Posts Tagged ‘Friends’
Heidi Priebe, the younger sister I never had, asked me to make some suggestions for the update she is submitting to The Rawlins County History Book Vol. III. She said that she’s probably not going to use all of the suggestions – the write up is currently over the 400 word limit. So you can read my version now or her version when the book comes out.
Phil and Heidi (Mickey) Priebe
Heidi Jo Mickey Priebe is the daughter of John and Betty (Rooney) Mickey. She was born in Atwood on June 30, 1972, the first year of the Lake Atwood 10 Mile race. She graduated from Atwood High School in 1991 and attended Kansas State University (because she couldn’t get in anywhere else).
She and her husband Phil Priebe, who is much older (in fact rediculously older) met while part of the wedding party for her sister Joni and John Creighton. While Heidi was at Kansas State, John invited both Phil and Heidi on a summer vacation to North Carolina with a group of Atwood alumni and future residents. Marriage soon followed. Thanks John! (No worries, you’re welcome.)
Philip Nathan Priebe was born on March 20, 1965 in Hackensack, New Jersey (which Heidi just learned in their 15th year of marriage but is now trying to cover up that fact by saying she was only confused about Phil’s brother). He is a graduate of Seneca High School in Louisville, Kentucky. Phil graduated with a degree in civil engineering from the University of Kansas (the greatest school ever) in 1998.
Phil and Heidi were married at the First Presbyterian Church in Manhattan Kansas on July 23, 1994. That same year, they moved to Louisville, Kentucky where Phil earned his Doctorate in Medicine from the University of Louisville Medical School in 1997.
Phil and Heidi lived in Westminster, Colorado from 1997 to 2001 while Phil completed a residency in Obstetrics/Gynecology at St. Joseph’s Hospital. During this time period, Heidi worked as an assistant for one of the greatest managers she’s ever known (her brother-in-law, John), cared for her neice Emma, graduated from the Art Institute of Colorado School of Culinary Arts and owned and operated her own business as a personal chef for highly paid athletes and other Denver luminaries.
Their daughter Elizabeth Agnes was born in Denver on June 12, 2001 on the same day that her Uncle John had a business trip.
Phil joined the staff of The Medical Center of Bowling Green, Kentucky in the summer of 2001. Phil and Heidi lived in Bowling Green for five years. Their second daughter, Anne Wesley, was born there on April 15, 2004.
Missing the Creightons desperately, the Priebes returned to Colorado in 2006 and continue to live in Fort Collins where Phil is a partner and rabble rouser with the Women’s Clinic of Northern Colorado. Their son Coy Lewis was born in Ft. Collins on June 8, 2008. The Priebes are active members of the Ft. Collins United Methodist Church. Heidi also serves on several school committees for Poudre Public Schools.
Phil enjoys his annual trip to Rawlins County to hunt pheasant. Heidi continues a career as mom. Realizing that she is so close to 40 that she should just call herself 40 and pining for more adventure, Heidi lives vicariously through the characters in the novels she reads, collects memories visiting famous restaurants and sometimes wonders how her “family update” would read if she was a heartless woman with no children.
I was part of an international community my first year of graduate school. I lived in the Cronkhite Center when I was a student at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. The housing dorm was originally part of Radcliffe College. It’s claim to fame at the time I lived there is that it was once the residence of Benazir Bhuto, the former Pakistani prime minister who was assassinated in 2007.
Cronkhite was the temporary home to students from every continent – except Antarctica of course. Next door to me was a woman from Korea; across the hall a man from China; a little further down the hall a man from the former Yugoslavia and a woman who became a close friend whose family was originally from India. In other parts of the housing complex were students from really exotic places such as southern California.
Conversations in the cafeteria one day turned to cultures and cuisine – what are our favorite dishes from our respective “homelands.” The conversation turned into an idea which turned into an event. It was decided that we would hold an international food night. A sort of Taste of the World potluck featuring everyone’s favorite cultural dish.
The day of the event was a time of much activity and many smells. Many of our dorm mates spent the entire day preparing complex dishes. Spices I’d never before smelled wafted through the halls. Traditional meals from across the globe were being created right before our eyes – when I peeked through the kitchen doors.
