Sunday, June 26, 2016

A visit with Chad and Harvest Farm

“Hey! Do you remember me?”

I had to look twice. I had to think a minute. When he said his name, the light finally went on. I hadn’t seen Chad (not his real name) in many years. I met him when the Fort Collins Running Club got together a few people to join some men from Harvest Farm as they trained for their first marathon. The Farm provides men getting out from under alcohol and drug addiction with a long-term comprehensive program-- everything from hard physical labor, counseling and education to assist them in changing their lives. It has a strong spiritual component. Non-denominational. Christian. Attendance at any church of their choice is required on Sunday mornings.

Chad and I struck up a friendship during our runs and stayed in on-line contact for quite a while. “How’s it going?” I asked.

“Okay,” he replied with a smile designed to put a positive spin on things.  “I’m still living with my mom. We read the Bible every morning.”

“Working?” I asked. “Yep. I have a job with a construction outfit.”

He was riding a nice yellow “urban” bike, looking clean and well-groomed. “On my way to see my daughter.”

“How old is she?”

“Seventeen. We’re close.”

Chad has a nineteen-year-old son, too. For most of their lives, he hasn’t been around much. He was riding a bike because right now, he has no license and is dealing with a DUI. “The cops know me,” he explained. “I can’t get away with much.”

Meeting up with Chad was a coincidence for me, because one day last week, I paid a visit to Harvest Farm to do a story for the orth Forty News. I was there for their daily devotions service. The men were welcoming, friendly and obviously committed to making some difficult changes in their lives. A typical stay in the program is just over a year, but some stay as long as two years.

It came home to me, after meeting up with Chad, how true it is that the struggle with addiction never ends. People with that tendency must confront it every day of their lives. Programs help, especially one like Harvest Farm that provides such a positive, rural environment and a time frame long enough to promote real change.

But when it comes to confronting the struggle, it’s every man for himself. I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think it gets much easier with time.

PS. When I asked a staff member about a place like Harvest Farm for women, she replied. “There isn’t one and there’s a great need.”

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Don't go in the road

Early this morning as I ran west toward the foothills without a single car in sight, I came across a man and his dog. I was running facing traffic in the bike lane, bordered on the right by a newly-painted white line. The man, his dog and I were going in the same direction. As I approached from behind, the dog stepped over the white line and into the traffic lane. The man stopped.

Instead of yanking on his dog’s leash, this man quietly told his dog to sit, which he did, looking a little dolefully at his owner. Instead of yelling at his dog, which part of me expected this man to do, he got down on his knees and stroked his dog’s head. Then he looked into his eyes and said simply, “Don’t go in the road.”

Now. I’m not sure if this dog, or any dog, gets it when it comes to white lines on the road. But after watching this man and this dog, I suspect that there are dogs, if properly taught, who can learn to beware of the white line on the road and respect it as a boundary. They won’t ever know why but will comply because they wish to please their master. Maybe they’ll even come to trust that the boundary is for their own good. That it is there to somehow keep them safe.

White lines, in one form or another, are everywhere. They keep us on the straight and narrow. Insist that we do what’s right, for our own good, to keep us safe, to make sure we take our turn, to keep us “in line.”

Sometimes we human beings balk. There are lines we disagree with. Sometimes we’re in a hurry or we just don’t give a hoot and we step over.  But most of us, most of the time, take note of the white line and stay inside it.  We know it’s there for a reason.

It’s a rocky road out there.  As I continued on my run, I got to thinking that we’d all be better off if we did a little less yelling and yanking. Instead we might offer a gentle touch and speak a little more softly—to our dogs and to each other.

There’s no avoiding the road. Head on out but take note of the white line and hug your dog.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

1739? That's a long time ago!

For most of my life, I’ve been a little short on cousins, partly because we are so scattered. Maybe that’s why I love it so much when my grandkids, from four different families, have such a blast when they get together. They hang out on Facebook in between times, they talk about and make fun of each other.  They get it that they’re related and it makes for a happy bond.

That’s an experience I missed. A few years ago one of my cousins, the younger son of my Uncle Sam (Yep. I had a real Uncle Sam.) got in touch to explain that he was about to return “Fort Frey” to the Frey family by purchasing an old, old house in Palatine Bridge, New York. Built in 1739, it had housed members of the Frey family until 1950 when it was sold. Cousin Jon Frey and his wife, Gail, have renovated this wonderful place close to the banks of the Mohawk River and spend most of their weekends there.

