Many years ago, a Dublin Irish football player would leave practice to head downtown for some 10¢ hamburgers. I’ve never been told how many teammates accompanied him, but I can’t imagine there were many. There simply isn’t room in the establishment. These burgers, what we would today call sliders, were as small as the building that begat them. But these are not normal sliders, burgers, or even as some have called them knock off Krystals. This delicacy of steamed beef and bread evolved from a snack for a hungry high schooler to become inextricably linked to what it means to be a part of my family.
Some of my youngest memories are sitting in the car (or truck or van) while Dad ran in to get them; the lunchroom was much too small for a rambling child. I do not remember where we were going in those early days, but I do remember the burgers. Mine were special. I never like mustard or onions. That means mine had only ketchup and came separate bag with a large “K” scrawled across it in grease marker.
We didn’t go through Dublin often in my early years, so it was always a treat. It was a sign we were heading to the beach, that dad was taking me along to a meeting of his professional organization, that we were spending time together. And always, he would run in and pick them up, with me sitting in the car. That became part of the tradition itself, even when sitting in the car on the way to Jekyll Island the radio crackled with the news of the 9/11 attacks.
There are moments as you age that define the migration to adulthood. The first time we were introduced as “Mr. Simpson and his father” stands out. But one that stands alongside that monumental occasion was when I pulled up in my truck, put it in park, and then walked through the door for the first time. There were many other moments to come. Stopping for lunch during the family trip where my girlfriend became my fiancée. Introducing her family to them after we were married and going on vacation with that side of the lineage.
Today was special in a different way. I hadn’t been anywhere except a hospital or doctor office in three weeks, and in reality a bit before that. So, Dad showed up at the house, told me to grab a mask, and we went out driving. Not surprisingly, the truck soon turned south following the old familiar trail to the door of Jack’s Famous Hamburgers. I didn’t go inside, but I did get out of the truck long enough for us to take a masked photo in front of the sign in the midst of downtown. They made them fresh for us, and they were delicious.
But as special as they were, once again they were only the uplifting complement of a day that was extraordinary in its own right. Instead of turning north and returning home, we turned east into the land where crossroads have names and the community around them seep with family history. The only way I could ever return to those places would be with the pins I thankfully thought to drop on my GPS. But the stories that accompany those random measurements of longitude and latitude tell the story of what it means to be a Simpson.
He showed me the field where his parents’ house had stood when he was born. He showed me where the cotton field was where they worked as tenant farmers. The field had been converted to timber and cut, perhaps many times in the years since, but I could still imagine my grandparents working out under the hot sun.
He pointed out his old swimming holes, where relatives had lived, where they went shopping, worshiped, and lived. In a new dynamic, I’m still learning, we were not only father and son, but also two men discussing how our lives are intertwined into the annals of history and again blossom in the present day. As he told me stories of his childhood, I couldn’t help but think about how I want to repeat them to my children one day. Perhaps even, GPS in hand, drive them around those same backroads and tell the stories to the next generation so they may continue into the future.
There’s a lot to be discouraged about in life right now. The isolation gets to me. World and political affairs disturb me. The enormity of cancer can overwhelm me. But, today was a good day. With that in mind, I am not going to let everything else discourage me.
Today was a win.