Emmy Ritchey is a writer from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is an MFA student at Hollins University and resides in Roanoke, Virginia. She hates pop but firmly believes that it is "pop" and not "soda." She will die on this hill. You can find Emmy on Twitter @emmy_ritchey.
BEEF ON WECK
When I received my first college brochure in the mail, Dad and I started waiting for his heart attack. During Dad’s freshman fall, his single father’s heart had ticked to a stop. We didn’t discuss possible hereditary mortality plainly. Instead, Dad tried to teach me everything he knew about cooking and car care and home repairs. I asked about my grandfather and life in Buffalo, New York—the hometown he had abandoned after the funeral and never spoke of. I didn’t want his tips, and he didn’t want my questions.
One night, I cornered him and asked to visit a university in Buffalo—a university I had no true plan to attend. He couldn’t say no to my collegiate dreams, so we went. On the drive, he only spoke of putting on headlights in bad weather and how to get on and off the highway.
Buffalo was like any other city, and the tour was uninteresting. He pressed our tour guide about career placement services and an admissions officer about financial aid. I was sure the officer wrote “PROBLEM PARENT” in red ink on my file when we left her office over an hour later.
When the boy at the office’s front desk extended two meal tickets to their dining hall, I shook my head before Dad could grab them.
“He’s from Buffalo,” I said. “He’s got a place already picked out for lunch.”
Dad’s mouth firmed into a line. He didn’t speak as we walked back to the parking garage.
We drove ten minutes away from the city, northeast. There were signs for the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, and things become more and more sparse the further away from the city center we got. Soon, we came to a four-way intersection and a red light. On our left, there was a gas station, and on our right, there was a fenced-in, grassy hill. Diagonally across from the gas station, there was another with gas cheaper by two cents.
In the fourth corner, there was a little white building with a red roof and a big sign that screamed “JOE’S MEATS” at oncoming traffic. On the square roof stood a life-sized butcher statue with a cleaver raised in the air and what was probably supposed to be a friendly smile, but because there was no feeling behind his eyes, I felt disturbed.
Dad turned into Joe’s Meats. There were only three other cars in the lot. The air circulating through our car thickened with grease and fat and salt.
“Come on,” he said.
The restaurant was smaller than it looked on the outside. Two old men sat at separate ends of the counter, and an elderly woman sat near the window. The menu hung above the counter and register. Small white letters spelled out various lunch meat sandwiches and side orders on black felt. It had been some time since I’d sought out lunch meat, but before I had a thought on what looked good, Dad was ordering.
“Two iced teas and two beef on wecks with chips. To go,” he said. “And you can put the pickle that comes with mine in her box.”
The cashier shouted our order into the kitchen while Dad paid in cash. It didn’t even look like the register had a card reader attached to it.
“I’ll get the car ready,” Dad said, iced teas in hand. “You wait for the sandwiches.”
Through the front windows, I watched him cross the lot and get into the car. For a moment, I wondered if he was going to leave me at Joe’s Meats out of spite that I had brought him to Buffalo, but then, I saw he was pulling out of the spot to reverse back into it. He’d tried to teach me this trick when I learned how to drive, but I gave up when it became too frustrating.
When Dad parked the car, he exited, went around to the back, and opened the trunk.
Inside Joe’s Meats, I turned to some framed newspaper articles on the wall. They celebrated Joe’s Meats and its historical connection and cultural significance to Buffalo. None seemed particularly new.
Soon, the cashier handed me our sandwiches, and I exited.
The front of the car was still empty, and when I walked around to the back, Dad was sitting on the edge of the trunk. His legs were too short to reach the ground. He patted the spot next to him. I put the sandwiches between us and sat.
He opened his box, and I peeked over.
Next to home-baked potato chips was a sandwich—thinly sliced dark brown meat with a red center topped with horseradish on seeded kaiser. There was a clear condiment container with a watery, brown liquid next to it.
“What’s a beef on weck?”
“Roast beef on kummelweck.”
“And what’s over there?” I asked, pointing to the hill across from us.
“Airport,” he said. He sighed and took a bite of the sandwich. He chewed for a long time.
I opened my lunch. The sandwich wasn’t bad, and neither was the silence.
“When I was a kid, my dad and I would come here, get a beef on weck, and watch the planes come and go.”
As we sat, not a single plane took off or landed before us.
Once we finished, he handed me the boxes to get rid of while he started the car. I jogged to the trash can and tried to avoid the butcher statue looming above me but couldn’t. The sun off his cleaver was too bright.