Every Day (Pushcart Prize Nominee, SFLR 2019)

by James Hena

Every day, I wake up to a picture of you and a light sizzle of eggs in a pan, toast shooting into the air with a golden crisp, and the grease from the bacon popping everywhere. I place these items onto a plate alongside a coffee, light cream, two sugars and an orange juice, no pulp. I walk out of the kitchen leaving a trail of smells, through the hallway filled with plaques and awards with your name engraved: James Hena. I gently push your brown door open; a wind of heat tackles me and an electronic scream enters through my ears, like the slowing of a car with beat-up brake pads.

“Grandad,” I say.

“Oh hah, good morning, Okuwah Ta,” he says. My Grandad is an old wise man, with long black and white hair flowing down his shoulders, a prickly beard, thick glasses that change to shades when a ray of sunlight hits them, two light brown hearing aids sticking out of his ears, and wrinkles engraved into his face, the type of wrinkles you would see in a dusty picture of an old Native American chief looking a little pissed off. But Grandad wears a smile of pure happiness. He’s dressed in a plaid collared shirt tucked neatly into his Levi jeans, strapped up with a black belt. A gold and silver watch on his wrist and the cleanest Nike shoes you will ever see, plus a white and blue Dallas Cowboys round-brim hat.

“Here Granddad, I brought you your breakfast.”

“Thank you, do you want some?” he says.

“No Granddad, I have mine in the kitchen. Do you want to come eat in the living room with us?” I ask.\

“Nooo, it’s too cold in there, I like the heat in here!” he says with a big smile.

“Okay, I’ll let you eat and watch your old Western. Call me if you need anything.”

“Huh!” he says, confused.

I project my voice a little louder: “Call me if you need anything!”

“Okuwah Ta!” he says before I leave the room. “Want to go fishing?” he adds, with the biggest manipulative smile.

“Heck yea! I’ll get the stuff ready.”

As I leave the sauna of a room, I close the door a quarter of the way, leaving it ajar, so I can hear my Granddad call for me. I’m excited. Fishing is a big part of our family, and it is very special to go with my Granddad, the centerpiece of our family. He is the glue that sticks the pieces together. He is looked up to by all of the family, community members, leaders from around the world. He devours knowledge and shares what he has learned with his community, to make each of us stronger and more knowledgeable. He is an Army Veteran; he has traveled the world; he has met many past Presidents of the United States. He was there to witness Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. With many different attributes to this man, he is strong in every one of them.

All the gear is packed and we hit the road. First we stop at Walmart. My Granddad needs his Sunkist soda, which he calls his “orange one,” and a yellow bag of peanut M&M’s. The snack mission complete, we hit the road again. Everywhere my Granddad goes he has a Sunkist. Oh! And napkins, always a stack in his pocket, along with some butterscotch candies in yellow tinsel, a Swiss Army knife, and a fat wallet. In my hands it was more like a hamburger.

After a couple hours of driving and listening to Pow Wow songs, we hit the river. Two poles in the water, nice fresh air, and a quiet, yet not soundless place – it all makes a person think, why go anywhere else? There is only one other place I would rather be and that is the baseball field. However, only if my Granddad was in the stands cheering me on. He comes to every game, no matter the travel and always, always, always, gives me a high five after the games. Even if I was so mad and slammed the back car door closed, I would see his hand slowly appear from the passenger seat, not looking at me, head turned and waiting patiently for me to give him a little slap.

The rod makes a spinning sound and we start pulling fish out like nobody’s business. Packed into the cooler and placed in the truck bed, we’re ready for the long drive. Back home, I place the fish in the freezer and help my Granddad to bed. I help him take off his shoes and pants, then empty his pockets out onto his bedside dresser. After I’m done tucking him in, I sit on the edge of the bed and watch his Western with him until he gets tired, and when he does, I say, “Goodnight Granddad, I’m going to get ready for bed.”

“Okay, goodnight,” he replies.

A soft and quiet goodnight, a hug and a kiss.


I wake up to you every day, with a wish, that death would have stayed away

I think about how I would see you every day

You sculpted me into the man I am today

And for that, I thank you every day

I see you on my bed stand, in picture frames

It’s going to be hard to live up to the name James

Every time I think about you, my heart bursts to flames

But behind the blaze

My heart carries a memory of you, and that shall stay

I miss you every day.