Al won the title of fastest skier in her age group in the West

Abby and I are getting excited about our upcoming trip to Flagstaff for my grandchild’s high school graduation. Aliza, who now goes by Al as she has come out as nonbinary, is the apple of my eye. They are my first grandchild and have been loved the longest, and because my son Seth and his family live so far away, I have seen Al only in hopscotch steps as they have grown up. Because of that, it seems even more a miracle that Al has leapt up so quickly. I have missed so much of Al’s growing up years and so it feels weird that they are already graduating.


Since they were born I have gone to Flagstaff once or twice a year, and Al and her brother Cole have come to Black Mountain several times. My earliest memories of Al illustrate her remarkable physical abilities. Al catapulted out of the crib when they weren’t even a year old, and earlier than that, Al would sit in the jumping jack swing and be a blur as Al’s powerful legs made all the bells and lights on the device flash. Then Al would stop and both of us would laugh uproariously.

Al dressed for lunch in town after a shopping trip

When Al was a toddler, Al never walked anywhere but ran everywhere lickety-split, leaving me in the dust. We would go to this scary playground not far from the house, and before I could yell “Be careful!” Al would be at the very top of the metal monkey bars, well above my reach. Later, Al was on the Flagstaff Ski Team when only five, and winning races against kids much older. Fearless is certainly one word that describes Al. Terrified describes Al’s grandmother watching Al balancing atop the monkey bars. I never watched Al race. Too far away.

Little Cole and Al as kick-ass skiers

I’d usually come out in the summer while both Seth and Melissa were at work and I could be with the kids unsupervised. I vowed to do all those forbidden things grandparents do, taking the kids to McDonald’s for lunch, for example, but Al set their own limits. Little Al declared adamantly, “We don’t eat fast food. It’s very bad for you.” 

Even when I told the kids, “Come on! A Happy Meal won’t kill you,” Al refused to eat, and Cole naturally went along with Al. We  had to throw out the food, go home, and then I had to play the food guessing game where I had to guess which food Al was eating this week. Grilled cheese? cheese tortilla? or how about Yogurt? 

Al with parasol! Watch out for that fair ginger skin!

One of my favorite memories of Al was shopping with them and watching Al put together an outfit that was wilder than mine. I remember one in particular, some kind of high hells, a long Asian inspired dress, and a parasol. Dressed like that, Al went downtown with me and Cole and we ate lunch at a cafe. 

When Al was about nine and Cole seven, the kids came to Black Mountain for five weeks. It was heaven for me! We spent the first week at Wrightsville Beach at Elizabeth Jones’s house where both kids threw themselves into the ocean with wild abandon. Because I was working alone at Chifferobe, I had to enroll them in day camps during the day time once we returned to Black Mountain.The first two weeks they went to Camp Rockmont and had a ball. When I picked them up one day, the counsellor told me that Al scampered to the top of the climbing wall and rang the bell, something some teenaged campers could not do. The next two weeks the kids attended Clubs at Montreat.

First time working on the wheel at Montreat, Al effortlessly made a perfect bowl

Since then, Al has become interested in art, singing, and dancing and performs fearlessly before an audience. Climbing, skiing, and biking have taken a backseat, but with Al’s ability, Al could step back into those and excel. Al is leaving high school and has reserved judgement about what their next steps will be. With their many talents, they could choose any direction and succeed. I look forward to watching them soar. Maybe they will soar East?

Seth, Al, and Cole a few years ago. Aren’t they lovely?