Security Reflections - September 2011

Security Reflections - by Bruce McAlexander

It has been quite a while since I have written anything about my experience of growing up in Security, Colorado. It has been over a month already since our 45th reunion, which was such a good time. I find it interesting at this stage of life where I am in my thoughts, priorities, and my focus. My parents are both living. My dad turned 86 in August and my mom turned 85 in August also. So many of our friends and classmates have lost not just one but both parents.  Now it has been our turn to take care of our parents and watch them with their struggles physically as well as sometimes emotionally and even spiritually 


My siblings and I are struggling to help our parents feel independent and self-sufficient, but the reality is that even though they are still doing many things, they are needing more and more assistance – which is not fun to watch for us nor them. I watched my parents for years take care of my grandparents until their deaths while on some level my parents were still dealing with their three kids who had our own families by then and enjoying their grandchildren. My mom’s mom lived to be 97 and for years lived with my parents. My parents were dedicated to do whatever was necessary to take care of their parents during those years. Now my parents are where their parents had come before their deaths, and many of us are doing or have done what are parents did for their parents and children. The Bible has a verse that basically says that “life is but a vapor” and it quickly disappears. I think we can all agree how fast life seems to have gone and we know very well what stage of life we are in and what is lying ahead for some of us. Like it or not, but we are very aware of what people have gone through or going to go through with our moms and dads. I was glad Shirley Guinta came to the reunion after recently losing her mom and it was good that in some way we all could let her know how much we care and she is not alone. The reality is that many of our classmates have lost a parent in recent months such as Shirley, Ron Petty, Barbara Billingsley, and Rhonda Richards. It is not easy for so many reasons. Meg Hulsey’s stepdad, who I have always liked and was a client of my dad’s for years, is now having hospice come to him. Have I depressed you by now? 


The reunion in some ways helps me feel safe when I am with many of you. On some level we might not know everything people have gone through, but there is that connection from our childhood that, for the most part, is so good.  


I grew up in the key hole of Rose Drive until I was a senior when we moved up to Hallam Avenue where we had two bathrooms. I remember some people thought the McAlexanders were doing quite well with having two bathrooms.  I remember as a child going back to Kansas during the summer time to visit and live with relatives where outhouses were still quite common. All of my relatives in Kansas were my babysitters when I was young. Even though just having that one bathroom on Rose, there were some relatives who had already thought the McAlexanders were doing quite well with having that one bathroom.


When we first moved down on Rose, most of the houses were occupied by military families. If I remember right, there were fourteen homes from Security Boulevard to the end of the key hole. One of our classmates Mary Ashley lived on the same street. Marciano Anteola, another one of our classmates, and his sister Terry lived on that part of Rose as well. Maurice Marks, the class of ’65, along with his brothers, one of whom was Philip (class of ’69), actually lived down in the key hole two houses away from ours. Mike Reishus (class of ’67) lived across the street from us along with his brother Ronnie (class of ’68) and the rest of his family. Mike’s mom, who was a great friend of my mom’s, just died yesterday unfortunately. He is another one of my friends losing a loved one. One couldn’t help to like and respect Mrs. Reishus. She was often in charge of us kids when my parents were at work to hopefully keep us kids in check.


Out of those 14 houses, there were several military men who had married women from overseas. There were four German wives, one Japanese wife, a wife from Scotland, one from Britain, and Marciano’s parents who were from the Philippines. I had no idea what stories were in everyone’s lives at that point since I was having fun with all my friends and living in “my own little world in my childhood.” There were many other kids roaming the key hole of Rose in those days as well.


I still do not know many of the stories that took place with most of the adult people who were still in the military at that time, but as time went on I became more and more aware of some of the realities of life. My dad had flown in B-17 bombers only twelve years earlier in World War II before we had moved to Security Village. It was safe to say that back then Security was really a military town. Later on in life I started finding out what many of the adults had been through just over a decade earlier. Evidently most of our parents wanted to make our world safe for us and often not to share their “war stories” probably for more than one reason. I found out at one point that Helga, one of the German women, during the war had been hidden by her parents to keep some of the Russian soldiers from reaping havoc in her life as a fourteen-year-old when her parents boarded her under a stairwell and had to sneak food into her to try to keep her safe. I was told that her mom and grandmother did not have the same results. To me as a kid, she never seemed too friendly and I often avoided playing in her yard even though she lived right next door. She was a hard worker often shoveling her own driveway, but I had no idea what she had gone through and why she often seemed distant and even grumpy. 


