Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Music Leif Listened To The Last Two Weeks of His Life

Leif loved music all his life. He had eclectic tastes. His huge iTunes music collection, nearly all songs ripped from CDs he had purchased over a twenty year period, encompassed everything from Bach organ fugues to rap, from acid rock to Kitaro. The one genre he really didn't go for was country music, but there were even some country songs he liked and had in his library.

Music can either set a mood or reflect the mood we're in. We chose it to lift our spirits, commiserate with our sorrows, inspire us, even help us deal with anger. I think that listening to a lot of dark and unhappy, angry music sets a bleak view of life that's not conducive to happiness.

In the last couple of years of his life, Leif discovered new artists he liked, and I know he listened to a lot of what he called techno music. Much of what he liked was too "growling" with too strong a bass beat for my tastes, without much melody. He cranked it up loud in his car, very loud. He was delighted when it became possible for him to mount his iPod on his dashboard and play it through the car's stereo system instead of having to either pop in one CD at a time or have a changer in the trunk.

iTunes keeps a count of how many times a song has been played, and the last play date. Because of that, I could see what songs Leif was listening to the last two weeks of his life, and how many times he listened to them, and I could listen to them myself. I found that to be a very sad experience. He was listening to very sad music, the saddest of which was Johnny Cash's rendition of "Hurt," from the album "American IV - The Man Comes Around." This is one of the saddest songs I have ever heard, with the line, "I hurt myself to see if I can still feel," and the lines about everyone going away in the end. Leif listened to it 10 times in those last two weeks of his life.

This count is only what he listened to at home on his computer, not what he was listening to in his car. I don't know what he listened to then. But it was at home that he would have been alone and most likely to be feeling lonely and depressed.

I cried when I heard that song, and some of the others. Leif purchased it from the iTunes store not long before his death, and only that song, not the album. As I said, he wasn't fond of country music, but that song must have spoken to him in a deep way.

I know he didn't always go for that kind of depressing music. He loved the guitar soloists from some of the big rock bands in the 1980s, the magic of Kitaro, the hard charging rock of the 80s and 90s.

The photo with this post was taken in Germany in May 1988, twenty years before Leif died. He was 13. We had taken a "Space A" trip on a military refueling plane from Chicago to Bamberg, Germany. There we rented a car and drove to see Peter W's relatives in Heidelberg. Unfortunately, Leif didn't remember his German (he had been so fluent at the age of 5 when we moved to Japan from Germany), so he couldn't talk with his German cousins, but he enjoyed the trip.

One funny thing that happened while we were there staying with Peter W's Uncle Helmut and Aunt Elfriede was the Pink Floyd tape incident. They gave Leif some spending money as a gift and suggested that he and his cousin, Marc, go shopping. Leif wanted to get a cassette tape for his Walkman and found just what he wanted, a Pink Floyd album called "Ummagumma." It has several minutes of some rather odd animal sound noises on one track, called "Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict."

Leif thought this was hilarious and wanted Marc to listen to it. He couldn't explain to Marc what it was, so when Marc listened to it, he thought there was something wrong with the tape and that was why Leif was having him listen to it. When they got back to the apartment, Marc told this to the adults, who thought they should go back and exchange the tape for one that wasn't defective. When we asked Leif what was wrong with it, he had a good laugh and quite a hard time trying to explain that there was nothing wrong with the tape and he actually wanted it that way.

Since Leif's death, I've come to look at music in a different way. I grew up loving music, too, and I fully appreciated the emotional range and impact of music. Now that is even more pronounced. Peter W. said yesterday that he noticed that just about all of the songs on the radio are either love songs, or lost love songs, or somebody done somebody wrong songs. I got to thinking what kind of effect that would have on someone who was lonely, who was looking for love. Wouldn't that just make it all the more poignantly sad?

I've also come to realize that although these songs are written to be about romantic love, many of them have lyrics that apply just as well to any kind of love between people, and those about missing one's love are so much sadder to me now, for although I have my romantic love with me, I don't have my son, and the words of those songs are too true.

Music is powerful and musical tastes are individual. I didn't share much of Leif's musical taste, but I could appreciate what he liked about some of it; some I did like. There were bands and artists he introduced me to that I still enjoy. But now, I look at that music he listened to those last two weeks, and I wonder if it didn't help send him deeper into depression.

It would have been better if he had listened to happier, more uplifting music, instead of matching his own dark mood.

Friday, January 30, 2009

All the Ways We Helped Each Other - Leif & Peter & me

One of the reasons that my relationship with Leif was so close was because we needed and helped each other, and it was clear to both of us that we respected each other and enjoyed the intellectual exchanges and challenging conversations.

Leif didn't ask for help, but he often needed it, whether it was financial, bureaucratic, emotional, or legal advice. Peter W. helped him replace the transmission in his used RX7. We assisted him financially several times, sometimes because he spent unwisely, sometimes because he was a relatively poor student or soldier. I spent many hours helping him by writing letters for his signature, dealing with legal issues on his behalf, tutoring him in math, Spanish or German, and other occasional things like folding laundry or helping him clean his apartment.

But this was not one-sided. Leif helped us, too, sometimes willingly, sometimes out of necessity (on our part), and sometimes, reluctantly, but he did it. Some of the things he did were to help Peter W. construct fences at our houses in Manhattan, Kansas, work on fixing up both houses (painting, sanding floors and the like), mowing the lawn (from Puerto Rico to Florida), helping Peter W. work on our cars, like changing the shocks in the Honda and Maxima wagon. He was very, very strong, and could help us do things we couldn't manage ourselves. He was a whizz with electronics, too, and helped set things up for us, and he helped my mother with her computer several times.

When we decided to move to Florida, Leif was a truly integral part of the move. Without his strength and problem-solving skills, it would have been a lot harder. It was a complicated move. First, we moved Leif and Peter W. to the house in Florida. Meanwhile, I was still in Kansas trying to reduce the load of accumulated possessions for us, my mother, and even Leif. Because we were selling the 804 Moro Street old stone house first, and Leif was moving out of the 710 N. 9th Street house the plan was to move me into that one. In preparation, we had to decide what was being moved to Florida immediately, what I would need to live with on 9th Street, and what we needed to sell.

