Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Joshua Tree

Some of you may remember the 1973 Chevy van.

Some of you may have dated me when I drove the 1973 Chevy van.

The van, of course, belonged to my grandfather, and it took me many places. Once, in the early 1980s, the van took me on a weekend trip with my grandparents to the high desert of Southern California. Just beyond the pretentious shimmer of Palm Springs, east and to the north, lay the raw expansiveness of the Joshua Tree National Monument. It's more of a park really, filled with, and named for, the upward-rising aboriginal trees of the region.

My grandparents gave me time to climb giant boulders and chase vicious looking lizards. However, my grandfather also took the opportunity, as he often did, to teach me a few things along the way. Geology. Botany. Theology. Photography. He was especially generous with his very expensive camera equipment, and showed me how the knobs and buttons worked.

That's what he did. It was who he was. He was a teacher, not by trade, but rather by birthright. With the exception of perhaps Carl, he was the smartest person I've ever known, and he freely shared the fruits of his knowledge for the pure benefit of others, as often as he could.

He could fix anything. Anything. Mechanical. Electrical. Plumbing. Wood. Metal. I once saw him repair a Volkswagen air pump with scrap parts from a Ford fuel pump. He once took his pick up apart and reassembled it, just for kicks. He built his own computers, and could hang dry wall.

He tried to impart this knowledge upon me. I tried to learn as much of it as I could.

He also had a passion for travel, and drove that Chevy van more than once to all of the far corners of this continent. Sometimes he took me with him.

Which leads to one of his favorite stories.

It was 1987, and I was forced against my will to pile into that Chevy van with the whole family for a lengthy excursion to the distant Pacific Northwest. Vancouver Island, to be exact, although I was dragged through Oregon and Washington to get there.

I was 16 years old, and very unhappy about all of this. See, school was out, I had a driver's license, and Dr. B had his parent's house to himself for those two weeks. The last place I wanted to be was in that van. So, I slept on the back bench most of each day, like a prisoner, interacting only when necessary.

It was also just after the release of U2's "The Joshua Tree," and I played that cassette tape endlessly on my Walkman, while awake, headphones firmly planted in protest over my ears.

At some point, somewhere in Washington, I woke up. We were stopped, and most of the family was out of the van. I looked up. We were on some sort of bridge over some river.

"There's a submarine passing under the bridge. Folks are getting out to look, if you're interested." Said my grandfather, as he was stepping out.

"Whatever, I've seen submarines." I responded. "I mean, if it was a Trident, that would be interesting..."

He left me to wallow. I returned to my music.

However, after the warship had long since passed, he returned to the van and casually announced that it was, in fact, a Trident submarine, but he knew I was busy and didn't want to bother me.

Old man: 1
Jackass teenager: 0

I wasn't surprised when I got the call from my mom tonight. Grandpa died peacefully in his sleep this evening, having had the opportunity to say good bye to everyone he knew. He did a lot of good, and helped a lot of people. He saw many places, and knew many things.

He will be missed.


  1. Charlie6:56 AM

    If you are free, come down Saturday and we will toast grandparents, parents, and our children. We will drink only the best in their honor and watch our children play as they watched us.

  2. catch7:21 AM

    Grandfathers tend to be brilliant. Yours sounds like a gem.

  3. Anonymous9:00 AM

    I'm sorry.

  4. First of all, let me say that I am sorry for your loss. Your grandpa was cool. Getting news like that is never easy to take. Even when you are expecting someone's passing, there is still surprise when it finally happens.

    I'd like to believe that he is in a better place. However trite it may sound...I'm sure God needed his air conditioning fixed. Maybe your Grandfather will put in the good word for ya up there.

    On a lighter note, Those two weeks that you were gone were probably some of the best times in my life.
    We drank, we laughed, we made pizzia, but mostly rejoiced that you were not there.

    By the way, I still have the stupid card that you sent me from Butchart gardens...thats some funny shit.

  5. My condolences to you, Brian. I hope to go out the same way, myself, and I'd like to have a big party before I do it too. :)

    And The Joshua Tree remains one of my top favorite albums of all time.

  6. So now that you have my neurons firing again...Grandpas house in Glendora will always have special memories for me. It was filled with teenage discovery and sin. I will never forget the motor home in their backyard either. Also, when they were away one time how I rebuilt my 65 chevelle engine. Good times!!

  7. Im sorry for your loss and that of your mom and grandma.

    From the stories you've told me about your grandpa, I think it shows where you get being a great dad from

    I'm sure he was very proud of how his jackass grandson turned out

  8. I peed all over

  9. Oosje6:57 PM

    There will always be a spot in your tackle box of life with his energy. Use what you learned and pass it on to the monkey and the mockingbird. I should hope to be as important in their lives as he was in yours. I am humbled by his being. I love you

  10. When I say good bye to someone I love - words WILL fail me - but memories are always there to comfort me. You just demonstrated your brilliance at being able to do both. OK - enjoy the flattery - it won't last long or else that jackass van driving sweatshirt teenager might come back.

  11. Auntie to a Monkey and a Mockingbird6:28 PM

    I had the pleasure of meeting this brilliant and kind man on one of my favorite days ever....It was Thanskgiving and I was among people who were all family to someone but not necessarily to each other. He will always be a special part of that day for me.

  12. the real tom9:27 PM

    I am sorry to hear about Ben. I've seen his impact and influence on you in many ways over the years. You were the only 8th grader I knew who subscribed to Time magazine (thanks to him picking up the tab for the subscription). You spoke many times as an authority on many topics, and just when I would be baffled you knew anything about cb radios or plumbing, I would realize him as the source of your knowledge. Your respect of him is a testment to the kind of grandfather he was. I'm sorry he's gone, but I am glad you got to say goodbye.Our thoughts are with your Grandma and your family.


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