Saturday, December 15, 2012

The MIssing Stone

On November 9, 2008, I posted a picture of this ring intact, with Leif's birthstone on the left, and November 29, 2008, I wrote about how I had lost the garnet stone that was Leif's birthstone on the left side of the ring. I found it and replaced it in the ring but oddly, it fell out again. I had it repaired again but had to have the stone replaced that time, since I couldn't find it.

Now, it has disappeared again. Last Monday, December 10, I noticed it was missing. I couldn't find the stone.

It seems so strange to me, that only Leif's stone falls out. It's as if it's trying to prove that he is gone and won't stay here. I am not a superstitious person, but it is a very odd coincidence. Even the jewelry company that made the ring from Peter Anthony's design, and has fixed the ring twice, can't seem to make it stay in.

It's sad. I can't wear the ring like this, and I don't know whether it makes sense to replace the stone yet again. I wonder if it would stay. Somehow I doubt it.

I fell doubly sad about it because I haven't been able to take time to write anything on Leif's blog for a month, and not much before that. I've been completely involved with my mother's affairs, since she suffered another fractured vertebra and has been in the hospital and rehab. I've spent a lot of time with her and taking care of her affairs, and been most grateful to my two sisters for coming, each of them for ten days, to help and be with her, too.

I've thought of Leif every day, many times a day. I've missed him at Thanksgiving, our fifth Thanksgiving without him. I still want to see him driving up the driveway, fell his warm bear hug, hear his laugh.

The holidays will always be bittersweet, sweet with the family we have and the memories we've kept, bitter without Leif there to share them with us. It's so hard to realize he will not be here for the fifth Christmas. We will miss him so.

“Youth offers the promise of happiness, but life offers the realities of grief.”  ― Nicholas Sparks
How true that is. We have to be glad for the years of happiness, though even those memories are now bittersweet.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Proud of Leif on Veteran's Day

Thinking of Leif on this Veteran's Day, wishing he had been able to have the army career he hoped for instead of being medically retired as a disabled vet, proud of him for his service and his excellence as a machine gunner, proud of him for his devotion to the Constitution.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween, a favorite of Leif's

I suppose Leif and Peter Anthony were like most brothers. Sometimes they were good companions, and sometimes they competed. Sometimes Peter teased Leif and Leif got mad and went on the attack. I used to tell Peter that he was lucky Leif was six years younger than he was, because he was to big for his age. I think that in the years after Peter left home, when Leif was twelve, they grew apart and forgot all the good times they had together when they were younger.  This photo is an example. It was Halloween and Peter, who was nearly nine years old and in third grade, was a classy vampire with a ruffled shirt. He was already in costume way early, as we were having a party at our house for him and his friends. His dad dressed up as a sort of swami fortune teller. I looked ridiculous in a true 1970s tie-dyed dress, leopard print hat, and fish net stockings, or at least that's what I think I wore.

Look at the expression of pure delight on Leif's face, the cute body language as the vampire leans over to bite and Leif expects it will tickle. Yes, Peter did bite, and yes, it did tickle. There was a lot of laughter.

Leif was only two-and-a-half years old then and not really old enough to understand much about Halloween except that he got to go beg for candy at a few doorways in the stairwell, but he certainly understood the idea of having fun with his brother.

When Leif was grown, Halloween was one of his favorite times. He loved to have parties and was devilish and cute. I wish he was here this Halloween with us.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Leif - August 1977 in Nurnberg

I so wish I had more photos of Leif as an adult, but I've posted nearly all of the good ones, and many that are left are so similar (taken at the same time) to something I posted before. I find myself going back again to the old family albums to find pictures that are "new." Here, too, the best ones have already been scanned and posted in the four-and-a-half years since his death, since I began this blog, but I keep finding little parts of photos to scan. This is a good example. It's not really a very good photo in terms of focus or lighting, but it's a cute one of him.

It was taken in our room at the Bavarian American Hotel in Nurnberg, Germany. We stayed there for a month while waiting for quarters to move into. Peter W. was working, and I was "stuck" there with the boys. In some ways, it was ideal. The location, across from the train station and near to museums, and within walking distance of the historic downtown, was great. There were wonderful restaurants and shops all over the place. We were good walkers, so we ventured quite far from the hotel, to a terrific park, the castle, and more. We often ate lunch at a German restaurant, not in the "American" restaurant in the hotel, because we thought it was awful.

The hotel was built for high ranking Nazis and opened in 1936, bombed by the Allies in 1944, and confiscated by the US Forces in June 1945. After that, it was maintained as a hotel for servicemembers until it was returned to the Germans and was rented as flats. I believe that it is now unoccupied. We saw it when we were in Nurnberg last June and were surprised that it still looked the same and still had what appeared to be the same sign on it.

No matter how much walking we did, Leif was still only two-and-a-half, and even though he was willing to fall asleep in his umbrella stroller, it was usually important to spend enough time in the room to be sure he got a decent nap. We didn't have much to do in our room, but the kids found ways to amuse themselves. Leif had this cute little plaid backpack he liked to stuff his few toys and stuffed animals into and parade around with it on his back.

It's hard to believe he was such a little blondie at that time. Both my boys were blond when they were small, as their dad was, but all three of them had hair that darkened to a deep brunette as they grew up.

One good thing about looking at the photos of Leif as a child is the happy memories they bring. Not universally happy, but mostly so. I just have to smile at most of the photos. They were good times. Not always easy ones, but good.

In this case, although it wasn't particularly pleasant living at the Bavarian American for a month, a place that those who stayed there were wont to call the "Barbarian American," it did give us a chance to get to know the city. I wish we could have taken Leif back with us in June. He wouldn't have remembered anything, even with his phenomenal memory. He was just too young when we left there. But we would have had a good time reminiscing and telling him about his life there when he was so small.

I don't know whether we took a photo of the building in 1977. If we did, it was probably a slide that we didn't print for our album, since I didn't find one in there.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Leif and the Plaque for Timothy

Back in the days when I had time to make homemade gifts and thought they would be appreciated, I used to paint, sew, or needlework gifts for the family. I wasn't a good enough artist to come up with my own paintings for most purposes. When some of my nieces and nephews were born, I painted plaques for their rooms. This was one of them. I painted it in June 1978 for my nephew, Timothy, when he was a baby and had Leif hold it so I could take a picture. He looks so beautiful and sweet.

At the time we were living in Fuerth, Germany (Nurnberg), just before we moved to the village of Sachsen bei Ansbach. Leif was three-and-a-half years old. He was bright and curious, persistent and unstoppable. He had been attending a Montessori preschool which was excellent for him, but from which I have no photos.

Like so many of our photos from that time period, this one had fading and chemical staining. I've tried to rescue it.

Our boys did not have "professionally decorated" rooms, just as they didn't have professionally decorated birthday cakes. What they had on their walls was likely to be either things I had made out of needlepoint, posters, or things they had made or colored themselves. They had inexpensive, plain bedspreads, and quartermaster plain furniture, except for a toy box, which was mostly filled with things like Matchbox cars.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Little Leif in Wolframs-Eschenbach

I love this whimsical photo of Leif. He was rarely coquettish like this. He had a great smile, and liked to act silly, but was often serious. This is an unusual. It wasn't windy, so his hair just flew that way when he quickly put his head on the side. I was lucky to catch it.