Initially, Peter W. thought we should move the German "Schrank" (wall cabinet) to the 9th Street house and move it to Florida later on when we made the final move and sold that house. Therefore, we had to take it all apart and would have move it over there ourselves. This was no easy feat. It was over 11 feet long and over 6 feet tall, and it didn't come apart in sections. The long boards were over 11 feet long, and all of it was heavy! Leif was very good at figuring out how to take things apart and put them back together. It seemed to come instinctively to him. Peter W. and I couldn't have taken it apart without him, and certainly couldn't have out it back together or moved it back against the wall.

As it turned out, after we had it all disassembled, which you can see Leif doing in this photo taken August 8, 2004, he pointed out that it would be smarter to move it directly to Florida and not have to carry it over to the 9th Street house and assemble it, then take it apart again in a year to move to Florida. That's what we did, but because we had taken it apart ourselves, the movers would not put it back together in Florida. It's a good thing we had Leif to help us!

He was strong as an ox and was agile enough to climb ladders safely, and that helped with packing other things, but most of all it helped when we got to the Florida house and we not only needed him to put the Schrank together, but put paintings, tapestries and a Japanese wedding kimono high on the cathedral ceiling walls of the new house.

He helped Peter W. find the buried sprinkler system in the yard, which had become totally covered with sand, grass and weeds before we bought the place, in a rather unorthodox manner . . . by stabbing into the ground with one of his swords.

When Peter was back in Kansas periodically helping me get more things ready to move, or we were traveling, Leif kept our lawn mowed.

When I got a new computer monitor, he set it up for me.

Wherever I look in our house, I see things that Leif either put up, installed, or gave us.

He lived here in this house with Peter W. for a year after the two of them moved here before he moved to an apartment in Tampa, a time when they gave each other both help and companionship.

After he moved out, we had frequent contact and saw each other at last once a month.

I think that is unusual for most grown children to have that much contact with their parents unless they live in the same town, and we were fortunate to have it.

Leif knew we worried about him but I hope he also knew how much we loved and appreciated him, and now, how much we miss him.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Who Am I? What Will I Be? Leif in a Photo Essay

In 1984 when I was working on my master's degree in educational technology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, one of the courses I took was Educational Photography. We had no digital cameras in those days, and learning to develop and print in the darkroom, as well as putting together slide shows with actual mounted slides were part of the curriculum. One of the assignments was to do a photo essay on some kind of educational subject.

I no longer remember how I got the inspiration to use Leif and Peter W. as the subjects and pose them and create captions that captured my philosophy of childrearing and education, but that's what I did. The essay was mounted on four large cream-colored matte panels and I kept it for years. When I was moving to Florida permanently in the fall of 2006, I was making hard decisions about what to keep and what to discard or sell. There sat this very large and very heavy photo essay, wrapped in plastic, behind my office door. It hadn't been unwrapped for years. I decided it was time to part with it, but I wanted to be able to keep a memory of it, so, in the irony of modern technology, I took digital photos of it. Now that Leif is dead, I am doubly glad I did so.

The panels read down, after the full essay shot at the top. First there is a pensive Leif looking out a window, under the caption, "Who am I? What Will I Be?

Under that, he is posing in a Japanese tea box, peeking out over a caption that says, "You can't put me in a little box."

In the second panel, he is holding up a "definition" of "Leif Garretson," created like a dictionary entry, which says, "boy; nine years old; student; model builder; TV watcher; bike rider; younger brother; tall; son of Peter W. & Geraldine A. Garretson; likes jets, ships, guns, computers, toys; imaginative, talkative, likes to eat sweets." And under that it says, "You can't label me with a neat little definition.

In the next photo, Peter W. has his arm around Leif's shoulder and he is pointing down the road where they are both looking. The caption reads, "You can't tell me which road to take."

In the third panel, Leif is looking at a large pile of Lego pieces and the caption reads, "All you can do is give me the pieces . . . "

Then Peter W. and Leif are looking at a map and Peter W. is pointing out a road. It says, "and show me the roads . . . "

In the third photo, Leif is building with the Lego pieces, and the caption says, "and I'll build . . . "

"my own life!" This is with the photo on the fourth panel where a smiling Leif is holding two flying vehicles he made with the Lego pieces.

The essay concludes with a contemplative Leif holding pieces of Lego in his hands and underneath is the question, "What pieces will you give?"

Leif died after some emotionally, physically and financially rough years, a little less than two years after I got rid of this essay, which now seems so very poignant and meaningful.

It's so true that we couldn't define him, that we couldn't tell him how to live his life or what path to take. All we could do was try to be the best parents we could and give him the pieces, the skills, to build his life. Did we give him the right ones? We tried so hard to do so. We could not make choices for him. We could not change the bad luck he had. We could not change the heartaches he felt or the genetics he inherited. But could we have given him better tools to withstand them? We will never know. That is one of the worst heartaches of those who survive a loved one's suicide. We all ask, what could we have done differently?

And another sad and poignant thing. We couldn't put him in a little box, but now we have. All that's left of Leif's physical presence on this earth is in a little box in a little niche. How can that be? I look at this essay and think how true it is, and yet how much it doesn't and cannot say.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Trip Down Memory Lane in Honor of Leif's Birthday

How can you celebrate the birthday of someone who is dead? And how can you not remember and mark the day? Today, Leif's first birthday since he died, I wanted to honor and remember him. Since he couldn't come to visit us, I wanted to go to him. Visiting him is a poor term. I know there are people who derive comfort from visiting their deceased loved ones at a cemetery, but for me, it isn't a comfort. It's a way of honoring a memory, of going to the only place where any of my son's physical remains on earth still exist. I know that Leif isn't there, but it's a symbol, a place that has ceremonial and emotional connections.

But to just go to the cemetery is too sad.

The first time we came to the Tampa Bay area, on one of our many trips to Florida looking for the place we wanted to move, we stayed in a hotel in Clearwater. It was our first glimpse of the Gulf and the beaches on that side of Florida, too. We came during KSU's Spring Break in March 2002. Leif was so happy to have a spring break in warm Florida and get out of the raw, cold March weather in Kansas. Undoubtedly, he would have had a better time if he had been able to go with a wife or girlfriend, or with friends his own age rather than with his parents, but he was happy to go and we were happy to take him, as we had always taken him on those trips.

He didn't have much money as a student, but he saved up enough so that he could rent a white Mustang convertible for a day. He spent the day driving all over the bay area, and as I've written before, particularly loved driving over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. We drove over that today, too, on our way down the memory lane, and thought of him and how he loved going over it on his motorcycle.

