Friday, October 31, 2008
I'm not sure precisely when this photo was takenm though I think it was October 30, 2002. It was on Leif's computer, along with a bunch of other photos taken at this party, which he apparently gave in Manhattan, Kansas in the house at 710 N. 9th Street.
I didn't recognize hardly any of the people in the pictures. Since they were all in costume, it would have been fun to show more of this one, which I think is really cute of Leif, Shazbot the snake in hand, placing devil horns on his head and looking like a happy rascal. As it is, I just cropped the picture to show just his face and hands.
Leif moved into the house on 9th Street for the second time in July 2002. We had purchased it at auction in 1997 for Peter W.'s mother, Ellen (Oma to our kids), to live in when we moved her from Monterey, California to Manhattan to be near us so we could care for her. When we first bought it in the spring of 1997, before we moved Ellen there that summer, Leif and Nikko lived in the basement of the house while we were painting and cleaning it and getting it ready for Ellen.
Ellen died September 22, 2002. She fell and crushed her femur in June and never recovered. While she was in nursing care during her last months, we didn't want the house to stand empty, a target for thieves, so we asked Leif to move into it. He had just signed a lease for his apartment on 11th Street, and had to break the lease in order to move into the house. But luckily for him, he went from a tiny apartment to a whole house.
Leif lived there from July 2002 until he moved with his dad to Florida in March 2005. During those years, he went through a lot, pulling out of the depression he was in when he came back to Manhattan from the army in May 2001, graduating from college in May 2003, meeting and falling in love with J. in the fall of 2003, when he was the happiest I remember seeing him since high school in Puerto Rico or when he first married Nikko. And then the heartbreak when the romance didn't work out and he was depressed again in early 2004.
He was involved in SCA, worked as a school crossing guard while in college, and then worked at what was then Western Wireless (now taken over by Alltel), and enjoyed the night life of Manhattan in Aggieville, where he liked to play pool occasionally. The trouble was, he felt he couldn't find women his age in the college town, that the "good ones" were all taken, and that he didn't have much in common with the college girls at his age. The career opportunities were slim, too, and he felt he would have a lot more opportunity in Florida.
Leif had friends in Manhattan and more of a social life than he developed in Florida. He also was heavily involved in ZAON. It's a shame he didn't connect more with people here. He was never very outgoing, an introvert, though when he knew people and liked them, he could be the life of the party. Meeting strangers was harder. I understand that very well. I think he got that "hang back and watch" trait from me.
But enough of all that. It's Halloween, a holiday Leif enjoyed. This is the last photo I have of him having a good time on Halloween, and I hope those who were at his party enjoyed it, too.
Happy Halloween, Leif, wherever you are.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
We moved to Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico in the summer of 1990, barely a year after the island suffered devastation from hurricane Hugo, and just a month before mobilization for what was then called Operation Desert Storm began. Life there could have been a relaxed, Caribbean sojourn, but instead it involved a lot of stress and many, many extra hours of hard work for Peter W., who became the mobilization officer, and me, as I chose to work with family support activities helping with programs for many frightened wives who would see their husbands off to war.
Leif had some initial trials as the new, tall "gringo" at Antilles High School, but he got through them and made some wonderful friends. In some ways, I think his two years in Puerto Rico may have been the happiest of his life once he was accepted.
These photos were taken after we had been in Puerto Rico for a year and although I am no longer sure, I think Leif was going to a Halloween party. You can see his wild humor in these photos, covering his head with shaving cream.
We had very special neighbors who became our friends at Fort Buchanan, too. The friends we made helped to make a stressful time into something shared and in many ways pleasurable. One of those friends, Jennifer, shared these thoughts with us after hearing about Leif's death:
I remember him as an intensely intelligent young man with such a distinct sense of humor!
I remember you telling me that he got the part in the High School production of "Grease" and it was so delightful to see him on stage and to hear about the mishaps with the main prop - the car!
Tim and I being childless and far from family most of our military career, didn't have the privilege of attending our siblings family events very often, so seeing your handsome Alex up there was a memorable treat for us.
I remember Halloween in the tropics....what to wear as a costume that you wouldn't sweat to death in was a serious challenge....Alex was GENIUS here- and covered his entire head with shaving cream!
I remember having a conversation with you about having ones ears pierced and chiming in that I had been the one to pierce all of my younger sisters ears.
Jerri, I thought your attitude was sooo coool to let Alex be one of my clients! I remember that he studied Marshal Arts, and was very disciplined in mind over matter. He didn't flinch at all during the procedure. I'm sure he was thinking about the outcome and the benefit that he would experience because of the short discomfort he'd experience in my kitchen that day.
It has been a pleasure seeing him grow to adulthood through the pictures in your yearly newsletters.
How well I remember Leif getting his ears pierced! I wish I had photos. He did have to exercise some mental discipline during that procedure, as he could take pain, but didn't like to see blood.
Leif wore an earring off and on for several years, throughout the rest of high school and his initial years of college. Even during military service, he sometimes wore one when off duty. But later, as he got older, he ceased wearing them.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
These photos weren't taken at Halloween, but they seem to belong in a Halloween time frame. Our family enjoyed dressing up and taking pictures every now and then. It seems to run in the family, as my mother did that, too, and so did my brother and sisters and I when we were kids.
If I remember correctly, we were dressed up for some other occasion. Either Peter W. and I were going to some formal event and were dressed in a tux and formal, or Peter A. was going to his high school prom. We have a lot of other photos taken at the same time that show us in such clothing, and the guys posing with fake guns and acting like James Bond. I've already posted some of them. We all had a good time taking pictures like this.
Here, Leif is wearing his dad's white dinner jacket and his red satin lined opera cape, and vampire fangs.
These were taken in our small living room in our quarters on base at Fort Sheridan, Illinois. We moved there from Hawaii in August 1986. Peter W. was assigned as the JAG (legal advisor) to the Military Entrance Processing Command at Great Lakes.
We chose to live on base at Fort Sheridan, though we could have lived in a housing area nearer to Great Lakes or in any of the surrounding civilian communities, because it made it possible for our sons to go to school in Highland Park. We had investigated school systems and private schools around the area and these seemed to be the best possibilities for them. Indeed, Peter A. had a great senior year at Highland Park High School, and Leif did some of the best schoolwork of his entire education at Northwood Junior High.
Leif was 12 years old in these photos.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Between the last post, from 1977 in Germany, and this one in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1983, we had moved from Germany to Japan (1980-1983) and then to Hawaii. This photo is of Peter W. and Leif carving pumpkins on the floor of our kitchen. Making jack o'lanterns is a messy job, but such a tradition that you have to do it as long as you have children living at home . . . or grandchildren visiting.
I don't know whether Leif got dressed up and went trick-or-treating for Halloween in 1983 or not. He probably did, as he was still three months before his 8th birthday, but I couldn't find any photos. Halloween was definitely not cold there, and kids could wear just about anything for a costume. I'm still surprised that we have so few Halloween photos.
In Honolulu, we lived in the Aliamanu Crater Housing Area, a military housing area that was in the bowl of, and on the outside slope of, the ancient Aliamanu volcanic crater. Our townhouse had a lanai (porch) facing Pearl Harbor on the outer slope of the crater. It had a lovely view, and it was magical at night with the lights of Pearl Harbor, Pearl City, and Aiea.
Carved pumpkins didn't last long in Hawaii or Puerto Rico. It was too warm and if you left them outside as a decoration, they decomposed much more quickly than they did in cooler climates.
Leif (who started using the nickname "Alex" when we moved to Hawaii) went to Red Hill Elementary School, and was in third grade when this photo was taken.
