by Cathy Adams Taylor
“I can’t believe Al Adams is here! I went over to greet him, but I don’t think he remembered me. He seems so cordial, so pleasant,” said one of my father’s former fellow Board Members.
“Yeah, he is such a nice guy. Such a wonderful man he is, and so kind. What a talent Al Adams has,” his friend responded.
I was alone at the hors d’oeuvres table, eavesdropping, and their words filled me with feelings of such pride and of unforeseen grief. My sister, Cami, and I had brought my dad back to the yearly celebration of the new recipient of the Salmon Hall of Fame put on by the Pacific Northwest Salmon Center. Our father had created this organization with John Burgess, Peter Grimm and Jerry Manuel twenty-five years prior in 1990. He had worked many long years with so many dedicated people to protect the wild salmon population, beginning with a yearly budget from the Federal Government of $30,000. Now they were a million dollar a year organization, spread out all over Western Washington, sponsoring many varied salmon saving endeavors. But now, because of his stroke, he no longer remembered his personal history with this great cause anymore. He had amnesia. My heart longed for him to remember, to recall a name or two, to feel intellectually rewarded for his many years of painstaking labor. I wanted him to feel the same pride of accomplishment that I felt for his life.
Al Adams, John Burgess, Peter Grimm and Jerry Manuel founded the PNW Salmon Center
When we slowly walked my father into the reception room, as he was using a cane by this time, there in the Bremerton’s Performing Arts Center meeting hall, a local art gallery owner immediately came up to him with a camera in hand, wanting me to take a picture of her together with my dad. She wanted to stand right in front of his Elwha Tears bronze Sculpture that stood seven feet tall behind them. She was an accomplished painter in the Northwest, donating her works of art at this event and had carried my father’s artwork in her gallery back in the day. When I told my dad he had created this sculpture behind him, he looked and said with amazement, “I did?”
Al Adams in his workshop
When I was done with the photo shoot, I turned around and saw person after person, all dressed up in their gala attire, walk up to shake his hand. “Al Adams! It is so good to see you again! I served on the Board of Directors with you for many years. You look just great!”
My father responded falteringly, saying, “Thank you,” but kindly added, “I’m sorry, but I cannot remember your name.” It was so intriguing to watch their response to his statement. Some would smile, then slowly and courteously slink away. It seemed as if they did not want to continue their conversations with my father if he didn’t remember them. My heart was sinking as I heard his honest confession. Could he enjoy these moments of adulation without his own personal remembrance? Does he feel pleased, even proud of what he’s accomplished?
Others would say, “That’s alright Al, I’m your old friend who used to serve on the rivers with you while we counted the returning Chum Salmon. Those were great days.” My dad would look at them with his sparkling steel blue eyes, his face seeming to say, “Thanks for your understanding.” I observed his happiness in all his apprehension. He had forgotten his experiences with all these lovely people, but he quickly realized he had been very important to them at one time. He still had his short-term memory, and he was relearning what his life had been all about. His accomplishments were surprising to him.
He had forgotten his experiences with all these lovely people, but he quickly realized he had been very important to them at one time.
When Cami and I walked him to our dinner table, I heard people who were already seated at theirs say, “Oh, my! There is Al Adams. I didn’t know he was coming to this dinner!” They came flocking one by one; dear-old friends who had socialized many times with my parents; served alongside him at the PNW Salmon Center and supported he and his fellow board members in the early years of the burgeoning vision of their cause. The affection lavished upon him warmed and broke my heart. One of his closest old friends, Torrie, walked up to me and asked, “How is it going with your father?” Tears overwhelmed my eyes and I broke down.
“He doesn’t remember any of this. He doesn’t remember anyone’s name,”
“I know how difficult this is, I walked through it with my aging father. It’s just so hard.”
Another middle-aged woman came up to give me an understanding embrace. I knew her story, how she had to bury her young son in a tragic, sudden death. I gathered my emotions together and said, “I know I should be grateful. I am grateful I still have him.”
My heartache swirling inside was slowly realizing my dad no longer knew the names of his precious friends; his co-workers whom he treasured with all his heart. He no longer knew the fate of this great organization that encapsulated his vision to preserve the Pacific Salmon. I so desired for him to capture these joys and store them in his heart for a long time to come. Reliving sweet moments with his dear friends.
After the dinner portion of the award ceremony, the master of ceremonies surprisingly announced the presence of my father to the hundreds of persons in attendance. He had my father stand tall, all 5’4” of him, and my father gratefully waved his acknowledgment of the honor and enjoyed the music of applause. The photographer snapped his picture, and I captured this moment in my mind. I felt like I was in 4th grade again, showing off my father for show-and-tell day when you bring your hero in to show off to your fellow school friends.
At the end of our lovely evening celebrating the life of another advocate of the wild salmon, his dear friend, Torrie, came up to him once again. She grabbed his shoulder and said, “Al, I want you to know that I am so thankful I knew you. Your presence in my life has made me a better person. My life was fuller because of you. I will never forget you, “ then she kissed him on his forehead and hugged him goodbye. My dad grabbed her hand and smiled so wide, his dimples indented his cheeks. He nodded in agreement with her sentiment and readily accepted her sincere affection. No, he could not remember her name anymore, but she remembered his.
On the way to our car in the parking garage, another man greeted my father in the elevator. After complimenting my father and his artistic talents, he said to me, “Your dad is a legend you know. He is a true legend.”
I responded to him with assurance, “I know.”
When we started our long drive home in the dark, I asked my dad how he felt about the evening. He gratefully responded, “Well, it sure was a boost to one’s ego tonight!”
So this humble man expresses such wonder in being honored and remembered this evening. He is still alive to experience other’s affection and admiration. Not knowing the details did not quench the joy he experienced in being loved and appreciated. Maybe being remembered is enough.
The Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group is celebrating 30 years of salmon research, restoration and education around the Hood Canal watershed. Help support this work for another 30 years by donating to our Give Local fundraiser.