Blizzards, Ice Storms and Interruptions

Blizzards, Ice Storms and Interruptions

The following is a list of frozen water events that I have experienced since 1958.   I’ll briefly describe each one, as I have been experiencing the recent Texas winter events through the lenses of my daughter Amy and family, who live in the middle of the recent Texas winter storms.

Pueblo Blizzard of 1958 April 1 & 2—19” of record setting snow:

In 1958 I was in the 3rd grade that Spring.  I remember very distinctly going to bed in what was a complete white-out.  It was exciting.  The next morning I awoke to my parents telling me that our electricity was out, and that school had been canceled.  The snow kept coming all day.  We had two fireplaces which my folks stoked up and we set up camp in the living room.  The following day there was snow up to the top of our fence and the sun was shining. Game on—for sledding, snow men, and a free for all with a plethora of kids that inhabited Belmont.  My friend Wayne’s genius brother Tom, even built a real igloo.  That blizzard was a memory maker!!!

Labor Day Weekend Snow of 1966 —11” of snow on Sept. 5 & 6:

We only had one more snow day for my entire growing up life.  It dumped on Labor Day weekend 1966—yes, the first week of September.  The only reason we did not have school was that all the broken tree limbs caused a massive power outage.  The snow was too slushy for sledding but great for snowball fights.

The February Oklahoma Blizzard of 1971– 23” of snow in 24 hours:

The massive Oklahoma blizzard took place when I worked as an ambulance driver along with seven other college guys.  I happened to be working when that big snow hit.  24” of Oklahoma slush is the equivalent of about 40” of Colorado powder.  I spent the entire week working at the ambulance service.  Sliding into a snow bank, we buried an ambulance up to its roof out in the country.  I delivered a baby all by myself, we pulled together with everyone to care for a paralyzed community.  It was noble and fun work—which a 22 year old loved and thrived in.

The Colorado Blizzard of Christmas 1983:

In 1983 I put Matt and Amy on a plane to go back to spend Christmas with their mom in Texas.  It started snowing…and did not stop.  I had just started dating this lady named Mary Kay.  We spent the next two weeks playing Fox and Geese, baking things, and getting to know each other. Thanks snow!!!

The Greenbay Packers/ Bronco Blizzard of October 1984:

I got my Bronco season tickets in 1984.  My brother in law Joe, and I drove my little Toyota Tercel up to Mile High.  The weather forecast was for 2-3 inches maybe.  By the 4th quarter it had snowed 18”.  Somehow we got on I-25 before they closed it.  Four hours later we buried the car in a snow bank on the north end of Colorado Springs.  We walked to a hotel and called home to tell them we were alive (before cell phones).  The next morning Chanel 5 drove by as we were digging my car out.  We got home to Pueblo just in time to see ourselves on the 5 o’clock news.  The Broncos did beat the Packers. 

The Colorado Blizzard of 1997 2-3” expected, 19” actually:

In October of 1997 I did my first big wedding at the historic South Broadway Christian Church.  I normally save all the music in totality for just the wedding and only give snippets at the rehearsal.  This night we did the whole music banana.  We then headed down to Pearl Street for a nice dinner.  We noticed it started snowing but there was nothing in the forecast.  So much for those prognosticators—19” and no wedding at the church.  We did it all at the Brown Palace, where they were staying.  They thanked me for the rehearsal that gave them the whole picture.  

The Denver Winter of 2006–worst since 1913:

In December of 2006, a front page story appeared in the Denver Post— “CSU climatologist says ‘Expect a dry winter’.”  A few days later we got a blizzard every 3-5 days for two months.  Cars were packed in ice everywhere and they did not move forever.  That same Denver Post ran a story the following February “This is the worst winter since 1913”, then they showed old photos of a 43” snowfall.  We had well over that, it just took two months to get there.  

What happened this week in Texas has caused untold difficulties and sadness. It has also done what only weather events can do—it brought people together.  That is of course, unless you would rather catch a plane to Cancun.  

