Monday, September 29, 2008
How often have we all said, "If only I had known." Or, "I wish I could know the future." But what about the consequences, and what would you do about it if you did?
Would you want to know that if you had a child, he would grow up to have an unhappy adult life and end up shooting himself in the head? If you knew that, for certain, what would you decide to do? Not have the child? Have it and hope you could somehow change fate? Have it and spend all the years of your lives worrying, being watchful, trying to prevent a tragedy, and not knowing how?
Look at this beautiful child. Leif was such a beautiful child. How could life go so wrong for him? What was it that doomed him, that brought so many depressing circumstances together?
This photo was taken in Furth, Germany, when he was not quite three years old. Doesn't he look happy, eager, curious about life? He never lost that curiosity. He never stopped trying to find out how things worked, never stopped asking why.
I am grateful for the 33 years I had Leif in my life, but I cry every day for the years I will not have. I'm glad I didn't know what was in store for him. I'm glad I didn't have those years saddened by the knowledge of what was to come.
I am a hard worker, but I am not an ambitious person. I never had big dreams. The three most important things in my life are Peter, Peter Anthony and Leif, and they are all I really ever wanted. All the rest was gravy.
I was and am fortunate to have a lot more, much of it to share with them, or because of them, and I am grateful for those things, too, but I would have gladly given them up if it could have given Leif a happy, normal life.
I wanted children desperately, and I was blessed with two handsome, intelligent, interesting sons. No matter what else I did or achieved, I was and am deeply imbued with a need for family. Traditional roles didn't matter, but family did and does. What is there in life that can compare, that begins to approach its importance?
I don't know whether that deep need and desire for a family, a mate and children, is something we learn or whether it is something we inherit, but I suspect it is some of each. Our family was close. We had a special need to be close, because our "home" was each other. As a military family, we had no real roots but each other. We were each other's constancy.
So I think perhaps we all felt that need for a family, not so much a place to call home, as people. I think Leif needed that as an adult man and he couldn't find it, though he tried so very, very hard. That deep need made his loneliness so much worse.
A man needs something to ground him. For some it is a career or some grand goal. For a man like Leif, he needed to be needed. He needed someone to care for. He needed to matter to a soulmate.
I am glad I still have a family, though it has a huge hole in it that will never be filled. Each time I have to do something to settle affairs after Leif's death, it pierces my heart. Tonight, something as simple as removing him as a beneficiary on my retirement account brought me a flood of tears. Why? Because it is as though I'm wiping him out, as though his identity and life are being denied. That may seem foolish. I know he's dead. But that's how it feels, as though his existence is being slowly eradicated except for my memories and photos.
I'm glad I didn't know the future, because I don't know how I could have changed it. I'm glad I had that beautiful boy.
Today was one of those steps-back days. We went to see a Neil Diamond tribute show, and found ourselves overcome with nostalgia, sadness and longing for Leif. Many of the songs seemed to have words and themes that expressed either how we felt, or how we think Leif felt. We hadn't expected to go to a Neil Diamond concert (put on by Jack Berrios and his band and singers) and be overwhelmed with emotion about Leif and our loss.
Leif was not a Neil Diamond fan. In his huge iTunes collection of music, and CDs, there isn't a single Diamond song. I know he heard us play Diamond's music often while he was growing up, but I don't think it spoke to him then. The themes were probably too grown up for him when he was younger, and by the time he was in his thirties, he had other avid musical tastes. However, I think that if he has listened to these songs, he would have appreciated them in his thirties.
The song that particularly affected us was "'I am,' I said," especially the refrain:
"I am," I said
To no one there
An no one heard at all
Not even the chair
"I am," I cried
"I am," said I
And I am lost, and I can't even say why
Leavin' me lonely still
We enjoyed the music, but we were sad, and the sadness continued throughout the rest of the afternoon and evening, dissolving into bitter tears. We talked, again, as we have so many times, about Leif's life, his death, and why it happened, wishing again that we knew why, and knowing we will never know for sure what precipitated him putting the gun to his head that particular night, even if we can surmise the reasons behind it. Wishing again we could have helped him, that we could have him back.
Thinking about this reminded me of a Yahoo IM chat he and I had on October 27, 2005. What he had to say speaks directly to the theme of loneliness and why men are lonely.
I have edited out most of my comments (prairiejerri) and left his intact. He was chatting under his Graeloch identity. He said:
Honestly, I think that there is a reason that women tend to outlive their husbands and that you hear of old men losing their wives and dying of a broken heart. The bottom line is that men are lucky to have one lifelong friend in their lives and that is their wives.
Men can't have women friends because sex always gets in the way. We can't have male friends because sex gets in the way. So the only friend a man can ever have is a person that is both the lover and a friend or a mate.
It comes down to the primate pecking order. Men can't be friends. PERIOD. Comrades, yes. Buddies, yes. But not friends. A man can't open up to another man because that is to reveal weakness which can never be done to another man. You can only reveal weakness to someone that is not part of the game, e.g. a woman.
It's both kind of inspiring and kind of sad. Lonely, too. It is both triumphant and tragic. Men are solitary, sad lonely creatures; strong and proud and lonely. All we really want is a woman. Just one woman to love us.
prairiejerri: You'll make me cry. (Now there's another thing I don't like about myself -- tears, which your Dad seems to think I just turn on at will but it's completely beyond my control.)
I would be flattered if I invoked a woman's tears. More than anything a man wants to be appreciated by a woman for the trials and tribulations he endures to be a man, and worthy of a woman's love.
For men there are two differnt things. Genetically it is an advantage for men to mate with as many women as possible. Simple and period. Not the same for women. Well, here is the deal - Men don't know they want intimacy until they have experienced it.
prairiejerri: What if they never do?
They may eventually feel a need they can't explain.
The cliche is that men don't understand women but the bigger and more damaging truth is women don't understand men. Men are beasts. Brilliant, evolved beasts, but beasts none the less.
prairiejerri: Beauty and the Beast wasn't so far off, eh?