The picture was taken in the town of Wolframs-Eschenbach, near Ansbach, in August 1977. Leif was two-and-a-half years old. At the time, we had just moved to Germany and were living in Fuerth, next to Nurnberg, and this was a day trip. However, a year later we lived closer to this down when we lived in Sachsen bei Ansbach. It's a quaint town with a lot of medieval architecture still in existence.

The boys enjoyed our outings, as we surely did. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Lotus Leif Would Have Loved

When we were in Germany in June, we saw this gorgeous Lotus. Leif would have loved this car. We all remarked on that. It also brought memories of the James Bond car, the model that Leif has such a fit over because we wouldn't buy it in Innsbruck (I've told that story on the blog before), but I think this car is more beautiful.

It's a small vehicle. I wouldn't want to drive it. It would be hard to get into, and I was trying to imagine Leif folding his 6'2" frame down into that low, small car, but I bet he would have done it if he ever had the chance. About the only thing that would have made it better in his eyes would be a yellow paint job.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Leif's Email to Hillary Clinton in August 2007

Leif cared deeply about our country, HIS country, the country he served as an infantryman. He liked taking political science and history courses, something he had in common with his dad.

During the 2007 political season, when it looked as though Hillary Clinton would probably get the Democratic nomination for the presidency, he wrote the email below to her, thinking the winning ticket would be a Clinton-Obama ticket.

He found both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to be exciting political contenders, for different reasons. I think it's interesting that he felt Obama wasn't ready for the Presidency at that time.

He didn't live long enough to see what actually happened, either with the nomination or the election. I wonder what he would have thought about it and the government that came to pass.

Strangely enough, Leif was among the victims of the recession of 2007 (as well as his own poor budget and spending choices), though he didn't live to find out the depth of the economic downturn. He would have had a great deal to say about it, as well as the situation in which the newly elected Obama would find himself in January 2008.

Now his letter to Hillary is an interesting piece of history.

The photo is one Leif took of himself with his iPhone, in his motorcycle gear. I think it was in the parking lot of the building where he worked, in October or November 2007.


August 2, 2007

Dear Mrs. Clinton,
I am writing to you to express some observations for the Democrat's failures in the last election and hope to see you rise above them. In past elections I have seen both parties compete for their nominations based on who was the most Democratic of Republicans. Largely the most electable candidate in the last election, General Clark, was defeated. He wasn't liberal enough for Democrats so we  chose Kerry who was too liberal to win the swing vote. A mistake, as  Clark would certainly have been preferable to another four years of Bush, but he wasn't  left wing enough to win the nomination. 

The republicans are not making this same mistake, as they are likely to nominate Mr Giuliani, who is the most  moderate of the Republicans. Were they to follow the folly of the 2004 Democratic nomination, they would have an ultra conservative as a frontrunner. But I digress.

The point I really want to make is that I sincerely hope that while competing with Senator Obama that you do not become too adversarial, so that you could not consider him an ally and a possible running mate.

One cannot deny the power and broad appeal of a Hillary/Obama ticket with a woman and a black man. That alone would be a powerful force at the polls. But beyond the superficial appeal of such demographics, let us look at the merits of such a pairing.   

Recently the news has been full of stories of the squabble between yourself and Sen. Obama over your description of his ideas as naive and his criticism of you as being too similar to the failed policies of Bush. To be honest, I think you are both right. Obama is a bit naive and you are a bit too indoctrinated into the broken system of  Washington. 

What I as a voter and a citizen say is that instead of having an adversarial relationship with each other, which claims one or the other is right, would we all not be better served by a combination of such views.? If there is one thing that America is sick of it's is a cabinet full of Bush "yes men." 

As a citizen, I hate our president for firing or  ousting or forcing the retirement of every cabinet member or senior general that did not share his vision of the new world order. The President is the boss and as the boss he, or hopefully SHE, will be secure in knowing that she can be the boss regardless of whether everyone  agrees with her or not. You could select a weak yes man of a running mate or you could reinforce the strength of character for which you are known by selecting Senator Obama as your running mate.

Why? You have said that his ideas and policies are naive and that he lacks experience. You are surely the most qualified for the job of President and you may very well be correct about him. However, his idealism might be a valuable voice in your cabinet, and while Senator Obama might not be ready to be president in 2008, imagine the president he could be in 2016 after serving 8 years as Vice President to a woman that shared the White House for 8 years with her husband.

So, Mrs. Clinton, I ask you to consider the long view and the short. In the short term, no ticket could be more powerful than Clinton/Obama. He will bring idealism to balance your more cynical image. You wik carry him to the White House and to 8 years of preparation for the day that he will be the first Black President.

So chose your words and battles wisely Mrs. Clinton. And never forget that most profound of truths that says no matter your differences, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend," as should be Senator Obama.

Best of luck,
Leif Garretson.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Missing Him So

I wonder what it is that triggers sadness and missing Leif again so much, as I have been in the last week. Next Sunday it will be four years and five months since he died. There are days when I'm busy and life is full and it doesn't hurt so much, but the sadness rolls back.

I think perhaps it's because of the election season. The last time around, before the actual nominating conventions, we had such lively discussions about the candidates and policies. He was writing email letters Hillary Clinton (as he had to General Wesley Clark in 2003). I probably miss him a lot right now because I know if he were here we'd be hearing a lot from him about the election and issues. It makes the hole in our lives so much more evident.

I know it's not my fault he isn't here, but I will always feel that I failed him, failed to help him, failed to keep him alive.

I look at this darling picture, taken by my sister, Sherie, in July 1976 when he was a year-and-a-half old, and he seems to happy, so carefree. I wish I had some scrap of hope that his adult life held any happiness for him.

I've thought a thousand times about why a death like Leif's, a suicide, is so very very hard, and I think that on top of the loss and grief we would have over the death of a child, our son, there are the dual burdens of knowing how unhappy he was and that we couldn't help him, that he died alone and uncomforted, cut off even from our love in that moment of death when he didn't reach out to anyone for help.

I can't have this beautiful little boy back. I can't have the handsome young man back. I can't even have the sad and depressed man back for a second chance to help make it right.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Where do they come from . . . and why?

I'm amazed that each day there are visitors to RememberingLeif, from all over the world, even though I post only a couple of times a month now. I wonder about these visitors. How do they come upon this blog?
They didn't know Leif, or me, yet they arrive here. It must be through the keywords on the blog, and probably often they are looking for "Leif Garrett," the singer, not my son.

But what do they think when they click on this site? Do they stay? Do they read about him? Some do, as I've found from comments, but I wonder about all the others. Like so many questions having do do with Leif's life and death, we will never know, but it's still incredible how many people have seen the blog.

Just looking at the visits from the past 24 hours and seeing four foreign countries and four US states is fascinating, but the larger statistics show that there have been visitors from all fifty states and the District of Colombia, and 120 foreign countries. Well over 30,000 visits have been logged by Blogger since April 10, 2008.

I like coming to the blog page, and to Leif's Facebook page, to remember, to reflect, and to know he is remembered in the world.

