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Vasilopita

Today was a cold damp day. My painter friend showed up about 10am. Mary Cay and I finished the kitchen and started on a garden room / breezeway at the back of the house. I had your photo gallery up and sat down to take a look. As I scrolled through each photo I began to get a feeling for the dynamic man your father was. I so wish I could have known him.

When I hit the “next ” button and the shot of you and him appeared with the vasilopita, I choked up and tears came to my eyes. Mary Cay came into the room and silently put her hand on my back and I became one with that moment. In the photo I could smell the bread and feel the pride. It is most intense the moment before the first slice, when you make the sign of the cross above the bread with the knife. The moment you feel most Greek. Perhaps it was that after twenty some years of this tradition, I had simply never seen a photo of someone with one of my breads. I think it was that this man, this proud Greek, got to know a teeny little part of me that that photo captured. What an honor.

Every evening after Mary Cay and I go to bed and turn out the lights, one of us , in the silence, will ask “best part?” The other will take a moment and think through the day and share what their best part was. Tonight, mine will be seeing that photo of you and Spyros on that new years morning.

Thank you George and Sara

Vasilis Loizos

A Veteran of WWII

VETERAN OF WWII

I am an infantry combat veteran of WWII, and do not easily cry, but

I cry as I read of the personal lives of our latest soldiers to needlessly die,
as I gaze on their youthful faces.

I feel for their parents who had hoped,
I feel for the widows, who too had hoped,
and I cry for their small children.

My heart is heavy
because they shouldn’t be in Iraq in the first place!

I cry as they die.

Written by Sam Vutetakis
April 9, 2004

Sam was a proud veteran of two overseas tours during World War II.  Both deployments affected his life deeply.  The first tour was “overseas” in Alaska, where he saw no combat, but developed a lifelong love and respect for mountainous wilderness.

Combat Incident

John returned from a patrol amused.

A German had approached him with arms up,
to surrender.

And John shot him:

“You should have seen the look on his face!”
he tells us, laughing.

I pondered, and thought of the German man’s mother:

JOHN SHOULD HAVE SEEN THE LOOK ON HER FACE !

Spyros Vutetakis 1945

The second was in the 3rd Army, 71st Division, 14th Regiment as an infantry soldier in France and Germany.  There,  he witnessed the intensity of combat, the horrors of war and the horrific results of the holocaust.  This front-line experience was the basis of his life-long conviction that peace was the right course for humanity, at all cost.  At every opportunity he would write, attend protests and talk about the value and sanctity of a human life.   He did this with a deep philosophical understanding, benevolent humor and a kind heart. gv

A Favorite Quote

Your days are short here;

This is the last days of your springs.

And now in the serenity and quiet

Of this lovely place, touch the depths

Of truth, feel the hem of Heaven.

You will go away with old, good friends.

And don’t forget when you leave

why you came.

