I often reflect back to that era long ago in which I spent much of my childhood with Grandpa. He was sick with cancer my whole life at the time, so I thought it was normal to cough up blood. Grandpa was tough, maybe too tough for his own well-being, but he was the Patriarch … that solid foundation on which our family was built. If he had fear of his own mortality, he didn’t ever exhibit it. He was of that pioneer breed that believed if you were able to walk and not bleeding to death, goddamn it, you weren’t sick!
The last couple of years of his life, he couldn’t stand the smell of food cooking toward the end of each day, because it made him extremely ill with nausea. He would sit outside in the evening to ward off the aroma’s side effects. Finally, Grandma just didn’t cook anymore in the evening, and that’s when my mom, Alice, stepped in. We had a beer joint/cafe on old Highway. 288 there in Clute, so Mama would bring lunch and dinner for Grandpa and Grandma, and for us two boys, my brother Danny and myself. (Grandpa and Grandma watched over us, and vice versa, while mom ran her business day and night.)
Grandpa would be so thrilled when mom pulled up in the driveway, because he loved to be surprised by the day’s menu. Mama always asked them what they wanted each day, but Grandpa would tell her, “Alice Lee, just surprise me!” Mom always brought something different for our daily lunch, but for supper, Mama would bring Grandpa’s favorite feast at least four or five nights a week, plus a case of longneck bottled Schlitz beer once a week. (She knew what Grandpa loved, and she made damn sure he got it!) She would pull up to the kitchen window, where Grandpa sat waiting and watching for his baby girl, and hand him the nightly meal through the window. His eyes would light up and he would get as giddy as a school boy, and bellow out, “Hot diggity dog! Alice Lee, you know what I like!” It would be a butt load of Cheeseburgers, dressed all the way to the hilt, and some side orders of French fries and potato chips, and soda pop (for Danny and me), and of course, the Schlitz beer. This memory of the love expressed through a simple daily ritual has forever instilled great joy and pride into my soul’s being.
The summer of 1968 was hard for me to fathom. This was the time when Grandpa died. I was eight (I had no clue to what death was yet) and Danny was twelve, but my brother was already quite an extraordinary young man. He loved baseball with a devout passion (he was a helluva third baseman!), but his love for Grandpa was greater. Danny pretty much assumed the sole responsibility of catering to the every need of Grandpa’s care. Around the time Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, Grandpa was in Houston’s Memorial Hospital for several weeks. It was baseball season, but Danny skipped summer league and went with Grandpa, staying night and day, makin’ sure his every need and want was met. Grandpa didn’t care for hospital food much, so Danny would make a daily trek across the street, to a RX drugstore/diner, and get Grandpa several ham sandwiches, on toast with mustard only, and some chips and pickles. (I’m kind of vague on the details, it’s been forty years.) Danny was Grandpa’s right-hand man in the truest sense. Over the years since, my brother and me have grown apart, our ideas and opinions differ, but I will forever hold Danny in the highest esteem, and have the greatest admiration for him, for his selfless act of sacrifice in honor of family … that being our Grandpa, J. H. Denham. (1890-1968)