Archive for the People Category

The Memoirist at the High School Reunion: Part 1

Posted in People, Writing on August 23, 2015 by Vince.Puzick

Mining for gold.  Drinking from a firehose.  Kid in a candy shop.

Whatever idiom used, when you fancy yourself to be a memoirist, going to a high school reunion is not just a trip down memory lane.  It’s not mere reminiscing, this conversation over finger foods;  it’s priming the pump.  It’s kindling for the fire.  It’s prewriting.

I spent about eight hours with folks from my high school’s graduating class, the class of 1975 from William J. Palmer High School, this past weekend.  From teammates on the baseball team, to the academically motivated kids I passed in the hallways but didn’t really share many classes, to the band kids, smoker kids, kids who climbed on rocks — the 100+ or so who made it to the 40th reunion mingled and shared stories of the past and current stories of their present.

In more than a couple of conversations, I started questions with “Do you remember …” which must be some sort of memoirist mantra.  The memoirist is cursed;  remembering isn’t just about the memory filtered by time and distance and shaped by other experiences.  The memory isn’t just about recalling the facts — or something resembling the facts.  As Mary Karr said in her Paris Review interview “More important than remembering the facts, I have to poke at my own innards.” It’s about finding some meaning in the remembered experience, some emotional truth in the facts.

I’d ask “do you remember …” in part to confirm that the experience did, indeed, happen but also to see and hear the emotion behind their recollection.  Did they cringe or grin?  Grimace in disbelief at the “man, we’re lucky to be alive” memory?  I didn’t look at their response to be a mirror of my own recollection (it couldn’t be!) but as a way to access my own response, my own emotion to that memory.

Members of Palmer High's 1975 baseball team. Missing some key guys, though! Members of Palmer High’s 1975 baseball team. Missing some key guys, though!

So the memoirist at the high school reunion gets to hear different perspectives around shared experiences — which are not shared memories.  A bunch of boys were sitting in the booth in the back of the Bon Pharmacy enjoying cherry cokes (when they actually had to mix the cherry syrup with the Coca-Cola at the fountain) when Dave P (maybe 13 or 14 at the time) snagged that housefly right out of the air and then, for twenty-five cents, swallowed it down.  Taken separately, that event is just evidence of the strangeness of teen boys;  in the bigger context of my life around Bonny Park, it speaks of a time and of relationships that were impactful. Similarly, we were all at Gerry Berry Stadium when Tony S, paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident several months before graduation, received his diploma, pushed across the stage in a wheelchair.  Yes, the scene was emotional.  But it is an event in a larger memory landscape that has meaning, that shapes me, that is part of the arc from the booth at the pharmacy to graduating from high school.

Mary Karr says “With memoir, you have the events and manufacture or hopefully deduce the concept.”  I have the events — and a headful of notes about more.

So if memoirs are beyond the “what” of remembering;  it is the “why” of remembering.  What is worth writing about?  And why is it worthy of that time, energy, and emotion?

I’ll need to get back to you.

About Family, Family History, and Proximity

Posted in Observations, People on March 24, 2015 by Vince.Puzick

My childhood home was at the north end of Colorado Springs. Not the Historic Northend as some of the new street signs read. Further north than that.  Where Cascade Avenue basically came to an end cutting through fields of yucca and prickly pear cactus and few trees.  The north end. Nothing really historic or glamorous about it.  Just the outskirts of town.

I grew up bordered by my father’s family.  Aunt Millie. Aunt Mary.  And when I was still a baby, Grandpa Nick and Grandma Eva.  Aunt Dorothy — who had married my Uncle Steve.  For some reason, a reason I hope to discover or at least hypothesize in this current writing project, all of the Puzick clan stuck together and carved out a little niche of four households barely a half a mile apart.  Not only within walking distance, but, if the wind was blowing right, within shouting distance of each other.

Not so with my mother’s family.  She and her siblings — two brothers — spread out from their South Dakota and Wyoming childhood homes and pursued their independently from one another.  Reunions with them seemed special because the times together were infrequent.  Cousins were born and got so much bigger since the last time we saw each other.  Little kids grew into teens then adults.