Onward and Upward,

Mark

Alzheimer’s


Today I shared in a funeral for an 81 year old woman who died exactly 21 years to the day, of my dad’s death. Over 10 years ago she was diagnosed with the signs of early dementia. I met her and her husband soon after I started my pastorate with FCC Greeley. They were not members at FCC, but as it was explained to me she loved music and the church where they were attending did not offer much. They would come and sit near the back on my left side. She was always pleasant but right away I noticed the vacant look in her eyes. Soon her husband asked for some time with me and explained what was going on. In my first year there, her condition declined and she went to a memory care facility.
In my 48 years of pastoral ministry this was a familiar story. Each journey is unique but there is a common thread—there are two deaths with this horrid disease: the death of the person followed by the death of the body. To watch a person slip into the abyss of no longer being present, aware, able to engage, remember, recognize and finally to connect, is a slow dive into grief. When the death of the body comes it is usually a gift, and often seen as the final healing.
I was able on a regular basis, to bring this woman communion, to sing songs, and just be present up until Covid. I shared today at her funeral on particular moment with her. It was Christmas time 2019–I was to meet her husband at the memory care center where we would sing some Christmas songs, with the help of my IPad and share the story of Baby Jesus. He was not able to be there, so I went into a room where I got NO response from her as she lay there staring at the ceiling. I thought “I want to hear the whole John Denver and the Muppets Christmas album”. I fired it up on my IPad and began, from memory, singing along with the ridiculous and the sublime. There I was— a 70 year old singing to her with no body listening. Somewhere near the end of the time there, her face lit up with a huge smile, her eyes cleared and for just a moment we were connected.
When I walked into the room where the service was to be held today, there was art work everywhere. There were still lifes, landscapes, lots of paintings of cats, dogs, and kids. They were clearly done by an accomplished artist. She was a musician, teacher, mom of 4 and a singer. The video and tributes filled in a lot of spaces for me.

I need to remember that we were all kids once. Not one of us knows how our lives will roll out before they end. Hopefully when we can we paint, sing, cook, write, build, joke, play, ski, fish, travel, and whatever else as we share our life.
Alzheimer’s might steal our memory but it can’t take away our memories.
Onward and Upward, Mark

Todd—Survives


I write this today with the permission of its subject. In my four years of serving at First Christian in Greeley, I have both inherited and discovered a remarkable team of “part time” staff. It is rare that a new pastor, even one who started as pastoral-duct-tape, finds that all of the existing staff are pretty much exactly who I would have helped to select. Well, whether they were in place before I arrived, or whether I found them in our midst, my staff at FCC Greeley is a great team.
Todd did not fit the mold of how I envisioned a ‘Youth Pastor’. He is middle aged and wears cargo shorts all year long. It did not take me long to recognize his gifts. The obligatory “Youth Sunday” blew me away. It was without a doubt, the best I had ever seen, all put together with Todd’s leadership. Earlier I made a duct tape reference. Todd is better than duct tape. He is like that super goo stuff that patches boat holes, hangs pictures, and fixes flats. Todd quietly goes about his business, not only caring for our youth, but also many many of our older members. Whatever you need, Todd is willing.
On January 15th, I got a text from his wife Alicia, “Todd was admitted to the hospital with worsening Covid symptoms.” What?! I Not Todd, he is always so careful. The battle of Todd vs. Covid began. His symptoms worsened. Ten liters of O2 just to keep him going. The next step was a ventilator. I asked for permission to put this out on FaceBook. Everyday there would 150+ folks who sent their love and more. Todd has worked in our Disciples of Christ’s camps for at least 20 years. Every year Todd was there.
I want to tell the story of just one of those campers. Her family was our neighbor 30 years ago when we lived in the country outside of Alamosa. The youngest girl, Alex Rae, was born when we were in the midst of ministry there. I called the three sisters of which Alex was the youngest, “The Who Sisters”. They would always have their hair in the “Who Like” (Dr. Seuss) stubby little tufts. They were adorable. When we moved to Denver 24 years ago, the girls ended up moving to Breckenridge. Their mom wanted them to continue to attend DOC camps at LaForet, and so we would smuggle them in as members of South Broadway in Denver. It was there that Todd became a constant in their growth.