~Adlai Stevenson

An Interview With Mrs Allen

Mrs Allen with Spyros Vutetakis, recorded 1975

My father, Spyros  (Sam) Vutetakis, passed away November 27, 2009.  He was an unusual man in many ways; his sense of history centered around people as individuals and the power each of us have to influence history in both action and speech.  In the last few months I have collected and archived his poetry, family history, stories of his WWII experience and numerous audio and video recordings.  Some of my earliest childhood memories are of him carrying his dicta-phone home from the office to interview the family;  in addition to that, he always seemed to have a camera and tape recorder close at hand.
My grandparents, James and Anthe, emigrated to Utah where my father was born.  The family had a colorful history as freedom fighters in Chania as they struggled for Cretan independence.  Spyros and his siblings grew up hearing the stories.  James came to Utah with two large steamer trunks containing records and artifacts from the Cretan revolt, but lost one of them to fire.  My father always lamented that loss as he labored through the years to piece together the dramatic events that were so much a part of his heritage.  It was a labor of love.
In the Castle Gate mining disaster of 1923, more than fifty of my grandparent’s friends perished.  For them, it was the last straw, so they picked up and moved the family to Canton, Ohio.  It was there that my father encountered the ugly face of discrimination for the first time.  His swarthy Greek complexion made him an immigrant outcast; hard to believe, but many of the immigrants who built this country were treated as second class citizens.
My dad enlisted in the army during World War II.  His first tour of duty was in Alaska; troops were they stationed there to stave off the threat of a Japanese invasion.  His second tour was France and then Germany as an infantry rifleman in Patton’s 3rd Army.  It was an experience which left him with a lifelong dedication to working for peace.  While in the army he then again was faced with discrimination because of his difficult to pronounce name.  He also became aware that the African-American units were frequently given the most dangerous assignments.
The horrors of the war led him to become a social worker.  First for a Jewish agency in Pittsburgh and then in Albany as one of the first gentiles assisting Holocaust victims.  From there he became a gerontologist, working at the Benjamin Rose Institute in Cleveland.   I came to know his profession first-hand as he would frequently bring my brother or me along to visit his favorite clients, many of whom had no family left.  He marveled at the stories they had to tell and began documenting and recording some of them.
In the early 1970’s Mrs Allen, one of his clients, was over 80 years old.  She was African-American, but her complexion was so light, she was often confused for Caucasian.  My father asked if he could record an interview with her  so everyone could benefit from her unusual story.  It is one example of the many special people he encountered.
I share the interview here in memory and spirit of his honoring each person he believed deserved appreciation.  He had a unique ability to bring out the best in people and to help them open up, often without them realizing it.  He said and did things most people could never get away with–kissing the hands of ladies he would encounter or just spontaneously complimenting someone.
After moving my parents from Michigan to San Diego, I returned to Michigan to work on the old house.  Every day, a neighbor, former customer or some poor soul living in the alley would stop to tell me how much they miss him.  His kindness and good spirit seemed to have affected the entire neighborhood.

