[Click on BLUE links for sources or more information]
IMPORTANT NOTE: To honor Al, the Community Center of Mendocino is hosting a “Celebration Of Big Al’s Life” Sunday, April 8, 2018 from 12:00 to 3:00pm. Please join us, bring your stories, music and photos of Al. Call Peg Brown Levy at (707) 357-5317 or e-mail her at email@example.com if you would like to bring food for potluck or help with the day’s celebration!
I seek the sunlight not the limelight, so tell her thank you, but no thank you.
(Big Al’s response to request to do a documentary on his life)
Before proceeding with this memory of Big Al, knowing how protective he was of his private life, Think in the Morning reached out to his daughter, Lisa. Some day Lisa might write her own story and what a story that would be. In the meantime, please visit Lisa’s GoFundMe page (link) for more perspective on the time she spent with her father. You can still contribute. We encourage you to do so as a tribute to Big Al.
Thanks to Lisa for allowing this post and for her cooperation: “I know he is basking in radiant sunlight now so I don’t think he would have any issue with you remembering him in your blog.”
This post consists of a series of comments, stories, and memories of Mendocino’s Big Al (Albert Snyder Jr.). This is neither a thorough history of his life nor of his character. The stories speak for themselves. Big Al was such an integral part of the Mendocino community and of the Sea Gull Restaurant I owned in the 70s and 80s that I wanted to make a note of his passing and do what I could to preserve some of the memories people were willing to share. You can add your thoughts to the comments on this blog. I will add to this post from time to time as more material becomes available. I want to thank Lisa for allowing me to present this post and for her help.
Albert Snyder of Mendocino, California died Saturday, February 24th, 2018. Albert was born in the state of Michigan on Friday, June 8th, 1945 to Celest and Albert Snyder Sr. Albert worked for nearly two decades as a property manager for Mendocino Coast and Park Recreation district. He was 72 years old.
On my way to Fort Bragg at about midnight, to go to the bank and put my paychecks in to stave off disaster, I met a man in the Mendocino post office who told me Big Al is no more. I said, “When? How did you find out?” He said, “Everybody knows. It was last night. They were just all having a drink for him at Patterson’s.” I told him a couple of my Al stories and I asked him if there was anything he could tell me about Al that most people might not know. He said, “He was very generous with his weed… And he rolled these giant bombers, just huge, /that big/, and he’d sit on that bench behind the bakery smoking this giant thing, and one time the sheriff’s there, in the front, and he’s going, to us, ‘You’re smokin’ weed right in /fronta/ me? Right in /fronta/ me?’ But we weren’t; it was comin’ all the way from the back.” I said, “And he knew that?” “Yeah.” “But he didn’t go back and mess with Al, because–” And he and I said at the same time, “Who would mess with Al?”
I’d like to hear a few Big Al stories I haven’t heard yet.
Okay. So, here are a few stories. These are unedited and informal. Too often we take people for granted, those who surround us—family, friends, acquaintances. Personal vanity prevents us from slowing down to appreciate those we depend on as if the world exists for us and will always be there to access whenever we need it. Sadly that selfish view is mistaken. Influence is often in inverse proportion to the standard measures of success. The least among us often have the most to say if we take the time to listen.
Big Al wandered into Mendocino in 1977. Prior to that he lived with his family in the Haight-Ashbury for eight years. He made Mendocino (and later Friendship Park) his permanent home for the rest of his life until Lisa arrived to help him find “the cabin in the woods he always wanted.” Although his living conditions were at times austere, Al never complained even near the end of his life when he was ill.
I was wondering what happened to Al. We weren’t close but we once worked together in the early 70s helping Susan Juniper Sky stage a dance at BigRiver Beach. And what a dance it was. Al was playing conga drums along with several other musicians. Among other things, Captain Fathom emerged from the ocean representing Poseidon and Tall Madelynn from Caspar arose nude from in back of a sand dune and danced along with Susan (I played a tin whistle I carried from India). I designed the poster for the event and planning meetings were held at the Piewacket (today’s Trillium). As I recall there were more participants in the event then there were tourists in town even though it must have been Sep or Oct. I recall seeing Al over the years since then and his presence always made me feel comfortable knowing that the town was still alive and real and well. The last time I saw him he was sitting on a swing in back of the Kelley House museum. I so liked the scene I photographed it (I’ll try to find it).
How often does everyone in town know a quiet, single, wandering spirit by the first name? Actually, more often than you might think in a small town or neighborhood. I wrote some time ago about a character that lived in the town where I was raised, Shy Red. I also wrote about a number of characters in Mendocino during my time at the Sea Gull, We Cracked Pots Have A Sense of Humor. And, I shared my story of a man known as B-Not who was, for a short time, one of many Mendocino characters. Big Al was special. He wasn’t just passing through town. He lived in Mendocino for forty years more or less and became a “local” to the extent that anyone not born here can be considered a “local.”
