Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Leif's Seventh Home - Fort Sheridan, Illinois - August 1986 to July 1990

We wanted to stay in Hawaii, but the army wasn't going for it. Instead, they sent Peter W. to MEPCOM, the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command at Great Lakes, Illinois, north of Chicago. After checking out all the school systems on the north side of Chicago, we decided the best one for our sons was in Highland Park. We could send them there if we chose to live at Fort Sheridan instead of one of the Great Lakes housing areas, though Peter would have a 20-30 minute commute (which he did not enjoy). That meant that Leif could go do Northwood Junior High School for three years and then his freshman year in high school at Highland Park High School, where Peter Anthony would compete his senior year before heading off to the Air Force Academy. Leif did some of the best academic work of his entire school career there.

We lived at 419-D Nicholson Road on Fort Sheridan. Behind the house was a part of the golf course and just a couple blocks walk brought us to the shore of Lake Michigan. Leif picked out a cute kitten, Scamp, who was our favorite cat. I've written about him before and posted photos of him with Leif.

Leif played soccer all four years. It was there that he got enamored of radio controlled cars and built at least three of them from kits, modifying them to make them even faster, and using them in science fair experiments.

His best friends there were Robert and Chris, and they spent a lot of time at our house. We also had visits from my family, and Leif's cousin Holly spent time with us a couple of summers. We were fortunate to see a lot of my sister Sherie and her family, as they lived in Michigan about two hours drive from us.

During our time in the Chicago area, we also did a lot of things in the city, from seeing a big car show (Leif loved that!), to the time Leif and I went to the top of the Sears tower. We went to the museums and aquarium, and flew NINE times on military aircraft space available, free, back to Hawaii for long weekends. We also flew military space-A to Germany in 1988, the last time we were there, and visited Peter W's relatives, as well as taking a long trip through the eastern half of Canada. Leif was with us on all those trips and enjoyed each one. Of course, we also went to visit Peter Anthony at the Air Force Academy and looked forward to him coming home to see us for a short time each summer and at Christmas.

By the time Leif was in seventh grade, he was also living in his seventh home.

The photos above are:
1. Leif's school portrait, probably fall 1989.
2. Leif's school portrait, probably fall 1988.
3. 419-D Nicholson Road, Fort Sheridan, Illinois, a townhouse, where we lived for four years.
4. The living room at 419-D Nicholson Road when we lived there.

Leif's Sixth Home - Honolulu, Hawaii - Summer 1983 to Summer 1986

In the summer of 1983 we moved from Japan to Honolulu, Hawaii, where we lived in the army housing area at Red Hill, on the outside edge of Aliamanu Crater. We lived in one half of a two-story duplex. Our lanai overlooked Pearl Harbor, which was beautiful with the lights of Pearl City and Aiea at night. We spent a lot of happy hours on that lanai.

Leif attended Red Hill Elementary School for third, fourth and fifth grades. He had a black leather Members Only jacket his dad brought him from Korea, and a cloth one, too. He loved wearing them and wore them even in the 90-some degree Hawaiian heat. He played soccer all three years and began judo classes there. His best friends were Joey and Michael. With Joey he usually played GI Joe stuff and he and Michael did creative things. Michael was a talented young artist.

As a family, we loved going to the beaches, especially Bellows Beach. The routine was to go there for the afternoon, swim, walk on the beach, and then go to Bueno Nalo Mexican Restaurant for quesadillas and to Dave's Ice Cream for coconut ice cream. In those days, Bueno Nalo was near Bellows, by the shore. (Later it moved to Waimanalo.) We loved those trips together and always had a good time.

Another favorite family outing was to go to Waikiki, park at Fort DeRussy, by the Hale Koa Hotel, then go to "It's Greek to Me" restaurant and have Greek food, then to a movie at the huge theater where they had a pipe organ playing before the movies started. After that we would go to a video parlor at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center and play video games, and end the evening with a walk on Waikiki beach. How I wish we could go back and have one of those magical, balmy evenings together with our two sons!

Sometimes we would go to the International Marketplace, or a Thai restaurant, or somewhere else. We visited several of the other Hawaiian islands; The Big Island of Hawaii, Maui, Kauai.

When Peter A. was 16, the summer of 1984, he was an AFS exchange student to Greece, and while he was away, Leif and I took a trip to the US mainland and made the rounds visiting relatives. He had a terrific memory and for the rest of his life he talked about that trip when he was ten years old and was impressed by the flight attendant on one United flight who had such a sense of humor. One of the jokes Leif loved to tell was this one, "Tonight's movie is 'Gone With the Wind.' Just stick your head out the window and you'll get the picture.'

For some reason, I apparently felt it was interesting enough to actually take a ohoto of our living room and computer room (and extra bedroom we used as a computer room and den upstairs) in these quarters. I wish had done this with all our homes. We were lucky enough to have a personal computer at home. In the early 1980s it was not yet common for families to have them. We all used it. I used it heavily for school work (writing papers) as I was in graduate school at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. I still enjoyed playing computer games (and still do today), and so did the boys.

Peter W. would have been happy to get an extended tour of duty in Hawaii and retire there, and i think the boys would have love that, but it was not to be. However, we will always be grateful for the three wonderful years we spent there together.

The photo of Leif was taken in Hawaii in 1984 when he was nine years old.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Leif's Fifth Home - Sagamihara, Japan - Summer 1980 to Summer 1983

With all the photos I've posted of Leif in Japan and all I've written about life there with him, it's hard to believe that I can't find a single photo of the quarters we lived in there. There were so many fascinating things to photograph in Japan, and so many interesting people, but our quarters were pretty dull and apparently I didn't think they were worth a photo. This is the closest thing I've found and it only shows a little bit of the front of the building. I posted a cropped version of this photo when I was writing about Halloween, since this one was taken of the "ghost" that Peter A. and Leif were trying to scare people with on Halloween in 1982. Leif is on the roof over the front door area dangling the ghost over trick-or-treaters and he and Peter A. (wth their dad's help) were making plenty of scary noises. Of course, it was a lot darker than this photo shows.

