Sunday, June 29, 2008

Leif Drawing - Almost 9 Years Old

Here's a photo of Leif drawing in his PJs and using a stylus to add press-on lettering when he was nearly 9 years old in December 1983. How I wish we had more of those early drawings. I tried to always save things from my sons' childhood, and one of these days I'm going to have to haul out the boxes of things from his school days. Maybe I'll find something fascinating I don't remember that I have.

We were living in Honolulu, Hawaii at the time this photo was taken.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Leif - Enterprise Drawing - Kindergarten

Unlike some kids, Leif's interests were remarkably consistent throughout his life, although he didn't always express or pursue them in the same ways. One of his enduring passions was space ships, which of course went along with his passion for science fiction. He was a young child when the Star Wars and Star Trek movies were coming out, and they affected both him and his brother deeply.

Leif had a great deal of artistic talent and mightily impressed his kindergarten teacher with a series of drawings of space ships in motion and in battles and space guns firing. She had him make a portfolio of them for display.

His talent was particularly noteworthy because most children at the age of 5 or 6 are drawing very simple figures, often stick figures, and don't have any idea how to show motion or draw complex objects.

This drawing is one he made of the Space Ship Enterprise, and he drew it from memory when he was only five years old, which is even more impressive. We were living in Japan at that time and he was also influenced by the Japanese children's shows on TV, which were not broadcast in English, so he had to pay close attention to the graphics. He loved playing with his Japanese toys, which were incredible sci fi toys that transformed from robots into everything from planes to trucks.

Leif drew often, expressing ideas about space ships and space weapons, until he was in about six grade when he became more or less obsessed with radio controlled cars and also got very interested in music and playing electric guitars. He pretty much dropped drawing until he was in college and playing CyberPunk with his friends.

He took an art course in college to fulfill an arts requirement for his liberal arts degree and again showed some remarkable talent with the things he produced for the class, but didn't have the interest to pursue it further.

I treasure these drawings and will post a few more . . . the antecedents of the copper penny space ship I posted yesterday.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Leif's Copper Penny Space Ship

Leif had his iPhone for about 5 or 6 months. The only photos I could find that he took with it were of his car, his motorcycle, himself (in cycle gear and in his work cubicle) and this space ship me made of pennies on the desk surface of his work cubicle at the Humana call center where he worked.

Leif loved science fiction and was absorbed in such sagas as Orson Scott Card's Ender series (books beginning with Ender's Game), and Battlestar Galactica. He played Planetside and other online games, and as I've written before, was deeply involved in the development of the ZAON game.

Leif needed to be in a job where he dealt face-to-face with people and wasn't confined to a cubicle on the phone, but he never had that kind of job, unfortunately. This space ship is something he carefully and exactingly constructed while doing customer service for Humana Medicare clients on the phone.

I never would have known about it if I hadn't been able to access the photos on his iPhone, but when I first saw the photos, I didn't realize where the space ship was or that he had built it. I thought it was something he photographed elsewhere.

Then, when his dad and I picked up his belongings from Humana, among them was a very heavy, huge Alltel drink "jug" that was full of pennies. Those were the pennies he used. There were over $16.00 worth of pennies in that jug.

That reminded me once again how small things add up. They say most people these days won't even reach for a penny on the sidewalk or parking lot. Not worth their time. I always do.

I tried his whole life to teach Leif to save money, but I never succeeded. Intellectually he knew he needed to do it, but he was unable to resist cool cars, motorcycles, computers, phones and gadgets, and as soon as he got a bit of money, he spent it on some new cool thing he just had to have, though it was truly an unnecessary luxury. I understood that because he didn't have a satisfying home life, was lonely, and didn't have the kind of job he needed, he found his pleasure in these things and in pasttimes like online gaming, riding his cycle, and movies, but ultimately, his spending got him into debt too many times. He then had trouble paying his bills or handling an unexpected expense like a car repair.

