When the guy I am dating invites me to spend the day sailing on the bay, I tell him I can’t. I’m in my final year of college, and I’m afraid I won’t finish my thesis unless I dedicate as much time as possible to it. I bury myself in archives, searching for original sources, losing track of time as I pore over documents from another era. Some nights I sleep only four hours.

On the day I turn in my thesis, I feel sure that the work is incomplete and doesn’t do the topic justice. I see every gap, hole, and weak link in the research. But the semester is over. There’s no more time to refine it.

A couple of months later I get a phone call from the history department asking for the title of the “award-winning” paper. I think there has been some mistake. Without telling me, my advisor nominated my thesis for an award, which it has won. First I am delighted. Then I think of how I sacrificed my relationships and my own well-being to win this award, and it makes me sad.

My parents were immigrants who were taken advantage of because they lacked formal education and English skills. Growing up, I felt vulnerable and thought working hard and achieving in school would save me. I made sacrifices that my peers did not feel compelled to make. I fell into patterns of self-denial that were later celebrated with crowning achievements like this one.

I went on to win a national award for my PhD research, which almost cost me my marriage. I’m slowly learning that life’s biggest achievements aren’t the public awards but the private moments of joy and connection.

Name Withheld

I realized in my early twenties that my shyness was holding me back. I wanted more friends, a better job, and a boyfriend. To achieve all of this, I decided to act as if I were no longer shy, in the hope that it would become a reality. I made a list of common behaviors of confident people: straight posture, firm handshake, attending public events alone without embarrassment.

My first challenge was to look people in the eye when saying hello. After about a week it got easier. Then I forced myself to go alone to cafes and restaurants. I could feel my heart beating when I sat down by myself, but eventually my fears subsided.

Next I went out with a friend and challenged myself to ask a man to dance. If he said no, I wouldn’t take it personally and would ask someone else. The first two men rejected me, but the third said yes. I was so nervous I never even looked at my partner, but I had done it. Soon other men were asking me to dance.

After months of this, my shyness was mostly cured. I needed a new challenge, something only the most confident person would attempt.

That’s how I ended up at a Malibu nudist camp. I figured if everyone else there could be comfortable naked, then maybe I could, too.

Arriving at the property, I left my clothes in a locker and went to the swimming pool. I tried to enter the water discreetly but was spotted immediately by a group standing in a circle. They called me over to join them. I must have been the youngest person there by twenty years.

As part of a welcoming ritual, they asked me to float on the water in the middle of their circle, and then they lifted me into the air. Upon being put down, I immediately left the pool and the premises. I’d been cured enough.

Kim Hunter
Los Altos, California

During my junior and senior years of high school in the seventies, I was the only guy I knew who made his pocket money baby-sitting. I had a reputation for being able to handle the toughest cases. My secret was that I was a hyperactive teenager, and after three or four cans of pop from the family’s fridge (I wasn’t allowed pop at home), I could easily run the little rascals so ragged they’d beg me to let them go to bed early.

Over the years I continued to work with kids: at summer camps, swimming pools, and sports leagues. By my mid-twenties I had an impressive, if narrow, résumé.

The summer before I got married, I worked at Camp Challenge Discovery. On my first day a woman named Barbara introduced me to her son, fourteen-year-old Louis, who would be participating in my Upper Level Adventure Program. She wanted me to understand that Louis required special attention and tremendous patience.

Barbara wasn’t exaggerating. Her son ran when asked to walk, sank when asked to swim, and frequently grew argumentative to the point of physical confrontation. Foul words rocketed from his mouth. Beneath the angry outbursts and disrespectful attitude, however, Louis was smart, well-read, compassionate (when calm), and athletic. I saw something of myself in him, and when he wasn’t trying to hurt me, we got along well.

Thinking it might keep Louis out of trouble, I gave him my camera and told him he was to be our photojournalist, recording our group’s activities throughout the summer. I asked him to report to me hourly, which he did. His creativity and commitment were a pleasant surprise to everyone.

On the final night of camp, my group took an overnight canoe trip. Louis didn’t sleep, and he made sure no one else did either. Rather than complain, we made the most of it, lying on our backs as Louis pointed out the many constellations he knew.

