My Little Girl, My String Bean, My Lovely Woman

What I want to say

is that there is nothing in your body that lies.

All that is new is telling the truth.

I’m here, that somebody else,

an old tree in the background.

 

Darling,

Stand still at your door,

sure of yourself, a white stone, a good stone –

as exceptional as laughter

you will strike fire,

that new thing!

         –Anne Sexton

 

You’re only the best I ever had.

         From a poem by Kat called “I Just Opened Up My Eyes”

 

Χαλεπά τά καλά

         Her tattoo, which in ancient Greek translates as “Beauty is harsh.”

         In modern Greek it means “Nothing without labor.”

 

                                                             photo by Jacquie Causey

She was the greatest surprise of my life.  I was eighteen, in college, working midnights, and about to leave to tour eleven countries in Europe.  But when I became ill and went to the campus doctor and he told me I was pregnant, my only thought was that she was here and she was here to stay.  Mothers always say extremely sentimental things about their children, but on my honor:  I loved her the moment I knew she was growing.

Someone recently asked me if I was afraid to become a single mother at 18, 19, and I said no, because I had so deeply loved my niece and nephew and so I knew how to love a child.  But more importantly, I had a dream one night in which an old woman said this to me:  “There is a single, simple thing you must know.  Treat every moment with her as if it is the only one she will remember.”  And when I woke up I knew how to do that.  I also dreamed that I was sitting on the floor in front of a vending machine eating a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, and a woman walked in and said, “You’re having a girl.”  I said, “I know that.”

She was born September 6th, 1984, in Biloxi, Mississippi, during a Dixie storm.

What a girl she was!  By the age of three she had memorized all of the dialogue in The Wizard of Oz, and she loved to wear little dresses and walk around outside in her ruby slippers, carrying an umbrella, saying things like, “I wish this rain would stop.”

I have never known another child who was born perfectly reasonable.  Kat was.  I could explain things to her so simply and she would nod; she never misbehaved, ever.  We talked all the time.  She was profoundly opinionated about what she should wear, and ended up going to school in outfits I am sure she would now find . . . unfortunate.  She loved to talk on the phone with the Virgin Mary.  Once I heard her say, “Hello, Birgin?  What are you doing?  Are you jumping rope?  Where is you son?”

 

We had no dark days and she had no awkward years.  She went from being a beautiful child, gentle and thoroughly compassionate, to being a beautiful teenager.  She was and is also a brilliant mimic, and I once had a professor who would give her a quarter to do imitations.  She is still among the funniest people I’ve ever known.

 

I could name her thousand gifts, but the greatest must be her love of children, the way they love her in return; the fact that she was willing, as an undergraduate, to train as a doula and help deliver the babies of Spanish-speaking women who couldn’t communicate with their doctors.  She helped deliver nearly forty children.  Obadiah believes she hung the sky and the moon.  And to Baby Augusten, she is everything.

 

 

 

Her loyalty is unquestionable, her integrity a marvel.  She knows the names of hundreds of plants, and can make gardens out of nothing.  There has never been a dog she feared.  Her family is her permanence.  She rarely angers, and even then is quick to forgive.  And if you are her friend, you are her friend for life – she would walk on broken glass for the people in her life.  Years and years ago she suspected that her best friend might need a new mother, and asked me if I would take the job, and I did.  This is my adopted daughter, Brittany.  I love her, too, very much.

 

In May, Kat earned a degree from the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, in Philosophy.  For anyone that would be an astonishing feat.  But what moved me most that day was the sense that she and I were never supposed to make it; a pregnant, single 18-year-old is not supposed to end up with one of the brightest, most diligent, joyous women after 23 years.  The only time I teared up (I was brave), was when I said to her, “We did it, we got all the way here,” and she agreed.

 

 

My mother and sister and niece and Kalia drove all the way to North Carolina to see her graduate.  It was a lovely thing.

I must say though, that far more surprising and rewarding than her degree is the fact that she is becoming a brilliant musician, with a voice so rich and moving I want to listen to her all the time and I’m afraid to listen to her at all, for fear I’ll collapse in a state.  She is bizarrely talented.  Many people agree with me.