Another youth pastor started a Go Fund Me page so we could be there for Todd and his family. Help like dropping off food is not possible, because we are all quarantined and spread all over the Region. I began to see that much of the support was coming from the many many young people whose lives were touched by Todd’s warm caring spirit at camp. One of them was Alex. I began to put a bunch of pieces together of the way that our faith communities care for each other beyond our safe perches. There were well over 200 folk who carried Todd in their hearts.
Two days ago Todd was able to go home, O2 and all. Yesterday, I got a great surprise— it was Todd calling me. On the other end of the call, was a man filled with gratitude. What he went through, the pain, fear, struggling to breath and the worst (Todd hates needles) was that he became a human pin cushion.
Here is just one story from his 12 days in the hospital Todd said, “They asked me if I could try to eat something. They suggested a banana. It tasted like cardboard. I said, ‘what I could really use is some green chili and French Fries’. They told me that was not possible. I asked again. They got them. I could actually taste the green chili.” Every year since, I have been at Greeley, I bring Todd a bushel of roasted green chili from DiSanti farms in Pueblo. The man will put green chili on his French toast. Todd is beating Covid, and he wants you to know how grateful he is.
I just got my first Covid vaccination this afternoon. Earlier in the day, I was talking with a molecular biologist who is also a swimming coach. He has coached me on my back stroke. He said, “The only reason we were able to have a vaccine so quickly is because of 20 some years of dedicated science.”
I give thanks to all those who spend their lives in the trenches of research, development, nursing, respiratory therapy, and the dozens of other efforts that saved Todd’s life and maybe even mine.
Onward and Upward, Mark
PS—keep praying

Clean Shaven


In the spring of 1968 I was called into the Dean’s office at Phillips University. Dean Eulla Belle McNiff—no kidding— said this to me, “It has been noticed that you are growing a beard, why are you doing this”? I came up with what I thought was one of my best smart a__ answers. “Well, Dean McNiff, I have been shaving for about a year and I want to see if I really had hair on my face”? “It’s not some form of protest is it”? “Nope, just curiosity”.
Sometime in late 1969 I grew a mustache and for the last 52 years I have had facial hair.
Back in August I offered this to the fates, “If on January 20, 2021, I feel hope for the country, I will shave”. This was my bribe to the universe. I know people who will only wear certain things when the Broncos play, baseball players who jump over lines, and people who actually follow horoscopes. For me it was the opposite of my 1968 gambit— I wanted to see how I might look with a shiny face.
Sue, our wonderful “assistant production manager” at FCC Greeley, peeked her head in the office and after pondering a bit said, “You look a little less honest”. I said, “Sort of a like politician who keeps changing their position” “Yep, that will do”.
I FaceTimed my daughter Amy in Texas, whose whole family were saying “We have never seen this face before”. “What do you think?”… dead silence. “Well, grandpa what do you think”? They have mastered the art of answering a question with a question. “I will tell you in a year”. My New Mexico daughter in law said, “You look 15 years younger”. Whether she was just being kind or honest, that is the right thing to say to someone who is considering double knee replacements soon.
The problem with being clean shaven is that you have to shave everyday. I have had added seven minutes to my morning time line. Beards throughout history have been in and out of fashion. The gnarly “Charley Blackmon” full facial Grizzly Adams beards creep me out. The now fashionable four-day shadow look makes me want to say, “Take a stand, either grow the thing or shave”.

I have been in four Zoom meetings since the day I revealed my hairless face. In the first one not a word was said, the same in the second. Yesterday I got a text message, “You shaved”, and today in a meeting one person said, “Something is different about you”.
Well, Eulla Belle, once again my face hair curiosity got the best of me— we will see how it grows.
Onward and Upward, Mark