Big Al worked at a number of jobs, most recently as a caretaker for Friendship Park where he lived for several years. Everyone said he was a good worker, reliable and steady.
Notes from Left Field
Submitted by Charles Reinhart, Friendship Park Board Secretary
Al Snyder “Big Al” whose reliable contribution cannot be overlooked as he tends the park and picnic area making it a comfortable and tidy place to visit.
When Al first arrived, he cared for the grounds around the Mendocino Presbyterian Church. When the GoFundMe page was first posted, some church members stepped up to help.
Mendocino Presbyterian Church
A member of our Mendocino coastal community since the 1960’s, Big Al (Al Snyder Jr.), is in need of shelter. Due to the changes evolving at Friendship Park and the Recreation Center, Al will no longer have shelter or a job as of June 30th. For the past 16 years, Al has kept the grounds there clean and orderly. In addition, Al made sure that visitors did not stay overnight or misuse the park. He was an excellent on site presence.
Big Al worked on and off for John Joe (“Jason”) Keseric at Donkey Dung. Jason was a local character in his own right.
Coastal Cemetaries: K. Andarin Arvola, Real Estate Magazine Oct/Nov 2010
People also find solace in humor; one simple grave (at the Mendocino cemetery) has numerous coffee cups strewn about. “this is a fellow, John Joe Keseric, also known as Donkey Dung, who drove a pickup and took people’s trash to the dump. He was never without a cup of coffee in his hand. I guess his friends wanted to be sure he always had an ample supple of cups, chuckles (Laurie) Hill.
A few times I saw big Al hitching to Fort Bragg, would give him a ride, first thing was to rifle my ash tray, looking for roaches. Once he was mowing the large lawn between the Hill Top Inn and the highway. Monte Reid hired him for $3 an hour. I standing with Monte: “Hey Al can’t you mow any faster?” Al says “You want my $5 an hour speed?” I knew many tourists who were afraid of Big Al. Some would cross the street. I never saw Al in any of the bars. I’ve wondered what his living conditions were, he usually smelled of camp fire smoke. Many have lived in the calm of Mendocino, Matt Head, Cat Lady, and a few passed as almost normal. Wonder about me.
I remember when people who were too cheap to hire a backhoe would hire Big Al instead …
Big Al spent a lot of time in the Sea Gull Coffee Shop where he was enlisted by a number of locals for various odd jobs. Logger Bruce Lawrence would walk in and ask Al if he wanted to dig a ditch or do some other manual labor needed on the job that day. It was in the Sea Gull Coffee Shop where I first learned Al’s last name. I was on the register when the phone rang and the voice at the other end asked if there was an “Albert Snyder” around. I knew no one by that name, but I made a loud announcement to the coffee shop customers. Big Al climbed off his counter stool and came to the phone. I have no idea what that call was about but it was certainly unusual. Big Al was a man of few words. I thought it odd that he spoke for several minutes on the phone.
I met Big Al while I was working at the Seagull in in the late 70s. Al would come in and sit down at the counter and just start pointing his finger and grunting at what he wanted to order. Took all of us awhile to figure out he wanted hot tea. One day while in a car with a friend Al walked up to us, my friend rolled the window down . Al popped his head in. He asked him if he had a joint? At that moment I realize Al could speak. Next time he came in I refused to serve him unless he would start talking and tell me what he wanted. That was the last day we had to hear the grunts. Al will be missed.
Al had a thing with names. He got some right and some wrong. It seemed once he had a name for someone, he stuck with it. He always called my son Nick by Nick’s older brother’s name, Zach. We’d correct him but he never managed to make the change.
Honestly I don’t have many memories of Al other than seeing him often growing up, everyone once in a while you picking him up with us in the car. When I saw him, he always called me Zach. Other than that, all I remember is him always smoking something when I saw him. He was an important part of the community but I didn’t know him when he was younger and active. He just seemed like a peaceful relaxed man that hung out in the streets of Mendocino.
I had many encounters with him (he would always call me by the wrong name and I’d correct him, and then he’d do it again the next time.
He always said hello to “Me – LIN – DA!”
Did you really understand what he was talking about?? He used to mow Leones lawn. Whether she wanted him to or not. I remember those conversations. I was always honored that he called me by name.
Al could wax poetic but was sometimes hard to understand. There were moments when he stood quietly with a blank stare. He was honest and true. He never judged others. He often stepped up to help with local events and people. Sometimes his ramblings seemed like nonsense, but he could also surprise with uncanny wit.