I spent most of that weekend day watching sports on T.V. with my friend Jim Macrae. Neither Jim nor I were much for cooking. His favorite meal, probably to this day, is a cheese sandwich. My palate was not much more sophisticated. Indeed, at age 24, our idea of a good meal was the one that took the least amount of preparation. We were eager to participate in the Taste of the World party but weren’t keen on a long day of preparing a meal.
We faced another dilemma, too. What do two twenty something guys from the Midwest (Jim was from St. Louis) bring to an event like this? What would be authentic? I claim Scottish heritage but I’ve never eaten or made haggis and I don’t intend to in the future.
I don’t know exactly when or how the light bulb went off but we came up with what we thought was a brilliant idea. About one hour before dinner was to be served, we ran to the market and purchased the three ingredients for the most authentic of all possible meals – by the standards of Midwestern, 20-something guys. It was with pride that we served an entire platter of some of the best eatin’ there is: Manwiches.
Dad would give us an update on “community news” most days over lunch. He took his coffee break around 10:30 in the morning at Currier Drug. The twenty or thirty minutes in the drug store booth rolling dice (horses) and sipping coffee was a daily ritual for many folks in town. It was the place where Dad caught up on a variety of tidbits about people’s lives – illnesses, vacations, quality of the crops, achievements of children who’d moved from Atwood. He’d share this news with us over our noon meal (that’s what Dad called it, never lunch or dinner).
The group at Currier’s was different every day. There were regulars like Dad but the folks who shared his booth were never exactly from one day to the next. That’s was part of the appeal. He could catch up with one person on a Monday and someone else on a Tuesday.
The news from Currier Drug was seldom momentous. Some people might call it trivial or perhaps even gossip. But the news exchanged at Currier’s and other coffee spots in town is the kind of knowledge that binds loose networks of people into a community of friends and neighbors.
We care about people when we come to know the “trivial” details of their lives – and the lives of their extended families. Nurturing these bonds does not require long and intimate conversations. Just a snippet of news now and again at a chance encounter in the drug store or café is more than sufficient.
That’s why places like Currier Drug are so important to the civic health of a community. Ray Oldenburg wrote a whole book about it called, The Great Good Place.
Homemakers (as the job was called when I was a boy) like my mom did not take part in the coffee break ritual in the same way as people with paying jobs. He could be harder to keep up with the news. That’s why women’s clubs and coffee at the house was so important. It also is one reason we went to the post office to pick up our mail. It would have been far more convenient to have the mail delivered to the house (believe me I pointed this out on several occasions). But the daily trip to the post office was an excuse to get out of the house and a chance to “run into” someone for a little news.
Now, full confession, when I was sent to pick up the mail at the post office I was always a little leery. I didn’t get cornered by an adult in a game of twenty questions. I just wanted to get in and get out. I am guilt of peeking in the post office door to make sure that there was no one “chatty” inside who would slow me down.
Small town folks, when they are candid, will tell you that trips to the grocery store also must be carefully planned. If you have a busy day, the last thing you want to do is get caught in “rush hour” at Williams Bros. Who’s reading this from Atwood who hasn’t tried to slip in and out of the grocery without getting chatted up?
I thought often about the post office when I first subscribed to AOL in the late 90s. Several friends and acquaintances had AOL in those days (I don’t think my kids have even heard of AOL). The instant messaging feature on AOL was cool – except when it wasn’t. I loved the chance to have a quick visit with friends like Matt Cunningham during the middle of my work day half a continent away. Sometimes, though, I’d be in a hurry and a friend might “see” me online. The next thing I’d know, “bing,” I had a message begging for an instant response. I felt it was rude to ignore the person or say,”Gotta go.” So, to avoid being rude, I tried to figure out how to “peek” in AOLs door just like I did the post office so long ago.
But, I digress…
Facebook has some of the qualities of a Currier Drug. It is a place to pick up a little bit of news from a loose network of “friends.” People sometimes ask why anyone would care about what people write on Facebook – it’s just trivia and gossip. I learned in Atwood thirty years ago, that’s the kind of information communities share. It’s what keeps people feeling a sense of connection to one another during those gaps when longer visits aren’t possible or when more meaningful interactions are not needed. In that sense, trivial information is not trivial at all.
