It’s Christmas in Clinton, Oklahoma


This past Wednesday we took the “scenic route” from Granbury, Texas to Plainville, Kansas. We had spent a week in Texas with daughter Amy and family, where it could not have been any better for Papa Mark. It was topped off last Sunday with a Denver Bronco romping of the Dallas Cowboys.
We treated the whole Piatt clan to nosebleed seats at AT&T stadium. We were a house divided. My only hope for the game was ‘please don’t embarrass Colorado’—in fact in spite of Vegas odds that had the Broncos losing by 13, the boys in Orange humiliated the Cowboys. I tried very hard not to gloat, but watching my son in law’s face sink into just this side of despair almost made the fortune I spent on the tickets worth it.
Recently I have connected with friends I have not seen for 40 years. Kathy and Charlie invited us to stay at their house in Plainville, KS on our way both coming and going to Texas. The time with them was truly a gift which I suspect will grow into even more shared experiences. On the way to Texas we did the I-70, I-35 route. It might have been shorter but the stress factor was off the charts—construction, rush hour, and way too many BA__ trucks. We decided to take the two-lane route back.
It was a beautiful autumn day as we worked our way through one small town after another. What I saw was the “melting away” of rural America. Town after town had dozens of shuttered businesses and homes. What were once bustling post—WWII communities were all wilting on the vine if not already gone. The worst was Roosevelt, Texas. It would make a great set for a very scary movie. Blocks of decaying homes and businesses littered the highway through town. The only vital businesses were junk yards that sold very specialized “car parts”. One whole city block had nothing but side panels, while another had truck beds. I was reminded about my time in Israel, where we visited archeological sites that revealed 23 different communities built on each other.
I suspect we went through 15-20 communities all of which showed the slow death of changing times. The whole time we did these 100’s of miles, we were listening to “Willies Roadhouse” on satellite radio. So many of the songs echoed through images of times gone by. The only constant is change.

We came in through a part of Oklahoma l had never seen. I knew the names of the towns, Lawton, Fredrick, Hobart and the like. I had spent 11 years of my life living in Oklahoma, and politics aside, I consider it one of my homes.
We decided to get gas in Clinton, OK which is actually a town which I once visited. We stopped at a dapper convenience store/gas station/gathering place. After gassing up I went in to take advantage of the facilities. I was immediately greeted with a very friendly “Welcome, how can I help you?” I asked directions to the WC and as I was walking back there I realized that the I was listening to Gene Autry singing “Here Comes Santa Claus”. The music was piped into the sparkling clean Men’s room where the music transitioned to “Oh Holy Night”—you can’t make this stuff up!!! It was November 10th, they still had left over Halloween candy on sale.
I bought a bag of “Dots Pretzels” which, if you have not tried them, have raised the pretzel bar to a new level. I learned about them from my 2 year old granddaughter, Sofia, a couple of weeks ago. They are made in North Dakota and they should be illegal—that good. So I noted to Miss Extra Friendly about the Christmas music. She said, “I need Christmas. I already have two trees up at home”. About that time the Muppets were singing the “Twelve Days of Christmas”. Who was I to argue. At least it wasn’t “Please Daddy don’t get Drunk this Christmas”.
So, Christmas in Clinton begins at the Shell station in early November. Fun is where you find it.
Onward and Upward, Mark