When you hired me (at the Sea Gull) Big Al was a regular at the bar. He didn’t talk much at all. Knew him as “Coffee-two-honey.” He rarely sat down, but one time when he did , Sunday Jazz w/ Judy Mayan, l had to seat two tourists with him. When l took orders he expounded with an Oxford English sounding epithet. It was jaw dropping! Then there was the time l sat two Hell’s Angels down with Akamu, l digress … [Note: Akamu was a young, gay, black man who would fight with Loggers if they harassed him.]
I think Al enjoyed playing the part of the stoned hippie that everyone expected him to be. He was taller than most of the crowd, black and had intimidating dreadlocks. There weren’t many blacks on the coast in those days. At the Sea Gull we had a waitress named Joyce Lesesne. Black Joyce (the nickname she acquired being the only black employee) waited on the Hells Angels because no one else would. She was beautiful and funny and knew exactly how to turn them into blubbering adolescents. Joyce lived in a spare room with my wife and me in our house next door to the Sea Gull for a few months. We marveled at her many creative wigs and ability to change the way she looked on a whim. James Maxwell used Joyce as one of the models for his A Mid-summers Night’s Dream painting that hung in the Sea Gull Cellar Bar.
Years back, when A.D. and I did the Art Center fundraiser “A.D.’s Texas BBQ”, there was usually help in setting up and cutting the brisket but when the day was over and it was time to clean up, everyone disappeared. Al would suddenly show up and offer to help me in exchange for left overs. Without his help those several years of doing that event I’d have been there all night. He even let me hug him once. Another time I had decided for exercise to walk to Mendocino and back. As I walked along the highway, Al, who had hitched a ride, had the driver pull over and he insisted I get in. I tried to tell him I was walking for exercise but he wasn’t about to let me walk on that busy road. Perhaps it was a thank you for the times I gave him rides to Fort Bragg.
It was the early 90’s and I knew Al from the Sea Gull where I waitressed. He would get a coffee to go. One day on my way to Fort Bragg I saw Al, so I picked him up. We sat in silence and then Al reached over and opened my ash tray. He rummaged around and pulled out a fat roach. He lit it up and enjoyed his smoke, as we continued in silence. When we got to Fort Bragg, Al asked to get out at Safeway.
I remember thinking, how did he know my ashtray was loaded?
Big Al. He loved to smoke weed!
During the Fourth of July parade, Al would climb the telephone pole next to the Bank of America. It’s hard to believe he needed a better view. He was taller than everyone around him. He made quite an impression on the tourists.
Somewhere in Bobby Markels’ (also gone, alas) writings is a sublime description of a conversation she and Al had years and years ago when he came to her house to do some work. I’m not going to wreck it by trying to paraphrase it, but I’ll ask her son where I might find it. I used to enjoy watching the reaction of visitors to town when they encountered Al, 6’4″, dreadlocks, fearsome countenance like a Toltec tomb guardian, usually with a big long knobby walking stick. They’d flinch, gape and cover their children’s eyes involuntarily, their instinctual reaction at total odds with their deeply programmed “inclusiveness.”
I heard a rumor that Big Al went into Mitch Ortiz’s barbershop and sat in the chair. Mitch looked at the dreadlocks and balked. “I can’t do this,” said Mitch. “Why not, are you a racist?” retorted Big Al. “Racist? Hell no, I’m a Mexican,” said Mitch. Al smiled and went on his way.
When I was in high school in the late 1980s (this would be about 1987), I would sometimes go to Touchstone in Albion after school with friends. There was a pool table there, and we would take turns (the person who won kept the table, and whomever was next on the list was the next challenger). Every once in a while, Al would show up and play. He was good – really, really good. I saw him shoot a curve ball (and make the shot), and jump the cue ball over another ball (and make the shot). He was very obviously skilled, but he didn’t dominate play – even though he could have held the table all afternoon. My condolences to Al’s friends and family.
Cherie Christiansen (Two Stories)
So the first one started about 30 years ago when my niece, Briana, then age
7 started coming to Mendocino to stay with us each summer. I introduced her
to Big Al that summer and they had an immediate connection. He conversed
with her for an amazingly long amount of time which astonished me immensely.
Each day, when we would go to town, she would look for Al. And, whenever
she found him would take right up in a lengthy conversation with him again.
This friendship went on for many many years and when she came back as an
adult she still had a special rapport with him. And, still to this day
tho she is living in NYC she asks about him. No doubt she is sending him a
special send off hug right now.
The other story is much more recent. Several years ago Bill Zimmer asked us
to put our sculptures up in front of what was the old Sea Gull.
