Tribute to Half and Susanne

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It’s been a year since we awoke to the news that our friends, Half and Susanne Zantop, were murdered. I still can’t believe my loving, vibrant friends are gone.

But one year later, I find that it is the little, everyday objects that bring them back to me. Every morning, when I turn on the flame under our battered espresso pot, I think of my friend Half, whose coffee I always loved. "Don’t overpower the coffee," he would tell me with a gentle smile, his eyes sparkling — luminous, really. "Keep the flame low." Of course I never have that patience; I turn the flame high and run around and always catch the pot too late, when the coffee has boiled and spattered.

Who but Half had that exquisite patience? I walk outside with my steaming cup, and touch the sculpted driftwood that Half collected on the Maine coast. He makes me slow down, and I feel him with me as I watch the sun rise over the ridge.

Susanne’s spirit is more restless. I have her hibiscus plant in my living room, her marmalade in my kitchen cabinet, and the stamp of her fierce, loving spirit in my heart. I can’t coax blooms from that old plant the way she could. I can’t boil up jars of wild berry jam at her dizzying pace. Or argue, rapid fire, in a half-dozen languages on virtually any topic, the way she could

But the memory of her laughter, and intellect, and fire and warmth, glows on. And when I think of Susanne now, even though I miss her so much it hurts — and the thought of her final moments is unbearable — I most often smile. She was such a fighter, and yet such a soft touch. So indignant, and yet so irreverent. So funny, and so kind.

Susanne’s sometimes Prussian exterior, and her impatience, were easy to see: she had little time or tolerance for bureaucratic delays or moral cowardice. And that fierceness, in those who didn’t know her well, might easily have proved intimidating. But Susanne was a protective lion, and her ferocity was the flip side of her tenderness. All around me now, I see her touch: the sweater she knit for our infant son, the serape she picked out for our daughter in an Ecuadoran market, and, in our den, a photograph of Susanne smiling with devilish satisfaction as she samples her own cooking.

My friends fought against injustice wherever they found it — from Franco Spain to last year’s U.S. electoral fraud to academic backstabbing on the Dartmouth campus. But I’ll remember them best for the battle they waged against the drabness of daily life, the slow inward drying up of the human heart.

A while back,during the civil union fight, Half wrote me an email.

"We were thrilled to see you at yesterday’s Vermont hearing," he said. "It was sad to see how those opposing equal treatment appeared totally untouched by right of all of us to live and fulfill our lives to the fullest, no matter what our inclinations and needs for happiness."

As we face this new year without Half and Susanne, we are less of who we were without them. But they would want us to be a voice for justice, for community, and, yes, good food and cheer. So for you Half, and for you, Susanne, I’m fertilizing that plant, putting a pot of soup on the stove, writing a good story, thinking up new ways to pester the powers that be, and keeping our circle of friends together. I know you’re with me.

This is Alexis Jetter from Thetford Center, Vermont.

–Alexis Jetter is a freelance journalist and teacher.

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