Dr. Hurley


I have spent the last few weeks in the heart of our medical system. I have nothing but gratitude for the competent care I have received. My Primary Care doc who has worked with me since 2009, retired in the midst of this journey. I am grateful for her but even for me, who thinks he loves change, this was a bit unsettling.
My first doctor was Grant Hurley. Our families were great friends. For me, I never went to the doctor, the doctor came to me, carrying a black bag. In that bag were all kinds of things like a stethoscope, knee knocking hammer, and penicillin shots!!! He was an amazing person and a great physician.
In 1974 I was blessed with my first child. Her mom and I were moving from Denver to Phillips Seminary in Enid, Oklahoma. Dr. Hurley said, “If you stop at your parents house in Pueblo I would be happy to deliver your baby for free”. TRUE!!! So we had a drive-by birth. We weren’t in Pueblo 10 days. Amy showed up right on time. I will never forget the joy when Dr. Hurley handed me that 7 pound 11 ounce baby and said, “Meet the little girl that will change your life”. And she has.
Yesterday I got to meet my new doctor. She is younger than Amy. I told her that I felt very fortunate to have her as my doctor. We began a really honest and fruitful conversation. I told her my last doctor of 11 years, started our with me when I had a life threatening MERSA infection in 2010, and ended with my Covid nightmare. I told her, “I love life, and I have a great one. I need someone who knows me and will hold me accountable and fight for me in the complexities of health care 2021”. She said, “I can do that”. Her approach to medicine and life are very much in synch with me. Then she put me to the test. “Why are you not on Statin drugs”? “Well, I don’t like how they make me feel”. She pulls out a data sheet and shows me the “facts” about how they would reduce my risk of heart attack and stroke. “Ok, you win, I am headed to the pharmacy”.
I left that very modern, full service medical complex, feeling cared for and listened to. My emotions drifted back to a lifetime of medical care. Medicine isn’t just a science its and art—thanks agin Dr. Grant Hurley.
Onward and Upward,

Mark

Sofia


Thirty-seven years ago go I became a “Step-Father”. The word “step” anything carries baggage—thank you Disney and Cinderella. I personally find the added descriptor confusing at best. There are wonderful stories of “step” relationships that flourish and inspire. There are others that best be left to rot in their failures of trust, respect, or decency. Stephanie, MK’s oldest bio daughter is now 48. Since nearly the beginning of our moving under one roof in,1984 she and I have built our own version of father/ daughter. I respect her beyond measure as a daughter, educator, sister, mother, wife and all around fun and amazing human being.
Nearly two years ago on Thanksgiving Day, we got a phone call from her to tell us she was expecting a baby in May. You could have knocked me over with a pea-shooter. I thought that ship had sailed. Sure enough— Sofia was born in 2019 to two middle aged parents. Then came 2020. My contact was limited to FaceTime on Sundays, singing “Itty Bitty Spider” to a screen, and finally one trip to California last May. Pre Covid, Stephanie had made it her ritual to come every October for a Bronco game, and minus last year, she maintains a perfect record.
This year she brought “The Bonus Round”—a little girl named Sophia. She walked right in our house, and found Sam my stuffed animal ground hog. Then she asked if he could spend the week with her, and began setting up “their sleeping quarters” in the basement. A sidebar is that Sofia named me Park— I guess Papa Mark was too long—so Park it is. I actually love it.
The next day she said very clearly to to me “I guess Sam can’t go with me back to California”. I would have been willing to part with him had I not known that she has maybe 50 different “stuffed friends” in Ranchos Palos Verdes. It took her no time at all to figure out the lay of the land here.
They left this afternoon and my house is too quiet again. Hanging out with a two year old was great for my post Covid recovery. We might share minuscule DNA but our hearts are connected at the core.
Onward and Upward, Mark

Delta Breakthrough


The last week of February 2020, I got a phone call from my son Mateo. “Dad, have you been following this Corona virus? You better batten down the hatches because this is going to be bad!!!” We talked quite a bit and he got my attention. The next week he called me again and asked if I was going to cancel meeting at church in Greeley, in person. I said I wasn’t sure. He said, “Dad, Google, Apple, and Microsoft all just went totally virtual. Don’t you think they see the bigger picture?” Point made—church cancelled.
We all know what followed. We were all making it up as we were going along. Hoarding toilet paper, staying in our homes for weeks, learning to Zoom. I watched my fairly lengthy “bucket list” reduced to ONE— Don’t Die. I was half joking and half serious. What good is a dream trip to Australia if your ashes are sprinkled on Mt. Blanca?
When the vaccine came I got it the second week it was possible. We wore masks, social distanced, wiped things down, skipped Bronco games and manage to lead a church with no discernible break outs.
This year from Labor Day though the next weekend I had three very special engagements. First in Salt Lake, then Pueblo and finally Casper. Somewhere in the Utah jaunt MK and I got the Delta breakthrough variant virus. By Sunday September 12, after we finished a beautiful