We put up one black basalt piece with bronze inlaid that was about 6′ tall
that faced the Coffee Co across the street.
No fewer than seven very different people came up to us and said it looked
just like Big Al. No doubt in part because Al used to hang out across the
street there. Manard Kominsky was driving up Lansing around dusk. He saw
the sculpture, and thinking it was Big Al, stopped his car and got out to
talk to him. Maybe we should donate it in his memory!
Big Al was full of surprises. Few knew that he was a veteran. Many local boys found out what an awesome basketball player he was when they invited him to play ball.
He was and still has a large presence in my memory. What I’ve shared in the past has been I would pick him up hitch hiking, and we kind of had a visit. We were both Vets who didn’t want to talk about that, so we didn’t. But talked about the road and the weather conditions.
That was a great story (see GoFundMe article at the bottom of this post) about Al and his daughter. He was a great man. I played many games of 1 on 1 and 3 on 3 and even some 5 on 5 with Al. He was the only guy I knew that could have either a joint or hand rolled cig in his mouth and could dunk the ball. He was such a large man with such a gentle heart. He made a difference in Mendocinio. He really was the man of Mendocino. Lots of good memories….he kind of was the glue that helped hold all the eccentric people in Mendocino’s community together. He will be missed although I haven’t seen him in quite some time …
Al Snyder (Jr. I believe?) taught me the sky hook, my most effective basketball shot to this day (40+ years later). “Big Al” worked at the apple orchard my family owned up Little Lake Road east of Mendocino, and when we weren’t moving irrigation pipes, pruning branches, picking apples or (ugh) battling the bees as we picked up rotten, fallen apples, Al and my brother Zach and I were shooting baskets on the 10′ rim nailed to the garage. Mostly HORSE, and Al rarely lost.
Al would occasionally also join in games at the Mendocino Middle school (when it was located in town, next to the little league diamond), and even against the best high school players (Paul Satterfield, Danny Dubiago, Carl Larsen, Kevin Young et al), he more than held his own. He’d play defense rather sporadically, but his array of trick shots and passes, combined with his quick, fluid, graceful movement, made Al nearly impossible to defend. His hook shots came from all angles, anywhere within 20 feet of the basket, and even the big guys could only watch in wonder as they fluttered through the net. Al was truly one of a kind, and a Mendocino fixture for sure. I’ll miss him.
I remember when Al first came to Mendo. For years he played in the local pick up games of hoops starting in the late 70s. By all accounts he was originally from Detroit, and I’ll never forget that he would always yell “SHOT” before he would shoot from the cheap seats.
He was such an Icon of Mendocino and the very definition of friendly. He used to play frisbee with us when I first moved here from Louisiana almost 40 years ago. I will always have found memories of him. Rest in Peace Big Al.
RIP Big Al. One of the few people I picked up along the road to give him a ride. One memory is when we played middle school basketball in the early 80’s at the old middle school now Friendship Park. We needed another person to play. Big Al was hanging out and we asked him if he wanted to be a fifth for a 5 on 5. We all where very good basketball players but apparently so was Big Al. He came on the concrete court and hit his first 5 jump shots from way down town. Never will forget that day. He always remembered my name as I got older and would say Hello Bobby every time he saw me. RIP Big Al.
Many people have vivid memories of Al they shared on this post. Dylan Branson went a step further. She painted the picture that is the Feature Art (at the top) for this post. And, she provided the video below of the painting process. Click the black area near the top and adjust position to view.
Brendan Cusick forwarded me an email you’d sent out, asking for
stories/pictures of Big Al, thinking you might be interested in this video
of a painting I’m making of Al. If you are, you are welcome to it.
I painted it as a way of saying goodbye and memorializing Al. I grew up
running around the streets of Mendo through the 80s, making me part of a
generation of kids who grew up loving, and being loved by, Al.
As so many others report, even as I grew up and came back from college,
then with my husband, then with my husband and kids, Al recognized me and
had a way of knowing what I was up to in life. So many things changed, but
not Al, his swaying gait, and his gentle words.
His passing is a huge loss to our community. I hope that we find a
meaningful way to memorialize him – a statue, or an event, or something
like that to remind us of him and the soft spoken sweetness he brought into
our lives. Please let me know if you hear of any efforts in this direction!
Thank you for remembering him in your blog.
“One summer day I was sleeping off the night before in a cabin that used
to be at the apple ranch home of a friend Mr. Douglas Chouteau…(RIP) when I
hear a deep basso man’s voice “good morning friend.” I was really startled.
Hung over I looked at the open window….the very large face …smiling
and I never forgot that image…it was Al Snyder Jr. another resident of
the apple ranch…and recipient of Doug’s generosity.