I'm having problems with Blogger tonight. I can't get it to let me upload a photo and I'm not sure this post will work. I'll keep trying but if I can't get the photo to upload, I won't be able to do the post I had planned tonight.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Peter Anthony was very interested in magic, stage makeup and the like. During the time we lived in Fuerth, Germany (right next to Nurnberg), he had both a magic set and a horror makeup set. I don't know which one the boys had more fun with.
The horror makeup set had some kind of a gel that would set up and result in a pliable, translucent plastic. The kit came with molds in which to shape the gel into "scars" that could be applied to the face or body with a supplied adhesive. There was, of course, fake blood, and makeup to color the scar and apply around it to make it look like part of one's skin.
Naturally, vampire teeth were supplied, along with other appurtenances.
This fall, 1977, when Peter A. was almost 9 years old, and Leif was not quite 3 years old, Peter had a great time mixing up scars, making himself up as the horror star of some wild story, and involving Leif, or his friend Baker Jordan, in his adventures.
In the photo above, Peter the vampire, in his fancy dress shirt and his dad's opera cape, is pretending to bite Leif in the neck. Leif was happy to cooperate in this game.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Given the importance of Halloween to American kids, even those living overseas on US military bases, I'm surprised that we don't have more photos of the boys in Halloween costumes.
Unlike kids today, who wear purchased costumes or who have talented mothers who make terrific ones, our kids did the same as I did as a child and concocted their own costumes out of whatever they had that appealed to them. I've already posted the photo of Leif as Luke Skywalker, when he was in kindergarten in Japan.
These photos were taken a couple of years later. Peter A., who was almost 14, decided it would be more fun to stay home and scare the other kids. He and Leif made a "ghost" using a ball, rope, stick and sheet (which they got from me) in which they put holes for eyes. The sheet did double duty as a costume and a scary ghost.
In the photos above, you can see Leif up on the roof of the little porch roof over our front door, holding the pole with the rope attached to the ball, over which the sheet was draped. Peter Anthony is pretending to be frightened of it. There is considerably more light in these photos than was actually out there, because I used a flash to take them. It was actually quite dark and frightening, at least from the kids' point of view.
It was easy to get onto that little porch roof by climbing right out of Peter Anthony's bedroom window. The head in the bottom of the right photo was the parent of some of the kids who had come to get candy. The bottom of that photos is unfortunately way overexposed.
What they did was, bobble the ghost up and down and wave it about in the dark, while one of them shined a flashlight on it. The effect was quite eerie, especially with the scary noises they provided, with the conspiratorial help of their dad, who hooked up a microphone to the stereo system so it functioned as a PA address system. He, and they, could moan, whoop, scream, and make any other frightening noise they could come up with, as well as saying things to the trick-or-treaters in deep and monstrous voices.
They had a lot of fun, and practically scared some of the trick-or-treaters completely away. We had to coax them back. You can see a stainless steel bowl on the porch step. It was filled with candy to give out, but any kid who wanted some had to endure the scary ghost first.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Some of the boys in the neighborhood built a pretty cool hideout out of branches that had been trimmed from some of the trees in the wooded area. I took these photos of Leif peeking out of the hideout and you can see it was pretty large.
Leif's friend Anil shared this memory of what happened to the hideout with me:
I have an interesting memory about this one...I believe that Leif and a friend of his from down the street (with whom I had a falling out) built this shelter. It was very well constructed and I believe it was built over a ditch or crater in the ground so there was actually quite a bit of room to sit inside.
In the picture there is a blue structure to the left and what faintly appears to be Sagamihara's back gate, and from what I remember the shelter was in the "Batman's trail" woods across the street from where we lived (so maybe the blue structure is the Ushijima's old house, and is across the street, i.e. in our court; maybe the car is on the street?).
These guys spent forever building it, then one day when they weren't around I went over to the shelter with another troublemaker, and we were horse-ing around, and pretty much collapsed the thing. I remember walking around and on top of it with another boy saying aloud "this doesn't look that safe, it's not that strong" which quickly became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe I was persona-non-grata with Leif and the other boy for some time after that. But I also think that they rebuilt it to some extent.
I don't remember that, but it sounds like the typical neighborhood boy story. They all got along well most of the time, and I don't remember Leif ever not wanting to play with Anil. :)
Friday, October 24, 2008
Kids are amazing. If we parents had told them to go out and rake and clean up all the leaves on our end of the housing area, they would have whined and protested, and definitely not wanted to do it.
But something got them started on their own. I don't know which of the boys was the ringleader, or even why they decided to do it, but Peter A., Leif, Anil, Atul and a couple of other neighborhood boys decided to spend an afternoon of hard work in the woodsy area near our townhouses.
We lived at the farthest end of enclosed (fenced) and gated Sagamihara Family Housing Area, a facility for families with a member serving in the military at Camp Zama, which was about two miles away. In addition to housing, which consisted for the most part of row or town houses with some single family houses for upper ranks, the area had a club, child care center, movie theater, swimming pool, elementary school, commissary (grocery store for you civilians), racquet ball courts, Boy Scout hut, and probably more facilities I've forgotten.
Many of the townhouses, at least in our part of the housing area, were arranged around three sides of large grassy areas where kids played, with the fourth side on the street and parking area. Our end only had two sides with townhouses. The third side was a small wooded area that was an even better place to play at times. That's where all the leaves were coming from, and where they had piled up high.
My recollection is that this is the only time in the three years we lived there that the kids showed any interest in cleaning up the leaves or any initiative about doing it, but for some reason, they had a mission that day. Maybe they were going to do something special in that wooded area and needed to have it free of the carpet of leaves. If any of the boys (now all men, of course) who took part remembers whether there was some special reason, maybe if they see this blog they'll let me know.
Anil and Atul lived in the second set of townhouses, the one perpendicular to the street. Ours faced the street. Their delightful Indian family were our neighbors for the three years we were there, and they were good friends of Leif's from the start.
We stayed in contact with them for years after both our families left Japan, but we lost track of each other some years ago. Now we are back in contact, thanks to the internet, but it was with a heavy heart that I had to tell them of Leif's death.
It's hard to hear of the death of a treasured childhood friend, and I thank Anil for permission to post some of his thoughts and memories on this blog. He wrote to me that;
My memory of him remains that of a very unique, creative playmate who had the best Star Wars toys and probably the only Apple computer within a 50-mile radius of the base.
One memory I have was when my parents bought us a set of kites that were strung together in a daisy chain. Leif and I went to fly them on an extremely windy day. We had put together two spools of nylon and watched as we got to the end of the second reel. Leif and I held on to it as tight as possible, and the kite practically dragged us across the lawn before we let go, spool and all. The kite must have been over 500 feet high and drifted off into the horizon. We weren't sure whether we were angry at losing the kite or ecstatic that we'd launched it into the lower atmosphere!
How I wish I had photos of that adventure! I thank Anil for sharing it with me.
In the fall 1982 photo, left to right: Atul, Peter A. (nearly 14, Anil (behind), Leif (age 7). Sagamihara Housing Area, Japan.
When I was a child, I never dreamed that I would be raising my family in far flung places like Germany, Japan, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, though I did dream of visiting those places. To my sons, the military life was all they knew, so moving to foreign countries didn't seem strange to them, though they certainly enjoyed learning all the new things and places.
This photo was taken in the fall in Tokyo, and the two boys were having a blast charging through the deep leaves on the sidewalk. Peter A. was almost 12 and Leif was a little over 5 and a half. Since they were six years apart, you'd expect a much greater difference in height, but since Leif was always so tall for his age (wearing clothes that Peter A. had worn just two years earlier!) they appeared to be much closer in age, and got along that way, too.