Nothing will or can replace a face-to-face relationship and a virtual community can never quite replace a geographic community – or at least I hope that it doesn’t. But, Facebook has provided a fun way to hear tidbits of news from friends, literally across the globe. I sometimes share that news with my family over our evening meal (Dad’s name for supper). It feels very familiar.
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Currier Drug from Decision Weather website
Atwood Post Office by courthouselover on Flickr
Amy (Bondurant) Milton, her husband Steve and their kids spent some time at our house this week. The kids are staying with us while Amy and Steve get settled at their new house in Yuma, Arizona. Steve will be stationed with the Army at a base near Yuma for the next three years.
Conversations about Yuma, Arizona reminded me of a story told by my brother’s classmate Bill Beamgard. We were sitting in the stands in Yuma, Colorado; there to cheer on the Atwood Buffalos in a game against the Yuma Indians. Someone in our area of the cheering section asked how Yuma, Colorado got its name. Bill knew the answer…
“Back in the late 1800s the folks who settled this area were having trouble agreeing on a name for the town. There were many suggestions to name it after this family or that, after this civil war general or that, but no one could agree.
In an effort to calm folks down, it was suggested that the honor of naming the town be given to the next person who rides into town. The settlers agreed that the first words uttered by the next traveler would be the name of their fledgling village.
Later that afternoon, a stranger arrived by horseback. The settlers were eager to hear what the man had to say. They ran out of their stores and homes and gathered around the stranger as he tied up his horse near the saloon. They called out greetings to the stranger but he just tipped his hat without saying a word.
Each morning, the stranger would go the cafe for breakfast. Settlers would attempt to entice hime to talk. But, he’d just cordially nod his head. In the evenings, he’d take a drink at the saloon. Again, a nod or tip of the hat was his only method of communication.
The settlers were getting angry. They needed the stranger to talk so they could at last have a name for their young town. One settler became so angry that he confronted the stranger in the saloon. He demanded that the stranger say something. But, the stranger just shrugged his shoulders and turned back toward his drink.
The angry settler had had enough. He drew out his pistol and shot the stranger in a rage. Realizing the horrible deed he’d just done, the settler rushed to the stranger’s side. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘But don’t you have anything to say.’
With his last gasps of life, the dieing stranger choked out, ‘You mo…’”
The settlers adapted the new name of their town just a little.
I’ve been knocked out a few times.
We built an obstacle course in our backyard that included jumping over a railing on our back porch. My foot got caught on the railing which flipped me upside down. The next thing I remember is a nun at the hospital emergency room preparing me for stitches.
Alec was chasing me around the “loop” in our house – the halls, living room and dining room made a wonderful oval track. I was going too fast in stocking feet to make the corner through the living room and crashed head first into the coffee table. A butterfly sufficed to close the wound that time.
The knockout blow that garnered the most attention didn’t involve a blow to the head.
Summer time meant water balloons. Water balloons meant water balloon fights. The Curriers, Haydens, Younts, Creightons, Doug Keirns, Jeff Lewis and others were known to engage in battle. The teams were always unclear, shifting more than in the novel 1984.
Our preferred battle field was the downtown business district. It was a perfect place for a simple reason: access to ammunition. Back in the day, there were working drinking fountains on many of the business district street corners – in front of the Masonic Temple, the banks and William Bros. Dept. Store. Summertime drinkers would be sure to notice the rainbow of rings wrapped around the base of the faucets – remnants of balloons filled too full that exploded on the fountains.
We would chase each other down allies and hide behind tree boxes looking for the opportunity to drench an opponent; always hoping not to be the one to cause collateral damage – accidentally getting a grown-up wet.
I rounded the corner of Williams Bros. Dept. Store fully armed only to find myself confront by a wall of three older boys. Unable to scramble back the other way, I was buried in a barrage of balloons including one not quite full and reluctant to burst. It caught me directly in the stomach pushing all wind from my lungs. Then, my world turned black.
I came to with a half dozen pairs of eyes staring down at me, the group nervously checking to see whether any adults were approaching amid whispers of, “Is he okay?” As I sat up there was a collective sigh of relief. My comrades immediately dispersed.
