These are recent finds, almost a miracle...an intact paper table menu that I well remember serving as the placemats at my grandfather's restaurant, and two package labels for the canned Cook's BBQ products they sold in retail stores and at the cash register counter in the restaurant itself. We had emptied out many boxes from our parents' garage when my dad died: we rented a huge movable dumpster from the city and simply dumped box after box. We didn't bother looking into each box, as it would have taken too much time, and most them were damaged from the elements. We only saved the few that appeared relatively free of mold, insect infestation and cobwebs, etc. We then transferred those remaining boxes to a storage facility. Last summer we decided to go through what was left, take what we wanted to keep and discard the rest or donate it to Good Will. In going through the boxes, we found these few actual remnants from our grandfather's restaurant. They could very easily have been discarded without our ever having known they were there. We found exactly three intact placemat menus, one for me, and one each for my two brothers. Providence!
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
These are photographs we found after my mother died and we were emptying out her house prior to selling it. They show one exterior view and two interior views of COOK'S BARBECUE, my grandfather's restaurant in Evansville, Indiana. My father worked there for his dad as the second in charge. This would have been about 1961 or 62, as the original restaurant was smaller and less modern. The new restaurant commenced construction in 1960, I believe, and was open for business by 1961. I have vivid memories of our weekly lunches there every Sunday after church, and, less often, dinners. We left Evansville in late 1963 and headed to the Jacksonville Beaches in Florida because my father could no longer work with his father, who was, by all accounts, difficult and irascible. My uncle, who worked in advertising in Jacksonville, had put my father in touch with a restaurateur there who was looking for someone to run one of his restaurants. My cousin Bill worked for grandad for a year or two after he was discharged from the Marines--this was after we had left Indiana--and he still talks about how terrible grandad was and how he "ran everybody out of there!" (By this he meant family members who worked for him at various times. Only my grandfather's sister, my Aunt Inez--as sweet as my grandfather was not--stayed with him. She made pies there.) By 1965 everything fell apart. My grandfather, a diabetic with high blood pressure, had a stroke at work one day while--I'm told--yelling at an employee. He never really recovered. The restaurant had to be sold and grandad was placed in a nursing home. After a couple of years, my father and my uncle decided to move grandad down to a nursing home in Florida, where he could receive visits from his family. I remember him at Sunday dinners at our house, where he was mostly quiet, passive, and uncommunicative. He died in 1971 or 72.
I hadn't seen these pictures in years, and my memories of the restaurant are realized in exact detail in these photographs. Not an iota of my memory is betrayed by the evidence here. I have to say the barbecue may have been the best I've ever had. For years after, my father and uncle would have semi-annual cookouts at my uncle's house where they would prepare the recipe for the sauce--which had been devised by my grandfather and grandmother--and would slow cook ribs and chicken on an outdoor brick grill for hours. They replicated the restaurant's output perfectly!
These are quick profile portraits of my father and brother, respectively. I sketched my dad as he napped in his chair. As drawing paper, I used the weekly bulletin of the church we attended when I was growing up, (and where my father continued as a Lay Reader until just before he died). I sketched my brother in a sketchbook as I sat at one end of the couch and he sat at the other, somewhat in repose, watching television. He was covered by a blanket as, even though this was Florida, it was December and quite chilly out, and the heater in our parents' house was not working. I remember thinking I couldn't wait to get back north where I could be warm! (They did get the heater fixed, but not before my brother and I left our Christmas visits home to head back to California and New York, respectively).