No, it wasn't. Men are noble beasts and nothing more. A great allegory and one men love. The poetic idea of fighting of a pack of wolves for our woman is romantic beyond belief. The only thing sweeter then the victory is the nursing we receive from the woman afterwards.
Leif repeated these things to me at other times, and expanded upon it in an essay about the sexes that I will post here some day.
I think his loneliness was also reflected in the many, many photos he took of himself. He took very few of others, except when he was in a ralationship with a woman. When I see all the photos he took of himself, it seems to me that he is saying, "I am," I said . .
The photo above is one he took while living in Manhattan, Kansas on April 26, 2003.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
I've been posting simple, happy memories of Leif and our lives in Japan the past few days, but ignoring the feelings building up. Recovering from a death like this happens in tiny baby steps, maybe two steps forward and one step back. There are days when I feel like singing, temporarily, until his loss hits me again when I try a song I remember singing to him as a child. Days when I enjoy something and then remember doing that with him. Although I treasure those memories, it is so hard to know I'll never share those things, or anything else, with him again.
I cannot go anywhere in my house that isn't filled with things and memories of Leif. He helped choose this house, helped us move into it, hung the paintings on the walls, chose the phones, helped with the yard, put together my office furniture, lived here for a year.
But beyond that, there are the phone calls and text messages that no longer come, the fact that he's not there to discuss the presidential debates, that he won't see the new James Bond movie, that I'll never see his smile or hold a child of his.
You'd think, or at least I thought, it would be a little easier at nearly six months since his death, but I still am in tears daily, often several times a day. I don't cry long. I get a hold of myself, because I have to.
I am trying to move on in the ways that I can. I'm getting ready to try to sell his motorcycle. Every day I see it in the garage and it is painful. How I wish he were riding up the driveway on it! It's gut-wrenching to remember how much he loved it and at the same time to know that the accident he had in July 2007 began the decline into depression and death that ultimately caused him to end his life.
I have to sell his bass guitar, too, and other things I can't keep or use. We bought that guitar for him as a gift when he was in high school. I don't know whether he has played it in years, but there it is, almost pristine, in its case. I remember him playing it with the band in Puerto Rico.
So many memories, so much lost, so many tears. Some days, I have a small revelation when I'm working in the yard or on our daily bike ride. I'll realize that the sky is beautiful, that death is part of life and we all have to deal with it, that I have to choose to live my life, and I am making that choice, but it doesn't make the process easier or quicker.
I talk to Leif, every day. I doubt that he can hear me. If there is anything after death, the "veil" between worlds is probably just as impenetrable from that side as from this one. I, a writer of ghost stories, have not seen or felt the ghost of my son, but I continue to talk to him, because even if he can't hear me, I need to tell him, and if he can, he will know he is loved.
This photo is a composite of Leif's life which Darlene, Peter Anthony's wife, made for us.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Living on base in Japan was in some ways similar to living in a small town in the 1950s. We had little league baseball, soccer, Scouts, American schools, lots of family activities, and the base was small enough that we rarely went anywhere without meeting someone we knew.
Like all US military bases, we celebrated Armed Forces Day in May, and there were picnics, displays, ceremonies, and best of all, from my sons' point of view, the opportunity to climb on, in, and over military vehicles and equipment. Leif was thrilled to have the chance to get into this helicopter and put on a real pilot's helmet, complete with radio communication. How he would have loved to have been a pilot!
That was his real ambition, undoubtedly fostered by moves such as "Star Wars" and the chances to fly in airplanes and helicopters from a young age. Unfortunately, his hopes to do that were dashed when he found out in junior high school that he needed to wear glasses and his eyes would not pass the flight physical. He never found another real career ambition to replace that dream.
But here, at Camp Zama, Japan, he could still dream, still be thrilled at the chance to be in a real chopper. It was so much fun for us to see him do it.
Here he is, probably pretending it's his bird to fly.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Leif was the tallest kid in his kindergarten class, his first grade class (taller than the teacher), and just about every class until he was a sophomore in high school. Even then he was one of the tallest. So it's hard to realize that even as the tallest, he was once pretty small.
We moved to Japan in the summer of 1980 and he started American kindergarten at the Sagamihara Elementary School. (In Germany, he had attended a German Kindergarten, where he was the only American child, but a German Kindergarten is a preschool.)
His beloved kindergarten teacher in Japan was Mrs. Snell. She was an amazing, enthusiastic woman with an infectious smile and a ready laugh. She recognized Leif's outstanding art talent and intelligence.
Not long after the start of the school year, Leif got frustrated about something that happened in the class and threw something at another child. Before she could even scold him, he apparently felt so bad about his lack of self control and the possibility of hurting the other child that he crawled far back under a table and wouldn't come out.
This wonderful teacher, instead of cajoling him, threatening him, or trying to drag him out, called me and asked what might have precipitated this behavior and what she should do about it.
It happened that he had had a similar outburst of temper in the German Kindergarten, and had hurt another boy (minimally), and had been thoroughly chastised for it. He definitely deserved discipline and he needed to learn self control, but Leif was mortified at the public humiliation.
At the American kindergarten, he not only felt ashamed of himself but was scared of the consequences. Mrs. Snell got down under the table with him and told him that she understood why he was there, and that he was right to be ashamed of his behavior, but that he was forgiven and he could stay there until he was ready to come out. This was only one reason he loved her, but that kind of understanding is a rare gift.
Leif apparently made up his mind, under that table, that if he was going to lose his temper, he had better not take it out on human beings. From that time, when he lost his temper (which was rare, but dramatic), he would take out his anger on inanimate objects and did not throw them at others or hit them.
One of the highlights of his kindergarten year was the big stage play they put on, a very funny and rather sophisticated version of "The Three Bears." Here is Leif on stage with his sign saying, "Papa Bears Need Liberating." The sign on the scenery in the background read, "Liberation, not confrontation." I wish we had a video of the production.
Oddly enough, Leif didn't show any interest in acting, singing, or being on stage again until he was a sophomore in high school and tried out for a part in "Guys and Dolls."
We were fortunate to be able to travel in Japan and adventurous enough to do so by train and car even when there were no English signs. The boys were unconcerned because they didn't have to figure out how to get to our destinations and back home again, but I had to memorize Japanese Kanji names by sight along the train or auto route to try to get us where we needed to go.
I was working as a public affairs officer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Japan District, which was spread out on bases all over Japan. The district held a conference in Osaka, and Peter W. decided he would take vacation from his office, where he was the Deputy Staff Judge Advocate for U.S. Army Japan, go along, and take the boys sightseeing while I was at the conference. Not only that, he was brave enough to decide were were going to drive there from Sagamihara.
We actually managed to get there, despite the lack of English signage, and stayed in a Japanese style tatami mat room. The walls were a rough kind of Japanese stucco that looked like they were painted with sand grains in the paint. I remember the boys cutting up and acting silly, throwing their socks at the wall when they were getting ready for bed, and the rough paint caught the socks and there they hung like some weird decorations.
This was in 1982, and women were in the work force but the mentality was far different from now. It was amusing that when we arrived the first day, wives of some of the men working at the District asked me if I wanted to go shopping with them the next day. I laughed. I had to attend the conference, take photos and write articles. I jokingly said they could ask Peter W. if he wanted to join them.
That wasn't what he had in mind, though he does love to shop. Instead, the took the boys to see Osaka Castle and various other sights around town, including a big underground shopping area.
After the conference was over, we went to the nearby city of Himeji to see the famous Himeji Castle, which was beautiful and impressive. However, I think the boys were even more impressed with the "samurai warriors" we saw there. They were thrilled to pose with them, as you see in the photo above. We weren't able to communicate with them much. My Japanese wasn't good enough and neither was their English, so I am not sure that my supposition is correct, but I think they were really young guys who were in costume for a reenactment. Peter Anthony was 13 in this photo and Leif was 7 years old. He was ecstatic that they allowed him to hold and pose with one of their swords.
Both our boys became fascinated with the samurai, their armor, their swords, and their history.
The series "Shogun" made from James Clavell's book, came out while we were in Japan, and that, along with the samurai dramas they saw on TV (without any English), fostered more interest in the samurai and in martial arts.
Monday, September 22, 2008
We visited many cultural and historic sites in Japan, each colorful and fascinating. The city of Kamakura has many temples, parks, and interesting shops, and I visited there many times with my Japanese friends. As a family, I only remember going once, and Peter Anthony wasn't with us. I can no longer remember why.
So Peter W, Leif and I visited several places in Kamakura including the Kotoku-in Temple where the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) is located.I hadn't expected a six-year-old to be that interested, but Leif seemed to find the statue, as well as the large metal lanterns absorbing.
This statue of Buddha is the second largest one in Japan. The largest one is at Nara, and our family (including Peter Anthony) visited that one, too.
The one at Kamakura was originally inside a wooden temple, but that was washed away in the tsunami of 20 September 1498. The larger Buddha at Nara is still inside the temple.
To get to Kamakura, we had to take the train and change several times. While it was possible to drive, the roads were small and very congested, and the trip could end up taking hours. Besides, the whole family thought riding the trains was a much better adventure.
I remember that on this trip to Kamakura, we got hungry and passed a bakery. We decided to get a treat. This was another adventure in Japan, which has excellent bakeries, but unless you can read the Katakana (syllabary used for foreign words in Japan), you may be in for a big surprise when you order something. What appears to be a jelly doughnut might be filled with red bean paste or curry, for instance.
Since I had learned to read Katakana, it was my job to read the labels in the cases, of anything someone else in the family thought they might like to get. That day, I think Leif chose a pastry filled with some kind of curry.
Since we lived in an American Army housing area, going out the gate into the Japanese milieu was always fun, a time for discovery -- and a time to hope we didn't get lost, as there was no English signage in most places we went.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
These two photos and the one of Leif riding standing on the motorcycle ride pretending to be one of the Kamen Rider Super One characters were taken at an amusement park in Tokyo called Yomiuriland. In these two photos you can see him riding what appears to be Ultraman "flying" like Superman, and on a large mechanical panda. The animal actually walks around. I'd never seen anything like it.
We had some many interesting and unusual experiences in Japan. The three years we spent there were some of the most fascinating of our lives. Even things that would normally be mundane were an adventure there.
We arrived in Japan the summer of 1980, transferring from Germany. What an amazing difference in cultures!
We were fortunate to be there at a time when the dollar was still strong and went far, plus the army at that time had weekend day trips around the area to see the sights for just $2.00 per person. We took advantage of as many of those as we could. If my memory is correct, the trip to Yomiuriland was one of those.
Our sons were adaptable and liked to go places, so we saw a lot, some of it fun stuff for kids like the parks and zoos, and some that were cultural treasures or historical sites.
However, just going to a department store was a family adventure. The Japanese live in small homes or apartments and don't have yards to play in like many Americans do, so they make use of other spaces for fun for kids and outdoor recreation for the family. For instance, we saw tennis courts on the roofs of buildings.
In the area where we lived, the department stores had playgrounds for kids on the roofs. These playgrounds had some equipment for climbing and other traditional stuff, but they all featured these rides, such as the ones I've posted. Japanese families that went shopping could take their kids to the rooftop and let them run around and have fun . . . and of course, drop a few Yen to let them ride the rides. They had rides for even very tiny children.
These playgrounds were only part of the attraction of the Japanese department stores. The main one for our sons was, of course, the toy department. When we lived in Germany (the second time was 1977-1980), children were not common sight in public, and they were watched carefully in department stores, where it was highly frowned upon for them to touch anything even in the toy department.
Imagine the delight of our boys to find that in Japan, children were taken everywhere and in the toy departments they had toys actually out of the boxes on tables where kids could play with them and try them out. What an enlightened attitude! I remember one day remarking to a young man who was either a salesman in a toy department or perhaps the head of it, that we really liked this. He said, as though it were self-evident, "How else are they supposed to know if they like the toys or not?" We brought a lot of Japanese toys back to the USA with us, and we still have them, or, more accurately, Peter Anthony has his Japanese toys and Leif gave his to Marcus. These toys were mostly transforming robots. Their engineering was amazing, and they were very well made.
The third attraction at the department stores was the grocery store in the basement level. Here we could spend an hour just wandering through and looking at all the fascinating kinds of food we hadn't seen before, hear the salespeople yelling "Irrashaimase" and beckoning us to try samples. An adventurous person who was willing to try foods they didn't recognize could probably taste their way to a full lunch. My sons were not that adventurous, but they did enjoy looking at all of it, and there were things they liked us to buy. We liked mochi, for instance.
There were no fancy upscale department stores in the area where we lived, but there were two that were several floors high that were chain stores, rather like a high rise Japanese version of Walmart. These were Chujitsuya (which most Americans called "The Flower Stores" because that was its logo) and Ito-Yokado (which we called the Dove Store, because its logo was a big white dove. We enjoyed frequent trips to both of them, and I still drink coffee nearly every day from a cup I bought at a Dove Store sidewalk sale which says, "If I don't do it, it doesn't get done," a good reminder.
The local Sagamihara Chujitsuya store is apparently no longer there, a pity as we spent a lot of happy hours browsing there and coming home with "treasures."
For upscale, glittering, fancy department stores we had to go to Machida (closest), Tokyo, Shinjuku or Yokohama.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Japan had a lot of interesting things to ride on and in, both regular transportation vehicles and kids' rides like this one. You can tell he was having a good time.
Both our sons had exceptional imaginations and could play elaborate imagination games. The especially favored futuristic, sci fi, space scenarios, and this continued in many forms into their adult lives.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Here's one of those coin-operated rides, this one in Japan. Maybe Leif's first "motorcycle ride." Our sons enjoyed the Japanese children's shows immensely, even though they didn't understand that Japanese. One of their favorites was "Kamen Rider Super One," and it featured masked characters in cool, bright colored suits on matching souped up motorcycles. They had special powers, and fantastic belts that had things that lit up and whirred. They went through a series of ritual motions to invoke their special powers.
Our boys had toy versions of the fancy belts, and some masks. There might have been other parts of the toys sets, too, but those are the ones I remember. They loved pretending to be these heroes. They had all the hand motions down, and here Leif is standing on the cycle in the perfect Kamen Rider pose.
I'm sure watching that show had some influence on his interest in riding cycles in his adult years, but he probably would have gravitated to that anyway, because it was fast, thrilling, and dangerous.
Kamen Rider was only one of the Japanese shows they watched with fervor. Peter Anthony and his friend Darren could give me a complete and accurate list, but I remember Ultraman 80, Gundam, and Space Battleship Yamato (or Space Cruiser Yamato) known in English as Star Blazers. They were watching the Japanese genre now known as anime long before they became popular in the USA, and their enthusiasm for it never ended, right into adulthood.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Here's an example of fearless Leif on the playground, head first down the slide. He's not hanging on here to slow himself down. He's doing it so I can get the picture without him zooming by.
This playground was at the zoo in Nurnberg, Germany, where we lived from the summer of 1977 to the summer of 1978 in an American Army housing area that no longer exists. Peter W. was the Chief of the Nurnberg Law Center at that time, an interesting irony for a man that had been an immigrant from Germany in 1958 at the age of 15. He was a major in the Judge Advocate General's Corps at this time.
The Nurnberg Zoo was a great place to take the kids, a very nice park with many unusual animals, plus this playground. We could never pass a playground with Leif. HAD to stop! Likewise with those riding toys you used to have to stick a quarter in, though we didn't always supply the quarter.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Since Leif was always so big for his age as a child, it's hard to remember sometimes that he still WAS a small child. He looks positively tiny on this swing, and the reason he looks so serious was twofold. First, he didn't feel very secure or steady on this swing. There was nothing keeping him on there but his own two hands, unlike many swings for really small children, and he was tired. We were at a picnic for the Judge Advocate General's School at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and he had worn himself out.
Leif loved playground equipment as a child, especially anything that provided a feeling of movement and speed, like a swing or merry-go-round, or anything he could climb on.
When he got older, he managed to combine both those sensations with a motorcycle.
Monday, September 15, 2008
We moved from Manhattan, Kansas to Charlottesville, Virginia in the summer of 1976. Peter W. attended the Judge Advocate General's School Advanced Course for army lawyers there at the University of Virginia, and we lived in a townhouse development on Woodlake Drive.
Leif was creative and fond of finding interesting things to do. With both my boys, I found it valuable to keep my camera ready and handy, because there was so much to photograph. They were always doing something and I loved to catch them in the act.
On this day in September 1976, when Leif was 20 months old, he was roaming around the house in diapers and found Peter Anthony's "Sherlock Holmes" hat and put it on. It just looked too cute to miss.
The hat actually matched a houndstooth checked light coat that Peter Anthony had, and we called them his Sherlock Holmes hat and coat because they reminded us of something the great fictional detective wore in the movies or a story.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
This photo of the four of us was taken by an acquaintance outside the Post Chapel at Fort Riley, Kansas, where we had attended a wedding. Leif was ten and a half months old, and Peter Anthony was almost seven years old and was missing his two front teeth.
It was one of those amazingly warm early December days that we sometimes had in Kansas and one of the first photos of the four of us together. How happy we were then, all of us. Our family was complete and our boys were beautiful young rascals. It's hard to believe all the changes that have happened to us since then, all the places we've lived and visited, the friends we made, the achievements we all accomplished, and now Peter Anthony is an Air Force lieutenant colonel, Peter Walter is long retired, and we are grandparents.
How does life go so fast? Why can't we have the years still before us graced with both our wonderful sons? We have so much to be grateful for, despite the tragedy of Leif's death. We had him for thirty three years, and we are grateful for each of them. We still have our brilliant and creatively gifted Peter Anthony, our three beautiful grandchildren, and each other. Though it is hard, through sadness and tears, we have many blessings to count.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
When Leif was very young, not quite two years old when we moved there, and just over two when we left, when we lived in Charlottesville, Virginia. I've already posted a photo of him in the woods there near our townhouse. That was probably where he remembers his first "pets." There was the three-legged turtle that Peter Anthony found in the woods. It spent the winter wandering around our townhouse, eating lettuce. We let it go in the woods in the spring.
We brought home tadpoles from the pond behind our house and raised them until they were frogs, also observing the law of the "jungle" as the bigger ones ate the smaller ones.
We had a ringneck snake named Slithers, and a white mouse named "Mousey."
Of course, none of them could move to Germany with us in the summer of 1977, and after we settled into our quarters in Nurnberg, the boys wanted a pet. In a big pet store in Nurnberg, they settled on a blue parakeet, which they oddly named Katzi, which means "little cat" in German.
Katzi proved to be a very sociable bird and the boys thoroughly enjoyed him. He liked to ride around on Leif's head. Here they are in the fall of 1977 when Leif was two and a half. We had Katzi for nearly three years. When we moved from Germany to Japan, we had to find a new home for him in Germany.
Leif always enjoyed pets. He would love to have had an African Gray parrot, and used to like to go to a furniture store in Aggieville (the student shopping area near Kansas State University in Manhattan) to "visit" the parrot they had in the shop.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Leif loved cats. When he was younger and we were moving all over the world, we couldn't have one, but when we moved to Fort Sheridan, Illinois (north side of Chicago) he saw his chance. Leif picked out Scamp at a pet store, the liveliest kitten he could find, the one that climbed up the cage to get at him. He picked well. Scamp was a beautiful and intelligent cat, and completely captivating as a kitten.
In the photo with Leif's beloved black leather Members Only jacket, you can see him cradling Scamp like a baby. In the one on the couch, you can see him cuddling that kitten with a look of the purest happiness and delight on his face. He loved that kitten!
Scamp was funny and entertaining and Leif enjoyed playing with him. Somehow he discovered that Scamp was completely crazy about tiny crumpled paper balls. He would bat them all over the floor like a first class soccer player. How he got the idea to show one of these little balls to Scamp and then drop it into one of his big, high-topped athletic shoes I don't know, but that was a hoot! Scamp wanted to get it out, and he dove into the shoe head and front paws first, and was scrambling around in there trying to get the ball. The rest of his body, back legs and tail were flopping around in the air. He did manage to get the ball and started playing soccer again. From then on, it became a favorite game to show Scamp the ball and where Leif (or one of the rest of us) was going to "hide" it and watch Scamp try to get it out.
Scamp also learned to "surf" in my low-heeled pumps. He would place his two front paws in the front of the shoe, and push with his back legs. How I wish we had a picture or a video of that!
Scamp was a very fastidious cat. Our house was crammed with breakable knickknacks and Scamp would leap up and walk everywhere (except on the kitchen counters or the dining room table, where he knew he wasn't allowed), and walk among all the breakables, but he never knocked anything down or broke anything. He was very industrious about his litter box habits, too, working very hard to be sure everything was adequately "covered."
We lived a couple of blocks from Lake Michigan, and Scamp would go for a walk with us like a dog. I remember one winter walk after an ice storm when he insisted on coming along, but his poor paws were being frozen from the ice cold water standing in places and the ice itself, plus jagged ice pieces hurt them. He would whimper and beg to be picked up, but after a few steps in someone's arms, he was begging to get down and walk beside us again.
Scamp was king of the neighborhood and "inspected" it daily, making sure everyone was behaving properly. There was a hunting hound dog that lived on the other end of our row of townhouses. The owner would put him out on a chain fastened to a stake so that the dog could only get around within a circle the radius of the chain. Scamp quickly figured out just how close he could get to the dog without the dog being able to reach him, and he would calmly walk up and sit down just out of reach. The dog would strain and go nuts trying to reach him, but it was as though Scamp were saying, "Ha, ha, you can't get me."
There was a small male kitten that lived somewhere in the neighborhood who took to following Scamp around. We never knew his name, but we called him Sidekick. Scamp tolerated him most of the time, but one day Sidekick got a little too uppity and Scamp sent him rolling with the swipe of one paw. The little guy got right up and trotted after Scamp, meowing, and Scamp apparently decided he could stay.
When Leif's friend Chris Stone's family was moving, they couldn't take their dog to the hotel with them so they asked if Chris and the dog could stay with us. We agreed but had some misgivings about the dog and Scamp getting along. When Chris showed up with the dog, Scamp took one look at the dog, a small terrier, and chased it to the basement and kept it cornered. The dog was completely traumatized. Once we removed Scamp, it took him a long time to come out of the basement. At that point, Scamp apparently decided that we had understood his point and he no longer needed to terrorize the dog. The two of them made a point of completely ignoring each other, wouldn't even look at each other, the rest of the time Chris and the dog were there.
One of Scamp's favorite games was to jump up and play under the sheets when we put clean sheets on our beds. Leif and I had fun taking pictures of him peeking at us under the sheets.
When Scamp was three years old, we moved to Puerto Rico. We had to leave him in a kennel for a month before he could be shipped to us there, and when he arrived, he was pitiful. He clung to us and didn't want to let us out of his sight. Once he adjusted and went outside, we quickly found out that he could no longer by an outdoor cat. The fleas in Puerto Rico were relentless and nothing we did could keep them off poor Scamp. There were other dangers where we lived, too, including packs of wild dogs that could have killed him, and so the proud outdoor cat had to become and indoor cat, and he hated it.
Leif continued to find news ways to amuse both himself and Scamp. By then he was a sophomore in high school and had been shaving for a couple of years already. He had an electric razor and Scamp hated it. Why, we don't know, maybe just the sound. One evening we had neighbors over for dinner, and afterwords we were all sitting in the living room talking and Scamp was keeping us company. He loved to chase a beam of light and we had a good time shining a flashlight beam around the room for him to chase. It was quite entertaining, but nothing compared to what was to come.
For some reason, Leif decided to bring out his electric razor. He turned it on, and Scamp immediately made his displeasure known. Leif turned it off and put it down in the middle of the carpet. Scamp went into hunting mode. You could nearly see him thinking. "Aha! It's sitting there still and quiet on the rug. I can get it now!"
He flattened himself low to the floor and prowled around it in a circle, making sure it wasn't going to attack, and then HE attacked, claws extended. He jumped on that shaver like he was killing a rat, attacked it with his claws, and beat the thing to death. He was totally intent on what he was doing, and completely serious. We were laughing so hard we had tears running down our faces.
When Scamp was sure he had killed that shaver, he sat down looking quite smug and proud of himself. Then Leif turned it on again! You could just see Scamp thinking, "Dang, I thought I killed that thing!" He was so upset. Leif turned it off and left it on the rug again, and Scamp again went on a killing spree. By this time, we had been laughing so much our sides and stomachs hurt. But poor Scamp was only to discover that the razor wasn't dead. Leif finally had to put it away.
Unfortunately, we have no photos or video of this escapade. It's too bad. Leif might have been able to win a "Funniest Home Video" show with it.
Sadly, Scamp only lived to be four and a half years old. He developed an enlarged heart and because of a blood clot, had paralyzed back legs. Four veterinarians said that he could regain the use of them and live a fairly normal life if we could get medication into him, but he struggled and fought it so hard that three grown men couldn't get it into him, and it was only available in pill form. There's no way to know what is in an animal's mind, but Leif and I believed that Scamp made up his mind to die, not knowing he could regain the use of this legs, and not wanting to live like that.
He was an affectionate and intelligent companion. We loved him for four and a half years, and he was mightily missed when he died.
When we moved from Puerto Rico to Kansas, Leif got me another kitten that he picked out and gave me for Mother's Day. That was Merlin, another interesting character, but not the wit that Scamp was.
When Leif got married, he and Nikko had two or three cats. I remember Sugar and Spice.
Sadly, though, when Leif developed asthma in the army, he also developed an allergy to cat dander which made his asthma worse, and he couldn't have cats any longer. I know he missed their antics, their cuddliness, and their affection.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Leif was fascinated by snakes. Over the years he had several of them, a couple of pythons, a boa constrictor, a garter snake. The boa's name was Pandora and the garter snake was Goldilocks. He had those when he was still living at home with us in our old stone house in Manhattan, Kansas.
Those two got loose one time and we couldn't find them anywhere. I was concerned, because in that old stone house, there were plenty of nooks and crannies where a snake could manage to get into the walls, the attic or basement and would never be found. I wasn't scared of the snakes. I just didn't want them dying in the house where we couldn't find them, or finding them getting into bed with me. As a kid, I hunted for snakes on the prairie and had ringnecks and enjoyed my brother's bull snake.
We finally gave up hunting for Pandora and Goldilocks after a month. Then one day I was vacuuming in Leif's bedroom, picked up his guitar's soft case that was lying in a heap on the floor, and there was Pandora. She was hungry! So, she was back in the terrarium, but still not Goldilocks.
I was up very late one night, maybe 2 or 3 AM, and I was heading through the front foyer to the stairs to go up to bed when our cat started acting like it was stalking something. Merlin slunk low on his belly and padded very slowly and quietly forward as though something was there.
I couldn't see anything, or hear anything, but clearly Merlin thought something was there, so I started looking under the two cabinets we had on either side of the front door. Nothing. I looked under the old hot water radiator. Nothing. In the radiator, all around the floor, nothing. On the stairs. Nothing. I was about to decide Merlin had lost it, but then I decided to look behind the cabinets, and there was Pandora, stretched out full length on the mop board about 8 inches off the floor.
I hollered up the stairs to Leif, who was also still awake (we are a family of night owls) and told him to get some leather gloves on and come catch her. I wasn't scared of Goldilocks, but she was never as placid and tame as the boas and pythons, and I knew she would be snappish and hungry and no longer used to being handled. I was right. She put up quite a fight with Leif, but he captured her.
I told him I was happy to have Pandora stay, but that I'd prefer that he find another home for Pandora, so he took her back to the pet shop and traded her for a year of food (mice) for Pandora.
If I remember correctly, when Leif joined the army, he sold Pandora, who had gotten to be fairly large, maybe 7 feet long.
When he came back from the army, he got Shazbat. She's the one in these photos. Shazbat was a very nice snake, slow moving, and liked to be handled. Leif spent hours one night with his brother, trying to convince his nieces that snakes were not slimy and that Shazbat wasn't dangerous. After an hour of trying to persuade them to just touch her, we thought they never would. But finally, to our surprise, they did. They were fascinated!
These photos were taken November 26, 2003. Leif took them in the house he was living in at 710 N. 9th Street in Manhattan, Kansas. I love the rascally look in his eyes!
Shazbat eventually died. I think Leif said she choked on her food. I didn't know that could happen to a snake.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
I've been avoiding this today. Avoiding thinking about how today it is five months since we found Leif's body and our world fell apart. Avoiding thinking about how we have missed him each day of those five months, and that the pain isn't getting any less.
Avoiding thinking about how today is also my mother's 90th birthday and that Leif will never have another one. Avoiding thinking about how she has to live the rest of her life knowing the loss of her grandson.
We had a good German lunch at the Old Castle Tavern with Mom, and I made a half apricot, half cherry upside down cake, and took that to her house later in the afternoon, along with a new phone system I installed. We had a good time, and life seemed almost normal when we were together. She's a wonder and an inspiration.
I know Leif admired her and was proud of her. He helped her out with computer problems, helped her move, helped her deal with Humana. Leif helped us with many things as well, and we will miss that help, but most of all, we miss his company, his lively mind, his sense of humor, his insights, his hugs, and his love. Each day it is still hard to discover anew that he isn't here with us any more.
I don't know why I chose this photo for this post. For some reason it just seemed right, Leif in a big old tree looking contemplative. Peter W. took this photo in Hawaii, on the Big Island, I think, around 1983. Leif would have been about 8 years oold. He's wearing his cherished black Members Only jacket. I wonder what he was thinking.
I was blessed with two bright and curious sons. They not only always asked "why?" but they loved to explore and experiment. The loved to discuss everything. They were fascinated with the world.
This photo was taken in Kyoto, Japan in May 1982. Peter Anthony was 13 and Leif was 7 years old. We were in a beautiful garden there, and they became engrossed in what was in this small stream. Most kinds would have been content to just look from a standing or maybe kneeling position, but both my boys just had to get as close as possible. I couldn't help laughing, and caught them on film. It was one of so many priceless moments.
They remained curious and questing throughout their childhoods and into adulthood. Being around them was and is always an interesting intellectual challenge.
I can just "hear" some of you asking, "But didn't they get dirty?" Probably. Of course. But they got to see what they were after.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
I'll close the SCA chapters of this blog with these two striking photos, both self portraits taken by Leif on April 29, 2003. He made the chain mail cowl and the chain mail on the lower end of the helmet.
To me, these are two pictures that tell a lot about the man and who he was. The knight, the warrior, a man who wanted to be a hero, and needed someone to be a hero for. There is a strong directness in the eyes of the man in the helmet, and a touching vulnerability in the man in th chain mail. They are both beautiful pictures of our handsome son, and again, ones we had not see while he was alive.
Tonight, Peter W. was watching a show about General Sherman and the Civil War while simultaneously researching the background of Sherman and others on the internet, on what had been Leif's laptop. It struck me that so many great military leaders had failed at civilian pursuits, as did General Sherman, but rose to become great leaders when entirely different skills were required.
Leif could have been like that, in a different place and a different time. He had incredibly good strategic skills and abilities, understood the art and rules of warfare. But, in his lifetime, in our time, he never had a chance to use those skills to protect those he loved. Though he did honorably serve his country, his profoundly brilliant mind was never given the opportunity to do the kind of planning and execution of which it was capable.
We like to think that in our "modern" world, we are beyond the need of the martial strategist, but if we look around us without our heads in the sand, we can see that is not so. People with skills and minds like Leif's are critical to our survival.
In another place and time, Leif might well have been the hero he dreamed of being. Perhaps he was, after all, really the knight Graeloch, somehow born into the wrong century.
Monday, September 8, 2008
These photos should have come before the last two batches of SCA photos from 2003, but I didn't find them in time. I'm not sure when they were taken, but probably in 2002 or early summer 2003. They were again fighting in the Manhattan, Kansas City Park.
At his size and weight, plus the weight of all that armor, Leif must have been an imposing opponent and he certainly wasn't shy about going on the attack. However, did didn't win all his fights.
I wondered how all that weight and exertion in the heat (Kansas summers are HOT) affected his asthma, but he insisted he was fine.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
Leif took these photos of himself in his new SCA armor, in the living room at 710 N.9th Street, Manhattan, Kansas. I never saw them while he was alive. I found them on his computer after he died. They are just a few of a series of many he took. Leif took a lot of photos of himself and his belongings, but he didn't share them with us. I am now seeing photos of him over the past ten years that I hadn't seen until April of this year.
This was expensive armor. I don't know whether he ordered it or bought it at "Lilies," the "War of the Lilies," the SCA event of the Kingdom of Calentir that he loved to go to the summers when he was living in Kansas. I don't think I have any photos of him fighting in this armor. By this time, I think he had evolved from The GQ Pirate to Graeloch.
When he moved to Florida, he never got started with SCA again, which I think is yet another connection he missed that might have helped him find friends and physical activities. In his email account, I found an email he sent to the local shire just a few months before his death, but apparently, it either wasn't answered or he didn't pursue it further. SCA was such an important part of his life in Kansas, I can't imagine that he didn't miss it. He still kept all of his garb and weaponry.
I think in addition to the thrill of fighting other knights, Leif really identified with not only the knight/warrior mentality, but also the hero aspect. He really DID want to rescue fair maidens . . . and most of all, to win the heart of one he could love.
Friday, September 5, 2008
2003 was a good year for Leif. He graduated from KSU, got a new car, found two new jobs, and fell in love. More about some of those other things later. He also upgraded his SCA armor more than once.
In addition to armor he purchased, he also MADE this huge chain link shirt himself. I have no idea how many links it must have taken to make it, and each one he made himself by winding wire around a rod and cutting them. He had the shirt hanging on a rod from the archway between the living room and dining room where he lived at 710 N. 9th Street in Manhattan, Kansas so that he could work on it by continuing to add links to the lower edge.
The completed shirt weighed 50 pounds! You can imagine Leif's immense strength, to be able to not only put this shirt on and move around as though it were cotton, but to add all that additional heavy armor and be able to fight! We all tried it on and could barely stand still much less move.
Leif loved fighting and here are a couple of good action shots of him at the Manhattan City Park. I don't know who his opponent was. Perhaps if someone who knows is reading the blog, they can post a comment or email me with the identity.
These photos were taken on April 29, 2003, sadly, five years to the day before he was inurned at Bay Pines National Cemetery.
Leif was gone from Kansas from January 1998 until May 2001 while he served in the U.S. Army Infantry. When he returned, he rejoined the local SCA shire and began working on acquiring armor and fighting weapons. His first armor was leather and very simple, compared with what he eventually had. He made his weapons and worked to become certified to fight.
As I understand it, SCA weapons are made of rattan and are padded, and in order to fight, the fighter has to have armor and protection to avoid serious injury. That doesn't mean that some very nasty bruises can't occur. Leif got plenty of them.
The shire met in a couple of different locations, but the one where they were publicly visible and where I photographed Leif fighting was the Manhattan City Park. They were the often on Sunday afternoons, and sometimes would attract spectators. The set up a display at the Little Apple Folk Fest in September each year and put on demonstrations of a variety of medieval skills and costumes, including fighting.
Leif had rattan swords and other weapons, but he also liked to fight with two axes at the same time, an unorthodox two-handed style.
The left photo was taken June 1, 2002 in the Manhattan City Park. The one on the right was taken earlier, I believe the summer or fall before he went into the army in 1998. You can see that he gained quite a bit of weight in the photo at left and had added several more pieces to his armor.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Leif subscribed to the warrior ethic and mentality, and he was fascinated with historical ages of knights, the Middle Ages, swords and swordplay.
When he was in his senior year of high school at Manhattan High School in Manhattan, Kansas (the only year he attended there), he discovered the SCA, the Society for Creative Anachronism. He joined and invented his character, a Viking pirate named Leif. He was called the GQ Pirate after Gentleman's Quarterly. Leif was a stylish dresser, often wearing a long brown leather coat and unusual clothing. His email address in those days was thegqpirate.
Initially, Leif didn't have the money for expensive armor, but he did put together his "garb" and this is how he looked during his first forays into the local SCA world. What a handsome pirate! And he exuded confidence and strength.
These photos were taken in the backyard of our old stone house in Manhattan, Kansas in April 1993.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
When I was a child, we often played outside until or even after dark, all year around, and enjoyed watching the "stars come out." We didn't have all the light pollution in Manhattan, Kansas then that's there now, and we could see a stupendous number of stars and the glorious Milky Way. I remember lying on my back and watching the stars in the summer, along with the fireflies that were numerous then.
I had a Little Golden Guide for Stars and in those days, I was fascinated with the heavens. I learned to find many of the constellations and planets and loved to watch for "shooting stars." One of the highlights of my childhood was seeing the beautiful Northern Lights twice, once in Canada and once an amazing display of red Northern Lights that came as far south as Manhattan, Kansas.
When I was in the fifth grade and had to do a report, I chose to do one on astronomy and called the university to find out if there was anyone who could help me. It turned out that just the person I needed lived all of one block from me. I called him up and "invited myself over." As an adult, I now wonder what he thought of some little fifth grade girl calling him up like that. I'm no longer sure, but I think his name was Jack Robinson. I wish I knew for sure, because he was great. He not only answered my questions but revealed that there was a small telescope on the roof of the chemistry building, which was where my father taught organic chemistry.
Between the two of us, we engineered a field trip for my whole fifth grade class to go up to the roof of Willard Hall at Kansas State University and look through that telescope at the heavens. I remember seeing the craters on the moon, the rings of Saturn, four of Jupiter's moons. To children today, having grown up in the Space Age with incredible photos from the Hubble telescope and space missions, seeing what we saw would be less than stellar, but for us, it was the window to other worlds and it was a highlight of my childhood.
Both my sons took after me in their interest in the stars, but their interest wasn't in identifying them. They were interested in the future, in science fiction, in colonizing the universe, in space travel.
Friends of Leif's have said they think he must be traveling in space now, maybe hanging onto a comet with his hair on fire.
Leif did not believe in God or an afterlife. He was an agnostic, primarily, I think because the orthodox beliefs of organized religion did not make any sense to him and because he fervently believed that our religions have caused so much death, destruction and hatred in the world that they deserve to be destroyed. He could not conceive how a god that could create the universe could be the god of those religions, and saying that he "believed in God" would allow people to think he believed in the god of those religions. He did appreciate many of the teachings of inspired religious leaders, but felt their followers had perverted their vision and misused their words.
Regardless of that, I think he wished he could believe in some kind of divine creator, one not defined by our human failings and beliefs.
I don't know if there is an afterlife, but if there is, I think Leif must be mighty surprised. If there is one, I hope it is a good one for him, better than the crushing load of disappointments, problems and health issues he faced as an adult in this one.
I will never look at the sky the same way again since Leif's death. I have always loved the sky, the sun, the clouds, the everchanging beauty of the sunrises, sunsets, storms building, cloud shapes and colors. I have loved the heavens at night. Now, I think because we associate death and heaven with the sky, whenever I look at the sky, I think of Leif. I wonder whether there is anything left of that powerful mind, that imposing personality. Like him, I doubt that there is. I haven't felt his presence, though I suspect that if there were an afterlife for Leif, he would not spend it here trying to contact those of us still alive.
When I look at the night sky, I will always, always, think of him and say that childhood wish poem:
Star light, star bright,
First star I see tonight,
I wish I may, I wish I might
Have the wish I wish tonight.
I will never get my wish, for I wish for Leif back, alive and happy. I will never get it, but I will never, ever stop wishing.
The photo I've posted is one from the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab site.
Monday, September 1, 2008
Before the E.T. dolls, there was Fluffy. Fluffy was a big, soft stuffed dog that was given to Leif for Christmas in 1976 when he was almost two years old. His Aunt Lannay gave it to him, and he loved it from the moment he touched it. Fluffy was his companion and bedtime cuddle-up dog for years. Like the E.T. dolls, Fluffy wasn't just for cuddling and sitting on a bed or shelf. Fluffy went along for the ride . . . literally. Fluffy got to have lots of adventures with Leif.
In these photos, taken in front of our quarters at Sagamihara, Japan in April 1981, you can see the Leif has set up Fluffy and another of his stuffed animals (one I can't remember because he wasn't the favorite for years and years) as drivers or riders for his tricycle and sled. He even put his bicycle crash helmet on Fluffy. This wasn't just a pose. Leif was playing with them, driving them around, and creating a whole story scenario for them, and him, of course.
The sled was there as a stand-in for some other kind of vehicle, and there certainly wasn't any snow in April, but it worked fine for Leif's imaginative purposes.
I don't know what finally happened to Fluffy, but he was important to Leif for at least 6 years.
Leif was not a particularly affectionate child. To him, there was something a bit embarrassing about affection if others could see it. He loved to snuggle up in private, and he clearly needed cuddling and loved the softness of his Fluffy. I think as a grown man, this same kind of public avoidance of affection and private need of it continued. It must have been very very hard for him to be alone.