas Lily had cut down for the summer, and then sewn together with a crazy quit of patches. It was only one night of the year.