Leaving a Legacy of Love: Alonzo Richardson, 1917-2015

My grandfather was a truly amazing man and a masterful storyteller. I must get my love of stories from him, and I’m so grateful for the legacy he left during his 98 years on this earth.

Over the past couple weeks, I’d been preparing for what I would say at his memorial service yesterday. Thankfully, I had nearly 30 years of my own memories to reflect on, a treasure trove of memorabilia to inspire me, and so many stories.

Up until the very end, Grandpa refused to live anywhere aside from the home he and Grandma had lived in since 1960. “I’m going from here to heaven,” he would say. And he was right.

So, my grandparents had accumulated so many treasures over the last 55 years in that house. As a result, our family spent quite a few Saturdays over the last few weeks wrapping up china, trying on my grandmother’s furs, and sorting through boxes of keepsakes. We uncovered so many gems, including Grandma’s diary and Grandpa’s WWII album.

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I’d heard Grandpa’s stories growing up, but going through this album was like getting a glimpse of his life in the early 1940s.

What struck me first was just how handsome he was. He was only 24 when he went off to war. And from the pictures, you could tell he had the same spark and bravado he had in his nineties. It was fun to imagine how he must have horsed around with his Air Force buddies: making ice cream by flying their planes high up in the atmosphere, buying champagne for only a few francs, and competing to see who could do the most pull-ups.

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He and Grandma had only been married a little over a year before he enlisted. And from the telegrams and letters they sent back and forth, it’s clear they missed each other deeply. He wrote to her about how much he longed to hold her hand in church Christmas morning and see her face sparkle as she opened her presents. He called her Darling and ensured that she received flowers for every major date on the calendar. Easter, Christmas, her birthday. He missed nearly four years of major events as well as the day-to-day. And his longing is apparent in a photo of him gazing sweetly at a picture of my beautiful grandmother.

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With each page I turned in this album, my admiration for my grandparents grew to an even deeper level. More than anything else what jumped out from the pages was love. They had love, and they had each other. And while life was not perfect, their love was enough.

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Their love for God and their love for each other set the trajectory for a life of service – to others, and especially to our family. My dad and my Uncle Dave knew they could always turn to their parents for help. And my sister Lisa and I looked forward to our sleepovers at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

To me, Grandpa was full of magic – he could play the organ, complete a Rubik’s cube in just a few minutes, and call different birds to him by all their varied songs. They’d come and eat cashews and sunflower seeds from his hand. I think they could tell he was strong but gentle. Even in his last years, when he could no longer sit out on the back porch, he still kept a dish full of birdseed for his grateful backyard friends.

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Lisa and I knew we could always count on him to have something sweet on-hand for us, too. First, it was tins of ladyfingers, and later his sweet tooth lent itself to Snickers ice cream bars and Drumsticks. More recently, he kept a basket of dark chocolate Dove Promises near the front door.

“Did you get some chocolates?” he’d ask. “And did you grab some lemons from the tree?”

We always did, and he was always incredibly generous. Grandma and Grandpa shared all they had, and they helped shape my appreciation for the simple things in life and, most of all, family. Being in the presence of our family felt safe and warm. Grandpa was loyal and steady – a man of routine, and sharp as a tack to the very end.

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His stories and jokes and hugs will remain with me forever. He’s part of why I’m a writer – I recognize the importance of each person’s story, and that’s what I wanted to share most. I wanted to honor him and the beautiful, strong, inspiring story of his life.

I love my Grandpa. And I can’t wait to see him completely renewed in Heaven. Will he look young, like the pictures in his album? Or will he appear older and wise, like he was in his nineties? I have no idea. But no matter what, I will be so excited to see him.

In honor of my grandfather’s life, my mother put together this beautiful video for his memorial service. I cannot watch it without tearing up, but the tears are mostly in gratitude of the legacy of love he’s left behind.

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