weekend celebrating the 100th anniversary of First Christian in Casper (my great grandfather was the founder), I began to feel weird. I remember thinking, ‘this can’t be Covid’. By Tuesday I was descending into the abyss of the ‘life sucking’ that is a full-on infection. Wednesday morning I was at the ER at Lutheran hospital. “You are Covid positive and very sick”.
For the next 18 days I could barely roll over in my hospital bed. “You have Covid Pneumonia”. I was on O2 for 11 days. One night, as I lay there contemplating my only item on my bucket list—don’t die— God and I had a three —hour talk. I knew I would not die but my fear was permanent lung damage and cognitive diminishment. Well, I am happy to report on day 32– I can breath with the best of us and I am still a Smart A—s.
This final paragraph is an homage to the CNA’s, and RNs who had to do EVERYTHING for me. To an incredible medical team and therapy practitioners who gave me hope and to MK who got a cough but was there every step of the way. I want to thank the hundreds of you who have reached out with CARE and COMPASSION— the words that God gave me at 4 o’clock in that morning.
Onward and Upward,
Mark—GET VACCINATED!!! It will save somebody’s Life!!!

Delta Breakthrough


The last week of February 2020, I got a phone call from my son Mateo. “Dad, have you been following this Corona virus? You better batten down the hatches because this is going to be bad!!!” We talked quite a bit and he got my attention. The next week he called me again and asked if I was going to cancel meeting at church in Greeley, in person. I said I wasn’t sure. He said, “Dad, Google, Apple, and Microsoft all just went totally virtual. Don’t you think they see the bigger picture?” Point made—church cancelled.
We all know what followed. We were all making it up as we were going along. Hoarding toilet paper, staying in our homes for weeks, learning to Zoom. I watched my fairly lengthy “bucket list” reduced to ONE— Don’t Die. I was half joking and half serious. What good is a dream trip to Australia if your ashes are sprinkled on Mt. Blanca?
When the vaccine came I got it the second week it was possible. We wore masks, social distanced, wiped things down, skipped Bronco games and manage to lead a church with no discernible break outs.
This year from Labor Day though the next weekend I had three very special engagements. First in Salt Lake, then Pueblo and finally Casper. Somewhere in the Utah jaunt MK and I got the Delta breakthrough variant virus. By Sunday September 12, after we finished a beautiful

weekend celebrating the 100th anniversary of First Christian in Casper (my great grandfather was the founder), I began to feel weird. I remember thinking, ‘this can’t be Covid’. By Tuesday I was descending into the abyss of the ‘life sucking’ that is a full-on infection. Wednesday morning I was at the ER at Lutheran hospital. “You are Covid positive and very sick”.
For the next 18 days I could barely roll over in my hospital bed. “You have Covid Pneumonia”. I was on O2 for 11 days. One night, as I lay there contemplating my only item on my bucket list—don’t die— God and I had a three —hour talk. I knew I would not die but my fear was permanent lung damage and cognitive diminishment. Well, I am happy to report on day 32– I can breath with the best of us and I am still a Smart A—s.
This final paragraph is an homage to the CNA’s, and RNs who had to do EVERYTHING for me. To an incredible medical team and therapy practitioners who gave me hope and to MK who got a cough but was there every step of the way. I want to thank the hundreds of you who have reached out with CARE and COMPASSION— the words that God gave me at 4 o’clock in that morning.
Onward and Upward,
Mark—GET VACCINATED!!! It will save somebody’s Life!!!

