Grandma's first cousin, Jay Dugas, called my dad yesterday and went on and on about how much he liked Grandpa. "Everybody liked Archie," he said. "How could you not like Archie?"
Archie Blaise Berger, Sr. was a kind, generous, simple, yet multifaceted man, and everyone who knew him - no matter how - had one thing in common: they liked Archie.
Some people knew Grandpa as family.
How he loved his Carolyn. Married at the age of 21, he devoted the next 57 years to being the best husband ever to my grandma. After she passed away last year, he spent much of his time looking at photographs of her and reminiscing. His boys and other family members tried to give back all the support they could - to give him strength by reminding him he was now both parents.
Some people knew Grandpa by his career.
His math and technical skills led him to a career path that included radio and TV repair, heating and air-conditioning engineering, and finally his 30-year position as chief draftsman for Tulane University's Physical Plant: keeping track of where cables, pipes, and ducts were and needed to be. The knack he had for this job let him visualize ideas into diagrams. Uncle Artie remembers that Grandpa always had a pen or pencil in his shirt pocket, ready to draw out any schematic to explain his ideas. Recently, when they were at lunch together, they had their leftovers put in a Styrofoam container to take home. Grandpa wanted to explain how he was planning to remodel his bathroom, so out came the pen and he started sketching the new bathroom plans right there on the top of the Styrofoam box. He didn't realize that ink will not dry on Styrofoam and when he got to the car with his leftovers, he had ink all over his hands.
When he finally retired from Tulane, he was a little proud that it took two people and a computer system to replace him - and they still had to call him back from time to time to consult.
Some people knew Grandpa as a folk artist.
If you had to guess from my own penmanship, you'd never know that I have a genetic connection to a draftsman. But Grandpa understood that the same talents that gave him a steady hand to do precise work at the office could find more enjoyable outlets showing the boys how to paint details on their plastic models or work with shading and perspective in their drawings. Grandpa got the boys involved with the learn-at-home John Gnagy art lessons, so the house was always full of art supplies - and family art still covers the walls of the house. Recently, he'd even been giving drawing tips to Jordyn and Ryan as they've been developing their own cartoon characters.
Grandpa's art interest had really blossomed by the time he hit retirement. He took art classes at senior centers, and some of his pieces won awards in the local shows. Eventually, he and Grandma found something they could work on together: folk arts and crafts. They spent years together participating in craft boutiques around the region and eventually zeroed in on their famous Angel Dolls. Grandma did the clothes and Grandpa did the faces. A couple of years ago, during a trip out west, Grandpa got interested in stained glass and threw himself into that, too.
Some people knew Grandpa as a fisherman.
Grandpa rarely missed an opportunity to fish. He'd take the boys out whenever they had the chance, often just to the Lakefront or City Park. He got his first boat when he and grandma bought the camp at Happy Jack in Plaquemines Parish. Two bedrooms slept about eight if you pushed it. And if you knew Carolyn and Archie, you were surely invited to go fishing, trawling, to stop by for a seafood dinner and homemade ice cream, or to come out and spend the weekend.
One of my favorite photographs is one from about 20 years ago of grandpa, my brother Eric, my sister Zoe, and I holding a fish at the camp in Happy Jack. Grandpa once told me it's one of his favorite photographs as well, because in the photo Zoe and Eric are looking at the camera, but little old me is ignoring both the camera and the fish to look up to grandpa with a smile of adoration. I've always loved the picture, too - so much so that a few years ago I asked Grandpa to scan and e-mail it to me, which he did. It definitely captures how I felt and still feel in a way that words can't.
Uncle Artie spent a lot of time at the camp, and even kept his own flatboat out there. He remembers one time that Grandpa took them out duck hunting. One of them shot a duck at close range, leaving the duck full of pellets. As Grandpa was trying to remove all of the pellets out of what was left of the duck, he said, "This duck is coming apart so much, I think we're going to need some duct tape."
Keeping up a camp is also hard work - which you know if you've ever moved a load of oyster shells or built a bulkhead - so after several years of enjoying the camp all they could, grandpa and grandma traded it in for a camper and hit the road.
Some people knew Grandpa as a traveler.
My dad's earliest memory of the road trips were was when he was quite young. Back in the days before SUV's, Grandpa made a folding platform for the back seat of their sedan to make it into one big padded surface so the boys could sleep while he drove. Of course when they were awake, Grandpa tolerated mile after mile of "You're on my side, no you're on my side." Driving trips with the boys covered the South and Southwest from Carlsbad to Pensacola.
After Grandpa and Grandma retired, they had the freedom to go off for two or three weeks at a time, visiting friends across the country, touring lots of National Parks, and seeing as many places as they could.
Grandpa helped to make a certain 13-year old boy's dream come true when he and grandma took me to Disneyworld and Universal Studios Florida ALL BY MYSELF! No parents! No siblings! It was like winning the grand prize on a game show. He let me run free (within reason, of course) and I always appreciated our adventure together. I even made a photo album all the pictures we took, with captions and everything. That was the trip where Grandpa and I concocted "Reese's Pieces Pancakes" in the camper kitchen - a recipe I still use to this dayone that never fails to disgust my friends.