Muriel Jean McCown


I had just finished swimming my mile at the Apex Center. There are three pools there that have been able to reopen at Covid capacity. I swim at the lap pool, which has become a true gift. The two other pools are family recreation pools complete with water slides, fountains and all kinds of fun stuff. It is amazing to me that a limited number of kids can make so much noise. Today while I was swimming my laps I could hear a universal sound. A cacophony of screams, yips, laughter, squeals, and general kid mayhem. This is a universal noise that is the same in Mexico, China, Europe, or Wash Park. There are no discernible words— just joy expressed.
As I was driving home I thought about that sound and the word “cacophony”—a harsh discordant collection of sounds. I learned that word in my Vocabulary Building class taught by Jean Mccown. I was asked a month or so ago who my favorite high school teacher was. For me it was easy. Mrs. Mccown. I had her for English literature, Advanced Composition and Vocabulary Building, all of which have stayed with me these many years.
I got home and ate my dinner. It was January 6, and I was trying not to watch the tragedy of the coup d’eta inspired by The Liar In Chief. I got a notice on my Face Book app that Muriel Jean Mccown had died New Years Day. The irony of having just a few moments before, finding myself reminiscing how much I learned from her and now acknowledging her passing on a day of betrayal was not lost on me.
Jean Mccown was grace incorporated. A very classy lady with a South Carolina accent, which at Pueblo East High was something to behold. She was the kind of teacher that made you want to learn. She even made Silas Marner fun. My brother in law Dave Marquez said, “She was the first teacher that made me believe I was smart”.
We read McBeth where I memorized, “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day. To the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The Way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

I repeated every line of it and could see Jean Mccown with her slight and warm smile knowing that the truth of such a moment is timeless. It was an appropriate response to the tragedy of a pathological narcissist and his cult followers attacking the the heart of our democracy. It was a night I will never forget. I found my moorings in my memories of knowing my favorite high school teacher was one of my anchors.
Jean Mccown was an honest optimist. We learned that literature could help us look life straight in the eye with to totality of the good, the bad, the ugly and know grace is in our midst.
Onward and Upward, Mark

The San Luis Valley

At 6:05a Christmas morning, I took off on a drive to my son Mateo’s home outside of Espanola, NM. The sun was just beginning to show itself as I headed south. I think early Christmas morning might be my favorite time to drive, ever. I had the world almost to myself. When I got to I-25 South there were about four cars that followed me all the way through the metro area. I was listening to classical Christmas music, and the scene was serene and comforting. I remember thinking, “This reminds me of the Colorado of my childhood”.
I stopped in Pueblo to say hi to my sister Rita and take a break. I soon headed south on an interstate route that I have driven 100’s of times. I can feel the stress flake off me as I see the Spanish Peaks on the horizon. In no time I was headed up La Veta Pass which empties into the San Luis Valley. 35 years ago in 1986, we moved to Alamosa which lies in the heart of the largest alpine valley in the world. It is a giant terrarium. It’s 60 miles wide by 120 miles long. It is totally surrounded by 14,000 ft peaks, with the Sangre do Christos on the east and the San Juans on the west.
We moved there with four kids, two cats and our best dog ever, Smiley the Australian Cattle dog. For the next 11 years I served as the pastor of First Christian Church in Alamosa. From 1993-97 I also served as the pastor of First Christian in Monte Vista. They were 19 miles apart and we lived out in the country placed nicely between them. The “Valley” as we came to know, it, is truly a mystical place. It is where Colorado history began. It is home to multiple cultures and peoples. The indigenous Americans would often spend the winter there as it had ample food and water everywhere. There are amazing farms and ranches there. It is full of artists, free spirits, and people whose line was “our car broke down here on our way to California and we never left”.
Let me tell you about the winter of 1991-92. On Halloween we got two feet of snow on the Valley floor, which is 7500 ft in elevation. What that did was to create a cold vacuum in the whole valley. There are thousands of artesian wells there which pour out warm water. This made a fog which covered the entire valley day and night. It was like a cloud lid. Every day got colder than the day before. For 91 days in a row it NEVER got above 0’ day or night. The coldest it got at our house that we knew of, was -44’.