A Prize Saxophone


My grandson Mattias is now a Senior in high school. I know it would be easy to discount my praise as the ramblings of a typical grandparent. When he could barely walk it became apparent that he had God-given musical gifts. At age two when he would hear a microwave bell he might say “C#”. I told my wonderful organist/consummate musician at South Broadway Christian Church, that he had “perfect pitch”. He politely discounted my bragging, until the day he was practicing the magnificent pipe organ and Mattias (age 4) was rapt with what he was hearing. He invited him down to the organ and played a note. “B-flat”. “Humm you’re right.” After about 15 more notes, all nailed by “T” (my nickname for him) Jim said, “I have never seen anything like that”.
Mattias not only understands music, he loves it. About five years ago he began to focus on playing the saxophone. Two years ago we found him an alto sax in a pawn shop in Wichita. With some rehab work he had a gem of an instrument. I thought I was done buying kids’ tennis shoes, camp fees, and the like. My grandkids know I am an easy mark.
This past Spring “T” spent a week with us. One day he was hanging out with a great friend of MK’s from our former church. She brought out her deceased husband, Rueben’s saxophone. Rueben was raised outside of Trinidad, Colorado. He was as a beautiful and gentle soul. He had spent hours with me in years past trying to heal from the internal warfare of Viet Nam. I had no idea he was an accomplished musician. Our friend showed “T” this tenor saxophone and it prompted a phone call from both T and MK. “Grandpa, I have got to have this sax—it’s amazing. I called my sax teacher and sent him both a picture and the information. He said, ‘Buy it, it’s a gem you will never regret owning’. Please Grandpa, please. I will pay you back.” We bought the sax which is on permanent loan to “T” —I am sure that is not a surprise to any grandparent reading this.
Yesterday I got to talk to my now Senior grandson. They had just done their “rollout” for their marching band with family and friends. In typical Texas style, this band is huge. I asked if he is using his new “Old” sax. “Heck no, they give us school instruments for marching band—that sax is too precious to bang around outside”.

Last April I did have a chance to listen to “T” play with some buddies at a flash mob jazz concert on the town square of Granbury. The sax loved being played again… and I might say played with heart, soul and skill.
Rest In Peace Rueben—my friend your sax lives. Onward and Upward,
Mark

Tarantulas


In 1955 my folks built our family home on the edge of “Belmont”, which was the Pueblo version of the suburbs. Our house was at the top of a long and large hill. Our backyard faced east and for six years our fence was the only barrier as far as you could see, towards Kansas. My play ground was the high desert which as best I knew, belonged to everyone.
It was truly the stuff that dreams are made of. We were a post WWII neighborhood filled with kids. “The Prairie” as we called it was ours for the taking. We built forts, took hikes and spent hours chasing lizards and the like. The prairie was filled with Walking Stick cactus, Yucca, Sage and all sorts of grasses, and in August, Sunflowers that would turn parts of the horizon yellow.
The other day I was reading about the annual Tarantula Migration. According to an article published by Colorado State University, the tarantula migration typically starts in southeastern Colorado at the end of August, lasting through September. It is followed by a southwestern migration that typically peaks in October. Following the mating season, all males typically die within months if the cold weather doesn’t kill them first.
One of the best places to see these tarantulas is at Comanche
National Grassland near La Junta, Colorado. This is located in
southeast Colorado, so expect a mid-September peak.
Two more great spots to see this natural phenomenon include
just north of Ordway on Highway 71 and between La Junta and
Kim on Highway 109, according to the La Junta Tribune-
Democrat.
The fall breeding season involves a few different species of
tarantulas found in Colorado including aphonopelma echinum
(nicknamed the Colorado chocolate brown), aphonopelma
coloradanum, and aphonopelma hentzi, also known as
the Oklahoma Brown Tarantula. These hairy eight-legged critters
can grow a leg span of up to 11 inches – that’s nearly twice the
length of a dollar bill!
Male spiders wait 10 years to reach sexual maturity. To find a
female mating partner hidden in a burrow about a foot

