In 1968 my father, with a freshly minted college degree, took a new job in the Denver area as a computer programmer. Moving from Albuquerque to Denver was a big change for the entire family, but a much larger change for my mother. She had lived her entire life in Albuquerque with a brief sojourn in Newfoundland while my father was in the Air Force. That was where I was born by the way, in St. John’s. In leaving Albuquerque more or less for good, my mother was also leaving her own mother and father behind as well as nearly all of her other relatives and friends. It was a big deal.
Settling in at the Ramada Inn on West Colfax for the first week as we waited for our new house to be available, it all became too much for my mother one night. My dad came into the kid’s room and told me he was taking my mother to the hospital. She was having some sort of anxiety attack. At 12, and the oldest, I was therefore in charge until their return. I spent about 5 minutes fretting about this and my mother’s status before falling promptly back to sleep. You can only expect so much from a 12 year old.
In time, we left the Ramada and moved into our house in the northern Denver suburbs, just a block shy of the Thornton city line. From my perspective, life in Denver was a vast improvement. There were no sand storms to withstand, no tumbleweeds to dodge, and grass actually grew on the lawn without much prompting. In Albuquerque our yard was mostly sand, front and back. With sodding after sodding, we never managed to get grass to take hold in that sand and clay for more that a few seasons.
Our neighborhood was far more affluent than where we lived in Albuquerque, though still solidly middle-class in nature. The local elementary school was again within walking distance and there were great new places to explore on my bicycle. One of my favorite places was a small roller skating rink about a mile from the house. Outside the building was a Coke machine that kept the pop so cold that it was partially frozen. There was nothing that could beat that particular treat when you were hot and sweating from riding up and down the roller coaster bike trails of Welby hill.
In my first five years of school in Albuquerque, I was decidedly at or near the top of my class is nearly every endeavor. My first year of school in Denver, the 6th grade, was decidedly different. I found myself playing catch-up in some subjects and school actually became a challenge for the first time. I remember in particular having great difficulty with Spanish class. You would think that coming from Albuquerque, with daily exposure to the language, I would have some good Spanish skills under my belt already. But the words I knew were mostly schoolyard taunts and profanity and, unfortunately, those words were not on the tests. It also didn’t help that the Spanish teacher was a humorless and stern task master. And in Spanish class there was far more effort required outside of the classroom than in any other class.
So I struggled and struggled, barely achieving a passing grade in Spanish by year-end. Its interesting to me that my Spanish teacher and that class are my only real recollections I have of that school year. It was my wake-up call, I guess. I recall seeing a tear in my Spanish teacher’s eye as we said goodbye at the end of the year. The following year would see me at the junior high. I guess he really wasn’t as stern and tough as I thought he was.
Having a very competitive nature (ha, my wife would laugh at that understatement), I was able to close the gap in time and get back to the top, briefly, before the disaster of puberty struck and all hell broke loose. Ah, but that’s a different story…