So we had this great and immediate proximity to the Puzick side of the family.   Not so much with the Wertenberger side, my mother’s side.  And so with this proximity we knew the Puzick story.  The coal mining side.  The immigrant Serbian side.  The German side was distant.  Less intimate.  Overshadowed.

And the richness of a family tapestry cannot be fully seen in the threads of one texture.  And so this writing project is the other thread.  to be continued …

So you’re a native!  So what …

Posted in Observations, People, Places on February 4, 2015 by Vince.Puzick

I was having breakfast a few weeks ago with a new friend who recently moved to Colorado Springs, and during the conversation I said “I’m a native.”

“You’re the second or third person I’ve talked with in the last few weeks that pretty quickly points out that you’re a native of Colorado Springs.  Why is that?”

It’s an interesting question.  In our very mobile population, it is almost expected that people will move to different parts of the country or, living in a city with five military bases such as Colorado Springs, different parts of the world.  When I ask, I’m usually expecting the answer to “where are you from” to be something other than Colorado Springs.

So from my friend’s response, my blurting out that “I’m a native” must seem, what, a little prideful?  Does it come across as creating difference – “you’re new, I’m a native”?  — and therefore maybe a little arrogant?

I have pondered why it is important to express, blurt out even, that I am a native of Colorado Springs.

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Perhaps it is out of nostalgia.  I remember when … the north end was not even “The Old North End.”  The north end of Colorado Springs was basically north of Uintah Street, or maybe even north of Fillmore.  The north end ended where Nevada Avenue merges onto I-25.  Rockrimmon was simply the site of the old Pikeview coal mine and, more when I was growing up, high school woodsies and keggers.

Penrose Main on Cascade Avenue was simply Penrose.  The 13-story red and white building was the only Penrose Hospital in town.  And Penrose was a visible and meaningful landmark in the town.  Until the Holly Sugar building was built in the early 1960’s, Penrose rose up out of the tree-lined streets of the north end like a beacon.  One could always orient one’s self by finding where he was in relation to Penrose Hospital.  And when it is your place of birth, it grounds one in familiarity, foundation, reassurance.  Coupled with the fact that I was born there, Penrose was also where my mother was trained and as a nurse and then employed for some 40+ years.

The Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo breakfast was a small town event.  So was the 4th of July gathering in Memorial Park.  The population throughout the 1960’s was only around 90,000 residents.  Today, the 4th of July event draws more people than that to the Park.

I remember when the Manitou Incline actually had a train car that pulled people the mile up.  Those were saner, simpler times.  And Jones Park was a hiking and backpacking experience where you would not see another hiker (and mountain bikes were not even invented) for the entire weekend.

Does it just come down to nostalgia?  Maybe it is just due to the fact that I am getting older faster and reminiscing more often and more deeply.  The old and familiar of Colorado Springs still serves as my anchor despite the changes.  I love walking down Tejon Street despite the loss of Michelle’s ice cream, Lorig’s cowboy boots and hats, Hibbard’s pneumatic tubes where your payments zoomed out of sight and where the elevator was tended by an elevator man.  I love the presence of the Fine Arts Center even though I do not take advantage of the richness of it as often as I should.  Despite my own liberal leanings, I think NORAD is awesome, the Academy is beautiful, and Fort Carson (where my uncle worked) is pretty cool.

But maybe my blurting out “I’m a native” is also about roots and place, about the rootedness in where you “grew up.”  When I told my friends in California, after living there for all of the 1980’s, that I was moving back to Colorado Springs, they thought I was crazy.  (I’m sure it was, ironically, native Californians who mostly responded with this disbelief.)

But there is something about waking up with the sun-reddened granite of the Pikes Peak summit greeting you on fall mornings that lingers bone deep.  (It is also knowing “Pikes Peak” has no possessive apostrophe and being OK with that despite being an English teacher.)  It’s knowing the effect of the chinook winds, that today’s snow may be gone by sunset tomorrow.  Or even later today.