My son is dealing with some sad news – sad news for him. For the second time in about as many years, one of his best friends is moving. In both cases, their dad’s professional opportunities took their families away from Longmont.
I sometimes think about the parade of friends that left my life in grade school and junior high. Jimmy Wilson, Ken Stonebreaker, Ricky Michel, Bret Maris, Greg Hale, Brad and Bruce Holaday, to name a few – all important people in my daily life and then they were gone.
The good news about the world we live in today is good-bye isn’t what it used to be. Saying good-bye today is temporary. In the past there was much more permanence to those words.
Most of you who read this blog are friends from a time past. We’re back in touch through the magic of social media. Over the past nine months I have reconnected with countless friends (well, I could look on Facebook and give an exact count). I occasionally read or see snippets of your lives. In some cases I’ve restored connections with people who I had not heard from in some 20 years.
Without a doubt, I am a fan of these new ways of communicating.
When my friends moved away from Atwood we sometimes made heartfelt pledges to stay in touch. My parents would encourage me to write or call (after 7 p.m. or on weekends). But we didn’t. The level of effort to communicate was more than an eight, ten or twelve year old boy will make. Over time, we lost touch with each other. Our relationship became nothing more than youthful memories.
I think it will be different for my son. Email, text messaging (when he’s older), Facebook and Twitter (when he’s ready) have reduced the barriers of communication to almost nothing. I keep in touch with the parents of Joe’s friends using these tools. That’s how we learned about a house sale and purchase.
My oldest daughter, who bought her first cell phone this month, keeps in touch with a friend from middle school orchestra through text messages. They live in distant parts of town. She has become close friends with Amy Milton’s daughter Elly even though they live thousands of miles apart through the power of email and occasional time together in Atwood. These are the types of relationships that were hard to nurture a generation ago – 10 years ago.
There is nothing like being able to run down the street and knock on a friend’s door, “Can you play?” That type of intimate relationship is impossible to replace. That is just as true today as it ever was.
But, when childhood friends are separated by geography it is far easier to stay connected – even closely connected. While saying good-bye has and will include tears, it makes the transition from neighbor to friend just a little bit easier.
If good-bye is necessary it’s a good time in history to say it.
I’m not a good driver. For years, I pretended to be a good driver who had a lot of bad luck. Over time, that story didn’t hold up.
The tone was set on my sixteenth birthday. I drove Matt Cunningham and Tim Yount to Pooch’s Pizza in Herndon to celebrate (we were crazy). On the way home, I slammed on the brakes for no apparent reason. Matt flew from the back to the front seat. His head cracked the rearview mirror.
I wrecked both my parents’ cars on consecutive Saturday nights. The first time really wasn’t my fault – really. Dean Carlson and I were cruising in Colby when the car was rear ended. Dean had to do several months of physical therapy to deal with the whiplash.
The second Saturday I had more explaining to do. I was giving Brad Leitner a ride home from a wedding dance.
I started backing out before he closed the door. The door didn’t like that too much.
I even had “bad luck” from the passenger side. Riding around with Denise McMillan one night I shifted her truck from drive to reverse. We were already moving. The transmission didn’t like that too much. I think that was expensive.
It may seem strange with all that bad luck I had two driver jobs. I drove a wheat truck for Bill Lewis one summer. It worked out well. I never rolled a truck – though I had it up on two wheels a couple of times. And, I quickly learned you need to dump your load slowly. It took Tracy Buford and me at least 20 minutes to scoop out the back of the truck once so I could put the hoist back down.
I drove Mike Hayden during the ’86 Campaign for governor. I mostly did okay. There was no body damage on any of the vehicles we used. I did back over a telephone box with a mobile home in Mark Frame’s front yard while touring southwest Kansas. And, there was the time I knocked over several cones along a construction site. But, only once the whole summer did Mike say, “I think I’ll drive.”
My dad helped me buy a Dodge Daytona my sophomore year of college. That was good news for Scott Focke. I quit asking to borrow his Charger. I had a lot of trouble with Scott’s car. I was used to driving a stick shift. Scott’s car had no clutch but a really big brake pedal. My left foot hit that more than once. Apparently, you push down on a clutch a lot harder than on a brake. My passengers were luckiest if their seatbelts were fastened.