My thoughts are with my father today, as they are every day. ~gv

Mother’s Day 1945

I wrote this poem to Metera for Mothers Day, 1945 during interludes in combat, and therefore in piecemeal fashion.  In the course of sweeping through a German town, searching houses for weapons that could presumably be used against us (guns, swords, etc.), I had looted a packet of stationery from a desk.  The paper had an edging/design of sky-blue, Metera’s favorite color, and I intended to use it for my annual Mothers Day poem to her.  As it turned out, it was attractive in more ways than one.
I particularly remember one interlude; it was April 1, 1945, Easter Sunday that year. Our company was resting briefly, for a day or so, in a small German village which had not been particularly damaged.  A beautiful spring morning it was, so very quiet, except for the church bell ringing down the street.  Through a window I watched the few Germans (almost all aged) who had not fled, walking sedately in the sunshine to their Easter church services, neatly dressed – an anomaly, a gem of a sweetly peaceful scene, isolated for a moment in the midst of the ugly brutal setting of noisy battle which had preceded and soon followed it.  Instead of on the usual bare ground, I had slept luxuriously Saturday night on the bare springs of a bed (another soldier had dragged off the mattress for himself – we shared the bed, so to speak).  We felt so good.
Suddenly, we were ordered out, on the double.  We grabbed our packs and rifles and were packed into trucks.  Off we rumbled to the east, winding through destroyed villages and in between them the roadside litter of damaged or abandoned vehicles/equipment, relics of battle recently past.  We finally came to and crossed the Rhine River into a large city.  It was Hanau, a now-silent wasteland of heavily bombed ruins in every direction.  There were no humans to be seen.
As we crossed the Rhine River over a temporary pontoon bridge (the original stone bridge had been destroyed by the retreating Germans, its location marked by stone stumps and rubble protruding from the flowing water), I was suddenly startled and greatly excited by a small wooden sign: “Built by the 282nd Combat Engineer Battalion” (meaning the pontoon bridge).  My brother’s outfit!  George and I knew that each other was in Europe and in combat (we were both in combat units), but had not the slightest idea, of course, of where the other was, among the hundreds of thousands of troops spread over hundreds of miles in the constant flux of the European battlefronts.   So, you see, it was a miracle to see that sign (the even greater miracle came later, when we actually met).  My sudden joy and eager anticipation of possibly spotting further clues of George’s whereabouts soon, however, diminished.
There was the sound of the battle ahead.  And as that grew louder with our approach, the happy brotherly feelings were suspended and replaced by the focused fear and tension of imminent combat.  We rumbled on, silently listening to the frenzied cacophony of rifle and machinegun fire, mortars, grenades, and God knew what ahead – but no big artillery, and there was some relief in that.
Finally the trucks lurched to a stop, and we disembarked in a valley at the foot of long meadow-slopes.  These were topped by islands of woods separating fields, where the action was erupting.  Tensely, we made our way up the slopes.  They were littered by several American tanks, freshly disabled/destroyed but not burning, silent monsters now.  (See Footnote A).  The climb was uneventful.
However, when we reached the top of the slopes we were immediately nailed by rifle fire.  We hit the dirt, firing wildly into the woods 100 yards or so away, and at anything that moved in the fields between.  The stuttering rifle fire was punctuated by German burp-gun bursts, made distinctive by their high rapidity.
As I sprawled there on that soft field, firing away, suddenly I became aware of something.  A lot of bullets were hitting near me and not around the soldiers several feet away to my right and left!  In instant desperation I tried to press/wiggle every part of my body into the earth, I fired no more.  The bullets struck on.  I tore off my helmet, frantically dug a depression for my head to be lower, and slammed it back on my head.  I had to be still, melt into the earth, don’t move!  The deadly bullets kept thudding and flying near me.
Finally one of the others – my friend O’Dell I think – yelled that there was something light-colored on my pack, it was making me a target.  And there it was:  the attractive blue-edged stationery I had earlier looted, and had shoved into the back of my pack.  Sprawled face down as I was, the bright color was elevated, like a bulls-eye on a mound of olive drab-me.  For Christ’s sake!  Keeping as flat as I could, I struggled out of my harness – and flung my pack away.  I’ve never thrown anything more mightily, at least from a prone position.
So no more bullets nearby, the firing slackened, and finally ceased.  Then across the quiet field a German voice began crying for help, sporadically, “Hilfen!”  A wounded soldier left behind, presumably, at the Germans resumed their retreat. (We understood they were trying to reach the craggy Alps, not too far away.  We dreaded the prospect of mountain-fighting against such a stronghold, and prayed we could stop them.  We surely didn’t that Easter Day.)  A gung-ho lieutenant, Leaphart, was helped behind us with a leg wound, exhorting us loudly as he hopped along, leaning on a medic. “Hilfen!” the German cried on in the distance.  We stayed in our positions, tensely waiting for whatever was to follow.
Then, sometime later, I was pulled out of the line.  I went to a wooded area nearby, to be available as a runner (messenger between company and battalion headquarters).  Of that wooded scene I have only fragmentary but vivid recollection.  I remember a dead soldier was brought there.  He was a handsome husky youth, his hair was black.  He had a small mustache, nicely trimmed (no doubt during our brief rest in the peaceful village earlier that day).  The only evidence of injury was a small bloody spot on his chest, probably a bullet wound.  I remember dully thinking what a terrible event had just occurred to him and to his family, and they knew nothing of it.
I walked a few feet into the woods and sat down, my back against a tree.  After a while, I took out a piece of paper and worked on this poem.  (I forget whether I began it there or resumed previous jots.  At any rate it was not on the blue paper, I had already discarded that baggage.)
As I wrote and thought as best I could poetically, I overheard conversation between two medics, over by the dead soldier, they obviously didn’t know I was still around.  They were collecting the youth’s personal effects, to be forwarded to his family.  I heard one medic urge the other, who seemed reluctant, to keep the wrist watch, “If you don’t take it, somebody else will”.   I dully wondered what all they were stealing from their dead ‘buddy’ and his family, soon to be so shocked and bereft.  I sadly wrote for quite a while, awaiting messages to run.
It was in that interlude and milieu that most of this poem was composed, and every word, every thought, every line, was felt in my guts.
Date: February 15, 1983
Spyros Vutetakis
(Formerly of Company G, 14th
Infantry Regiment, 71st Division)

WHEN

I see silver tinsel floating in the sky, tinsel high bombers

Drop to confuse the reaching ack-ack…….

Brittle shrapnel tinkles on hard-fought streets – – expired

Killers tinkling under advancing Infantry feet …..

Armored cars move with hearty roars, artillery roars, tanks clank

And roar …..

Snipers lie in waiting, and I cover my helmet with netting.

***

When tinsel adorns blue lit Christmas firs …..

When tinkling echoes pleasant drink or Christmas season glowing …..

When hearty roars mean Greyhound coaches passing in the sunshine …..

When we call netting veils, we shall see you.