I will always remember his great smile and friendly greeting….
good morning friend ….he was a friend. Al. And to you.”
I was playing music and one of Charles Stevenson’s soirees when a young
couple walked in the front door. Just had dinner at the Beaujolias? The
couple got just in the room and stopped. The bacchanal was in full swing.
They turned around to leave, bumped right into Big Al! He was standing
looking down on the couple. Panic! So…they moved cautiously into the
room. Al was smiling and came on in. A little later here’s the couple
going by me, boogieing along on whatever substance they had run into. Big
Doctor Jason Kirkman
I didn’t know Al well. I was involved peripherally in his health care in the past year or two. My best memory of Al is from the mid-1980s, when I spent a lot of time in the ROP recording studio near School Street in the village. There was an upright piano in the studio. One day as I was working there, sitting at the mixing desk, Al walked in, went straight to the piano, and began to play in an untutored but inimitable style. There was no recognizable melody, but his music wasn’t unpleasant to listen to. He stood at the piano to play, he didn’t sit down. He played for a couple of minutes, then turned around and left.
I remembered that moment whenever I saw him after that – it provided me a way to relate to him. When I encountered him in medical situations many years later, he was a stoic and cooperative patient. I’m sorry he’s gone.
Al was the first person I met on my first day at work at the art center. On January 9, 1989, a cold, dark, rainy morning(oh yes.. my birthday) Al sat in the corner of the gallery of the art center like a sentinel in his bright yellow rain gear only looking up when I came through the door to simply said, “Hi” in his deep voice. Can you imagine… me having just come from the middle of New York City with all it’s homeless lurking in corners, curled up on subway platforms, begging for handouts and here I was in Mendocino seeing what appeared to be a scary huge homeless man, black as the night. I did reply with my own “Hi” and ironically, from that day on when we would pass on the street he always greeted me, “Hi, Sue”. Since he was a man of few words our rides to fort Bragg when I picked him up hitch hiking were mostly silent but every once in a awhile he would launch into an ethereal one sided narrative about being “bereft” due to something unexplained.
When I was leaving the job at the Art Center Al wrote a brief application to apply for the Director position.? I don’t know what happened to that letter, but between you and me,the irony is that maybe he would have been the best director yet!!!
I was living up Big River when Al arrived..he moved out there, too…kinda/sorta to my privacy/loner dismay….we were friends in the early years cutting wood, talking, drinking coffee, pontificating, etc.
We had less frequent contact after I moved up to Fort Bragg in the early 80s…..we kept in touch regularly, though..he’d have to readjust his thinking from time to time when I showed up….me coming south to Mendo no longer sporting the mad hippie logger chic.
“Hey, Al…how are you; what’s new?
“Hey, Jim..I’m fine….not much”
“May I sit down?”
“Yes, you may”
If there’s a memorial for him, please let me know…if there isnt, please let me know that, too…thanks.
peace and all.
Lavender Grace Cinnamon
I am one of the Mendocino kids that Big Al, always remembered, and called me by name. We always said hello when ever we saw each other.
After High school I left the area for15 years. When I returned home, we continued to say hello. Even after all those years, he was full of warm recognition.
Then when I became pregnant I remember clearly, his expression when he saw me. It was a great mix of astonishment with a certain pride at the miracle of time, and cycles of life.
After my daughter was born, we were then both met with the same warmth, only mixed with an extra twinkle, for now there were two of us.
Even after he was sick and not feeling well, he always made the effort at an honest and heartfelt hello.
We never said much more then “Hello Al”, “Hello Lavender”. However after 30 + years of this hello, it grew into a much larger word that encompassed part what makes this town home. It wrapped and folded up all of the “outside circumstances” and the “small town reality” into its own microcosm. His “Hello” was a touchstone, a marker of time and place unique to where this land and water meet. It became a word from an ambassador to a unique life here in Mendocino.
I want to send these memories to let you know he touched my life in a positive way, and he will be missed.
In love and prayers.
He would always always remember my name. No matter how many years it had
been, he would take his time, stare straight at me, and sure enough, he’d
remember. I will miss him greatly. He is part of the fabric of Mendo and
part of what makes it so great! Oh! I also remember him smoking joints in
Mendosa’s parking lot, shoes off and lounging on a parking block like he
owned the place. I remember as kids, he was the only hitchhiker my mom
would pick up, with all us kids in the car. Big Al took his time in what he
did. I remember him chatting with Peg up at Friendship.
