Father’s Day Perspective: How Econofoods Became One of the Most Important Places in Door County, to Me

It was much too soon. Nearly 60-degree weather in the middle of February was a very welcome surprise. It was a record, too, for both days of the weekend of Feb. 18-19, 2017. Temperatures reached 55 and 51 degrees, respectively.

People took advantage of the unseasonably warm temps, knowing it was a rarity and snow was still on the way. My parents made the most of it. At 6 am both days, they left their home in Baileys Harbor and walked a short way to watch the sunrise near the shore of Lake Michigan. They live off Highway 57 and walked to a grassy clearing near the shore at the south end of town.

It was a beautiful way to start the day. For the past 20 years, my dad commuted to work in Chicago. He stayed in a one-bedroom apartment during the week and came up to Door County Friday night only to leave again at 5 am Monday. He never minded or complained of the drive – he loved Baileys Harbor and, to him, it was one of the most beautiful places in the world.

It was a beautiful weekend, but the last my dad spent in Door County. He died of cardiac arrest the next Thursday.

His death was sudden and unexpected, but I’m not going to write about my grief. Instead, I want to write about memories. One of the first worries I had when I heard of my dad’s death was, how fast am I going to forget him? Immediately, my mind was flipping back, like pages in a book, trying to remember everything good about my dad. I don’t want to forget anything, but I know it’s inevitable. How can I go about cultivating memories?

It took time, but one day in March, a month after his death, I remembered. It happened suddenly when I stepped into Econofoods in Sturgeon Bay, the grocery store my parents dragged me to when I was younger and where I now drag my kids. The last place I saw my dad in public was at Econofoods.

That same weekend when my parents were watching the sunrise in Baileys Harbor, my day started like normal trying to get the kids up and out the door. We had shopping to do. When we pulled into the Econofoods parking lot that Saturday, my parents’ black Impala was there, parked in one of the furthest left lanes. These serendipitous moments are what I love about living in Door County: unexpectedly running into people you love.

When we entered the store, I put my 2-year-old daughter in the cart, pleaded with my 5-year-old son to not run away, and made my way to the produce section.

That’s where I met my parents, in the produce section. When they saw me and the kids, it was clear they loved these serendipitous moments, too, and gave demonstrative greetings to the kids. My dad immediately took the cart from me and wheeled my daughter around the produce section. He stopped where my mom and I were talking about what we were going to have for dinner that night. I looked over to him and he was talking with my daughter. He was being goofy and slid his glasses to the end of his nose and moved his face level with hers, so they were eye to eye. It’s a gesture I’ve seen him do a hundred times, most often with his kids, grandkids when he was being playful. She was smiling.

This memory sticks with me. There was so much joy passing between them. If there was ever a last memory I could have of my dad, I’m glad this is it.

So in March, stepping foot in the Econofoods produce section for the first time after my dad died, this memory rushed to the top of my mind. It instantly felt like I had a piece of him back – a memory only I’ll remember. Of all places, Econofoods is the place where I now feel closest to my dad.

It seems silly to try and articulate to other people the value Econofoods holds for me, but I’ll always hold this memory; as long as Econofoods is standing, it’s cemented.

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