That evening, in March 2002, he drove us to dinner at Guppy's on the Beach in Indian Rocks Beach, south of Clearwater. I remember being in the back seat of the convertible with the cool evening wind blowing my hair all over the place, and Leif sounding so happy.

I don't remember how we found out about Guppy's, but later that week when we met my friend Liz, she said that was one of her family's favorites and she was so pleased we had found it.

We had a great dinner that evening with Leif. We sat outside on the porch, just as we did today. The food and animated conversation were excellent. It was there that Leif introduced us to Newcastle beer. I had Guppy's terrific "Angels on Horseback," broiled oysters topped with Applewood smoked bacon. Leif liked those, too. I think he and Peter had tuna.

After dinner, we walked on Bellaire Beach at sundown. You can see photos of Leif in the Mustang and on Bellaire Beach in this post. I don't think we took any photos of us at Guppy's.

We had all three talked about going back to Guppy's ever since then, and somehow, nearly seven years have gone by and we never did. I don't know whether Leif ever got back there after he moved to the bay area in March 2005, but we didn't, because it was so far north of where we now live, about a 60 mile drive, too long just to go to dinner.

But today, I wanted to visit Leif's grave (in reality it's a niche, but do you say you are visiting a niche?) on his birthday, and it is only ten miles from Guppy's. I thought it would be good to drive north on Gulf Blvd. and remember what we saw in 2002, remember what Leif experienced, have lunch at Guppy's, before going to his grave.

It's amazing how much came back to us, even seven years later, landmarks, streets. I could imagine Leif driving there, in the white Mustang, maybe, if he went later, in his silver RX8. Our waiter took a photo of us. When we were there with Leif, we sat at a table directly behind where I'm standing. It was evening, and the place was full of people enjoying the cool evening air and delicious food.

After lunch, we took a quick look at the beach across the street, and a kind man from New York offered to take our picture. I am wearing the double-headed battleaxe necklace I brought Leif from Greece, the one I've written about before, in his honor. When we walked back across the street to our car in the Guppy's lot, I did a double take. Parked next to our car was a silver Mazda that, from the back end, looked just like Leif's RX8. It turned out to be a Mazda 6 sedan, but for that one moment, it seemed uncannily as though he had driven up and parked beside us.

We had a good time reminiscing about the good times, just wishing that life would have been good for Leif after that.

After lunch we went to the cemetery, where I sobbed my heart out for half an hour, pressed against his stone. No matter how I try, I still cannot fathom why he is not here. Most of the time each day, I function, but the tears come at most unexpected moments and when I look in the mirror, I can see that I have changed. There is a different and sadder look in my eyes. An older look.

I was thinking how people say you shouldn't put all your eggs in one basket, but when it comes to family, there is only one. Only one basket, and that's where the eggs belong, but no matter how hard you try to protect them, you really can't. When one breaks, your heart breaks with it.

It was a bittersweet day. Sweet memories, sad memories, a good time with Peter, a sad time with him, together on memory lane, together in the loss of our son, together, on his birthday.

Leif's 33rd and Last Birthday - Sun City Center, Florida - January 28, 2008 - Age 33

It's hard to believe or accept that Leif won't be coming tonight for dinner, for his birthday, that I won't be making some favorite food he requested, or wrapping a present for him. Today is the first birthday of his since his death and it brings such a mixture of emotions, happy memories, and terrible sense of loss and grief.

These are photos of Leif's last birthday, January 28, 2008. They were taken in our dining room. Leif was trying to lose weight and was on the Atkins Diet, so he couldn't have his favorite fritters with foamy sauce, or tonkatsu, or some of his other favorites like potetkage or cherry pie. Instead, Peter W. made filet mignon and scallops with a green salad and I put birthday candles in the filets!

Leif brought his laptop and iPhone with him, and he was fascinated with installing new programs and talking with his friend Justin on the phone after dinner. Then he opened his birthday gifts. We gave him an inexpensive pocket digital camera he'd wanted, but I don't think he ever used it My mother was with us, too, and he is smiling as he reads a note from her.

We had some good discussions, but he didn't stay late that night as he had to get up and go to work in the morning. I'm glad I took the photos, though he wasn't particularly cooperative about it. I finally cajoled him into smiling. In the little screen on my digital camera, it looked like a really good shot of him. That's the one that's both in this post and on the right side at the top of the blog. But, when I loaded it onto my computer, I just cried. I told Peter W. that something was very wrong. I could see in Leif's eyes in that photo that he was unhappy, could see it directly in a way that I couldn't see it when he was talking and animated. I told Peter W. that we needed to stay close to Leif and in contact, that he was unhappy and lonely. We only saw him alive two more times, and the last time, on Easter, he seemed happy and relaxed. I hoped things were better for him as they seemed to be, and yet less than three weeks later he was dead.

Little did we know it was his last birthday. I'm thankful we spent it together.

Today is Leif's Birth Day - He was born 34 years ago

We like to think we can plan to have a child. **A** child, yes, but not a particular child. Each of us is a biological accident, the product of a myriad small decisions we make and a million coincidences of life and biology, such that a particular genetic combination happened and a unique individual is born.

Leif was a planned child, a very much wanted child, but there was no way to predict the child we would have. In the days when I was pregnant with Leif, ultrasound was not a standard procedure. We didn't know whether our baby would be a girl or a boy, and of course, we didn't know what kind of personality he would have, how bright he would be, or anything else. Deciding to have a child is one of the ultimate acts of faith, both faith in life itself and in ourselves, in our ability to be parents and provide what that child needs to thrive and live.

All of us who are alive are lucky that that cosmic roll of the dice brought us into being. Had one factor been different, some other person, not us, would be here. On February 27, 2008 I sent this quote from page 361 the book “The God Delusion,” by Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, to Leif. I sent it because I thought he would identify with it and appreciate it, but he didn't answer the email. That in itself wasn't unusual. He often didn't answer email, but I think this paragraph is one he would have answered under most circumstances.

Leif variously described himself as an atheist or an agnostic, and he was a brilliant biology student. I wanted him to appreciate his life. I was concerned about his depression, and I thought perhaps this would give him a new perspective. I'll never know what he thought about it.