The townhouse type quarters were in the Sagamihara Army Family Housing Area in Sagamihara, Japan. Our building was the last one, farthest away from the entry gate, all the way around by the back gate. There were three townhouse sets of quarters in a row and we were in the middle unit. The front door opened into the living room, with a stairway going up to the second floor right ahead of the doorway. We had a dining room and a kitchen also on the first floor, and four bedrooms on the second floor. One was very tiny, scarcely big enough for even a bed, and I had some things stored in there along with our digital keyboard that we would go in and play.

It was all very simply furnished with quartermaster furniture (belonged to the army, for you civilians) and we hadn't shipped much over to Japan as there is a weight limit that controls how much can be shipped. However, we had a great time acquiring things during our three years in Japan . . . all of us. The boys enjoyed the Japanese toys, our computer, which we got in 1982, and we got some lovely pieces of porcelain, prints, and rugs.

Our set of quarters faced a large grass area as we were set back off the street. There was another set of four quarters along on side, and the other side had a small wooded area, plenty of space for the neighborhood kids to play.

Behind our house was the fence dividing our American housing area from part of the Japanese residential area. We didn't have any way through the fence or know any of the Japanese on the other side, but there was one family named Tanaka who had two boys that were roughly the same ages as our sons. Once in awhile the Tanaka boys would climb over the fence and come to visit. It was always a challenge because they didn't speak English and our sons didn't speak Japanese, and my Japanese was extremely rudimentary, but they had fun. The older Tanaka boy could solve the Rubik's Cube amazingly fast, something we never learned.

The three years in Japan were a wonderful time for us, as a family, culturally, and in many other ways.

While we were there, Leif learned to ride a bike, played t-ball and soccer, completed kindergarten, first and second grade at the John O, Arnn Elementary School, was in his first stage production, went to Thailand and Hong Kong, did a lot of sightseeing and hiking, and was in his first earthquakes. His best friends were Anil and Atul Phull.

One thing that happened that showed me his truly amazing memory was then when he was in only first grade, his class took a field trip to a silk worm farm. It was a LONG trip with many, many turns on small Japanese roads. He memorized the entire route and was able to tell me exactly how to get there.

Life in Japan had a profound influence on both our sons which lasted all Leif's life.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Leif's Fourth Home - Am Roemer 9, Sachsen bei Ansbach, Germany - Summer 1978 to Summer 1980

The summer of 1978, when Leif was three-and-a-half years old, we moved from the Kalb Army Housing Area to a brand new house in the German village of Sachsen bei Ansbach. It was built by one of the village residents, Hans Volland, and we moved in when it wasn't quite finished. Herr Volland had added many lovely details, from a Rococco ceiling in the living room to a marble entryway and stairwell. My mother said that the house looked like "a little cracker box" from the outside, but it was very spacious and beautiful on the inside. It was a terrific place to live, and a great improvement over the apartment we lived in in Fuerth. We had seven plum and two apple trees in the yard, a stone patio, and space for a lovely flower garden.

The house was in a new area of the village on top of a hill with a great view of the valley and surrounding towns. Leif loved climbing the trees. We also enjoyed hiking in the woods, picking berries there, skiing down the hill, and so much more. Peter A. and Leif went to the local German schools; Leif in the kindergarten where he loved his teacher, Frau Buhr.

During the two years we lived there, we traveled to many places in Germany and Italy, and enjoyed visits from my sister, Lannay, our friends the Fackrells, and Peter W's German cousin Wolfgang and his family.

These photos don't really do the house justice, since it looks rather bare, but you can't see the trees around it, or the front yard. They are:
1. Leif on the bulldozer which was in the driveway to construct it when we moved in late summer of 1978.
2. The front of Am Romer 9, Sachsen bei Ansbach, with our 1973 Ford Pinto, August 1978.
3. The front of Am Romer 9 showing the driveway down into the garage under the house, 1978.
4. Jerri's flower garden in the back yard at Am Roemer 9, Sachsen bei Ansbach, August 1979.
5. Peter W., Peter A. and Leif hiking in the snow in the Sachsen woods in January 1979. Leif was four years old.
6. Leif at Sachsen Kindergarten, December 6, 1978.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Leif's Third Home - Kalb Army Housing Area - Fuerth, Germany - Summer 1977 to Summer 1980

In the summer of 1977, we moved from Charlottesville, Virginia to Fuerth, Germany, which is right next to Nurnberg. When we first got to Europe, we took time to travel to Norway using Eurail passes and visited cousins there. Then we spent a month living the the old Bavarian American Hotel, near the train station, while we waited for quarters on base. We finally got a three bedroom first floor apartment in a building like the one in the background of this photo. I evidently never thought it was either attractive enough or interesting enough to photograph. The building in this photo is actually the one across the huge parade field that the kids used as a playground. We had a balcony on the side facing the playground and although it was quite a ways off the ground, even on the first floor, Peter A. could lower himself off of it.

Leif had friend in the neighborhood, particularly Katie, another two-year-old in the next building. He "married" her when they were not quite three years old. The year that we lived in the Nurnberg area, we went on many Volksmarches (hikes on marked trails, for which we got medals after walking 10 kilometers; other medals were given to those who walked 20 or 30 kilometers), visited the zoo, several wonderful museums, the castle, other parts of southern Germany, and the wonderful Kristkindlmarkt by on the square with the Frauenkirche at Christmas time.

