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.

At Bedtime They Were Mine

I loved bedtime for my boys, and not because they'd soon be in bed and I'd have time for myself and Peter W., though I enjoyed that, too, but because it was a special time together. During the day, I had "competition" from friends, play, television, and school on their part, and household chores, cooking, work, shopping, and more on my part. Bedtime was just us, no distractions, a time apart. After they were bathed and in their pajamas, I'd cuddle up and read to them, and after that, cuddle in the dark and talk. That was always the time when they'd talk about things that really mattered, the things that were on their minds, things that happened to them, what hurt their feelings, what scared them, what they had questions about, their dreams, the future. It was magic and sweet.

After that, I'd sing to them. Sometimes each one separately, but more often, once Leif was about two years old, I'd sit on the floor in the hallway between their rooms and sing to them.

It astonishes me that with the literally thousands of photos we have of our boys and our family, there is not one single photo I can find of me singing to them, or cuddling in bed with them, or singing with my guitar. I can picture those times in my mind, but no one else will ever see them now.

This photo of Leif asleep on a train in Europe the summer of 1977 is something I took. He was so little and sweet, though very tall for his age at two-and-a-half. We took a long train trip that summer, from Germany to Norway, back south to Paris and the Riviera. The boys slept on trains and in hotels, and it was a great time for us. I posted a photo of the two boys cuddled up in a hostel bed in Norway. But no photos of me with them.

I think so many of today's children don't have a "bedtime," not in the sense of a time to go to bed, or in the sense of a comforting and loving ritual they can count on. So many are allowed to stay up way too late and are tired the next morning. Even with a regular bedtime I had a hard time getting my boys up to go to school. They slept soundly and didn't want to wake up!

I wish I had a list of all the books I read to them and all the songs I sang to them. I'm trying to make a list of the songs. I'll probably be able to remember a few of the books. I'll have to post those lists when I think I've exhausted my memory of things to add to them.

Most of the time the boys were cooperative about going to bed, and I think that the pleasant ritual and the affection and cuddling made it something enjoyable instead of something to fight against. However, it wasn't universally that way. When Peter A. was about four he would go to bed just fine, but then in a few minutes start calling that he needed a drink of water, or had to go to the bathroom, or saw a monster outside his window.

Leif went through a period where after we'd gone through the bedtime cuddling and I hugged and kissed him good night and went downstairs, he would wait about five minutes and then sneak down the stairs after me. I'd put him back in bed and down he would come again. This would go on repeatedly until I had to be very stern with him or put in in his Zip-a-Babe harness so he couldn't get out of bed. Oddly, as I've written before, he didn't seem to mind that, seemed to find it a relief that he couldn't get out of bed. The "getting out of bed" period didn't last long, just a month or so.

I missed those bedtime routines when the boys got into high school and I think they did, too.


Four years ago tonight we were having dinner here with Leif, his last birthday dinner, a day before his birthday because he had to work on his birthday, the evening shift. Little did we know it would be the last birthday dinner we would share with him

Monday, January 16, 2012

Singing To My Sons

This morning as we were listening to Roger Whittaker singing "Both Sides Now," Peter W. said it reminded him of me singing to our boys at bed time. I said I never sang that song to them, but I guess the kind of song it was made him think that. I thought I had written about singing to my boys on the blog already, but I couldn't find a post about it.

I don't know if my sons remembered all the songs I sang to them once they were grown, but it was a special bed time ritual for many years. I started it when Peter A. was little and continued it for many years, long after Leif was born. I remember how, when I had two of them to sing to, I used to sit on the floor between their two bedroom doors, facing them, and sing in the dark hallway.

I think I particularly remember that place and time because of sitting on that floor. The boys were eight and two years old then.

I started singing when I was in college, accompanying myself on an acoustic guitar. For a short time I sang with a quartet. After college, for many, many years the only singing I did was at home with my guitar or singing to the boys at night. I have no photos of me singing with my guitar or singing to them. I wish I did. 

I sang mostly folk songs, oldies, and a few Broadway numbers. One of the songs the boys loved was "When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob Bobbin' Along," an old song I learned in college. Since I have no photos of me singing to them, I found this video of the melody. There are a lot of videos online with a wide variety of singers, famous and amateur, singing this song but their renditions were so different from mine that I am posting a piano version.

