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Where's the beef?

BY EARL MURPHY "Murphy's Irish Stew"

Independence Day, or "Fourth of July" as I have always called it, was one of my favorite holidays as a small child. It was such a fun day with swimming, flying kites, playing dodge ball, barbecuing hamburgers on a charcoal pit and eating large slices of watermelon, spitting the seeds on the ground and at my brother and sisters.

We did not have a car until I was 8 years old. We had a pickup truck, but no car. There were nine children in our family, and when I was 8, there were six of us children still living at home. My daddy would secure the charcoal barbecue pit in the bed of the pickup truck and then load the other supplies and food materials around and under the pit. Then five of my siblings would pile into the back of the pickup.

I sat in the cab of the truck between my father and mother; I was too small to ride in the bed of the truck.

We would put two large watermelons in a No. 2 washtub and go by the icehouse and get a 20-pound block of ice chopped up and put into the wash tub to chill the watermelons.

My mother, sisters and I would spend the third of July preparing the food for the next day. We made pimento-cheese sandwiches, potato salad, baked beans, hamburger patties, sliced tomatoes and put a head of lettuce and a jar of hamburger dills into a large paper sack to keep them from rolling around the bed of the pickup. My sister Elaine would bake a few dozen "seed" cookies for the picnic. Some years, my mother and sisters made a large bowl of banana pudding to take as dessert.

My sisters would sing their favorite top 40 songs all the way to Fontainebleau State Park in Mandeville where we picnicked every Fourth of July. My mother and father unpacked the truck at our picnic site after arriving.

All my siblings and I took off running for the swimming area in Lake Pontchartrain as soon as the truck stopped, leaving all the unpacking to our parents. I would come back from the swimming area to help my father light the charcoal. He would put the charcoal in the pit and soak the briquettes with lighter fluid before he gave me a long wooden kitchen match to ignite the lighter fluid.

I was always impatiently waiting for the briquettes to get hot enough to put the hamburger patties on the grill. I would go back to the lake to swim as my father cooked the hamburgers.

Daddy would call us to come to eat when the hamburger patties were done and mother had spread out all the fixings and other foods on the tailgate of the truck. Daddy and I were the last two to eat. I would always make Daddy's hamburger for him before I made mine. Then we would sit on a spread mother had placed on the ground to eat.

Another job I performed was putting ice in the plastic glasses and pouring Kool-Aid into everyone's glass.

One year I remember very distinctly making Daddy's hamburger and plate. I took a hamburger bun and spread mayonnaise on one side and mustard on the other side. Then I placed the lettuce, tomato slices, dill pickles and a slice of American cheese on it before closing the bun. I put a large helping of potato salad on the plate and a smaller amount of baked beans. I then gave it to Daddy and started making my own hamburger and plate.

Before I had finished preparing my plate, I heard my daddy exclaim, "Where's the beef?" I went over to my daddy as he was separating the bun, and to my embarrassment, there was no hamburger patty in his hamburger.

I quickly got a hamburger patty and made things right. My father told that story for many years about the time I made a beautiful hamburger but had forgotten to put the beef patty in the bun. To this day, I have never forgotten to put the beef on a hamburger ever again.

Many years later, Wendy's Hamburgers had an advertising campaign where a little old lady said, "Where's the beef?" Every time either my father or I saw the commercial, we remembered the day I forgot to put the hamburger patty in his hamburger and got a good laugh from the memory.

Those were such wonderful days picnicking with my family in Fontainebleau State Park every Fourth of July.

Questions, comments and feedback can be sent to Earl Murphy at drearlmurphy@gmail.com.