Our family had many delightful Christmas Eve celebrations that occurred at our home once Mother had left for California and Dad and Beatrice were married. We always had quite a good time sharing both food and drink with friends and family (and the good times were even better once we learned the ironic reality of avoiding the topic of religion on Christmas Eve). Often, on Christmas Eve, we stayed up way past when the regular party-goers had headed home, and this story involves one of those times
On this particular holiday, after we laid in the supplies for that event, and after we had eaten all the food and drank all the beverages available, we decided we all wanted hamburgers. Dad thought for a moment and then suggested the only place open at that time of night, on that night of the year: the “famous” Ralph’s Pub. Now, Ralph’s Pub was not exactly a fine dining establishment for a holiday gathering such as Christmas Eve. In fact if it had not been Christmas Eve and had we not been desperate (and, in the case of a few of us, also drunk), I doubt that we would have thought of the place.
Ralph’s Pub was actually a little bit classier then the hell-hole dive bars that Mother preferred and frequented throughout her life. That’s not necessarily the highest of standards, but Ralph’s was – in its unique way – kind of a charming establishment. It was the sort of place where Ralph (when he was working, which was nearly always) or one of his bartenders would greet people by name and chat with them while they drank and dined.
And it was something of a legendary establishment in our hometown:
There was a Club come unto the earth,
born in the holy land of Illinois and
raised in the smoky bars of Decatur.
Those of the Club were endowed
with an innate love for the Illini,
and nurtured this love in a tavern
known as Ralph’s Pub.
It was also the sort of place where whenever a customer was too drunk, Ralph would insure that they were cut off, given time to sober up, and when needed Ralph got them a ride home rather than letting them risk their lives and those of others by driving themselves.
So on this Christmas Eve, my son Taylor’s father (aka my ex-husband-to-be), my dad and I went to get the large order of food and when we arrived the place was under-whelmed with help. Ralph looked at us and, in an exasperated tone, said:
I don’t think I can fix your food right now. There’s too many customers to serve. Our regular cook didn’t come in tonight.
Those were just the words my dad needed to hear.
We’ll cook the food.
he said and the next thing you knew he and Taylor’s father were back behind the large greasy grill throwing on burgers. They enjoyed it so much, they began taking orders from the other patrons of the bar.
One pub-burger with ketchup and onions.
could be heard from the crowd. Dad was slapping burgers down and Taylor’s father was flipping them as fast as they could. They both enjoyed being in charge and serving others all their lives, and this was a shining moment for them. They were smiling and laughing as they flipped burgers and served up grog and grub.
That was one of the best things about my dad–he enjoyed taking a disaster and turning it into something fun. He loved having people think that he was a guy working in a bar, and he would laugh as people shouted out their orders to him. He also knew how to have fun even if you were just picking up a sack of greasy food. The year we ordered the Pub-burgers and ended up with my future ex and my father working briefly at Ralph’s Pub, was a favorite family story for years.