30 May 2010

The Owl

It was one of those calm early summer evenings when the daylight seemed to stretch impossibly late. And so, after dinner, we all sat looking across the table at one another asking, “What next?”

The girls both wanted to go out for ice cream, and so Dan dusted off Cliff, the 1965 Corvair that has been sitting patiently, forlornly, in the driveway for months (or has it been a year?), waiting to be driven once again. We piled into the car, windows down, and took off for downtown. The cool summer air rushed in, mixed with the peculiar ‘eau de Corvair’ scent: something like exhaust and burning motor oil. We drove down Williamson Valley Road, through the construction where the road is being widened. Where the road dipped the air was noticeably cooler. It finally felt like summer in Prescott, and I was glad.

We parked at the courthouse square. Anyone who comes to Prescott, to live or to visit, feels an instant affinity for the courthouse square. The stone courthouse rises from the center of the block, flanked on all sides by tall elm trees, inviting grassy lawns, and a brick sidewalk. It is an idyllic and charming place, and makes Prescott seem like the small town that it used to be.

As we walked to the ice cream shop, we admired several old cars parked nearby, including an adorable 1959 Metropolitan. Once inside the ice cream shop, Dan chatted with the server about the NBA playoff game on tv there, and then we made our way back to the square. The sun was sinking behind Whiskey Row, but it was not yet dark. We sat on a bench and watched teenagers playing hacky sack. A young couple was hugging near the fountain. People with dogs of many sizes and breeds were all making their way around the square, each at their own pace. A determined old woman with a walker shuffled alone. Security guards were patrolling the shuttered booths for the weekend art fair that was taking place during the daylight.

The temperature was dropping slightly, and I was beginning to feel cold. I suggested that we walk around the courthouse so I could warm up a little. On the west side, one of the security guards was pointing almost straight overhead. I looked up and spied a huge bird in an elm tree.

I knelt to point the bird out to Arden. The security guard said it was a great horned owl fledgling, and that the parents were nearby. We watched as the owl, so high above us, fluffed up its feathers, raised its tail, then called, hoo, hoo, hoo. He did this again and again, looking around, and down at us.

A scruffy man on a bike stopped and told us that earlier an owl had crashed into the window of one of the judge’s offices, breaking its beak. He said that one of the women in the office had taken a co-worker’s suit jacket to retrieve the injured owl, and, “Boy, did that bird make a mess of the jacket.” Then he described how the art show booths below the owls’ nest had been moved to protect people from a potential owl attack. The man rode off, and I wasn’t sure I believed all his stories.

Arden and I walked up the steps nearby to join Dan and Madeleine and gain a better vantage point. It was growing darker, and although we could no longer see the owl’s feathers, its silhouette stood out against the cloudless sky. Its horns appeared and disappeared depending on the angle of its head. Hoo, hoo, hoo. Every time it hooted it would raise its tail and puff up, like it was mustering all of its energy and concentration. We watched, awed by this great bird in the very heart of our little city.

Hoo, hoo, hoo. And then, it stretched itself tall, held the pose for a moment, and took off, flying south and then banked to the east, around the courthouse. Its huge wings were stealthy silent and smoothly beating, and then the owl was gone. We smiled at one another and walked back to the car in the dark silence of the bird’s wake.

23 May 2010

Homecoming Dance

brand new shoes heaped on the gym floor

caught in the blinking lights
a lucky pair clings to one another
creating a single being
the envy of the crowd

mingling scents of
body odor and bandaids

a shy guy with shrugged shoulders
wider than his self-confidence
shuffles alone
fists stuffed into the pockets
of his nicest pair of jeans

she waits on the bleachers
chin propped on fist
wishing she didn’t know
that Prince Charming is a myth

girls in groups
glide in and out of the restroom
shod in new pantyhose
whispering and giggling
comfortable only in the herd

guys push and shove each other
frustration and testosterone
uncomfortable in their new collared shirts

mumbled words exchanged
onto the floor they walk
she turns, shoots a wild smile at the herd

her arms slung awkwardly over shoulders
hands suspended in the tense air
should she touch his too-long neck
while his fingertips dampen
watering the flowers on her dress

