Thomas Wictor

A glamor grill

A glamor grill

In Venezuela Dad had a glamor grill built. Italian craftsmen made it of thick aluminum sheet and put a manufacturer’s plate on it: Piaggio, purveyors of fine scooters. That was their Old World humor at work.


Dad agreed with Coco Chanel’s maxim.

A grill should be two things: classy and fabulous.

Actually, I made that up. Coco was talking about girls, not grills, but the Piaggio—as we all called it—was classy and fabulous. Dad took a picture of it the night he first used it, which was at his friend Paul May’s house. Mom is in the yellow blouse, and Paul is on the right. I don’t know who the other man is. He’s drinking Polar beer, Venezuela’s most popular brand.


Though Dad was a steak man, I preferred the hamburgers he made. Every kid in our oil camp loved Dad’s burgers. He never told us what he put in them except for salt, pepper, and chopped onion. If there wasn’t a secret ingredient, I think the flavor came from the Piaggio.

Dad used the same burger mold for over forty years.


I grew up thinking hamburgers were square. You put plastic wrap into the female mold on the right, add a ball of ground beef, flatten it with the male mold on the left, fold the wrap over the square patty, and shake it out onto the platter.

Initially the Piaggio used charcoal. Here’s Dad and his brother Ken barbecuing a roast in Tyler, Texas.


The metal box on the edge of the grill is an electric spit that turned the Piaggio into a rotisserie. Like steaks, roasts never did much for me. The only red meat I like is hamburger. Dad loved mega-fatty roasts. Once he put a slab of pork lard on top of a roast, telling us that it would melt into the beef and provide moisture.

No, it provided grease. It was lard. That was the oiliest thing I’ve ever eaten. My lips were slippery for hours. I’m sure my cardiologist is rubbing his hands with glee as he reads this.

When we moved to the Netherlands in 1975, the Piaggio went into storage in Texas. From Holland we went to Norway, Britain, and back to Norway. Then in 1984 Mom and Dad moved to La Puente, California, and the Piaggio came out of storage. It got its heaviest use from 1984 to 2012, the last year it was fired up.

We had countless family get-togethers with Eric; my brother Paul and his wife Mary; my brother Pat and his wife Ellen; and my sister Carrie, her husband Bobby, and their three kids Hunter, Wylie, and Tori. Burgers grilled on the Piaggio were generally the main course.

At some point Dad switched over from charcoal to propane. A small tank was put in the lower half of the Piaggio, and Dad filled the former charcoal chamber with lava rocks. He then replaced the simple, heavy-gauge wire cooking grid with a nightmare of steel rods, three layers deep.


Dad welded it together himself. It’s impossible to clean. A few years later he removed the grid and installed a flat sheet of metal, turning this classy, fabulous grill into the world’s most inconvenient frying pan. After a few awful meals, he quietly put back the grid.

Everyone in the family except for Dad like well-done burgers. In the last five years of his life, Dad lost the ability to tell time. Sometime in the late nineties he’d delegated the cooking duties to Tim, so beginning in 2008, he’d come out before the burgers were completely cooked and begin his chant.

“Are they done yet? Are they done yet? Are they done yet? Are they done yet?”

We discovered after Dad died that he was told five years earlier that he had a growth in his abdomen. What happened was that he began living entirely in the present. He couldn’t think of the future, because he was afraid he didn’t have one. By ignoring his cancer, he ensured the outcome that terrified him. Ten minutes became an eternity. Waiting for anything was torture for him. He had to have everything now-now-now!

So there were several meals in which the burgers were brought to the table rare. Tim, Mom, and I would finish cooking ours in the microwave while Dad ate his bloody mess. I can’t deal with rare or tender meat of any kind. It has to be chewy. Back when I used to eat hot dogs, I’d microwave them until they exploded. After they cool down, they’re like gummi bears.

Today, the Piaggio stands by Dad’s workshop.


It hasn’t been used in two years. When people die and leave behind massive amounts of possessions for others to deal with, you have to be careful. Tim is the designated decider who will dispose of three houses, their contents, and three warehouses full of furniture and other items. Sometimes his task is overwhelming. I therefore never ask him, “What about this? What about that?

A few hours ago, after I told him I was going to write a post about the Piaggio, he said that he’s going to modify it, cutting holes in the lid so that we don’t have to prop it open when we use it. The holes will let in oxygen to feed the flames. That means Tim intends for us to keep it.



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