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
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 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
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!
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
Today I went to my favorite park in Denver (one of 250 to be exact) and that would be Washington (aka Wash Park). I hooked up with a friend for an iced tea and a catch-up visit. On my way back to my home I decided to drive my nostalgic way, which is up Lincoln St. to Speer Blvd. then to I-25. When I pulled on Lincoln St. I realized I was in the middle of a mass of cars with orange and yellow flags with a single star. At first I thought it was a country celebrating a soccer victory as we had just hosted an international tournament. Upon close examination I saw signs that STOP the Tigray Genocide, Free Tigray. I was surrounded by a couple hundred cars working their way up Lincoln St. I thought for a moment about getting off of Lincoln but as I was in no hurry, I thought I would flow ever so slowly up Lincoln with them. What usually takes about 5 minutes took 35 minutes. I had time sitting at a stand-still to Google up Tigray and I got a pretty good explanation from a number of sources as to what is happening there. Denver is home to a large number of Ethiopian refugees and now second and even third generation citizens. I watched a very orderly and focused attempt to bring awareness to their cause. I won’t try to explain what I know but it is another situation where the group that is in power is threatened, and is, in this case using starvation as a weapon. The protestors were headed to the State Capitol for a rally. In the last year we have witnessed protests in a variety of places and around multiple issues. The first protest that I participated in was when George Wallace was running for President in 1968. He came to Enid, Oklahoma where about 400 Phillips University students got a front row placement at the Garfield County Courthouse. We had been coached to wear coats and ties and be very respectful. I remember how we surrounded the few black students who were with us, so there ycould be protected from the those who saw even their presence as a threat. Wallace was keenly aware that we were right there. He had his canned comments about “long haired lazy hippies” and other choice words. The great part was that there was national news media there who wrote, “We saw no one fitting Governor Wallace’s call downs. The students were
orderly and respectful. The black students, often on the shoulders of their fellow students, spoke volumes”. This time last year our country was embroiled in the reaction to the murder of George Floyd. Mary Kay and I were part of a peaceful protest at the State Capitol. However, we also saw senseless riots, looting and anarchists who used his death as an excuse for senseless destruction. On January 6th we witnessed an insurrection fomented by the BIG LIE that the election had been stolen from Donald Trump. It was a riotous insurrection and an attack on our democracy. We continue to hear excuses, denials, lies, and rationalizations. The facts of history over time will bear this out. Today I saw hundreds of people of African descent flying not just the flag of Tigray, also the American flag of their new homeland. I was proud to be among them on their journey downtown. Onward and Upward, Mark
For whatever reason, I am able to distinctly remember certain dates over the past almost 72 years. This last Monday I marked a 40 year milestone in my life. It was a Sunday that I jumped in my Toyota Tercel and pulled out of Enid, Oklahoma on that day in 1981. I had resigned my position as the Chaplain of Enid State School, resigned from my adjunct professor role in the seminary, and waited my last table at the Pepper Mill Steak House. I was broken and defeated. My marriage had ended, my brother had been killed, and I decided to move back to Pueblo—to start over. My clearest memory of that day took place in eastern New Mexico. I looked down on my car seat at a half smoked pack of Merit cigarettes and thought, “Today would be a good day to quit smoking”. I threw the pack out the window by Capulin Mountain. I was done with one self destructive habit (there more to come). I remember moving back into my old bedroom