Once upon a time, a Nebraska High school class produced two lovers. It was the 1930's and prudence was the mode of the day. Their parents were both tea totaling Methodists. He played the piano in a jazz combo. He used to say that what it took was eight hours of practice a day and if you weren't willing to put forth that much effort, you might as well forget it. The band had a trap set, banjo, trumpet and piano, and played the works of all the greats -- Miller, Ellington, the Dorseys -- as well as their own compositions.
Back in the thirties, much as it is today, jazz musicians were looked down upon, with their fornicating, drinking, pot smoking, and associating with minorities. Her parents were scandalized at the prospect of this budding love affair and likely marriage. He was given an ultimatum; quit the band or forget about her. He gave up the piano. In later years, he got to see most of his idols perform in Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Reno, etc. He loved to tell stories of the historic performances he witnessed.
He decided to become a mortician. Shortly after he began his apprenticeship, however, he fell off a roof and injured himself. That left him unable to do any heavy lifting, and so he had to give up his prospects once again. It was during the depression and money was tight, but they persevered. They had three children. During the war, he ran civil defense. He became a community leader.
When I was in kidergarten, I used to go to their house after school and wait until my mom got off work. Every day at noon, I would watch "The Ladmo Show." Ladmo and his pal Harvey Trundle used to live in the park. One day, they bought an unfurnished apartment. They added some cardboard boxs for decor. They launched a major intrigue to discover the ingredients in Jack In The Box's secret sauce. When the show went off the air, I was devistated.
Our family would join them for dinner on the weekends. My brother and I often weren't put to bed until late on these occasions. One night, I kept a careful eye on the clock, and when the time came, I made my move. You can only imagine what I must have thought "Playboy After Dark" would be about. It turned out to be a bunch of men sitting around laughing and talking about nothing particularly dirty. The only woman in attendance was an aging jazz singer. Soon, my adult male relatives gathered around the television. They seemed to understand the proceedings better than I.
As adulthood became my controlling preoccupation, I would see them mostly at holidays or family social functions. The get-togethers were less formal now. Mealtime specialties gradually disappeared, replaced by much simpler fare. They moved to a small condo. The menu collection which once adorned the guest room was now stashed in a closet somewhere.
They had a cabin in the woods, so they spent a great part of their declining years in the mountains. They would fish, or go for walks. My family spent a lot of time up there during the summer months. Sometimes, I would accompany him by myself if he needed help with something. Finally, the time came to sell the cabin as the creeping shadow of health care costs began to darken their lives. He and I took my truck up to the woods, where we packed up their personal belongings and hauled them back to town. These were unhappy trips, but we enjoyed each other's company. He always liked to hear about my experiences in the band; I enjoyed his acerbic stories about my mom's husbands.
His leg still bothered him from that fall off the roof, and he experienced heart problems. The doctors opened him up more than once. One day she fell and broke her hip. She couldn't get up and water the plants, make dinner, clean the house, or perform any of her usual daily tasks. Around this time, she was diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease. They tried in-home nurses, but none met to their satisfaction. They eventually moved into a convalescent home. Once again, it was my truck which performed the bulk of the moving. I shared my grandfather's first meal in the home cafeteria with him. I obligingly listened to the old stories once more.
The last time I saw them in a happy setting was at a party celebrating the fiftieth wedding anniversary of mother's in-laws. We three were the only hold-outs from the old days; everyone else was from the new family. We felt somewhat left out. We sat by ourselves in the den while everyone else hung out in the kitchen and living room. I brought them plates of food and mixed drinks and we chatted for a short while then they went home.
After they died, my brother and I got together and put down some of our memories on paper. Fifteen years have passed, and I recently saw an interview with CC Goldwater, granddaughter of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, and co-producer of a film about his life, "Mr. Conservative." "Everyone should make a film about their grandfather," she said. It inspired me to fish out what we wrote and edit them together into one piece. I decided it would make a fitting conclusion to this series. If you've enjoyed looking at these old menus as much as I, it's them you have to thank. Bon appetit!