I’ve been putting off writing this post for a while now. Ok, actually, I’ve been putting off sitting down to type this post for a while. I’ve been writing it for weeks—in the car, in the shower, in the rare moments of quiet I stumble into, when I find myself without a text conversation or social media outlet to distract me. I’ve been dreaming words, sentences, and paragraphs that would capture how I feel (how, in so many ways, I hope I always feel) and many of those words were lovely. They were sweet and eloquent, sharp and powerful. But I couldn’t let them onto the paper, or onto the screen, as the case may be.
Because, I feared, they would just never be enough. Not enough adjectives to describe him, nor verbs to detail his adventures, or the way that he loved. Really, are there ever enough pages to capture a life? I mean really and truly grab hold of the biggest and smallest moments—every kiss on the cheek or squeeze of a hand, or rattle of ice in a glass? Are there volumes great enough to contain it all?
Yeah, I don’t think so either. But here I am, typing away because he deserves my words, however insufficient they may be. Truthfully he deserves so much more than my words, but words are what I have. So I’ll offer them anyway.
When I was very young, I used to wander into my grandpa’s home office. First in my grandparents’ home on Vista Way in Edmonds, WA, where a spiral staircase led to a loft above the kitchen where grandpa did his “work”. And later, at the third-floor condo, overlooking Puget Sound, where he lived while I collected most of my memories of him. The latter office was often the overflow coat stash for our family on holidays and birthday parties if the bed in the master suite was already covered. It was across the hall from the guest bathroom, so when I slipped away from the happy chaos in the living room to pee, I’d inevitably find myself in there, wide-eyed.
The desk, sturdy, solid wood, still sits by the window. His phone, shaped like a powder-blue classic car (the horn honks when a call comes in) is next to a large table lamp. There’s a framed picture of him with his three brothers at his retirement party in 1991, years before each of their bodies would gradually fail them. There’s an alarm clock, digital, with blue numbers, and a souvenir golf ball from a long-ago game. Pinned on the lampshade is his Boeing badge, featuring his smiling face at around age 60 and his name: ARTHUR H LOWELL, in all caps. What the badge doesn’t tell you about his career, the walls of that office do. Plaques and accolades, medals and certificates. A massive portrait of him, painted with airplanes and space shuttles in the foreground, hangs in a frame. The portrait was in commemoration of his retirement after 39 years. Surrounding it inside the frame are hundreds of signatures and well-wishes. On the dresser underneath the picture is a tiny TV, where my cousins and I used to watch Gulliver’s Travels and The Wizard of Oz on VHS. Next to the TV are an antique abacus and an old Christmas card from President George H.W. and Mrs. Bush.
As a child, I never understood what all of it meant, those tokens of an impressive professional journey. But somehow, stepping into that room made me feel PROUD, though I never could have articulated it then.
Every chance he got, my grandpa would teach me and my cousins about our family, about our past. When I was six, he and my grandma flew me, along with my six and seven-year-old cousins to his hometown of Juneau, Alaska. We stayed in his brother’s home, and visited the Alaska Pioneer home, where we met his mother Anna (pronounced Ah-na), age 103 at the time. She was very old and not entirely able to interact with us very well, but even now I wish to God I’d paid more attention. I vaguely remember him speaking to her, and it hurts my heart a little that I can’t remember it better: That powerful man, kneeling next to the woman who’d raised him, speaking into the microphone of her hearing aid so she could hear him better. As children are wont to do, though, I was likely distracted by my toys or my cousins or my shoes. Over the years, my mom and her siblings have joked about how crazy it was for my grandparents to have taken three first-graders North to Alaska for a WEEK. It’s only now that I realize what a precious gift he was giving, and how important it was for him to give it: He wanted us to meet her. He wanted her to see what he had created in his life, and for us to see from where, from WHOM we came. She died two years later. She passed in the dead of winter, so all four brothers and their wives would bury her in the spring, when the ground had thawed and new life would bloom around her grave.
We would visit that grave as a family of twenty-four in 2002. I was sixteen, and my grandparents took the whole crew on a cruise to Alaska to celebrate their 50th Anniversary. Grandpa chartered a tour bus in Juneau, and took us to the hospital where he was born, the church where he was baptized, and the house where he grew up. He showed us his high school and the route to which he delivered the newspaper on December 7, 1941. He showed us his parents’ graves, side by side, and his father’s name on Juneau’s fisherman’s memorial.
On that trip, we ate salmon and Baked Alaska. Our family told stories and laughed, and had squirt gun fights from our staterooms, shooting streams of water across the hallway, more than once hitting innocent passersby. My uncle bought my cousin and I our first Tequila Sunrises, insisting that someday when I was older, I would remember my uncle Mike, and how he bought me my first Tequila Sunrise when I was 16.
Wouldn’t you know? I do. And I always will.