It’s knowing that despite living in the most conservative of all counties in Colorado, we weathered Proposition 2 twenty years ago. It means we can enjoy a rich arts community even if it feels tiny at times.  It means despite our growth, we can enjoy nature experiences within our city limits and wilderness experiences within an hour’s drive.

So, yeah, I blurt out that I am a Colorado Springs native.  It’s a statement that says welcome to what I have known for many years, and it serves as the segue into the near-apology of “I know, things could be better here.”  Maybe it’s a bit protective of a life that once was and is not the reality today.  Maybe it is an invitation that says let’s continue to create a space together that has all the closeness of a small town but the richness that 400,000 people may bring.

My brother. The cop.

Posted in Observations, People with tags on December 23, 2014 by Vince.Puzick

My brother retired a few years ago from being a cop.  He served the Colorado Springs community, his hometown, for 30 years.

I learned a little about police work watching my brother.  He worked the bar detail for awhile checking places like The Wagon Wheel on (what was then) the east part of town and then he’d drive over to The Cotton Club in downtown Colorado Springs.  Bar owners liked him.  He was fair with them.  Wanted to protect their business, their livelihood. He worked his way up through the ranks becoming a sergeant and then working undercover on drug detail.  He once described police work as hours of routine and monotony interrupted by very intense, life or death, adrenaline-pumping action.  Arriving on the scene of a bar fight, or busting through a door with a suspected meth dealer, armed, on the other side gets your attention.

As a cop, his interactions with the public were almost always in high stress, unpredictable situations.  You don’t roll up on the scene where humanity is showcasing its finest behavior.  You get a tainted view of humanity, I suspect,  because you constantly view its underbelly.  It’s the nature of the job.  And it takes its toll.

My brother was a good cop.  And by that, I mean he was skilled at what he did; he was respected by his peers and by cops who served under him in his sergeant command.  And he was a good cop, an ethical one.  He lives by a strong moral compass.

And this writing is not some unexamined, younger-brother-admiration of his older brother.  We argue.  We don’t see eye-to-eye.  My brother, 15 years older, is a product of the 1950’s.  He is on the conservative end of the spectrum.  My liberal leanings are fodder for an argument in which he always seems ready and willing to engage.  I both admire his conviction to his beliefs and wince sometimes at his unwavering adherence to them.  I suppose it is true with all of us — “conviction to” borders on inflexibility. ”Seek to understand” sometimes doesn’t exist.

I have thought a lot about him over the last several months.  I have thought a lot about cops.  I have thought a lot about community. About humanity.

I have thought a lot about Eric Garner and Michael Brown.  I don’t understand … I’ll just leave it at that.  I don’t understand.  How they both died, unarmed, by the hands of  cops for apparently pretty minor crimes.  How their resistance to whatever the cops were asking them to do escalated so quickly that they were dead within minutes of the interaction.  And I have thought about Tamir Rice who, at 12 years old, was shot within seconds of cops arriving at the park where Rice was brandishing an Airsoft pellet gun.  Or playing with.  His naiveté and kid-innocence tiptoed up to adult realities he could not really know.

Three black males — 12, 18, 43 — dead on the street.

And I have thought about cops being shot at lunch, like the two in Las Vegas over the summer, and, more recently, the two in their cruiser on a Brooklyn street.  I don’t understand.

Our view is skewed by the color of our fellow man’s skin or the hue of his uniform.  Are we all becoming profilers — racial, ethnic, religious, gender, occupation?  Our reactions toward and interactions with others are based on perceived and preconceived roles rather than relationships.  Perception is reality.  The cop in blue or the black man in a hoodie.  The cop.  The black man. Threat.

We see an icon, an image, a caricature.  We have lost touch with our humanity.  We become transfixed with seeing images of a black kid hugging a white cop not only because of racial implications in the photo, but maybe because of the touch.  Arms around each other.  Body to body.  The humanness. When are we ever this close to another human being, particularly those we may see as a threat?

The creation of more dialogue to build understanding and relationship won’t guarantee a fix.  But the absence of dialogue, the lack of effort to build understanding, surely guarantees no progress. The human voice touches.  Art touches.  Literature touches.