Leif went to a Montesorri preschool during that year, and it was there that his teacher said she felt he wasn't getting anything out of it because he was always off puttering around by himself, seemingly not paying any attention, but when she did an assessment, she was astonished to find out he was way ahead of the rest of the kids, could repeat things verbatim, and understood and had learned everything.

This is another place we can no longer go back to, at least not in the form it was when we lived there. In about 1994 it was one of the U.S. military areas that was returned to the German government and since then it has been changed. Many of the community facilities such as the movie theater have been torn down and the apartment buildings have been renovated. I don't know what happened to the school where Peter A. attended third grade.

I don't think Leif would have remembered this place, either, but it was a full year. This photo was taken in February 1978 when he was three years old. There is a lot of dreary, cloudy weather in Germany in the winter.

Leif's Second Home - Charlottesville, Virginia - Age 2

When Leif was one-and-a-half years old we moved from the old stone house in Manhattan, Kansas to a townhouse we rented in Charlottesville, Virginia, at 1 Woodlake Drive. Apparently I never thought to take a good photo of it. This one was taken during a rare snowstorm and deep freeze that froze our water pipes for a week. The area looks much different now, with large trees.

The townhouse had a fenced area in back that was perfect for Leif to play in. We only lived there for a year, from July 1976 to the summer of 1977, but a lot happened during that time. Leif had his second birthday on January 28, 1975. The house was across the street from a nice woods with trails and we went hiking there. Behind us was a large pond or small lake, and we liked to go walk around that as well. We celebrated Easter with Leif's first real egg hunt. He started preschool at Rocking Horse Country Day School when he was barely two years old.

We got to see a lot of my sister, Lannay, his aunt, and traveled around the area, visiting Washington, D.C., Monticello, Williamsburg, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and Virginia Beach. We also had visits from my sister Sherie and her husband, my brother Donovan and his family, and my mother.

It was a good year for all of us and it was a nice place to live. I have fond memories of those days.

Even with his phenomenal memory, Leif wouldn't have remembered this house or Charlottesville but it was his home for one of his 33 years.

The photo of the house at 1 Woodlake Drive was taken in January 1977, close to Leif's second birthday.
The photo of Leif flying high on his dad's upstretched feet was taken in the house in Charlottesville in May 1977 when Leif was two years and four months (28 months) old.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The World Through the Lens of Experience

Each of us views life through the lens of our experience. The longer we live the sharper our lens becomes, the more able to focus, and the more it has been shaped by our lives and the life-changing events we have lived with and through. Sometimes we aren't even aware of the importance of certain experiences, or that they are life-altering, until later, and sometimes we know our lives have been forever changed in a flash.

Finding Leif dead was such a moment. Finding my father dead was another. Until my father died, i was a child who look my parents for granted . . . and children should be able to do. They should have that stability and confidence in life. My father's death was as though someone had completely pulled the foundation out from under my life and it had collapsed, as though there was nothing I could trust in any more, and I was afraid to love again, for fear that anything I loved might be taken from me. Although three of my grandparents had died, and I loved them, I was never close to them and only saw them once a year for a few days. They didn't do things with us grandkids they way we do with ours. I missed being able to go and see them, but they were not in the daily fabric of my childhood life. Life went on. Dad's death was different. He had always been there, our daddy, and then, suddenly, he was not. Not only was he gone, it was by his choice, a choice a child cannot understand.

It took me years to come to terms with my father's death and be able to risk loving again, to stop fearing (as me and my siblings did) that we would somehow lose our mother, too. It took me years to be able to give my love wholeheartedly and be willing to risk the possibility of tragic loss. I was immensely fortunate that I fell in love with Peter W., and that for the 44 years we have been married, he has been the foundation of my adult life.

On that foundation, we built a family, and our two sons meant and mean everything to us. We all know there is a chance we will lose those we love to death, and I knew there was a greater than average chance in Leif's case because of his propensity to ride his motorcycle like a demon and drive his car like he was in the Daytona 500, because of his fascination with and ownership of guns. I knew that, but knowing that does not prepare one for death. Nothing prepares you for the death of your child.

The lens of my experience taught me 48 years before Leif died that you can never count on having the people you love always be there, alive. You never know what might take them from you. But nothing prepares you for the death of your child, and nothing prepares you to deal with their suicide. No matter how many times I worried about Leif getting killed in an accident, while I could feel fear, I could never feel grief. That only comes with death, and it is far worse than anything you can imagine.

Peter W. asked me once how long it took to get over my father's death. I told him I didn't remember. I think in part there is a problem with the phrase "get over." If it means the point at which I stopped obsessing about his life, death and loss daily, the point at which it not longer was raw and immediate for me, I can't say with certainty but I think it was around ten years. If that is true, I think it will take longer to get to that point with Leif's death, but because has hard as my father's death was for me, as hard a lesson as his loss was, it pales beside the loss of my son.

Why should the loss of one's child be so much harder to bear than the loss of a parent? I think the answer lies in how much of myself I had invested in having and raising Leif, how hard I tried to bring him up right, give him a good childhood, a good life, how much I loved being a mother and the role I played in my son's lives. I had spent far more of my life caring for Leif than I had spent with my father, and i was responsible for him for over half of his life in ways a child is never responsible for a parent.

Being a parent at all changes the lens of one's experience forever, makes you realize what it means to have another's life in your care, and that's part of the terrible heartache of Leif's death, that all our love and care did not give him the fulfilling and happy life we wanted him to have, that our love and care did not prevent his misery and suicide.

I know that Leif's death is not my fault, not our fault, but it still feels like a monstrous personal failure, that I could not save me son, indeed, didn't know when he was going to take his life. I know he gave no indication; neither had my father. That doesn't make it any less heartwrenching that somehow we didn't know or have a way to save him.