 

Finally, my first born, my little string bean, love of my life:  I’ve said it countless times.  You were the greatest blessing I’ve ever known, and you are the finest person in my life.  If you weren’t my daughter, I would wish every day that you were my daughter.  Happy Birthday, Chicken Wing.

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Published in: on September 6, 2008 at 3:04 am  Comments (49)  

49 Comments

  1. Wow, Haven, just WOW.

  2. Thank you, Polly, but SHE’S the wow. It’s really nice to have you here.

  3. If only we all had parents like you. We’d have a world without war. It would be John Lennon’s Imagine come true.

    “You may say that I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one
    I hope someday you’ll join us
    And the world will live as one”

  4. I wish someone had given me advice like that when I was pregnant, and I wish I’d been sage enough to take it.

    Your daughter is lovely (a doula? I’m geeking!) Thank you for sharing her with us.

  5. I’m trying to think of the last time I saw Kat. She probably remembers exactly when, but I’m guessing… wow! fourteen years ago?!? It had to have been sometime before I moved back to Indianapolis in ’94. Yikes!

    What I remember most about Kat is her unfathomable depth of sensitivity and her mastery of vocabulary at an early age…

    Haven: Why do you need a Coke right now? I’m trying to do the dishes!

    Kat: Instant gratification, mommy.

    Haven: You’ve been talking with your grandmother again, haven’t you.

    Kat: Yes. Can I have a Coke now, please?

    Oh, and her fear of Teddy Rukspen. I think that bear hit the trash bin 5 seconds later after it accidentally came on in her crib one night!

    So, Happy Birthday Kat.

  6. What a beautiful post for a beautiful young woman. Happy Birthday, Kat!

    Haven, It appears you’ve accomplished what most parents can only dream of or wish for: a well-adjusted, intelligent, compassionate person.

  7. OMG… What memories came rusing back! AND JIM SHUE to boot!

    Haven you do have a lovely daughter of 24 years and I am so blessed to be her Aunt. I love her more than life itself!

    Happy Birthday to you Kat and love to all! You did a great job Haven!

  8. Well now I am quite emotional. Thank you all, especially those of you who remember her little sweetness. Do you remember the occasion with your dad, Julie, and Kat’s favorite baby doll? It was a black Baby Alive, and she refused to ever allow the poor thing to wear any clothes, even a diaper, and she carried it around everywhere by one foot. She brought it your house one afternoon, and Papaw, not meaning any harm, said, “Well honey, I didn’t know you had a black baby doll.” She came home that afternoon angry with me and said, “HOW COME YOU NEVER TELLS ME THIS BABY IS BLACK?” I was stunned. I thought a moment and then took her to her room and got out her crayons. I pulled out six and drew a line on a page and said to her, “What color is this?” She said, “Red.” I drew with another one. “What color is this?” “Another red.” A third, a fourth, a fifth, all shades of red. I said, “Angel, that baby is People Colored, just exactly like you.” She went to Papaw and said, “This is a People Color, not black. Oh, and not red either.”

  9. Lovely! It’s my birthday too and this was like a present to me. Happy birthday to Kat!

  10. Happy, happy birthday, dear Kat. You are truly a beautiful woman just like your mother. What a joy to get to know you both through Haven’s words and these very lovely photos.

  11. Happy birthday, Vanessa! Just go ahead and do anything you want — eat a whole cake, smoke a doobie, take a ride on a really fast motorcycle, stay in bed all day watching romantic comedies — the world is your shellfish! (If you’re an Orthodox Jew, I apologize for the shellfish comment.)

  12. Now I can’t stop remembering Kat’s greatest moments. On our farm one afternoon she found a dead mouse, and when I went out a couple hours later, there was the little dead rodent, a cross made of popsicle sticks, and a note written on a piece of a grocery bag. It said:

    RALPH THE MOUSE
    DEAD AND GONE.
    WE WISH THAT LIFE
    WENT ON AND ON.