The Daytona got its share of scrapes – but mostly on the undercarriage, so it didn’t really show. I was driving a gal home from a date one night near Glenn Frame’s apartment. It was a winding road. I thought I’d show her what the Daytona could do. We went right over the curbs. Twice. The new CV joint set me back a bit. And, I didn’t have a second date.
I was only embarrassed once. I called a tow truck to help me out one day because I’d stalled on my way to Clinton Lake near Lawrence. I’d over heated or something. The tow truck driver put a little gas in the tank and said, “That should help.”
I was beginning to think it was more than bad luck when Joni and I moved to Washington, DC. We were taking Tim Fitzgibbon, a grad school friend, home. We were driving south toward Lafayette Square. That’s the big park right across the street from the White House. It was dark. I didn’t realize my speed. I didn’t realize the park was so close. We went right over the sidewalk and on to the grass.
I did a quick u-turn, squeezed between a utility box and pole and was right back on the street. No harm. No foul. Tim turned to me a little ashen and said, “That’s some of the best and worst driving I’ve ever seen.”
I finally gave in and admitted I was a bad driver when Emma was one year old. Joni and I took Emma to Ireland. We rented a car and drove all over the country. Many of the roads were barely two lanes wide with thick hedges lining both sides. I drove. Joni and Emma rode in back.
One afternoon, Emma’s bottle fell off the front seat and onto the floor. I tried to grab it. I sat back up and saw a bus coming straight toward us. The hedge seemed like our best option.
Joni and Emma stayed at a bed and breakfast while I traveled with a tow truck to get a new car. The rental agent asked me what happened. “Apparently, I’m not a very good driver,” I said.
“I’ve never heard that one before,” she replied and then dutifully noted my comment in her notes.
The first time my Honda civic was nearly totaled was good luck – for me. A woman hit me at 10 miles an hour in a parking lot. She hit the car just right to wrinkle every quarter panel. Got to take out several years of door dings.
The second time I totaled my Honda civic was just dumb. I was driving when I shouldn’t have – late after being up many hours. I fell asleep and ran a red light. I injured a woman. Fortunately, she recovered. But it was wrong and unnecessary.
In the interest of time, I’ll spare the story of my most recent trip into the ditch. Let me just say a few words. East bound. Ice. Guard rail. Median. Guard rail. West bound. Really lucky. New truck.
It’s worked out for the best, really. Joni gets motion sickness very easily. She does best in a car best when she drives. She does. And, I get more time to read when we travel. Everyone’s happy.
Perhaps especially our insurance company.
A spring break trip was a foreign concept to me. I had never heard of such a thing until people started talking about it my freshman year at KU.
In high school, I don’t even remember the phrase “spring break.” We had Easter break. I can’t remember if it was a full week or just a few days. It didn’t really matter. We had track practice during the break and we weren’t encouraged to miss that.
Our freshman year at KU, the idea came up to go skiing. I spent most of my time on Scott Focke’s floor at Ellsworth Dorm. Five people on his floor, plus Scott, me and a friend of mine from a history class decided to go. We drove as far as Atwood the first night.
Phil Priebe was one of the five from Scott’s floor. It would be his first trip to Atwood. Little did we know at the time he’d make many more.
One in our crew was from the East Bank of Israel. He claimed he’d been a member of the PLO. He spoke very little English so we had trouble asking questions to verify if his claim was true. He made us all a little nervous but he seemed like a nice enough guy.
One person traveling with us, Rob, was surprised by Dad’s grey hair. “I didn’t know your dad would be so old,” he said to me after Dad left the room.
My friend from history class, Brandon, spent his time in eastern Colorado looking for a place you could only see plains and no trees. It kept him entertained for over an hour.
The ski trip involved most of the activities you would expect of 19 year-old boys. There were a couple of pratfalls. Phil and a few others did not heed Scott’s and my advice to wear sunscreen. They spent our last day at the slopes sleeping in cars with badly burned faces.
A few of us spent our last day skiing the back bowls of Copper Mountain. I hot dogged on a green slope as we approached the bottom of our last run and broke my leg. I didn’t realize I had the stress fracture until several weeks later.