Now the lens of our experience has changed again. Now there is almost nothing that happens in my life that doesn't remind me of Leif, or some experience with him, or some thought about him. It's amazing to me that nearly everything becomes related to him in some way . . . the words to songs, characters in movies, vehicles, belongings, stories.

For instance, yesterday we went to Disney World's Animal Kingdom with Madeleine and Aly. I remembered that three years ago when we took the grandchildren to Disney World, Leif had enthusiastically recommended that we take them to Animal Kingdom and they had loved it. While there this time, we saw the "Nemo" show, a live musical show featuring puppets that retold the "Finding Nemo" story. We had seen the movie about six years ago with our grandson, Marcus, who loved it. Then I enjoyed it as a beautifully animated, heartwarming story about a loving, protective father who was willing to swim across a whole ocean to find and save his son, and a darling little clownfish with one smaller fin who proved he was capable beyond his father's dreams.

Today I found it not only a beautiful story, but for me, inexpressibly sad. We, too, loved our son and wanted to teach and protect him. We, too, were willing to go to great lengths to do so, but unlike in this story, we were not able to find our son alive. We were not able to save him. We had no happy ending. "Finding Nemo" is no longer the same through the changed lens of my experience.
The photo above was taken of Leif on January 1, 2007 at our home in Sun City Center, Florida.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Sense of Place in Memories, and Seeing the World Through New Eyes

Everything happens in a place, and location, place, is such an important part of memories. One's home, the place one lives, is a key to so many memories. That's why I spent so much blog time on the old stone house. It was such a large part of our lives for so long.

But every place one lives has significance and memories attached to it, and as a child in a military family, and then as an infantry soldier, Leif lived in so many places. For those of us who have that peripatetic lifestyle, we keep track of where and when things happened in our lives by attaching the memories to where we lived at the time.

I find myself often thinking that Leif lived here, in this house, where I now live. He slept in this room, ate at this table, washed his clothes in this washing machine, showered and got ready for work in this bathroom, parked his car in this garage, watched movies with us in this living room. It's so hard to come to grips with the fact that he will never do those things again, though the memories live on without him.

Today the sun was streaming in behind a curtain and then a cloud passed over the sun, the room suddenly darkened, and I thought that is how long term grief feels. You go about life, finding a sense of normalcy, even, at times, a bit of the old joy you once felt, and then a shadow passes over you and blocks out the light, blocks out the happiness, even if only briefly, though it isn't always fleeting. Sometimes is lasts and lasts, like the clouds that come to stay on a dark dreary day.

Tonight Peter Anthony's friend Dave was here for dinner with his family. We had a great visit, lively conversation. I thoroughly enjoyed it, even remarking how Leif would have felt about some of the things we discussed, remembering how much he would have loved participating in that discussion. Then, because Madeleine and Dave's son Andrew came in with a butterfly she caught and put into her bug cage, and Andrew's interest in it, I recalled a time in Japan before Peter Anthony had children when he asked me why someone would want to have them. I had begun to answer him that one of the greatest joys of having children is the opportunity to see the world through new eyes, to relearn the marvels of the world that have become commonplace to us as adults.

Just telling that got me choked up and misty-eyed, Peter W. told me not to cry, and I didn't. I managed to keep it under control, but I couldn't help but remember how much that meant to me, seeing the worldl through the new eyes of my sons . . . and how I continued to do that all their lives, as they grew into men and kept showing and teaching me new things. Peter Anthony still does. I miss it so that Leif never will do that again.

The photo of Leif above was taken on New Years Day 2007 when he was visiting here and playing with Madeleine and Aly with the video camera of his cell phone. They had such fun.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Demolition of the Old Stone House - june 2005

Life is full of strange twists, turns in ironies. We owned 804 Moro Street for 32 years. Several generations of our family, from my mother, who lived there 16 years, to Peter W. and me and our children and grandchildren, my nieces and nephews and their spouses and children all spent a lot of time there over those 32 years. We took a vine-covered old wreck of a house and turned it into a home with a lushly green and tree-shaded yard, but the roots we had there, that "homestead" was to end in 2005.

When we bought the old place, the neighborhood was full of young families and retired couples, but over the years the student neighborhoods of Kansas State University encroached, so that we were surrounded by houses carved up into apartments. The street was parked full of cars, and so were what once had been back yards. Days were quiet but nights, especially weekends, were noisy and raucous. Houses were torn down to make way for apartment buildings. Landlords who rented the older homes out to students didn't take care of the properties and let them go to ruin.

It was during this time that Peter W. and Leif started campaigning to move to Florida. Both of them found the cold, greenless, bleak winters depressing, and for Leif, it was worse because of his cold weather asthma. He couldn't breath well. We started making trips to Florida to see where we might want to move.

At the same time, we were approached by one of the Manhattan developers who wanted to know if were were interested in selling our property. At the time, we weren't. We hadn't planned to move for another 3-4 years but not long after that, but an unusual lineup of events changed all that. the builder purchased the two houses west of us and was planning to tear them down (they were in awful condition) and build an apartment complex. He had already built one behind us. if that happened, our old stone house would be isolated on the corner, surrounded by apartment complexes. It became clear to me that the house was doomed. No one would want to purchase it if we wanted to sell it after the apartment building was built to the west of us.

One day in the fall of 2004 when I was walking to work at KSU, the builder happened to see me and asked again if we wanted to sell. Although we hadn't planned to move that soon, it suddenly struck me that this was our golden opportunity to sell and that no matter what, the old house was doomed. We decided to consider his offer. He asked how soon we could be out of the house if we decided to sell it. If he could get our two lots in addition to the two he already had, he wanted to build something different, a townhouse development.

in November 2004 we made another trip to Florida with Leif and found the community and a house we wanted. Leif had put a deposit down on an apartment in Tulsa where his friend Michael was living at the time, and was going to get out of Manhattan no matter what. It was clear that he was dying on the vine in Kansas, pining away for J. and not finding any career opportunities. He couldn't afford to move on his own and other than the fact that it would get him out of Manhattan, we couldn't see how moving to Tulsa was going to improve his situation. Although I couldn't make the move until a year-and-a-half later, we decided to buy the house and move Peter W. and Leif to Florida, hoping to give him a new start in a place he really wanted to go.

