Remembering Carmie Colosimo
Remembering Carmie Colosimo
Oak Lawn Toyota mourns the death of their beloved Carmie Colosimo: Master Saturday Chef, joke-teller-extraordinaire, and White Sox fanatic.
If you have ever set foot onto Oak Lawn Toyota’s premises on a Saturday afternoon, chances are, you saw Carmen, known as Carmie, Colosimo. Proudly wearing his Oak Lawn Toyota-branded polo shirt, hovering over his grill, tongs in hand, (sometimes pipe in mouth) Carmie whipped up lunch for the Oak Lawn Toyota staff every Saturday–rain, shine, sleet, or snow. Maybe you didn’t know it was him but you could see the smoke billowing from the back of the lot and smell the aroma of the savory meats cooking on the grill and you wondered, “Who is this person causing my stomach to growl?”
Carmie has been a fixture at Oak Lawn Toyota since 1978, meticulously prepping his meals–a rotating menu of juicy burgers, jumbo hot dogs, or tender pork chops–and effortlessly earning his title as our Master Saturday Chef. Carmie is the older brother of our CEO & President (and my dad), Ronnie Colosimo. My earliest recollections of visiting Oak Lawn Toyota are centered on Saturdays. I have brief flashes of the same memory: I can recall pulling into my dad’s designated parking spot and excitedly spot my Uncle Carmie* (*Christina will interchangeably refer to him as Uncle Carmie and Carmie throughout this piece), who was smoking his pipe, getting out of the car and briefly inhaling that bitter smell of pipe tobacco and bbq smoke swirling around the lot. Just before flipping over whatever was on the grill, Uncle Carmie would yell out, “Hey kiddo!” It was an instant jolt of pure joy to my veins. That’s it, the rest of those memories are a blur of prank phone calls and highlighter drawings. The most vivid recollections of Oak Lawn Toyota as a child are centered around my Uncle Carmie–his pipe, his smile, his infectious cackling laugh–his overall presence and the feeling that he would always be there as long as Oak Lawn Toyota existed.
There was a group of men that hung out on Saturdays; my dad’s cousins Sam and Tony, and their friend Warren, along with Carmie and my dad Ronnie. This brotherhood of men spent their Saturdays in my dad’s office, the door closed to outsiders, laughing, sipping homemade wine, and eating spicy Italian meats and sharp Italian cheeses. During the summer before my freshman year of college, I took the position as the Saturday Cashier. It’s standard that the Saturday Cashier must prep the table for staff lunch, putting together the grocery list and setting out the fixings, condiments, and sides that accompany the meal. Trust me when I say that the staff expects their lunch served at noon ON THE DOT every Saturday. Each Saturday morning, Uncle Carmie would call me at work and let me know what meat he picked out at the butcher the day before, and then he’d ask me if there was anything special I wanted from him on the side–grilled chicken or Italian sausage–and every Saturday I informed him that I’d eat whatever he was serving. It was a brief call but one I looked forward to at 9 AM every Saturday. There was a point that summer when I heard loud laughter from my dad’s office and went in to chastise grown men for “being too loud” because I worried that customers would complain. I opened the door to find Uncle Carmie laughing his infectious giggle, gasping for air, at something someone had said, and I saw the joy on each of their faces and knew that whatever was happening outside of that door didn’t matter–this was their oasis from the world. It was unavoidable, I began to laugh at Uncle Carmie’s unrestrained outburst. Over the years, that office has been the place for countless Saturday gatherings. They have congregated behind that door to toast to new life, mourn the loss of loved ones and sometimes each other, celebrated victories (White Sox ’05 was a big year for that crew), and find inspiration when disappointment loomed.
I recently asked Carmie’s son, Wayne, what Saturdays at Oak Lawn Toyota meant to Carmie and why he continued to cook for the staff year after year, week after week. Wayne responded, “It was his #1 priority; on Fridays, he made sure everything was ready for the next day. It was the first thing on his mind when he woke up on Friday. Beyond that, to be with everyone, he wouldn’t miss it for the world. It was a bonding guy club.” Carmie had been a retired electrician for the past 31 years but faithfully worked as Oak Lawn Toyota’s Master Saturday Chef for over forty years.
I cannot overstate Uncle Carmie’s place in our culture, an indispensable fixture of life at Oak Lawn Toyota. But nothing is permanent and change is inevitable. With Ronnie Colosimo at his side, Carmie passed away on Tuesday, July 9, 2019. I’m not sure what Saturdays will look like without Carmie Colosimo. He was the last of the original “crew” behind the office doors, and while new ones have joined the group, the loss of Carmie casts a somber veil over Saturdays at Oak Lawn Toyota.
A few years ago, while celebrating Oak Lawn Toyota’s 45th Anniversary, we presented Carmie with his “Master Saturday Chef” award, honoring his 40 years as Oak Lawn Toyota’s Saturday chef. (You can watch the video below.) Uncle Carmie’s face is beaming with pride as he is acknowledged by our staff. Upon closer viewing, I see so much love and admiration for Carmie from the Oak Lawn Toyota staff that it brings tears to my eyes. Carmie was the kind of guy who injected joy into his surroundings. His laughter alone was contagious to anyone within a 100-ft radius of him. I don’t think Carmie would want us to somberly mill about on Saturdays because he’s not there any longer. Saturdays were his “#1 priority” and I think second on that list was “joy”. Carmie brought the best out in all of us–he made us laugh and see that even when the world is a dark place, humans can share happiness, and that leaves an indelible mark on all of us.
Tomorrow is our annual BBQ for the Troops, a fundraiser in support of the USO of Illinois. Uncle Carmie has ALWAYS been a supporter of this event and of course, the chef in charge of getting those hot dogs out to the masses. Tomorrow, we’re congregating to raise money for the USO of Illinois, but we’re also celebrating Uncle Carmie–his life, his contributions to Oak Lawn Toyota, and the memories we continue to share about him. Uncle Carmie was a WWII Veteran and this event had become a favorite of his so why not honor him this year?!
Tomorrow is the first Saturday without Uncle Carmie at Oak Lawn Toyota. He won’t be there wearing his Oak Lawn Toyota polo, puffing on his pipe, and laughing with my dad behind closed office doors after manning the grill for an hour. The loss will be felt. But it won’t take long before someone brings up a “Carmie Story” which will lead to another, and then his distinctive laugh will come up, and we will all be filled with joy because that’s just what Uncle Carmie continues to do.