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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
August 23rd, 1920 - May 20th, 2013