My father was only given fifty-five years on this earth. In that time he was a son, brother, husband, father, uncle, grandfather, boxer, golfer, a builder, and much more. He was also my mother’s caretaker. In 1948, three years into his marriage with my mother, he signed a document that stated she was released from the Augusta State Hospital in his custody, and he was to watch over her. He kept his promise. He guarded her like a hawk through a tumultuous relationship. Though my mother asked him to leave three times, and sued him for divorce at least two of those times, he always went back to her when she called. He only stopped taking care of her when he dropped dead one hot summer Sunday of 1978. He was helping a neighbor, young Tom Michaud who lived just down the road, dig postholes that August day. Massive coronary. Dead as soon as he hit the ground, another neighbor and cardiologist told us.
Born in 1923 in Roxbury, Maine, he was the fourth child and only boy in his family. He wasn’t raised as a prince because of this, though. He got up at four every morning and worked the family farm as soon as he physically was able. Bob and Sandy, two huge work horses, were close friends. It’s a good thing they liked him. At sixteen, Albert was a Golden Gloves boxer, weighing in at less than 115 pounds. Bob and Sandy had no reason other than love to let Albert work them. Albert’s father insisted he was needed on the farm, so he brought his wife Gracie to the Grant family home after their wedding and lived there until his father died a couple years later.
A product of his times, Dad was a traditional sexist who could spout derogatory ethnic names at work and come home and still in his work clothes, do things like hold onto the back of the seat of my bicycle and walk around and around the driveway while I desperately tried to learn to ride. My mother didn’t believe in training wheels. In the few months before his death, Dad was supervising a construction crew of young men. One worker was African American. He became Dad’s favorite on that building site. Dad told my husband and me at every visit about this nice, smart kid. Of course, the free sandwiches didn’t hurt. My mother would scold my father for packing four or five sandwiches into his lunch bucket each morning. She said they couldn’t afford to feed his whole crew. Dad’s reply was always the same. “Gracie, how can I enjoy my lunch knowing that some of those young lads didn’t have anything to pack a lunch with?”
One of my dad’s joys in life was having his college educated son-in-law, my husband, tear off his tie and take a job as a carpenter. He told everyone this young man was smart enough to realize that building was more creative and challenging than any desk job. They spent many a visit talking shop in the barn after that. Dad’s wooden box containing his woodworking tools sits in my husband’s shop even now although on the job John uses electric tools. Sometimes I am still jealous of the close relationship they developed as John seems to remember more things about my dad than I do. Dad was very guarded with his only girl. I would resort to eavesdropping on conversations he was having with my older brothers to try to understand him better. As a teen and young adult with my brothers off and living their adult lives, I started watching Red Sox baseball with Dad. We loved George Scott, a big bat everyone called “Boomer.” I still love the Red Sox and have always loved their power hitters, probably thinking of Dad as I cheer for them.
One teaching job I had just before Dad left us was near his jobsite at the time. My car failed to start before school, and I called the house to ask Dad if he would pick me up after he was done work. I planned to correct papers until he came. It seemed to be getting late that afternoon, and I was worried he’d forgotten me as he didn’t appear in the foyer of the school. I walked out to the school bus driveway and found him sitting in his beat-up station wagon he used to drive his tools back and forth to work in. I asked him why he didn’t come into the school. He replied that he was worried I would be ashamed of him in his work clothes. He died a few months later. The funeral director at his wake apologized to me for not being able to get his fingernails clean for the open casket. I remarked sarcastically that he wouldn’t be recognizable with perfectly clean fingernails, and the poor director scurried off. Dad has been gone for forty-two years this past August. What I wouldn’t give to have that man pick me up anywhere while he was wearing his grungiest work outfit ever!