The cop.

My brother.

A White Guy Talks About Privilege

Posted in Observations, People on November 29, 2014 by Vince.Puzick

Back in the early 1990’s, I was teaching a night course at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.  After the 7:15 class, I was heading to my car along a dimly lit sidewalk that ran along the side of the library building parallel to the parking lot.  A young woman, maybe around 20 years old or so, was walking in the opposite direction.  As we approached each other, her eyes quickly darted up to meet mine, then she looked straight forward.  Her body seemed to tense up, she clutched her books and bag closer to her. I wanted to tell her nothing to fear here.  But of course she walked in a fear in that dark night that I did not experience.

I’m a white, straight male.  Because of those biologically determined facts, I have been privileged in social, economic, and professional ways. Privileged.

Coming to a level of consciousness of my privilege was a process for me.  It was an awakening rather than an epiphany.  As with other awakenings, it was in fits and starts, not a steady progression from unconsciousness to consciousness.    Don’t most awakenings — spiritual, ethical, moral — happen that way?  How many of us have a “burning bush” experience?

In my late adolescence and early adulthood, I was too caught up in protecting my own emotional security and physical survival to be aware of “privilege.”  After my father left when I was 12, my mother, a Registered Nurse at a local hospital, and I moved from our large Victorian house to a two-bedroom apartment.  Three years later, due to the economic challenges from being a single mother, we moved to a basement apartment.  Six months later, we moved again. It’s difficult to be conscious of privilege when you’re struggling to hold it together.  Perhaps, too, it was because of my last name which isn’t very American sounding.  I had to pronounce it repeatedly for teachers; I had to spell it out;  I had to explain its nationality.  It may be difficult to be aware of privilege when, as an adolescent, you are shaping and explaining your very identity.

But I do not offer that as an excuse or a justification for not being conscious of my own privilege.  I offer that to suggest that coming to consciousness is, more often than not, a process of accumulated experience, a dialogue with others, and an education which may come in a variety of forms.  In fact, William G. Perry’s work on intellectual and ethical development would support the idea that as people grow and mature, they pass through clear stages of moral, intellectual and emotional development.

On my journey to understand the privilege of my white maleness, I had to experience some degrees of “otherness.”  Of course, that in itself is quite a challenge.  In my early adulthood, though, I deliberately created opportunities to be in the minority for even the briefest of times.  I have been the only white male in a college course on Afro-American History. I have been the only male in a course on Women’s Literature and Literary Criticism.  I have been one of a handful of straight males at gay and lesbian events, the most remarkable being a poetry reading and subsequent discussion with feminist and lesbian poet, Adrienne Rich.  I have been the only white male in a bar, the Shadowglen Lounge, in the mid-1970s.

These experiences offered opportunities for discomfort — emotional and cognitive — that enabled me to reflect on my place in the world.  Granted, these singular experiences do not begin to replicate the day-to-day experiences that women, minority, and gay or lesbian people endure each day.  But they were an attempt for me to hear the experiences and perspectives of not being male.  Of not being white.  Of not being straight.  Hearing the life stories of others, or others’ responses to pieces of literature, or their non-white, non-male, non-straight perspectives on our own country’s history allowed me a new perspective on my own.  As Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, whom I read as a graduate student, writes, “No one is born fully-formed: it is through self-experience in the world that we become what we are.”

In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, I was engaged in a handful of conversations both online and face-to-face about privilege.  My contributions in those conversations were often shot-down.  I was misinterpreted as arguing that white males are victims.  I was accused of not taking responsibility for my own actions.  I was vehemently ridiculed for not acknowledging the benefits I have from my privileged position in society.  So I stopped talking and buried my interest in being in the conversation.

I am not a victim, certainly, of my white maleness, but I am a victim of a society that tolerates, fosters, and gains from a social, political, and economic system that privileges one over another.  Again, Friere, says “[The oppressor] cannot see that, in the egoistic pursuit of having as a possessing class, they suffocate in their own possessions and no longer are; they merely have.”  I inherited, was born into, a system that I can only work to change.

