Monday, May 27, 2013

Until we meet again...

I've delayed writing this post because I'm not sure how much kleenex I'll use in trying to write it.  I've known this day was coming for a long time, but that didn't make it any easier to say goodbye to my hero, my Grandpa.

I'm very thankful that I was able to take my family to San Diego for a weekend trip.  I was able to go visit my Grandpa in the hospital twice.  It was heartbreaking to see such a great man so weak and frail in a hospital bed.

Much of who I am – my values, my personal likes and dislikes, and my character can be traced to my Grandpa.

When I was little, Grandpa used to read me stories all the time.  When we weren't together, he would read stories onto cassette tapes that I would listen to every night when I went to bed.  At one point, I had listened to him read me the Hobbit so many times that I think I had it memorized.

 
Grandpa with what we called his "mad scientist" hairdo, holding me.

After earning a PhD in Chemistry from University of Chicago, Grandpa was recruited by the Department of Defense to work on a top secret project at an undisclosed location.  As a result, my mom grew up in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where Grandpa was one of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project.  After the war, he worked with Willard Libby who shared his 1960 Nobel Prize for Chemistry with Grandpa for their work developing radiocarbon dating.  When Grandpa retired from Los Alamos Laboratories, he and my grandma moved to Grand Junction, Colorado.

I spent many summers with him in Colorado - hiking, launching rockets, building models, playing chess, going to theater performances, shooting, playing the Japanese strategy game Go, going to amusement parks, going to National Parks, panning for gold (no we never found any, but it was fun anyway).
Grandpa made this tree house at his home and another one at our house in San Diego when I was 6 years old.  The tree house in San Diego was one of my favorite places to be until we moved out of that house when I was 15.

I have at least 10 things around my house that were made by my Grandpa, including this chess table.

Grandpa was an experienced mountain climber, photographer, and master of woodworking.  He taught me an appreciation of nature, the great outdoors, National Parks, classical music, theater, history, foreign cultures, languages, and foods, and he planted the seed that would grow into my passion for traveling the world and gaining new experiences.

After living so long in New Mexico, Grandpa loved bolo ties.  Outside of New Mexico, if he went out to a fancy restaurant for dinner wearing his nicest bolo tie, the maitre d' was in for an earful if he tried telling Grandpa that he needed a tie to dine there.

After my grandma passed away during my sophomore year in college, I helped Grandpa moved to San Diego to live with my mom.  While I was a student at University of San Diego, I used to take Grandpa sailing on San Diego Bay with a picnic lunch.  Grandpa taught me to appreciate things like brie & apples and Camembert cheese.  My favorite things to eat are some quirky acquired tastes, like sushi or mole poblano, but I liked them because my Grandpa liked them and I wanted to be like my Grandpa.

Grandpa standing on the wall in the front yard so it wouldn't look like he was shorter than me. (~1993 when I was a college student at University of San Diego)

While he and my parents instilled in me a deep respect and value for education, Grandpa was very humble and unpretentious.  He never liked for anyone to call him “Dr. Anderson.”  He was simply, Ernie.

When I was 11 years old and upset because the doctor had just told me I had to have surgery on my hip again, it was Grandpa I wanted to call for comfort.  Back then it cost an arm and a leg making a long distance call from a pay phone, but my mom let me.  I can still feel the cold plastic against my ear and sterile smell of that pay phone in the hospital as I cried into the phone, and I can still hear Grandpa's reassuring and soothing voice in my head.  He would come to be at my bedside while I was in the hospital, reading to me and keeping me company.

Twenty-nine years later, sitting by Grandpa's hospital bed, I read to him one of our favorites, The Ransom of Red Chief by O. Henry.  Grandpa also loved Gilbert and Sullivan, so I sang him a couple of songs from HMS Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance.

It has made me very sad over the last many years to see Grandpa's slow decline.  It was like a sock in the gut to me when he wouldn't play Go or chess with me anymore because he couldn't remember his last move and I always won.  It was another sad day when Grandpa stopped using his table saw.  His hands weren't steady enough to do woodworking anymore.  His hearing was so poor you had to shout for him to hear you, so it was very hard to have a conversation with him.  At that point, the only thing he liked to do was sit in his favorite chair and read.  Then at some point he couldn't even do that.  The words on the page no longer made sense to him, and all he wanted to do was sleep.  He lived a long and productive life, and I'm glad he's no longer suffering and trapped in his physically weak body.  The song "Homesick" by MercyMe keeps playing in my head.


I am so thankful for being blessed with such a wonderful role model and mentor.  I will always remember him as the smiling, adventurous, happy, vigorous, wickedly smart, loving Grandpa with the mad scientist hair-do, the bolo tie, and the pocket protector full of pens.

I miss you, Grandpa.

Ernie Anderson
August 23rd, 1920 - May 20th, 2013

10 comments:

Hilary said...

What a beautiful tribute to your dear Greandpa. I'm so very sorry for your loss. It sounds like he was an absolutely wonderful man. Wishing you and yours strength.

Tabor said...

You were certainly blessed to have such a smart, interesting and loving grandfather! What a great part of your life and how wonderful to hear that he lives on through your interests and ideas. It is a grand mission to make someone's life valued, and he did that to you as you did to him. This is a terrific tribute!

Black Shoe said...

This tribute to Ernie is very moving.
He was there for you when I was not.
I too loved him as the man who taught me climbing, racquetball, handball, squash, Go, ... A wonderful father-in-law who was there for you when I was at sea.
He was someone I always looked up to.

Black Shoe said...

This tribute to Ernie is very moving.
He was there for you when I was not.
I too loved him as the man who taught me climbing, racquetball, handball, squash, Go, ... A wonderful father-in-law who was there for us and for you always whether I was at sea or home. He was wonderful with you and everyone who knew him.
He was someone I always looked up to.

2ce43646-c7da-11e2-bc96-000f20980440 said...

Thanks Kevin. This is exactly how I remember him. Your words are just perfect. Much Love, Dyane

kelly said...

Wonderfully worded, Kevin. I am thankful for so many good memories and lessons that came from this one of a kind man.

kelly said...

Wonderfully worded, Kevin. I am thankful for all the good memories and lessons from this one of a kind man.

divrchk said...

Kevin,

I'm so sorry to hear about GPE's passing. I feel lucky to have met him. He was smart, kind, humble, generous, loving... The list goes on and on. This is a wonderful tribute and you did him proud. He will be missed.

-Corey

divrchk said...

Kevin,

I'm so sorry to hear about GPE's passing. I feel lucky to have met him. He was smart, kind, humble, generous, loving... The list goes on and on. This is a wonderful tribute and you did him proud. He will be missed.

-Corey

blunoz said...

Thanks Hilary, Tabor, Dad, Dyane, Kelly, and Corey. I appreciate it.