"I tried to convey how lucky we are to be alive, given that the vast majority of people who could potentially be thrown up by the combinatorial lottery of DNA will in fact never be born. For those of us lucky enough to be here, I pictured the relative brevity of life by imagining a laser-thin spotlight creeping along a gigantic ruler of time. Everything before or after the spotlight is shrouded in the darkness of the dead past, or the darkness of the unknown future. We are staggeringly lucky to find ourselves in the spotlight. However brief our time in the sun, if we waste a second of it, or complain that it is dull or barren or (like a child) boring, couldn't this be seen as a callous insult to those unborn trillions who will never even be offered life in the first place? As many atheists have said better than me, the knowledge that we have only one life should make it all the more precious. The atheist view is correspondingly life-affirming and life-enhancing, while at the same time never being tainted with self-delusion, wishful thinking, or the whingeing self pity of those who feel that life owes them something."

The brief spotlight shone all too briefly on Leif. He didn't even live half a normal lifespan, and yet he lived 12,152 days, each day a day of experiences, feelings, potential. Each day he was alive was a day we loved him, and we always will.

Darren, a friend, said we should look at Leif's 33 years of life as a gift. It was a gift, a beautiful and important one, but that doesn't mean that the loss of that gift hurts any less.

Leif was our second child and he was six years younger than his brother, Peter Anthony. We were living in Manhattan, Kansas, in our old stone house when we decided it was time to have another baby. They were so far apart because Peter A. had often been sick with ear infections and other things as a baby and toddler, and hadn't ever slept through the night until he was three-and-a-half years old, and I had been too worn out to think I was ready for another baby. Then we moved from Germany back to Kansas, where Peter W. initially thought he would get out of the army and open his own office. We bought the old house and worked to fix it up and make it livable.

During the first year we were there, we realized that Manhattan had too many lawyers, that it would likely take at last five years to make a reasonable living from a newly opened legal office, meaning it would probably be that long before we could afford another child, and by then Peter Anthony would be eleven. Peter wasn't thrilled with civilian law and said if he was going to join a firm, he might was well stay with the one he was with, the U.S. Army, where he already had some seniority and wouldn't be relegated to less interesting work the way he would be in a new firm, for a long time. That decision, to stay in the army, opened up the possibility that we could afford to have Leif.

My pregnancy was uneventful except that I got some kind of nasty virus when I was three months pregnant, ran a very high fever and was so lethargic I could hardly keep my eyes open and stagger off the couch during the day. I worried about what that fever and virus were doing to my baby, but there was nothing I could do about it except what my doctors ordered and that was primarily to drink a lot of fluids and take aspirin. I just prayed he would be all right. I still wonder whether that illness affected Leif in some way. He claimed he had no sense of smell, for instance. There are effects of maternal illnesses in early pregnancy. I will never know.

They must have calculated my due date wrong, because they thought Leif was due in late December. They said he was full term size at that point, and they started having me come in for weekly appointments, getting concerned about the placenta deteriorating. I was going to the OB-GYN Clinic at the Irwin Army Community Hospital at Fort Riley. They had given me a choice of going there or to a civilian doctor in Manhattan, and I chose Fort Riley, even though it meant an 11 mile drive, because they didn't allow fathers in the delivery room. The doctors in Manhattan did. Peter W. didn't think he wanted to be there and I didn't want him to feel like he had to do it.

Sometime in January, they tried to induce labor, but it didn't work. I guess even then Leif was stubborn. :) They started having me come in twice a week and said that if he wasn't there in a week, they would do a Caesarian. He was getting too big, and they felt the placenta was getting too old.

I as driving myself to and from these appointments, and on January 28, 1975, I drove myself out to Fort Riley for my appointment, planning to go to the commissary (military grocery store) afterward before going back home, where Peter A. was staying with Peter W.'s mother, Ellen, who had come from California to be with us for Leif's birth. My plans were not going to work.

When I got to my appointment at 11:30 a.m., the doctor told me I was already 10 centimeters dilated and I was “going upstairs.” I told him I wasn't feeling anything or having strong contractions, and I needed to go to the commissary and I'd come back later that afternoon. Nothing doing. He was not letting me out of the hospital. I couldn't believe it.

I called Peter W. at work and told him. He was about to head to the gym for a game of raquetball and figured that labor would take many hours, so said he would come by after his game. His boss overheard the conversation and said, “Pete, you wife is having a baby. Get over there.” So, Peter stopped by the library to pick up a book to read to me, and showed up shortly thereafter.

I was in the labor suite with one other woman. Peter started reading to us from Erma Bombeck's hilarious book, “I Lost Everything in the Postnatal Depression.” It hurt to laugh, but laugh we did. It wasn't long though, before I told Peter he'd better go get the nurse. Leif had decided to put in an appearance FAST.

They came in and discovered I'd better be moved to the delivery room quickly. I said goodbye to Peter and off I went. A few minutes later, I was surprised when I heard his voice in the delivery room and saw him. I said, “What are you doing in here?” He said the nurse had asked him whether he wanted to come in. I was surprised he had, but he did great and I was glad he was there to welcome Leif into the world.

It's a good thing the doctor hadn't allowed me to leave the hospital, because Leif was born at 1:25 p.m., all 9 pounds, 15 ounces of him! I had that big baby boy in less than two hours!

Leif was tall even then, over 24 inches long. The average newborn is about 20-21 inches and usually 7-8 pounds. He dwarfed all the other babies in the hospital nursery. They teased me that I was supposed to raise him after I had him and asked what college he was going to.

Leif was a fairly easy newborn, very curious and alert from the beginning. We were so happy to have him!

His birthday was a very special day for us. It will always be special, for that was the day we met him and he came into our arms.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Leif's 29th Birthday - Manhattan, Kansas - January 28, 2004 - Age 29

It was bitter cold on Leif's 29th birthday. He hated that cold! It wasn't just uncomfortable and miserable, but for him it was a matter of life and breath. With the cold weather asthma he had developed, cold weather made it hard to breathe. The evening of his 29th birthday was one of those days. It was so cold we didn't go out anywhere. He came over all bundled up, with nothing but his eyes showing. He had on a big heavy jacket, and under that, another jacket, and under that a sweater. He had a stocking cap on and it was pulled down to meet the high collar of his jacket, so that only his eyes were showing. It reminded me of how I dressed when we lived at Fort Sheridan on the north side of Chicago and I had to go to work at the Civilian Personnel Office. I, too, used to have nothing but my eyes showing and they nicknamed me "Yukon Jerri." At that time, Leif made fun of me because I was a cold weather and snow wimp, but he had joined me before this birthday came around.

