Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tribute to the Old Man

Albert Johnsen loved books and fishing and books about fishing and the sea and flying.

His favorite drink? Coffee. Black. Any time of day.

His signature dish: meatloaf.

Also waffles, served with strawberries and whipped cream.

He loved calliope music, pipe organs, big bands, folk, country, rock'n'roll ...

He played the sousaphone in high school.

He learned to fly at an early age, and once had to crash land in an orchard outside Hood River, where he was born and raised. He was not a religious man, but often told of the presence he felt in the cockpit with him, letting him know everything was going to be alright.

He climbed mountains and weathered storms.

He sat in a wooden tower and watched for forest fires, sold shoes in the family's store, fought fires as a volunteer, was elected port commissioner, drove truck, routed freight, and sold real estate.

He married his college sweetheart, a bathing beauty from Baker, and they had four daughters. He loved them all. (I married one of them and love her to pieces.)

Like his father, he was always on time and expected you to be on time, too.

He always wanted to write but never got far. Instead, he painted, carved, sculpted, and drew faces.

He liked Buster Keaton and Red Skelton and was a bit of a clown himself.

If you asked him an obvious question you got a smart-aleck answer and a goofy look.

His daughters learned not to pull his finger.

All his life he loved vanilla ice cream, and that was his last meal, fed to him in his hospital bed by his oldest daughter. He was 84, often confused but still funny and charming.

I think of him whenever a plane flies overhead.

It's easy to picture him soaring over Mount Hood and Lost Lake—and here, now—along with the mysterious presence that keeps him safe.