My cousin Jerry is fighting liver cancer. Like so many families today, our loved ones have fought some tough battles with cancer. I wish that it could be different.
As I write, I’m praying for my cousin who has enriched my life by teaching me early on as a preschooler why nature and living life full-on is so important.
Of course some of the adventures were injury provoking. I remember being challenged, like my mom was by her brother, to jump off a chicken coop deep in our backyard. I used to use those play tins to make mud cookies and cakes in the vacated coop; but on one visit or two, Jerry thought it would be fun to jump off the six-foot high roof. Me? I was always ready for a dare or competition with him. I didn’t injure myself but years before my mom broke her arm when my uncle challenged my mom (as a child) to likewise jump off a similar coop. For me, as I look back, it was Jerry’s version of Indiana Jones.
I can trace my love of nature back to exploring the woods and bramble bushes with him. Jerry would take his BB gun in hopes of snagging a rabbit that would be eaten like chicken; and my aunt would pack a paper-bag lunch of PB&J, apple and Kool Aid for us. After a bit we’d huddle under and within those and eat our lunch. Those days in Texas, I enjoyed spying the rabbits and birds in and around Mesquite trees; like Roy Rogers on Saturday morning series, we looked for critter tracks. What an adventure.
Jerry loves to fish, too; and he’s been up to the La Jara Reservoir a time or two and spent the day. He’s camped out with Penny, his lab, buddies and family. He’s taken his daughters and granddaughters camping and exploring along the Conejos River, too, where the river’s whispers breathe new air into stressed souls.
Back a few decades, my step-dad Joe took Jerry fishing when he visited us at Randolph AFB in San Antonio. I understand they enjoyed the man bonding which included cold ones, minnows and Texas perch. Where we lived had oodles of pecan trees; so when Jerry visited we’d often pick pecans, peel and crack them. I love pecans to this day – though I’m allergic now and eat them with an abundance of caution. We would gather huge brown grocery bags full of pecans!
We went to Immanuel Lutheran Church in Mercedes and he was always right there with his mom in the pew. In the evening, we shared nightly devotions from Little Visits with God with my sister and me. That devotion book generated a lot of prayers and “thank you’s” for supper. We had arm wrestles and I was determined to beat Jerry, at least once, then settled for “maybe one day.”
Jerry has a few fish tales in his “jawin’” repertoire. He’s been deep-sea fishing off Galveston and Padre Island. He has gone crabbing and craw fishing. He talked once or twice about stabbing flounder. And he can talk forever about his Dad (Uncle Willard) and their fishing exploits.
As I am praying for Jerry to heal from this cancer, I’m also remembering what a gifted cook he is. He takes after his dad who cooked for VIP’s and mobsters at Galveston’s Balinese Room. He also takes after his mom, my Aunt Leona, who could make a meal with ragtag ingredients. In years past, he showered folks at Conejos County Hospital with his cinnamon rolls. For his church in Manassa, he would often barbecue ribs and other meats for celebrations. I remember back in 2003 when he was the cook for a back yard party I threw for my Adams State students. His bbq chicken was the hit of the event. He also was a cook on different oilrigs in the Gulf.
So my prayers are with you Jerry as you fight this cancer. Remember your adventures, your wise cracks and your faith.
(After this column was written, Jerry passed away. Gifts to defray costs of cremation, as well as condolences, can be sent to Mandy Watkins, 958 Simpson Terrace #110, Bedford, Texas, 76021. Jerry Watkins 11/30/1949 to 4/19/2017)
Nelda Curtiss is a retired college professor who enjoys writing and fine arts. Contact her with ideas for her next column at [email protected]