By, Amy Lemieux
“I once was what you are. What I am, you will be.” – ancient epitaph
Our Grandpa Al. The first senior to come through the door of All Seasons Preschool in 2009. That single fact is telling; he was the first one. Grandpa Al was a doer. He participated. When something needed to be done, he did it. Wherever Al went, he made a contribution. He was a leader in our community, but he was a leader in many communities before he ever arrived here.
At Al’s funeral, I was reminded that we only know our “grandmas and grandpas” upstairs for a small moment in their lives. We catch a glimpse of them at of the tail end of their journey on this planet. Sometimes we experience who they were most of their lives, and other times we see someone totally unlike who they once were. One of the things I deliberately remind myself regularly is that the seniors upstairs had long, rich lives long before they landed here. At his funeral, listening to tales of Al’s life was a powerful reminder that he accomplished many things long before he became a reader in the Autumn Room. That is inspiring and also humbling. At one time, these seniors were us. They were even our children.
Our Grandpa Al lived a full life long before he ever arrived at Inver Glen. Al was born in rural Kansas. He went to a one room schoolhouse and skipped second grade. His father died when he was only fourteen, so his mother became a teacher to support their family. Al forever had an affinity for practical jokes and loved to entertain himself (if not others) with jokes. After graduating from high school early, he joined the military. He learned to fly planes but was badly injured in a car accident just before being deployed for WWII. While in the hospital, he fell in love with the the nurse who cared for him and they were married for 62 years. Al and Gloria had four children, all musically talented. He was an industrial engineer and time keeper for Honeywell. Keeping time was a skill that Al retained wherever he went (ask any of the staff of Inver Glen whose time Al diligently monitored). Always an active member of his church, he taught Bible study and confirmation well into his 90’s.
Gloria and Al were two of a handful of seniors to sleep at Inver Glen the first night it opened. He frequented the preschool, starting the week we opened. He never missed a preschool event. Al led senior exercise class when Sue (the activities director) was gone, helped decorate the building for holidays, and pitched in wherever there was a need.
Al was a friend. He was a friend wherever he saw the need. Since 2009 Al was the leader of “the guys’ table” in the dining room. Whenever there was a single male who needed a friend, Al invited him to sit at their table. Over the years he was here, he made and then lost several good friends; Dick, Jack, Norm, Ed, and Paul. When my own father died, he generously checked in on me on a regular basis, calling himself my substitute dad. Until the end, Al was always alive to possibilities. The day he died, he graciously welcomed us into his new apartment, proudly showing us his WWII mementos. Then he headed to his last Friday happy hour.
Did I get to know “the real Al?” The Al I knew was not a strict rule-keeper like he had been with his own children. For the preschoolers he had all the patience in the world. He told me, “Sometimes I look back and wonder why I was so strict with my kids. I don’t really think the things I worried about are really all that important.” The Al I knew was most definitely not “The Flying Martini” we heard about at his funeral. He told me he was no longer a firm believer in the black and white teachings of his former church. “I don’t think God cares so much about the little details any more. I think God cares about what kind of person we are while we’re here.”
While I only knew Al for ten of his ninety seven years, I believe I got to know the essence of who he was. Al was a man who changed and adjusted as life evolved within and around him. He was a contributor and a friend. As he was, we are. As he is, we all one day will be.