Anyway… this is written quickly but only way to send in this little
minute. Please pull from this anonymously… thank you so much for honoring
Al spent a lot of time in the Sea Gull. Many of the comments on this post are from past Sea Gull employees. He would sit in the Coffee Shop eating his soup and salad and bread or drinking his coffee. Once when he left I caught him opening the front door using his foot on the safety bar. “You can’t do that Big Al, you’ll break the door.” “O …K … DA … VID.” He continued sometimes to do it but not when he saw me. I picked up Al whenever I saw him hitchhiking. It was always a memorable experience.
Once with my two boys in the back seat and my wife in front, I stopped and he squeezed into the back with my boys. At some point he lit up a joint. “What’s that, Big Al,” asked my oldest son. “That’s wacky tobacci,” he answered without hesitation. Whoops. “Al,” I spoke to the back of the car, “No wacki tobaccy in the car.” “O… K …” he drawled in his deep voice. He pinched out the joint and put it into his pocket. He never smoked in my car again.
I don’t pretend to have known Big Al intimately. Our discussions were many but short, not personal but sincere. I saw him less after the Sea Gull days since I was mostly holed up in my office after that. I will miss seeing him outside Mendosas, outside the Cookie Company, walking around town, hitchhiking. I don’t believe in an afterlife or in any well-defined religious creed. I believe our memories are who we are and in that sense Big Al will always be a part of me. That’s enough.
One more story.
This is a short version of an Al & Bobbie Markels story: Al had come to Bobbie Markels to wash her windows and they got stoned together. Bobbie asked Al” Where are you from—Ethiopia or somewhere? Where are you really from?? Al replied with a long and drawn out answer that ended with “I—am from the
trackless ether.” And, she said: “Of course, the trackless ether.”
Big Al’s daughter, Lisa, started a Go Fund Me page some time ago to help her father. She tells her own story there. The page is updated from time to time. You can still read her poignant and touching comments about spending time with her father at that link. You can still contribute and I encourage you to do so. I have pasted some of the comments from those who visited the page below.
Short Comments From the Go Fund Me Page
Note: these comments were before Al’s death.
Mendocino Coast Park and Recreation District
Mendocino Sports Plus
After finishing my bachelors degree I was enrolled in a G.I.S. Certification Program when my grandpa became terminally ill. I dropped out of the program, spent my savings, and the last 6 months of his life by his side. When I left to walk in my graduation ceremony he died. To this day it was the best decision I’ve ever made to be with him during that time. I sat at his bedside reading things like “Meditations” by emperor Marcus Aurelius, ”
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and “The Tao of Daily Life” to help me identify the emotions I was experiencing and to manage my fears of death. Despite being lonely, uncertain and scared those were the most inspirational times of my life. I got to play cards with my grandpa while he was in hospice, I can’t think of anything else that would put a smile on our faces at that moment. I wouldn’t trade the world for that memory and experience. Good for you Lisa for making this difficult and fulfilling decision to be by your loved ones side in the face of life’s only certain moment. My thoughts are with you and Big Al, my grandpa’s name was also Al, known as Big Hearted Al.
Yes I will donate for Big Al, lots of fond memories
Lisa van Thillo
Lisa, I’m so glad you are there for him. I used to wait on Al at the Seagull Restaurant In the 70s. I remember him rolling his cigarettes on the counter. I also remember him choosing to not speak often. But, when he did, he was smart and funny. Best to both of you. Lisa
Tim Kersti Stoen
So happy to hear about Al’s progress, and hoping this will help!! We love you Lisa, you are one of treasures on Earth, and what a daughter!! Al is of course one of Mendocino’s beloved institutions, and we love to see him in front of Moody’s every once in a while, having his ‘cuppa’…Blessings to you both, hugs.
Lisa, What a wonderful thing you are doing for your father (and for yourself)! Reading the story gives me a small glimpse of the huge impact you are having on his quality of life. I, too, have found caring for loved ones to be amazingly rewarding and really, really challenging. Be sure to look out for yourself! Love, Beth
I first visited Mendocino in 1970. Since then I have always looked for Big Al on my visits. He will always be a part of this special place for me. My very best to him.
Hi Lisa! I’ve been meaning to donate to you. Your story is a remarkable one. Hope you and your dad are doing well. My dad just had a stroke last month, so I can relate. It’s been a journey for us.
Gai and I always felt that Al helped us, simply by being Al. I am pleased that I can help him now.
I miss my late dad. I hope you have lots more time with Big Al. Smooches and a huge hug.
Blessings and love to both of you. Stay warm and safe.
God bless you for your service to your dad.
Merry Christmas to you and your dad.
Peace and Love to you and Al and all the World
Kathy and Aaron W
Merry Christmas Lisa & Al
Love that you are taking care of your dad!
Sending you and Al ‘good vibes’ ~ thank you for your beautiful, inspiring story and deep caring, enough to really make a huge and important impact on your Dad’s life ~ Toni
So glad you and Big Al are back together again. What a healing for you both.