So, December 30, 2004 we closed on the house in Florida and moved Peter W. there, then Leif in March 2005. I stayed in the old house until April 2005, then moved to 710 N. 9th Street. The old stone house was torn down June 20, 2005 to make way for the townhouses.

Many people in town were angry with us for selling one of Manhattan's old stone houses to a developer for demolition but they didn't see how the neighborhood had deteriorated and what would have eventually happened to the house if it hadn't been demolished.

Before I moved out, we had big moving sales and people came in droves to see the house, inside and out. Leif helped us get ready. He wasn't there when the house was torn down. I don't think he ever looked back.

People asked if it was hard on me, seeing it demolished, as I was living on the same block when it happened, but by the time they had stripped away all the trees and bushes and emptied out the house, taken out the windows and doors, it no longer looked like our home, the one we'd lived in with our sons. It looked like a sad old derelict. I wasn't sad when I saw it in the end, just a pile of stone rubble.

I don't feel that way now. I know I can't go home there again, neither actually or figuratively, but it's gone just like my son is gone, and I had them just about the same number of years. There is no equating a house with a son, but their time in my life was roughly parallel, and although at the time in 2005 when the house was destroyed I had no idea that in three years my son's life would be destroyed, too, now I feel sad that the house no longer stands.

Leif would not and did not care, or at least he would have insisted he didn't. Places and homes didn't hold the same meaning for him that they do for some of us who are sentimental like me. The literal blood, sweat and tears we put into that house gave it a significance that another dwelling might not have had.

Leif never owned a home. Sometimes I wonder if he ever felt at home once he left this house. The photo of him in this post is the last on taken of him in that house, on December 18, 2004, when we celebrated a early Christmas with him, my mother, Holly, Chad and their boys, Tim and Natalie, because we were flying out to the DC area to be with Peter Anthony, Darlene and Marcus, and my sister, Lannay and her family, for Christmas. When I think of that house, I think of Leif. It was a part of his life for 30 years.
The photos above are:
1. Leif Garretson, December 18, 2004, the last photo of him at 804 Moro Street, Manhattan, Kansas.
2. 804 Moro Street on June 20, 2005, after the house was bulldozed.
3. 804 Moro Street on June 15, 2005, ready for demolition.
4. The back of 804 Moro Street on March 15, 2005, before the trees leafed out the last time the forsythia was in bloom there.
5. The path along the west side of 804 Moro Street leading to the side door and on back to the white frame detached garage that stood on the alley behind the house. Taken June 1, 2005.
6. The big yard on the east side of 804 Moro Street, along 8th Street, taken on June 1, 2005, before it was stripped for demolition.

The Old Stone House in Mahattan, Kansas - Part 3

The old stone house not only represented the home we could return to (and frequently did) and the place we saw our extended family, it also gave us roots of sorts, the kind many military families don't have. Over the years we improved the place, added apple and cherry trees, a hammock in the back along with the picnic table. Leif was never interested in a yard and hated doing yard work, though he did get roped into some of it to help out, and he wasn't sentimental (or at least claimed he wasn't) about things like houses and yards, but I am a firm believer that in many ways geography has great influence in our lives, and that house and yard were part of our geography.

Leif was living there when he met Nikko, and for a time she lived there, too. He brought her there for dinner, back from the army for vacations and Christmases. Later he brought J. and her daughter there, and they spent one Thanksgiving and Christmas with us there. The house had to hold many memories for him, as it did for us.

It was not in any way modern. The fixtures were old, There wasn't a level or straight floor or wall in the place, as the old house had settled in the Kansas gumbo over the years. While we had put on a new roof, painted, refinished floors, and put in a shower, the house itself was fairly immutable. The yard was not. If you look back over the posts about the house, you can see how what was fairly barren and unattractive became a green oasis. Peter W. loved to go out and "inspect" the lush greenery an water it when we were in the growing season. Sometimes we had a vegetable garden. There were old lilacs and forsythia bushes that grew to at least 8 feet tall. Raking or blowing leaves in the fall was a major operation with over 30 trees. For half the year it was a lovely place, but the other half, when the leaves were off the trees, could look bleak.

The house had no ductwork, since the heating system was hot water radiators, and there was no air conditioning in it when we bought it. We installed one window AC on each floor and that kept it passably cool. When we move back into the house in 1990 both needed to be replaced and eventually Leif helped us put them both in. We appreciated his immense strength and his ability to figure out all kinds of mechanical and technological things.

We lived back in the house from September 1992 until April 2005. The house served us well and it was a significant part of Leif's life, all our lives.
The photos from top to bottom are:
1. 804 Moro Street in the snow on February 2, 2004
2. 804 Moro Street in the snow on February 6, 2004. What a difference between a sunny and cloudy day!
3. 804 Moro on April 9, 2004 with the apple tree in bloom.
4. The northeast corner of the back yard on May 20, 2002. This corner was a favorite play area when the kids were younger. There had once been a swing set there. Peter Anthony once had a playhouse there made from a big old plywood moving crate, and later a hideout constructed of branches. Much later, Peter W. had a vegetable garden there, and planted a tree for each of our grandchildren.
5. The old fashioned roses that grew outside the sun porch windows on the east side of the house. They were there when we bought the house to totally overgrown until we cleaned the area out and trimmed them.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Old Stone House in Mahattan, Kansas - Part 2

Leif lived at 804 Moro twice, once when he was a baby from birth until he was a year-and-a-half old and we moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, and the second time from July 1992 when he moved back from Puerto Rico until he moved out to live with Nikko, which must have been the sometime between the summer of 1994 and 1995.