***

Oh, black-fog war, with violence scarlet, oh cruel-fanged war,

Oh war that rips deep roots,

Oh monstrous fury wrought in blood

Who breathes in explosive bursts!

***

You smash the tissues of our care-built life,

The fragile frames of years,

Yet peace will come to save and heal,

Yes, peace, sweet peace, sweet love and rest.

***

Then will the soldiers lock their arms,

Their services closed, well-ended.

Then ships and States, to trains and homes,

To love ones perched with waiting.

***

What can I say of that matchless day,

How brilliant the burst of joy

For us who fight, but more than all,

For our mothers, anguished daily.

***

We sacrifice in total war,

We flinch and cry together.

But none can hurt nor can they brave,

Like a battle-soldiers mother.

***

For a mothers life is her child’s life,

The graying hair, small work-etched lines eloquent on the

Sweet kind face …..

You shape and form our mind and dreams,

Give comfort, our hurts consoling.

***

My words are feeble, swirling in awe at you,

Mother- gentle, tender and fond.

Who bears to watch your sons at war,

Your heart in silent torment, your sacrifice colossal.

***

When coughing mortars cease probing with fingers of death …..

And whispers are used to romance in the night …..

When body traps are set for rats, not men …..

When mines harvest coal, not luckless limbs.

***

Yes, when all the world at peace once more

Resumes its trades and comforts,

We will return, and with pride and relief

Kiss you, our immortal mothers.

***

Written by: Spryos Vutetakis

Location: Germany

Year: 1945

Birthday Appreciation

Yesterday, I looked out my window to see a hummingbird hovering just outside the window.  It was only for twenty seconds, but it was a long pause for a hummingbird.  My father loved feeding hummingbirds, he always had feeders hanging around his homes. Since his death, I often think about and see things that would be nice to share with him, just as he shared with me.
During the last few months I have started to collect and catalog the numerous writings, poems, photos, audio recordings and videos my dad left us.  It is a treasure trove of family information, human inspirations and expressions of love for the life he lived.  Hearing his voice and seeing him in these videos reminds me of what a generous individual he was.  My brother, mother, son and every friend or relative he knew experienced it.  It wasn’t always obvious, he had a way of making others feel good through humor and compliments, without pretense.
On this anniversary of his birth, we celebrate his life and the significant gifts he so generously shared. ~gv

THE WEDDING BELL

Marjorie, come,
The bells have rung!
53 times our song has sung.
It’s clear to all, and not just some
That our long great venture has made us one.
***
With each other in spirit we’ve danced,
Fueled, and steeled, by love and devotion’s stance
which blossomed from a cliff-climbing Ozark romance.
*
Beginning with Nietzsche and tree-hugging Wooster,
to the Inn Season Cafe’,
From Morgantown to Pleasant St to Guilderland
to Ingleside Rd to Atwood, aye,
Through the burgs of Pitts and Harris, Pennsylvaniay,
You have hung in there with me the entire way.
***
And now, whence?
***
Well, let’s dine at Lily’s Seafood Cafe’ hence
also enjoy The Cooler’s humor thence.
next to Marino’s food events.
*
Through it all, I confirm that (despite the domino effect) I loved you in the
past, do so in the present, and shall do so in the future tense.
*
(As was said about West Virginia’s mountain water, Marj,
it’s just plain common sense!)
***
LUVYA, SAM
Every year I can remember, on February 24, my father would initiate an anniversary celebration with one of his poems.  Over the years I have tried to save them all (thank goodness for computers), but many were spontaneous, yet well crafted,  no doubt inspired by the Cretan expressive poetic tradition of Mantinades. ~gv

The Valentine Test

THE 2004 VALENTINE TEST


MARJORIE, VALENTINE’S DAY HAS REACHED ITS DESTINATION,

AND DURING ITS DURATION YOU’LL FEEL INSPIRATION,

YOUR IMAGINATION RESPLENDENT WITH ANTICIPATION

OF AFFECTION’S SATISFACTION OF EXPECTATION.

***

OR SO I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE, ERRONEOUS ME.

FOR IT’S DIFFICULT TO PLEASE YOU, YOU SEE.

***

I OFFER YOU FLOWERS, WHICH YOU DECLINE,

DECLARING WE HAVE PLENTY AT HOME.

