I do just about everything I can to keep Dad’s memory alive, whether it’s getting a tattoo in his honor or taking Anthony places that he used to take me. My hometown, restaurants, whatever. It’s just always a treat to walk into someplace with him and stand in the very same spot where Dad held my hand as a child. It’s how I feel Dad’s presence and his bond with me, even 39 years after his passing.
Tonight I decided to take Anthony to one of those places: an oil refinery. Yes, it sounds ridiculously stupid but allow me to explain.
Every year for Halloween as they have done for the last 60+ years, the ConocoPhillips (formerly Union 76) refinery sends out a crew of skilled artisans to paint – yes, paint – the face of a jack-o’-lantern on one of their tanks: the big orange gourd-shaped tank. Once the transformation is complete, the tank takes on the persona of Smilin’ Jack and the locals love him.
There he sits amongst the rest of the tanks all bright and orange and lit up at night for that one time of the year when he demands the spotlight. He deserves it.
But what is it about Smilin’ Jack? Is he just a decorated tanker?
Oh no. It goes beyond that.
Locals will tell you the reason they visit him: caramel corn. Yes, when Smilin’ Jack returns it also means that on October 30 and 31, his minions at the refinery will set up shop in the parking lot and watch lines of cars file through. When they arrive, they will bombard visitors with bag after bag of caramel corn and other goodies.
This is why they go and this is why Dad used to love taking us – “us” meaning every kid in the neighborhood stuffed into a Pontiac station wagon. Seeing us smiling like Jack was his reward.
It’s silly and it’s fun, and it’s something that reminds me of Dad. And in case you’re wondering what it’s like to be assaulted with bags of caramel corn, watch this video.
While it may not look like we got a lot of bags, let’s be clear of one thing: we did.
I think I counted 15 bags of it, not including the one Anthony and I shared on the ride home.
Speaking of the ride home, I surprised Anthony my making one totally random stop.
“Hey,” I said looking over at him. “You want a hot dog?”
We had already eaten dinner. I ate too much at the Halloween party at work. My weight is going up. Why not? And so we did.
There was really only one choice: Wienerschnitzel (or Der Wienerschnitzel if you’ve been going there as long as I have). But this isn’t just any old Der Wienerschnitzel location; this is the original one that opened back in 1961 and as such, has been designated as a historic landmark.
Wellll, maybe not but there is a plaque that recognizes it as the first location. And I don’t know what it is about this location but everything just tastes better there.
Anyway, we stopped and bought a bag of dogs just the way Dad used to in that Pontiac station wagon. I’m sure he would have had a blast hanging out with us tonight. I miss him.
Then once we had our bag of hot-dog goodness, we made our way home. Me and Anthony chatted along the way with him bringing up the concept of Heaven and Hell. (Keep in mind that Anthony was never baptized into any religion; we want him to make his own choice down the road). It was an interesting conversation considering he’s merely 11 years old and has sort of made up his own mind about whether they exist or not.
My stance is simple: I don’t know. I don’t think that as humans, we were ever meant to know. But despite that, sometimes it’s nice to think that there is such a place where all good souls gather to spend eternity with their loved ones by their side. On the other hand, I find it selfishly unfair that Dad was taken from us far too early and that whomever thought this was a “divine plan” is a real heartless bastard.
Anyway. We continued our talk as we sat in traffic. There was a Kia Soul in front of us as we waited for the red light to change.
Tonight was all about Dad and some of the things we did together. And I know he’s around, even if I can’t completely commit myself to believing in Heaven, Hell, or otherwise.
And as if I needed more reminders of it tonight, the bumper sticker on this Kia Soul sealed the deal.
I know it’s hard to see but the text running along the top was a blur with through my 46-year-old eyes that seem to be getting worse with every page I proofread at work. But the big word in the middle is “KOREA.”
The small text at the bottom reads “I SERVED.”
Dad served in Korea. This wasn’t the only time he reminded me.
Goodnight, everyone. And thanks, Dad.