I wonder how Leif would have viewed this presidential campaign. I would have liked to have one of our lively, rip-roaring discussions about it. He would have had strong feelings and expressed them well. I can't imagine him being wholeheartedly for either candidate, but he would take his right to vote seriously.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Family Ties - Memories and the Name "Alex"

Family Ties - Clip from Episode "Smoke Alarm"

Tonight Peter discovered Family Ties playing on the Clue Channel. That brought back so many happy memories.

We were living in Japan in 1982 when Family Ties made its debut. We saw it on AFN, the Armed Forces Network, and it quickly became a huge family favorite. We all enjoyed it, but especially the boys, and they were quite the fans of Michael J. Fox as Alex.

In fact, when we were going to move from Japan to Hawaii in the summer of 1983, Peter A. convinced Leif that it was the perfect time to change his Alex, and that is why, for the next 15 years, Leif went by "Alex" and why some of his friends from those years will always call him and know him as Alex. It was even hard for us to switch to "Leif."

I wonder how Leif would see the show now, if he were alive to watch it again. Would he still laugh at the situations? What would he think of Alex's conservative politics? Or would he just switch to a more intense sci-fi drama?

I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for this show that my boys loved, and that brought me an "Alex" into our house....though our Alex was not much like the one on the show.

There was a time he wanted to legally change his name to Lance Alexander, but he never did.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Memories on the Neckar River

When we were in Heidelberg in June, we had a lovely walk along the Neckar River and we passed this big ring fastened into the wall along the river path. There are several of them, used to tie up boats and barges, but this particular one stands straight out and I recognized it at once, though I hadn't seen it in over thirty years.

I remembered the beautiful April day in 1978 when we were visiting Heidelberg. It might have been Easter weekend or even Easter Sunday. It was a bit chilly and spring wasn't a little late, but it was still a beautiful time for a walk along the river. Our boys saw that ring and they just HAD to hang on it. Peter Anthony could just barely grasp it and then walk his feet up along the wall, but Leif was way too short for that, so his Dad had to hold him up.

On his head, Leif has a red visor with built-in flip-down sunglasses that he just loved. I think I have another photo or two of him wearing it, and I'd forgotten all about it until I saw this picture again.

In the spring of 1978 we were living in Nurnberg, or actually Furth, and it was about a two-and-a-half hour drive to get to Heidelberg so we didn't go often to visit Peter W.'s aunts, uncles and cousins there, but every visit was a joy.

Leif was three years old and Peter Anthony was nine in these photos. Hard to believe that was 34 years ago.

I'm glad I took these photos, so that I have more than just the memory of that place and time. And I'm glad I found them and scanned them. Time is not being good to many of our older color photos. They are fading or discoloring and there's only so much I can do with PhotoShop to improve them.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

So Long Ago

Peter asked me today whether I ever posted this photo, and I don't think I have. It's a sweet one of Leif with his niece Madeleine, when she was only about 17 months old, long ago in 1997. She was quite fascinated with Leif. He still had hair then and was so slim. She wanted to touch his moustache. I don't know if she had ever seen one before.

Leif enjoyed his nieces and nephew on the rare occasions when he got to see them, and they liked to climb all over him until they got to big to do so. He was a great "tree."

I'll always wonder what Leif might have been like as a father, whether he had the patience. I know he would have had love.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Was it his destiny?

Someone asked me, a few months ago, whether I thought perhaps Leif's life and death were his destiny. I thought a long time about that. What does destiny mean?

The Free Dictionary by Farlex defines destiny as:
destiny [ˈdɛstɪnɪ]
n pl -nies
1. the future destined for a person or thing; fate; fortune; lot
2. the predetermined or inevitable course of events
3. (Philosophy) the ultimate power or agency that predetermines the course of events

How can we really apply that to a life? Because something DOES happen, can we automatically assume it was "destiny" and MUST happen?

If there is such a thing as destiny, can we change or avoid it?

Is destiny the same as "fate"?

fate [feɪt]
1. the ultimate agency that predetermines the course of events
2. the inevitable fortune that befalls a person or thing; destiny
3. the end or final result
4. a calamitous or unfavourable outcome or result; death, destruction, or downfall

It seems to me that the definitions rather beg the question. If the end result IS fate or destiny, then of course it was fate or destiny, but if we define it as "inevitable" and basically preprogrammed to happen, that's a different thing all together.

Or, is there a force called destiny or fate that DOES determine our lives?

I don't believe that, at least not in the usual colloquial sense. For instance, I don't think there was some guiding hand of fate that "made" me and Peter go to the Manhattan swimming pool one August day just so we could meet. I think that was a more or less random piece of luck that could easily have happened entirely differently.

However, I DO Think there are factors that determine things in our lives, some of the biological or genetic. I think that genes not only determine or heavily influence much of our appearance, they also determine many other things about us, from talents and likes and dislikes (some of them) to propensities to diseases or risky behavior or some forms of mental illness.

It's hard for me as a mother to contemplate that I, and perhaps Peter, passed on to Leif some genetic tendency toward severe depression, but with the family history on my side, and my father's suicide, and Peter's mother's severe depression, it know it is possible, and indeed probable, that he inherited the gene for depression and that it was activated during his miserable time in the army and he fought it the rest of his life. Perhaps he WAS doomed by destiny, the destiny of that inheritance, and perhaps it was only a matter of time for him, as it seemed to have been for my father.

My dad lived 13 years longer than Leif did, but he had much to anchor him to this life that Leif never had, a wife, four children, a career, a home. Even with those things, life became empty and he said he felt "dead inside." Leif listened to Johnny Cash's sad song "Hurt," which seemed to speak of what Leif was going through.

I don't know whether Leif had an exact predetermined fate, one that would end on that day, that exact day, with him taking his life, in that exact place, with that gun. I doubt it. What I do think is that he may have had a destiny to become depressed and eventually end his life, but the how, why, when and where would have been shaped by the events of his life. Perhaps if he hadn't joined the army, perhaps if his marriage had lasted, perhaps if he'd found a career he could get his mind into, perhaps if he'd felt he had worth in this life and that he mattered, he would have lived . . . but for how long?

In the end, would he have still terminated his life as my father did? I will never know the answer to that, never know exactly why did shot himself in the wee hours of April 9, 2008, never know whether he could have been saved . . . or if he was, for how long.

I have come to believe that we all face some destiny in our lives, but that it isn't all just predetermined, that it influences our lives but doesn't just determine it. We, and events, and the people in our lives, shape the outcomes every day with each and every action and decision. Yes, many of THOSE are in some sense "determined," too, but not every detail, just the broad outlines. We paint in the strokes.

Leif suffered, but there are others who suffered worse than he did who did not and will not take their lives. What could be the difference? I believe it was inheritance, the genetic disposition to depression and suicide, and I regret that I passed that on to him.

Could things have been different? I believe they could have, but his life would have to have been different, too. He would have to have made different decisions, found a path that wouldn't have taken him down the path of depression, or found a way out of it for a second or third time. But much of that was not of his choosing . . . the things that happened to him were the RESULTS of his choices, but all of us make choices without knowing the outcomes we will face, and he was no different.

Was suicide my father's fate? Yes, because it happened. Perhaps yes because of his genetic inheritance. Yes because of the damaging depression he developed.