For many days it got down to -63’ in La Jara, a town to the south of Alamosa.
I was at a minister’s meeting in Colorado Springs, where the pastor there was talking about being an Air Force Chaplain in Fairbanks, Alaska. “Do you know Mark, if it gets to minus 38’ you can do this amazing trick. Get water boiling and put it in a big thermal mug. Throw the water in the air and it will implode”. I headed home where I could not wait to try it. That night it was -41’ and I got the kids to join me. Sure enough, you throw the water up in the air and you hear a soft “whoooompffff” only to see a huge cloud go into the sky, and ice crystals sparkling in the night’s light. Soon word spread and for about three weeks this scene was repeated all over this frozen Dr. Zhivago tundra.
This Christmas Day the Valley did not disappoint. The winter scene was breathtaking. I turned south at Ft. Garland to head to Taos, NM, which was 70 miles away. My heart was filled with memories of Christmas time when my kids were all in our home. Of life in a small town where the best and worst of life together was shared (the best far outweighs the worst). As I was coming down the pass I was greeted by two Golden Eagles who were dining on the most recent road kill. I slowed down to come within just a few yards of these majestic birds. South of San Luis there are many wild horses and they did not disappoint. The almost yearling colts had grown since I saw them last summer.
I have had four homes in Colorado— Pueblo, Alamosa, Denver and now Arvada. Each of them have shaped me. The Valley, was the place where I found recovery, beauty, rich history, a love of the land, and a place where you lived in 360 degrees of sunrise and sunsets.
This Christmas morning I was alone but never lonely. Onward and Upward,
Mark

Rita Jo

1951


My earliest memory took place a few days after December 26, 1950. My parents introduced me to my brand new sister, Rita Jo. I can see myself looking over the classic crib which had multicolored balls at the end, which were there not for just decoration, but to spin as soon as the enclosed baby learned to pull itself up. I was totally taken in with a sense of amazement. There was a certain smell of the infant that calmed me. Today my sister Rita Jo turns 70. Happy Birthday~sis you are a gift not only to me but to our family and the world.
When I turned 30 it did not bother me, but 18 months later when we had Rita’s 30th birthday, it made me realize that the sands of my hour glass were speeding up. Growing up with me as the “big brother” was not all fun. I could be a jerk, a tease, and I confess that I still regret the day I aimed a BB gun at a 45’ angle and about 100 yards away, and the BB landed right on her rear. Today Rita has her own story about why she is so committed to MOMs Demand Action for responsible gun laws. Rita is a warrior for sane gun laws, environmental justice, racial inclusion, and recovery. She is also a commissioned minister in the Disciples of Christ. Rita Jo is my hero!!!
Let’s back up to 1953. Soon after the birth of my brother Charley, my mom Pat sunk into a severe postpartum psychosis. She was institutionalized on and off for a year. Rita and I were put in the care of friends and relatives. At one point we spent a month or so going to a place Rita affectionately renamed—PUEBLO Day Penitentiary—It was not pretty. I would not leave her sight. As a result I have a very clear memory of a “care giver” in a white uniform taking me into a stair well and kicking and punching me. I would not stop yelling until they let me stay with Rita. I only share this because I know these kinds of things happen to kids.
In 9th grade I tolerated Rita showing up as a 7th grader at Heaton Jr. High with her “cat eye glasses” and ponytail. However, when she showed up as a sophomore at Pueblo East High, I figured out really quickly that she had a covey of very cute friends. We began a much more mature friendship that goes on to this day.
I was privileged 22 years ago to perform the wedding for Rita and Dave. Together they have built a remarkable partnership that is blending a son

apiece, and four grandkids. To be either Rita’s grandkid or nephew or niece is to blessed. Rita cares, Rita listens, Rita is fun. She was a master teacher, and if you were fortunate enough to have her as a kid or the parent of kid, you know what a fantastic educator she is.
One final story— I was in the 6th grade and Rita the 4th. We were both taking piano lessons and we were playing a duet at a Christmas recital at the old Central Christian Church. I don’t know if it was stage fright or what, but Rita froze. I, being the jerk that I could be, elbowed my sister ever so slightly in the ribs. She started crying. We limped through the song.
I could not ask for a more special sister. She has an amazing sense of humor, a pastor’s heart, and was smart enough to survive me.
Onward and Upward, Mark