I also loved to sing "Try To Remember" from The Fantasticks, "Inchworm" (originally from the film Hans Christian Anderson), children's favorites like "The Ants Go Marching" and "Found a Peanut," and many folk songs.

Both boys had good voices. Peter A. began singing with the Kinderchor (childen's choir) in Sachsen bei Ansbach when he was in fourth grade and sang all the way through school and the Air Force Academy in choruses and musicals. 

Leif had a wonderful voice, but he never sang until he tried out for high school musicals and won the coveted part of Kenicke in "Grease," when his rendition of "Greased Lightning" made the girls scream like he was a rock star. I've written about that on this blog before.

When my grandchildren were tiny, I thought of recording a CD of the songs I sang to my sons for the grandkids, but I never did it. 

Singing to my sons is a special, warm memory. Bed time was good, with cuddles, stories, and songs, our time.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Imagicat and Leif

This week I've been doing writing workshops with third through fifth grade classes at an elementary school in Brandon, and using my book, Imagicat, to illustrate both the elements of story and how a kid could write a book. The main characters of the book are an eleven-year-old boy named Jeff and his alter ego, a snippy cat he calls Mortimer.

Jeff's character was modeled on some of the personality traits and actions of my brother Donovan and Leif, so I've been talking a lot about Leif this week and showing a photo of him, along with other photos of people in our family who influenced the characters in the book.

I talk about how Leif, at the age of eleven, didn't really like doing school work, much like Jeff. He didn't mind going to school, he just minded it "following him home." He hated homework. And, like Jeff, he liked to find some way to put his own, original "stamp" on an assignment.

Leif also chose the little kitten that we named Scamp, who became our favorite cat. Scamp was full of fun and we all loved his antics. The kids love hearing about them and how they came to influence the character of Mortimer in the book.

How I love this photo of Leif and Scamp, who provided us with many hours of entertainment and affection. Leif, at eleven, cuddling that little rascal, and wearing his signature black leather Members Only jacket, in the days before he wore glasses, the days before he knew he couldn't achieve his dream of becoming a pilot, the days when he and his friend Robert would come home after school and ask what was happening the the book NOW, and I would read them the latest chapter, the days when they would snicker over it and give me ideas about how to make it better.

Imagicat will always be linked in my mind to Leif, Scamp, and my brother. I'm glad I can share it with over three hundred children this week.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Christmas "Visit"

I'm sitting here listening to Vangelis, a composer Leif loved, beginning with the end titles from Blade Runner, one of his favorite movies, and thinking of him. It's hard to believe I haven't posted on this blog since December 16th. Each of the days since then we have thought of him, talked of him, missed him, remembered good times with him. We were blessed with family around us, Peter Anthony, our granddaughters, my mother, friends, who kept us busy, happy except for moments when a longing broke through, kept us focused on life and the present so much better than we would have been if we had been alone. 

Even this fourth Christmas without Leif doesn't feel right, though. He should have been with us, enjoying all the fun, the foods he loved. He would have participated in the lively political and historical discussions with fervor, laughed at the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert shows, talked about all the latest technology, and eaten too much potato lefse and Berliner Kranse. He would have loved the movies, played the games.

He could not be with us, but we went to the cemetery, which was decked out in wreaths and flowers, on December 28. It's a beautiful place, but a place full of both peace and sadness.

I cried, as I always do, and was glad for the long, tight hugs from Peter and Peter Anthony, so thankful they were with me. It still hurts to look at that marble slab with his name on it and know that all that's left of his earthly remains are behind it, yet I want to go there, to acknowledge him in that small symbolic way.

On New Years Eve, I watched the ball drop in Times Square and looked up at the stars in the night sky and thought of him.

I thought again how passionate he would be about the political campaign, wondered as I always do what we might have done to keep him with us.

But this year, more than the past, I was able to embrace the good memories and cherish them without always dissolving into sadness . . . though missing him will always be there. I missed buying him gifts, too. I thought about it when I was wrapping all the others. It still doesn't seem right not to have them for him.

It will be like that when his birthday comes at the end of this month, too.