Saving pennies by throwing them in a jug netted enough for a couple of decent meals (more if it was home cooking), and I found coins all over his apartment that he could have thrown into a jar as well. It's true that these small amounts wouldn't have solved his financial problems, but the willingness to save even small amounts here and there (like taking a sandwich to work instead of buying lunch, for instance) could have added up substantially in the long run.

I have learned since Leif's death that compulsive overspending is also a sign of depression, a form of "self medication" to bring the depressed person some brief happiness . . . yet eventually, that same spending brings more depression because of the debt incurred.

How I wish Leif had gotten help for his depression and had been able to curb his spending.

How I wish his talent for artistic design and precision had been put to some creative uses. He had remarkable artistic talent as a child, but it wasn't something he chose to pursue.

More about art and choices later.

For now, imagine a beautiful copper space ship rushing through the universe, carrying Leif into the sci fi adventures of which he so avidly dreamed.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

ZAON - Tellan Garretson Recon Scout Ship

For 6 years, Leif was deeply involved in and committed to working with the ZAON team on the development of the game. ZAON offered Leif the mental challenge he needed and a great deal of emotional outlet and support from the ZAON forum members. He was interested in every aspect of the game, and at one point, was so deeply involved in weapons design that he drew designs for a series of weapons, cut the out of wood, and experimented with their usability in size, weight and design. These photos show one he took of himself with one of those wooden guns and another of one of the handguns he made.

When he died, ZAON forum members discussed his death and their feelings about it, and because they could not come to the memorial services, held their own vigil online.

Justin Winters, ZAON Creative Director, memorialized Leif in a space ship design incorporating Leif's ideas, the Tellan Garretson Recon Scout Ship. Leif would have loved this ship and knowing it was named for him. How I wish he could see it! It's a beautiful design, and I thank Justin for providing such a fitting remembrance of our son. He sent us the complete deck plans, and we will treasure them.

You can see the plans online, and there are both a free download and a large, high resolution version for purchase. I hope you'll take a look at it, because Justin has done such a terrific design, and because it incorporates so much of what Leif loved and worked on.

For some reason, I don't seem to be able to get live links to show up within posts, so I will also place links in the Links column.

Link to the ZAON store

Discussion Forum about the Tellan Garretson Recon Scout Ship

Leif - July 1976 - 18 months old, With Daddy

These photos were taken in July 1976, shortly before we moved from Manhattan, Kansas to Charlotteville, Virginia. Leif was sharing a snack with his dad. You can see Peter W. in his "fatigues," the old army uniform that was a pain in the backside to starch and iron. He was a captain in the JAG (Judge Advocate General's) Corps, and stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, where Leif was born.

Peter had been a chief trial counsel (like a chief prosecutor) and had become a magistrate judge at this time.

Leif was not a particularly affectionate child, except to my sister, Lannay. His usual form of affection for me, other than wanting to be held and cuddled, was to wait until I was down on my knees for some reason and take a flying leap at my back.

As he grew up, he gave the best bear hugs . . . but only when I asked him for one. Then he didn't seem to want to let go, so maybe it wasn't that he wasn't affectionate, just that he felt it needed to be "invited."

But here, he gave his daddy a sweet kiss.

I loved seeing moments like this!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Leif - Caribbean Cruise from San Juan 1992

In January we planned a trip to Alaska, another one of those travels we promised ourselves in retirement. Little did we know when we paid for it that we would be going a couple of months after Leif's death.

We hoped that we were ready to get away and try to find some happiness in life again. And we did . . . but only sometimes. How I wished I could share the experiences with Leif, show him the beauty, talk with him, text message him, find him waiting to pick us up at the airport.

Instead, I had to keep remembering his death.

I marveled at the glaciers, the mountains, the lakes, the beauty of Alaska, and enjoyed the entertainment on the ship, but it was all so bittersweet. I kept remembering the two cruises we took Leif on, both in the Caribbean, and how much he loved them.

