My grandaddy died when I was 4. Later on, I would understand that he was an oil geologist. He worked about 50 years after Daniel Day Lewis’ character in There Will Be Blood. When I was tiny, though, and he was still alive, I thought he worked somewhere that french fries were made. I’d stay at my grammy’s house while my mom worked, and when Grandaddy came home, he’d bring me french fries. Fuzzy, flash images of him coming through the door into their great room where I’d be watching TV, arm holding a bag of fries extended out in front of him, have been labeled “Earliest Memories” in my mind’s catalog system. I mostly know that he was wonderful because french fries are wonderful and because all the grownups were devastated when he died. I have no memories of hugging him, though I’m sure I did. I just remember french fries (and the massive pigeon coop, but that’s another story).
I didn’t get to spend very much time with my dad when I was in middle school and high school. His work was demanding and so were my ballet classes and rehearsals. We used the time when we were together pretty well, but now I wish we'd had more of it then. Back in those days, though, I was fine, a girl on mission to grow up and to dance. Sometimes, he would come to pick me up from ballet, and, sometimes, we’d hit the drive-thru or the Sonic for a burger and fries on the way home. Once, we ate halfway through our McDonald’s cheeseburgers before we realized that there was no meat on them. The taste was surprisingly unchanged! Eating fries in the car with my dad on the way to Amarillo from Canyon, TX made me feel so cool, so grownup. Mom couldn’t say “yes” to the endless requests we made for fast food (for obvious health and financial reasons), but dads get to say “yes” more often because the occasions are fewer and far between. I felt like eating fries at 10pm with my Dad was some kind of deputization. “You’re with me now, kid! I’m the dad, and we can eat french fries whenever we darn well please.” As Jim Gaffigan has said, “those McDonald’s fries are truly amazing.” (For the record, though, I do not recommend getting fries at McD’s. You can do better!)
I fell in love at Arby’s. My crush worked there, and I decided once to go surprise him. He was just getting off his shift. (The only thing better than a regular french fry is a curly fry from Arby’s. I had learned that from my mother years earlier. Swinging through the Arby’s drive-thru on our way home from tough doctor’s appointments and other such unpleasantries was a welcome, delicious relief.) I’m pretty sure I ordered the imperative curly fries and sat down to eat with Brendan Ribera. Over the next year and half of our early dating, I came to associate the slippery feel of grease on the bottom of my shoes, the smell of fry oil, and the glistening in his hair after a shift with comfort and the excitement of new, young love. You had to be there.
It took me a long time to allow one particular Seattle icon a place in my heart. Good ol’ Dick’s had a lot of work to do to associate itself with my heart’s french fry greats! I mean: they’re so floppy! And I was too broke for too long to have any cash for Dick’s anyway. When the boys were very little, though, we started to swing by Dick’s to grab cheap hamburgers and greasy, floppy fries before we took them to play at Meridian park in Wallingford. 5 years prior Brendan and I had spent many Spring and Summer evenings on the swing set after kids’ bedtimes falling deeper in love as we processed all the hard things we went through- illness, injuries, relationship drama, and big life questions about what to do and who to be. I recall one night in particular when we discussed bringing our future kids to the swings and how fun that would be. Our young selves were right: it was a blast! The taste of pushing my kids in the same swings where I dreamed of having them with my favorite person on earth: Dick’s fries. After a while of Dick’s love, I realized that the fries my grammy would make me from scratch after Grandaddy died tasted like Dick’s, though she cut them much thicker. After that dawned on me, I became a Dick’s devotee. Now my children clamor for Dick’s the way I used to beg for a Happy Meal.
I could go on and on. Weekly happy hours spent with the college friends who would become the women of my heart eating plates of fries with “three dipping sauces.” Oh! Dipping sauces: my ever-present companions in times of love and fries! Then there are clams’n’chips before we get the ferry over to Whidbey. Those fries are the taste of peace and friendship. I must speak of poutine! The unctuousness of gravy, the salt of cheese curds, and those frites. THOSE. FRITES! Those are the flavors of date nights with children left anxiously at home when we are both too tired to be out, but we miss each other and want to be best friends. I could devote an entire essay to the tatertots (a pathetic yet much loved cousin to the French fry) and dipping sauces of pregnancy and postpartum.
Did I just write a sad confession of the roots of my emotional eating? I don’t know. Probably. I’m not interested in changing my french fry/love association. Not in the slightest! I think of french fries like a whole body trigger for remembering the good times. The smell and taste take me back to so many moments of fun, friendship, kinship, relationship- so many kinds of love. Maybe for someone this would be unhealthy (maybe it is for me, but DON’T TELL ME!). I just see them as greasy, salty, golden ebenezers. I hope that doesn’t sound flippant or crass. I mean it with all the reverence I have for God who has woven so many wonderful people and moments of love into my life.
This week has been difficult. Many people I love are sad and hurting, so I am sad and hurting too. I love them all deeply, and I’m humbled by the love I get from all of them. People are continually sad and hurting! We just don’t always know, and things come and go through seasons. It’s easy to acknowledge that there is always pain and grief playing itself out in our communities; that is a general truism that we can absorb without much cost. I encourage us all to be looking for specificity, individuals. I’ve got French fries on the brain because I have love in my heart and on my mind. Love looks like meals together; it looks like babysitting; it looks like tears and wild, pee-your-pants-a-little-bit laughter. It looks like not needing to know everything, and it looks like asking hard questions. It looks like leaning on each other and holding each other up.
And, for me, it tastes like french fries.