“Time, where did you go? /Why did you leave me here alone? /Wait, don’t go so fast/I’m missing the moments as they pass/Now I’ve looked in the mirror and the world’s getting clearer/So wait for me this time/I’m down, I’m down on my knees/I’m begging for all your sympathy…/You humble people everywhere /Now I’ve looked in the mirror and the world’s getting clearer/I’ll take what you give me/Please know that I’m learning/So wait for me this time”

-TIME (by Chantal Kreviazuk)

Last night we introduced the next generation to one of our family traditions: eating out at Steak ‘N Stein in Pico Rivera. As a child, I looked forward to our family trips there—Uncle Eric loved dinner there for his birthday, with dessert following at Grandma Mitchell’s (Nana’s) house. It is also a place that my Grandpa Mitchell loved.

I think I went one more time after Grandpa Mitchell died (fall of 1998) and never again—until now—after Uncle Eric died (January 2007). I remember that I sat next to my Uncle Eric for his birthday dinner at Steak ‘N Stein the evening of the day that I started the 4th grade. He was the kind of person everyone wanted to be near. Uncle Eric loved all the delicious, fine, beautiful parts of life, and he adored great food. All of the steak and seafood dinners at Steak ‘N Stein come with a green house salad, a huge baked potato, red cabbage, cheese bread, and onion rings. The cheese bread is epic, and I don’t use that term lightly. The cheese bread of dreams. I remember that Uncle Eric experimented with trying to make the cheese bread at home before Clearman’s started selling the official spread.

I hadn’t really wanted to go to dinner there since we lost him. But I felt it was time to suggest we plan a night there, time to bring our memories to the present, time to sit at the long family table again, to share new memories with Nana and my parents and my aunts and cousin and brother and all our new family members, children and spouses.

Katie and cousin Violet delighted in the atmosphere. They danced together to the saxophonist playing by the big circular fire in the middle of the main dining room (we were in a side room, but spent some time in there listening to the music). Katie and Violet held hands and danced together in a circle, carefree and beautiful, surrounded by the warm red lights and stained glass of Steak ‘N Stein. I wished we could have all been there to see it, but my heart didn’t break…instead there was peace in knowing that time brings new moments of togetherness, moments that honor those who have had to leave us. We had so much laughter last night, too, from jokes that Aunt Anna was making about her class this semester (she is an English professor), to witticisms about Spring Break, to wondering what would happen if Uncle Tom could combine his two hobbies into one sport (skiing and badminton).

The salads came with the cheese bread. It is an Uncle Eric “must” to combine all three offered dressings on the salad. As my aunts and I did this, it felt to me like Uncle Eric was almost present in that moment. My Eric sat on my lap and I gave him tastes of the dressings…and then he swiped a crouton! He cracks me up because he uses sleight of hand; I truly am watching, but he is quick. He darts his hand out, grabs whatever it is, cups it in his hand, and brings the hand slowly to his mouth like we won’t notice. Most of the time, we do…last night, he was extra adept at this technique.  Fortunately, he spit it out. Katie loved her Shirley Temple, and I had one, too. The cheese bread was scrumptious—just like I remembered! I ordered a steak and scallops—yummy!!!

Bill was able to capture some pictures:

My mom, Katie, and me

Visiting—and working on a huge baked potato!

Dinner!

The littlest Eric seemed to enjoy himself

Aunt Anna and Aunt Jenny

The Steak ‘N Stein experience!

This was the first Steak ‘N Stein dinner for Bill, Fon, Ashley, Katie, Eric William, Violet, and Oliver. We are gifted beyond measure to have added to our family, to have them with us. When we seek out those experiences so loved by those we have lost, we are able to bring their essences closer to us, to make the memories of them sharper in our minds. Let us be constantly resharpening and sharing tradition.  Even a simple dinner can have great significance, passing on the goodness and joy to the next generation.

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