I kept wishing he were going to be here when I got home.

The photo above was taken when Leif was a junior in high school in Puerto Rico and we took a cruise in the Caribbean on Carnival. We had a great time. He loved it.

We had wanted to take him on another cruise, and it wasn't long before he died that I asked him whether he had any vacation time and whether he had a valid passport. He said no to both. How I wish we had taken him on another cruise!

It was hard for me to come home to see the places where he lived, slept, sat, played chess with our granddaughter, to see his things.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Bittersweet Father's Day

Yesterday was a bittersweet Father's Day, as all holidays from now on are likely to be. We were so glad to be able to talk with Peter Anthony, and Marcus, and remember how fortunate we are to have such a wonderful son and grandson.

But, of course, there isn't any way possible to even think of Father's Day without realizing that, as Peter Walter said, "I'm less of a father now," that Leif is dead.

I'm surprised that he got through the day as well as he did. Leif was always there for Father's Day, every year of his life except when he was far away in the army. We thought he would be there this year, and many years to come.

Peter W. thinks that my writing this blog isn't good for me, that it makes me focus on Leif and not get on with life. He keeps asking me how I am. He thinks I should take a break from this.

I don't know. How am I? Some parts of the day seem fairly normal, but it doesn't take much to scratch the think surface veneer and send me into tears. I don't think that taking a break from this will help, because I don't think I will have Leif any less on my mind, and it helps to remember him and all the things about his life.

However, since it seems to matter to Peter, I am going to try to take a break until next Sunday. We shall see. I believe I will be anxious to get back to writing this blog about Leif.

I miss him every day. It is not getting easier.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Leif - Waves on Hawaii's North Shore

Leif spent a lot of his life in proximity to the sea, at least close enough to get there by car or train in an hour or so, and we always had a beach vacation every year. He loved the waves and water, the huge dome of the sky over the sea, and yet, living here in Florida he took little advantage of it. I think it's because nothing is as enjoyable if you have to do it alone, and once a person is depressed, things that normally would have been enjoyable don't sound attractive.

But all the years Leif was with us, he loved the sea, and loved the two cruises we too, him on, and most especially, the three weeks of sailing I wrote about yesterday.

We lived in Hawaii for three years, from the summer of 1983 to the summer of 1986, when Leif was 8 to 11 years old.

On rare occasions, huge waves roll in on the north shore of Oahu, those incredible waves you sometimes see surfers risking their lives to ride. This happened one winter and we went to see them. They were awesome! There's no way a small photograph can begin to reveal their size, power, sound, and beauty. You'd need an OmniMax theater! These waves were 40 feet high.

At one area where we were taking pictures, there was a shallow beach with coral reef formations that were slightly above the water both because of low tide and because when the giant waves receded, they left a shallower water level on the beach.

Leif, who made a "career" of escaping from me all over the world, decided to run out over the coral and head for the sea! I was terrified! In the first place, if a huge wave had come in, it could have quite literally carried him out to sea and he would have immediately drowned in the churning power of those waves, and probably been dashed to pieces on the very sharp coral. Secondly, there was no way I could get to him fast enough, and to do so would have meant endangering myself in the same way. And thirdly, I wasn't being very successful at navigating the coral rocks.

I started after him, shouting at the top of my lungs, but of course he couldn't hear me over the pounding of the surf. At the point I gave up trying to catch him and just prayed he would come back, I took this photo with a telephoto lens. He looks much closer to me than he actually was. You can just see his tiny figure at left.

I was so thankful when he came back, just in time, as a large wave poured over the rocks where he had just been! He didn't seem to have a clue why I was worried or upset and insisted he had been safe.

Leif always seemed to be telling me that, throughout his life, whether it was about riding his motorcycle too fast, driving his car like he was in the Grand Prix, or owning a dozen guns. He loved the rush of adventure and speed.