Can we know our fate? I'm glad we can't, though sometimes we can see some possibilities or the broad outlines we face in life. I'd rather not know if terrible times are ahead. Nor do I want the happy times lessened by knowing about them in advance.

All we can do is make the best choices we know how, forgive ourselves for the ones that turn out to be foolish or unwise, and appreciate, as much as we can, the life and loved ones we have.

I will always be glad that Leif was my son, no matter how hard it is to know he is dead, no matter how much I miss him, no matter how much I disagreed with some of the choices he made. He was my son, my handsome, brilliant, anguished son, and he brought much to my life I would never want to wish away.

The photo was taken of Leif by my sister, Sherie, in the living room of our old stone house in Manhattan, Kansas, in November 1975. Leif was 10 months old, and must about that time he started walking.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Are you over it yet?

Peter asked me on our bike ride yesterday whether I was "over" Leif's death after four years. I told him no, that I still felt like the man we sat with at a German American Club Christmas Party a couple of years ago whose 17-year-old daughter had committed suicide some fifteen years ago . . . that it still hurt just as much, just not as often.

We didn't continue to discuss it then, but today I asked him whether HE was "over it," and he said he thought he was. But then it occurred to me that so often we use words in different ways. What did "over it" mean to him? So I asked.

He said he still thinks of Leif "all the time" and misses him, but that life must go on and that he was able to enjoy our trip to Germany.

I guess my definition is different. I knew all along that life had to go on, and since Leif died I've helped take care of my mother through a broken back and a broken hip, and now am helping her with another move. We've traveled to Egypt, South America, Alaska, Germany, India and Russia since Leif's death, and I've enjoyed the trips. Most of each day I'm busy and functioning well. I don't dwell on his death the way I did for the first three years after he died. I cry more rarely, but I still do get tears in my eyes, and once in awhile grief still comes back for a pity party.

If being "over it" means being able to function and enjoy life most of the time, I guess I am . . . but if being "over it" means it no longer hurts or affects me, or that I no longer miss him, or that I no longer question and wonder why, no, I am not "over it," and I don't think I ever will be.

There is something so integral to one's life about being a parent, about loving someone so completely, that even if we can eventually let go of the daily depths of grief, we can never really let go of the person we love and miss so much.

I was thinking just today, again, of all Leif's things I still have and what to do with them when there he had no family to give them to, no children to wonder about their father, no grandchildren who would like having his things.

I was thinking of all the memories that we cherish, how glad I am to have them, and yet how hard it sometimes is to remember and know what we have lost.

There are so many days I'd like to write on this blog but find no time. The demands of life have closed in and taken away the time I used to spend each day here with "Remembering Leif," and it may seem to the casual reader of the blog as though I am no longer remembering as often or as deeply, but that would be untrue.

I'm glad I had the time in the first two years after Leif's death to write more often, even daily, to be with him in my mind's eye and share those moments in some inner way with him. Now those moments are fewer, but not because I think of him any less.

I think Peter, too, wishes for more of that time. He checks the blog every day and waits to see whether I've written anything new, tells me I should write something, even if it is short. He may be "over it," but he's not over wanting to see the photos and read about our son.

This photo of Peter and Leif was taken in the back yard of our old stone house in Manhattan, Kansas, in June 1976 when Leif was a year-and-a-half old. He had been playing in the little wading pool and gotten tuckered out, so he climbed up on daddy and fell asleep in the sun, all cuddled up, safe and warm. He must have felt so snuggled up and loved . . . and he was. It's a precious moment, to have a little boy asleep on you like that. They both were so young then.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Keller Where Leif Bit the Glass

I was surprised that we could find this restaurant after all these years. It's been 35 years since we ate there with two-and-a-half-year-old Leif and eight-and-a-half-year-old Peter A. We didn't go there this time, finding it rather expensive, but I wish I'd gone downstairs and taken a picture. Unless they've completely remodeled it, I can picture it well.
This is the place that Leif bit a chunk out of the glass. It was a thin tumbler filled with Apfelsaft (apple juice) which was usually what our boys got to drink when we were eating out in Germany. I had quite a time getting the broken glass out of his mouth. He didn't cry, but resisted letting me fish out the glass. I was glad he apparently didn't swallow any or cut himself. It could have been very dangerous.
He loved the little Nurnberg Bratwurstl, tasty link sausages about a sixth the size of a regular bratwurst.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Memories in Nurnberg

Visiting Nurnberg, Germany, where we moved when Leif was two brought a flood of memories. From the moment we stepped out of the Hauptbahnhof (Main Train Station) and looked across the street to the building with the sign "Bavarian American Hotel," where we stayed for a month until we got quarters there were memories. Of walking through the old city each day with my boys while Peter was at work, to the Kellar where we all had dinner and Leif literally took a bite out of the glass, from the Nurnberger Bratwurstl to the good luck ring on the Schoener Brunnen. And then, back in our hotel room, Peter turned in the television and the very first show of the X Files was on.

I remembered how much Leif liked that show and how attracted he was to Scully, a redhead, of course. I was struck by how much his great love, J., looked like Scully (Gillian Anderson). He didn't see that show until many years later in Kansas and here I was seeing it in Nurnberg and remembering.

So much here would interest him. I wish he were here to share it. One of them was the exhibit of medieval armor and weaponry at the castle.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

This Corona's for You

It's hard to believe it has been so long since I've posted on this blog. Life has overtaken me. We were gone on a 17 day cruise, during which I had little internet access. Never-the-less, I did write a blog post and said to publish it . . . and somehow, it just disappeared into the ether and was gone. I doubt that I can ever reconstruct it.

We thought about Leif a lot on the cruise, knowing how much he had enjoyed the two Caribbean cruises with us. There were so many things we remarked on that we know he would have enjoyed.

He would have loved Cabo San Lucas, "party town," probably would have liked to have taken a long vacation there. In honor of him, and of his love for beer, we had ice cold Coronas at Tequila Shark overlooking the harbor. There I am, red-faced and sweaty from a long, hot walk, enjoying that beer and wishing I was buying one for him, too.

Since we've been back, I've celebrated my fifth Mother's Day and birthday without him, and yes, I still miss him, still wish he were driving up the driveway with the bass thumping, coming in to give me a bear hug.

Life should not be so busy that there is no time to reminisce here, no time to write a post of memories that come to me or thoughts I want to record. I still want to write about destiny, about honor and suicide, about little things that come to mind as well.

But for now, here's to YOU, Leif. That Corona's for you.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Four Years Have Passed

This morning at 7:30 a.m., Peter Anthony called to express love and the wish that we would remember today all the good and positive things that Leif brought into our lives. We are grateful for them, and for all that Peter has brought into our lives!

How different this morning is, four years past the day we found Leif's body in his apartment. At 7:30 that morning, Michael called, we got up full of dread at what the day might bring. I wrote all about that day on the one-year anniversary, April 10, 2009. (This is a link to that post.)

The journey through grief is a long one, and it is full of ebb and flow. Change comes gradually, so gradually it is hard to see the progress unless you are far enough along the road to look way back and see how far you have come.