16 May 2010

Lay It Down

Roy sat in a creaky chair next to the bed. The old man unwrapped a flannel cloth to reveal his Smith & Wesson revolver. He glanced at Alma to check that she still slept, then reached into the box on the nightstand, retrieving a single cartridge. His gnarled hands shook as he loaded it into the cylinder of the gun. He sat for a moment, and then thought better of his failing eyesight and filled the cylinder, dropping two cartridges to the floor. They rolled under the bed. He muttered a curse and then pulled Alma’s wheelchair closer. Roy placed the weapon on the seat, set the brake, and grimaced as he leaned his full weight on the chair. He haltingly pulled himself to his feet. He grumbled at the ache in his knees and hips, wishing he hadn’t left his flask of bourbon in the truck. His hands began to shake again as he reached for the gun.
Tucking the revolver into his belt and grabbing his cane, Roy shuffled toward the door. His pants sagged, the result of few meals over the past weeks. The worn soles of his cowboy boots slid and scraped over the wooden floorboards. His dog, Hank, lay on the floor with his chin resting on his front feet. He looked up at Roy and wagged his whip-like tail, thumping the floor.
“Yeah, Hank. It’s time.”
But the dog waited, letting Roy pass through the door first, then hopped up with the exuberance of his youth. He trotted after his master.
Six weeks before, Alma’s doctor had given them the news. The bruising, shortness of breath, and fatigue were classic symptoms. They were confirmed by a blood test which left a blue-black mark that eventually wrapped itself around her elbow. At her age, there was really no treatment. Not that she’d want any. She wanted to live, sure, but on her own terms, in their own house, on their land. When Roy had picked up the phone to call Luellen after the initial shock and surge of tears had receded, Alma shook her head. She didn’t want anyone to know, even their own daughter. She didn’t want a fuss made over her. And so they’d carried on by themselves. The idea of dignity was paramount for Alma, but Roy soon realized that there was no dignity in growing old, no dignity in trying to lift his wife’s body so she could use the bathroom, no dignity in wrestling with her feeble body in order to change her clothing or the bed sheets. There was no dignity in trying, in his own pathetic condition, to avoid hurting her as he performed these tasks, even with his best intentions. But these things he would do for her. There was no need to involve anyone else.
Roy made his way down the porch steps, gripping his cane and picking up the shovel that he’d propped up against the house. Hank followed, a dutiful attendant. The wind blew from the northwest and the first cirrus clouds skitted high, warning of a storm on the way. Roy stopped and adjusted the revolver and zipped his black down vest up to the neck, then continued his slow trek toward the cottonwoods that separated the upper field from the creek’s edge. He squinted into the cold wind, his eyes watering. Stopping again to find his handkerchief to wipe his eyes and blow his nose, he balanced himself with one hand holding the cane and the shovel. Hank gently nudged his hand, sniffed the revolver, and sat, patient. Roy ignored him. Hank nudged again, eager for affection and reassurance.
“Stop it, Hank,” Roy whispered, his voice gruff.
Pocketing the handkerchief, Roy trudged on. The week before, he had finalized his plan. While Alma slept, he’d boxed up their Limoges wedding china. Before carefully wrapping the first dish in newspaper, he’d traced with his crooked finger the diminutive pink roses that twined along the edge of the plate. He’d stacked them, the dinner plates, salad plates, cups, saucers, each wrapped separately, into boxes lined up just inside the front door.
After stoking the fire, and checking on Alma, he’d eased himself into a chair at the kitchen table to write. When he had finished, Roy addressed the letter to Luellen in his shaky school-book script. Then, he had retrieved the gold watch from his jeans pocket. Pulling out the winding button, he’d wrapped the watch in flannel and placed it and the letter inside the last box with the china. There were no apologies, no explanations. There was nothing left to say.
Hank looked up at Roy again, prodded his hand with a cold, wet nose, and whimpered. Roy cleared his throat and carried on. Roy glanced toward the cottonwoods, their skeletal branches reaching toward the clouds. There, two metal garden chairs awaited, and Roy could rest.
Alma blinked, her breathing alternating between shallow and deep. Roy tried to look only at her face and away from her hands, which had turned a bluish hue. Earlier, when he adjusted the blankets, he noticed her feet were blue, the toenails a yellow contrast. He knew, then, that it would be soon.
“I’m cold,” Alma whispered, her voice broken and hushed.
“I just put another log in the stove,” Roy said, his voice quavering. He fidgeted with the goose down comforter that had warmed them many winters. “Remember when we made this? Raising those damn geese? Never seen a creature mean as them. Was a pleasure to wring their necks and pluck ‘em.” He smiled.
