When my girls were young and not so health conscious, which means they still enjoyed hot dogs, french fries and drank milk shakes, we ate lunch at a local fast food restaurant almost every Saturday.
In my community most, if not all, of theses local restaurants are owned by Greeks and have some variation of Pete’s or Fine Foods in their name. I don’t know why this is the case or how it came to be but it has been like this since the 1950’s. Most of these restaurants are now being run by the second and third generations of these families. Some of the families are related, some are not, but the restaurants are all pretty much the same.
The menus are very simple. I order a Jumbo cheeseburger plate with half and half and a sweet tea, translated, a cheeseburger, a cup of slaw and a half order of fries and half order of onion rings. Given my age, weight, blood pressure and cholesterol I don’t order this as often as I once did but every Saturday, for many years, this was my standard lunch fare.
Our go to restaurant is down the street from our house and is owned by a father and his son. The father, Bill, came to the United States from Greece in 1956 as a 16-year-old and opened his own restaurant three years later after working in other Greek immigrants (probably family members) restaurants. Bill died yesterday at the age of 77 from cancer and with his death I lost another character that I loved and part of my kids childhood has passed away as well.
Lunch on Saturdays at Fine Foods was a big deal to my girls. They would get a hot dog or a grilled cheese sandwich and Mr. Bill would make them a peanut-butter and chocolate milk shake, a real shake with ice-cream and globs of peanut butter so thick a straw was useless. He would always give them the metal cup he mixed the shake in which they fought over every Saturday. I had to remember who got to “lick the cup” the last time which I didn’t always recall correctly. Bill knew he was stirring up a hornets every time he brought the mixing cup to the table, and he would just grin at me at the chaos he was creating.
When we ordered at the counter he would peer down at my girls and ask them which one of them was paying today. The answer was always the same from my girls “I don’t have any money” and Bill would said “Then Dad is washing dishes” both would grin at me and say “Bye Dad” and head to “our” table.
I can’t even begin to estimate how many onion rings or cheeseburgers I have eaten there on Saturday’s. But then we stopped. The kids got busy. Eating “junk” wasn’t good or fun anymore. The youngest stuck it out with me for a year or two but then I lost her too and without the kids there was no way Mom was going to eat there with me. It was the beginning of the end for dear old Dad, they would rather hangout with their friends than eat a hot dog and be seen with me.
Bill died Sunday but our memories didn’t. He gave a young family a fun place to build memories of milk shakes, hot dogs and laughs. A place they could take their friends and feel like a big shot because the owner knew their name. A place where an old man dotted on them making them his special milk shake and teasing them a little to boot.
I texted both of them this morning and told them Mr. Bill had died and got back what only millennium kids could offer a sad face emoji. Sad face emoji indeed.
When Bill’s son told me a couple of months ago that his Dad had only a few months to live I sent him a long note thanking him for being such an important part of our family. His son told me how much the note meant to his Dad. I am glad I took the time to write it. I am glad I took the time to share my memories with him, memories that he helped create.
We all have characters in our lives. People who fill the cracks and crevices of the space we call living but it is up to each of us to recognize their contribution to our busy lives. Rest in peace Bill and thank you for the memories.