July 8 was Grandma’s birthday. She would’ve been one hundred fifteen. It rained and remained cool throughout the day. I called my sister, Shirley, that evening and shot the bull with her a spell. Told her I spent the day watchin’ the rain (I don’t like watchin’ paint dry, but do enjoy seeing rain fall, which to most others is just as bad as the latter) and picked tomatoes from my garden since there was a cool breeze all day (quite unusual for a Texas July).
My sixteen cherry tomato plants are producing fifty-plus fruits per plant, with new limbs sprouting and flowering still. Not bad for my first garden in forty years.
I took my medicine around eight, went to bed at eleven, and soon fell asleep. Sometime through the night, I entered the most vivid, peaceful, serene dream.
I was walkin’ easily, with the cane I made held in hand, and a half-century old as I am this day, down a hallway I’d ran a thousand times before as a child. It was my Grandparents’ house in Clute, just as I remembered it from the early 1960s. At the end of the hallway was Grandma’s kitchen. A most sacred place, a holy place to me, for Grandma and Grandpa are always there, waiting for me to come visit. It had been a very long while since the last time and I was excited and overwhelmed with happiness. As I entered, I saw Grandma sittin’ at her end of the kitchen table, closest to the Dutch oven stove where she cooked and baked almost every day of my young life.
Mark: Grandma, I’m here!
G.M.: I knew you’d come see me!
Mark: Yes Ma’am, Happy Birthday! Where’s Grandpa?
G.M.: Oh, he’ll been in—in a little bit. I baked a nine-egg cake and made coffee.
Mark: Hot damn! That’s my favorite, Grandma.
(You gotta try Grandma’s famous nine-egg cake ... it’s the stuff Texas legends are made of. She made the best damn coffee as well. Nothing but Folgers’ brand ever brewed in that ol’ stainless steel percolator of hers. Grandma always added a wee bit of egg shells to the grinds, to cut away the bitterness, because Grandpa liked his coffee good and strong.)
Mark: Grandma, I talked to Shirley today.
G.M.: Is she doin’ all right?
Mark: Yes Ma’am! Her and Buddy are doin’ great. Shirley’s retired now
G.M.: And your brothers ... Allan and Danny doin’ good?
Mark: Well Grandma, the last time I saw them ... they’re doin’ great.
G.M.: When was that?
Mark: Three years ago.
G.M.: Boy, you best get off your butt and talk to them! Don’t let no ill will come between you and your blood.
Mark: Yes Ma’am.
About that time, I hear a familiar baritone voice bellow from down the hall ... It was Grandpa!
G.P.: Boy here yet?
G.M.: Yep, Mark’s here! You ready for coffee and cake?
G.P.: Oh yeah, you betcha! And grab my sugar outta’ the cabinet.
(You see, Grandpa had always hidden away from us grandkids his quart of very special sweetener, also known as Irish Whisky. Grandpa walked by, patted and rubbed my head, as he had done hundreds of times before, but this time, a familiar sound was missing.)
G.P.: Kinda bald there, ain’t ya’ boy!
Mark: Yes sir. Where’s your crutches, Grandpa?
G.P.: Don’t need’em here ... you are as you entered the world. Nice cane ... nice cane you got there, son. Glad to see my teachin’ ya’ whittlin’ didn’t go to waste.
Mark: No sir, it sure didn’t. I’ve whittled four pieces to help me walk. A heavy-duty staff with intricate carving and a thick crutch. A walkin’ stick with a fancy knob carved outta’ the top. This solid cane, which can double as a headknocker if need be.
G.P.: Well done, boy! Top notch! When the time comes though, you won’t need ’em here. But, if you like, you can bring ’em along just the same ... and you know, it’s not your time yet. You best get your ass to the doctor and have that big toe taken care of. There’s good reason for your condition ... stay strong in mind as your stamina fades. You hear me, son!
Mark: Yes Sir! Pretty much figured that out now, Grandpa.
G.P.: Good! Well, I guess you’re old enough for my kind of sugar now. Mama, where’s my whisky?
G.M.: I’m gettin’ it ... hold your horses.
G.P.: You like your coffee black, now ... with a little sugar?
Mark: Yes sir, just like you.
G.P.: Glad to see I rubbed off on you. Mama, blow out ‘em candles and slice us some of that fine nine-egg cake.
G.M.: Hold your horse, Jim ... let me make my wish.
G.P.: Here you go, Mark ... coffee with a splash, two splashes for me. Don’t want to get ya’ drunk off your first mug.
Mark: You can get wasted here, Grandpa?
G.P.: Oh hell yeah, Boy! You can do anything your imagination can see. Now let’s sit a while. We’ll eat some cake and drink our coffee while shootin’ the bull for a spell.
And there we sat ... Grandpa, Grandma, and me. Aroun’ the ol’ kitchen table, drinkin’ coffee sweetened with whisky, eatin’ legendary nine-egg cake, and shootin’ the bull with the people you love. Sure seems like Heaven to me.