SWEETS YOU BAN, FOR THE SAKE OF YOUR HEALTH,

AS THROUGH TRADER JOE’S WE ROAM.

***

CLOTHES DON’T CUT THE CLOTH EITHER,

” I HAVE PLENTY,” YOU AVERRED.”

ALRIGHT, HOW ABOUT A NEW CAR?”

“GIVE UP MY SATURN?- “THAT’S ABSURD.”

***

SCRAPING THE BOTTOM OF MY GENEROUSITY BARRELL,

I FINALLY HEARD VOICE AND SAW LIGHT=

LO, LILY’S SEAFOOD CAFE!! AND IT’S NOT FAR AWAY!

(THE CONNOISSERUS’ AND MARJ’S DELIGHT.)

*****************************

Marjorie, have I at last passed your difficult Valentine test?

(Please rely YES, becaused you know I love you.)

SAM

Perk and Wally Jackson

Four years ago, I received a most unusual package.  The return address was Ft. Stockton, San Diego.  It was a small heavy box and it rattled like tire chains.  What a wonderful surprise!  Sam’s sea glass collection!  He knew my favorite walks took me along the Avalon, NJ beaches to hunt for these exciting sea treasures.  His gift is one of my all time favorites.  It delights me each morning on my kitchen counter, inside the gaping mouth of a glass fish.  I’m sure he remembered where he found each piece, as he would closely inspect each one lovingly, as I do.  Speaking of treasures, Sam has been our family treasure.  No one could ever match his love and concern for all of God’s gifts.  Anywhere we went with him, he touched others’ lives.
Several years ago, an artist in Bethany Beach asked if he could sketch Sam’s face.  He quickly drew a wonderful likeness of Sam with his Greek fisherman’s cap.  The artist must have seen the kindness and joy of living reflected in his face.  I learned lots of things from Sam. At our lake house, among the treetops of north Jersey, Sam coaxed Chickadees to first, the deck railing, and then to his hand to feed.  He encouraged me to try it, and by golly it was unforgettable to have a wild bird land and feed from your hand.
When Bruce and Greg were young, Marj and Sam walked with us along the beach in Duck, NC, on a moonlit night.  We were amazed to see phosphorescent jellyfish lining the breaking waves and shining when they washed up on the sand.  In the afternoon, we collected raccoon clams from the bay.
Sam made every trip we took much more interesting.  He loved to collect “goonies”.  He collected them in mines we visited in Jersey.  He’d take a bucket to the beach in Cape May to collect colorful pebbles, or Cape May Diamonds, which he hauled back to Royal Oak for a place on a garden path.
To walk with Sam was to take notice of nature’s gifts.  Did you know that seeds from impatiens ‘explode in your hand?  He never looked at things, he examined them and noted every aspect.  Sam and Wally had great fun trying to win the lottery.  They played their own numbers, each others’ numbers, Eleanor’s numbers and all manner of combinations.  They each called the other ‘old man’ and took this lottery situation seriously.  They set their sights on a special 100 year old store/post office in Stillwater, NJ to get their winning tickets.  The fun was obviously in the chase!
Sam endeared himself to people everywhere.  When we went to the Greek Mill St. Pub in Mays Landing, NJ, Sam took pictures of the wait staff and even asked to have a picture with the chef to exclaim how much he appreciated the food and atmosphere.  They always asked about him when we’d return there, even a year later.  Sam was never idle.  When he visited our Avalon cottage, he collected huge rocks, painted them white and lined the edge of the garden.  It was lovely!
He would rake up Mimosa, trim hydrangea and pull weeds.  At our lake house, he along with younger Spyros, spread a truckload of black dirt on the yard and planted grass.  It was beautiful when it sprouted!  He divided all the hosta plants and created a whole new row (for the deer to munch on)….just kidding!
In Cape May he could always be found weeding around the iris, hosta and lilies!  Marj and Sam got us started with camping.  They showed us how to do it and our family spent at least 10 years enjoying the summers.  They shared so many good times with us, visiting, playing cards, going on side trips, ‘munching’ and just being together!  On our last trip to San Diego to see Sam and Marj, we said our goodbyes at the Cloisters the night before our flight.  Our flight was leaving early and the next morning we found ourselves very close to the Cloisters on the way to the airport.  We both went in around 6:30 AM.  Sam opened his eyes and was so very happy to see us one more time.  He  said it was, “Memorable!”  That it was, for all of us!
I think back to our trip with Marj and Sam to Pt. Loma, 3 years ago.  When we passed the Naval cemetery, with row upon row of crosses and Stars of David, Sam said to us, “They all know something we don’t know.”  Now dear Brother, you know something we don’t know.  But what we all do know, is that you are much loved and we are all richer for having spent time on earth with you!
Written by “Preeeesilla” as he liked to tease me.
The Jackson Family: Greg, Perk, Bruce and Wally 1977 in Avalon, New Jersey
(Picture taken by Sam)