It couldn’t be more historic. A roadside sign commemorates Major John Frey who fought in the Revolution. There’s a family cemetery up the hill where some of the gravestones are so old they are no longer legible. The ones that are indicate the remains of a series of John and Henry Freys. They believed in naming themselves after each other. As Jon and I approached the cemetery he said to me, “Can you believe it? We’re walking in the footsteps of our ancestors.” Not everyone gets to do that.

Jon Frey bought the place because he fell in love with it and because he saw it as a place that just might bring the scattered, errant Freys back “home” one day for a reunion. He even sent house keys to several of us, letting us know that we are always welcome there.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit several times and with each encounter with the place, it becomes more meaningful. This time Jon and I took an early morning walk on a misty, drizzly Sunday through the little burg of Palatine Bridge, into adjacent Canajoharie, across the river and up the hill on a street with lovely old homes.  Canajoharie, once the home of Beechnut foods, feels a bit abandoned. The huge factory now stands vacant. There are a few signs of life at the local cafĂ©, and a couple of antique shops, but early on a Sunday morning, all was quiet and still.

Our walk gave Jon and I a chance to get to know each other better. We laughed when we realized that both of us are pretty good at getting lost—definitely a family trait. By the time we got back to the fort, I was sensing that cousin feeling that I notice when my grandkids get together and no matter how long it has been, they fall into their friendships. There’s something about knowing you are related that is hard to describe but nevertheless quite real.

Jon Frey is coming to Colorado in a couple of weeks and I’m rounding up as many relatives as I can to spend an evening with him. One of them is my brother, John Frey, the author of  Freys Along the Mohawk, The History of an American Pioneer Family in Palatine Bridge, New York, 1680 to 2014. Perhaps, if your name is John or Jon  and you are a Frey, you are doomed to a love of history and a passion for genealogy. I must say, the family tree would be much easier to follow if each of the members had a different first name. The difference of a middle initial just isn’t enough to keep them all straight.

I couldn’t be happier to know this cousin of mine. There are more of them lurking around and one of these days maybe they will have a chance to hike up to the cemetery and try to puzzle out just where they came from.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Freihofers's all-womens 5k run

          Kate Kloss, Elsmere principal, left and Kathy VanValen, who drove me to the school.

It has been my great good fortune to be invited to participate in the Freihofer’s Women’s 5k Race in Albany, New York for each of the last five years.  The experience gets better every time I go.

A long trip to run 3.1 miles you say? Well, maybe, but I can’t think of a better reason to travel that far. I never say “no” to this invitation because I love everything about this race from the enormous community support it receives, the top-flight runners it attracts, the school visit program which sends elite runners into area schools to talk to kids about running, to the acknowledgement it bestows on women’s running.

Running is a one-person sport but it provides a healthy social outlet and bonding experiences for lots of runners of all ages and abilities. More than 200 teams participate in Freihofer’s: club teams, corporate teams, high school teams and family teams. This year there were sister-sister, mother-daughter, grandmother-mother-daughter and even two great grandmother-grandmother-mother-daughter teams.

The race has been around for 38 years, always sponsored by Freihofer’s, a generous, giant bakery operation that cares about every detail and makes it possible to award significant prize money to the open winners. For many years the race has been the national 5k championship for women.

Kate Kloss, the principal at Elsmere Elementary School, greeted me like an old friend. I’d been there before and shared my kid books with them—and they actually wanted me back! The fourth graders were on an all-day trip on the Erie Canal that day, but the rest of the 300 students gathered in the gym and we talked.  Ten or so of them lined up behind the microphone, most of them with a bit of paper in their hand, to ask me questions. Articulate and insightful, these kids between the ages of 6 and 11 wanted to know how I got started running, what I like eat before a race, what I do when the going gets tough (Have I ever felt like quitting?), and the last little boy wanted to know the one thing I would wish for. That answer had nothing to do with running.

Then the background music came up and these kids began to sing. Every one of them. They not only sang, but they acted out the words to accompany their song titled “Proud.”  I didn’t see a single kid who wasn’t singing or who did not know every action. By the time they were finished, there was a tear in my eye and a song in my heart that said, “You know, this generation’s gonna be okay.”

Race day dawned warm and sunny, but not hot enough to be an issue. The course runs through Washington Park in Albany and ends close to Albany City Hall and the New York State Capitol. Every runner goes home with a box of Freihofer’s chocolate chip cookies.

There were two of us who came from Colorado this year. It was pretty thrilling to see Brianne Nelson of Golden take first place with a time of 15:46. In her mid-thirties, this mother-of-two took first overall in the 2016 Horsetooth Half Marathon in iffy weather last month.  Yes. She beat all the men. And last Saturday she beat all the women.

As always, the race was a great experience, but I can’t stop thinking about those kids at Elsmere—I won’t soon forget the time I spent with them.