That seems like a short time, but that house had been a sort of constant in Leif's life from birth in 1975 until it was demolished in the summer of 2005. While we didn't live in it all that time, traveling and living around the world, we owned it and his grandmother, my mother, Marion S. Kundiger, lived in it for the years we were gone. We came back there to visit, had family reunions there. In short, it was home, the home we knew we could always go back to, the one constant in our lives besides each other.

It was where he saw his grandmother, his Uncle Donovan; his cousins Rick, Holly and Tim; sometimes his Aunts Lannay and Sherie and their families. It was where we celebrated Christmas when we could.

After he moved out, it was still the place to go back to Mom and Dad's for dinner, for holidays, to celebrate Christmas.

Leif moved back there two months ahead of us in July 1992 while we were still in Puerto Rico, to live with his grandmother and take a driver's ed course at the high school. We arrived in September. Then the grueling work began. When we had lived there before, we didn't have nearly as much "stuff" as we were moving in this time and we consulted a structural engineer to be sure the house could handle the weight, and find out where to place it.

Although we had renovated in when we lived there from 1973-1976, and had worked on it several times during the intervening years when we were there for visitis, it needed a complete renovation again. This time, we decided to tackle refinishing the floors, knowing we would never manage to do it once we had everything moved in there. Little did we know what a mess we would get into. We knew that the first floor was oak. We rented a huge sander and ran it practically around the clock, the three of us taking turns with it. It was hard work, but it was nothing compared with the second floor.

The second floor was covered with old linoleum which was on it when we bought the house in 1973. By 1992, it was badly in need of replacement, or having something else done to the floor, and we decided to rip it up, not knowing what we would find underneath. We paid Leif to help us and the three of us spent days and days on it.

First we ripped up the linoleum, which we discovered was glued to Masonite which had been stapled to a yellow pine floor with a staple gun. Whoever did it had gone nuts with the staple gun and there were thousands of them. I counted over 200 in one square foot. Leif was so strong he could rip up the Masonite and linoleum in large chunks, which he threw out of the second story window. This left all the staples stuck in the floor, and some nails, too. In one chunk of the ripped up stuff, there was a long spiky nail that was sticking up out of a pile waiting to be tossed out the window and Leif stepped on it. The nail went right through his athletic shoe and into his foot. That necessitated our first trip to the emergency room that was caused by working on that floor. Luckily, it didn't continue to cause him pain, didn't get infected, and he healed fast.

Once we had all the linoleum and Masonite up and were faced with removing thousands of staples by hand, we also saw that the flooring was in lousy shape. It had apparently never been refinished after the house was built. The walking pathways were worn down to bare wood but those areas not trodden by feet for years and years were still covered with thick brown shellac. One place in the hallway was missing several boards and the area had been "repaired" by flattening an old turpentine can and nailing it over the hole.

The three of us spent days on the floor pulling up the staples until our hands and fingers were swollen and painful, but we finally got them all removed. About this time, I think everyone was about ready to curse me for insisting we refinish the floor. Then it was time to remove the shellac. It's impossible to sand off shellac. It just gums up the sander and starts to smoke. You have to dissolve it with denatured alcohol and sop it up, removing as much as you can that way before you can sand it.

Leif was removing a section at a time in this way, by pouring denatured alcohol on, spreading it around, leaving it for a few minutes to soften the shellac, and then wiping it up off the floor with rags and paper towels. He was working around the corner in the upstairs hallway, on the way to the back bedroom, when my mother came rushing up the stairs and around that corner because she had a doctor's appointment and hadn't been watching the time. She knew Leif was there removing the shellac and how he was doing it, but she somehow didn't think there would be a slippery puddle right in her way as she rounded the corner.

She slipped in it and took a terrible fall. She knew right away she had done something bad to her back so she lay still. I called the ambulance and they put her on a board to immobilize her back and neck and took her to the hospital. She had fractured two of the vertebrae in her back. She was in terrible pain. To my shock and surprise, they sent her home, even with that broken back, with very little instruction in how to care for her safely. That in itself is a long story, and we are just grateful that she healed and wasn't paralyzed. My brother, Donovan, had an old crank-style hospital bed that he got when the contents of an old hospital he tore down to build an apartment building were auctioned. He put it in our living room and I took care of her.

Meanwhile, we continued to work on the floor. Once the shellac was off and it was sanded, I had to patch innumerable holes with wood paste before I could apply the finish. While i was sliding around the floor doing this, I wore heavy jeans and sat on a large foam pillow to try to avoid the splinters in the old pine, but I wasn't successful. I got a very large one stuck in my fanny and had to make the third trip to the emergency room. Leif thought this was quite funny and loved to tease me about it.

Eventually, the floors were done, including putting in new boards instead of the turpentine can, and we went on to other things that needed fixing. Leif helped his dad install a split rail fence in the part of the property on 8th Street that didn't have a large hedge, helped paint, work on the yard, and much more. He had a lot of time, sweat and effort invested in the old place.

The old gravity hot water furnace was out into the house in 1904, according to a sooty old paper that was stapled to a floor beam in the basement. It had originally been a coal furnace but had been converted to natural gas years before we bought the house. Peter Anthony, who was four-and-a-half years old when we bought the house, thought it looked like a scary monster. It never seemed to disturb Leif, though. It's amazing that it was still working over 100 years later when we finally sold the house for demolition in 2005. What's amusing is that we found out that our neighbor when we children lived on Fairchild Street, Dr. Oscar W. Alm, had lived in that very house in 1929 when he moved to Manhattan, Kansas with his bride. They had a chance to buy the house in the 1930s but didn't because they thought the furnace was too old!

