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At the Pond

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Marsha Taylor

Put Up





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Man of Earth

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River Plunge

Not Winning


Keep It Moving



Trigger Sapping

Get Her Done!

Optimist Wager

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Elder Anarchy


Photograph by Jerry Murley


Sweet & Tart Christmas Traditions


by Jerry Murley

[UPDATE: After this story was written and published in December of 2008, I received and email from one of Kathleen's daughters. Kathleen had just received my Christmas letter for 2008. She was well. I am grateful for the renewed contact.]

It has been 36 years since I last saw Kathleen Greenwood of Cheam, Surrey, England. In 1972, having never met me – solely at the request of her brother, who was then working in Memphis – she, her husband, and her four children took me under wing during an 8-month visit to Europe. I was 21 years old and bouncing back from my first bout with Hodgkin's Disease after surgery and radiation at the age of 20. That unexpected illness (discovered by my local draft board), in addition to this long trip alone into the unknown, was viewed by me at the outset as my Vietnam.

The Greenwood home was modest but very snug and hospitable. I think the bedroom that the Greenwoods gave to me was on the third floor. This home was to be my base for a few weeks in spring and again in fall of that year. And I was allowed to spend a few weeks in a small room with shared bathroom, kitchen and living room in a flat in London near Camberwell Green that their eldest daughter shared with four other young people while she finished her medical studies.

Kathleen was welcoming kindness itself. I loved breakfast in the room off the kitchen listening to the BBC. And she even once dared to let me try (for the first time ever) to fry chicken Southern style in her small kitchen.

Though I am the age of her children, I have exchanged letters with her every Christmas since 1972. Her letters have always been about the comings and goings of her children and grandchildren – and her travels both with her husband and after his death. My letters are a chronicle of my hopes, occasional accomplishments and disappointments – and news of my growing family, including travel, health and educational experiences. For me the letters hit on every major point in the intervening 36 years of my life.

This comes to mind most poignantly now, because I have not heard from Kathleen for over a year and I don't know what has happened to her. It is as if my heart has skipped a beat and can't quite adjust. You see, I have been fortunate – so far – to have not suffered many such losses. My fortune in this regard makes me wonder at the strength of those who have lost close friends and family, sometimes at an early age.

Parents don't often think of their offspring as guests. And most children surely do not consider their parents as generous hosts until much later in life. Oddly, I sometimes think of myself as an honored guest in the life of my offspring. So, the obligations are complex and generational and run in both directions. It is bitter and slightly sweet to be privileged with such obligations of regard and sharing. I, for one, will never forget the model of generosity shown to me, a stranger, by Kathleen Greenwood.

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