I didn’t really understand who (or what) my grandfather was until I was in my teens. He’d written some of the best-selling science fiction books in literary history, had rubbed shoulders with the famous film director David Lynch, science fiction hotshot Arthur C. Clarke and had even been "in the know" with Washington senators during his early writing career.
But even when I began to understand the magnitude of Grandpa’s influence, it still didn’t have much of an impact on me. I mean, I was just a kid and kid’s priorities are quite different. I was in lust with a lithe young girl named Trisha and worked steadily to gain her adoration. I rode motorcycles, destroyed motorcycles (and nearly myself along with them) and repaired motorcycles. I played baseball. Why should I be interested in the "ancient" history of my grandfather’s life and work?
Time changes all things...
My mother and father allowed me to visit my grandfather for several summers before Bev, my grandmother, took ill and passed away. But during these summer visits I began to appreciate what this "Frank Herbert" guy had accomplished. Here was a man who supported himself and his wife by writing words. Words! And not only did he support himself but he owned houses in Hawaii, Alaska and Washington.
One day we went out shopping together and the area we were running around had a bookstore. The owner of the store recognized him and asked him to come in and autograph a stock of Dune books they’d just gotten in. So we strode in and I watched him start autographing a stack of them. Book browsers wandered by and took notice. A crowd slowly built, and the little favor turned into a task. Fans wanted pictures with him, or an autograph on the back of a business card they’d yanked from a wallet or purse. Others bolted out front and told anyone walking past that Frank Herbert was here. "He’s here!" Someone asked who I was and I told them. Photos were taken of me and that’s when Grandpa stood up, turned me around and left the store. The owner of the bookstore later apologized for the fiasco and my grandfather had graciously accepted it.
It was immediately after this event that a glimmer of understanding winked into existence in the back of my mind. This guy, my grandfather, was famous. Whoa. Famous. My family. This felt bizarre. I’d never met anyone famous, let alone someone close to me who was.
I once asked my grandfather if he felt "famous".
"No. Just bothered," he’d said. And although this was a way of poking fun at himself, I now know there was some seriousness to it, too. He guarded his privacy like a pitbull. His sanctuary was his upstairs loft in the Port Townsend, Washington home. He’d pull himself up every morning before sunlight peeked above the horizon and disappear for hours, working on his latest creation, chatting with Bill Ransom—a co-author he enjoyed working with—and/or exercising on a stationary bicycle.
When he died on February 11, 1986, I had just come to understand how amazing, how unique, this man I called "Grandpa" was.
And he still is ...at least in my mind.