The Sweet Spot


The metaphor “Sweet Spot”, I first heard in reference to that place on a baseball bat where the ball pops off the bat with the greatest velocity. It is the place on a golf club where the ball does what you want it to. It is that time on a vacation or trip where everything comes together. Today I am talking Swedish Tea Rings.
My grandpa Joe Anderson, was a full blooded Swede whose parents immigrated to the US and settled in SW Iowa. My mom Pat, who would have turned 100 in three weeks, loved her Swedish heritage. She could say the Lord’s Prayer in Swedish. She was a great story teller and had many tales of her Nordic heritage. What I remember best, is that this time every year she would make four Swedish Tea Rings. This was no simple task. It took her all day. There was the dough prep, the rising, prepping the filling that consisted of walnuts, currents, cinnamon, honey, and who knows what else. She would bake them two at a time. When they were cooled they would get just the right amount of frosting.
“Don’t you dare touch these Mark, they are for Christmas morning breakfast”. They sat there for a couple of days talking to me. Then after the joy of “unbridled materialistic avarice” (to quote Ralph from A Christmas Story), we headed to breakfast. My mom was a world champion homemaker. Christmas at our house was a combination of chaos and grace.
Well, the Swedish Tea Rings were warmed up to perfection. Now something I had learned in my yearly consumption, is that, as much as my mom achieved perfection, there was always about a three inch section where the juicy best found its home. So believe it or not, I became an expert at spotting that “sweet spot”. I would carefully plot my selection where I aimed for that most amazing concoction of Swedish perfection, oozing with extra moist goo. In my well honed proclivity for “tasty” this was a grand slam over the center field fence.
Sweet spots are harder to come by this year, but all the more joyful when discovered. I will share two with you. One, my wonderful daughter Amy and family, sent me the most amazing slippers, along with the best homemade Christmas card. If you want a peek just connect with me and I

will send you a picture. Two, my grandson Miko made his second short film. He has the gift of both heart and mind.
So enjoy your ‘sweet spots’ whatever they might be. I would love to hear from you as to where you found, tasted, heard or observed your 281 yard drive, which rocketed right out of the perfect place on your club.
Onward and Upward, Mark

Light


In eight days we will experience another winter solstice. In terms of daylight it is the shortest day of the year. It is 4:55p here at my dining room table and it is almost night. I am looking out over a snow covered view and I am greeted by a gentle variety of Christmas lights at each of my neighbor’s homes. My fireplace is gently waving to me with radiant warmth that comes as close to perfect as I could imagine. I plan to drive out before sunrise tomorrow just to watch it happen again. When the sun is way south, the daylight radiates and creates sunrises that go well with Handel’s Messiah. When I get to the the crest of the hill on 120th, I can see downtown Denver to the right and Boulder to the left.
Like everything else, this is a very unique Christmas time. The Pandemic has seemed to motivate my part the of world to be even more festive, and I am grateful. I have been thinking about light and dark all day. I remember going to the Cave of the Winds near Manitou Springs when I was about eight. Somewhere on the tour we were asked to stand still and the guide turned out all the lights. I was not scared, it was too dark even to imagine any scary thought. This total darkness was probably no more than a couple of minutes but I got the point.
A right of passage in my youth was to “walk the storm drain”. This 1/2 mile corrugated steel passage went from Belmont park to the Fountain river. It was about four feet tall which meant you negotiated it bent over. My first time through was this side of terrifying. I was last in a line of about five boys. The tunnel was straight for about 250 yards, then it made a turn which meant the light behind us disappeared. For the next few minutes you were in cave darkness. Then at about the time I asked myself why I did this, light appeared as a tiny round opening in front of us. We got to the end, where we threw rocks and chased lizards. The trek back was a piece of cake.
I have been thinking this week about a quote from Leonard Cohen. “The cracks are what let the light shine in”. Life is breaking my heart open again. The realities of solitude which can become loneliness has broken me open. The sadness of watching the Covid “death ticker” hit nearly 300,000 hurts. And then I get the message on my phone that Charley Pride died today of Covid. He had a great run!!! He would perform every

year at the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo. My parents were huge fans. They would put on their western gear and head to the Fair in red cowboy boots (mine now) and my mom in a classic cowgirl skirt and vest. “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” Charley. I cried when I thought of how this unlikely man crossed the racial divide with music, which began when he was in the Air Force singing in Montana. The light from this crack of grief is a gift.
Tonight I will put on the Nat King Cole Christmas album and think of the bubble lights on my parent’s tree by our fireplace on Alexander Circle. My mom would light a couple of candles and a 10 year old boy would sit on the couch for hours and bask in the lights of a winter’s night.
Onward and Upward, Mark

