Hot Dogs and Sympathy

by Hilary Gauntt on September 22, 2011

This is a moving story about food and grief that does not come with a recipe. I know you will be happy to know that Kerry and Denny went on to  have Neil, Kenny, and David. Kerry, thank you for sharing this memory with us, and for reminding us that sometimes, simple and familiar are most comforting.

“September 29, 1986 is a day filled with horrifying images and memories. Lots of them are blurry and lots of them are as clear to me today as they were 25 years ago. On that day my 4 week old infant son died of SIDS. His name was Riley Marsden Cline (great name, don’t you think?)  The day was surreal, strange and seemingly endless. Relatives arriving–not sure how they got there.

My husband Denny and I were living in an apartment in the Oakland Hills–a neighborhood called Montclair.  He was in Law School at Boalt Hall. Anyway, like I said people were in and out all day–No one knowing what to do.  Of course there was nothing to do. Just the hours of shock and horror and disbelief to contend with. I remember my sister and I taking a short walk up the hill from my apartment. Looking at the sky.  It was an especially bright and sunny day–Autumn in the Bay area.

Later as the sun went down, and as bad as everything seemed during the day, suddenly it was getting even worse.  I felt that I needed to get out of the apartment and away from all the people. But where to go?  I couldn’t just leave. So I decided to go down to our neighbor’s apartment. They were a nice older couple by the name of Howard and Glenda Gravelle. He was a big, strong man. Very much a man’s man. And Glenda was his cute, fun-loving wife–They had 3 grown sons who were off on their own.

Buoyed up by my sister and our good friend Evan (he was in law school with my husband) we took refuge in Howard and Glenda’s apartment–I remember how it was weird to be in a “normal” house where regular life was going on–The news on the TV etc.  And then Glenda asked me if I had eaten. I guess I had not eaten the entire day.  She apologetically said that all they were planning on for dinner were hot dogs and potato chips. She invited us to join them–I often wonder if they thought it was weird I was there given the situation. But I accepted the invitation.

I never tasted a hot dog that good–It was hot, the bun was soft and fresh and even the mustard and ketchup had an incredibly wonderful flavor. Potato chips were fresh and crisp. Who knew a hot dog and potato chips could taste so good and be so comforting.

After we ate I sat on the couch–which  felt especially comfortable for some reason also. For the first time that terrible awful day, it was in my neighbor’s apartment with hot dogs and potato chips that I felt “safe.”

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura September 23, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Tears in my eyes after reading such a beautiful story and the taste, from way too long ago, of a hot dog that tasted fabulous most of all because it was linked to a comforting exprience. Thank you!!!


Casey September 29, 2011 at 9:17 am

Happy Birthday Riley Marsden. God bless you and your beautiful family. In your honor and memory, we will have hot dogs this evening. All love, Casey


Kerry Cline September 29, 2011 at 1:52 pm

That is so dear of you, Casey.
Thank you so much for remembering us today.



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