When we found that we could have him inurned at Bay Pines National Cemetery near the sea in St. Petersburg, a city where he hoped to live one day, it seemed fitting, though sad he would only be there in death. At his inurnment service, I read this poem, and I feel its sentiment fits well.


If Death is Kind

Perhaps if death is kind, and there can be returning,
We will come back to earth some fragrant night,
And take these lanes to find the sea, and bending
Breathe the same honeysuckle, low and white.

We will come down at night to these resounding beaches
And the long gentle thunder of the sea,
Here for a single hour in the wide starlight
We shall be happy, for the dead are free.

~Sara Teasdale
Sara Teasdale (August 8, 1884 – January 29, 1933), was an American lyrical poet. She was born Sarah Trevor Teasdale in St. Louis, Missouri. Like Leif, she took her own life.

I hope both Sara and Leif are free.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Leif Loved the Sea - Sea Fever by John Masefield

Leif loved the sea and sailing. When he was 16 and we were living in Puerto Rico, we sent him on a three-week teen sailing "camp" called ActionQuest. There he joined teens from all over the world sailing a fleet of sailboats throughout the British Virgin Islands.

The kids had to learn how to sail the boats, keep the boats clean, and do their own cooking. From what Leif said, I don't think the food was exactly gourmet, healthy eating, but they got plenty of it.

This was one of the highlights of Leif's life. He learned a lot from it, not the least of which was that some incredibly rich kids were on the boats and he thought some of them were spoiled brats.

He came home to Puerto Rico with his long hair in tiny braids looking like some incredible, muscled movie star, and sadly, we have no photos of it. His hair (when he had it) was like mine, soft and straight, and the braids just came apart.

It's sad to us that Leif did not keep up with so many of the things he enjoyed in his youth and young adult years, like spending time on the water. Maybe if he had, he would have enjoyed life more.

His favorite poem was "Sea Fever" by John Masefield. I read it at his Military Honors Inurnment Ceremony on April 29th.



I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

By John Masefield (1878-1967).
(English Poet Laureate, 1930-1967.)


I don't know whether there is any soul that survives our death. If so, I'd like to think that Leif is in a happier place and enjoying the beauty that he so often hid from or ignored in his later years when he was obsessed with computers, online gaming, and dark music.

I'd like to think of him like this photo, young, alive, free, with the wind in his hair.

Today it is two calendar months since we found his body. I remember when I discovered that his signature quote on the ZAON forums was this from Aldous Huxley, "Maybe this planet is another planet's hell." What a sad way to look at the life he led here. I wish him the joys of the sea in the poem, now and forevermore.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Leif's First Ice Cream Cone - June 1976

Sometimes, happiness is as simple as an ice cream cone, at least for awhile, and at least when you're a child. These photos are of Leif eating his first ice cream cone, in our back yard at the old stone house in Kansas. It was a hot June day, like it was here today, and we had a picnic out under the oak trees.

Leif loved the ice cream cone! What a little cutie he was, at about 17 months of age.

The Ingredients of Happiness

Some time ago I picked up an old copy of Time magazine, from January 17, 2005, that focused on what researchers were learning about happiness. I had it lying around the house and read a bit here and there, but I hadn't finished it before Leif died.

The articles were interesting, about psychologists who thought that studying depression didn't tell us much about happiness, only about depression, and they aren't just opposites. And that many of the "things" people think may make them happy, don't.

I remember having a long phone conversation with my brother about a month after Leif died, and telling him that I felt that in order to be happy and feel worthwhile, a man needed three things; someone to love, meaningful work, and a sense of purpose, and that Leif lacked all those things. He was lonely, found his job unsatisfying, and although there were times he felt a sense of purpose, it became destroyed.

