Proof that I have lived a lucky, and maybe even a charmed, life is the mere fact that I am still here, happy and well at 81.
1928 was a fine year to be born. Optimism was still in the air; a bit later the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression went unnoticed by a first-born who was at the time noting only warmth from family and friends.
My Social awareness of the very hard times other were experiencing came when family friends started to share my parents' small but stable paychecks by working at remodeling our house and relief trucks brought oranges on the school grounds to hungry children. I also learned the idea of public good through the Roosevelt model. To me private good and greed were illustrated by watching many local politicians pay for their fancy ways with prison terms for embezzlement. My life long liberalism was a perception of the worth of the public learned from this time. To match this perception I learned about work from my parents for whom work was a good way of life. To work for the public goal became a life goal.
From the beginning of my school experience I was not the most popular student nor was I yet the star scholar. This stood me in good stead for the rest of my life. It was easy to exceed the expectations of everyone including myself.
Trinidad, Colorado, was a good place to spend the formative years. It was full of contradictions. It was a coal-mining town and it was a historical frontier town. To the East was a culture of the cattleman and that code of honor. To the Northwest were the coal camps where the CF&I and J.D. Rockefeller housed the immigrants from all over Europe.
To make the contradictions more complex some of the Hispanics living in the plazas along the river had been there for centuries on Old Spanish Land Grants. The Maxwell Land Grant grab of those lands led to the great Stonewall War. Contradictions are like unanswered questions. The curious seek resolution and learn from the complexities.
The cultural diversity of the region was a curriculum to counter the racism often part of America. In Trinidad the list of unfavorable stereotypes was extensive. It included by name all the Southern Europeans with their languages and religions. The Hispanics were also easy targets. The saving grace is the circumstance that required a bit of doublethink when reciting a strong negative stereotype was that most people hastened to add: "But John is different. He is a good...."
Then there were those, like my grandmother Minnis, who were blind to racism. Her next-door neighbor was an African American. My Grandmother, Lou Minnis, had no name or label for her neighbor other than Grace, friend or neighbor. She and Grace integrated the Trinidad Southern Baptists church every Sunday for many years without any comment I ever heard. And least you think they would not have done it in Mississippi, be assured they would have done the same thing in Jackson. They were neighbors, and neighbors go to church together.
The sheer lack of logic of a racist view gave the youth of Trinidad an opportunity to worry about serious differences such as North side kids and South side kids. Money was one difference. South Siders were poor, North Siders less poor. And children of Strike Breakers were above all to be shunned. Kids of union families could not even date those children 50 years later.
After high school graduation (a safe 1946) I left Trinidad for the Marine Corps. I took with me a strong work ethic my Depression warned parents gave me. From paperboy, lawn mower, garage grease monkey, I had a work resume of some length. Unfortunately, the Marine Corps had no MOS numbers that fit my experiences and the war was over so they sent me home after a year with a nice honorable discharge which read: " at the Convince of the Government." No hero, but like my three Peace Time younger brothers I had the GI Bill.
Both my parents were not educated to the level of their potential. They were both very bright and had fine language skills. They wanted their boys to get educated, as they had not been able to do. They stressed education to each of us at every occasion. College was expensive, but they were determined to see us get a college education. The G.I. Bill sent us all to school. All four earned graduate degrees with two of us completing doctoral programs.
I taught my first kids in 1950 in Del Norte, Colorado. I taught my last class in 2007 as part of a doctoral program between UC Davis and California State University, Fresno. After nine years in the public school classroom I came to UC Davis in 1959 to start the elementary teacher education program.
I served as a faculty member, Head of Teacher Education, and in 1974 became Associate Dean of Graduate Studies. I retired in 1991 and was recalled to be the co-director of the joint doctoral program with Fresno. I finally stopped working for UC Davis in 2008. Almost 50 years.
Living in California I wanted to keep in touch with my parents. I started to send them audiotapes in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which they answered. When I got my first PC I started to write a family letter, which continued until the last of my parents' generation died. As part of this letter writing I would occasionally add a poem. Soon I was adding a poem each week.
In 1996 my class had our 50th class reunion in Trinidad. For this event I wrote and self-published a book of poems titled: "Trinidad, Colorado - My Home Town". It was fun and the proceeds from the sale of the book were dedicated to the Class of 1946 Memorial Fund for the Mitchell Museum and Gallery.
I continued to write poetry as long as I sent the family letter. I stopped when my stepmother, Helen, died (at 99). I thought no more about poetry for years. One day I picked up and read David Mason's epic poem " Ludlow". Lots of coincidences start here. I read the poem because of the subject matter. Ludlow is a coalfield war in 1913 close to Trinidad. My mother's family was miners and many of the strikers were old friends.
I have had a long interest in the Ludlow Massacre. It happened a few miles north of Trinidad in a tent colony where the striking miners and their families were forced to live. The Massacre happened when the colony came under fire from the CF&I hired guns and the Colorado State Militia. I grew up with disdain for the CF&I; it’s storm troopers and the Militia. Upon reading the epic poem I discovered that I knew David Mason's grandfather, Abe Mason, and I wrote to David. We corresponded and I read much of the rest of his poetry and some of his essays.
Reading David’s poetry rekindled my interest in poetry as story telling. I had saved my earlier poetry on floppy discs for my old PC. I decided to transfer them to my Mac. So I could start rereading them. I asked my computer tech, Shawn DeArmond, to translate them to usable files. His partner and wife Shannon is the editor of THE YOLO CROW poetry journal. She did much of the transfer of files. Her interest in the content she was recasting from my files resulted in my starting to submit poems to THE YOLO CROW and to write more.
There are some advantages of being an old poet. I have lived long enough to see and appreciate the many ironies that haunt our lives. At the same time they do not devastate me in the same way young people are devastated. I have thought about death and disaster enough that the rough edges of thought-pain are dulled. I can write about them with an attempt at humor.
It is fun to see my children (Kevin, Dorrick, Neil, Adrienne and Dorian, who is really sort of a hybrid--a grandchild raised as a child) go through these steps of coping until humor and irony soften life. The rules of life game are that no one over 80 gets to say: " I remember that and here is the way to cope." Coping with life is everyone's personal privilege.
I have lived a charmed life indeed. And I have a so many more poems in my head.