I no longer remember what outing we were on in Tokyo when this occurred. We went fairly often, almost always by train, unless we were taking a bus trip offered by the Camp Zama tours office. The boys liked to ride the train and it was always an adventure. Sometimes we went to visit a museum, or a temple. Sometimes we were going shopping. Most fun was the electronics district in Akihabara, and next was Shinjuku. Sometimes we were going to a festival, like the Yabusame exhibition and festival at one of the temples. Yabusame is archery and it is most impressive done on horseback.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
In Kansas, where Leif was born, it's autumn and the leaves are turning colors and falling. Leif spent about 11 years of his life in Manhattan, Kansas in three different periods.
He was born there on January 28, 1975 and lived there in our old stone house until the summer of 1976, when we moved to Charlottesville, Virginia. This photo was taken during that first year.
We had about 33 trees in our large corner lot, and they produced prodigious amounts of leaves each fall, especially the giant oak tree near the side door that we persisted in calling the "back door" because it was the way out to the back yard, detached garage and parking area.
We were out raking up the carpet of leaves that was nearly three inches thick and Leif was tired of being in a backpack or high chair, so I put him down in the midst of the leaves to see what he would do.
Unfortunately, he couldn't talk yet at the tender age of 10 months, but I would have loved to hear what he thought of it. He crawled through them picking up his hands high as though to get them out of the deep mess.
Fall was a beautiful time in Manhattan. The town has so many trees that on some of the older streets in our part of town, it's like driving under a canopy that completely covers the street, like a tunnel of green, or, in the fall, a tunnel of color.
Of course, once the leaves fall it isn't so attractive any more, but during that balmy period known as Indian Summer, it's a lovely place.
Leif would be back in Manhattan when we moved there from Puerto Rico in the fall of 1992 when Peter W. was forced to retire from the army (he did not want to!) by the Congressional insistence on reducing the force levels after the first Gulf War. He finished high school there, just his senior year, and went to college there at Kansas State University until enlisting in the army in January 1998.
The last time Leif lived in Manhattan was May 2001 until March 2005, after he was medically retired from the army due to his asthma, and returned there to finish his college degree and work for Western Wireless, which was purchased by Alltel.
I have wonderful memories of fall, whether in Manhattan, Kansas; Charlottesville, Virginia; Germany; or Japan.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
On July 5, 2006, Leif sent this to me as a text message, after his apartment was robbed in the afternoon in broad daylight, the thieves making off with $7,000 worth of property including computers, cell phones and guns:
"I am OK. You know me. I am the rock. Also the good thing about my life of having once been so dark as to make me want to end it in overcoming it means there is nothing I can't handle. After that everything else is just a new adventure or challenge. I am so much stronger now. This did not even raise my pulse. Just a speed bump. The car is still running great. I see it almost as a good thing, it will allow me to move out of here."
Leif seemed to absorb the many difficulties he faced with equanimity, and often to turn them into something better. In this case, he moved out of an apartment complex which he had come to hate and see as a den of crime into a better one, replaced his property with newer things, and went on with his life, as if it hadn't affected him, though it had.
He had to break his lease to move out, and although the apartment complex had done nothing to secure his (and his girlfriend's) safety after the break-in, or even repair the damage to the inside of the apartment, they came after him for a lot of money. The complex was owned by one of New York's worst slum landlords, according to newspaper accounts. It took two-and-a-half years of contesting it, but they finally seem to have ceased trying to collect.
At the new place, barely seven months later his beloved Suzuki motorcycle was stolen from the parking lot.
During the same period, he went through job and personal difficulties and faced his continual money problems.
The two self portrait photos above show clearly the decline in his mental and physical health. The earlier one was taken in March 2003, when he was about to graduate from Kansas State University and had finally climbed out of his deep depression after his marriage breakup and his problems with the army and his asthma. This was the picture that he liked enough to make it the profile photo on his MySpace page.
The later photo is another self portrait he took in the parking lot at his work, November 21, 2007, ten days after he sent me this message:
"No things are not bright. Rather dark actually as I struggle to find purpose. ... I miss having a purpose. A reason to keep trudging on despite the fact that each day holds far more difficulties and irritations than it holds joys or pleasures."
It was that message (and the rest of it) that made me so worried about Leif.
At that time his quest for love was failing, no matter how hard to tried to find someone. His quest for a career was not going as he hoped and planned. He was in pain from the motorcycle accident on July 12th that put him in the hospital for the operation that screwed a 9 inch metal plate to his broken collarbone. He was spiraling downhill. I was extremely worried about him.
Then end of hopes and dreams is a terrible thing, a life-killing thing, but he seemed to come out of it. We had good visits with him in January, February and March, but he continued to exhibit one of his faults . . . denial of problems, both financial and emotional.
Leif had many wonderful qualities, a brilliant mind, a great sense of humor, incredible physical strength, but he also, like all of us, had faults. He knew what some of them were, and listed them in the quote I put on yesterday's post, but there were some he denied to himself and others.
Leif could be inconsiderate and uncommunicative, aloof and evasive. As his mother, I had to learn to deal with those qualities without becoming angry and punitive. If Leif didn't want to answer a question, he would simply ignore it or give evasive answers.
When he came back from the army in May 2001, he lived with us briefly over the summer until he got admitted to KSU and found an apartment in August. He was welcome to have dinner with us any day he was there, but all we asked was that he let us know if he was going to be there so we could have enough food and not be waiting for him if he wasn't going to show up. But that was apparently too much to ask. He wouldn't do it, and I had to ask him every day whether he would be there. Sometimes he was willing to commit himself, sometimes not. He didn't want to commit himself in case something better came along, but all we asked was that he let us know two hours before dinner.
That's just a small example of the ways in which Leif could be inconsiderate or rude, and yet when he was there with us, we invariably enjoyed it!
Leif liked to drive fast, very fast. He could ill afford to pay for a speeding ticket, but he said the price was worth it to drive the way he wanted to. He had no regard for speed limits.
He was an excellent driver, and would have liked to be a race car driver, though that wasn't a possibility for him. We worried that he would end up disabled or dead because of an accident in his car or motorcycle.
He actually did have an accident with nearly every vehicle he owned. Although they wre not his fault, there is a good possibility that he could have avoided at least some of them by slower, more defensive driving.
The first car he had was a used Mazda RX-7 that we bought for him when he was in college. He loved that car. At an intersection on the west side of Manhattan, Kansas, another car didn't yield the right of way and to avoid it, Leif slid the RX-7 into a light pole. There was luckily little damage, but the insurance money allowed him to have the car painted.
His first motorcycle was a yellow and maroon Yamaha. He loved tearing around on that, too, but he was coming down a hill on Fort Riley, a winding steep road, and slid out on some sand at the edge of the road. The resulting crash did little damage to the cycle, but the jeans on Leif's leg were scraped right off of him and his leg had a terrible case of "road rash." He didn't have medical insurance and didn't want to pay for a huge hospital or doctor bill, so we went home, nearly in shock, tried to wash out the sand and gravel himself, and hoped it would heal. He didn't tell us about it until days later when it had started to scab over and heal, and although he did have some infection, he luckily got better on his own.
When he graduated from KSU in May 2003, he needed a car. His old one was past repairing except for someone who wanted it as a project car, and he sold it to a man and his son who wanted to work on it together and fix it up with parts from a junk yard. We knew he didn't have the money for a new car, nor a way to pay the payments on one because he didn't have a job yet, so we offered to buy a car for him and he could pay us back once he had a job.