We got him something warm to drink (warm translating as a Scotch on the rocks, I think) and after he got warmed up he finally took off his hat, jacket and gloves and opened his birthday presents. Notice the change in size from the puffed up double jackets to the just the sweater.

I know he got this dagger, two new warm hats, a book of soldier humor, and also an insulated coffee mug for his car. By this time, he was working for Alltel and it was a long drive (long for Manhattan, Kansas, about 6 miles) out to their building past the Manhattan airport. He wanted to have a warm drink with him. I know there were other presents, but I can only remember those. He put both hats on at once, and if you look hard, you can see the tag on the top of the light blue one.

We had a nice evening together before he had to go back out in the cold and walk the block back to the 710 N. 9th Street house. Kansas is in the deep freeze for his birthday this year, too. He wouldn't miss that!

Leif was looking good in January 2004, and he was happy. He was in love. It was good to see him happy like that, but unfortunately, it was not to last. I don't remember why she wasn't with us that night. She may have been in the Philippines for her job at that time.

I treasure the memories of the good times. I'm glad he had some in his life.

Happy Birthday, Leif!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Leif's 28th Birthday - Manhattan, Kansas - January 28, 2003 - Age 28

Leif is looking amused because of the unusual gift I gave him. I made a "Birthday Gift Coupon," good for "8 not-necessarily consecutive" "hours of personal help, working with you to clean your house. Please schedule in advance." He thought it was pretty funny. I did it because Leif seemed to have a terrible "allergy" to housekeeping. At that time, he was living in the house we owned at 710 N. 9th Street in Manhattan, Kansas on the same city block as our old stone house. We had purchased it for Peter W's mother to live in, and she had lived there for five years before she died. Then Leif lived there.

I'd go over there for something, most often to get boxes of my Ravenstone Press books that were stored in the basement there, and see what a mess the place was. It looked pretty overwhelming, and I knew from experience that Leif would work on it if he had someone to work with, and otherwise, he wouldn't. I wasn't about to start just cleaning house for him, at the age of 28, just as I didn't do his laundry, but I was willing to give him a gift of help. And it worked . . . at least until it got to be a big mess again after we cleaned it up.

The coupon wasn't the only thing he got for his 28th birthday. He also got a sword and some other things, and we had a good dinner with some of his favorite foods.

You can see that Leif looks a lot healthier and happier on this 28th birthday than he looked on his 27th. 2003 was a good year for Leif. At this time, he was in his last semester of undergrad work at KSU and was looking forward to graduating in May.

Happy Birthday, Leif!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Leif's 27th Birthday - Manhattan, Kansas - January 28, 2002 - Age 27

After his three and a half years in the army, during which we didn't see Leif for his birthdays, he came back to Kansas in May 2001, medically retired from the army due to the asthma he had developed, and went back to finish college at Kansas State University. His first brithday back with us was January 28, 2002, his 27th birthday, which we celebrated in the dining room of our old stone house on Moro Street.

I made Leif's favorite birthday foods, tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet with Japanese barbecue sauce called tonkatsu sauce) and peach fritters with foamy sauce, a rather odd and multicultural combination we all loved. Leif could eat a "ton" of those things. I remember one of his birthdays in Puerto Rico, maybe his 17th, when he ate so many fritters that he got kind of giddy. I teased him that I never saw anyone get "drunk" on peach fritters before.

In this photo, you can see him blowing out a candle perched in a big bowl of fritters. They are a family favorite we don't have often, partly because they are a lot of work to make, and messy, since they are deep fried, and partly because they are a great way to gain a lot of weight. I doubt there are many people in the world who have a pile of fritters with a candle instead of a birthday cake, but that's what he wanted. Leif was unconventional in many ways. I'm sad that I'll never make those things for him ever again.

At the time of this photo, Leif was still moody and not happy, but he was beginning to climb out of the severe depression he was suffering when he returned from Fort Drum eight months earlier. He had a successful semester at KSU under his belt and things were looking up.

Happy Birthday, Leif!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Leif's Early 23rd Birthday Celebration - Manhattan, Kansas - December 24, 1997 - Almost 23

This is quite a jump, from Leif's twelfth birthday to his twenty-third, but I've already posted photos of his fifteenth birthday snowboarding in Wisconsin, and for the other birthdays in between, I either can't find photos, or they aren't good ones for the blog, so I'm having to skip all the way here.

We celebrated Leif's 23rd birthday early, because he had enlisted in the army and had to report to for duty on January 12th (see earlier post about that, with photos). Since we were all over at my mother's for Christmas Eve, she decided that would be a good time for all of us to celebrate his birthday, too.

These photos were taken there, at her house on Pottawatomie Street, and Nikko is there with him. He was a month shy of his 23rd birthday. Up until this time, we had been together with Leif for every one of his 22 birthdays, but we would miss the actual birthday this time, as he was in basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia.

We wouldn't see him for his 24th birthday, which he spent in Fort Drum, New York, his 25th, which he spent in Bosnia, or his 26th, which he again spent in Fort Drum, New York, alone. Not until his 27th birthday would he be with family again.

Leif always enjoyed the big family gatherings at my mother's house and was animated and full of fun. I'm sure he missed them. I don't know what he was thinking during this celebration, about what his future would hold. I do know it didn't turn out as he hoped, that entry into military life.

Happy Birthday, Leif!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Leif's 12th Birthday - Fort Sheridan, Illinois - January 28, 1987 - Age 12

Late in the summer of 1986 we moved from Hawaii to Fort Sheridan, Illinois, a small base sandwiched in between the ritzy suburbs on the north side of Chicago. We lived on base in a townhouse because we wanted the boys in the Highland Park school system. Leif went to Northwood Junior High School.

Moving to the "frozen North" was a big shock after three years in Hawaii. No more balmy beaches . . . except that Peter W. discovered that we could fly "Space A" on Air National Guard military refueling tankers out of the military side of O'Hare airport on training flights to Hawaii. I think we did that nine times in four years. We would all have liked to stay in Hawaii. If they had let Peter W. stay one more year, he probably would have retired there, but no such luck. It was off to Chicagoland. The city had much to offer, and the Highland Park school system was great, but we would have much more happily stayed in Hawaii. Of course, Peter A. only lived at Fort Sheridan for one year before he was off to the Air Force Academy, but Leif spent four years there.