So my silence is not healthy for me individually.  The silence of any group is not healthy for us, societally, and in a larger context.  I cannot undo my white male straightness.  I’m “stuck” with what I was biologically dealt.  No biological solution, however, exists for a social, political, racial, and economic problem.  The solution isn’t found in silencing any group.  Yes, I need to listen more to hear.  I need to reflect more than respond or react.

Dialogue and conversation means that we are going to say the wrong thing.  It means we are going to be misunderstood.  I read somewhere recently that white people cannot understand or talk about race and racism.  I disagree.  Perhaps for too long we have had a monologue or disingenuous dialogue.  We all need to move toward gaining a new understanding.  How will new knowledge be gained if dialogue is denied?

Paulo Freire writes that “A word for so long a time attempted and never spoken, always stifled in inhibition, in the fear of being rejected — which as it implies a lack of confidence in ourselves — also means refusal to risk.”

The risk of any missteps in getting to a new and deeper level of understanding has to be taken, though, because the consequences of no dialogue, no conversation, are too great.  Those consequences get people shot, communities burned, countries fractured.

On Belay: Some Thoughts on Risk-Taking

Posted in Observations, People on October 21, 2014 by Vince.Puzick

I’ve been thinking about risk-taking a lot lately.  I’m not much of a risk-taker, it turns out, despite the fact that I am the youngest child in my family and according to some infographic I saw on Facebook (second only to Wikipedia for credible information), the last born child is a risk-taker just naturally.  But I had been thinking about this even before that contradictory chart appeared on my newsfeed the other day.

Risk-taking — taking a chance, a gamble — means working without a net.  Rock-climbing without a belay.  It means the mutual fund is made up more with your Aggressive Growth Portfolio instead of Money Market.

It seems there is this continuum of risk from low-level to high.  At the low-end, there is a certain confidence that “I won’t fail” which moves to “If I fail, I’ll be protected” (the belay rope will stop the fall) and then moves to high-level risk which is that “failure is not an option,” I’m operating with no protection or “If you don’t die, what’s the failure?”

But if you can’t fail or there is protection if you do, what sort of risk is that.  It’s rock climbing by walking on an undulating forest-service road.  It’s tight-rope walking on sidewalk cracks.  Low-risk is low-pay off.  Low-risk is low consequences.  Not much of an adrenaline rush if you’re tightroping the curb.

When I was younger, in my twenties and thirties and before parenthood, those seem to be the days for risk-taking.  Leave it all and backpack through Europe.  Move to the mountains and backpack, cross-country ski, write, go with the flow.  Work to live not live to work. The yearning was there but I couldn’t step out on that tightrope.  I couldn’t make that first move on the rock face.  It felt too freestyle.  You have to have two things to freestyle:  nerve and skills.  You need guts and at least the self-perception of enough skill to survive.  It takes some brashness.  It takes tip-toeing up on the side of rash, cavalier.  You can’t hesitate.  You can’t question.  “Do I dare to wear my pants rolled?”

Adulthood, parenthood, responsibilities and bills to be paid seem to sandpaper off the urge (or is it the opportunity) for risk-taking.  You can’t take unwilling — or even unknowing — hostages with you on that tightrope.  You can’t let them piggy back as you scale that rock face.  Can you?

So I look around at my comfortable home, my loved ones who share it, and the respectable professional life I have pursued.  It’s a nice life.  Fulfilling.  Pretty safe.  It won’t win any gold medal at the X-Games.  No Extreme sport, this life.

But just once I’d like to climb without a belay.

Lessons Learned from Aspen

Posted in Observations, People, Teaching on June 9, 2014 by Vince.Puzick

Aspen sat in Row 11, Seat 14 at the Dodgers vs. Rockies game on Sunday.  She captured our attention when she passed the row she was sitting in and her grandfather (we think it was her grandfather) started calling her name.  She was on the stairs about at row 3 when she heard him and made her way back, a little sheepishly, to her seat which was directly in front of mine.