Alma nodded and closed her eyes.
“And you. I had no idea you were stitching away at this.” He fingered the patchwork, made of plaid shirts, flannels, Luellen’s little girl dresses, a tapestry of their lives together.
Her breathing was slowing. Grasping her hand, he was amazed at the way its cool smoothness still complemented his own rough hands.
Fifty-seven years I’ve held these hands, the old man thought. Fifty-seven years.
“Roy.” Her eyes were open again. “Roy.”
He nodded.
“Call Luellen. When I’m gone.” She licked her parched lips, her voice crackling with dryness. “Promise me you’ll go to her.”
He nodded, but knew it was a lie. He would be here, die here. There was no reason to go live in a California suburb with their daughter. Luellen had created her own opportunities, and Roy was proud of her, lawyering for that big firm in San Jose. She worked too many hours. He was pleased with all she’d done, and all on her own. They shared a stubbornness that often made them clash, but Roy saw much of himself in her and knew he didn’t have to explain his choices, just as she didn’t have to explain hers.
He helped his wife sip some water, kissed her, and then rose and climbed into the bed next to her, panting with exertion. Her eyes were closed again and he took her hand and held it near her heart. The last of the sun’s rays slipped beyond the hill, bathing the room in winter’s last grey light. He wept.
Hank bounded, racing in and out of the creek below the cottonwoods as Roy took the flask from the pocket of his black down vest. He took a mouthful of bourbon and then tucked the flask back into the pocket. He trudged forward, dragging the shovel, and tossed his cane toward the metal chairs, then removed his vest, and placed the gun on it. There, where the dirt was softer, where he’d made love to Alma many, many springtimes as the cotton from the trees had swayed like dancing snowflakes around them, he began to dig.
As he dug, he saw her smooth tan skin, her coffee-colored hair not yet streaked with grey, the blue of her eyes matching the sky behind her as she straddled him, laughing. He stopped to rest, stopped to swig from the flask. How many seasons had they been together under these cottonwood trees? With each memory, the digging became easier, the dirt he scooped became lighter, until finally, faint from the recollections and the labor, he was done. At last, the task finished, he released the shovel from the grip of his stiff fingers. Sweating, panting, he shuffled to the metal chairs. He’d teased Alma about how she had insisted on picking the cotton out of her hair, about how pointless it was since before she’d finish more catkins would have landed. But he wasn’t smiling when he picked up his cane and gun, and plodded out from the weak shade the leafless cottonwood branches afforded.
Roy whistled to call Hank and struggled to pick up a stick. His back ached from the digging. Hank whined and pranced, hoping for a game of fetch. With immeasurable effort, Roy flung the stick into the fallow field. Hank tore after it, delighted in the game. Roy grasped the revolver and pulled it from his belt. He walked on, leaning on the cane, the gun a heavy comfort. Hank returned with the stick in his mouth, holding it up for Roy, pawing at the ground. Roy patted the dog gently on its head, grabbed the stick, and flung it again out into the field.
Bringing the gun up to level, Roy struggled to balance with the cane propped up against his leg. With both hands strangely steady on the grip, he raised the weapon, cocked, and aimed, only to realize he was too slow. Hank was already returning, holding the stick lopsided in his smiling jaw and dragging it on the ground. Roy grabbed the stick again, throwing it as far as he could to give himself the advantage, wincing at the pain in his shoulder.
The gun, already cocked and ready to fire, felt lighter in his hands as he brought it level and aimed. He searched for Hank through the sight, and then saw the dog’s dim shadow playfully bounding into a crouch and barking. Then, as if the dog’s instincts suddenly took hold, Hank stood on point at something Roy could not see. Roy blinked, then fired. The roar of the gun filled his ears and he momentarily lost balance. Stabbing at the ground with his cane which had been propped up against his hip, he righted himself, breathing heavily. Wiping his mouth with the hand that held the gun, Roy squinted at the field, scanning it for Hank. The dog lay on its side, motionless.
Roy awoke in the night, his hips in searing pain from being motionless for so long. He inhaled deeply, pulled his hand from Alma’s and rolled, pushing himself to a sitting position with his legs hanging over the side of the bed. The room was cold, the air still and heavy. Reaching for the bedside light, he pulled the chain to turn it on, then gripped his cane, and slowly rose to fill the woodstove. The pain in his hips seeped downward as he shuffled. He stood by the fire after feeding the coals that patiently glowed, leaving the door of the stove ajar to allow the oxygen to nourish the flames. Convinced that the fire would take, Roy closed and latched the door, then hobbled back into the bedroom, impatient to return to the warmth under the down comforter.