Leif had one two good friends that lived on our street, Nicholson Road, at Fort Sheridan, Robert and Chris. A lot of the younger neighborhood kids kind of "worshipped" tall Leif, who at that time was going by the nickname "Alex." Sometimes a delegation of them would show up at the door and ask if "Big Al" could come out and play.

One time we managed to lock ourselves out of the house. Leif managed to wiggle in through the kitchen window over the sink and let us in. It wasn't easy. The window was quite high up and we had no ladder out there. I was just waiting for someone to call the MPs and say there was a guy breaking into our house.

It looks like this cake has the benefit of a few of those premade sugar frosting letters you can buy in the grocery store. Looks a lot neater and more civilized than our earlier cakes, but not as imaginative, either.

I managed to catch Leif at the height of the blowing out the candles whoosh. I hope he got his wish!

Happy birthday, Leif!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Leif's 11th Birthday - Honolulu, Hawaii - January 28, 1986 - Age 11

Leif's eleventh birthday we spent at home again, at our townhouse on Eucalyptus Place at the Aliamanu Crater Housing Area. These photos were taken in our dining area. You can see that Leif is maturing quickly and getting even taller. He looks happy, gleeful.

The remote-controlled tank was, I think, his first "real" radio controlled vehicle, which he was delighted with. He was not only always interested in military vehicles, but was fascinated with RC toys. I think this was the beginning of a many-year hobby, which I've already written about. It started with this tank and progressed to the RC vehicles he built himself from kits, modified, and even used for science fair projects.

At this age, Leif was in fifth grade and it was our last school year in Hawaii. It would be a long time before he'd get to wear shorts on his January birthday again.

Happy Birthday, Leif!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Leif's 10th Birthday - Pearl City, Hawaii - January 28, 1985 - Age 10

Until Leif's tenth birthday, all of the celebrations had been at home. This time, we took him and a few of his friends to Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza in Pearl City, Hawaii, which wasn't far from where we lived in Honolulu. The lanai (balcony) of our townhouse overlooked Pearl City and Pearl Harbor, and the lights were beautiful at night. We spent a lot of happy hours on that lanai, and Leif loved it out there.

I'm still amused at the amateur cake decorations. Even at Chuck E. Cheese's we took along our homemade and home decorated cake. Here's Leif blowing out his candles. Whoosh! (No asthma problem expelling air there!) The design on the cake was another one Leif decided on and helped with. Quite colorful, isn't it?

We had a good time at the place, which was a bit loud for my taste, but the boys loved the pizza and games.

Happy birthday, Leif!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


How I wish Leif had been here to hear Obama's inaugural speech. Leif was an early and enthusiastic supporter of Obama, registering for the first time as a Democrat so he could vote in the primary here in Florida, and enthusiastically voting for Obama last November. He would have embraced this speech and taken pride in this day, as do we.

Leif's 9th Birthday - Honolulu, Hawaii - January 28, 1984 - Age 9

No broken arm in this one. :) This was Leif's first birthday in Hawaii. He was in third grade at Red Hill Elementary School and had a couple of good friends, Michael, who was a terrific artist, and Joey, with whom he could play GI Joe stuff. He was growing up fast.

He was in a special, very small class for gifted underachieving boys. Leif never liked academics. He could just listen and get it all, and could see little reason to bother with exerting himself to prove it in written work. The young man who taught this special weekly class did a fantastic job with those boys. He had them designing board games and writing the rules for them . . . and they had to be actually playable.

Leif took judo classes for the first time, tried a pottery class, and enjoyed going to the beach. We went to many different beaches in Hawaii, but our favorite was Bellows Beach. Later I'll post some photos taken there.

I have to smile when I see this cake. Another example of my less than expert cake decorating ability, but I think I had some Leif help with this one, which features some kind of space ship, something he spent a lot of time drawing then. At that age, he liked doing this kind of thing. Remember the giant R2D2 cookie he made and decorated at about the same age, that I posted before.

You can see that he is growing and changing, not a little boy any more (though he was always tall), and there is a sort of seriousness and tentativeness about him.

Happy Birthday, Leif!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Leif's 8th Birthday - Sagamihara, Japan - January 28, 1983 - Age 8

Leif's eighth birthday was the second one he spent with an injury. His first birthday, he had a burned hand, which I wrote about here long ago, and for his eighth birthday, he sported a cast on his arm. He had broken his arm during recess at school when he fell off the monkey bars.

When we lived in Sachsen bei Ansbach, Germany, before moving to Japan, my friend Bunny had observed that Leif was so able to withstand pain that "you could cut off his arm he and would say, 'that doesn't hurt.'" That was obviously an exaggeration, but there was a very large grain of truth in it. Leif could stand physical pain, though he didn't do as well with the sight of blood. He maintained a bravado that hid his vulnerable feelings, so he seemed very tough, even though his photos betray his innocence and vulnerability.

One day at school, that January 1983, after he fell on the playground, he simply went back to class for the rest of the day. He was supposed to take the bus from the school, where he was a second grader, to the child care center, because at that time I was working full time for the Japan Engineer District and didn't get home until after five.

That day, when school got out, he went to the office and calmly asked to use the phone. He called me at my office and just said, "Mommy, can you come and get me?" I asked him why, whether he had missed the bus. "No," he said, "I think I broke my arm."

Before I could get any more details out of him, he hung up. I didn't even know where he was. He hadn't told his teacher or anyone else that his arm was broken. He had just stayed in class all afternoon and done his work.

I was really worried and didn't know where to find him, but on the chance that he probably had called from school, since that's where he would get the bus, I called the school and asked if they had seen him in the office. They said they had, but they had no idea about any broken arm. They had to go out to the bus stop to find him.

Meanwhile I called Peter W., who rushed over there to get him. And there he is, with his cast on his arm, blowing out his candles.

The second photo shows Peter W. acting silly, like a sci fi monster, and Leif's friend Atul is with him.

Leif is wearing a jacket that Peter got for him in Korea.

Happy Birthday, Leif!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Leif's 7th Birthday - Sagamihara, Japan - January 28, 1982 - Age 7

Here's Leif blowing out the candles on his seventh birthday cake in the middle of our tour in Japan. It was a good time for us, one of the best times in our family life. The boys had good friends and good activities. We got to see a lot of Japan and Japanese culture.

