Sook, by any other name, still Sook



Today we commemorate my father-in-law’s fifth Yahrzeit. He was the kindest and gentlest father-in-law any woman could ever wish for and I loved him dearly.



Irv “Sook” Leon, 15 August 1920 – 23 October 2013


In the summer of 2010, my in-laws stayed with us in Atenas, Costa Rica for several weeks, during which time we celebrated Sook’s 90th birthday.


Owing to some health issues, he was instructed by his doctor to exercise regularly for strength and improved circulation. Since our house sat on a very steep hill, it was impossible for Sook to exercise by walking – not only for him, truth be told! – so we developed a regiment including water exercises in the lap pool, followed by a tropical fruit smoothy and a nap in a comfy lounge chair on the shaded terrace. He quite liked this spa vacation routine!


What he liked best about his water sport, I illustrated with the first picture in this post. The outside edge of the lap pool sat above an almost vertical slope toward the tract below us. That’s the strip of grassy green curving along the bottom edge of the picture. Below that lot was another as yet unimproved homesite which the construction crew of a building site across the street used to play soccer during breaks. The builder brought the crew to the building site every morning around sunrise. He careened down the switchback road in a panel truck, the loading area filled to capacity with men tossed hither and fro during the sharp turns. Toward evening, the same truck with its human cargo could be heard echoing across the canyons as its too-weak engine strained to conquer the impossible gradient, the driver downshifting again and again in desperation. The crew foreman lived on the building site for the duration, thus functioning also as a night guard against theft. His wife cooked the meals for everyone and, as we observed from above, she also did some laundry for the guys. After meals, the older workers would prefer to play cards, while the younger ones released their energy with a vigorous game of soccer.

Sook would delight in watching these games from the pool because the hard-working men had such fun. The whoops and hollers of sheer joy easily rose to our level on the hill and we would cheer each goal with them. Every now and then, one of the players would kick much too forcefully, dropping the ball into the jungle of the canyon below. The men would then send their youngest and presumably most agile crew member to climb down and retrieve the precious object. Those were tense moments for us watching helplessly until we saw the kid climb back up without having been bitten by one of the vipers that live down there!

Sook was an avid reader and also enjoyed quiet times on the patio of the casita.


Dinner out on the other hand wasn’t his most favorite thing, although he never complained. But he wasn’t an adventurous eater and the Costa Rican cuisine left him, shall we say, unimpressed. Here we are at La Trilla, which back then, was a little dark and murky, I have to admit.


Both mom and dad are gone now and we cherish their memory.


A Birthday


Today would have been my brother’s 52nd birthday. It’s his first birthday without him and I want to send my love to his daughters. My heart breaks for them since they already had to somehow weather their mom’s death five years earlier. With the support and love of extended family and now their partners, they have grown into strong and resilient young women. We want them to know that we’re thinking of them always, but especially today, and we’re sending virtual embraces across the ocean to them.

We were in La Rochelle yesterday and the image above, showing an empty basin of the ancient harbor at low tide in all its winter dreariness seemed like a fitting expression of my feelings today.

Walking through town, we came across the bookstore specializing in comics.

The Bandes Dessinées, the french language comic strip telling the adventures of Tintin was Charles’ favorite growing up, while mine was Asterix. He and I shared a lifelong delight in the tradition of social criticism expressed through comic albums in the West and manga in the East. We were horrified by the murder of the Charlie Hebdo staff and I mailed two copies of their first post-attack edition to him as soon as it came out. But for me, it is Tintin who is most strongly associated with my brother’s memory.

We concluded our lunch in La Rochelle with a lovely Mousse au Chocolat, as this was the first dish he ever prepared.


As always, Happy Birthday, Charles!