    Love, your owner,
    Katie

  13. Happy beautiful to your daughter. That was supposed to be “happy birthday to your daughter,” but see that slip I made, since this post is so sublime? That piece of wisdom from your dream-old-woman made me cry all blubbery. I have two daughters, and it is the one thing that fills me with immeasurable, inexhaustable pride. I’ve always envied those families that have a gaggle of strong, smart, beautiful women — mothers and daughters who can talk and laugh and connect and share, even when grown, and light up a room with their…well, their bond. I’m always asking friends with older daughters to give me advice on keeping the relationship strong as they grow. Looks like one place I can look is here.

    Happy happy, and I hope you all have lots of cake.

  14. Mercy.
    Pure delight.
    I especially love the story of Kat giving the Virgin Mary a little ring-a-ding! Precious.

    The birthday girl is a rare creature, as is her mother. Health and happiness to you and yours always, Haven.

    Am glad safe travels ensued from Miami.

  15. Your relationship with your daughter (your daughter herself) has always moved me profoundly. I am curious to know if you or she have words to explain how such a thing happened. Is it an isolated miracle, given to a select few? Is it attainable for anyone?

    Also, where could local people go to hear her music? I did a quick google to see if she has a website but did not find one.

  16. Please sing this
    Happy Birthday to you
    Happy Birthday to you
    Happy Birthday dear KAT
    Happy Birthday to YOU!!!!

    special emphasis on each line
    try to stay in tune (not required)

    repeat as needed all day long

    Lordy, but I do love you little girl and remember how perfectly delightful you were in England and how we had to beat off the boys in Brussels and how we watched TV in Ireland and laughed and laughed. And I’m sorry our passports were stolen, but we prayed our way back in to the country, and amen to that. You were staunch and fun and wonderful through the whole trip and never complained. You are all your mother says and more.
    Nana

  17. Tearing up big time here. I have a 23 year old son so I completely understand. I was a bit older and married but still soooo young and with zero support from family. They are miracles. As blessed as you are, she is.

    Halfway through Iodine. Cannot believe this and The Used World came out of one writer in one year. Amazing.

  18. OH! I used to be the Admin Mgr for DONA International (formerly Doulas of North America). Worked for them for years so completely pleased Ms. Thang is a doula as well.

  19. Delonda,

    Haven’s book about you is my favorite!
    You are the breathing definition of the words mule
    and grace. Good stock. Good gals. Happy birthday to
    the whole gang!

  20. I can barely type because I have to keep stopping to wipe away the tears, Haven. What a beautiful tribute…. My daughter is 25, adopted from South Korea just before her 3rd birthday, and is equally wonderful and amazing. Your tribute to your daughter only makes me wish I hadn’t missed those first three years with Beth. The words of the wise old woman in your dream are haunting, and I wish I had treated each day as the most important in each of my grown children’s lives. But I also know that it’s never too late to start. Thanks for this beautiful gift you shared with all of us today. And Happy Birthday, Kat!

  21. As the mother of an almost 16 year old girl, who I spent the first three years raising on my own, who breaks my heart with her beauty and intelligence, who has helped me raise her two little brothers and continues to amaze us with her humor and and kindness, I know the the kind of joy you speak of. What an awesome-for that is what it is-tribute to your beautiful baby girl. I loved when you said yesterday in describing Kat, that she got all of you and made it better-I know I am not quoting you verbatim-because that is our hope, isn’t it? I was up at 1 am the other night typing a paper for my girl while she was in tears, feeling overwhelmed with her schedule and what 3 honor classes( I brag) brought to her table, when I came across a poem she had wrote called “the girl”. I needed you to put in words what I felt-that take your breath away, knock you off your feet awe-and I think if I have Stephany just read your words about your daughter she will get how it feels to mother an exceptional daughter.
    Whew…I am exhausted. Thank you once again for making my day. Happy birthday to your amazing girl.

  22. And I have more. Those are the pictures of you that should be on your book jacket. You are gorgeous. Also, can I come lay on that chaise, surrouned by books, in a corner with the lamp on?