I’m guessing Aspen is about ten or eleven years old.  Her multi-colored stocking hat was sort of sassy, distinctive and gave me the impression that Aspen may be a bit of a free spirit.  She had a little black bag with some sort of colorful images on it, too, that she kept her things in.

I’m always a bit intrigued by young children at ball games. Sometimes they just don’t have the patience to hang in there and watch a game for two or three hours.  Baseball is particularly challenging, at times, because the action can be so far away.  At other sports events, basketball and hockey, you can feel more intimately connected with the game because of proximity to the players and action. The extra-curricular activities, little shirt giveaways and contests, help keep spectators entertained at time-outs and slower moments of the games.  At Coors Field, they do a nice job with the big screen to keep us entertained.  And people watching at baseball games is fun.

As we settled in to the game this rainy Sunday, people huddling together to pretend it really wasn’t so damp and chilly in early June, Aspen and her grandfather also settled into the afternoon.  Aspen sat at the front of her seat, sort of on the edge of her seat, as the game picked up.  She never leaned back in the seat as she watched the game and did a little people watching of her own.

Every now and then as the game went on, Aspen and her grandfather would get into some conversations that appeared a little, for lack of a better word, “intense.”  And this is where I had my lesson from Aspen. Again, she did not sit all the way back in her seat.  She only sat about half way back. When her grandfather talked, she turned her torso one-quarter of a turn so she was facing him a little more directly.  I could not see her grandfather’s face or hear the content of the conversation.

As her grandfather spoke, Aspen’s eyes narrowed a little and stayed focused on his eyes. Sometimes they scanned his face.  But her eyes stayed attentive.  She’d nod.  Her nod reminded me of my own daughter’s action when she was about that age. A nod that said “I get it … keep telling me more. I’m with you.”  She would add a word or two in the conversation.  Then she would be attentive again, listening.

I was reminded, again, once more, of the power of listening.  Attentive listening.  Watching Aspen reminded me that active listening is done with more than ears.  It is a whole body act.  She listened with her ears, for sure, under that multicolored hat.  She listened with her body turned toward her grandfather.  She listened with her eyes, glued to his, scanning his face, attentive and engaged.

In many ways, I was glad I could not hear the content.  Aspen’s lesson was about listening behavior, the physical act of listening.  You can learn a lot from an eleven year old who is curious, inquisitive, engaged.

Oh, one last important lesson from Aspen on this cold, rainy day.  Start the day with Dippin’ Dots.  An inning later, make the move to cotton candy. (She had a great strategy: don’t take the plastic wrapper off;  instead, eat the cotton candy one finger-pinch at a time by reaching up under the packaging from the bottom.  It keeps the cotton candy undisturbed, and, if you get tired of eating it, you can then save it for later.  Aspen didn’t need to save any for later.)  And then to finish off the game, warm yourself back up with a hot chocolate.

After all, you only live once and you are eleven.

Treadmill Thoughts

Posted in Observations, People on June 6, 2014 by Vince.Puzick

So, in the 30 minutes of treadmilling today, where did my mind wander?  Here’ s a glimpse:

  • It has been a long time since I have sat “Indian style.”  Do we grow out of it or just not find ourselves sitting on the floor so much after a certain age?  Or maybe it is a flexibility thing.  Getting down there isn’t the issue.  Unfolding is.
  • I doubt that it’s even called “Indian style” anymore.  I’ll have to ask some of my friends who are elementary school teachers.
  • I forgot how much I enjoy many of the songs by the Cowboy Junkies.  My sister, Deb, turned me on to the Cowboy Junkies.  She also, back in 1977, introduced me to the album The Outlaws (Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser).  Oh, and Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou, and John Prine.  Damn.  34 years ago.  Or 37.  I can’t do math and treadmill at the same time.
  • I wonder what Jannetta would like for her half-birthday?  That’s coming up in a few weeks.  She has done a great job as summer school principal after a demanding school year as Master Teacher.  She’s one of the best in the education world at what she does.  She’s one of the best people that I know.  And she’s my best friend.
  • What kind of a writer do I want to be?  what kind of genre do I  explore next?  Tackle shorter pieces.  Maybe a focus on prose poetry.  Love the prose poem.  Maybe essay writing.  Creative nonfiction.  Greenback Cutthroats.  Skin.  The Old Bon Pharmacy and cherry cokes!  Being male.
  • I feel closer to God when I am in the mountains.  Wow, that’s a little trite: “I found God in the mountains.”  But it’s true.  I think my conception of God was formed in the spring of 1972 during the Outward Bound trip in the Lost Creek Wilderness Area.  During the solo portion.  I wish I had that journal.
  • “If you’re gonna worry, don’t pray.  If you’re gonna pray, don’t worry.”  I’m worrying a lot less these days. Maybe a lot less than ever before.
  • Is this a normal respiratory rate for my age, weight and amount of exertion?  This isn’t “shortness of breath,” is it?  I didn’t consult a physician before beginning my exercise routine.
  • Homeownership isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Well, it is a nice thing.  A lot of maintenance.  Hell ya.
  • Being an adult isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, either.  Fatherhood is a pretty cool gig.  Jess is a free-spirit of a daughter.  She is growing growing growing in so many ways.  Her fiancé is a good dude, too.
  • I’m a late bloomer.  I discover things later than some.  I think I’m good with that — but I wish I would have discovered fly fishing earlier in my life.  Then again, things happen when they happen.

 

My Mother, The Nurse

Posted in People on May 11, 2014 by Vince.Puzick

In the fall of 1969, my mom became a single mother.  It was a conscious, deliberate decision on her part, giving my father the ultimatum “quit drinking or leave.”  And he did.  In 1969 and for many years after, the term that was used to describe such a household was “broken home.”  For years, I believed that designation.  In retrospect, though, the home was broken when my father was present.  It stood a chance, actually, of healing after he was gone.  It took the healing hands of my mother.

So on this eve of Mother’s Day, the memories I remember of my mom are those that contribute to any healthy living I have been able to attain as a result of her influence.  Let me count the ways.  The first influences, sort of strangely, are of my mother the professional.  She was a nurse for over 40 years.  Most of those years were spent at (Glockner) Penrose Hospital.  She had nurses training at the Seton School of Nursing which was housed there in the 1930’s.  She birthed her own children there.  She was one of my nurses when I had knee surgery in 1974.

When other nurses called in sick or when they were unable to make their way down Ute Pass in the winter, she would either cover their shift until they made it in or she worked the entire 8 hours, if necessary.  I learned a professional work ethic from the model she set.  It was because of her professionalism, and her choice to pursue a career in the first place, that allowed her the financial freedom and security to give my father that ultimatum in 1969.  Having a career, even one with a modest income, provided her an independence she would not otherwise have had.  Although not as observable of an influence like her work ethic, this independent spirit said to me that you may not always be able to depend on others — so be sure that you can depend on your own resources.

Of course, as a single parent with a nursing salary, my mother had to make some tough financial decisions.  We moved five times after my father left.  She never visibly showed her disappointment in that.  She simply made the decision, packed up our household, and did what she needed to do.  We always stayed within several blocks of Penrose Hospital, though.  It anchored us.

One summer, when it was simply my mom and me (my siblings had graduated high school or college and didn’t live it home), we did not have money for a summer vacation.  But it is Colorado Springs — a magnet for tourists.  So we did what 30 years later became known as the stay-cation.  We went to Seven Falls.  Another day, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. We traveled up further and toured the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun.  We went to the Air Force Academy.  On another occasion, when we did have enough money for a road trip, my mom and I went to Juarez, Mexico.  On the way down, driving I-25 through New Mexico, my mom got her 1972 Mercury Montego up to 100 miles per hour.  At about 95 mph, I said something, maybe with a hint of nervousness (or outright fear) in my voice, to the effect of “what the heck, mom!?”  When she reached 100 mph, she backed off.  Smiling, she said “I always wanted to be able to say I drove 100 miles an hour!”  Cross one off of her bucket list.

