My Dad is gone.
We lived a life apart, touching only occasionally and now even that time is past. My children will grow up with only faint memories of Grandpa, the man with the scratchy chin, deep voice and giant laugh, the man who gave life to their father. But he is not forgotten.
Alfred lived life on his own terms, a strong barrel-chested man with a huge
heart, he was impulsive, frequently broke yet gave what he could to those more
needy than himself. He once called me from the bus station, he had arrived
unannounced in California from Washington without a single penny, he had
borrowed a dime from someone to make the call. When I asked him why he was
penniless he said he had given every penny he had with him to someone who had
told him a hardluck story on the way down. A loner through his later years, yet
he left all that behind to come and live with his mother when she needed him in
her twilight years. A man of grand designs and plans, always looking past what
he was working on to the next "project", a man who lived the philosophy, "if a
little is good then a lot is a whole lot gooder", and finally when his body
failed him, a man who chose to go peacefully rather than live his life under
conditions he couldn't stand.
Alfred was born in 1924. Even as a child he was smarter than average, a trait that sometimes got him into trouble in school. He told me that in the 8th grade he had his own desk in the principles office because he would finish the entire years schoolwork in the first 3 months and then spend the rest of the school year bored and causing trouble. This was before any advanced or accelerated student programs.
His father Jackson Butler (my grandfather) ran a home milk delivery service
in Mill Valley, California, where the milk truck would drive around to peoples
doorstep and drop off the bottles of milk, picking up the empties. One story he
told was that by the time Alfred was 10, his father was having trouble seeing
and he could no longer drive and so at 10 years old Alfred was given a special
drivers permit and drove his fathers truck on the run. For this he was paid $2
per week. However other family members have said that Jack didn't have any
eyesight problems so its hard to know for sure.
He joined the Navy in WWII and was sent back east for training. It was there,
during the night and morning exercises and training out in the cold and wet that
he developed asthma, a crippling condition that eventually led to his medical
discharge. Despite this he served his tour of duty as a tail gunner on
Back home he married my mother, and my brother and I were born. My
mother fondly remembered him as a man of huge passions and gestures, fiercely in
love with her, but unable to settle down, become financially secure and raise
the family. After they parted, his doctor told him the asthma was getting worse
and he would have to move out of the cold clammy Pacific Northwest to Arizona or
Hawaii. He chose Hawaii.
This is my first memory of him, we (my brother and I) would go over and spend
our summer vacation from school in Hawaii living with him. I remember that he
lived life on the giant-side, he had one of the first corvettes, he loved books
and music, had hundreds of books and records and had the largest speakers I've
ever seen (36" cones!) mounted over his bed so he could "feel" the music, he had
grand designs and plans for projects and buildings of all types, each one
meticulously researched and detailed.
He finally remarried, but his wife was very troubled and eventually committed
suicide. After this he withdrew from society, turning into a hermit. He moved to
a remote spot, isolated himself from everyone and prevented contact for many
years. I never understood this about him, but now after years of being a father
and being married I can easily understand how someone can withdraw from
It was only after his mother's 2nd husband passed away and she was struggling to live alone in her advanced years that he came out of his shell and rejoined society. Dumping everything he had spent his whole life collecting, he moved back to the cold rainy weather of Washington State to be with her.
Purchasing the property next door he spent the rest of his life helping her.
They both seemed to thrive under the close contact and had many good years
together before his health began to fail.
It was during these years that I came to know him best. Our family visited when we could and it was always with a sense of wonder to come by and marvel at the work he was doing. Officially "retired" he was busier than two other people, always building and tearing apart. He purchased a mobile home and spent years gutting the inside and custom building it the way he wanted, with special-purpose walls and cabinets, built in shelves, etc. Not one for having a large social circle to sit around and "shoot the breeze" with, he was continuously driven to build and create...modifying the frame of his van to support twin engines "for the steep hills", tearing out the roof to add a second air-conditioner for his planned trip to the desert, rewiring the trailer electrical system to support heavier loads, purchasing and carving the most exotic hardwoods on the planet for custom-built rifle-stocks, installing a 1600 watt stereo to drive his 36" speakers, creating a new more efficient waste-water disposal system on his property, designing the reinforced concrete pad his trailer sat on, etc.
When at last his body could no longer keep up with the life he desired, he couldn't accept a lesser one and faded out quickly and quietly.
I will miss him.
This page is for you Dad.