The photos of the house show the south and back sides, the picnic table we used so often, and Leif and Peter W. working on that floor. The odd thing is, we took many photos of the exterior of the house and yard, but foolishly never took before and after photos of the interior . . . or much of any shots of the interior except what showed up in the background of the many, many shots we took of people in the house for all the occasions we celebrated. The only time I systematically did take photos of the interior was when we cleaned it out right before we sold it, and then the rooms looks sadly empty and forlorn.

The photos from top to bottom are:
1. Leif and Peter W. working on the upstairs flooring in our bedroom, August 1993.
2. The surprise Kundiger family reunion in 1993 in the backyard, held in honor of Leif's grandmother's 75th birthday, early on July 4, 1993. Leif is on the far left all in white sitting by his cousin Holly Kundiger.
3. The backyard picnic table, taken February 10, 1999.
4. The old gravity hot water furnace from 1904.
5. Looking at the southeast corner of the house and lot from the intersection of 8th and Moro Streets on March 18, 2001.
6. The east side of the house taken April 4, 1999.
7. The back of the house taken April 1999.

ZAON.com - Garretson Scoutship: Artist's Interview

I just discovered this ZAON video on YouTube which features the scout ship that Justin Winters designed in remembrance of Leif.

The Old Stone House in Mahattan, Kansas

I've mentioned the old stone house at 804 Moro Street in Manhattan, Kansas so many times I thought perhaps a series of photos of the places we lived would be interesting. If my count is correct, Leif lived in 17 places plus three military camps in Bosnia in his 33 years. Only eight of them were with us and I don't have photos of all of them, but I think they will give a sense of place.

When we moved from Germany back to Manhattan, Kansas in September 1973, we were looking for a house to buy. It wasn't a good market then and we weren't finding what we wanted, an older home with a lot of room. Then I chanced upon this house while driving up Moro Street toward Aggieville. It was a wreck. The house was totally covered with Virginia creeper vines, which had grown all the way up to the gutter and then back down into the yard. The house had 33 windows (counting the front and back doors) but you couldn't see into or out of any of them because of the vines.

We contacted the realtor and took a look at it. The inside was a mess. All of the rooms, including woodwork, were painted either an ugly dark tan (with matching drapes and carpet in the living room) or an ugly institutional green, in semigloss paint, except for one room, which had weird combinations of chartreuse and forest green and yellow and pink with a big boob on the wall. The place was littered with dead bugs and the kitchen had ancient brown linoleum on the floor and countertop, which was shredding. It had been on the market for six months with no offers and we heard stories about prospective buyers coming out covered with fleas, hence the dead bugs when they closed it up and fumigated it.

Apparently we saw the "possibilities" in the place, so we made an offer. They were asking $28,000 and we offered $21,000. Even in 1973 it was a cheap house, especially on a double corner lot, but it was so old and had not been renovated, that no one was interested but us. When we went to the realtor the next day and were told our offer had been refused, Peter W. told them he was glad, that he had had nightmares all night about the place and to just give him his ernest money check back. Well, that got their attention and the next thing we knew, they accepted.

We moved in, if you can call sleeping on army cots in the living room (because the place was unlivable) moving in, and started working on the house to try to make it a home. People said it must be so rewarding, but no, it was just grungy hard work, and as soon as we got one thing done, we either found something new wrong or whatever we improved made everything else look ten times worse.

Peter W. liked the Virginia creeper vines and wanted to keep them, but we soon found that was impossible. As soon as we opened the windows, we discovered that they were full of sparrow nests that smelled awful. We tore them all down, making a pile to be hauled away the size of a boxcar. Then the house looked naked and pitiful.

We lived in the house from September 1973 to the summer of 1976 and spent most of our spare time during those three years working on it. More about that and what the house was like inside in my next post.

Leif was born in the middle of this adventure, on January 28, 1975. He spent a lot of time in a backpack on me while I worked.

The top photo was taken May 25, 2002, and shows the lush yard we had created over the years.
The second photo shows the nearly barren yard during the dead of winter in January 1975, the month and year Leif was born.
The third photo shows the house after all the vines were torn off in the fall of 1973.
The bottom photo shows the house as it looked when we bought it on September 8, 1973.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Leif - City of Refuge, Hawaii - July 1980 - Age 5

It still amazes me, and probably will for the rest of my life, how most of the time I can talk about Leif and his life easily and then something unexpected will trigger a bout of sadness and tears. Today, Peter W. had a Transformers movie on television. I was busy and wasn't watching it, but then I heard the words "Optimus Prime." I said, "Leif had an Optimus Prime transformer toy when we were in Japan, and had kept it. It was with all Leif's Japanese toys that he gave to his nephew, Marcus. I had saved them in case Leif had a little boy to give them to someday."

It was that last sentence that brought the sadness and tears. I was never one of those mothers who would pressure her children into having kids so I could have grandchildren. I firmly believe that people should only have children if they really want them, not for someone else. However, until this moment I never realized how much I had, in my heart, wanted those grandchildren, and counted on them. Now I feel the loss of the grandchildren I never had, Leif's children who will never live. I realize all the things I collected or saved for them, the photos, Leif's toys, the things from his childhood, his school records and achievements, the books I bought for them. I even have his baby teeth. Somewhere in my mind I was counting on him having at least one child, even though he had protested nearly all his adult life that he didn't want children. I was preparing for them just as I had with Peter Anthony.

It was hard to imagine Leif as a parent for most of his adult life. Not only were his lifestyle and spending habits unlikely to mesh well with responsible fatherhood, but he hadn't shown a real affinity for kids until the last years of his life, when he clearly enjoyed being with his nieces and nephew and some of his friends' children, and came to love J's little girl when he was with her. It wasn't until he was over 30 when he wistfully said one evening at dinner at our house that he used to think he didn't want children but now he felt he did and might not ever have them. In one of his online dating profiles, he said he was interested in a relationship with a woman young enough to have children, so I know that was something he was looking forward to. I wonder still whether having a child depending upon him might have given him the purpose he so badly needed, and some of the love he sought.

