Steve in Soldier Summit

Lately I’ve been sorting through piles of snapshots inherited from my grandmother. On the back of each one she diligently noted the date and who was in the shot. I’m grateful to her for that. Sometimes I can’t recognize faces from long ago.The purpose of my project is to find photos of Steve, scan them, and send them to his son, Hayden. They’re old photos because Steve died in 1987. Looking at them makes me sad. Steve died young. Life wasn’t always kind to him, and he wasn’t always kind to himself. The photos show how he grew. And changed. They stir memories that have been submerged a long time.


I don’t remember where or when this picture of Steve and me was taken. It looks like an airfield. Those are the Wasatch Mountains in the background. Steve and I used to make stories for hours on end, speaking in the voices of the characters we imagined. Maybe that’s why I rely so much on dialogue in my fiction.

The one with me in the ridiculous dress was no doubt taken on Easter. Every year on Easter Sunday we went with Mom and Grandma to an all-you-can eat buffet, always the same one. Steve loved their pie. But I’ve attached that sweet memory to the wrong picture. We’re too young here. The buffet came later. 


Steve with Grandma


Party Animal

He was a party animal who could down a six-pack faster than anybody. His favorite novel was Crime and Punishment.
Steve and I lived a thousand miles apart and seldom saw each other as adults. But when we did, things were the same as they had always been. He never stopped being my brother.

I used to have a recurring dream about Soldier Summit, the dying town high in the mountains of Utah where my parents began their marriage and my brother and I first lived. Though it has been years, my memory of the dream remains vivid. I am hiking along a road with snowbanks on both sides and mountains rising in front of me. Then night falls and it begins to snow. Music plays, haunting music with bells. Brilliantly lit houses on the mountainside overlook the road, promising warmth and rest, but I can’t stop. I have to reach Soldier Summit before nightfall. Then the lights from the houses fade. Darkness closes around me.

My mother told me how she waded through hip-deep snow to reach the Hillcrest Cafe where she waited tables and my father cooked. Before buying the cafe, my father worked as a dispatcher at the railroad station in Soldier Summit, but he wanted to be his own boss. Once Mom became pregnant with me, she stopped working at the Hillcrest. She had to be careful. She’d miscarried with her first pregnancy, an older brother or sister that Steve and I might have had.

After Steve was born, fourteen months after me, Dad’s mother came to help Mom take care of us. Nana soon claimed me as her darling, leaving Steve to Mom. Throughout our childhood, I thought Mom loved him more and forgave him things she would never have forgiven me.

I recall only moments of that time in Soldier Summit. I remember waking before dawn in the dim bedroom where Nana and I slept and watching her get dressed. She had on an old-fashioned girdle with garters and stockings but no underpants, and I saw the tuft of gray hair between her legs before she slipped into a dress. I asked where she was going. To Salt Lake, she said, just for the day. I asked if I could come. Not this time, she told me. Sometime later she took me on the train to Salt Lake. We shopped in a huge department store. Then we checked into a hotel so I could take my afternoon nap. This seems unlikely given how little money we had, yet the memory is vivid — the cool sheets and the precipitous view from the window.

Another memory: Steve as a toddler wearing a frilly pink dress, screaming, furious, his red face smeared with tears and snot. Years later I asked Nana about the incident. She told me I was imagining things, nothing of the kind had happened. So I never mentioned it to Steve. But a long time afterward, when both of them were dead, I asked Mom about the memory. Nana had put the dress on Steve, she said, as punishment for wetting the bed. When Dad came home and saw, he cussed Nana out and ordered her to get that dress off him. “It was my fault,” Mom said. “I should’ve stood up to her.”

Steve told me once I had no clue how hard it was being a man. High on speed and beer, he’d nearly fought some guys on the street because one of them said something. He got into vicious fights over matters of respect. I heard about the ones he won. He boasted of beating up a drunk who ruined his hat with a pocket knife.

Earlier this month I went back to Soldier Summit. Steve’s son Hayden, his wife Tonia, and their daughter Aspen came with me. The place I remembered was no longer there. Snow covered the foundations of the demolished houses where Steve and I once played. There were a few new buildings along the highway, but everything I remembered was gone except for one abandoned house and the railroad tracks.