  23. Has there ever been a more gorgeous family of women? Not that I’ve seen.

    What a lovely, lovely birthday blog. From the few minutes I spent in her presence at your reading, I can truly tell that Kat is a very rare and beautiful soul. She has an amazing mother. Happy Birthday to her, and Happy Birthday to YOU (I always feel like parents should get recognized on their childrens’ birthdays as well)!

  24. Happy Birthday Kat,

    I have a feeling you taught your mother everythng she needed to know about being a mother.

    Hey, guess what? My youngest son is 20…but he seems much older and is brilliant and plays marimba and is a great writer and…did I mention he is brilliant?

  25. Thank you so much for sharing this; it was beautiful.

    When my oldest was born, it seemed old women appeared from nowhere and while smiling approval whispered “it goes so fast”. I had no idea. I was terrified that I couldn’t protect him, couldn’t ensure his happiness, then I heard the mother of a sick little boy say “all we can really do is to love them. every day that they are here.” And I knew I could do THAT.

    Happy Birthday, Kat!

  26. She was an amazing child, she was an amazing teenager, and she is an even more amazing woman!

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY CAT!
    I love you more than a hot summer’s day beside an ocean with a breeze.

  27. I should really proofread before I hit submit. I have no idea where that C came from.

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY KAT!!

  28. I have sooooo many wonderful memories of Tater…I got to hi-lite her hair the first time. I’m still sorry about that turning orange Kat. But one of my favorites is when she came in the kitchen at the Blue River Funeral Home and Winston (little demon) grabbed her pant leg growling and shaking it…she just kept walking across the floor…dragging his little self all the way…”Hi Aunt Lindy, where’s Ab…where’s Josh…can I have a drink..can I have an apple…” She never saw him, not once.

    Lordy we do love that girl…little…grown…brilliant girl! We do love her!!!

    Oh and sweet arse..perfect pictures!!!

  29. Yes Haven, I DO remember that ‘black baby alive doll’ who couldn’t have any clothes on in Kat’s book. You know ole Papaw…
    Kat has always and will be so clever and funny!
    I love that face more than you know! (and the rest of her too!)
    Thanks for sharing her with your fans today!
    love you all!

  30. There are a few things I need to clarify about this Teddy Ruxpin debacle Jim Shue brought up.

    1. He was not the bear she wouldn’t allow in her bed. That was a pink bear that did something Satanic when a button was pushed, and it scared her ONCE, and that absolutely insane Jay I was dating ran in, grabbed the bear, and ripped it to pieces. He said, “There. It sure can’t hurt you now.”

    2. We had both Teddy Ruxpin and Grubby, the worm. But no matter what I did or said, Kat would simply not play with them right. Our conversations would go like this:

    HAVEN: No, sweet– no, see, we’re putting in the tape of Teddy singing SHOW TUNES, as many of Mommy’s FRIENDS like to do. So that means we dress him in the tuxedo I got him, including the little leather shoes.

    KAT: I would like him to sing but wear only the yellow rain hat.

    HAVEN: But we aren’t listening to the rain hat story, see? See what I mean? And also there is a raincoat, and pants, and boots. Would you like me to get the entire ensemble?

    KAT: No thank you. I would like him just to wear the hat, and instead of singing play the Hot Air Balloon tape.

    HAVEN: Now see, sweetheart, you are WAY confused here. Because the Hot Air Balloon tape requires his striped shirt and corduroys. I’ve worked VERY HARD to get all the tapes and all the costumes and hang them on those little hangars.

    KAT: Also what would be good? We could get out Grubby and put in one of the tapes of them talking to each other.

    HAVEN: Great! Fine, that means I don’t care what Teddy wears. Where is the little connector cord that runs between them so they can communicate?

    KAT: Oh, no thank you. I would like to put the tape in but only Teddy’s face moves, and Grubby talks but his face doesn’t move AT ALL and then we can stare at Grubby and think why doesn’t his face move when he is talking? Is he a statue?

    HAVEN: Whew. Whew-ee. Let me explain this. We sit Teddy here. We put Grubby one foot away from him. We connect them by the white cord. They go on an adventure, yay! and they talk to each other and both of them are animated, not just Teddy.