Several weeks after he died, I read the rest of the Time issue, and the end of the article concerning happiness and money ("The Real Truth About Money" by Gregg Easterbrook) contained a sentence that capsulized exactly what I was trying to say. From page A34, "Love, friendship, family, respect, a place in the community, the belief that your life has purpose - those are the essentials of human fulfillment, and they cannot be purchased with cash."

How true that is.

Leif identified himself as an existentialist, and that fit him in the bleakest sense. I used to tell him that it is up to us to find or make our purpose in life . . . but that is not a simple thing, and is all the harder when one is depressed and lonely. Then, the very things that will help are the hardest to do.

I miss him. I cry for him every day. Sometimes many times a day.

Do I have the essentials for happiness? I did. And yes, I still do, though one of the pillars of my family, one of the pillars of that happiness, is gone.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Leif and the Kitty - Virginia - 1976

His whole life, Leif loved cats. Maybe he got that from me. He sure didn't get it from his dad. They say some people are cat people and some people are dog people. I grew up with dogs (and many other animals) as pets, but as an adult, I chose cats.

From the time Leif was tiny, he was fascinated by cats, and I think he loved not only their feline beauty but their independence and their wonderful cuddliness. Leif loved things to cuddle!

This photo was taken when we lived in Charlottesville, Virginia, where his dad was attending the Judge Advocate General's School, where army attorneys are trained. We were there from the summer of 1976 to the summer of 1977.

We lived in a townhouse in a development that had a small lake behind us and a nice woods we could hike in across the street.

This cat wasn't ours. We never knew who he belonged to, but he showed up in our enclosed back patio area occasionally, always to Leif's delight.

Leif was about a year and a half old in this photo.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Leif - OUCH! - Burned hand just before his first birthday

In recent years, Leif's dad started wondering whether he had been "born under an unlucky star." I don't believe in that kind of bad fate, and yet when I look at Leif's life, it's hard to believe that he had so many bad experiences and so much bad luck. I told Peter never to say that, about the unlucky star, because I didn't want Leif to believe that about himself. Sadly enough, I think he decided that on his own.

The first bad thing that happened to Leif was about a month before his first birthday. His brother, Peter, was being given some tests at a clinic at Fort Riley, Kansas, and the clinic was in an old part of the hospital detached from the main building, and housed in an old WWII barracks type building.

I had to wait in the waiting room with Leif while Peter was with the person doing the tests. It was a small room with chairs, and, as I recall, a sink and mirror, and a coat rack. Leif was a rambunctious little rascal who was always trying to investigate everything, and I had just about exhausted all my tricks to keep him occupied. I picked him up and as I recall, 32 years later, I went over to try to get him interested in his reflection in the mirror.

Going up the wall nearby was a pipe. It was completely unprotected and painted the same color as the wall. There was no indication of any danger.

Suddenly, Leif reached out and grabbed the pipe . . . and screamed in pain. His hand was burned so badly it was covered with blisters. I was terrified. The pipe was a "live" steam pipe that supplied the steam radiator for heat. It's unforgivable that in a hospital clinic where people were in wheelchairs, on crutches, or otherwise injured and unstable, or just plain waiting there like me, a dangerous pipe like that would have not been insulated or otherwise inaccessible.

I rushed Leif to the emergency room, where the poor, terrified child in pain was strapped to a "papoose board" with just his little arm sticking out, so that he was immobilized. He was so strong and so active that they could not even properly examine him without strapping him in like that.

As you can imagine, that terrified him even further. Leif never liked being confined in any way at all.

He had third degree burns on the entire inner part of his hand, palm and fingers, with huge blisters. I was so scared his hand would be damaged for life.

Leif required a month of painful therapy, during which his hand was bandaged and unbandaged, treated, and treated again, every day for a month.

In this photo, he is in the arms of one of the therapists. Am I an odd mother for wanting to take a photo of this? Well, I wanted proof of what happened to him, and I also photographed the pipe and the waiting room. We filed a claim against the government for pain and suffering, primarily to get them to fix the dangerous situation so someone else wouldn't get hurt.

