– PROLOGUE October 24, 2011 – Fifteen years since Captain Bob left for the great yacht club in the sky. That's where he said he was going. We were newlyweds for 13-1/2 years, all of which were died-and-gone-toheaven beautiful. I was at my lowest ebb when we met, and to this day, I have no explanation of how life so suddenly became so incredible. I know that from the day we found each other until the day he died, I loved life and lived it with a passion I'd never felt before.

Now, all these years later, I found myself thinking more and more about that time, and it became almost compelling that I take a pilgrimage to where we had met --- and for the evil stepmother to check in on her stepchildren. I never lost total contact, but other than sporadic emails or phone calls, I hadn't seen any of them for at least fourteen years – not since the Santa Cruz “running and jumping” party in the Spring of 1997 when we delivered Captain Bob's ashes to the sea. Bob used Tevia's line from “Fiddler on the Roof” to describe his family – “the full catastrophe” he would say; four daughters (three living) and a son/grandson. Shannon,

Rebecca, Stella and Ben. I never met Ben's mother Jeffie. She died in a motorcycle accident when Ben was just over a year old. I began my reach-out-America calls in August, and by midSeptember I was boarding a plane headed for San Francisco. I was disappointed that I would not be able to see them all, but Rebecca was in Los Angeles where she and her husband Sandy had just opened a restaurant, something that was years in the dreaming. And Stella had boarded a plane for New York about a week before I got there. She had moved there to open up new markets for her very high end hand bags. I stayed overnight in San Francisco with my young cousin Victoria. She and I were tent mates during the Finnish Riviera held every summer in the U.P. of Michigan. She was living in San Francisco after two years in the Peace Corps in South Africa. Oh to be living in that adventure-filled time of life again. The next evening we took off in my rented Fiat 500 (even smaller than my VW bug) and headed for Santa Cruz and Bob's family gathering. I was behind the wheel, but not for long. I could tell Vic was itching to drive since she used nothing but public transportation, or bicycle, in her San Francisco life. Truth be told, I was itching to get into the passenger's seat. Way too much traffic for a little old Finn from the gulag in Northern Michigan. Vic assured me she was a “very good driver.” Immediately Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man” came to mind. But he never got to leave his driveway.

We switched places at a gas station just off 280. Vic made a point of adjusting the mirrors and her seat to show what a responsible driver she was. Having been instructed by the gas station attendant how to get back to 280, she pulled onto the highway and headed for the stoplight about a hundred yards ahead where the freeway entrance was. Instead of a curve right, she took a hard right and found herself on a service road instead of the freeway. With a quick u-turn (requiring three reverses), we made our way back to where we should have turned. After we stopped laughing about her display of driving technique, we were again on our way. By the time we hit Highway 17 and headed south, it was 0'dark 30, and with my bad night vision, I figured we were in better hands with Vic driving, even if she did have a rough start. I had booked us a suite in Aptos near the beach and not far from Ben's house. The next day began a fantastic weekend with all of Bob's family still in the neighborhood. The fourteen year separation didn't seem to matter. We took right up where we left off. Cousin Vic was adopted into the family immediately. I had no idea at the time, but this weekend trip to Santa Cruz was a prelude to what is now an ongoing story of Bob's youngest daughter Stella.

Two months after my trip to California, at 5:30 in the morning on Thanksgiving, I was on a plane on a rescue mission to New York and Stella.

Taken Stella's last week in New York Next: Stella – In a Nutshell

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