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.