Beyond the camper, there were glorious trips to Hawaii, fun-filled getaways with Aunt Cynthia's parents, the Yeagers, and so much more.
Some people knew Grandpa as a handyman.
It wasn't enough that he fixed things around his own house,
but once the boys had households of their own, he helped with
repair and upkeep of those, too.
Grandpa could come up with fix-it solutions you couldn't imagine. He could always find an object somewhere around the house that could be fashioned as a replacement part for something else. He taught his boys how to repair it so you wouldn't have to replace it. Uncle Artie still prizes those tinkering skills he learned from Grandpa.
And in that same vein, some people knew Grandpa as a carpenter.
He closed in the carport and made it into a den by himself, built storage and work sheds in the back yard, remodeled the inside of the house. and even guided my dad through the building of three Soap Box Derby Cars - without a power tool!
Some people knew Grandpa as proficient in things technical.
He was schooled in radio and TV repair in the 50's, but he was tech-savvy to the end. When the boys hit school age, Grandpa tutored them in math, algebra, trig, and calculus. He bought one of the first Mac computers, digitizing Carolyn's recipes and making screen savers of the flowers from her gardens. And he was proficient with all the peripherals - printers, scanners, and external hard drives. In recent years, grandpa was always the first to e-mail me about computer viruses I should watch out for. He was on top of things - he put my computer scientist friends to shame.
Some people knew Grandpa as a scout leader.
Whatever his boys were involved in, he was right there as needed - especially when they were active in scouts. With Grandma volunteering as den mother, Grandpa lead the troops as Cub master of Cub Pack 22 at Lusher School, and later as Scout Master of Troop 179 in Little Farms, now better known as "River Ridge."
A couple of people knew him as a musician.
Over the years, he dabbled in music, briefly taking guitar lessons and pecking the spinet piano in the living room. When he was in his 70's, he bought an electric keyboard to explore. And Grandma was there with her usual joie d vivre, encouraging him to pursue the things that interested him. My dad says his own lifelong musical interests were inspired many years ago when he saw Grandpa sitting at the piano one day picking out a boogie-woogie base line by ear.
Some people knew him as a baseball fanactually very few people knew him as a baseball fan.
But, after Grandma passed away, Grandpa spent lots of time at Uncle Al's house, frequently watching baseball with "the gang." It was one of his favorite pastimes. So much so, he started watching it on his own when he was at home. Uncle Al would get excited phone calls from Grandpa asking, "Are you watching the game? Did you see that play?"
Another of Grandpa's favorite pastimes was watching old reruns on TV Land. Uncle Al and his family may have introduced Grandpa to baseball, but Grandpa introduced Ryan and Jordan to black and white TV! They loved having Grandpa around. Ryan would gladly sleep on the sofa so Grandpa could have his room. And on many of those nights, Ryan sat at the foot of Grandpa's bed chatting with him about friends, sports and everything.
Some people knew Grandpa as a member of their church.
He and Grandma enjoyed the services and participating in the pageants and
other activities here at First Christian. They were especially honored that
one of their angel dolls was commissioned for the top of the church
Christmas Tree. Since Grandma passed away, we were all appreciative for the
support and sense of community that grandpa was given by the congregation.
Everyone knew Grandpa as a caring man.
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I was a typical young person who never bothered to watch the news. My breaking news flashes would always come from grandpa and grandma, who would call me the moment they saw anything on CNN that was happening in LA. I'd usually be watching cartoons or something, the phone would ring and I'd hear "are you okay?" "Were you on the freeway during that car chase?" "Car chase?" I'd ask. And then I'd flip on the news to see what they were talking about. Whether it was a hostage situation in a bank, a bomb threat at the airport, or an earthquake, it was always nice to know they were looking out for me - even thousands of miles away.
I think the fascination with feathers all may have started with Uncle Artie, but Jordyn says that after Grandma's passing, Grandpa told her that he had started collecting feathers, because they reminded him of Grandma in some way he was never specific about how or why. A couple of days ago, when Cynthia and Al stopped at Grandpa's house to pick up some papers, Cynthia discovered a feather attached to Grandpa's computerlovingly placed where he would have been able to look at it whenever he sat there. He even gave Jordyn a feather once, which she has kept and treasured ever since.
Whatever the reason Grandpa felt such a connection with
Cynthia thinks this quote by Emily Dickenson may have something
to do with it.
"Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul - and sings the tunes without the words - and never stops at all."
Grandpa always filled us full of hope, because he cared so much about all of us. We knew we could rely on him to be there if we needed anything - whether it was a repair, advice, or just a good hug.
So on second thought, everyone who knew my Grandpa actually had two things in common. One was that they liked Archie. The other is that they were lucky. Very very lucky.
You know, people always ask me where I get my red hair from, and I always proudly say "from my grandpa!"