This morning, these past days, have shown me how far we have come. I have been happy! Not happy because these are the anniversary days of Leif's last day of life and communications with me, the day of his death, the day we found him, not happy because of the remembered dread, shock, and misery, but happy because the depths of grief have mostly passed. Yes, the questions remain. Yes, we miss him, but this year, for the first time, I could wake up each of those days and appreciate the sunshine, the mockingbird singing, the wonder of Peter's arms around me, and look forward to the day. This time, I am finally experiencing a renewal of my interest in writing something besides this blog, to turn my energies to some creative writing of another kind.

I know there will be days or moments of sadness ahead, perhaps even today there will be moments when I acutely feel the loss of my son and the misery we felt four years ago, but in these three days I have been, as Peter Anthony put it, glad to remember how much he brought to our lives. I have been motivated to continue making writing notes.

This morning I put on my "Find Joy" t-shirt, and I do find joy in my day.

Because it IS this anniversary, I also find myself wondering, once again, about all those unanswered questions. When Leif's ex-wife, Nikko, was here visiting us in February, she asked me whether I thought his death could have been an accident. I still don't think so, but the question will always be open. I've examined that question in depth since she asked it, though I've done so many times before. I've been thinking of this topic for about two months and decided to save it for today.

The thing is, we somehow expect to be able to analyze people's actions logically, and that doesn't work, or at least normal logic doesn't work, when you are dealing with the state of mind of someone who is either taking their own life or playing with guns. You can't get into that mindset with logic, though a mind in pain or under the influence of alcohol can have a very different logic of its own.

When I look at Leif's life, and his actions leading up to April 9th, I don't see any evidence of planning to kill himself. I see the opposite. He was in love. He was planning to move. He was looking for music. He put gas in his car and motorcycle. He wouldn't have needed that if he weren't going anywhere. He paid his rent. He bought a new computer game, which was still in his laptop CD drive when he died. He bought a new gun he had ordered some months before and showed off proudly.

He bought expensive new shoes, which he was wearing when he died. He wasn't dressed up. He was wearing jeans and a nondescript shirt. No one buys expensive shoes to wear in death along with those clothes. He was out with friends and with them at his apartment until 3:00 a.m. None of those things point to a man considering suicide.

However, Leif had been suicidal before, and he had recently had several huge blows. He had lost his GI Bill funding, which was keeping him relatively afloat financially. He hadn't gotten jobs or promotions he had applied for. He hadn't gotten a personal loan for which he had applied because of his high debt, and he was probably counting on that to help him out of his financial woes. The woman he had fallen in love with had virtually disappeared from his life due to family needs of her own. Until he met her, he had been despondent, discouraged, depressed, and admitted to me that he had more pain than pleasure in his life and nothing to live for. So, perhaps he felt that way again.

The detective who investigated his death on the morning of April 10, 2008 said she felt the scene had all the earmarks of an accident. She did not think it was a suicide. We did. The doctor who did the autopsy ruled it a suicide because he said it was a "contact wound," meaning that the gun barrel was against Leif's forehead.

Leif was an expert on guns, an trained military armorer. He knew guns well enough to write a dissertation on them. He would certainly have known the danger of putting a loaded gun to his head. At least two people have told me that they had seen him do it in jest several times, or even scratch his head with the gun barrel. Yet that wee morning of April 9, 2008, when Michael and Jaime were with him and they had all the guns out examining them and Jaime pointed one at one of them, Leif had a fit and told him never to do that, that he always had loaded guns in his house and you should never point a gun at anyone unless you intended it for protection. So, even under the influence of alcohol that night, he was aware of the danger.

However, all that doesn't mean that he didn't at some point decide to play with a gun himself and maybe go just a little too far. I can't persuade myself to believe that, but it's possible. Alcohol impairs judgement. He could have been "experimenting" with the idea of what it would be like to actually pull that trigger and gone too far . . . . but even if that happened, would that really have been an accident?

I don't know what Leif did after Michael and Jaime left, but I think he must have taken out the trash since there was only one beer bottle in the place. Knowing Leif, even though he had to get up and go to work in the morning, he probably either watched something on television or played a computer game, even though it was past 3:00 a.m. I doubt that he ever even went to bed.

I still come back to my original hypothesis. At some point the effects of alcohol and exhaustion set in and he hated the idea of having to show up for work or call in sick. He felt he was just working to pay his debts and had nothing else in his life. I think he set up the philosophy essay and photo on his laptop as a message to us. I can't see any other reason why he would have had those two things there.

But what happened then, I don't know. Why the kitchen? He wasn't going to go out and drive somewhere in that state. That would have risked getting arrested for drunken driving. The living room and bedroom were carpeted. That left the bathroom and kitchen. I have no idea whether he thought about that logically, or if he just walked around into the kitchen with the gun and a bottle of beer, ate some carrots, and thought, "What the sh___t. What the point? I might was well get it over with," and put the gun to his head. We will never know what he thought.

I hope, if he looked back over his life before he did it, that he remembered some happy times, that he knew he was loved.

I am glad I have so many other, better, happier memories of him. I am glad for every photo I have of him. I am glad I even have the sound of his laugh on a silly little video he made of Aly on his cell phone. I am glad he was our son.

And I am glad that after four years, this day is no longer as sad as it was in the past three years. I am glad I have Peter Walter and Peter Anthony. I am glad I have my sisters and brother, my mother, my grandchildren, my friends. I am glad I feel purpose and worth in my life. I am glad I can find joy again.

The photo is one Leif took of himself with the built-in camera on his computer, and the solarization effect was one he chose to apply. It's a thoughtful shot, and he was an introspective man given to much thought. It was taken during that bleak period in November 2007. I never understood why someone as smart and potentially creative as Leif could have the power of a computer and not use it to be creative. Perhaps he would have had he not been depressed.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

This Time of Year

This time of year, each year, and undoubtedly for the rest of our lives, we know we are nearing the anniversary of Leif's death. Another year will have passed without him. It's a hard time for me, for us, in some ways, because we are so aware of his absence and the anniversary brings up all the questions again. It's not that we haven't faced them the rest of the year, just that anniversaries seem to focus the mind more fatefully upon the loss of our son and how it occurred.

It's a puzzling time for me, as I think over what it was like between Easter 2008, the last time we saw him, and April 10, 2008 when we found him, a mere 18 days, but the difference between life and death, between hope and despair.

Since the last time we saw him, he was in good spirits, relaxed, conversational, in love, and in between, we had contacts that seemed normal and good (unlike some of the hopeless and angry communications I'd had from him between November and early March), we were feeling hopeful for him. He seemed happier than he had in a long time. I don't think that was because he had made up his mind to kill himself and was at peace with the decision, because he was busy making plans . . . to get a job in and move to Orlando, to court the woman he had fallen in love with.

The last text messages I got from him were on April 2nd, a week before he died, when he rescued a huge turtle from the road. He cared enough to do that.

The night before he died, April 8, 2008, he was having a lively real-time email discussion about several subjects, including "the ultimate watch," with a bunch of about five of us.

His brother sent the link to all of us for a YouTube video and thought it was stunning. I replied asking whether he understood the German and Latin, saying it was dark and rather occult. I translated some of the lyrics.

Leif responded that he thought it sounded, "kinda like Rammstein but more techno, less metal. Either way I want it."