We skied through mid-week and then returned home. Phil stayed with me in Atwood. The others went on to Lawrence. Phil’s and my adventure continued when we rode back to Lawrence in Bill Beamgard’s Dodge Dart (at least, I think that’s what it was).
Bill, with our blessing, decided to take Highway 36 rather than go down to I-70 for reasons I can’t explain. We had not yet reached Oberlin when it started to snow. It came down fast, wet and heavy. A typical spring snow.
We topped a hill just west of Norton. There was nothing Bill could do. He slammed into a Trans-Am that had just rear-ended a stalled car in front. The Trans-Am fiberglass shattered and scattered. The Dodge Dart seemed just fine.
Inside the broken car was Brian Moore of Oberlin and Dawn Tonguish of Herndon. Brian was a sports rival from high school. Dawn was a fellow KU student who would go on to become an accomplished broadcaster. We made sure they had help before we pressed on.
The snow came and went but the progress was slow. We saw no other cars the rest of the day. As we approached a hill near Belleville, the Dart took a rest. It stalled. Bill tried in vain to start it again.
We climbed out of the car contemplating what to do. No farm houses in sight. No cars. Just snow. Phil captured the moment singing out, “Ahh Ahh, Kansas!” The state’s marketing song of the time.
To our great relief the Dart started again. We continued thirty to forty miles an hour. We reached Ellsworth Dorm thirteen hours after leaving Atwood – twice the normal time.
We had no cell phones. No one knew where we were. We learned that the highways were being closed right behind the whole time we drove. It was a major blizzard. We were crazy to be where we were.
Even Mark Frame, my roommate at the time, was worried. That’s when I knew it was bad.
There is no lesson from this story except that nineteen and twenty year-old boys are seldom the best decision makers.
I got up early this morning to bid farewell to an old friend. I knew she was ill but her death still took me by surprise. Even when you know death is coming there is sadness and hurt when it finally arrives.
The Rocky Mountain News was published for the last time today. I left my house at six a.m. to search for a copy. The results were the same – sold out or not here, yet. A clerk at the Safeway said she’d save me one when they’re delivered.
The Rocky was our morning paper when I was a boy. We had two morning papers. The Rocky and The Salina Journal. Atwood was too small for a daily paper of its own. The Rocky made the four hour journey from Denver to Atwood on the Greyhound or Trailways bus.
My brother Alec delivered The Rocky for a short time. But, that job belonged to the Cunninghams for more years than I can count. I can still see Matt or his dad driving there old tan car, a paper flying out the window. I remember crawling over stacks of extra papers filling the side entry of the church next to the parsonage where they lived.
It was at our breakfast table that I fell in love with reading the newspaper. My dad would make oatmeal (every morning). My brother Alec and I would make ourselves peanut butter toast. We’d sit down at the kitchen table and divide the papers. It’s a habit I continue to this day with my own kids – except the oatmeal and peanut butter toast part.
The Rocky, of course, was in a tabloid format. It wasn’t easily divided. Being the youngest, I had to wait my turn. It was worth the wait. As a kid, the tabloid format was a perfect size. I could actually manage to navigate the pages without covering up my food.
I spent my time in the sports section and the back pages – comics, horoscopes, puzzles. Each morning during baseball season, I poured over the box scores. There weren’t expanded box scores in those days with players batting averages already calculated. I would do that myself. I would crunch numbers for the Royals trying to figure out whether George Brett or Hal Mcrae had a better shot at the batting title.
People followed the sports team covered by the local paper when I was a boy. You couldn’t go to the internet and follow any team you choose. There was no such phrase as “Red Sox Nation.” People were “homers” because you only got to know one team – the one with stories in the daily paper. I became fans of teams in places where we lived – the Red Sox while in Boston, the Orioles while in Maryland.
That’s why so many people in Atwood are Denver Broncos fans. The Broncos were the team in the morning paper. I followed the Royals and Chiefs in The Salina Journal. But, I also was a fan of the Denver Bears. The Bears were the farm team for the Montreal Expos during my baseball fever years – so I became a fan of the Expos, too. I knew their players on their way to the pros.
To this day, I still read the comics every morning. I only read a few now. When I was a boy, I read them all. B.C. and Wizard of Id were my favorites. Today, I glance at Hagar and the Bumsteads to see how they are. Characters I got to know through the Rocky.