    KAT: Except for Grubby, because his face doesn’t move.

    This was not the only way she tortured me either. The child would NOT allow a doll to wear any clothing. I dressed them every day, and with an hour they’d be naked as jays, looking like something she’d picked up in the wreckage following a tornado. And she had a GREAT dollhouse — I photographed it for the cover of THE USED WORLD, and also a Noah’s Ark, and a gas station. But did any of the characters ever end up in the right location? No, friends, they did not. HOW, I might ask, HOW do you expect for the gas station attendant to put the gas pump in the little red car if you have the car in Noah’s Ark and the attendant in the bathroom of the house? Because of her stubborn streak, I would have to sneak in while she was sleeping and set everything up correctly again, INCLUDING putting Teddy in his pajamas, which she never did. Can you imagine? The poor little thing would be lying face down on the floor and right there in the closet were his blue stripey pj’s.

    Naturally it was all destroyed as soon as she got up, but one must hold the chaos at bay as long as possible.

  31. And Lindy, not only did she cross the house with the dog hanging on her pant leg, swinging his crazy little head around, when he finally FELL off, two of his teeth were in her blue jeans.

  32. Angie: you are so right…blink, and 20 years — two whole decades!!!! — have disappeared.

    Happy birthday again Kat.

  33. PRIVATE (not really) TO HAVEN:
    I know you are about to be really busy, but if you get a moment, check out my posting in your scary stuff topic. I finished Iodine and I think I figured it out. Basically, I am thinking that not many of the reviewers have unravelled it.

  34. Your daughter is beautiful (And she looks just like you!) and sounds like a great person. Anyone who majors in Philosophy has my great respect, as Philosophy is one of the most difficult areas of study. What a wonderful post Haven!

    I was a daughter to a 19 year old unmarried woman myself, and while being labeled “Bastard” was hard to hear, esp. at age 5, I am happy to hear that you had a wonderful time raising a daughter at your young age, and it never “ruined” your life.

  35. Just wanted to say I’m enjoying these stories about Kat…my own life is not that different right now!

    Also, I love the name. I went by Kat for years and years until I became best friends with a girl who was also named Kat and it got too confusing. I still have to explain to people that she’s the gorgeous, skinny one who tours and I’m the fat one that stays at home with three kids.

  36. Well. This about did me in. My elder girl turns 10 today and I was already feeling poignant to the point of no return and then I read this. Boy-oh-man, and thank you. There is surely hope for the future of the planet if this level of awesomeness is so prevalent in our daughters. I’m just sayin…

  37. ATTN George Stuteville: link to blog post please? I’d love to read your post about Iodine. I also love mulling it over endlessly on my own (no one in my offline life has finished it yet), but new data can only make it more fun.

    Haven: Your simple standard for how to treat your daughter is permanently engraved on my brain and has already improved the minutes, and therefore the hours, day and years my kids and I spend together from now on. Thank you.

  38. Jamie, we both must thank the wise old woman who appeared in my dream. As those of you who have read IODINE know, I subscribe to Hillman’s dream theory: the figures in a dream are not your neighbor (even if they look like your neighbor), they are not wish-fullfillment, they aren’t the embodiment of sexual repression or desire. They are the figures of the Underworld themselves, and why they choose to visit us I don’t know. Maybe it’s cold down there. At any rate, I was given a great gift, and it has meant everything to me. The other thing I learned right away was that children are extremely finely attuned to injustice, and so nothing unfair should ever be permitted. No “Because I said so,” or “Yeah, well, life’s unfair.” When Kat was little and upset about something I couldn’t repair, I’d simply say, “Oh, angel, that just 100% sucks, and my heart aches for you.” She learned from that that she can always tell me anything, and while I never, ever pry into her life she is always forthcoming. For instance, when she woke up yesterday and called me I asked how her birthday was going so far and she said, “I am SO hungover. Everyone showed up here last night and who got the idea for tequila? How did that happen? I don’t know but whew-ee.
    You know what we did? We stayed up until the hour and minute of my birth and then we all went out and danced in the rain.” I said, “Oh my GOD, that is such a perfect thing to do, how completely joyous. Considering the tequila, how did you keep everyone up until 4:21 in the morning?” I’d forgotten that all of her friends are musicians, and so they just played music all night.