underneath the ground, male tarantulas use their hair and legs
to detect vibrations. Sadly, they’ll mate once and die, often killed
by the female they mate with. Female tarantulas can live up to 20
years or more.
So I have given you the backdrop for my little “Arachnophobia”
story. I was about seven and I was out in The Prairie by myself.
It was a beautiful afternoon and I was one with my world. That
all ended when I ran into about four tarantulas moving towards
me. To a 7 year old these things had to be man eaters. I turned
to run home only to have a couple of more of the “horny” spider
males cut off my path. I summoned up the courage to run past
them. I made it home to share tales of escaping a giant spider
attack.
The next day in Ms. Hale’s 2nd grade class, Marcy brought a
tarantula to “Show and Tell”, and to make matters worse, she
took it out of the jar and held it. It was the first time in my early
life of patriarchy that I realized that girls were a force to take
seriously.
I think it was about six years ago at the Denver Zoo that I finally
held a tarantula. I can tell you I never killed them or the many
snakes we encountered. I do remember sending a lizard on a
rocket ride and he survived.
In 1961 they started building houses where tarantulas once
roamed. The world was not improved much with their
encroachment on my personal zoo.
As I think about the fate of male tarantulas I realize that only a
male would give up his life as a dinner for one sexual encounter.
Onward and Upward, Mark

I be a Grunkle


I found out last week that I have a new monicker. My nephew Jed, lives 30 miles from me. He has the rare privilege of being my nearest relative. I have the gift of being close to my beloved sister Rita’s boy. My grandkids (who would be Jed’s 2nd cousin) actually call him “Uncle Jed”. He was sort of raised in our family as our fifth kid. Jed can do anything—install a ceiling fan, fix our toilet, move anything (he is 6’5” and 260) and is a joy to be with. This summer his trips to Arvada to help us have involved bringing Emily (8) and Westin (6), to swim at our Whisper Creek Pool.
This week he came to help us move a table. When we pulled in the driveway we were greeted with giant smiles and “Hey Grunkle Mark”. Grunkle is the made up word for Great Uncle stolen from the Simpsons. Well, Grunkle Mark headed with the Cook family to the swimming pool after the table found its home. We spent an hour playing in the water and Westin beat me in every competition I challenged him to—including spinning in circles with a noodle 20 times. I was at 16 when he finished. We had a perfect July afternoon outing.
This Grunkle identity prompted a conversation with my sister Rita. She loved the name. We then talked about our time each summer with our great Aunt Katherine and Uncle Paul from Littleton. They borrowed us each summer for some kid time. Polly, their only child, was on her way to college and so for three or four summers we would spend a week in Littleton with them.
They had an amazing weeping willow in their front yard that was great for climbing. There was a park with a small lake just a few blocks from their home. Rita remembers catching her first fish there. I would often go by myself and bring home a few catfish for Aunt Katherine to fry up. I learned very quickly that catfish had spikes which stung, unlike the Brook trout that I caught on the Little Muddy Creek in the Greenhorns.
Uncle Paul was my grandmother Opal’s youngest brother. He was the director of Arapaho Counties Social Services, and Aunt Katherine was a teacher at The Country Day Academy. However, to me she was the most amazing pie cook I had ever known. She rolled out Colorado peach or cherry pies, which were our two favorites. Uncle Paul’s car knew the way

each summer to Elitch Gardens (the REAL ONE), a classic amusement park.
We never knew the word Grunkle or Graunt but we sure had them. I could only hope that the time we get with Jed’s wonderful kids make some memories that will sustain and feed them on their journey. I didn’t bake any pies but I did take them for their first ever Taco Bell run, which was a big hit.
Onward and Upward, Mark

