The way Sherman told it, he was born before the first big war and grew up in the desert southwest. Home was on a piece of land that may have once been — or at some time wanted to be — a farm. But like most of the area it was dry, hard dirt and scraggly, if not dead, trees and brush. A house of rough, weather-beaten boards offered little protection from the sun, wind or rain.
As the oldest of four, Sherman knew his role. He watched out for the others — like the day they came home from school and found the note on the kitchen table. It was from their mom. It said she loved them but that she had to go away. She told them to watch out for each other and listen to their father. It said they would be okay. Years later, Sherman would learn she had run off with the preacher, causing a distancing from God that lasted most of his lifetime.
He herded his brother and sisters out of the house and they climbed into the lower branches of the barren tree in front of the porch. After questions he couldn’t answer and tears he couldn’t heal, he made up stories to fill the time until their dad got home from work.
Soon enough Sherman had quit school to care for the younger ones, never to return. As often happened in those days, he left home young, maybe to seek something better, maybe to escape, maybe both. Sherman wandered the west until he settled in Portland, Oregon. He kept working, when work could be found, in restaurants. Sherman never finished school, but he had learned to cook along the way.
As the depression lingered and the next big war approached, Sherman met a young widow who had left a small town to find work in the city. She was waiting tables where he was the cook. Friendship led to more and they were soon living together. It was a scandalous arrangement in the 40s, and even more so because the waitress had a daughter. Neighbors shunned them, as was expected.
The war came and went. They got married. Had a son. Saw their daughter get married and start a family of her own.
Sherman soon became a grandfather. And he was a good one. At family meals, he’d usually announce that the meat of the day was either squirrel or opossum. He’d keep it going until about the time the grandkids were expected to take a bite and then break the tension with a more welcome truth. A few bites in, however, he’d repeat the bluff with enough sincerity that the tension would build again.
Sherman was known for gag gifts at Christmas. And he was known as a faithful scoutmaster who influenced numerous young boys over the years. He drove big, fast cars, usually black Chevrolets. He would joke of needing a new one as soon as it was time to rotate the tires.
In the early 70s, Sherman helped his oldest grandson get his first job as a high schooler, washing dishes at the restaurant where he was working.
However, in his mid-fifties cancer hit, and hit hard. Before long Sherman was eating through a tube and losing weight. He refused to give in. He’d plunge a syringe of pale mush through the tube in his side, smack his lips and announce, “Damn, that tastes good!”
Sherman told of sneaking out of his hospital room at night to go to the corner store for cigarettes. He asked if he could take naps in various caskets to find which was going to be most comfortable. He got a cemetery plot and wanted to have picnics on the spot to “get used to it.”
There was a time his oldest grandson and young wife visited the hospital. The weak-stomached grandson started to wobble after an unexpected medical procedure had taken place. Sherman hopped out of bed and said, “Here, lay down. Looks like you need it more than me.”
During another hospital stay a young chaplain was making rounds and saw Sherman’s name on the roster. He stopped by the room and reminded Sherman that he had been a busboy at a restaurant with him some years back. A friendship grew and Sherman asked the priest if he would officiate his funeral. “Of course, but I am going to ask something of you in return. Are you willing to discuss some readings with me?” He agreed and they began to read and talk about stories from the gospels. Before long, a small group gathered in June of 1979 for Sherman’s funeral and the priest, the one who had been a busboy, led them through the service.
Like most, Sherman was gone too soon. He was my grandfather and I was the one he helped get that first job. I was the one who got wobbly at the hospital. He left me with many great memories. And he left me with two recipes. One is for cornbread stuffing. We use it every year at Thanksgiving, and it is well-loved.
The second is for pumpkin pie. It is pumpkin pie as it was before the trends of locally-sourced, farm-to-table, gluten-free, natural and organic ingredients. And it is good. It, too, comes out at Thanksgiving. I make about six each year. Family and friends talk about it and look forward to its annual return. It has been known to show up at Christmas occasionally, but is generally reserved for Thanksgiving.
I enjoy anticipating the week of Thanksgiving, making sure all ingredients are on hand for the time of preparation. Anticipation is heightened as the smell fills our kitchen and drifts into the family room. While I enjoy the product, my deeper joy is in seeing others dig in.
People now talk about it as my pie, even calling it grandpa’s, because I am one. Actually, I’m closer to the age of my grandfather’s death than I’d like to admit. But I call it grandpa’s pie, because it is grandpa’s pie — Grandpa Goodson’s Pie.
Here’s the recipe, as he wrote it for us. I trust you’ll try it and I know that if you do, you’ll love it.