While some knew him as Jonah and others as Mac, we all loved and respected him. And we miss him dearly.

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Secret Recipe for Life

Dear Jonah,

I’m perfectly aware that there are some people who don’t care for Greek chili (the fact that “watery” is part of the description probably stops more than a few from even trying). But in the Dreskin family, it’s an age-old tradition. And you carried that tradition proudly. In March of 2005, you and I drove from New York to Ohio, just to go to Skyline Chili. More on that in a bit.

Not the Empress my dad took me to, but a later incarnation

Not the Empress my dad took me to, but a later incarnation

As a little kid growing up in Cincinnati, I would tag along with my dad either on his hospital rounds or to the library. Sometimes (probably a lot more than sometimes but it was a very long time ago) he’d take me to a little restaurant downtown called Empress Chili, the original purveyor of Cincinnati chili, a Greek spin on Texas chili and Coney Island hot dogs. It was there that I and my five sibs acquired our deep love for Greek chili (I don’t actually know if all five of them loved it, but to this day, when Uncle Michael and I find ourselves in the same town, Skyline is going to be one of our meals, even if we have to make it ourselves). As a teen, I spent many a Saturday night hanging out at Chili-Time in the ‘burbs, where I could combine cool with the food I loved. And if you’re wondering … yes, lots of my friends liked it too … otherwise, how could it have been a hangout?!

I never meant to settle in the midwest, Jonah. But after ordination, I needed a job. And Cleveland was calling my name. When I married your mom, I’d agreed to never take a job in New Jersey, but Ohio isn’t in New Jersey so, with one-year old Katie in tow, off we went to Shaker Heights. A year into our Cleveland experience, you were born and Wednesdays became Skyline Chili days (these two events are not necessarily connected, but they’re not necessarily not not connected either). We ate dinner at Skyline so often that a couple of kooky things happened. First, Katie and you got to know the manager by name (even if the name you gave him was “Mr. Skyline”). Second, Mr. Skyline named dishes after the two of you. Katie could order a “Katie Dog” (a hot dog with plain spaghetti on it) and you could order a “Jonah Dog” (a hot dog with spaghetti and black olives on top). Third, in 1993, when my birthday fell on a Wednesday, our family didn’t have to think twice about celebrating it at Skyline. Mom even stopped by earlier in the day to stash a cake and presents so I wouldn’t know what was up.

When we left Cleveland and moved back to New York in 1995, you were five and none too happy about our move. Leaving your best pal Ryan behind was not an idea to your liking and you made plans to run away back to Cleveland. Those plans never panned out, but you frequently let us know how much you resented our decision. It would be years before you mellowed on that one. While you never mentioned it, Skyline was missed as well. So in 2005, when I asked if you’d like to drive back to Cleveland for chili, you immediately responded, “Yes!” On March 10th, after you finished a PGT rehearsal for “The Laramie Project,” we got into the car and drove to Cleveland. Our plan was to drive half the distance that night and arrive in time for lunch (Skyline, of course) on the 11th. We would spend two days in Cleveland, for the sole purpose of dining four times at Skyline. We had to do something to kill time between meals so we found your friend Ryan (he’d gotten bigger), Uncle Tony (still older than me), and Fairmount Temple (BIG temple where you made quite a name for yourself … story for another time … while I learned how to be a rabbi). The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was our last stop on the 12th, after which we’d intended to enjoy our fourth meal at Skyline and then drive the first leg homeward. But as it turns out, Greek chili takes a toll on the body and, when we’d finished at the museum, we simply couldn’t stomach returning to our restaurant. So with some regret, we decided to relinquish meal number four and just get back on the road to drive home. We also decided to see if the Beatles had written ten hours of music by playing them exclusively for the entire drive home. We sang a lot of songs that (amazingly enough) we both knew, and got home about three that morning, with music to spare, our stomachs sated (if not ulcerated), and a shared adventure between father and son that I think we both really enjoyed and whose memory we cherished ever since.

You would never admit to having stopped yearning to move back to Cleveland, nor would you have ever allowed yourself to use the words “cherished” or “yearning.” If you heard me using them, that would be one of those moments where you’d roll your eyes, look at me with disdain and say, “You’re such a rabbi.”

Once upon a time, my dad took me to a chili parlor for hot dogs and spaghetti. I, in turn, took my own son for the same. For decades, the families that created Greek chili have protected the recipe and its “secret ingredients.” As I look back on my mind’s pictures of fathers and sons sharing this American ethnic concoction, I wonder if perhaps the secret ingredient (for us, at least) was love.

Love you forever,

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