Yesterday I went to the funeral for Cal Albert, my tax guy of some 20 years, a sharp-as-a-tact conservative Republican with a distinguished military record, an articulate distaste for where this country is headed, a wife he cooked and cared for, and several cats the size of big possums. In many ways — except for the love of cats and growing irises — Cal and I were as different as could be, yet I loved him, and our annual visits were sweet annual ceremonies of tax forms, C-SPAN in the background, and catching up on each other’s families. He didn’t have to do my or anyone’s taxes, especially in his later years, but I think he liked visiting with people, and also helping us too. For my part, I just figured someone with his political bent would be far better at keeping the government from getting any excess taxes from me than anyone else.
We talked about cancer (both of ours), car accidents that shook up and almost caused irreparable damage in our families, how our kids and his grandkids (and great-grandkids) were doing, the outrageous cost of college, the stupidity of George W and before that, the embarrassment of Bill Clinton (although one of us, and that wasn’t Cal, largely supported Clinton’s policies), why it was a bad or good year for tulips and daffodils, and how the tax code kept outpacing itself in new records for sheer confusion and idiocy.
In many ways, we brought to each other’s lives the opposite of the usual suspects, but our political differences made little difference. I was excited when Cal was honored as Kansas Republican of the year, and he was thrilled what I was named Poet Laureate of Kansas. He knew my children, and their social security numbers, childcare expenses or, later, earnings, and college ambitions. I knew some of what he was planning to plant in the vegetable garden this year, and lately, how — being the engineer he was — when he was teaching himself to cook, he would line up all the ingredients on the kitchen counter precisely, but when he turned his head, his wife (suffering from some memory loss) would hide a pepper or tomato, and he would have to retrieve it and put it back into formation.
Last time we talked, Cal told me, with his usual slight tilt of the head and wink, “Looks like the beast may be back,” referring to his bout with cancer. We both nodded and agreed he would just have to fight it off the beast back again. When I saw the obituary in the paper, which I had to read twice and then read aloud to Ken, it was clear the beast came back with a vengeance.
Cal, at 84 years old, died earlier this week. At his funeral, while his daughter, and then his son, told stories of his intelligence, commitment to using everything life gave you to learn something new, and dry wit, I could see some of his 21 great-grandchild talking or crying in the side room, a room that held the real legacy of Cal. I wish for his enormous family and especially his wife all manner of comfort, and I wish for Cal, wherever he is now, that he’s surrounded by the same warmth, humor, and care that he showed people like me all his life.