And for my part, today I realized that I had far more invested in the children I hoped he would have than I had ever thought. I realized how sad I am that I will never hold them, play with them, read to them, teach them, take them on trips or to Disney World, all the wonderful things I am fortunate to be able to do with Peter Anthony's beautiful children. I am so grateful for them, but I would so have loved to have a grandchild from Leif, not only for the relationship with me, with us, but someone to carry on Leif's name, to remember him, to value him, to have someone to give all the memories of his life, his special things like his high school class ring, his swords, his bokken, his military uniforms and boots.

He would have had beautiful children, beautiful and brilliant, like he was. They would have enjoyed their cousins.

Who will remember him when I am gone? Half of my children are gone. Half of my grandchildren will never be.


This photo of Leif was taken at the City of Refuge on the Big Island of Hawaii in July 1980 when Leif was five-and-a-half years old.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Disney World "Lights, Motors, Action: Extreme Stunt Show

We saw the "Lights, Motors, Action: Extreme Stunt Show" at Disney World Hollywood Studios yesterday and had seen it last month when we were in Orlando. It immediately struck me as something Leif would not only have loved, but he would have loved to be IN it. Fast cars sliding around and burning rubber, accelerating fast and doing maneuvers that required tremendous driving skills, fast motorcycles doing the same, and jet skis, too. Combine that with explosives, guns (t was the making of a spy movie in a village in southern France), fire and fireworks and it couldn't have been more quintessentially something Leif would have appreciated. He would have been asking where he could apply for job. Finding out that the stripped down interiors of the cars contained a motorcycle engine would have excited him. He was fond of pointing out that no car could accelerate like a bike. As Peter A. said, the only thing missing was a redhead. I wish he had been there to watch it with us!

The photo of Leif on his super fast Suzuki motorcycle was taken in Sun City Center, Florida on November 7, 2005 and the photo of him behind the week of his silver RX-8 was taken in the same location on January 4, 2006. He was almost 31 years old.

Memories of Disney World with Leif

Yesterday we went to Disney World's Hollywood Studios park with Madeleine and Aly. We had a great time. They are at the perfect age to really enjoy it and be easy to take. Again, it brought back memories of our time there with Leif. We went in 1990 when we drove to Florida to ship our car to Puerto Rico when we were moving there. He was 15, just a year older than Madeleine is now. It was hot, but only a preview of the heat and humidity we would find in Puerto Rico.

We went to Epcot Center and Hollywood Studios and really enjoyed them, but Leif would have enjoyed them even more now, with the new rides and exhibits. We stayed for the "Fantasmic" light and laser show with the girls (this photo is from that show) and that's something we didn't see in 1990.

Leif had been back to Disney World with dates since then, and advised us which parks to visit in 2006 when we first took the grandkids there. He was still like a big kid and loved the parks. I wish he could have been with us.

Today with the girls was so much fun and like our time at Thai Thani and the iMax, or the beach, brought back so many memories of the good times with our sons. I hope that Leif remembered those times as happy ones, too.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Leif at Thai Thani in Tampa, Florida - July 9, 2006 - Age 31

There are so many things that bring back memories of Leif and the good times we had together. Saturday (June 13) we went to Thai Thani Restaurant in Tampa with Madeleine and Aly, and then saw "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" at the iMax theater there at Channelside. That was one of Leif's favorite things to do. We would meet him there and enjoy dinner and a show. On July 9, 2006, we were there and I happened to take a photo of him with my cell phone. I think I did it because that was when my phone was new and we were experimenting with it. it's just a small, low-pixel image and you can't see any detail, but it's still precious to me because it depicts a happy memory. He would have enjoyed being there for Thai food with the girls and seeing that over-the-top movie . . . and would have been full of talk about the new movies that interested him. How I wish we could be making a date to do it all again.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Disabled Veterans of Amrerica Virtual March on Washington

- DAV Virtual March

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Click the link above and join to support our wounded veterans.

Leif at Waikiki - Honolulu, Hawaii - June 1980

Yesterday we took our granddaughters, Madeleine and Aly, to the beach and took turns in the water with them while the other stayed with all the belongings on the beach. While it was my turn to sit there I was musing on how pleasant it was to be there, how much like it was when we took our two boys to beaches years ago. I remembered how much fun it was, how I was content to be with them, happy just being together. The girls loved the beach, spent most of their time diving for shells, and didn't want to leave. We finally persuaded them to leave the water when the sun went down. I spent most of the time in the water with them, but that time sitting watching them with "Grandpa Peter" brought back so many happy memories and a few tears, thinking that those times will never come again, and a great sense of gratitude that we can experience this with our granddaughters.

This photo of Leif when he was five-and-a-half was taken on the beach at Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii, in June 1980 when we were stopping in Hawaii on our way to Japan, the summer we moved from Germany all the way to Hawaii. How small he looks, though he was big for his age.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Leif, Jerri & Peter Anthony - Hawaii State Fair - Summer 1984 - Age 9

We had so much fun in Hawaii. It was a great three years for all three of us. Although I was busy with graduate school and work and often had to stay up all night studying, we were still able to do so many things together, whether touring Pearl Harbor, hiking, going to the beaches (our favorite was Bellows Beach), staying at Kilauea Military Camp by Kilauea Crater on the Big Island, going to movies and out to dinner at Waikiki. We had a good time at the Hawaii State Fair on a beautiful evening the summer of 1984, taking rides on the MIdway. I was so happy being with my sons.

Leif was nine and Peter Anthony was 15.