They fought it, but eventually he was awarded $500. Think of it, just $500 for horrible pain, agony, and a month of excruciating therapy. We put that into a savings CD for him, and by the time he was in junior high, it was worth over $1000. He used the money to buy a top-end stereo rack system, which he enjoyed for years. Of course, by then he had forgotten all about the pain.

He got the bandages off a day or so before his first birthday, January 28, 1976. Luckily, his hand recovered completely, without even any scars, and he had full use of it.

Poor little guy, though. On his first birthday, after he blew out the one candle on his cake, he stuck his finger into the hot wax and burned it again. Not badly, but enough to make him cry. I'm sure it brought back memories of the burn a month before, though he could not tell us that.

Throughout his life, Leif experienced other accidents and injuries. More than his share. More than his share of pain, too.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Leif - First Christmas Eve With Dad and Peter A.

Look at my three guys. Aren't they a handsome family? Movie-star handsome Daddy, with his strong arms around his two boys. We have so many photos with Peter's arms surrounding his family with love, his two boys, me. All three of us basked in that circle of love.

Leif was a month shy of his first birthday. Peter Anthony, who was my Christmas Present Baby - that's right, BORN on Christmas Day, was six years old.

The Sankt Nikolaus (Saint Nicholas) doll they are holding was one we bought at the Christkindlmarkt (the Christ Child's Market) in Nurnberg, Germany. It's handmade, with a soft sculpture face. Unfortunately, over the years the foam in it has deteriorated and the face is now flattened and darkened with age, but it has been with us every Christmas since about 1971, I think.

Sankt Nikolaus carries a bundle of sticks. In some parts of Germany, naughty children are given sticks, and when we lived there, there were still a few villages where he appeared with his helper and they actually read off a list of children's names and whether they had been good or bad . . . though I don't know whether they really read any bad ones. :)

Monday, June 2, 2008

Leif Garretson - First Christmas Eve - 1975

This darling little boy had no idea what Christmas was all about that evening at dinner. He was so cute! But he sure had a good time.

This photo was taken at the dining room table at the old stone house at 804 Moro Street in Manhattan, Kansas. We bought that house when we moved there in September 1973. It was a hundred-year-old wreck inside. We spent the three years we lived there working on it to make it livable again, and little did Leif know that when he was 17, after living in Virginia, Germany, Japan, Hawaii, Chicago and Puerto Rico, he would come back here and help us fix it up yet again!

Christmas was always a special time for us, and often we were far away from other family, so we made it cozy and warm. Peter W. especially is "the man who loves Christmas" and decorated the tree with enthusiasm.

Seems a bit odd to be posting a Christmas photo in June, but I wanted to go back to some continuity of Leif's childhood and finish up 1975. I have one more photo from that year, but now I wonder where is the picture of Leif crawling through the huge piles of oak leaves in October, or of him in his high chair by the picnic table, trying to eat an ice cream cone and getting it all over himself? I need to find those!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Leif Garretson - Beer Connoisseur - Black & Tan

Tonight I'll raise a bottle of St. Pauli Girl German beer in honor of Leif. Leif loved beer, and like anything he cared about, he made himself an expert on it. He could talk about beer until your eyes glazed over. He knew every nuance, and probably just about every major brewery. It's too bad he never got a chance to talk about brewing with my Uncle Jerry, who was a brewmaster (though it wasn't a job he liked).

Leif could down a lot of beer and never show it. He had favorites, and really liked dark, strong-flavored beer. This photo is one he took himself. He had poured a "Black & Tan" with two layers of different colors.

He liked to quote Benjamin Franklin, "Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." This quote is oft repeated on the internet, but it is questionable whether Franklin actually said (or wrote) it. It is more likely a changed version of his writing about wine. But no matter, Leif enjoyed the sentiment and the beer.

Wish I could share one with him tonight.