We got him a sleek, black 2002 (new) Dodge Stratus. It was a great-looking car and he enjoyed driving it, though Leif would ALWAYS head to all the dealerships in any town where he lived and try out cars to see what else was there. It was a major pastime with him.
When we moved him to Florida with us in March 2005, we shipped the Yamaha cycle (which he later sold and bought the Suzuki), and he drove the Stratus down. I think it was December 22, 2005 when he called me to tell me he had just been in an accident in Tampa, again at an intersection, and his car was badly damaged and he had a hurt neck. The car turned out to be totaled, and although we had paid cash for it, Leif still owed most of the money to us. His neck continued to cause him pain for the rest of his life.
He got the insurance money, used it to pay off his Suzuki bike loan, which was at a higher interest rate, and promptly found a beautiful used Mazda RX-8, which he got a loan to buy. He had a hard time making those payments after he moved into an apartment in Tampa, the car and insurance payments took about $700 a month out of his pay! He never had an accident with the RX-8, a car he truly loved, but when he died and there was still $16,000 owed on the loan, we had to let the bank repossess it.
In May 2007, after the Suzuki motorcycle was stolen, Leif took the insurance money and purchased his last motorcycle, a 2002 Honda VTX 1800C. It was a completely different style from his two previous "crotch rockets," being a touring bike that was more comfortable to ride. He had it only two months when on July 12, 2007, he was on his way back to work from lunch on 56th Street in Tampa when a white Cadillac cut in front of him. In order to avoid a collision, he "laid the bike down," and him with it. That's when he got the broken collarbone I mentioned earlier, along with nasty road rash on his hands and bald head. He said he would always wear gloves after that, but still resisted wearing a helmet.
Within the space of the three years he lived in Florida, Leif experienced three vehicle accidents, a love affair gone wrong, problems with one job, restructured pay scales at another that made him have to leave for a better paying job, disillusionment at the third one, an apartment robbery, a stolen motorcycle, a motorcycle accident that ended up causing him a lot of pain, and financial problems that finally got out of hand.
yet like most men, Leif denied depression, even when he was clearly depressed. That's why that email admitting that life was "rather dark" concerned me so much.
I can't look at the difference in these photos and not see that he had become depressed. There is hope and even innocence in the earlier photo. There is a kind of grim sadness and disillusionment in the latter.
Leif use to insist to me that he had no regrets. I had a long talk about this with him once before we moved to Florida. I asked him whether that was true even after all he had been through (much of which I haven't written about in this blog) and some of the choices he made, but he insisted that he wouldn't have done anything differently, that he had no regrets.
I don't know whether he still felt that way when he died. I didn't have that kind of conversation with him again, but knowing Leif, he would probably have still insisted that he would not have changed his actions or his choices even after experiencing the outcomes.
But who knows? Was that just a big front, male defensiveness? I don't know. Maybe it's possible, that despite the heartache and physical pain, he would not have been willing to give up the experiences he had.
I wish he had still been as strong as he said he was on July 5, 2006. He would still be here.
Monday, October 20, 2008
If Leif and Nikko's marriage had survived, and he were still alive, October 20th would have been their 13th anniversary. Sadly, that was not meant to be.
They only had three years together before he went into the army, some months during the summer of 1998 at Fort Drum, New York, and a few months in the late spring and summer of 1999 after he returned from service in Bosnia together.
All marriages face challenges, and unfortunately, love does not conquer all. We bring our children up on fairy tales about living happily ever after. All that has to happen, the stories show, is that two young people meet, fall in love, get married, and the future will be bright and beautiful.
We also feed them lovely stories about princes and knights rescuing damsels in distress. This is appealing to both men and women (not all of them, but many). A young woman can look forward to being chosen and "rescued" (taken away to a wonderful future of love) by her prince, and the young man glories in the prospect of shining in her eyes as the rescuer.
But these lovely fairy tales that so permeate our culture do nothing to help young lovers survive the very real trials of life.
Nikko and Leif faced those trials from the beginning, and only one of them was money. That was compounded by others, being far from family and friends for the first time in a place they hated, in a climate that was terrible for Leif's health. The final blow, though, was being separated. Many military marriages founder on separation, and although it wasn't the only factor, it was the decisive one for them, I think.
When Leif returned from Bosnia in the spring of 2000, with his health ruined by asthma, they also were faced with financial problems and difficulties adjusting to being together again. They were miserable.
Leif wrote to me in June that Nikko was going back to Kansas. She took the bus back late in the summer of 2000 and they were never together again.
Leif took the separation hard. He was extremely depressed, not only at losing Nikko, but at being alone in the army at Fort Drum, dealing with a sergeant who did not believe he had the health problems he did and treated him like dirt, and trying to deal with the army about both his health and eventually his boarding out of the service due to the asthma, and trying to keep up the household and clear it out when he left the service in May 2001. He contemplated suicide but ultimately overcame it, though he was a very sad and depressed man when he came home from the army, medically retired, in May 2001.
It was a sad time, and we ached for him. Nikko had been very unhappy, too, and it was so hard to see those two young lovers grown so far apart.
I remember telling Nikko when they got engaged (and told the same to Leif) that the very qualities that she found attracted her to him would be the hardest to live with. She found his strength and masculinity appealing, his superior aloofness, his knowledge and intelligence. He loved her volatility, her need for a strong man, her beauty and whimsicalness.
No one outside of a relationship can ever really know what goes on inside it, how two people help or hurt each other, how they make it work or how it falls apart, but Nikko told me she was leaving Leif because she wanted them to "stop hurting each other."
On March 23, 2008, just 17 days before he died, Leif wrote this to me in email:
"I find that first of all, sadly, most women have had very poor experiences with men. Many women are happy just to have a man that doesn't hit them and think that is a find. That is tragic but compared to most men I am a prince. I treat them well and am a gentleman. I am also very honest and I don't play games and women tend to trust me readily and I don't betray that trust. . . . They THINK they are in love with me. They feel more comfortable and secure with me than ever before . . . and they are sure they are in love with me.
"Once the euphoria of the beginning wears off they start to look at day to day life with Leif, then they see my flaws. I am independent. I am aloof. I am often insensitive. I also am usually stronger and need them a lot less than they need me. It turns out she realizes that I do not engage her like she wants me to. Then they realize I am not what they really need."
This is a rather dry analysis, but it's accurate. Leif could be very uncommunicative and withdrawn, aloof, as he puts it. He could be inconsiderate and blunt. He was reckless with money.
Nikko and Leif stayed in contact, saw each other, and remained friends. They were divorced on October 7, 2002. Legally, they were married almost exactly seven years, though they only spent a little over half of that time together.
Nikko surprised Leif and all of us by enlisting in the army in the spring of 2003. She wrote to him from basic training, and visited him when she returned to Kansas after basic. He was proud of her and saluted her when they said goodbye.
Nikko has made a career of the army, and Leif continued to be proud of her promotions and her progress. This photo of her was taken on April 29, 2008, when she had come all the way from Germany for Leif's Memorial Services to say goodbye to her friend. We were glad to see her, and touched that she wanted to be there.
We will always be sad that her marriage to Leif didn't last and provide them both with the happiness and emotional sustenance they needed, but we are proud of them for remaining friends.
We wish Sergeant "Nikko" (who no longer goes by that nickname) well in her life, her career, motherhood, and her marriage.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
While we were in Ottawa with Leif and Nikko in July 1999, we happened upon the Zaphod Beeblebrox Nightclub. It was late afternoon, so although we could look in and the bar was open, there wasn't a show or an audience then. We were sightseeing and had a long drive ahead of us. And besides, loud rock music wasn't something Peter W. and I were especially fond of.