Back at the boathouse the next morning, we put the canoes away for the last time and then walked up the hill in the pouring rain to greet the parents, who were arriving for closing ceremonies. After the camp director spoke and awards were given, Barbara pulled me aside and said that Louis had never made it through an entire summer of camp before. He’d always been kicked out. She told me how grateful their family was for the opportunity to relax for a few weeks, and she thanked me for the extra care I’d given her son. Meanwhile Louis wandered around, taking pictures and threatening to walk home barefoot in a thunderstorm and take my camera with him.

K.D. Fancher
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Since we both retired a few years ago, my husband and I have been making different decisions about what to do with our newfound free time.

I’ve gotten involved with civic groups, adult-learning communities, Bible studies, and book clubs. I’ve taken several trips and am planning more. There’s so much to do that I often overbook my schedule.

My husband, on the other hand, is bored by the idea of senior seminars and not interested in travel. He spends his days tinkering with his motorcycles and watching TV.

In addition to planning each day’s activities in a spiral notebook, I keep a list of tasks to do around the house: change sheets, wash clothes, pay bills, call plumber, and so on. I often prioritize items with stars or number them in order of importance. It is gratifying to put a line through the tasks I complete, and I try hard to finish them all by the end of the day.

In the evening I ask my husband how his day was. His reply, invariably, is to shrug and say, “I’m alive, aren’t I?”

Name Withheld

Raising bilingual children is one of my mother’s many accomplishments. Despite the fact that she spoke English as well as a native, she refused to use it with her children at home, even when we rolled our eyes and moaned. As a result of her tenacity, my siblings and I speak both English and French fluently.

When my husband and I started a family, I was determined to bestow the same advantage upon our children. This was relatively easy to do until we moved to semirural western Colorado.

During our first month here, I was speaking French to my daughters in a store when a woman in line said, loud enough for us to hear, that we should learn to speak English or “go back to Mexico.” I was too stung by her absurd comment to devise a response.

These sorts of encounters happened often enough to be discouraging. Finally a new friend told me her children didn’t want to play at our house anymore; they thought we were saying mean things about them in French. She said her kids weren’t the only ones who felt that way. That’s when I lost my resolve and began speaking English at home.

Eight years later my older children have retained some French, but my two youngest don’t understand a word.

Nadine Bode
Grand Junction, Colorado

The summer after my seventh-grade year I spent a week at a Boy Scout camp in western Michigan. A scrawny twelve-year-old, I still hadn’t reached puberty and had never slept away from home, other than a few nights with my grandparents.

My mom dutifully followed the recommended packing list, which included a jockstrap. I’d never worn one, and I put it on backward that first afternoon. (Did I think it was some sort of flatulence-suppression device?) My ignorance provoked merciless teasing from the older Scouts.

The culminating activity of the week was a canoe trip down the Muskegon River. The other younger Scouts and I paddled the first five-mile section of the river. Then we stopped for lunch and were joined by the older Scouts, who would take over and complete the tougher second section while we rode a bus back to camp. As the boats were divided up, however, the Scout leader realized there was one extra canoe, and he asked for three volunteers from among the younger Scouts to paddle it to the end.

I enjoyed canoeing, so I impulsively raised my hand. “Kramer, Roseboom, Ruch!” barked the college-aged leader, though he couldn’t master the correct pronunciation of my German surname, so he said, “Ruck.”

I climbed into the rear seat of the canoe, which meant I would be responsible for steering. “Rosie” Roseboom sat in the middle, and Kramer took the front. We soon found ourselves falling behind the older Scouts. As we rounded the first turn, we encountered a stiff headwind.

“Dig in those paddles, you sissies!” bellowed the leader from his canoe.

About then, Rosie gave up and lay down in the center of the boat. Our canoe began drifting from one bank to the other as we made slow forward progress.

“Come on, Ruck!” yelled our leader. “Keep the bow pointed into the wind!”

I tried, but in the battle of me against the wind, the wind was winning. As we struggled to catch up to our now-out-of-sight colleagues, the leader lagged behind to continue heckling us. Utterly exhausted, I felt a tear run down my cheek.

“Are you crying, Ruck, you little baby?”

At this my exhaustion turned to anger, and I somehow forced myself to keep paddling, fueled by rage.

Finally we rounded a bend and spied the waiting bus. When we pulled beside the dock, the Scout leader’s only words were “Get out and get on the bus,” but I detected a faint glint of admiration in his eye.

Years later I competed in various endurance events: marathons, triathlons, twenty-four-hour bicycle races, long open-water swims. I often thought of that canoe trip and how that tyrannical Scout leader taught me I could tolerate exhaustion and push myself beyond my perceived limits. If I ran into him today, I’d thank him — but first I’d kick him square in the balls.