Then he began to concentrate on finding out the name of the band and where he could get their music. Leif loved music and bought a lot of it.  The last messages he sent, at 8:19 p.m., was that he was contacting iTunes to ask them to get the music from this band so that he could purchase it. He wrote:

Found it. It is a German group called "E Nomine." Here are some of their  videos on youtube. Hard to find the music.  iTunes does not have it. I  just put in a request for iTunes to get it. Amazon does but it's about $35 an album."

With that he sent more YouTube links. Then he disappeared from the conversation. That was the last email I ever got from him. I learned later that his friend Michael had contacted him and wanted to go out together, so Leif spent the rest of the evening with him.

It's still a complete puzzle to me that a man who was conversing like this and contacting iTunes to try to get this music could be planning on taking his life. If he was, why bother with iTunes? If he was not, what made him do it?

These 18 days, and especially April 9th, will always remain a mystery to us.

Sometime near the anniversary of his death I like to go to the cemetery. Peter W. probably would never go if it weren't for me. He always says, "Leif is not here. Leif is with us. He is in the blog." Or something like that. I don't ask him to go with me, but he doesn't like me to go alone, so this year, as in past years, we have combined the drive over the St. Petersburg with another less sorrowful activity and went to a rock, gem and bead show.

This time, as we stood there touching Leif's stone, which is symbolic only, of course, but still draws us, he said again, "We tried to give him everything he needed to succeed in life. We gave him a good family, love, a good home. He was blessed with good looks, intelligence, height. We gave him an education. What went wrong? What was within him?" We will have those questions forever.

We were struck by how many more of the niches had been filled since the last time we were there, about three months earlier. The WWII veterans are dying rapidly, but there are also many Korean and Vietnam War vets inurned in the past three months.

This time, I also saw niches for two young men who were born a year after Leif and served in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan. They didn't live much longer than he did, dying in 2012, only 36 years old. I don't know how they died, whether from wounds in battle, illness, an accident, or even a suicide. I feel sad for their parents and family. I do know how they feel.

We also noted that the national cemetery must have a new policy to allow special messages to be engraved on the lower part of the stones. We didn't see any of these until some time after Leif was inurned, and they are poignant and meaningful. Peter W. wondered whether we could still have something added to Leif's stone. I spent some time reading them. Some of them were, "Querida Padre" (beloved father), "Dancing Forever," "Forever Free At Last," "He loved God and Country," "Married 50 Years," "Love of my Life." Spouses can be inurned together. There was even one that read, "Go New York Giants." One that has me wondering was, "He who walked softly."

Usually when we go, there are few others around the grounds, unless it is Memorial or Veteran's Day. That was true on March 31st, but while we were there, one other car pulled up. A man got out and went to one of the newer stones. I had never seen someone else do the same thing I do, particularly a man. He put his head on the stone, his hands on it, and he sobbed his heart out. I felt so sorry for his grief. Something in me wanted to go and just hug him and tell him I understood, but I didn't do it. I didn't do it because I didn't know him or how he would take it, and we are all so alone in our grief. I also thought that perhaps he would not want me to call attention to his private agony.

Perhaps I did wrong to walk away. Perhaps he needed a hug from someone who understood. I will always wonder whether I made the wrong choice. I have almost four years of grief behind me. Whoever it was that he was grieving died not so very long ago and he is only just starting on this journey. I wish him well. I wish them all well. And I wish Leif were here.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Every Precious Picture

Grief hurts, and many aspects of grief are common to all who experience it, but some are acutely individual. Some people put away all photos, all reminders, of their deceased loved one because they can't bear to see them, can't bear to be reminded, can't bear to think about it. I often wonder, though, whether that is successful. Perhaps they can control the exterior stimuli, but what about their minds? Surely then can't cut off all the thoughts, the questions, the memories.

Others treasure every photo, every little scrap of something that was made by or belonged to their loved one, and I think this is particularly true of parents who have lost a child, no matter what that child's age.

I know it is certainly true for me. I look at these photos and remember when each was taken. Often, I was the photographer and I remember why I grabbed my camera at that point, how I felt, how I wanted to preserve the moment.

Photos that someone else has taken that I've never seen before are a precious gift. There have been very few of those. Surely some of Leif's friends took pictures of him that I may yet someday see.

This photo of Leif was taken by my sister, Sherie, when she came to visit us in Kansas in the fall of 1975. Leif was only about nine or ten months old. He was a happy little rascal then, into everything, and loved to play with pots and pans. He had a laundry basket full of stuff to play with and usually just tipped it over to get at everything. You can see it in the background here.

This photo is endearing in several ways, even the yellow corduroy pants and green shirt, an outfit no kid would be found wearing in 2012. :) His hair was still blond and thin. It's hard to believe that he would be so dark-haired as a teen and an adult.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Four Years Since We Saw Him

Today it has been four years since we last saw Leif alive. Four years ago, March 23rd was Easter, and Leif came driving down from Tampa to have dinner with us. He was relaxed and happy, in love, seemed to be taking things in stride. We had a good visit, a good discussion. I can picture him just as he was that evening, first sitting across from me at the kitchen table and later in the green recliner in the living room with his hands behind his head.

I'm glad our memories of that last precious visit are good ones, that it was a pleasant evening together, glad I gave him the $20 for gasoline, since he'd said he didn't have the money to fill up his tank to come for dinner! I wish I'd give him $100.

There was no hint that he was desperate or suicidal. In fact, it seemed just the opposite. I remember that both Peter W. and I felt he seemed better than he had at Christmas or his birthday. Either we misread him completely or something changed dramatically in the following two weeks.

It still seems unreal to me that he won't ever show up for dinner again, that he won't ever bring his laundry with him, that he won't ever send me a text message. Unreal, but I know it's true. It doesn't seem like four years could possibly have passed since the last time I saw him.

This photo of Peter W. and Leif was taken in Puerto Rico at Hacienda Buena Vista in June 1991 when Leif was 16 years old, with his trademark Oakleys hanging around his neck, of course.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Emotional Importance of Objects

I've written before about the emotional significance of things that once belonged to our deceased loved ones. I was reflecting on why certain ones are more important that others and I think symbolically, the ones that we associate with them due to our memories are the hardest ones to part with...if we ever do.

There are some of Leif's things that I don't use or see every day that I can't bring myself to part with; his photo albums, his wallet, his army uniforms and dog tags, for instance. There are also things I use every day that I don't want to lose.

A couple of times in the past few months I've been saddened to think I'd have to get a new cell phone. The one I have is almost five years old and it needed a new battery and had some sound problems. I didn't want to let it go because Leif chose it for me and brought it to me in July 2007 in a cute gift bag from t-Mobile. Although I paid for it, it was yet another example of Leif's importance in helping us with the technology of our lives. The phone I had before that had poor reception at our house, and he knew this one would be better.

I didn't want a new phone because this one I associated with Leif, but not just because he brought it to me. It was the phone on which we had so many text exchanges, sometimes whole conversations. Every day after I went swimming, I would check this phone for messages from him, and most days, it seemed, there was one. Often in the evenings he would send me messages and we'd talk about anything from politics to what was going on in our lives. I still have the last messages from him on the phone. I don't ever want to take them off. He's not there, but his last text messages are.