But Leif would have LOVED to spend time there, listen to the bands, and drink a Pan Galactic Gargleblaster in honor of Zaphod, the two-headed character in Douglas Adams' "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." At least we got a photo of the two of them in front of the place.
Leif was introduced to Adams' absurb sci fi series by Peter Anthony, who had read it in his science fiction literature class at the Air Force Academy and insisted the whole family needed to read it. We did. Leif was captivated, reading the first book while in junior high and (the boy who said he didn't like to read) doing both illustrated book reports and a Zaphod Beeblebrox soft sculpture to creatively fulfill school assignments.
Leif read all of the books in the trilogy - a trilogy with more than three books, true to the absurdist element, and he had a boxed set of which he was proud.
I think Leif and Nikko later went back to Ottawa and did visit the night club, but we weren't with them, having driven back to Kansas.
I think photos I took of Leif and Nikko on this July 1999 trip to see them at Fort Drum are the last ones I have of them together. That fall, he was deployed to Bosnia with his unit, the Tenth Mountain Division, for seven months. The two of them came back to Kansas to visit the following summer, 2000, and it was clear that the separation had been hard on their young marriage, which had dealt with strains before but now was breaking. I could see that they were unhappy, and had some long talks with them, but I hoped they could overcome the difficulties. It was not to be.
On this trip, not knowing what was ahead, we all had a good time. I'm glad we had those days together.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Leif and Nikko had been at Fort Drum, New York for a year and he was on order to go to Bosnia with the peacekeeping force. We wanted to see him before he went, so we drove to New York so see them. Although we could have stayed at their apartment, we discovered that Fort Drum had the LeRay Mansion, built in 1826-1827 on base, and it was divided into DVQ (Distinguished Visitor Quarters) suites. Peter is eligible to stay in DVQs on some bases, and we were lucky to be able to stay at the LeRay Mansion.
Leif, as an enlisted Private First Class, had never been to that area of the base and had no idea anything like that, with the Historic District around it, existed there. It was a beautiful park-like setting.
Leif was able to get some time off while we were there, so we were able to see some of the local sights. We took a boat trip on the St. Lawrence River to see the Thousand Islands area with its incredible mansions on these privately owned islands. We went out to eat, particularly at Leif's favorite place in Sackets Harbor, to the west a few miles on Lake Ontario. I think it was the Sackets Harbor Brewing Company, which would fit, as Leif loved beer.
We also went to Ottawa, Canada for a day. Leif had been there with us when he was in high school and we took a long trip through Ontario and Quebec, but Nikko hadn't been there, and we had a great day walking around seeing the sights, crossing the bridge into Hull, and enjoying beautiful weather.
This photo of them was taken on the bridge between Ottawa and Hull, and you can see the Parliament building in the background behind them.
Friday, October 17, 2008
We got tickets to fly Leif and Nikko home to Kansas for Christmas 1998 and although Kansas has far less severe winters than upstate New York, they arrived in frigid, gray and icy weather. They were still affectionate and cuddly, as they are on the settee in my mother's house, Leif's "Grandma K." who had a large gathering there for our traditional family Christmas Eve dinner and gift opening. My brother, Donovan, and his family were there, too.
You can see one of the gifts from us, the wrenches on the floor at Leif's feet.
While they were in Kansas, they got to see friends and family, hang out a bit in Aggieville, and enjoy the holidays, though I don't think they were looking forward to going back to Fort Drum. Leif was hating the long, cold, extremely snowy winter and having problems with his health as cold weather and exercise induced asthma started causing him breathing difficulties.
Sadly, this was to be the last Christmas that Leif and Nikko would spend together. The following year he would be in Bosnia, and when he returned, the separation had dealt a final blow to their marriage. In this last Christmas photo of them together, they had been married for three years.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Leif and Nikko were assigned contracted quarters off base from Fort Drum in the city of Watertown, New York. It was quite a long drive to the base for work, and Nikko got a job there working in a pizza place. I don't have the establishment quite right, but it was a sort of recreation center on base, as I recall. They each had to make that drive separately.
This photo is of them at the formal Battalion Ball held at Fort Drum on December 3, 1998. Leif had been in the army for 11 months, and they had been at Fort Drum together for six months. They had been married for three years.
I don't think that Leif's asthma had developed yet, and they were just heading in to the first severe upstate New York winter they would experience.
Although Leif wasn't keen about Watertown, there were things in the area they enjoyed, and although life as an infantry private was tough and finances continued to be tight, that first year they seemed to be doing all right, and they were coming home to Kansas for Christmas. Leif had been to Uzbekistan in the fall and now was back with Nikko. They were a handsome couple.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
When we were in Georgia for Leif's graduation from Infantry Basic, he was allowed some off-base time and we took Leif and Nikko out to dinner at a Japanese restaurant. They looked like a couple of lovebirds, and the Japanese steakhouse chef make a big heart with the fried rice on the grill in front of them.
When Leif finally got through with training and came back to Kansas in May 1998, he and Nikko were happy to be together again, but they faced the grueling task of getting their belongings ready to move and then driving all the way to upstate New York in a short period of time with two vehicles and their cats.
We were sorry to see them leave Manhattan, but had high hopes that the army would be good for them. It was certainly to bring monumental changes in their lives.
Leif was 23 years old, and this photo clearly shows how his hairline was receding fast. Only four years before, he had luxurious long, long hair, and just a couple of years before this, he still had a good head of hair. You can see the future coming, when he would decide to shave his head.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Leif had started as a student at Kansas State University while he was still a senior at Manhattan High School because he had plenty of credits for high school graduation. He was a full time student at KSU in the fall of 1993, and in October 1995, when he should have been in his junior year, he and Nikko got married.
Like all students, they struggled financially, even with the substantial assistance we gave them, but one reason for that was Leif's spending. He bought a Yamaha motorcycle, which he could ill afford, and that added monthly payments he had to make.
He worked part time in the electronics department at Sears, and Nikko was working at a futon store in Aggieville, and for awhile, they were doing reasonably well. Then disaster struck. After the Christmas holidays, Sears fired a lot of employees, believing they weren't needed after the Christmas rush, and Nikko lost her job. Suddenly, they were without income.
Leif found a job at Aggieville Pizza, and I helped Nikko find a job as a waitress at Country Kitchen, but during the time they were without jobs, they had run up bills they couldn't get on top of.
Finally, by the fall of 1997, Leif was working full time at Aggieville Pizza, until closing at 2 AM and then having to stay and close. He was exhausted and couldn't find energy or time to study, missed classes, and finally dropped out of school. We were dismayed to find out just how far in debt they were, and that they couldn't pay their rent, insurance or credit card bills. We paid them.
Leif, trying to find a way out of his difficulties, decided to enlist in the army. He wanted to big enlistment bonus given for infantry enlistments so that he could pay some bills and pay some of the money back that we had spent on his bills, though Peter W. (his dad) advised him to choose a different MOS.
He enlisted late that fall, with a reporting date in January 1998. We knew that would probably be the last Christmas we would see them for awhile, and we also had to celebrate his birthday along with Christmas, as he wouldn't be there for his birthday. He'd be at basic training. I'll write more about his military years next month.
I had the impression that Nikko was not happy about his enlistment decision, and while he was gone to basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, she missed him terribly. She shared his letter with us, came over for dinner, asked us lots of questions about the army (since Leif's father had served 24 years) and couldn't wait to see him.
We were allowed to visit him in mid-cycle in March, and we all went to Fort Benning to be with him.