Michael Ruch
Kentwood, Michigan

Forty years ago, when I was twenty-eight and had just given birth to a baby boy, I was admitted to the intensive-care unit. An autoimmune disorder triggered by the delivery was causing my white blood cells to destroy my red blood cells. On my third day in the ICU, my blood began to clot throughout my system, my liver and kidneys were failing, and I suffered a stroke, which caused kaleidoscope vision. My parish priest was summoned to administer last rites. As he entered the unit, I saw twelve of him. “Hello, all you Father Kellys!” I said. I was surprised when he did not laugh and instead proceeded to read aloud the sacrament. That’s when I knew for sure I was dying.

To comfort myself after Father Kelly left, I began to silently pray the Hail Mary, which every Catholic kid learns. I prayed so many Hail Marys that I grew bored and sleepy. Then I became afraid that if I fell asleep, I would never wake. I didn’t want to leave my young children without a mother and my husband without a wife. So I challenged myself to say the Hail Mary backward, thinking that would keep me awake.

I began with amen. I found it poignant that the next word was death. To find each word in the backward progression, I would race through the prayer forward, then go back again. Over and over I repeated this process until I had it down. I was delighted to discover that the second half of the prayer, which begins, “Holy Mary, mother of God,” became instead “God of mother Mary holy.” My name is Mary, and I thought this was a sign somehow.

Later that afternoon, while I was still saying backward Hail Marys, a hematologist sat down beside my bed and said they had exhausted all conventional treatments to stop the clotting of my blood. Now he wanted to try an experimental treatment, in a last-ditch attempt to save my life: injecting me with even more clotting factors. “I know that sounds like going backward,” he said. I could only laugh.

His experiment shocked my system into righting itself, and I lived. As I now approach seventy, I can still effortlessly recite the Hail Mary backward, as I will sometimes demonstrate at a cocktail party after a couple of drinks.

Mary Updike
Atlantic Beach, Florida

As a beginning author, hoping to gain advice and inspiration, I attended a state writers’ convention. The weekend was capped off by a closing banquet at which awards were given out for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and other categories. Then came the highest honor: the Hang Fire Award. The MC read the winner’s name, and a short, energetic woman dashed to the front in victory while everyone gave her a standing ovation.

The Hang Fire Award, the MC explained for the sake of newcomers like me, was given every year to the writer who has received the most rejection slips.

Seriously? I couldn’t believe this woman was so excited to be the most-rejected writer in the state.

A friend saw my confusion and said, “It’s a recognition of her persistence. If she has the most rejection slips, she probably sent out the most pieces of writing.”

I got it, but I still felt uncomfortable that they had singled her out for her failures.

Over the year that followed, I had a few articles published in the local newspaper and regional magazines. I went to the writers’ conference again the next spring and won an award for photojournalism, after which I continued working on my writing, increasing my productivity and reaching larger markets. As my correspondence with editors increased, I created two file folders: one for my acceptance letters and one for my rejections. The second folder grew faster than the first.

By the time I attended the spring writers’ conference again, I had received seventy-five rejections — enough to make many a writer reconsider his or her passion. Yet I had also been published in The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, the Chicago Tribune, and other magazines and newspapers. The joy of publication had balanced the sting of rejection.

That year I won the Hang Fire Award. I was the most-rejected writer in the state.

Now I understood.

Steve Gardiner
Billings, Montana

Deep in a post-divorce depression after splitting with my husband, I was unemployed and spending what little savings I had on high-end Scotch and an enterprising friend’s homegrown marijuana. Even if I hadn’t been depressed, a crippling fear of driving beyond a fifteen-mile radius hampered my ability to find a job. I passed the days on a tattered sofa, perusing online photos of nature scenes between highballs and bong hits. I especially liked images of desert landscapes. The idea of surviving in a brutal environment is what had drawn me to Las Vegas four years earlier. I sometimes hiked in the Mojave Desert, a vast expanse that had once been the bottom of an ocean basin. I imagined the skeletal scrub brush there had evolved from coral — an erroneous concept, but in my mind a testament to the power of adaptation.

Another of my favorite desert plants, the saguaro cactus, doesn’t grow in the Mojave. It’s found in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, four hundred miles from where I lived. I longed to see the saguaro in person, but the possibility of a panic attack behind the wheel made a trip not worth the risk. I was resigned to admiring pictures of their spiny columns and crooked green arms online.