Leif had one of the first generation iPhones, always the one to adopt new technology. He loved it, and when he died, it was valuable for me to use the contacts he had on it for notifications to friends, his employer, and others I would otherwise not have known how to contact. I didn't want to switch carriers and pay the monthly data fees to use it as a phone, so I terminated his account and continued to use it as an iPod Touch for over three years. It was somehow a comfort to me to have it, hold it, use it.

Then one day not long ago, it froze. I couldn't get it to work no matter what I did. So I "restored" it to factory settings, thinking I could then restore the contents from a backup, but it didn't work. Then Peter dropped it on the metal rail of our bed and cracked the screen. I took it to the "Genius Bar" at the Apple Store to ask how I could get it working again. They said it was useless, in common parlance, "bricked."

I know it won't work forever, but it made me really sad to lose the use of it. I was determined to make it function again. My nephew, Rick, encouraged me to try jailbreaking it to see if that would help. Since it was long past warranty, I decided to try it. The results were frustrating. It would now at least get to the opening screen, but I couldn't get it to do anything further. My niece, Brenda, figured out that if you made screen input fast enough, you could get it to do one thing more . . . and if you were really fast, maybe a few more steps. We tried a lot of things and finally it worked for a few fast steps before freezing. Then the only way to make it work was to turn it off and back on again. Not satisfactory.

I couldn't help but wonder what Leif would have thought of to try, whether he would have had it working again in a couple of hours. I spent many hours over many days, determined but losing hope. I still don't really know what made the difference, but it's working quite well now, although it's anyone's guess how long. I'm glad. It makes me feel better, somehow, that it's working and that I can use it. It seems a little silly how something this small can make me feel a connection that really isn't there.

At his last birthday celebration on January 27, 2008, I took a couple of photos of him talking on his iPhone. I think he was taking to Justin about how to install a newer version of the Mac OS on the laptop he'd bought used from Justin. I was wishing he was paying more attention to us than his techie toys, but he was engrossed, so I took pictures. Today I decided to make the opening screen on his iPhone be one of those photos. The first photo is the unlock screen, which shows the photo in an app that gives a contact phone number in case I lose the phone and someone responsible and kind wants to return it (I removed the number for posting on this blog) and the second is just the photo alone.

There's something good about having this photo on his phone. Something that brings back memories of a good birthday evening spent together. Something that shows him using the phone I now hold in my hand, even with it's screen cracked in a spider web pattern in the upper right.

Tomorrow it will be four years since we last saw Leif alive. On April 10 it will be four years since we found him dead. It still seems as though I should expect him to come riding up to our door and take this phone out of his pocket to check his messages. I want him to.

Monday, March 5, 2012

All the Reminders in Just One Day

Although we live with reminders and photos of Leif all over our house every day, they are part of the fabric of our lives that we are used to and familiar with, so it's now usually the unexpected or less frequent reminders of him that catch us unawares, and they, too, can be everywhere.

Last Friday we went to Walmart to get my glasses frames replaced after they broke. While I was standing in the optical department waiting, I was looking around at the display of frames and my eye caught a display of high tech, high fashion, expensive sports lenses of the type Leif might have gravitated to and I unexpectedly felt tears come to my eyes.

Even recounting this brings tears to my eyes. Why? I was never there in that store with him. This particular store was built after he died. It was just the remembrance of how he favored "cool" glasses, whether regular daily wear ones, sunglasses, or the kind of sport glasses he wore when riding his motorcycle.

From there we drove in to Tampa, and on the way, we were passed by a motorcyclist going like a house afire. Because Leif rode motorcycles and had accidents, I feel protective of cyclists, but I am also horrified at those that ride like he did, like a demon. There was the second reminder.

As we took the expressway exit off I745, Peter W. was remarking that something had suddenly made him feel sad, that he always thought of Leif when we were driving to Tampa and he couldn't believe it had been almost four years since he died, and I said, "If feels like we should just be able to drive to his apartment and see him." Yes, it still does, and it still feels like a knife in the heart when I realize I can't, that he isn't there and he never will be.

We saw some "cool" cars on the way and remarked how much Leif would have liked them.

When we got to the BX (base exchange, a department store for you non-military types), I saw someone that could have been his brother . . . tall, shaved head, goatee and mustache, about thirty-five, and wearing jeans and designer glasses. This man was probably three inches taller than Leif, but even at that, I had to look again to be sure it wasn't him.

We went into the ITT (Information Tours and Travel) office and they were advertising tickets for concerts by Van Halen and Rammstein. Leif would have loved to go to both of those, though they would have been out of his price range with tickets well over $100 each.

At home I read an article about the Mars opposition (positioning of the planet Mars) and an observatory program about it he would have liked.

By now, on Monday, I'm probably forgetting more things that occurred on Friday to remind us of Leif and make us bounce from everyday routine to sadness to reminiscing to sadness to just being busy. There are so many things we associate with him and always will.

The photo above was taken in Germany in the fall of 1977 when Leif was two-and-a-half years old. My little rascal. I miss him so!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Visit to Bamberg

We moved from Charlottesville, Virginia to Fürth, Germany (Nurnberg) in the summer of 1977. We lived in an army housing area that has now been turned back over to the Germans and no longer exists as we knew it. We lived on the first floor of a three-story apartment building in a three bedroom apartment.

Leif was two-and-a-half when we arrived there, and I suppose in some ways he was in his "terrible twos," though I as I remember him the year that we lived in Fürth he was much more easy-going than he had been in Charlottesville.

I think it helped a lot that we did a lot of traveling, since he loved the stimulation and novelty, and that he had friends to play with and the Montessori preschool to attend. The more he could be active and away from home, the better he liked it. The car trips, the Volksmarches, the trips to downtown Nurnberg (with requisite visits to the pet and toy stores) and the parakeet we got all seemed to keep him engaged and less frustrated.

One of the places we visited in the fall of 1977 was the city of Bamberg, which we would return to on our 1988 trip to Germany with Leif. This photo of Peter W. and Leif on the bridge over the Regnitz River reflects his joy and interest at seeing new surroundings. I love that little houndstooth checked coat he's wearing. It was Peter Anthony's when he was little. They both looked so cute in it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

My Little Happy Wanderer

Leif was my little "Happy Wanderer." He loved to be out, going places, just about any place, the city, the woods, the beach. When we lived in Germany, we went on lots of Volksmarches (organized hikes I've written about before). Our boys had their little backpacks to take things along with them. Leif, when he was this little, often took a stuffed animal along for the ride.

This photo was taken in the Fürther Stadtwald, the City Woods of the city of Fürth, Germany, in the fall of 1977 when Leif was a little over two-and-a-half years old.

I was looking for a photo that I was pretty sure I didn't ever have, one of me singing to my boys, or playing the guitar and singing, and since I didn't have one but wanted to post a list of songs I used to sing to them at night. Sometimes we also sang them while driving in the car. I'm sure the list isn't complete, but I'm surprised I remembered over sixty songs I sang.

This photo goes with "The Happy Wanderer," which I used to sing to them. I loved that song, which I learned in grade school. Here is the list I came up with. Happy memories come with all those songs. Some of them, many of them, I learned as a child. It was fun to teach them to my sons and pass them on.

