Hershey BarMy friend Jane Kimbrell and I just celebrated another Dead Dads Dinner. We’ve done it just about every year since 1997.

Don’t get me wrong. We’re not celebrating because they’re dead…but because of the lives they led and what they meant to us.

Jane’s dad, Bob Kimbrell, died on her June birthday in 1994. George Soper died on my brother’s June birthday two years later. Each May, Jane and I felt like we were heading for a funk – those subliminal blues you don’t have control over when a sad anniversary approaches. So rather than try to squelch the sadness, we chose to hit it head on in a tried-and-true Southern ritual of dealing with sadness: Let’s eat!

So now they are remembered every summer with a good martini and the best steak Atlanta has to offer.

Both of our dads loved the aged steaks at Bone’s, and while mine frequented the Buckhead restaurant several times a year when visiting Atlanta, Jane’s dad preferred to cook his – personally delivered by Jane — on his own grill in Athens. I can still remember my dad flirting with Susan DeRose who in those early years welcomed diners herself and, truth be told, flirted back a little with the favorite regulars.

Because of Jane’s friendship with Susan and her partner, Richard Lewis, we got the royal treatment the night we launched the Dead Dads Dinner. The wait staff – always consummate professionals – knew that we were celebrating, or, rather, burying our grief in a good stiff drink – and could not have been more attentive or caring. When they delivered our first drink in individual silver cocktail shakers with Bone’s engraved on one side and each of our dad’s initials on the other, well, of course, we lost it.

Since that first memorable dinner – Jane has a Gray Goose martini, mine is Tanqueray on the rocks with big fat olives and we both get a petit filet; Jane gets a loaded potato, I have the broccoli bathed in hollandaise – we’ve both lost other family members and friends. The older we get, the more friends have moved on and we always toast them, too. I have come to realize the value in celebrating someone who’s gone and encourage others to do that, too.

ssoperddadOn my dad’s October 8 birthday each year, I buy 100 Hershey bars and just hand them out randomly to whomever crosses my path that day. The first one always goes to the sales clerk wherever I happen to buy them, and then I move on: the post office, a department store, buying gas, prescriptions or wedding gifts. In the early days, I put one in each of my colleagues’ mailboxes in the AJC Features Department. But that tradition has followed me in workplaces I have occupied since then.

In telling the story of why I am sharing chocolate – my dad’s favorite: pure milk, no nuts – I have made friends with a postal clerk whose late mother died on my dad’s birthday and a saleswoman at Saks who came around the counter to give me a tearful hug. One waitress at lunch asked for a second one to take home to her mother as a token of her own appreciation. I’ve shared them with tennis teams, slipped them in neighbors’ mail boxes and handed them on while hiking the Inca Trail in Peru.

The first year I did this, I couldn’t articulate what I was doing without dissolving. But now, over a decade later, I love to tell the story, his story, behind the Hersheys. I find it’s a cheerful way to keep George Soper’s memory alive beyond the lively dinners shared with Jane and often gives others a reason to pause to remember someone they’ve loved and lost, too. A couple of recipients have even taken on traditions of their own, finding a special way to celebrate a life that’s over but not a legacy.

Lower photo shows Susan Soper with her dad around 1985.

Susan Soper

Susan Soper

Susan Soper is a longtime journalist: as a writer for Newsday where she was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for The Heroin Trail, writer at CNN, Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Executive Editor at Atlanta INtown. Recently, she created and published a workbook, ObitKit (www.obitkit.com). She is currently working on a number of writing and editing projects, including obituaries and life stories. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, Bo Holland. Her interests include hiking, reading, the arts, people (dead and alive) and, in a better economy, travel. Staying close to home these days, she takes and documents “Urban Hikes” and is interested in sharing sites of interest with readers of Like the Dew.

  1. Susan I would like to comment on your article because my Father’s death still tops the list of traumatic events in my life. To try to lighten up this subject I have reached an age that if I include all the family and friends I have lost with a toast to each one the establishment I happen to be in will not have to open for a week after I leave which would probable be on all fours! Your idea of celebrating a life that meant so much is one I applaud and wish I had that idea years ago.

  2. Lovely story!

    (But at the risk of being overly pedantic, you mean “hand them out randomly to WHOEVER crosses my path.”)

  3. What a great article to start the day ! Thank you. Love you.

  4. Terri Evans

    I hope I cross your path tomorrow. I loved this story and I love Hershey’s Bars. I recently had a great late night chat with my dear friend, Melinda on my mother’s birthday. She knew and loved my mom. We laughed and cried. It was a great gift to me.

