Living Proof

In the weeks after her daughter’s death, Laura Givens sat at her computer and typed a letter to someone she’d never met.  

Givens sent seven copies — one for her daughter’s heart, one for her liver, one for her lungs and one for each of her kidneys and eyes. She sent them anonymously, seeded with clues leading back to the girl with raven-black hair and four sacred Navajo mountains tattooed on her shoulder.

“Our daughter was 23 years old when she passed away so unexpectedly. We miss her greatly but await the day we will be reunified with her.”

“Her favorite number was #32. She loved the color blue. She had seven tattoos that represented her many glorious aspects.”

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Photo credit: Andy Nelson/The Register-Guard

Austin Meek
No Stranger to the Hate

If anyone knows the worst of America, it’s the young man sitting in the dugout at PK Park.

He doesn’t need to be told that evil exists in the world, that darkness and hatred walk the streets in everyday clothes. He knows.

His mom was in the church.

Chris Singleton, one of the newest Eugene Emeralds, is doing what a first-year player does in professional baseball. He’s trying to impress his new team, getting used to a new city, adjusting to the long bus rides and the late nights in the Northwest League.

As he does it, he’s carrying the memory of his mother, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, one of nine people gunned down inside Charleston, S.C.’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015.

The killer, Dylann Roof, is an avowed white supremacist who walked into a Wednesday night Bible study with a .45-caliber Glock handgun and 88 hollow-­point bullets. His stated goal was to incite a race war.

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Photo credit: Andy Nelson/The Register-Guard

 

Austin Meek
The Boxer

In June 1967, a boxer from Eugene stepped into the ring at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles for the biggest fight of his career.

Len Kesey was 23 and champion of the Pacific Northwest, dashing and handsome with a nasty left hook. His opponent was Mando Ramos, a teenage sensation on his way to No. 1 in the world.

Ramos, trying for the knockout punch, caught Kesey with a hard right in the second round. Kesey stumbled but kept fighting, blood oozing from his nose and staining his white trunks.

They continued for three more rounds, until the ring physician was summoned to examine Kesey’s nose. He declared it broken, giving Ramos the victory by technical knockout.

“Kesey was definitely the hardest puncher I’ve ever fought,” Ramos told a reporter after the fight, “but I don’t know if he was the slickest.”

Almost 50 years later, a small man sits behind a table at Sherwood Pines, a residential care facility in Veneta. He’s wearing his favorite Greek fisherman’s cap, making him the spitting image of his famous first cousin, the writer Ken Kesey.

A woman enters the room. She is familiar to him. She pulls up a chair and introduces a visitor who has come to talk about Len’s boxing career.

The subject brings a spark of recognition. Kesey lifts a finger and presses it to his nose, smushing the cartilage where bones used to be. It’s his universal way of introducing himself as a boxer.

The woman asks if he remembers who broke his nose the first time. At first he can’t recall, but after a few moments, the name comes to him.

“Mando Ramos, I guess,” Kesey says.

They talk a while longer, probing for memories. Kesey’s motorcycles. His track career at North Eugene. The time he met George Foreman.

The woman is still there, sitting beside him. Finally he asks:

“Are you married?”

She smiles.

“We are married,” she tells him. “I’m Elaine.”

She reminds him about their wedding picture, the one they were passing around the last time she visited.

“We were young and beautiful,” she says.

Kesey seems to understand. He likes seeing the pictures, so Elaine goes to retrieve a framed boxing photo from his room. While she’s gone, Kesey leans forward.

“Yeah, I had 39 professional fights,” he says, as if imparting a closely guarded secret. “I won 30 and lost eight.”

Internet archives list Kesey’s record at 25-10-1, or maybe 26-10-1. He once climbed as high as No. 7 in the world as a junior lightweight, one of the facts he can recall on command.

Kesey’s career took him to some exotic places — Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, Hawaii — but now the fights and the fighters all run together.

“I used to fight all the time,” he says. “It’s been a long time ago. I can’t remember.”

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Photo credit: Brian Davies/The Register-Guard

Austin Meek