Then we went back for his graduation in April, which is when this picture was taken, right after the impressive graduation ceremony. Leif looked terrific, and he definitely had the bearing of a soldier, tall and confident. Nikko and Leif were so glad to see each other, even though it was only for a few days.
Leif was selected for further training as an armorer, and to fire a new weapon, and so he didn't leave Fort Benning until several weeks after the Basic graduation. He got orders to Fort Drum, New York, and he and Nikko moved there at the end of May 1998.
While we were at Fort Benning, we got to see Peter Anthony who was attending an Air Force class in Montgomery, Alabama. We all went out to brunch at Applebee's and dinner at Outback together.
Monday, October 13, 2008
For Leif and Nikko's second anniversary, we took them out to dinner on October 22, 1997, a couple of days after the actual anniversary. We went to a Thai restaurant in Manhattan, Kansas, and had a great time. It was too dark to get good pictures in there, and this one was lightened considerably with PhotoShop, which is why it's so odd looking. The detail and color just weren't there.
The amusement is over the odd anniversary gift . . . a box of cereal. That wasn't the only anniversary gift we gave them, but it was something for fun. As I recall, Leif had said that cereal was too expensive and he didn't like to pay for it, or couldn't, something like that, so I bought a box of his favorite kind both to be nice and kind of as a joke.
At this time, Leif was still attending Kansas State University and working. Nikko was working, too, but they were still struggling financially. We knew what that was like, because Peter W. and I were married for three years while we were both in school.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Although Leif and Nikko had hoped to have a formal wedding celebration sometime following their elopement vows in front of the Riley County judge, it never happened. They never really announced their marriage in the year that followed, or were given wedding gifts, so I decided to give them a first anniversary party, send out formal announcements of their marriage, and invite friends and family to a party at our house to celebrate.
We had a house full of happy people bringing gifts, enjoying wedding cake and toasting the bride and groom. There were nice gifts and funny gifts, like a pair of plaid boxer shorts for Leif (sleepwear).
Leif and Nikko were now each 21 years old, affectionate, playful and so cute together.
We were glad to be able to really acknowledge their marriage at last.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
This photo was taken at my mother's house (Leif's grandmother, Marion S. Kundiger) on Pottawatomie Street in Manhattan, Kansas. In those days, when my brother, Donovan, and his family were living in the area, Mom would have large family gatherings at her house for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, and also birthday dinners for all those having a birthday in a particular month. We all looked forward to those events, and usually there were 13-16 people there. The Christmas of 1995 there were even more. My sister, Sherie, and her family came all the way from Michigan, and Donovan was engaged at that time and had his finance and her children there, too. It was quite a crowd.
And, of course, Leif and Nikko were there, for their first Christmas as a married couple. They were cute, playful and affectionate.
Our family has a tradition of celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve with a big dinner and opening presents. Our parents wanted us to know where our presents came from, so Santa didn't bring them. "Santa" did come and bring a few small things, like a tangerine and nuts, a toothbrush and a new pair of socks, in our stockings, but the "real" presents were from our parents and other family members. Peter W. and I continued these traditions with our own family.
Mom also waited until the afternoon of December 24th to put up her Christmas tree, a custom common in Germany and perhaps Norway. The tree was always new, magical and special for the celebration that night. Until recent years, the tree was always a real one.
And, we had our Norwegian specialties, without which it just wouldn't have been Christmas. Mom made Julekage, a Norwegian Christmas bread, which made the house smell wonderful, and cookies like Berliner Kranse.
Leif loved all those traditions, especially the Berliner Kranse.
Friday, October 10, 2008
Leif and Nikko were married on October 20, 1995, by a judge at the District Court, in Manhattan, Kansas. The only other people present were Leif's best friend, Michael, and Nikko's friend, Julie.
It would have been an elopement and the marriage kept secret for awhile, except that Leif, as a college student and only 20 years old, was on our medical and auto insurance, and he knew that he wouldn't be eligible for at least the auto insurance and would have to let us know to take him off. So, he told us they were getting married, but they didn't want to have anyone else there for the ceremony. At that time, they hoped to have a wedding celebration at a later date.
I was concerned that at 20 they were too young to get married, and I tried to talk Leif into waiting until he was at least 21, which would have been only three more months, so it probably would not have made a difference, but he didn't want to wait. Leif wanted a companion, friend and lover in his life, and though he and Nikko had been together, and were now engaged, he believed they were ready for marriage. Leif was not afraid of commitment. He sought it.
I told them that getting married was a very special and important step and that I didn't want them to just go the judge and then go home as if nothing had happened, which was what they were going to do. I wanted to give them at least a small celebration of the day. So, I got a small wedding cake, make some decorations, and set up a modest but pretty table.
After the short ceremony, Leif, Nikko, Michael and Julie came to our old stone house to celebrate. My mother, Leif's grandmother, was also there. We shared wedding cake and champagne (or was it sparkling cider, since they were 20 - I don't remember any more). And we gave them some modest wedding gifts. They still wanted to wait for a bigger celebration.
It was a gorgeous fall day, one of those lovely Indian Summer days that occur late in October in Kansas. We not only took photos in the house, but outside with the turning leaves.
They were a handsome, affectionate, cute couple, with all the hopes and dreams for the future that newlyweds have. It was a special day for all of us.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Young love is beautiful. This photo was taken at Nikko's 20th birthday dinner at our old stone house on Moro Street in Manhattan, Kansas, October 8, 1995, just days before they were married.
So much has changed since that day of happiness. The old house is gone, demolished to make way for a townhouse complex. We are gone, moved away to Florida. Their marriage is gone. Leif is gone.
But in this photo, they are young, beautiful, full of hope for the future, and we rejoiced with them.
They lived near us for two years, first within a block, then across the street, then finally on the west end of town before Leif enlisted in the army, and we were happy to be able to spend time with them and share their lives.
Today it is six months since we found Leif and the world of our family was forever changed. I miss him as much today, more, than I did in April. As the days go by, the reality, the finality slowly sets in.
In the movies, on television, death and dealing with it more or less ends with a funeral or the reading of a will. People's lives go on, as though that chapter were finished. In real life, it's not like that. We have to deal every day with the changes, the emotions, the enormous loss.
And, we have to deal with all of the tasks that go with settling the affairs of the loved one who is no longer there. This can take months, years. The myriad details eat away time and open wounds. There are all the belongings to take care of, sell, give away. There are all the financial issues to take care of, the legal ones. The mail that comes for someone now gone, everything from the ubiquitous credit card offers and magazine subscriptions to personal mail that needs to be answered.
With a death like Leif's, there are still issues concerning how he died. The detective's completed investigation just arrived, bringing with it little new information except that now I can see what was done while we had to wait outside in our car, wondering what they were doing in the apartment with our son after we called 911.
The holidays are coming, the first Thanksgiving and Christmas we will face without Leif. We are thankful we have more loving family to spend them with.
I read a horrifying statistic a few days ago, that in 1870 common diseases took the lives of half of all urban infants in the USA before their first birthday. Many more would not make it to adulthood. Modern medicine that can vaccinate children against most of those diseases has made it less common for parents to have to face the death of a child, but I have discovered that there are still many of us who have to live with this pain, and when they find out about our loss, they are willing to talk about theirs.
My heart has always gone out to anyone who loses a loved one, especially a child, especially a son or daughter in the military, but now I know, really know, what that loss means. We are many.
Unfortunately, such deaths are part of life.