  5. Eleanor Ringel Cater

    that was lovely. simply lovely.

  6. I love this idea. I am fortunate to still have my father, but lost my mother 14 years ago, coincidentally on October 8. I may need to start a dinner for my friends who have lost their mothers. It’s sadly funny but I can point to every one who has lost their mother – you are never the same again.

  7. Susan, I’ll always remember the jacket you had made out of your daddy’s ties. My Mama just died at 94, and it has amazed me the people who have honored her life in their individual ways — including the non-stop drinker in Telluride Colorado who had met her once and poured out some of his beloved Mike’s Hard Lemonade in her memory. Thanks for sharing your Dead Dads Dinner story.

  8. Susan,
    What a wonderful story. I have a friend, who is Jewish , and every year at Christmas her mother would make gingerbread men and take them to the nursing home. When she died my friend continued the tradition. I am lucky enough to have both of my parents still alive but it makes me stop and think about the things they do that mean a lot to them and others. Thanks for sharing your story.

  9. Hey, Susan. Thanks for this great story! I remember those Hershey Bars! Such a nice tradition… I have a friend whose father just died; I can’t go to Mississippi to see her, but I am sending her your story — and taking her out for a steak and a martini the next time she’s in town. Thanks again for the sweet remembrance.

  10. I love all of your stories but this is my favorite…love you too.

  11. Funny how those little things stick with us and bring a rush of memories. My Daddy loved those sickeningly sweet chocolate covered cherries that you see everywhere during Christmastime. Even though we thought they were disgusting, my sister and I always made sure he got a box. Now that he’s gone I have an entirely different appreciation for them.

  12. Melinda Ennis

    Wow Susie. What a wonderful tribute. Your Dad was really cute too! And I can tell by the way you’ve written this that you had/have a relationship similar to the one I have with mine. I consider myself the luckiest woman alive because both my mom and dad are still going strong, having cocktails and partying like teenagers (they’re a great dance team). My dad’s drink of choice is run and coke and his preferred sweet, goo-goo clusters. He never drinks before 5pm—but when he does, it is not a drink for “sissies” (his words, not mine). I am sure your daddy is smiling down at his little girl today and thinking how lucky you both are.

  13. At 62, I find death becoming a too-constant companion, having lost another friend this week, the birthday week of my father and my former father-in-law, both deceased. Our family tradition of a wake to celebrate the life, rather than to mourn the death, of our loved ones is what gets us by. The feisty farewells that we have heard have helped keep a smile in our hearts on these anniversaries, too. “The jig’s up”, “‘See you on the other side” and “I’m not going yet–I’ll let you know when I’m ready” (to the priest) are among my favorites. We have lost so many now that an annual remembrance dinner for all of them seems like a wonderful idea. Thank you for sowing the seed.

  14. Susie – You know how much Cloudy meant to Hunter and I – love the article! Tomorrow I’ll buy a Hershey’s and think of him.
    Love to you and Bo!

  15. And as a result of the Hershey bars, your long-ago article in the AJC and this one, I feel that I know your father. This is beautiful. I think he would be just tickled at your Dead Dads Lunch.

  16. Great story Susie! As your dad’s first son-in-law, I was painfully aware that no man was quite good enough for Cloudy’s girl – especially a musician, but I’m grateful for his gentlemanly tolerance of the guy who imagined – perhaps wrongly – that he actually deserved her. The Dinner’s a fine way to celebrate your Dad, and Jane’s Dad. I celebrate Lt. Capt. Maj. Col. Williams by singing a song to him at each of my concerts. Although, perhaps like your Dad, he didn’t really understand music (especially trying to make a living at it). But I think he can handle it. Col. Williams really liked Cloudy’s girl, too. Love to you and Bo.

  17. Susie, What a great article and picture of the two of you. I have always loved sharing his birthday and think of him every year, as he called me “his little Libra”. Hard to imagine how long he has been gone, and am so glad you have found a way to keep him with you. Let’s try again to catch up by phone. Love, Carmen

  18. Susie,
    Well, today’s the day. George will be with me every time I look at a Hershey bar. This is a lovely tribute.
    Much love,

  19. Dear Susie,
    I knew that you and Jane had your Bones annual dinner and also remembered being the lucky recipient of a Hershey bar on occasion. But the way you articulated the tradition in this “blog” is simply wonderful….you are such a fabulous writer! Since I didn’t receive a Hershey bar this year, I think i will go to my secret stash of Hershey miniatures and have one, as I toast George M. Thank you for giving us the gift of always “remembering”…..we love you for the friend you are to so many.

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