My mother was able to support and enjoy the successes I have had (and, equally,my brothers and sister have had in their lives) and she was always there to help us up when we made a misstep along our way or, in my case, when I wandered completely off the path.  When I had a few years of sobriety under my belt and some stability in my life, she simply said, “you keep doing what you’re doing.”  That was a far cry from when I showed up at her door when I was 26, unemployed, lost (sometimes those who wander ARE, indeed, lost), and without a semblance of any plan or answer to “what’s next?”.  Despite her fear, she helped right the ship I was on and then let me adjust the sails.  She always had the right balance of giving suggestions (or straight-up advice) and of holding back her advice to let us make our mistakes and then learn from them.

When she was diagnosed with cancer in 1993, and perhaps six months before she died, I was visiting her at Penrose Hospital.  The treatment for her lung cancer was promising (but the promise did not hold true).  Over the intercom it was announced that visiting hours were over.  Well, that may have been true for others.  We were in the middle of a conversation.  And this was Betty Puzick.  A nurse and then, at the end of her career, a night supervisor for half of the 12-story building.  We would stretch the visiting hours rule for just a small bit of time.  The nurses providing her care understood.

“You need to know, Vince, that I am proud of you.  I’m proud as can be of all my children.  You have each done so well with your lives.”  She saw that we were happy, enjoying some success in our lives, and that we had survived the challenges of a difficult childhood.  And, with the end of her life a reality now, she wanted, she needed, to say it without any ambiguity.

What she wouldn’t see, what I truly think was veiled from her vision due to her own humility, was the very foundation she laid in all of our lives.

Nurses heal broken things.  They often say that bones and other broken things can be stronger when they heal than before the break.

No doubt.  Nice work, Betty Puzick, RN.  Thank you, Mom.

Direction: Remembering Roger

Posted in Observations, People on February 10, 2014 by Vince.Puzick

In the fall of 1971, two years after my father left, I joined the North Junior Mountain Club, run by my Latin teacher, Roger Schoenstein. My weekends throughout all of 9th Grade and into my high school years were spent hiking the Colorado mountains with Roger, often with his wife Patty, and a bunch of other teens.

One Saturday, as we were getting ready to head back to our camp after hiking up a small peak, Roger said “OK, Puzick, lead us on back.”  About 10 seconds later he called out again:  “Hey, Vince…this is great and all but, actually, our camp is that way,” his gloved hand pointed about 180 degrees opposite the direction in which I was headed.

For about six years, from the time I was a 9th grade student until I was a college student, Roger gently (and sometimes maybe not so gently) gave me direction.  With my own addictions and immaturity as a teenage boy trying to navigate his way into young manhood, I was not always able to hear or heed the guidance. Maybe it is always that way between a mentor and a stubborn mentee?  Just when you think you are ready to spread your wings, you make your mistake and learn that you have a lot to learn?

Roger was an incredible Latin and English teacher.  But more than that, he was, in many ways, a Renaissance Man.  Not only did he take us on some extraordinary nature experiences — floating the Green River in canoes, hiking Barr Trail to summit Pikes Peak, exploring the Uncompahgres, surviving overnight cross-country ski trips, and even abandoning one trip to the Grand Canyon when the transmission went out in his truck before we even reached Walsenburg — he also built a darkroom in his basement, played the guitar, knew the ins-and-outs of 16mm films, played tennis, and became an accomplished woodworker.

My teacher, a mentor in so many ways, Roger died early Saturday morning.

We didn’t have a lot of contact in the last several years — for all of the reasons that can happen when two lives get busy and diverge.   But I spent a lot of miles riding in the cab of that F-250 headed to one adventure or another.  I spent hours in the summer of 1975, when we were working the Outdoor School in Vail, riding around in that truck.  He’d give me, a misguided teen boy without a father at home or a direction in life, the keys and let me drive around alone listening to his Cat Stevens tape:  “Wild World,” “Father and Son,” and “The Wind.” Listening for one more instance of “Vince, you want to head that way.”

Whether in a canoe, the cab of a pickup truck, or on the thin boards of cross country skis, or in long conversations while developing black and white photos in the darkroom, you gave me direction at a time I needed it most.

Thank you, Roger.  May you rest in peace.

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