From the dim light beside the bed, he knew. Alma was bluish, her jaw slack. He’d seen others dead, and animals too, of course. He’d always snorted with derision when someone said the dead looked like they were sleeping. It wasn’t true, of course. There was no mistaking sleep for death.
The hardest part, he thought, would be how to get her there, under the cottonwood trees. He brought the wheelchair alongside the bed, and leaned over his wife’s body. Tenderly, he brushed her grey hair back behind her ear with his crooked, shaky fingers. Leaning in and wrapping his arms around her torso, he held her tight and struggled to straighten himself. He lugged her toward the chair, lurching inch by inch, embracing her. Finally, he had her over the chair, her legs still reaching the bed. He had wanted to lay her down with grace, but collapsed and let her go. She landed on the seat, a little on her side, head wobbling, but she was there.
Roy crumpled onto the bed, the tremor in his hands amplified by his exhaustion and agitation, by the fact that he hadn’t eaten. He slept, briefly, fitfully.
When he awoke, he avoided looking at Alma. As quickly as he could, he left the suffocating air of the bedroom. He hobbled outside. The day’s first sunlight was just breaking across the oak-studded hills, alighting the frost-coated grasses like a silhouette of flame. A bank of clouds hung in the west, brewing with gloom. A cold front was on its way, and the trees and grasses shivered in anticipation. Roy stood, leaning on the porch rail and watched the clouds move in. The energy of the storm was still distant but he felt it and was grateful.
Roy covered Alma with the comforter and tucked it into the sides of the wheelchair. It was easy enough to move the wheelchair through the house. Out on the porch, Roy turned the chair so that Alma faced the door. He set the brakes thinking – hoping – he’d have more control, and then carefully eased himself to the lower of the two steps. He tried to shut out the images of the wheelchair crushing him as it fell, out of control, his bones breaking, and him lying pinned and helpless beneath it.
“Damn it.” Who was he kidding? He could barely move Alma when she was alive and able to help. How would he get her down these two steps? He sat down to think, startled that he hadn’t thought it through like he’d intended.
An hour later he had a plan. With all the strength he could manage, he dragged her from the chair until she was right at the edge of the top step. Then he worked his way down to the bottom step, released the chair brake, and pulled it down the steps, moving back. It bounced and flipped on its side, coming to a stop right in front of Roy. He managed to right it, and reset the brake. Then he mounted the steps again, and dragged Alma, wrapped in the comforter, down the steps, a slow one-two shuffle with Alma’s feet thudding as they dropped from each step. With great care, he set her back in the chair, and rested again.
Later, the cold wind picked up and Roy fought to push the chair into the wind. They were nearly to the cottonwood trees. With each step, the metal chairs beckoned, and Roy quickened his pace, impatient to sit and share a bourbon again. Steam rose from him, evaporating into the chill. He wheeled Alma near the chairs that waited. Collapsing in a cold chair, Roy pulled his flask from his belt and breathed. He sipped, the heat of the whisky invigorating and calming. When he recovered, he wheeled the chair near the hole he’d dug. He unwrapped Alma, and with a tenderness that belied his age, lay her down. He adjusted her limbs until he was satisfied she looked comfortable, and then gently combed through her hair with his fingers. Her eyes were closed. He covered her with the comforter, then climbed out and rested again.
The flask empty and the clouds low and nearly white, Roy pushed the wheelchair out into the field to retrieve Hank. He stumbled over the furrows, relying on the chair to keep him upright. Squinting into the field, he searched for the dog. And then he noticed a raven. He approached, yelling at the raven atop the dog. His voice, raspy and hoarse, had no effect on the bird. He staggered, struggling to maintain his balance and still push the chair. When Roy was within fifteen feet, the raven flew, accusing Roy with its caw, caw, caw. He removed his vest and threw it over the dog, not wanting to see his face. He knelt to lift this load.
Finally, the sky a velvet purple above the mountains to the west, Roy lay back in the hole he’d dug under the cottonwood trees, Hank at his feet, Alma at his side. He covered the three of them with the comforter that had warmed them so many nights before. The memories of their lives together were spinning, twirling into an eddy around him. In the fading light snowflakes began to fall and swirl, dancing like the cotton catkins many springs before. Falling and rising, the memories carried him, relieved of all burden.