in my parent’s home. The room was just as my brother Don had left it when he died two years prior. That day I entered into the depths of postponed grief as I sat there on my bed, asking myself how it had come to this. I went back to work for my dad and my uncle at Cleaver Carpet Center. It was very hard work. However, I was the helper for a pretty special guy named Lee. He was an amazing carpet layer but more than that, he was brilliant. He was a falconer. That summer I learned a lot about these birds that had intrigued me since I was a boy. Later that summer Charles Whitmer who was the pastor for the last 24 years, of the church I had grown up in, asked me to come to see him. He asked me to go to back into active ministry at Central Christian. The church was in disarray as their associate had run off with a church member, and the very large congregation was in crisis. I said, “Charles I don’t even believe in God right now”. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “That doesn’t matter, I have known you Mark, since you were 9. I know your heart and I know you belong in ministry. I need you.” That day I began to do something I said I would never do—work in a local church. Slowly but surely I began to heal. I could have never done it without the support of my parents and Central Christian Church. My faith moved from my head to my heart that year. By January of 1982, I had given up on the
family carpet business to learn about how to be a pastor from the best model ever. Over the next 40 years I was fortunate to serve in five great churches— Alamosa—Monte Vista—South Broadway—Cheyenne and Greeley. I did not run away from home, rather I crawled back home. In those 40 years I have gone from being a brash 30 something, to a slightly more grounded 70 something. I have collected a new family, a small pile of grandkids, and more amazing experiences and relationships than I ever imagined. Today I am grateful that I had a home to come back to. Onward and Upward, Mark
For as long ago as I can remember, one of my favorite experiences is to sit by a body of water and let my mind and heart listen. This past week I was given the chance to do it twice. First on my road trip to California, to celebrate granddaughter Sofia’s second birthday, I sat by the Pacific Ocean. Today, just 16 miles from my home, I went to Eldorado Canon and spent 30 minutes next to a rushing-with-spring-runoff creek. Our companion on the road trip to California was our grandson Makaio, who said he had a great time with two people 50 years older than him. On our drive back home Miko came with me while MK stayed in California to grandma it up for a month. As I have said before-I love road trips for many reasons, but at the top of the list are the hours long conversations. I asked him somewhere near Arizona’s Painted Desert “What was your favorite part of the trip”? He thought for a bit and then said, “Sitting by the ocean”. Mind you, he had four days in Vegas, his own hotel room and my BMW in California. I told him “I totally get it”. I then told him about the first time I went to the ocean. I was nine years old, it was on the Oregon coast. The power of the water to calm, stir the imagination, and reveal treasures is something that still grabs me. Where our California family lives, overlooks the ocean. Out their kitchen window you can see Catalina Island. This time of year every evening you can watch the sun settle into the west horizon from their. Miko said, “I could sit there for hours. Last night I went by myself and just sat there until dark”. We talked of places where the water provides solace. He lives right next to the Rio Grand river in New Mexico. “I have my own water sanctuary”. Today as I sat by a rushing mountain stream where the sound is always the same, my too busy mind calmed down and just listened. Yesterday a friend asked me if I like to fish. I told the story of how on Memorial Day 1953, when I was four, my dad sat me down by Crockett Creek with my own fishing pole. He taught me how to put a worm on the hook. In no time at all I had an 8 inch Brook Trout. He left me on my own, and when he returned I had four more. Somewhere in our family archives I have the 8mm movie to prove it. I can still go to that very spot in my mind. A deep pool of stream water with clear water pouring over the boulders.