Good luck Al, missing seeing you in Mendo.
Heidi Cusick Dickerson
Thank you for this loving update. I will take you up and email you on the possibility of a visit sometime when I am on the coast. I have a couple of stories to share and see if we remember them the same way! Love to Al.
Lisa, I am so happy for you and your dad that you are able and willing to do this. You and he will both die with fewer regrets. For my part, I always hope Al will be sitting in the sun when I deliver his M.O.W. lunch. It’s heartwarming to see how much more open and connected he is than he was before you cam to care for him.
I’m so proud of you, Lisa.
Thank you for the update Lisa ~ I’m so glad you are here and that you and Al have a home.
He always said hello to “Me – LIN – DA!”
Glad to hear Al is doing well, he’s very fortunate to have such a caring daughter as you! I hope this little bit helps…
Hey Big AL Much love Herman
Sending love to Al and family.
Blessings for you both one day at a time.
Please tell Al that Rick Ricca (The Septic Guy) says “Hi”
Would send thousands if I could. Al is such an important part of this community of Mendocino. He always had a smile and a good word for everybody. He knew all my kids by name and was very sweet to them. I have been wondering lately why I don’t see him around and hoped he was OK. He is truly blessed to have you as his daughter. I did the same thing when my Dad got ill with Cancer. No nursing home, they die very sadly there. I love you for being there for such a wonderful man. I am sorry that SS doesn’t pay enough, they would rather pay for a nursing home. Doesn’t make sense. My donation is small, but I hope it grows into plenty for you and Al.
Al always acknowledged me and asked about Hannah. Glad to help out is a small way.
Peg Brown Levy
Thank You Lisa for taking such good care of my friend Al!
Bless your heart!
Lisa, I’m so glad Big Al has you! I also gave up my career to care for my folks–Dad, with strokes and dementia, passed away last June, and stepmom (still with me) has Alzheimers. Don’t forget to care for the caregiver. You go girl!
There will be a Celebration of Big Al’s Life on Sunday, April 8 2018, from 12-3 pm. Please see Lisa’s notification below.
From Big Al’s daughter, Lisa
Dear Mendocino Friends:
THANK YOU for all the support these past four years, the hugs and beautiful memories/pictures posted on the listserv and Facebook!
As many of you have already heard, my dad, Albert Snyder Jr. aka Big Al, passed onto his next adventure Saturday morning, February 24, 2018.
I miss him to the moon and back! I will be eternally grateful for the past four years I was blessed to share with him and most importantly that he went out as he desired; peacefully, here at home (the cabin in the woods he always wanted) with me by his side.
His wish was to be cremated and cast into his beloved ocean waters near the headlands.
To honor Al, the Community Center of Mendocino is hosting a “Celebration Of Big Al’s Life” Sunday, April 8, 2018 from 12:00 to 3:00pm. Please join us, bring your stories, music and photos of Al.
Call Peg Brown Levy at (707) 357-5317 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to bring food for potluck or help with the day’s celebration!
Thank you again to all who loved and cared for Al making him an integral man in this community. You made his life here an amazing, enchanting experience!
Peace and Love,
His loving daughter Lisa
I never really knew him, but I had seen him around.
Still, that was enough to make me feel like I knew him.
So sad. So sorry for a real loss.
Great comments and stories about a “fixture” of the village. Seeing Big Al around was always good. In late 70’s he was somehow on calendar at Big River Court, to appear before Judge Reynolds for some minor offense. He was hitchhiking to Court, I saw him and knew he would be late. I stopped my county car and picked him up, and we rode to Court together. I don’t think I told the judge that I’d given Al a ride to Court. Didn’t seem to matter back then that I was the DA handling the court calendar. Different times, my friends. Different times. Al’s presence will be missed, but memories live on and on.
Yes! Cherie’s account of Al’s conversation with Bobby Markels is the one I was looking for. But there was a final line spoken by Al after the “trackless ether” moment. Bobby said that she’d said: “No, really. Where are you from?” And he said: “Michigan.”
Working in Gallery Bookshop I often had Big Al as a customer. One day a little aged tourist lady was in line behind him. After he completed his sale and left the little lady looked at him and stated “My…that was a BIG black man!” I don’t think she had a racist bone in her body…Big Al was simply the biggest black man she had ever seen up close.
There will always be a big tasty roach in my ashtray for you bro, BIG AL.
And you will be forever with us…..amigos, Yvette, Kevin y Garyt…
I also waited on Big Al at the Sea Gull as many other had. I knew the routine and always made sure I was on top of it. Before he was done leaning up his walking stick, situating his pack I’d make sure his coffee was in front of him and his refills before he even knew he wanted them… he no longer would point and grunt expressing he wanted more coffee.