09 May 2010

How to Make a Civilization Flourish

A civilization flourishes when people plant trees under which they will never sit.
-Greek Proverb

Usually, people do the best they can with what they’ve got. I try to believe this. As a teacher, I believe my students usually do the best they can with the skills they’ve got. I believe that their parents usually do the best they can to raise their kids. And I believe that the voters of Arizona will do the best they can with the choices they have.

Prop 100 isn’t perfect. It does have flaws and it may not be the best solution to the issues facing the state. But right now, it’s the best choice we have. In my school district, Prescott Unified, serious cuts are being considered to programs that have enormous impact on students. All teachers involved in visual, musical, and performing arts have been notified that their programs are in jeopardy. All physical education programs have been cut. Library services and geography classes have been axed.

Students will lose out on opportunities that could impact their futures. They will miss out on the arts, which researchers have shown to improve learning in language (See Bramberge’s work at MIT and Gardiner’s at Brown University). Strong correlations can be made between music education and language skills. Without exposure to music, students’ reading and language test scores could be predicted to fall.

Athletics are also an integral part of well-rounded education. Through sports, students learn teamwork and sportsmanship. Already students at Prescott High School are required to do fundraising to help pay for transportation and other costs associated with their sport. Pay-to-Play seems fair, but the cost is becoming prohibitive. If Prop 100 fails, many students won’t be able to afford the fees, and athletics would become an activity that only the wealthiest, most advantaged students could participate in.

In addition, exposure to sports and the arts opens many avenues for students. Through diligence and practice they will have opportunities to earn scholarships and awards that can enable them to continue to play, and perhaps even help pay for higher education. The arts and sports help us to become more well-rounded individuals. They help us to connect with one another in ways that transcend class, culture, and other barriers.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the PHS Showcase for Haiti. This program was put on by the students and faculty sponsors of the National Honor Society. It was a real treat to witness the many and diverse musical, dance, and entertainment numbers by students and faculty. Through ticket sales and t-shirt sales funds were raised for victims of the Haiti earthquake. In the lobby of the theater, hundreds of pieces of art were on display by the visual arts students at PHS. Their works were inspiring. I felt honored to be in the audience at this event. The arts matter, and without them, we will be left to wonder about the lost potential of beauty, joy, and inspiration. What about the loss of potential job opportunities related to these fields, or the loss of creativity that often leads to new solutions to old problems?

I won’t let all the naysayers of Prop 100 change how I feel about my job. They won’t make me love it any less. They won’t make me love my students any less. In addition to teaching my students a foreign language, I do have another agenda. I hope to impart in my students a love of learning and a vision of how the US is part of the world and not the world entire. I teach them to try to envision the fact that the rest of the world doesn’t see things the same as we Americans do, and that not understanding this leads to fundamental cross-cultural problems with far-reaching effects, like terrorism. I hope to instill a work ethic, responsibility, a respect for one another, and punctuality in attending class and turning in assignments; none of this will change either, because these are essential life skills.

I still won’t let the negativity of the anti-education folk permeate my classroom. However, I would love to invite all of you who don’t believe in what we educators do, to come to my classroom and to those of my colleagues. We could use your help! What great ideas do you have about how we can make education work better? There is always room for improvement. What talents do you have that the younger generation could benefit from? Come and see the great things kids are doing already, and help us make their futures even brighter. Sometimes another perspective is exactly what may be needed to breakthrough and facilitate real change.

I hear comments that kids today don’t care about anything beyond their cell phones. Students at Prescott High School are incredibly active in the community and beyond. Students here have introduced me to the phenomenon of micro-economics and Kiva. People all over the world, including PHS students, are loaning money to small businesses that allow the borrowers to walk down the road to self-reliance and away from ineffective governmental aid projects.

Students at PHS raised nearly $1000 from their peers to benefit refugees in Darfur. They were able to accomplish this even though many adults questioned them, asking, “What’s Darfur?”

Along with the greater community, students at PHS have contributed their time and energies to Big Brothers, Big Sisters. They have raised money for the earthquake victims in Haiti and Chile. They have held drives for the Yavapai Humane Society.