One evening I was settled into my routine of mindless Internet surfing and watching comedy reruns in my underwear when a socially awkward sitcom character explained that he often took Flat Stanley — a paper cutout of a children’s-book character — with him on road trips. My fear was of driving alone; it wasn’t as difficult when I had a traveling companion. I glanced back at a saguaro on my browser and thought: Adapt or die. Then I opened two new tabs: one for a printout of Stanley and another for directions to Tucson, Arizona.

After six hours of white-knuckle driving on unlit roads, a few tears, and several conversations with a paper doll, I arrived in Tucson. It was 4 AM, and Saguaro National Park was technically closed, but I managed to find a way in and parked my car on an unmarked path. I sat there in the dark, covered in crumbs from gas-station snacks, until the majestic shapes of the saguaro began to appear in the light of dawn.

That experience didn’t cure my driving phobia, but it showed me I could push past it. Last year I drove from Las Vegas to New York City. The weeks leading up to the journey were filled with self-pity and rage, but I hung a potted baby cactus from my rearview mirror, and I made the trip.

Debbie Lee
New York, New York

My dad and I walked side by side up the steep eighteenth fairway, lugging our bags of clubs. Only fourteen, I was sweaty, shaking, and silently telling myself, Keep it together, keep it together.

Golf was my dad’s sport, and I had made it mine, too. I played for my high-school team and won most of my matches, but I was far from confident. My parents struggled to make ends meet in those days, and my clothing was cheaper and rattier than that of my pastel-clad teammates. My clubs were mismatched hand-me-downs from the back of Dad’s closet. I felt as if I did not belong on the team.

A year earlier I had asked my dad for a new set of clubs, expecting him to say we couldn’t afford it and that I should feel lucky to have any clubs at all. Instead he said, “I’ll buy you a new set when you beat me.”

It was the best answer imaginable. I went to work, practicing harder and more frequently. The racks of gleaming woods and irons on display in the pro shop were my inspiration. I begged my Dad to give me a crack at beating him every weekend, and I lost badly every time.

But that summer afternoon, on the final fairway, I found myself one shot ahead. All I had to do was tie him on this hole, and I would win. My ball lay on the short grass in the middle, while my dad’s had settled into the heavy rough by the fence. Feeling the pressure, I wiped my brow, addressed the ball, and swung. Despite my tortured, adrenaline-addled swing, my ball sliced onto the center of the green. Dad’s shot bounced short. We both made par on the hole, and I won the match. True to his word, he bought me those clubs.

A father myself now, I wonder if Dad might have let me win. I don’t want to know the truth — unless, of course, he didn’t.

Zack Vogel
Saratoga Springs, New York

As of this writing I have been sober 10,525 days. It is the greatest accomplishment of my life. Without it, none of the others matter.

Name Withheld

In the world of stand-up comedy there are thousands of wannabes but very few real comedians. A childless married woman of fifty-six with a career in accounting, I was an unlikely wannabe. The full-timers scorned part-timers like me as “hobbyists.” A twenty-year-old once came onstage after me and said, “If I haven’t made it by her age, kill me.”

I wrote material and did open mics for years. Then last year I was booked in a tiny club in Corpus Christi, Texas, when comedian Mike Epps (star of the sitcom Uncle Buck) came into town at the last minute. Since I was already on the bill, I opened for him — and his audience liked me! I’m the opposite of Epps. He’s a sexy black man; I’m an unsexy white woman. But the mismatch worked.

A few months later Epps came to my hometown, San Antonio, and gave me a five-minute spot opening his show. No other local comedians were on the bill. Just me.

The line of people to get into the club stretched down the block. Inside, many of my local comedy peers (or, as they considered themselves, my superiors) had jobs seating people. They looked puzzled when they saw me: What’s this old white lady doing here? Isn’t it past her bedtime?

I will remember on my deathbed the look of shock on every local comic’s face when I took the stage and did my five-minute set. My sensible shoes did not touch the ground the whole way home.

Mary Becquet
San Antonio, Texas

Why get out of bed?

Because that’s what people do.

Because I have to pee.

Because there’s a sour-tasting film on my teeth.

Because I should clip the hangnail on my right index finger.

Because the dog needs to be fed and there’s a load of laundry on the bathroom floor.

Because I have a job to go to.

