Back when we lived in the ‘burbs, Friday nights at La Casita was a given. Being the only native Owasso-an, I always found it funny that this was our hang-out of choice. To me it would always be either the Rex’s chicken place or the mini-mart where me and Kim Heiney would stop on our way home from school to buy green apple Jolly Ranchers. Even with the new chain restaurants going in all around town, we still preferred the homey décor and homestyle Mexican food served up by Gary and his wife.
Terry and Christy are the ones that got us started going there and before long we all became regulars. On Friday nights, our three families would pile into a couple of cars and we would make our weekly pilgrimage to our favorite hole-in-the-wall. Gary, the owner, would save the big table for us, then one by one we’d all take our positions. The kids (Kelsey, Grant, and Alex) fought for the seats right next to Terry (the biggest kid of all), Rob and Tripp would take their seats at the end of the table, and then Robin, Christy, and I would sit next to each other to catch up on some much needed girl-talk.
Friday nights was the best night to go to La Casita for two reasons. First of all, there was the live music. Week after the week, the same old guy sat on the makeshift stage in the corner playing his guitar and singing his own signature blend of country and folk rock music. His set list was pretty limited and Jim Croce was usually in heavy rotation, but eating at Gary’s is where I learned that I should never “tug on Superman’s cape” or “spit into the wind” and least of all not “mess around with Jim.”
The other great thing about Friday nights at Gary’s was the weekly special, Mexican Casserole, and the homemade desserts. Every dish was good – my personal favorite was taco dinner – but the men almost always got the Mexican casserole. They loved the savory blend of cornbread, seasoned ground beef, and pinto beans served under a blanket of spicy cheese sauce. And you wouldn’t think after that kind of dinner anyone would be in the mood for dessert, but it was nearly impossible to pass up on the delicious sweet treats. The blackberry cobbler was always good as well as the strawberry shortcake, but without a doubt the group favorite was the peanut butter pie. Then after dinner, we’d all roll ourselves outside to the cars feeling miserably full but happy.
Depending on the season, sometimes everyone would come to our house for a late night swim. Or sometimes we’d all head over to Rob and Robin’s to watch football or over to Terry and Christy’s for a game to two of Chickenfoot. The kids would occasionally play outside or play games upstairs, but most of the time Kelsey, Grant, and Alex preferred to hang out with the adults. And who could blame them – we always had so much fun together. Even then I knew that the connection between our families was special and without romanticizing too much, those were some of the best years of my life and remain some of my most cherished memories.
For a long time, it has been very hard for me to reminisce about those precious years without also recalling the day my dear friend Robin died. It was on this day in 2005 that she lost her lengthy, courageous battle with breast cancer.
When we moved to Tulsa, in addition to dishes and knickknacks, I also boxed up those five years of memories we accumulated while living in our Brentwood neighborhood. I never had the chance to sort through them, so I just put it all into one giant U-haul box, taped the box shut, and with a big fat Sharpie marker wrote “Owasso” on the top. When we got into our new house I put the big box down in the basement closet along with the Christmas decorations and all the rest of the stuff we had no other place for. Every once in a while I would venture a peak into the box, but the problem is that in my grief and my haste to move on, I put all of the memories – the good and the bad – into the same box. Packed right next to neighborhood Bunco games at Robin’s house was the day we found out that Robin’s cancer was back with a vengeance and was not responding to treatment. The night we drank margaritas and played Cranium at Terry and Christy’s was wedged in with watching Robin’s fragile body slowly wasting away before our eyes. And lying buried underneath Friday nights at Gary’s, wrapped in bubble wrap and covered in newspaper, was the day I saw the hearse parked in front of Rob and Robin’s house. In many ways, it has often felt like those blissful years we spent in Brentwood died on this day too and so for the past six years, that box of memories has been sitting there in the basement closet largely untouched.
But all of that changed yesterday after a conversation with my beloved daughter who happened to be home from college. With her youthful optimism and hopefulness, she reminded me that there were far more happy memories than sad. And with her help I was able to start the process of unpacking the box. My sweet girl sat next to me as I collected my most painful memories and moved them into a smaller, separate box away from all of our wonderful family memories. And for the first time in a long time the memories of those years lost their sting – what used to be bittersweet is now just sweet.
So today, instead of feeling sad, I am celebrating the lives of my dear friend Robin and her family. Their courage and strength will always be an inspiration to me. And today I am also celebrating the wonderful years we spent in Brentwood and special memories we share with these two families. I will cherish that time in my life forever.