Opa A Life Revisited

The man was a genius in the kitchen. Long before the current crop of celebrity chefs you see on every other cable channel. I never saw him in anything but salt n peppers, those black and white checked pants that chefs wear, and a winter coat. Spending his life in front of 425 degree ovens and over hot grills left him cold in anything less than about a 95 degree outside temperature. Any season, any time, he wasn’t working, that was his wardrobe. At work, he lost the winter coat and added a chef’s apron and a dress shirt. That was what he wore when he cooked. Although cook doesn’t fully describe the man. He was a chef, a working man’s chef.

He’d worked in restaurants from Washington DC, to middle Tennessee, to the mountains of Colorado. He married a beautiful German woman, Marga, and they had three children together. Stefan, now a 6’5″ strapping man, and twin red headed daughters, Colleen Faith and Caren Hope. He always said they needed alot of both, Faith and Hope.

Once he got to Colorado, he considered it his home. If he left, he always, eventually, came back. He owned a restaurant in Estes Park, Colorado for over ten years until his retirement. Retirement to him only meant one thing, more time to work harder. He baked bread in a donut haus for years after, supplying the local restaurants with bread that was often their most popular menu item. Dozens of loaves and hundreds of rolls daily. This from a man who was allergic to flour.

After his divorce, he lived in a rented 300 square foot Colorado cabin for over 20 years. It was filled with opera, clocks, and kitchen equipment. His passions.

I became related to this orphaned Irishman thru marriage to his daughter. He was a man who spoke his mind and didn’t mind a broken nose or two in his earlier Navy years. When I met him he had slowed down nary a step. He still spoke his mind, but then usually left it at that.

I visited the “Mountaineer,” his restaurant, shortly after meeting his daughter. It was a family operation. Dad, Mom, son, and twin daughters. Hand cut steaks, filleted trout, prime rib, crab legs, vegetables, fried mush, and oh those cinnamon rolls. But, under no circumstances ask for substitutions. Breakfast, lunch, dinner seven days a week. He did it his way. He did it good, but not always right. Early mornings to late at night he was always there, without fail. He had a family, but that was his life.

He recovered from the disease of alcohol early on and stayed sober for over 35 years. He helped countless people thru AA at a recovery center in Estes. He was the go-to guy if alcohol was kicking your tail and you were tired of being a punching bag. He saved more people than he would have ever mentioned.

He became Opa, grandfather, to my children, three years after I married his daughter. He enjoyed three other grandkids from my wife’s siblings as well. He became the bull in the china shop grandfather who loved his grandkids, but didn’t quite remember that they were still, kids.

Flying to Colorado one Thanksgiving to visit, he asked us ahead of time, what would we like him to make for dinner. Prime Rib, absolutely Prime Rib, with homemade coarse ground horseradish. That was beyond favorite for my wife and I. We arrived with family, sat down to dinner, and proceeded to enjoy the biggest turkey you had ever seen, along with all the sides to go with it. We kind of looked at each other, but nobody said anything between mouthfuls. As we were just about done, he jumped up, slapped his forehead, and startled us all by yelling, “How the heck could I forget the prime rib?”

In that tiny oven in his cabin, no bigger than most microwaves, this Opa had cooked the most beautiful hunk of prime rib you had ever seen, along with the horseradish, and then totally forgotten about it. We had prime rib for dessert that Thanksgiving. We never even got to the pumpkin pie.

He was never one to talk your ear off. He’d call you on the phone and he’d be done by the time you got your hello out. “Just wanted to call to tell you I loved you.” I couldn’t count the number of times we heard him say that over the years, with a quick goodbye after.

In the day of online banking and debit cards, we knew to expect one card from him at Christmas. It always had a fresh one hundred dollar bill in it with the words, Love Dad. We always tried to do something special with his gift.

In his later years, during visits, he would sit longer and talk more. He was on oxygen and treating diabetes. You could always count on my wife, getting him stirred up about the latest news developement. I’d poke her in the ribs and tell her to stop, but she’d plow right on ahead, and they’d be off to the races.

A good friend found Opa one afternoon, in bed, from a sleep he never woke up from. Family came together to share his passing and everyone he truly loved was at the funeral home. He asked to be cremated and that his ashes just be dumped in a flower pot somewhere. We ignored that last request.

Months later, Opa was laid to rest on a beautiful flower covered meadow, overlooking a lake, at the base of some mountains in Colorado. If you know Colorado, you know the kind of meadow I’m talking about.

Dennis George Peter Grady had finally come home.

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