(Note: this post was intended to go out on March 31st, but it didn’t. I blame the burgers. And the beer.)
Sadly, my father passed away five years ago today. And that sentence is the only sad thing that I will write in this post. Because although in many ways we are still grieving, we choose not to mourn Dad’s loss, but to remember our happy times together. And like many American families, our happy memories often revolve around food.
In the early 1980s, my mom and I lived in Arlington, Virginia. Dad lived in DC, and on Sundays he would take the subway out to see me. Sometimes (maybe two or three times a year), he would stop at a little burger joint called Ollie’s Trolley and pick up a treat for us to share. Ollie’s (you can read a bit about it here) was a franchise: little-known, but much-beloved to those of us lucky enough to sample its delights. When I became a teenager, I would sometimes bring buddies there as kind of a friendship rite-of-passage: if I brought you to Ollie’s, you were officially my friend (and probably still are).
Not surprisingly, the Ollie’s in Arlington was torn down in the ’90s to make way for glossier, less soulful businesses. There is one location left in DC, but to my jaded eye, that’s the “Yuppie Ollie’s,” and it will never live up to the dingy little dive that I loved so well in my youth. Although, to be fair, if it weren’t for the Ollie’s in DC, my sister might not have gotten to make her own Ollie’s memories with Dad. And that brings me to today’s celebration.
As I said in the beginning, today (March 31) is the day that we lost my dad. And although my sister, Rebecca, and I always choose to mark the event, we never want it to be a somber occasion. Because we are not somber folks, and neither was Dad. So every year, in remembrance of him, we have a dinner that he loved to eat, and watch a movie that he enjoyed. One year it was Chinese food and Young Frankenstein. Another year it was pot roast and Rear Window. And this year, it was Ollie burgers and Major Payne.
Yes, it’s true: thanks to the miraculous power of the Interwebs, I was able to purchase a small sack of the spice mixture to make Ollie burgers, and I even got my hands on the secret, sacred French fry seasoning. (You can see in this photo that we also included salad and broccoli, because we might as well pretend that this meal could, in some way, be healthy.)
While no amount of sense-memories can actually bring a person back to life (not yet, anyway), these humble, tasty pleasures managed to transport us, however briefly, to moments we shared with Dad. For me, it was an early-eighties summer on the back porch: paper-wrapped burgers and a cardboard cup of fries. For Rebecca, it was a mid-1990s meal on a tray in a kitschy downtown burger joint, during one of her regular visits to DC from Florida.
So we ate, and we watched our movie, hitting the Pause button frequently to interject a “Do you remember…?” and “Oh, I forgot to tell you…” Later in the evening, we played Scrabble. (She beat me, 279 to 261.) We laughed. A lot. But then again, we always do.
It was an evening that Dad would have enjoyed. It was the kind of celebration that he would have wanted. Not a stuffy, weepy, formal remembrance, but a couple of sisters, hanging out in the their casual clothes, watching movies and playing with the cats. For the first twenty-four years of my sister’s life, the three of us were a family unit. Now, there’s only two. But although we are reduced by 33 1/3, the unit is still solid. The family, while forever changed, is still whole. It’s just shaped a little differently.
Oops, I guess I lied about this not being a sad post, because in truth, I do feel a little weepy. But that’s okay. The laughter balances the tears. The sweet balances the bitter. And while loved ones do leave us, the love never does.
I’ll close this post with these adorable photographs. Two girls who love their dad, and who were deeply loved in return.
(And if you want to know more about my father, you can read this post. He was pretty awesome.)