COLUMN: How an uneaten steak brought two families together

If it was meat and potatoes, Sarnia’s Joe Egan had an appetite. He is shown here carving a turkey in the late 1980s. Submitted Photo

Phil Egan

My late father, Joe Egan, was a meat and potatoes kind of guy.

My mother was more adventurous, and loved Chinese food.

In 1986, when Mom and Dad were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary, friends and family wrote letters that were assembled in a memory book for my parents. I got a kick out of one of the letters and thought I’d share it.

It was written by Garry Tang, then the proprietor of Tang’s China House. He told a story from the early 1970s when Mom and Dad started patronizing Tang’s.

Dad, the only person I know who would routinely order a steak in a Chinese restaurant, did exactly that. Now, don’t get me wrong. Tang’s could prepare a steak as well as anyone but on this occasion the kitchen was short-staffed and Dad’s meat was burned.

When the meal was over and Dad went to the front to pay, the waitress reported to Garry that Dad hadn’t eaten his steak.

“I offered him a sincere apology,” Garry wrote in his letter, “and refused to take his money.”

But Dad, smiling, insisted on paying the full bill, including the charge for the uneaten steak.

“What a nice gentleman,” Garry wrote, continuing the story. “Soon after that, Mary-Jane came in to ask for a job. Then came Frances, then Vici, then Bev and finally Chris.”

Garry Tang gave jobs to all five of my brothers and sisters who applied. In a line that brought gales of laughter when read aloud at the anniversary reception, Garry thought he finally understood why Dad insisted on paying for a steak he didn’t eat.

Garry Tang and his family became great friends of the Egan Clan. Other than family, probably nobody visited my father more frequently during the six months he spent at Bluewater Health before he died. And Tang family members still attend the Egan family reunions at Canatara Park every Mackenzie Day weekend.

Of course, part of that friendship was cemented during the 1980s by shared tragedy. When my sister, Frances, was killed in a Sarnia house fire in 1986, the Tang family was an early supporter of the foundation created in her name to promote fire safety.

Sadly, Garry & Diana Tang suffered their own tragic loss when three grandchildren were lost in a fire four years later.

It is said that, in time, all sorrows fade while memories grow fonder. Looking over these letters written 31 years ago did indeed bring back many pleasant memories.