Because it’s scary to continue lying in bed, slapping the alarm, and asking myself: Why get up?

Because if I decide it’s OK to sleep in for another hour, then what’s to stop me from choosing to sleep until noon or dinnertime?

Because lying in bed is boring after a while.

Because now I really have to pee, and the dog is barking, and this sliver of hangnail is digging into the palm of my clenched hand.

Because my husband, Eric, will worry, and my sons will worry. My boss will fire me — maybe not on the first day, but for sure the next.

Because if I stay in bed all day, then I’m not just suffering from “mild depression,” as my shrink says.

Because a symptom of “major depressive disorder” is behaving as if you’re sick when you’re not.

Because who doesn’t get out of bed in the morning? What will people think if I don’t? What will Eric think if he comes home from work to find me unwashed and watching reruns, eating popcorn and sucking down cream soda?

Why get out of bed this morning?

Because I hear Eric scooping chow into the dog’s bowl.

Because my son Drew is turning off the shower and humming as he walks back to his room.

Because the pain eases as I unclench my hand and put one leg over the side of the bed.

Because gratitude kicks in as I sit on the toilet and empty my bladder, and Eric yells, “Love ya!” down the hall before leaving for the day.

Because, thank God, I have the ability to get out of bed this morning.

Jennifer R. Haupt
Seattle, Washington

I was almost always on the honor roll in school, and I graduated from college cum laude, despite losing a housemate to suicide and having a ruptured appendix in my last semester. I later earned two advanced degrees and am now an associate professor at a state university. But my greatest accomplishment came toward the end of a meditation session at a monastery in northern Thailand thirty years ago.

That day I was given no cushion and only a thin mat, and my knees and back were howling in pain. But I so wanted to gain insight into my mind and the world that I refused to give up. And then, suddenly, a door opened inside me. Beyond it I glimpsed absolute emptiness, a fundamental experience of meditation that I hadn’t anticipated having.

Never in my life had I worked so hard, and for “nothing.”

Nathan Alling Long
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

I grew up with severe asthma. It was common for me to spend gym class on the bench with a thick book and an excuse note in my pocket. In the summer, instead of dance or sports camps, I went to art camps.

As I got older, I continued to lead a sedentary life, and my asthma steadily became worse. Winter illnesses would leave me gasping for breath on the couch. One day I read about the benefits of nonrigorous exercise and decided to start walking. I would wake up a half-hour earlier each morning and take a brisk stroll in the cool air. The neighborhood looked different on foot than it did from a car, and I began to enjoy myself.

Soon my walks became partial jogs — two minutes on, five minutes off. I built up my stamina until I was running the whole half-hour, then forty-five minutes, then an hour, then ninety minutes. A friend of a friend who jogged with me every Sunday encouraged me to sign up with her for a cross-country 10k. I practiced on the canyon trails near my house, but when the big day came, I was too sick to get out of bed.

I continued to train, however, increasing my distance to eight miles, nine, ten. I entered my first half marathon — 13.1 miles — in the heart of Wildcat Canyon, where 90 percent of the course was on rough dirt trails. It was an extreme test of my endurance, but I made it. And I was hooked.

Last year I entered an “ultra” half-marathon series: participants had to run six tough half-marathon races, and each runner’s times would be averaged to find the winner. The final race was the most difficult I had ever encountered. I finished in three hours and placed in the top seven for women for the series.

I think back to the frail girl who needed adrenaline shots, prednisone, and multiple inhalers to control her asthma and realize what a long way I’ve come.

Deborah M. Arrington
El Sobrante, California

My first job after college was as a program coordinator at a group home for delinquent boys, ages fifteen to seventeen. I spent much of my orientation and training worrying how I’d gain their trust and convince them to take me seriously. Just twenty-three, I wasn’t much older or wiser than they were.

A boy I’ll call Kyle had a reputation for not letting anyone get close to him. If he realized he was beginning to let someone in, he’d quickly push that person away again. I made it my mission to break through Kyle’s defenses. If I could accomplish that, it would affirm that I had made the right career choice.

It wasn’t long before Kyle and I were spending time together. I genuinely enjoyed his company, and our newfound friendship helped my confidence grow.

After a few months of receiving steady paychecks, I purchased a used car. That evening at the group home we all played a game of basketball in the cul-de-sac. When we went back inside, I realized that Kyle was missing. Someone spotted him out the window, and we crowded around to watch as Kyle covered my new car in ketchup and mustard he’d pilfered from the kitchen. He was punished for breaking house rules, but I brushed it off as a practical joke rather than a sign of real dislike.