1. America the Beautiful
2. Ants Go Marching, The
3. Battle Hymn of the Republic
4. Daisy, Daisy
5. Dixie
6. Do Your Ears Hang Low?
7. Down in the Valley
8. Edelweiss
9. 500 Miles
10. Found a Peanut
11. Four Strong Winds
12. Goodnight Irene
13. Greensleeves
14. Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley
15. The Happy Wanderer
16. Henry Martin
17. Home on the Range
18. Hush Little Baby
19. Inchworm
20. Itsy Bitsy Spider (or the Eensy Weensy Spider)
21. I've Been Working' on the Railroad
22. John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt
23. Kumbayah
24. Mary Had a Little Lamb
25. Michael Row the Boat Ashore
26. Moon River
27. My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean
28. My Darling Clementine
29. My Grandfather's Clock
30. Oh, How Lovely Is the Evening
31. Oh, Susana
32. Old Black Joe
33. Old MacDonald Had a Farm
34. On Top of Old Smoky
35. On Top of Spaghetti
36. Once Upon a Dream
37. Puff the Magic Dragon
38. Red River Valley
39. Rockabye Baby
40. Row, Row, Row Your Boat
41. Sail, Baby, Sail (The Slumber Boat)
42. She'll Be Coming' 'Round the Mountain
43. Shenandoah
44. She's Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage
45. Somewhere Over the Rainbow
46. The Sound of Music
47. Summertime
48. Sweet Betsy From Pike
49. Taps (little did I know it would one day be played at his inurnment service)
50. Try to Remember
51. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
52. Way Down Upon the Swanee River
53. When Johnny Comes Marching Home
54. When the Red, Red Robin
55. When You Wish Upon a Star
56. Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
57. Yankee Doodle
58. Yellow Rose of Texas
59. You Are My Sunshine
60 plus (And Christmas carols, of course)
And I just remembered "Frere Jacques"

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Happy Family Photo for Valentine's Day

When the boys were little, we made Valentines, and we had Valentine's candy. Once they were grown, we didn't normally do much about Valentine's Day between us, figuring that was more between them and their girlfriends or wives, but I used to send them cards, sometimes with a little cash just for fun. In later years, I didn't do that any longer, either. Now I just send little remembrances and cards to my grandchildren.

This photo was taken at a happy time. Both my sisters and their husbands were visiting us in Charlottesville, Virginia. We enjoyed having them there and showing them around the area. This photo was taken by my sister, Sherie. We look full of life and love, and Leif looks joyful. He was always happy when Lannay or Sherie was around, when he was a little boy. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Leif's Coif and Armor

Tonight Peter W. and I went to the German American Club Fasching party, like a Mardi Gras celebration German style. Although it's traditional to wear costumes, most of those attending don't, and the smaller percentage who do are competing for small cash prizes.

This year, Peter W. went as a knight, wearing the chain mail coif (the head covering you see in the photo) that Leif made and one of the beautifully crafted hand and wrist armor pieces that Leif purchased in 2003. He combined a shield he made with a shirt made from two dragon flags and completed his costume with leggings, boots, a sword and a dagger.

There were a lot of comments on the coif and many questions, asking what it was made of. They couldn't seem to believe it was really metal chain mail.

Peter won third prize for his costume, and although he was disappointed because he won first prize last year and second the year before that, considering that most people (including me) didn't win a prize, he should have been pleased.

Leif's coif and armor reminded me so of him, and his participation in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism). I could almost see his bemused smile, had he seen his dad in this garb.

As I have said so many times, Leif is still with us in so many ways, in our thoughts and hearts, in all the things he left behind, the photos, the belongings, the memories.

I remember when he made the coif. He was very proud of it. He truly created it from scratch, purchasing a giant spool of wire. He used a drill to wind it around a rod and then he cut it into links which he wove in a beautiful pattern to make the coif. He had no pattern that I know of, just figured out how to make it fit his head, face and neck. I've posted this photo of him in it before. I wonder how many tiny links the coif contains and how many hours it took him to make it. Nowhere near as many hours as it took to make the huge (because it had to fit on his 6'2" frame) chain mail "shirt" (which I believe should be called a byrnie or haubergeon) that must have required both thousands of links and hundreds of hours. It weighed 52 pounds. How he ever managed to fight in SCA bouts wearing that shirt, other metal armor, and a heavy metal helmet, as well as carrying heavy weapons, amazes me. He was so very strong.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Two Brothers on an Airplane

On October 6, 2008, when I had been writing this blog for only six months, and Leif had been dead that long, I wrote about an incident that took place on an airplane. I was surprised, the other day, to find a photo I took at that time. When I originally wrote about it, I had the date wrong. It actually happened April 24, 1977, and we must have been flying to Kansas, not Germany.

Leif was a little over two years old, and Peter A. was eight. I was flying alone with them, and they were quite a handful, just normal slightly rambunctious boys. They actually entertained each other for quite awhile but then they began to get on each other's nerves and began to fight. It was annoying to all of us, and although they weren't loud, it probably wasn't all that pleasant for those around us, either. It was primarily boredom and being stuck in those seats, just running out of interesting things to do.

Peter A. said to me, in a rather snotty tone of voice, "Why does HE have to be here?" and added some comment about why we didn't just leave Leif behind.

I remember telling him that he wouldn't appreciate it if someone had that attitude about him, either when he was two or now, but he wasn't buying it.

Not long after that, Leif fell asleep. I thought Peter A. would be glad, because then he didn't have to put up with his little brother, but no, in just a few minutes he was asking me, "When is he going to wake up?"

I told him I thought he wanted to be rid of his little brother and would be glad now that he was asleep and he didn't have to put up with him.

I had a hard time not laughing at his reply. He wanted to wake Leif up!

I asked him why, and he said, "I'm bored. There's no one to fight with."

Such is the way of brothers . . . and perhaps sisters, too, I guess.

Leif looks so sweet and cuddly in this picture. He's wearing the little plastic set of "pilot" wings the airline gave him. I wonder, sometimes, if those and that flight began his love of flying, a love that was destined for disappointment when he found out in high school that he couldn't pass the flight physical.

Peter A. looking over that pillow, the one he put between them to keep Leif from touching him. So cute, the two of them. It's easy to say that now, looking at the photo. At the time, I was doing all I could to keep them settled down. It wasn't a relaxing flight for me, though Leif eventually relaxed plenty. :)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Leif's 37th Birthday - The Fourth Since His Death

Today would be Leif's 37th birthday, had he lived. It's hard to believe that four years have passed since we shared a birthday with him, and even harder to imagine that it was 37 years ago that he was born. I spent hours looking at all the photos (over a thousand) I've posted of him on this blog in the three years and nine months I've been writing it. He had an amazingly varied life in those 33 years he lived.

On that day, January 28, 1975, when he came into the world, we were so full of hope for him. He was healthy and strong, and proved to be bright and curious as well. Every birthday was a time to celebrate his life, and though he is no longer here to celebrate it with us, I want to do something special today, to honor it, to honor him. No birthday cake . . . or birthday pie, as the men in our family prefer. No birthday fritters, a treat Leif loved. Just a day trip to a favorite place we once spent time with him, and time to remember.

This photo was taken of Leif and his father, Peter W. Garretson, on January 30, 1975 at the Irwin Army Community Hospital, Fort Riley, Kansas.