We have had a very wet spring—green is everywhere. The water of life has blessed us again. I take great comfort in knowing that the water I saw in the ocean this past week was once stream water pouring down a creek, into a river, then to the ocean and then back again. Nature reassured me today. Onward and Upward, Mark
“The Darwin Awards are a tongue-in-cheek honor originating in Usenet newsgroup discussions around 1985. They recognize individuals who have supposedly contributed to human evolution by selecting themselves out of the gene pool by dying or becoming sterilized via their own actions”. If you have not followed these yearly awards you might Google them up and have a look into the depths of human actions at the intersection where tragedy and humor meet. I am known in my family as a potential candidate for such actions as: slipping on my own banana peel while stepping off a curb, and landing in front of an oncoming bus. Here’s the story—We had a small dining room set that we bought 10 years ago. When we moved in 2017 to the far out burbs of Arvada, Mary Kay decided to put a “glass mosaic” top on the table and move it to our patio. Each year I would help her cover her prize with a canvas tarp to survive the winter. This year when she pulled off the tarp, and I am not kidding you, it was infested with mushrooms and was falling apart. Her solution was to remove the table top from the iron legs and replace the top. I was game, as I know once she sets her sights on a project I might as well join in. So far the plan was working. Her brother Dan in Pueblo, got the measurements and pictures and assured us he could build an all weather metal top. Now, all we had to do was to figure out what we were going to do with the mushroom Petri dish that weighed easily, 100 pounds. She called the We Love Junk people and they wanted a fortune to take it. I said, “No Way”. She called Waste Management and they said if it was in pieces the would take it in our standard dumpster. Mary Kay had cooked up a plan to bash it with a sledge hammer. Mind you, its top was glass in heavy grout. Well, her plan was set in motion. She had big plastic tarps that were there to catch flying glass as we beat the hell out of the table. Something about this plan made me very uneasy. My parents gave my brothers erector sets at Christmas, I got a basketball as building or fixing things was not my forte. I was standing on the patio when my 11th grade physics class kicked in. We have these lovely large
river rocks that grace our landscaping, which came with the house. I thought “If you put one big flat rock on the patio, and the table on the rock, I, with the help of a chair, stood on one end and Mary Kay got on the elevated side, we could use gravity and leverage to break the table in half. I sold MK my plan. When she stepped on the elevated end I fully expected to be launched somewhere. “Crack—perfection— it broke perfectly in half. Then, those halves were quartered. Success!!! I might have gotten a circle D-Minus in wood shop but today I disassembled the ugliest, heaviest, nastiest useless table with my brain. Sorry Darwin Awards, not this time. Onward and Upward, Mark
“On the road again, Just can’t wait to get on the road again The life I love is making music with my friends And I can’t wait to get on the road again On the road again Goin’ places that I’ve never been Seein’ things that I may never see again And I cant wait to get on the road again… Thirteen months after house arrest in Covid world, I ventured out on a two week road trip to Texas. MK and I had our grandson Matias in the back seat, and we took a 789 mile drive to return him home after a Spring Break in Colorado. If given the choice, I would always rather drive than fly. I stopped counting my trips between Colorado and Oklahoma after I hit 120. In my 11 years in the San Luis Valley I did over 400 trips over La Veta Pass on highway #160. Yes, I love to drive. When you go some place in a car you get to be in a world that slows down. Some of the best conversations I have ever had were on road trips. In 1991 we took our family and my sister Rita and her son, on a 8800 mile round trip to Alaska. My son Mateo who at the time was 14, and coined the daily quoted phrase “Why Alaska”, said a while back it was one of the greatest experiences of his growing up. Okay, now I am going to give some props to Texas. As a native Coloradan you soon learn that Texans are a huge irritant. They invade your state in the summer and brag about Texas, and then during the winter holidays they show up in mass at your favorite ski resorts. My daughter Amy said during her young adult years, that she would never marry a blonde, blue eyed, single child from Texas. Christian Piatt fits all four categories. He is aces. Texas in April is what New England must be like in Autumn. The wild flowers are beyond description. Every color known to creation grace the roadways, fields and meadows. Granbury, Texas where the Piatts live, is bucolic, beautiful, interesting, historic and fun. Every day on the road was a true vacation. We heard
great music, and Granbury has the best vegan Mexican restaurant I could imagine. I went to a Dallas Mavericks game with Christian and friends and had a blast. Last Saturday we went to Waxahachie to the “Scarborough Fair”, a giant festival where many come in Medieval gear. I had no idea there are that many nerds in Texas. I completely humiliated myself at the axe throw where on my first heave I hit the ceiling beam. “Sir, please slow down”. Next month it’s Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona and New Mexico!!! In California we will celebrate granddaughter Sofia’s second birthday. My travels in the future mostly will be road trips in the USA. Every state has wonderful things to see and do. “This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land” Onward and Upward, Mark