Frank Herbert Lives
by Byron Merritt
Page 1 of 3
"Your grandpa died last night," my mother said, her voice echoing through
It was February 12th, 1986 and Frank Herbert, the creator of
Dune, had lost his battle the previous evening with pancreatic cancer,
passing away suddenly at the University of Wisconsin Medical Center in Madison.
I sat quietly listening to my mother who lived in Port Townsend, Washington at
the time of her father's demise.
My first clear memory of my grandpa was
when he lived in Port Townsend on Ivy Drive near a wooded cove surrounded by
pines and water. It was June of 1972 and I was seven years old. A burly looking
fellow with a scruffy beard, he wore a grey wool sweater and had a pipe made of
cherry wood stuffed in his mouth with sweet-smelling smoke wafting up and
around his head to form a crown of sorts as if by magic.
I remember him taking me for a walk behind his house past the chicken coop
and onto a small trail through the woods. He took me to meet the Starrys, my
neighbours for that summer, a warm and polite couple who could have been
featured sitting on a porch in a Norman Rockwell painting. After saying
friendly 'hellos,' we returned to the trail heading back toward home. Next Page
what do you do?" I remember asking him as we made our way into the damp forest.
"What do you mean, 'What do I do?'"
"You know," I said impatiently,
"for a living. What do you do?"
His brow furrowed up in frustration. It
looked as though he were getting mad, but then his blue eyes softened and he
told me, "I write." Those two words held little meaning for me at the time, but
later became something I would never forget.
As a child, the only things I
wrote were assignments for school and little do-dads here and there. I couldn't
fathom someone doing that 'for a living.'
"Come on, Grandpa," I laughed.
e books. They're called science fiction novels."
Being of an age that many
things simply don't compute, he witnessed the curious - if not disbelieving -
look upon my face as we emerged from the woods and strode uphill to the house.
Once inside he took me upstairs to his study, something that would occur
only twice in my life. He pulled down a wide book from a high shelf and handed
it to me.
"Do you know what those big white letters on the cover say?" he
I scanned the book's surface and saw the letters he was referring to.
"Fffrrrannnk Herrrbbberrt," I said, then looked up in astonishment. "That's
"That's one of the books I've written. Perhaps when you're old
enough, you can read it," he said and put the book back on its shelf. I don't
remember which book he showed me, but I do remember the new sense of awe I felt
from then on whenever I was in his presence.
It wasn't until my freshman
year in high school that I began to realize how significant my grandfather's
s to others. It was 1979 and my English teacher, Mrs Blair, stood at the front
of the class discussing great literary works throughout the ages and mentioned
Dune. I sat bolt upright, feeling the blood leave my face. I hadn't read
it yet! When I got home, I asked my mother if I could read Dune. She
said "of course" and pulled down a signed, thick copy from a shelf.
pubescent teenager it may as well have been War And Peace she'd handed
me. I looked at it with a depressive stare and wondered why anyone would read
such a behemoth. But I went to my room, opened up the first page and began to
read. That day changed my life. I was propelled into a new world.
Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Byron Merritt, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.