This photo was taken on a hike in the mountains in Japan in June 1982. Peter Anthony was 13 and Leif was 7 years old. It was taken by one of Jerri's Japanese friends who took us on the hike in a beautiful rural area. As always, Peter W. has his protective loving arms around his family, but there comes a time when we can no longer protect our children.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Leif met Nikko at the SCA event, Lilies War. I believe it was in June 1993 or 1994. Nikko lived in Wichita, and they might not have gotten together if she hadn't moved to Manhattan, Kansas, where they ended up working together at the Aladdin's Castle video game parlor in the mall.
When they met, Leif had the long, long hair he had as a high school senior, but by the time of their engagement, he cut it because Aladdin's Castle had been purchased by a Japanese firm and they did not approve of long hair.
They made a very handsome couple and you could see the vitality and attraction, the vivaciousness, in their eyes.
They were engaged on June 8, 1995. This photo was taken in our yard in Manhattan, Kansas. Leif was 20 years old, and Nikko was 19. She would be 20 on October 8, four months later.
I started this blog right after Leif died without any plan or idea of what I wanted to do with it, other than remember my son and share those memories with anyone else who wanted to read them. I had no organization to it, no progression other than which memory came to me, or which photo I wanted to post and write about. At one point, I thought about trying to tell a chronological story of his life, but I didn't like it. I didn't want to just spend time on his infancy for a long period. It seemed to me that a more or less stream of consciousness of memories was more real, more like the way we do remember those we love, in random incidents that come to mind.
I also thought, when I started, that I wanted to remember the "good times," but it quickly became clear to me that doing that was also false. I had to be honest about both grief and the times that weren't happy.
And, I discovered that there isn't a way to create a truly rounded picture of Leif's life, because these are mostly photos of him, alone, and some with us, his parents, a few with his brother when they were children. There are whole areas of his life that are missing, without photos of him with friends and lovers, without accounts of their part in his life. However, it is not my story to tell those parts of his life, and I probably could not do it fairly.
Tomorrow it will be six months since Leif died. This is incomprehensible to me. How could we have lived six months without him?
I have not run out of memories, nor things to say, and there are still people from Leif's past who are just now finding out about his death, and they, too, have memories to share.
Now I see some groups of photos that tell a story in themselves, and I am going to try to post some of them that way and see how it works.
I thought that perhaps by six months, I would feel less sadness and sorrow about Leif's death, about the hole in our lives, but I don't. Each day when I wake up, I have to discover anew that Leif is not here. Each time I look at a photo or something that was his, I am struck all over again with missing him.
Except for a funeral or wake, we make grief a private affair. None of us wants to embarrass ourselves with tears (or worse, the kind of sobbing and crying that's much more vocal) in front of others. They don't want to be confronted with it, either. What can they do? They ask how we are doing, and we obligingly say we are all right, or, as I usually say, "It depends on the day and the hour," and leave it at that. But we are not all right.
There are times when I can talk calmly and rationally about Leif and his death, and times when I'm just choked up and can't speak.
Yes, all of this is normal, but it's also lonely. No one can really comfort us. No one can really see inside.
Maybe that is for the best. Although we are sometimes told it is better not to bottle up strong emotions, it is important for us, for me, to be able to control them and go on with life. But I will still cry, though I may do it alone.
This photo of Leif was taken May 22, 1977 in Charlottesville, Virginia. We went for an outing and visited an old mill and the Michie Tavern. It was a hot day. I remember having ice cream cones. Leif loved them, loved ice cream. He was 28 months, or two years and 4 months old in this photo.
The grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love and something to hope for.
- Joseph Addison
It's succinct and correct, but the something to do needs to provide a sense of accomplishment and usefullness; the something to love needs to be something worthy of love and that returns that love; and the something to hope for needs to be something worth hoping for, something sustaining and good, and something attainable.
I wish Leif had had those things.
- Joseph Addison
It's succinct and correct, but the something to do needs to provide a sense of accomplishment and usefullness; the something to love needs to be something worthy of love and that returns that love; and the something to hope for needs to be something worth hoping for, something sustaining and good, and something attainable.
I wish Leif had had those things.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Yesterday I wrote about my sons playing together when they were very young and mentioned how one minute Peter Anthony was trying to keep Leif out of his room, and Leif throwing toys at his door in frustration, and the next minute the two of the playing grand games of imagination together. The second photo, taken in Fuerth, Germany (near Nurnberg) in December 1977 may not have been taken at that exact moment, but it was taken in Peter Anthony's room where they were once again constructing a complex playscape with quite a variety of toys.
It says a lot about Leif's intelligence that he was able to play with Peter Anthony, who was six years older, and a lot about Peter Anthony that he would play with Leif. They each had their own friends, but often chose to spend time together.
In this photo, Leif is not quite three years old and Peter Anthony is days shy of his ninth birthday. Despite their occasional frustrations with each other, I found it quite amazing that a two year-old and an eight-year-old could play imaginatively together using intricate story lines and scenarios.
The photo at the top was taken two years later, in October 1979, when we were living in the German village of Sachsen bei Ansbach. Both boys were attending German schools and by this time were as fluent in German as any of the local kids in the neighborhood and our family was fully bilingual.
Each of them had German friends, Peter Anthony was in an American Cub Scout pack, and the two of them continued to enjoy playing with each other. Peter Anthony was nearly eleven years old and Leif was three months shy of four years old. They were thoroughly engrossed in and indoctrinated by the first Star Wars movie, which came out in May 1977 and you can see that's what they were playing in this picture.
When the boys outgrew those toys, I packed them up and kept them, and now they have been passed on to Peter Anthony's son, Marcus.
There were only a couple of other American kids around in our village, two girls, each the age of one of my sons. Leif and Erin were fast friends, and Peter Anthony occasionally got together with the older girl, but neither of them went to the German schools like our sons did and they didn't speak German.
The summer after the "Star Wars" play photo was taken, we moved to Japan, and there the boys continued their interest in Star Wars but added, as I have written before, an avid interest in the Japanese children's shows on television and the fantastic robot toys that were being produced in Japan at that time.
Some children never learn to play creatively, as our sons discovered when they tried to play that way with other kids, and I was always fascinated to hear them playing with such inventiveness, especially with each other.
Monday, October 6, 2008
Leif and his older brother were close and spent a lot of time together until Peter Anthony left for the Air Force Academy in the summer of 1987, and most of the time they got along well, but not always. Sometimes Peter, like most older brothers, delighted in teasing Leif or doing small things just to get a rise out of him, such as extending his right arm full length and pointing at Leif. Just that, just pointing. It drove Leif nuts.
If I had a dollar for every time I heard, "Mom, Peter's bugging me," I probably could take the family on a trip. One time, Peter did something that made Leif so angry that he grabbed a chain with a bicycle lock on it and chased Peter, swinging it. Whether he would actually have hit his brother with it, I don't know, although I doubt it. That was after he had the outburst in kindergarten and mostly had his temper under control . . . except when it came to frustration when drawing or building models, and then he'd crumple paper or, in extreme cases, break the model.
It was the usual sibling relationship. I remember when Leif was two-and-a-half and we were on the plane from the USA to Germany. They amused each other for quite some time, and then Peter got tired of it and started to get annoyed. They began squabbling, which annoyed me. Of course, it was primarily boredom at work. They were confined and ran out of things to do. Peter A. said to me, "Why does HE have to be here?" and added some comment about why we couldn't just leave him.
It wasn't long after that that Leif fell asleep. I thought Peter A. would be glad, that now he didn't have to put up with his little brother, but no, in a few minutes he was asking me, "When is he going to wake up?"
I said, "I thought you wanted to be rid of him. Now you are. Why do you want him to wake up?"
His answer was so telling, "I'm bored. There's no one to fight with."