And yet, on base, it was like living in a little 1950s town with Little League baseball and soccer games, programs at the schools, community theater, and our American celebrations like Christmas and Halloween, and birthday parties, right alongside Japanese festivals like the Obon in August.

I'm still amazed and rather amused when I see the birthday cakes. They really do look SO homemade . . . but they tasted great! And the boys always looked forward to them and of course, to the presents. The presents in Japan were the BEST, because of all the cool Japanese toys.

I should have had enough sense to take photos of all of those toys at the time, and failing that, before I gave all of them to Peter A. for Marcus. The were special, mind-stretching, wonderful imagination-building toys, and we were there are the perfet age for the boys to appreciate them. They played an instrumental role in the personalities of both boys, along with Star Wars and Star Trek, in making them devotees of science fiction and futuristic ideas.

This school year, in which Leif turned seven, he was in first grade at Sagamihara Elementary School, where he was not only the tallest child in his class, but taller than his petite teacher. She said he was a "straight arrow" and never gave her any trouble or bullied the other (smaller) kids.

He did, however, attack his brother and a bicycle. In December 1981 I got a job as the public affairs officer of the Japan Engineer District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Initially it was a part time job, so that year, I was usually home when Leif and Peter A. were home. One afternoon, Peter A. had taunted Leif one too many times. I no longer remember just what he had done, but one of this favorite ploys that drove Leif nuts was to just point at him and keep pointing. I think this time it must have been something "worse" because Leif had a chain with a bicycle lock on it and chased Peter out the door and all the way out to the street swinging it. I don't know whether he would really have hit him with it if he had caught up with him, but if he had, he could have done some serious damage. I HOPE he was just threatening him.

I think it was that same year that he got really angry at another boy who lived near us and rather than attack him, he beat on Chad's bicycle with a broom. He really attacked it savagely. At least it was the bike and not Chad he was beating on. We couldn't see any damage to the bike but his family claimed Leif had damaged it. Somehow, it seems comical now to think of a seven-year-old attacking a bicycle with a broom, but at the time, he certainly was serious about it.

None of that mattered on his birthday. He was exuberant and full of fun.

Happy Birthday, Leif.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Leif's Sixth Birthday - Sagamihara, Japan - January 28, 1981 - Age 6

This was Leif's first birthday in Japan. He had expressed fascination with drums so we got him a drum set. He was thrilled to get it, sat down and began to play with a surprising amount of aplomb. He really had talent. We later saw that he had a lot of musical talent, but this was the first evidence.

However, we made a big mistake in giving this set to him at the birthday party with other kids there. They, of course, all wanted to play the drums, too. He didn't want to stop playing and didn't want to let anyone else have a turn. We didn't understand what he was really thinking. We thought he just needed to share them at the party, so we insisted that he give everyone else a chance to play them. He did . . . and never touched them again. I don't know for sure why. He would never talk about it, just acted like he didn't want them, but I think it was really that he was hurt that we not only allowed others to play his precious new drums but forced him to give them up.

He did have a good time at the party, though, and enjoyed his friends and his cake and ice cream. The second photo is of Leif and one of his friends playing with some of the toys he got.

We had moved to Japan in July 1980 and this was in January 1981. The pictures were taken in our living room in our quarters at the Sagamihara Housing Area.

Happy Birthday, Leif!

(I originally said that the second photo was of Peter A. and Leif, but I was wrong. Thank you, Darren, for catching that. The problems of writing blog posts at past one o'clock in the morning.)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Leif's 5th Birthday - Sachsen Bei Ansbach, Germany - January 28, 1980 - Age 5

Leif's fourth and fifth birthdays were spent in Sachsen bei Ansbach, Germany, where we lived in a lovely, new house and Leif went to the German Kindergarten. He had German friends and one good American friend, Erin. We celebrated a small birthday party for Leif's fifth birthday, and this photo was taken in the dining area of our home.

Five is a wonderful age. Like most five-year-olds, Leif was sweet, mostly cooperative, curious, eager, and active, in a word, precious. He looked so innocent and lovable.

Leif looked up to his older brother and learned a lot from him, copied him in some ways. It was just a few months before this birthday that Peter A. got the idea to do a comedy show. He took the lead and Leif was right there adding to the act. We have a hilarious home movie of it, but home movies in those days were soundless, so it kind of like a kiddie version of the Keystone Cops.

Leif was never very forthcoming in talking about his feelings or fears, though he was vocal enough about what he wanted for his birthday or Christmas. He never complained and said he didn't want to go to the Kindergarten, and he picked up German so fluently and with such a local accent that he could have passed for any German kid in the village, but I don't think he ever felt completely at home in the school, being the only American. He really loved his teacher the first year he was there and missed her greatly the second year when she was on maternity leave.

The two years in Sachsen were a good time for our family, and this fifth birthday was the beginning of a year I will remember with great fondness.

Happy fifth birthday, Leif.

(A bit of confusion . . . Pete W. points out that there are only 4 candles on the cake. I noticed that, too. But, this photo in the album is clearly labeled on the back as Leif's 4th birthday. So, either I wrote it down wrong at the time, which seems odd, or I took a candle off the cake before taking the picture, or something.)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Leif's 3th Birthday - Furth, Germany - January 28, 1978 - Age 3

We moved to Furth, Germany, next to Nurnberg, the summer of 1977 and lived there just one year. While there, we celebrated Leif's third birthday. He was thrilled to get a tricycle, his very first wheels, and boy, did he pedal fast! Where we lived it was fairly level ground and he could make headway. This photo was taken in the apartment, though, looking from the living room-dining room area toward the hallway that went to the bedrooms, because he had just gotten the trike at the party.

We had a small birthday party for him with kids that lived in our apartment building and his friend Katie from the next building over, and had a good time.

It was during this year that Leif went to the Montessori preschool I've written about before. He got a lot of exercise going on Volksmarches with us beginning that year, too. He had a generally sweet personality, but he did have a temper. I remember one day when he got mad at his brother for not letting him come into his room and threw toys at the door, denting the paint and making me really upset with him.

There was a large open area between the rows of apartment buildings and Leif liked to go play in the sandbox there. One day he left his sand toys in the box and was upset when he went back for them and they were gone, a hard lesson for him.

But on this birthday, it was just happiness, presents and yummy cake and ice cream.

