Lloyd Albert passed away yesterday. I knew him as my cheeky Grandpa who knew a little bit about everything. But despite almost 93 years of life, I feel I didn’t know him enough. My relationship with Grandpa was in vignettes—summer vacations and reflections from my mother. I grew up in Colorado and he lived in Tacoma, although I had the fortune of seeing him more often these last few years in Portland. In grief, I’m compelled to write about his life. But I’m going to tell a few stories instead. Who he was in-between the major beats in the life:
The Prankster: “Kelly, do you want ice cream?” Grandpa asked on a visit to Colorado. I was maybe four. He handed me a big bowl with a half-teaspoon of mint-chocolate chip. I burst into tears (not the intent). He pulled the same stunt years later on a camping trip, serving me a penny-sized pancake and drop of syrup. By ten years old, my sense of humor has sufficiently ripened and I laughed. I still grin when I see a small fleck of pancake in the corner of a frying pan: a breakfast of champions.
The Feminist: “We need to do something about guns, the climate, and healthcare.” Grandpa became more vocal on politics as we broiled through 2016 and beyond. I don’t know many nonagenarians, but those few aren’t exactly progressive thinkers. Grandpa was pulling for Elizabeth Warren in 2020 just to spite the ex-president. “If she won, I think he’d drop dead of shock.” He voted for women down the ballot in the most-recent local election and made political discourse with an older relative far more comfortable than in most families. We were pleased as punch.
The Film Buff: Grandpa and his late-girlfriend Tony would keep a journal of every film they watched together. As a young man in the Marine Corp, he got a photo with John Wayne, who was shooting a movie on the military base where Grandpa was stationed. Then there was the Bob Hope story, which he always told so gleefully I didn’t mind hearing it over and over. “Your Grandma and I pulled over for gas late one night and she stayed in the car when I went in. There was a guy at the counter paying for gas, very familiar. I tapped him on the shoulder. ‘Hey,’ I said. ‘Aren’t you Bob Hope?’ The old man shook his head. ‘No, but I get that all the time.” Then Grandpa would lean in and whisper. “It was Bob Hope.”
The Informed: Grandpa could tackle just about any personal, political, or pop-culture topic and give an opinion. He kept newspaper clippings of daily trivia and would quiz us kids on ‘this day in history’ over breakfast. From the Hiroshima to Paris Hilton (yes, he once made a Paris Hilton joke), Grandpa had at least cursory knowledge of all things. He was nearly deaf, but as long as we armed ourselves with a pen and paper or a voice-to-text app, the man could carry a conversation better than anyone else in the room. He didn’t pass this trait on to me, but I like to think I inherited his curiosity.
We (my mother and I) made it to his bedside last weekend, after he made the decision to discontinue dialysis. He was “tickled pink” to go into hospice and enjoy his final days in comfort. That Friday would be the last good day. For over 3 hours he chatted non-stop about his mother during the War, old fishing trips (he knew the name of every lake and river in Washington State), and inconsequential family stories that suddenly carried all the weight of the world. He bragged to doctors about his 15 great grandchildren. “Everyone turned out great,” he told us. As my cousin said, “no one was prouder of the family than Grandpa.” On Saturday he woke up disoriented and sleepy. Sleepier on Sunday, sleepier on Monday. He knew this would happen but, just as he wished, he had comfort.
One of the last things I heard him say was, “Look at that horizon.” Now, I love a forced metaphor on the beauty of life. The truth is he was looking at tourism commercial on the hospital TV before falling asleep again. He mustered the energy to say it, maybe because old habits die hard and he was looking for a news headline and saw a picture instead. But I think, at least in part, he noticed a horizon because he loved the great outdoors. Grandpa hadn’t been to his property on the Tilton River for a least a decade, but on that property he was at his happiest. It’s where he taught me how to fish, make a fire, and roast a hot dog. In recent years, his great grandchildren took to the river, bringing home fresh-caught rainbow trout and tales from his little slice of home away from home. That property is our most precious family heirloom. I’ve been visiting again since I moved to Portland and look forward to going back in summers to come.
Early in my career, I went out on a fishing boat at midnight. My brain slipped and sputtered in my skull for a hellish 24 hours. I wished for a moment of stillness, just five minutes to have my feet on the ground without capitulating sideways. But the shore was miles away. There was no reprieve, no stillness, no matter how badly I wanted it. Grief’s like that too. As my mother and I sat at Grandpa’s beside, I wanted stillness more than anything. For myself, but more-so for her. She held his hand, telling him he was the best dad in the world and that she loved him. Softly, he whispered back, “I love you too.” Leaving the hospital that last time was agony. And though with left him in the care and love of local family (we’re forever indebted to my uncle for taking care of Grandpa all these years), pieces of ourselves stayed with him. Why else would we feel so empty?
I knew we’d get here. We’d arrive in a world without the only Grandpa I’d ever known. Was it too soon? Is it selfish to even think so? Ninety-two isn’t too soon by any human metric. But for us—the Bakers, the Alberts, and all who loved him—it’s too soon. I miss him. We miss him. Tacoma, with its dozens of buildings built with Grandpa’s hands, is missing something. In grief, I hope to better appreciate the memories. The pieces he literally made—my family. The piece of property off the Tilton River. Pancakes in the woods. Photos. Newspaper clippings. Life isn’t a puzzle, and I’m belaboring metaphors again. But from one red-head to another, I am a piece of him. He was the best Grandpa in the world, he was loved, and our memories of him are loved.
I love you, Grandpa. Thank you for everything.