These kids are aware, informed, and involved, and I can only assume that the students at PHS mirror the state and the nation. Why have they done all this for animals? For people half a world away? Because they care. Because they were moved by the need of others. Because they felt they could do something, and they felt themselves to be an active, responsible part of the greater world.

So, you ask, why aren’t they raising money for their own education? Well, they are. They do. And that isn’t their responsibility. It’s ours. My education, from kindergarten through 12th grade, was funded by the taxpayers of the State of Arizona. I am still very grateful for their faith in my potential, and I hope that I have lived up to their expectations. I am fully prepared and committed to the education of the next generations because they are my responsibility – our responsibility.

I hear a lot of talk lately about individual rights, but not much about personal responsibility. As a citizen, I have responsibilities in addition to rights. I have the right to vote, which comes with the responsibility to be informed. I have the right to freedom of speech, which comes with the responsibility to be accurate and articulate. I have the right to an education, which comes with the responsibility to work hard and to do my best.

The responsibilities of today’s students are to work hard, study, and learn the skills and information that will enable them to become successful, contributing members of society. It is their teachers’ responsibility to impart the knowledge and information that their students need. It is their parents’ responsibility to ensure that their children attend school, are on time, arrive ready to learn, do their homework, and prepare for tests. It is the responsibility of the community to support its children and allow them to focus on the tasks they need to accomplish great things.

Whether or not you support Prop 100, and whether or not you have children of your own, you are responsible for the next generation. Complaining and posting negative comments on websites do little to affect and make positive contributions toward change.

If Prop 100 passes, the average tax-paying household will pay approximately $400 a year, according to the Goldwater Institute. Other sources say this figure is high. If you don’t trust the schools, if you don’t trust the legislature, would you consider taking that $400 and contributing directly to a child’s development? How about a contribution to the scholarship fund at your local YMCA? Sponsor a kid to play soccer through AYSO. Find a private music or visual arts teacher who would accept a scholarship donation on behalf of a needy student. Make a gift (which may be tax-deductible) to your local children’s theater group.

If you can’t donate money, how about time? Mentor a child. Volunteer for Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Visit your local schools and get involved. Your local elementary school would welcome volunteers to help with reading groups and other small group activities (you may need a background check, including fingerprints). Your local high school requires parent and community volunteers to serve on committees to assist with the accreditation process through North Central Association, among other things.

Get to know a kid. Get to know a teacher. We’re all in this together, and we can all surely do just a little more to help one another out.

02 May 2010

In the Shade of the Oleanders

I sat between my grandparents in the same aluminum folding chairs we’d sat in countless times before. The shade from the wall of oleanders on the west side of their yard now stretched nearly to the garden on the far end. The tall stalks of the delphiniums still cast their own shadows, but the shadow from the oleanders would soon outreach them.
The scotch on the rocks in my glass was getting easier to drink as the ice melted, but I still didn’t like the taste of it. It was fiery and cool at the same time, like my grandfather. He held his glass of straight scotch from the top, his pinky and ring finger stretching down the length of the glass while the stubs of the other three fingers barely curled over the top. He’d lost those fingers as a teenager, playing with blasting caps. He’d never told us the story, but my mother had whispered to me a long time ago what she knew, which wasn’t much. His silence about the incident was to be taken as a warning.
Gram sat with her bourbon and water, clinking her ice cubes and looking toward the garden. We were all surprisingly quiet and I understood that we wouldn’t have many more summers like this. Looking at my grandparents, I understood that, and I wondered if they did, too.
We talked about the drought and how the mine was going to reclaim the copper in the tailings that stretched alongside the main drag in town. We talked about things that didn’t really matter much, and I wished we could talk about how we loved to sit here outside together in the heat of the summer, our bare feet in the cool green grass. I wished there was a way to stop and sit here, listening until I knew all their stories in my heart, beating the cadence of their lives in measured time.
Much later, when the time came to divide the treasures they had gathered over a lifetime, I found the scope and breadth to be too much. The photos were too moving to look at, being only moments captured while the sequence was sometimes lost. There were letters, some even written in my own hand – a childish hand – that drew me in until I found myself enveloped in the memories they described. They spoke of triumphs and births and news. And while they left me with cool tears of remembrance and love, none mentioned the summer afternoons in the shade of the oleanders.