    This is one of my greatest pleasures — that she lives life so fully and happily; that she is such a free spirit but still diligent and conscientious; that her life is filled with music and dancing and tons of friends. See what I meant how if she weren’t mine I’d choose her?

  39. Ghetto Girl, right after I found out I was pregnant I was having lunch with Mom and a dear friend of hers (I won’t name her, because I love her too), but she can a little brutal and strident, let’s say. I told her I was pregnant and she threw down her napkin and with complete disgust said, “Well, that’s it then. You’ve destroyed everything and your life is over.” I stood up and said, “Actually, my life is just beginning.” And then I had to leave before I started crying. For her the highest value is a PhD and a very successful, impressive career. But what on earth are those things compared to having a child, which is the equivalent to growing up IMMEDIATELY, and because you have her, you become your absolute best self? Of course I had to struggle, so what? When I got a job working nights, the very Jim Shue on this page moved in with me and stayed with Kat and never asked for anything in return. Her Aunt Julie (also here) was ALWAYS willing to take care of her if I needed help. My mom gave me an apartment. And I went back to college — it didn’t go anywhere while I was away, and tons of people helped me when I needed it. Having Kat didn’t slow me down or prevent me from doing anything except continuing to be a reckless teenager. She saved my life by appearing when she did. And oh hey, isn’t that interesting — I’m way more successful at what I do than all the young women who didn’t have accidental babies while getting their teaching degrees. Funny, that.

    Also I come from a long line of bastards. I have no idea who I’m related to, I’m like The Man Who Fell To Earth. My history starts with my parents and continues with my children and that’s just dandy with me. I never had a grandfather at all, but I had two grandmothers (again, the beloved Mom Mary), and the woman who adopted my mother, and I’ll tell you what: she was both stupid and nasty and she came from money, and there wasn’t a tear shed at her funeral, that’s for sure. I don’t need a whole bunch of those people just so I can say I know my genealogy. Pssshaw. Who cares. If I ever really need to know I’ll just call the Mormons and they can tell me everything.

  40. Kimberly, guess what?!? When Kat came over for dinner last night she said she thought I should be celebrated, too, because it was an actual BIRTH DAY for me, and she brought me roses!

  41. I totally remember Teddy Ruxpin and the hot air balloon story. And Grubby of course. Kalia has a 2-disc set of Teddy Ruxpin shows now. Funny how he has just carried on to the next generation.

    Also, do not forget the beloved Ying Yang Bear.

    I’m glad Kat had such a great birthday celebration!

  42. BAHHHH! Mind twins! I knew we were meant to be best friends…

  43. Haven, what a gift you have in your daughter. I never had children, and now at 48 its too late. Readers don’t put important things off. Today always ends up being tomorrow, and you can’t get it back.

  44. Beautiful.

    My mom had me when she was 18, and she has always been my best friend and biggest supporter, so this brought tears to my eyes. I was there when she graduated from college (I was 12), and she was there when I got my Master’s and instantly morphed into a librarian, of all things.

    At forty, I was childless until last week – no, I didn’t have a baby, I married a man with four children. So now I have 13 and 11 year-old girls, and a set of three year-old twins. Obviously, I’ve lost my mind.

    I loved your books, and I am so happy that I’ve found your blog!

    Congratulations on having such a beautiful daughter and wonderful relationship.

  45. PaleIrishGoddess, I hope there are many other wonders in your life. I hope they are beyond counting.

  46. Somebody please pass the tissue…

  47. I do love you people.

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  49. Dear Haven,

    I am a friend of Orri’s and am so upset about his passing. I had the pleasure of dining with Don & Meg on Orri’s birthday in 2001 and loved hearing about your family and how proud he was of you and your writing. I have not spoken with Orri for a while and would love anything you could tell me about him over the past couple of years. Please give my regards to Don & Meg.

    Thank you,

    Madelon


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