There was another German woman who lived right next door to Helga. I found out that she had been married to an SS trooper in the war and had one male child with him. I knew he was one of my friends’ older half brother. I was told that during the war she often had hidden her son – even in garbage cans – to try to preserve his life and tried to protect him not only from the falling bombs, but from the Russians getting a little revenge. He is a few years older than I am, but we have become friends over the years. Sometimes I think of him and wonder how being hidden in garbage cans as a five-year-old has affected him over the years to this day, especially with his ex-wife and grown kids. Then across the street there was the Reishus’s dad named Vern. He had been in a Japanese prison camp. When I was a kid he had never been a very thin man, but both he and his wife loved dancing and they seemed to laugh often. He was one of the few dads who would come out and play with us boys. He always seemed so happy and quite jolly. My dad told me later that while Vern was a prisoner he had gotten down to around 100 pounds and had such a difficult time talking about his experience in those brutal camps. I would have never guessed he had been through so much and had even been tortured more than once. He was such a nice man. Looking back on it, many of those people were more like family than just neighbors. The large majority of the kids were more like cousins. As a child, I was even oblivious to what my dad had gone through in those bombers. I enjoyed his stories for the most part, but had no idea what he must have felt each time taking off on another mission as such a young man. He was nineteen when flying in those bombers during World War II. His crew had been shot down more than once, but they made it back across to the Ally lines. All of our parents had their stories, including our moms even if they were still home doing whatever was necessary to keep the families together with so many of the men overseas during that war or the Korean war, which had just ended a few years earlier before moving to Security. Ronnie Petty’s mom and dad were caring for the wounded on a ship, where apparently their romance continued despite the war going on. Ken Loveless’s dad was in the Pacific flying fighter planes. There we were as kids, at least Bruce was, running the neighborhood and not being very aware of what so many had done or had been through just a few years earlier.


In the late ’50s I was in a very safe environment that was made possible by my parents and many sacrifices made by some of those who lived on the same street. No doubt our parents wanted that for all of their children after all they had gone through just a few years earlier. Maybe that was part of the Sproul family’s reasoning in naming the new town Security Village. No doubt our parents wanted to go back to a more innocent time despite what the Depression had brought along with the dust storms. Security, Colorado was a good place for Bruce with all my friends and people who, for the most part, helped me look forward to waking up in the morning.


It is interesting to me to listen to many people talking about their childhoods in Security. I know we didn’t live in a perfect world and behind many doors there were many problems and heartaches. I had no idea as a child how many adults were alcoholics even though my older sister used to babysit often while people went to the military officers’ clubs or places like them for their social gatherings. I’ve learned since then some stories where Sheriff Harry Orvis or Sheriff Jack Ames came to many houses to try to keep peace. I was not aware of the physical or sexual abuse that was even going on with some of my friends, nor was I aware of the hidden torments and the fear that gripped some. Even after all these years, I am aware of how some classmates choose not to come to a reunion because “their experience in high school is something they would like to forget.” When I have heard such things as this, it usually makes me sad. Most of the people who have shared such stories with me, I have always considered them friends – in some cases good friends. I wasn’t aware for a long time how many of my friends and classmates have actually committed suicide. I am sure there were many who liked them and considered them as friends besides myself. 


I remember Gary Emrich very well. We were both in North Elementary School. I used to love to go to Gary’s house on Davie Drive. He had things that I wasn’t allowed to have as a kid. He had turtles and even an ant farm. His dad was the shop teacher at the high school for several years. He had a younger sister named Carolyn, who was quite cute. I believe it was Paul Snell who told me that, when we were in sixth grade, Gary was embarrassed that he was not in Mrs. Townsley’s class. If I remember right, they divided the classes up into the “smart kids class” and the “average kids class” and the kids who struggled more. I was told Gary felt ashamed that he was not put in the “smart kids class.” I was in that class, probably by mistake. All I know is that the sixth graders across the hall always sounded like they were having much more fun than having Mrs. Townsley. In the fourth grade at North Elementary, my best friend was Dean Otey. Then the next year he was shipped out to Widefield Elementary with his twin sister Diane. He came back to North Elementary in the sixth grade and had Mrs. Townsley.  Dean came up to me at one point and asked me a question that went something like this: “Bruce…you used to be smart, but what happened to you?” To this day I still do not know what happened to me. I would gladly have changed with Gary to go over to the other side of the hall to hang out with my rowdy friends. There was a connection that we made that went back all the way to elementary school.


In high school, it seemed that Gary became more and more of a loner. I always viewed Gary as a smart guy. He always seemed very interested in science, and I found myself listening to Gary’s knowledge about such things in those days. I had a lot of friends who had many diverse interests who were gifted and talented in so many ways. