Friday, December 19, 2008

Leif's 17th Christmas 1991 - Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico - Almost 17 years old

We lived at Fort Sheridan for four years. In that time, Leif shot up like Jack's beanstalk, becoming six feet tall when he was only thirteen. He was extremely slender. It was a time of his best academic work at Northwood Junior High School and Highland Park High School, his best soccer playing, at HPHS, and his best science achievements. I've already written about some of that, including his science fair projects that took him to the state science fair.

He also had some adjustment problems, developed terrible acne, and got in some fights. Luckily, he got through all of that. It was also where he began developing a much deeper interest in computers and music, including taking electric guitar lessons. The last year in Illinois, he started letting his hair grow long.

The summer of 1990, we moved from Fort Sheridan to Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico, visiting in Charlottesville VA and the DC area on the way, because Peter W. had to take the Staff Judge Advocate Course at the JAG School before becoming the Staff Judge Advocate for the Fort Buchanan command. We also got to visit Disney World on our way south, shipping our car (the trusty Nissan Maxima, which was already seven years old by then) from Port Canaveral, Florida.

Puerto Rican Christmases were another new experience of the holidays. Again, we were in tropical weather and now we not only had the North American snowy carols but local Puerto Rican Christmas carols that were in a Latin beat and accompanied by instruments that were unfamiliar and fascinating as well as other new customs. But we still had Christmas trees and cookies, those German custom that seem to have spread around the world.

Initially, Leif had some disappointments and difficulties in Puerto Rico. He got there just in time to try out for the soccer team, but the coach had the boys running for miles in the extreme heat and humidity (96 degrees, 99 percent humidity), which was oppressive. They weren't allowed to stop to get drinks, and Leif wasn't allowed to work his way up to the long runs. He wasn't used to that climate at all, and he had never run miles like that with his previous teams. (He had gotten an award for his performance on the freshman team at HPHS.) He would come home from practices totally worn out and feeling faint. I was concerned that he would have heat stroke.

Then he injured his ankle when the sole came off his soccer shoe while running, and he couldn't run. The coach was unsympathetic, and Leif ended up quitting. I felt very badly about that, because Leif was an outstanding fullback and could literally boot the ball the full length of the field. He enjoyed soccer and had played since he was only five years old, so to have to quit at the age of 15 was sad and humiliating. He tried to insist it didn't matter, but I know it wasn't true. He went to the games, and you could see he wanted to be on the field.

However, Leif found other ways to use his talents in Puerto Rico, once he got past the "new gringo" initiations. He made good friends at Antilles High School, participated in musicals, took guitar lessons, designed and built his own electric guitar, had parties, became a SCUBA diver, learned to sail, and many other things.

This photo was taken our second, and last, Christmas in Puerto Rico. You can see how tall Leif had become. At 6'1" he towered over his dad. By this time, Leif wasn't interested in surprise gifts for Christmas. He usually had something specific he wanted, and since we tried to get it for him (and if it was expensive, combine it with the money we would spend for his birthday in January), he usually knew ahead of time what his main gift would be. I think this was the Christmas he got his bass guitar. I always tried to get something less expensive so he'd have something to open he didn't already know about.

Peter A. never lived with us in Puerto Rico, since he left home to attend the Air Force Academy in the summer of 1987, but he did get to come to Puerto Rico a couple of times to visit, and Christmas was one of them. It was good to have our family of four together, if only briefly.

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