Our Megalos Family

…we first met Sam on a dessert line at a potluck supper at St. Sophia’s church in Albany, 50+ years ago.  When I turned to him and asked if he would consider going “halfies” with me on a particular dessert, he agreed; and all four of us shared that sweet.

We shared shared subsequent desserts, snacks, meals, dinners, visits, even vacations.  We became friends.

We learned early on that if Arthur or I so much as even mentioned that we liked a particular Vutetakis book, record or photograph, soon after a copy, a duplicate or a reproduction of the mentioned item would arrive at our door.

We learned to curb our enthusiasm, lest we end up replication the entire Vutetakis household.

Sam was:
-A good man – kind, gentle and modest
-A fine friend – loyal, loving, forgiving and generous – to a fault
-An excellent Scrabble player – worthy as either partner or opponent
-& a superb contributor to serious discussion – knowledgeable, thoughtful, fair, sage

Discussions with Sam yielded insights that would have eluded us otherwise.

We last visited Sam about 2 1/2 years ago.  He honored us by framing a card in which I had quoted Emily Dickinson of friends.  “My friends are my estate.  Forgive me, then, the avarice to hoard them.”

Lastly, Sam was a caring man.  He knew almost instinctively “the need to show how much we care for each other, and in the process, care for ourselves.”

For 50+ years, Sam has enriched our Arthur’s and my life, and the lives of our children.  We all feel his loss.

With love and sympathy,
Mal and Arthur

The connection between the two families was transforming.  For an impressionable young lad, I was struck by the “strength” of both feelings and mindset which became my own benchmark for inspired living.  To me, the Megalos family embodied the essence of the Greek psyche:  intellectual, expressive, at once fiery and warm; and underlining it all was the kindest of hearts.  When Arthur, Mal, Sam and Marj would get together, it made everyone want to join the “party.”  The four of them displayed mental agility and intuitive perceptions which most of us can only dream about.  The banters were not lofty or exclusive; they were knowledgeable, easy to comprehend and inspired. Through osmosis they created a “thirst” for knowledge and, more importantly, sent me on a lifelong  quest for human understanding.

At the late age of seven, Arthur and Mal honored my family by becoming my godparents.  My brother Jim (his godparents were Irene and Harry Laggeris) and I were baptized together using the most ancient method in an Adirondack lake near Albany, New York.  Beyond the beautiful setting and cultural significance of the ceremony, we were old enough to understand the deeper spiritual significance of the bond created.  “Nonno and Nonna” Megalos and their children have been family since then and remained the best of friends with my parents. It was not until many years later that I realized how unique the relationship was.  As a young man I naively thought every family was as intellectually stimulating, as much fun and so thoughtful of others. Years later, after living in numerous cities and meeting thousands of people, I began to realize how rare this was.

50 years is most of my life and we grew up with the Megalos children as siblings: Bill, Peter (who sadly and tragically passed away as a young adult), Christopher, Mark and Jill. I have fond memories of summers with both families living on an island in the middle of Lake George, catching snakes in the Catskills and trips to New York City.  Later, we joined together for annual vacations at the Jersey shore. They were good times filled with great food, active days, lively banters and deep thinking.  My father was like the glue in the relationships.  He would set up humor for another person’s punchline, encourage each of us to express ourselves and never became bored of a discussion, whether adult or child.  Each of us felt we had his total support and attention and factually we did!  Sam was always there for his friends, loved ones and strangers who needed a kind word. He faced life as life faced him. Whether it was Art and Mal, or any one of their children, my father spoke about our Megalos family with great love and reverence. It would remind me of our trips to Greece when I would see his enthusiasm swell and the fire of life kindled within. -gv