On my next shift a co-worker and I had arranged to take three of the boys, including Kyle, to a nearby water park. Kyle didn’t want to go and pleaded for one of us to stay at the house with him, but we refused. We hoped his attitude would change once we arrived.

We were wrong. Kyle was so angry at us for making him go that he spent the entire two hours in the van while the other boys had a blast. When it was time to leave, Kyle stretched his foot over to the driver’s side and blocked the gas pedal. Unable to drive, I sat, keys in hand, as he unleashed his rage on me. He swore, called me names, and described in detail how ugly he thought I was, pointing out physical flaws I didn’t even realize I had. Eventually one of the boys told Kyle to stop — not in my defense but because he was sick of sitting in the parking lot. Kyle took his foot away from the gas pedal, and we rode home in silence.

I submitted my resignation soon after that. Kyle had accomplished exactly what he’d set out to do.

Eagan, Minnesota

I never knew breast-feeding meant so much to me until I thought I couldn’t do it. All through my pregnancy, when asked if I planned to breast-feed, I would say, “I’m hoping to, but if I can’t, it doesn’t matter.”

Actually it mattered a great deal, though it’s hard to explain why. Emotional and tired from the birth — and recovering from the anesthesia and the C-section — I wanted badly to feed my baby. But it hurt so much it brought me to tears and made me clench my toes and thump the sofa arm. Meanwhile little Sophie didn’t seem to get enough to eat no matter how much she nursed.

The thought of giving my baby formula suddenly repulsed me. I’d bought bottles of formula and put them in the cupboard as a plan B, but to do anything other than breast-feed seemed like a betrayal of my baby and my body.

While Sophie slept on me, I did some research online and became convinced that she had a tongue-tie — a condition that restricts the motion of the infant’s tongue, making feeding difficult. The doctor disagreed. The peer-support workers disagreed. The breast-feeding advocate disagreed. But the information I kept finding described exactly what we were going through. At last I paid for a tongue-tie specialist to assess my daughter. When I learned Sophie had a hard-to-spot posterior tongue-tie, I cried with relief.

Sophie’s tongue was fixed at six weeks. The surgical procedure took a few minutes. I could hear her crying in the other room, and then she was in my arms again, trying to feed. Blood from her incision mixed with the breast milk, but she ate well and minutes later was smiling and burbling. Within two weeks it no longer hurt to nurse, and she was feeding quicker and sleeping longer between meals. The bottles of formula in the cupboard remained unopened.

Rosemary Bird-Hawkins

After my father retired, he would fly twice a year from Texas to Montana, where he and his brother would spend a few weeks at the family cabin, fishing, joking, cooking, hiking, and drinking Gentleman Jack whiskey. Later they would regale us with tales of bear sightings and flirtations at the local bar and grill.

As Dad got older and more confused, the trips became less frequent, then stopped. He missed the cabin terribly. When he was eighty, my brother and I decided to get him there one last time.

I’ll always remember the look of wonder on Dad’s face as he realized what we were proposing: I would fly up with him and stay the first week. Then my brother would fly in to get Dad through the second week and the trip home. It sounds simple, but it was a complicated undertaking. The logistics of traveling with an obstinate retired Army colonel with a walker, a pacemaker, a pain-medication pump, and an unpredictable bladder were considerable.

There was a heavy early snowfall in southern Montana that year. Once situated at the cabin, Dad seldom left. But just sitting on the battered leather couch in front of a crackling fire, with the coffee percolator wheezing in the kitchen, was good for him. I’m a coffee snob, but I’ve never enjoyed a gourmet Italian roast as much as I did the steaming Folgers I shared with my dad.

One afternoon I found him in the bedroom, standing before a picture of a bear catching a fish. He’d probably passed that picture hundreds of times over the years, but now he studied it with wonder. He must have stood there at least five minutes. I didn’t want to break his trance.

I count getting my frail father to Montana one last time among my greatest accomplishments.

Actually that was his second-to-last trip to the cabin. The true final visit happened a few years later, when the family gathered there one June for a reverent communion of whiskey and oatmeal cookies — Dad’s favorite. Then we four kids and his brother scattered his ashes around the woodpile and the cabin’s foundation, in the stream, and under the trees.

Christopher M. Kisling
Baton Rouge, Louisiana