Losing My A__


Yesterday marked my living six dozen years. I have always enjoyed that my birthday falls at the beginning of the July 4th holiday. In truth, July 2nd could actually be the “real” Independence Day, as the Declaration was signed on the 2nd but made public on the 4th. My first memorable birthday was when I turned four. Our backyard was full of kids, inflatable swimming pools and a firecracker cake.
There are years where my birthday left no impression. Certainly turning 16– drivers license, 21– register to vote and then the long 44 year marathon to 65 and Medicare. I did have have a spectacular 40th birthday at our Alamosa mini farm. I had a very memorable 50th in El Salvador. In this my 72nd year I will remember it as year “My Fanny Fell”.
This often ridiculed part of the human anatomy is called by many names: backside, behind, bootie, bottom, bun, bum, caboose, can, derrière, duff, fanny, heinie, keister, rear, rump, tail and tush and finally a_s. My own heinie always provided a particular utilitarian cushion on most any surface. Recently I began to notice a lack of padding on folding chairs and the like. Yes I have finally lost my A_S!
After a shower a few weeks ago, I decided to use the mirror and look at the the status of my posterior. What I saw looked like a wrinkled half inflated balloon. Where there was once supple padding there were lines of drooping wrinkles resembling a prune. I don’t remember asking for my butt to deflate. I now have to put a pillow on my dining room chair, as sitting there more than a few minutes brings squirming discomfort. Somehow I thought these things happen when you are like 89, not 72.
I even googled getting your butt back: We have 3 major gluteus muscles that make up our booty and when the gluteus medius stops firing the way it’s supposed to, you’re left with what’s commonly known as “Dead Butt Syndrome.” Which I thought was limited to congress.
Pretty much what followed is work your butt off to get your butt back. This included a bunch of 30-somethings doing lots of exercises that I would find nearly impossible. So I will just swim 300 laps a week and live with my dying ASS!

Onward and Upward, Mark

Squirt Guns


A little over a year ago I started swimming at our HOA pool. It really is a great setting and is truly a benefit for living here. Last year at this time there were very strict Covid protocols in place. Only 25 people could be there for a one hour scheduled session. They also opened up lap swimming for five people for two early morning sessions. I had been doing water aerobics for a couple of years, so I rebooted my swimming memory. I soon figured out that I could become a lap swimmer — remember in a previous blog, I celebrated the day I swam a mile.
This year I hit the pool with gusto, with my brand new lap snorkel, goggles and lap fins. I was ready. It has been great. Last week on Tuesday I was unable to lap swim so I thought I would go to the pool in the afternoon for some water aerobics. I showed up with my own foam bar bells. It was pretty calm and I was able to find a space in the sweet spot of the pool, where there was not a squeal within 30 feet.
There I was doing 100 jumping jacks, 100 flying reindeer, crunches, stretching and generally loving life. Then, all of the sudden the back of my head was pelted with a direct stream of super soaker water. I spun around to see a tow headed three year old with a huge grin and an “I got him” look on his face. His terrified mother was leaping to grab the water weapon out of his hands. I said, “Hey that was a great shot, if you can’t stand the water get out of the pool”. She again said, “I am so sorry”. Again, a pleaded his case “If anybody deserves getting squirted on the head it is me”.
She let him keep his green plastic Star Wars Super Soaker and I went back to my exercise. It must have been about 10 minutes later, and I was facing another direction when round two landed with precision. This time I took off swimming shark style right at the side of the pool where the battle station was manned. I gave a perfect two handed water shove and covered him head to toe. He loved it and Mom said “He misses his Grandpa”. Now my heart soared—as I watched his boyish grin stay fixed while he reloaded. One more time he hit me. I was amazed that a kid that young had such a well trained aim.
Mom said, “That’s enough, thanks for playing with him”. I said, “It made my day”.

I finished up my swimming remembering all of the times squirt guns had brought me great entertainment. In Alamosa our yard, which was huge, was known for big time water battles. We were armed with balloons, super soakers with tanks on our backs, and if I do remember correctly, a battery powered continuously pulsing squirt gun that was a prized possession.
I was thinking back to Duckwalls, which was in the shopping center where I grew up. There were no such things as giant squirt guns. There were the black little guns that could easily be concealed in the palm of your hand. They were good for about 10 squirts but they had accuracy and range. Which in the 5th grade came in handy on the playground.
Wouldn’t it be great if the only guns allowed squirted water? Onward and Upward,
Mark