When we got to Germany and moved into quarters in Nurnberg, Peter was eight-and-a-half and Leif was two-and-a-half. Peter quickly started making big deal about Leif not coming into his room. One day, he shoved Leif out and Leif got so upset he started throwing his toys at Peter's door. (This was before the kindergarten incident when he decided no more toy throwing.) But then, not long after that, the two of them were happily playing together and had constructed a big spaceport and city with all their toys.
By the time we moved to Japan in 1980, and Leif was five years old and precocious, they could do more together, though they each had their own friends.
These photos were taken in Kyoto in the spring of 1982 when Peter Anthony was 13 and Leif was 7. They were having a good time pretending and posing, play fighting, and making up imagination games. You can see the fake fist "fight" followed by the very genuine affection. There was a lot of that, and we loved to see it.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
These two photos were taken four years apart when we visited Leif's older brother at the US Air Force Academy in September 1987 and when he graduated in May 1991. How clearly Leif has gone from being a child of 12 to a young man of 16 (with his Oakley sunglasses hanging around his neck).
In the younger photo he is leaning on the balcony of his brother's room, wearing Peter A's squadron jacket, which he wanted to try on. I'm sure he was dreaming that he, too, might wear such a jacket, go to the Academy, become a pilot. Being a pilot was his dream, the one that was not to be because his eyes weren't good enough. He didn't have the drive to get the kind of grades needed to be competitive for the Academy, though he certainly had the mind for it. At the age of 12, though, he could still innocently dream of charging through the skies.
Leif and Peter Anthony had been close brothers all the years of Leif's young life until, when he was 12, Peter A. (six years older) left for the Air Force Academy. While he came back for Christmas visits, sometimes at spring break, and perhaps for a brief visit in the summer until 1990, they rarely saw much of each other and the bond between them slipped away.
Peter was so busy with his cadet life that he didn't have time to cultivate that relationship and it was quickly replaced by others. Leif didn't talk about it, but I believe he both felt that loss, and was also newly empowered at home and at school by not being in his brother's shadow. He blossomed, but his dream faded as he found out he could not fly.
We moved to Puerto Rico in the summer of 1990, and between then and when Peter Anthony graduated from USAFA in May 1991, we only saw him once when he came to Puerto Rico for Christmas in 1990, if my memory is correct. Then we went to Colorado Springs for his graduation.
Peter A. now says that it seemed to him as though Leif had suddenly grown very tall and slim and had jumped from being a kid to a young man in one giant leap.
It wasn't that fast, and there were several times between these two photos when they saw each other, but it was the Leif of May 1991 that impressed Peter A. with the fact that his little brother was growing up.
I know Leif looked up to Peter. When he went to college, even though he could not be a pilot, he became an Air Force ROTC cadet, hoping for an Air Force career. Even that was not meant to be. He was acing the coursework and summer camp subjects but was sent home when he pulled a muscle in his groin and could not do the sit-ups required for the physical fitness test.
He didn't show his disappointment to us, as ever putting up the good front, but I know it must have been another heavy blow to him. He could have put himself a year behind in ROTC and tried again, postponing his college graduation (which was eventually postponed, anyway), but instead he dropped out of ROTC. Who knows how his life might have been different but for a pulled muscle and that decision not to stay with ROTC. Leif would have been an outstanding Air Force officer if he had made it.
Unfortunately for both our sons, they never again spent much time in each other's company after Peter Anthony left for the Academy in the summer of 1987. The bonds that loosened were never taken up again. Although the two men had much in common, including deep interests in technology and science fiction, they rarely explored it. It was a loss for both of them.
But here in this photo of Leif at 16, you can see a young man who still was looking forward to a good life, a vital teenager coming into his own.
Saturday, October 4, 2008
You'd think that after all the times I've mentioned Leif's Oakley sunglasses I'd have a whole series of photos with him wearing them, but I don't. I found another one with them hanging from his neck, and I think there are a couple more, but not many.
This was his first pair, and he accessorized them with different colored top bars, nose pieces and ear pieces, all in neon colors. As a grown man, he still went for stylish, expensive eyewear, but his most recent pair of Oakleys were more conservative.
Leif generously gave his "hand-me-down" cool stuff, sunglasses or techie stuff like cell phones, to us. When he "graduated" to Oakleys from Gargoyles, he gave the Gargoyles to his dad, but I don't think they were quite his style and he didn't wear them. Then Leif bought a new pair of Oakleys for Peter W. for either Christmas or birthday, and he still has them, though he rarely wears them.
As a high school student, like he was in this photo at age 16 in Puerto Rico, Leif had an allowance that was supposed to cover entertainment, incidents, haircuts, school lunches and the like. It was based on a budget with enough extra for some fun and entertainment like movies with friends.
It was all spelled out in a "contractual agreement" which we both signed. I made contracts for all kinds of things with my sons. (Leif told me recently he thought I ought to write a book about it because he thought it was a good idea.) I liked the formality of it and having terms clear, none of that, "Well I thought you said," or "I thought you meant," or "You never said that."
Leif knew very well what his allowance was supposed to cover, but if he wanted to buy something and hadn't saved up the money for it, or hadn't gotten gift money for his birthday or something else like that, he would simply go spend his allowance on it and do without all the rest for the remainder of the month, even if it meant he had to go without lunch or skip some fun with friends. He got what he wanted and was willing to put up with the inconveniences of doing without other things. And he figured out how to save more money by not cutting his hair, just letting it grow long, to that luxurious hair he had as a high school senior.
The trouble with that was that I think he tried to continue that same way of spending as an adult and it didn't work with bills to pay. (Though he continued to save money on haircuts by shaving his head.)
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Here's another example of Leif having fun cutting up, again with the sunglasses. This was when he was only 9 years old, long before the advent of Oakley sunglasses, at least for him. He started wearing those when he was in high school and could spend his own money on them. I wasn't about to pay that much for sunglasses, but Leif loved to have stylish things that made him look cool.
In Hawaii, "cool" consisted primarily of wearing his black leather Members Only jacket, even in sweltering heat.
This "costume" is actually a spandex swim cap over his face, one that we had from Germany, where even guys were required to wear them in the public pools, a hat and sunglasses. He got a kick out of doing things like making silly faces, putting things on or over his face (you'll see more about that in a Halloween post), and posing.
Leif never wanted to really grow up, and in some ways, he didn't. An adult who still has a sense of fun is great, though there are parts of adulthood we all really do need to survive, some of which Leif didn't develop. But the ability to cut up and have a good time is something we could all use more of.
I think the fact that he kept that is one reason he got a kick out of his nieces and nephew acting silly and he could be silly with them. In the past few years, I've seldom seen him as happy as when he was playing around with them.
Leif had a great sense of humor and enjoyed cutting up and acting silly at times. For those of you who didn't know him when he had hair, this photo is probably hard to believe. When he was in high school, he had luxurious long hair. The guys teased him about it and the girls loved it.
One day he showed up with hair in his face. Those aren't his sunglasses. He would never have worn that style. He wore his expensive Oakleys, after he got done with the Gargoyles, or at least I think that was the name of them. This photo was taken April 12, 1991 when we were living in Puerto Rico. He was 16 years old.
Look how slim he was! Remember Op clothing? He loved it.
I miss that whacky sense of humor.
He could imitate just about any actor or comedian, and often was able to memorize what they said even if he only heard it once. Two of his favorites were George Carlin and Carlos Mencia.
I wish Leif had been a blogger, or a writer in some other venue. He had plenty of talent, just not the burning desire. He could have been quite a wit online if he had chosen to do so.
He had a wonderful, hearty laugh, and I can still hear it on some videos he took with his cell phone a year ago. It was infectious and warm, a feel-good kind of laugh.