Happy Third Birthday, Leif!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Leif's Second Birthday - Charlottesville, Virginia - January 28, 1977 - Age 2

Long ago I posted a photo and account of Leif's first birthday in Manhattan, Kansas. Now that his birthday is coming, I thought I'd post photos of some of his birthdays for the rest of this month.

When Leif was a year-and-a-half old, we moved to Charlottesville, Virginia for a year. It was a good year for all of us. We didn't have a big birthday party for him, just celebrated with the family, and you can see that he loved this birthday cake. It was so much fun to see him licking the frosting.

This photo was taken in the kitchen of the townhouse we rented in Charlottesville. I find it kind of heartwarming and amusing to see how simple and homemade the birthday cakes and celebrations with our boys were compared with what some kids to day have. I was never an expert at decorating cakes, but they tasted great!

At two, Leif had quite an extensive vocabulary, already knew his colors, numbers, and the alphabet, and a lot of more complex concepts like what a trapezoid or a hexagon were, and how to pick them out. He could recite (and turn the pages at exactly the right time) the entire text of The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. He was endlessly curious.

Happy 2nd birthday, Leif!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Leif's Greek Battle Axe Necklace

I think it was in 1995 that Peter W. and I took a Greek Isles cruise. It was fascinating to visit the places we had read about in history books and seen in art history classes. Leif would have enjoyed it, as he was interested in history and the Ancient Greeks, but he had already left home and was engaged to and living with Nikko, so we didn't take him along.

We bought hardly any souvenirs, but I brought him this silver necklace. When I saw it, I just knew I had to get it for him. By this time, he had been participating in the Society for Creative Anachronism for several years and fought with battle axes.

It was a small thing, not a grand gift, but Leif really liked it. It seemed just the right symbol for him. He wore it often, and among his jumbled belongings, it was one thing, along with his class and wedding rings, I could always find. I've already posted photos of him wearing it. I only found two necklaces in his things. The other was a black leather circlet with a hematite "fang" on it. I gave that one to his nephew, Marcus, but I still have the battle axe. Since I gave it to him, I will keep it and wear it in his memory, remembering him as the warrior with the gentle heart.

He was 20 years old in 1995 when I gave it to him, and 33 when he died. His birthday is coming. That will be a hard day for me. On his Facebook and MySpace pages, he will have a birthday and be one year older, unless I remove the birth year from his profiles, but we will not have that celebration with him. It will be a sad day, and yet there will be happy memories among that sadness, because of the happiness we felt at his birth.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Leif's Antilles High School Class Ring - 1992

Leif had a fine eye for design and liked to have utilitarian items that were beautifully designed but he claimed that he "didn't see the point" in jewelry or other items that had no utilitarian purpose, even if they were beautiful. He rarely bought jewelry, except for the earrings he wore after our friend Jennifer Coffey pierced his ears for him, but there were a few notable exceptions.

He did want a class ring from Antilles High School in Puerto Rico, and we got him one when he was a junior in 1992. Although he had to move to Kansas before his senior year, he identified with his AHS class, and his graduation present from us was a trip back to Puerto Rico to be with his class there for their graduation.

Leif was not a neat person and his room or apartment were usually a big mess, except for his computer desk. The very few things that I could always find without any problem included his AHS class ring, and later, his wedding ring, watches, and a silver two-sided battle axe necklace I brought him from Greece. Although each of these could be considered jewelry (the watches, were utilitarian, at least), they had some emotional or sentimental meaning for him. More about the others later.

Beginning much earlier, Leif had a strong interest in ancient warriors and weaponry. One of the best school projects he ever did was a catalog of medieval armor he made in junior high school. When he picked the emblems for his class ring, note the medieval knight with the sword and the battle axe on the side. It went perfectly with the cupola from El Morro, one of the Spanish fortresses in San Juan, which we visited many times. Leif's initials L.A. are on the top of the ring and he chose a purple stone. Purple was always one of his favorite colors. I don't know why he chose to put L.A. on the ring instead of L.G., and I found it also interesting that he chose the L. because at that time he was still going by his nickname, Alex.

I don't remember when Leif stopped wearing his class ring, though I suspect it was when he went into the army, but even though he didn't wear it, he treasured it and kept it in a place where it could be seen, such as the mantle over the fireplace at the 710 N. 9th Street house in Manhattan, Kansas.

I wonder how many high school graduates could look at their class rings years later and see that there is such a consistency of interest that Leif's showed. From Puerto Rico, he went to Kansas and there he joined the Society for Creative Anachronism and had real swords and a battle axe and also the rattan variety that he could use in the SCA fights. I've already posted some photos of Leif fighting in his armor.

I now have Leif's class ring, and while it means something to me because it was his and represents him so well, I wonder, what am I to do with it? There are no children who could treasure a father's ring. Who would remember him with it when I am gone?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Leif - Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico - Fall 1990 -Spring 1991 - Age 16

In Puerto Rico, where Leif lived from July 1990 to July 1992, Leif really blossomed. It was there that he let his hair grow luxuriously long, where he sang the part of Kenicke in the musical Grease, where he played in a rock band (briefly), took electric guitar lessons, became a SCUBA diver, designed and made his own guitar, and had a group of wonderful friends, Ricky, Lenny, Jill, Becky, Clarissa, Janice, and many more whose names I can't remember tonight.

One of these photos is a school photo, one was taken in our home, and the one where he is stripped to the waist was taken in our back yard on April 19, 1991 when he was throwing a birthday party for one of this friends. I think it was Lenny. He looked like Tarzan and he was having a blast. Note the signature Oakley sunglasses hanging around his neck, even though it was getting dark outside.

It was hard for Leif to leave Puerto Rico. Although he had some tough times when he first got there being accepted (as the new "gringo"), he made good friends and was active and involved. He fell in love the first time, and he gained a sense of himself as a virile young man.

Leaving to go to Kansas, to an unfamiliar culture (the Midwestern culture he had left behind when he was only an year-and-a-half old), and being basically an introvert until he knew people well, it was a big loss to him to leave Puerto Rico.

I love the photo of him out in the back yard with his hair flowing, looking mischievous. That's one of the ways I would like to remember him. I remember a particular day when he was out there, in our backyard circled by 29 palm trees, using a machete to clear brush. He picked up a large coconut that had fallen from one of the palms and whacked off the end of it with the machete, stabbed the machete into it, and held it high above his head, allowing the coconut liquid to pour down into his mouth. He really did look like Tarzan. How I wish I had a photo of that.