Johnny A. AKA Quail

Jonnie A. (AKA Quail)—

A Man of Peace

Soon after JFK’s assassination, I began to slip into what I now recognize as a deep and dark depression. In May that following year I lost my friend, Larry E., to a tragic drowning. I was then told by my father that I was going to work at the family business. There would be no baseball, hanging out at the pool, or riding my bike for endless hours around Pueblo. The work was very hard, as we cleaned carpets in two homes a day, and picked up 20 some area rugs. We brought those rugs back to the plant to scrub, and hang from a 25ft ceiling for forced air drying.

I worked 50 hours a week, which I am sure is some violation of child labor laws. It was mostly solitary work as I was a helper to an adult specialist. I had hours to think. I spent a lot of time thinking about death, listening to Country Music, as the men that worked for my dad and uncle loathed Rock and Roll. It was KPUB and never KDZA. The good news as I look back, is that it was the golden age of Country and I know all the songs. In August football started and I was freed from that summer of indentured servitude.

I headed off to my Sophomore year, never once telling anyone about the fear and sadness that lived inside of me. That year the East High Eagle football team was loaded with Senior talent. I was a clumsy but eager kid who lived in a body that looked far more grown up than I felt.

At East we had two Junior Highs funnel into one High School. I came from Heaton, which was brand new, very privileged, and other than the kids that were bussed in, it was 99% Anglo. Risley was the other Junior High. Those students were mostly blue collar, poor and it had many Hispanics. I now realize how fortunate I was to have had that experience. They had great teachers at East, and I learned a lot. Between going into 20 homes a day while working my summer job, and now schooling in a very diverse context, my world expanded.

I was scared and lonely but never said a word to anyone. I was nearly 6 feet tall and 190 pounds, which made be stick out as a Sophomore. It was probably the third week of school and I was in the cafeteria standing alone, and all of the sudden I was surrounded by three guys who began to bully me into a fight. I had no idea who they were or what I had done. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Johnny A., who was known as Quail, get up and move towards us.

Quail was our starting defensive end on a team that just beat Poudre from Ft. Collins 6-0, to take over #1 spot in the top high school foot ball rankings. Quail was a man among boys, a tremendous athlete and a fierce competitor. He put himself between the three of them and me. He looked at them and said “What’s your problem??? Leave him alone, he is my friend”. Mind you, he had never said a word to me on the practice field or locker room. He smiled at me and went back to his table.

What I share now I do with Quail’s recent permission. Fast forward to the early 2000’s. MK and I were visiting our many relations in Pueblo, and we went to a 7am AA meeting. There in the circle of recovering folk was Johnny A. His strength and gentleness of character oozed from him still. Many times we went to that meeting while my mom was still alive. Often we were met by Quail.

This Sunday is Peace Sunday in our Advent world and I have thought a lot about what peace is. When I think of how Quail intervened on my behalf, at a time in my life when I needed hope, sometimes peace is an action and not a state of being. The powerful act justly on behalf of those who are vulnerable. There is also a second peace and that is internal.

Quail’s health is not so good, but the peace that passes all understanding flows out of him. Thank You Johnny A., my brown skinned hero, you are a peaceful peacemaker who is obviously at peace with yourself and the world. I close with this prayer that Quail and I have shared in the circles of AA.

From St. Francis

Lord make Me an Instrument of Your Peace,

Where is there is hatred let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may

not so much seek to be consoled as to console,

To be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,

It is in pardoning, that we are pardoned,

And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen

Onward and Upward,

Mark