After about the third time of serving him we worked out an understanding. I had said, I know you want your coffee and I know you could drink two pots of refills, so if you would kindly stop spreading you’re 7 empty sugar packets ( torn in half) all over the counter with each cup of coffee I’ll make sure your refills are always there as long as I don’t have something else in my hands.
But the best was, when my husband Bruce Hunt and I we’re showing off our newborn little girl in front of the SeaGull and Al came over to talk to Bruce, they conversed a lot over many years. And the look on Big Al’s face when he realized Bruce and I we’re together and looked down at the baby and touched her cheek with his finger and looked back at Bruce nodding his head up and down as he turned and walked off.
Are you talking about me, mom? Lol
Surely an Earth Angel – truly a multi-dimensional guy who knew and lived the true meaning of peace and love. No accident that he arrived in Mendocino, like many of us did, during the “high” time of peace and love four decades ago.. My fondest memory of him was hanging out in the old Sea Gull portico greeting all equally. He was certainly one of the last remaining vestiges of the old days, the old ways. And, for those of us who know there is an afterlife, he is surrounded by all the good stuff now.
First time I met Big Al was in the Panhandle of GGP back in 1969-70. I lived on Cole St and would take my German Shepard Roscoe to the park all the time. Well, one day Roscoe pissed on Big Al’s bag lunch that was sitting on the ground. Boy! was he upset (who wouldn’t be!). We worked it out and would talk after that. Next time I saw Al was in Mendo when we moved here 10 years ago and he remembered. What a kind soul Big Al was. RIP. Steve Clouse
Really well done, David, Thank you.
I picked Al up hitchhiking a few times. He’d be sticking his thumb out right before the bridge, but I was only going 2 miles up Comptche Rd., and he was going further, so I’d take him over Big River to the base of CUR. Sound hitchhiker logic: Easier to get a ride there than in the no-man’s land of the pygmy. Still, it wasn’t the optimal ride, and his body language always made that plain.
One of the times I picked him up, Al folded himself into the front seat and lit up one of his giant, smelly spliffs. I had a box of Mother’s Taffy cookies on the seat and he reached down and helped himself to a handful of them. I let him out in the nice spacious turnout. Not a word had been exchanged. That was fine with me. What was I going to say? How ’bout them Niners? I sensed Al had deeper concerns.
Growing up in Mendocino can leave one alternately traumatized and grateful. For me, Al’s presence there falls into the latter category. He came to town when I was ten and remained staunchly Al thereafter. No one tried to make him be otherwise. Neither lesson was lost on me. Happy trails, Al.
I grew up in mendocino my whole life. I was born in ’86 and I don’t remember Al not being around. He was always a part of mendocino. The best story I have heard about AL was my father talking about his basketball days in high school. Apparently his high school team was practicing one day at the high school. Al wondered in and asked if he could Join, and the coach said ok. He proceeded to blow everyone’s minds. Doing lay up dunks and making free throws like a Champ! Al will be missed. He was always sweet and always said hi “Laura”… Close enough to Lauren in my book
I knew ye, little.
It was my experience that you didn’t ask Al, “How are you?” He would invariably go into a rant about the difficulties of his mental state. If he was really perturbed, he would suddenly shout, “Boy! Are you an animal …”
“How did you end up in Mendo?” “When I reached the edge of the continent, my wanderlust was extinguished”, he would say.
In the early 80’s I lived up Comptche-Ukiah rd. as did Al. I was near Road Hall, and he, in the bushes across the road.(caretaking a certain pot patch, I would learn). It was not long that he would learn my schedule, and emerge to the road, basically just as I would be driving into town. (Mendo)…always rumaging the the ashtray for roaches.
“Wherefore can one experience intimacy, when one cannot have privacy? (in ones mind)”, he would sometimes say.
Mid 80’s, I lived at Ira’s place in Albion, and Al was, again, my across-the-road neighbor. For 4 years…we spent many hours together…by his campfire. It was there that he nearly chopped his thumb off, cutting kindling, and was airlifted out for surgery. (That was one of to trips out of area that I know of for Al.) The only other was a trip Al, myself, a our friend Bruce took to Arcata area to pick, and enjoy, psylocybin mushrooms. ( I will share that entertaining story separately).
Al was unique. Al was kind. Al was in the moment. He was always an opportunity to show compassion, and be introspective. Al could be eloquent, poetic. Indeed, he often carried a book of verse with him, and could casually quote same.
To say that he was important to our community is an understatement. We each knew and loved Al in our own ways!