I lost touch with the Rocky when I left Atwood – the way you do with old friends. When Joni and I moved to Colorado in the late 1990s things were already changing for newspapers. We didn’t subscribe to the Rocky but received it every morning. They were at war with the Denver Post. Unsolicited delivery was part of a plan to increase circulation and maintain ad revenue.
I was consulting with newspapers in those days – The Orange County Register, The St. Louis Post Dispatch, The Arizona Republic, The Gazette-Telegraph in Colorado Springs. The papers were looking for ways to strengthen their relevance. Readership was down. The advent of the internet accelerated the decline.
I turned away from print myself. We still receive our local paper in hard copy. Everything else I read on line. I checked the Rocky once or twice a weak online. But that type of readership did not sit well with advertisers. The business model has changed. But, that’s old news now, too.
I’m still passionate about good journalism. I’m one of those who believe our democracy depends on a healthy fourth estate. I’m also optimistic that rigorous and thoughtful journalists will discover new platforms. But, I’m concerned about the transition. The new platforms are not yet mature. The revenues are not there to support the work. Journalism is suffering. Too many of my friends from my newspaper consulting days left the profession in disgust – some in despair.
But, I think about all that on another day. Right now, I’m going back out to see if I can find my old friend to say my final good-bye.
I ducked. My left ear smacked into my knee. The “helicopter” whizzed past my right ear. I swear I could feel a wind as it went ssshhhooom, spinning by in a near invisible blur. I heard the explosion a split-second later. Debris from the flying firecracker known as a helicopter fell on the road behind us.
“That was close,” exclaimed Paul in a panicked shout. We were sitting side by side on the small concrete bridge looking over the creek. He had ducked the other direction and almost fell. “What were you thinking,” he half yelled at me, still too startled to really give me a tongue lashing.
“Whoaaaaaaaaa,” I shouted back, eyes wide, laughing with joy and shaking with fear.
Shouts of “cool,” “no way” and “damn,” cascaded around us as the half-dozen or so other boys took in our near disaster. But, in an instant, the excitement of a firecracker flying directly at our faces subsided. The gaggle of boys crowded around the bridge went back to the business of lighting Black Cats, Peacocks and bottle rockets with their red hot punks.
I didn’t move except to look at my hands. They were shaking. But, wow, what a rush.
It was just a few days until the 4th of July – one of my favorite weeks of the summer. I went through a lot of lawn mowing money during this week each year. It was a great change of pace from our daily visits to the swimming pool. We put our swim suits away and focused on blowing up as much stuff as we could.
We spent most afternoons racing back and forth between fireworks stands – the Boy Scouts and Swim Team ran competing operations on opposite corners of Highway 25 and Cemetery Hill – and a bridge just fifty yards up the hill.
I would jump on my bike as soon as I heard the one o’clock whistle, a signal that the stands would be open, dashing down State Street as fast as I could go. I could count on eight to ten boys arriving at the same time to join in games of varying degree of danger.
One of our favorite games was to see who could explode a firecracker just above the water of the creek. Timing was everything. You lit the fuse and then held the firecracker until just the right moment. If you guessed right, the firecracker would explode just as it hit the water. If you waited too long, you risked a handful of throbbing blisters from the inevitable powder burns.
I’m not sure what led me to use the helicopter – illegal these days. Clearly good judgment was in scarce supply on these blistering hot afternoons. The thrill of explosives overtook any good sense we had.
We were fortunate, my friends and I, to avoid any serious injury. I experienced one bad burn when a batch of Black Cats went off in my hand. I raced home and soaked my hand in a bucket of ice water hoping to ease the pain to the point that I wouldn’t have to make a report to my parents.
One friend had a bottle rocket stick in his face. That was harder to cover up since it happened at a neighborhood picnic.
Our parents weren’t too concerned about kids getting injured. I’m not sure why, perhaps because no one ever was seriously hurt. The danger that led to adult intervention came in the dry summers. No one wanted to see a field of wheat catch on fire. Strict limits were set on setting off fireworks near crops.
I don’t think I’d be comfortable allowing my kids to take the risks we did when I was young. We were often foolish. But, wow, what a rush.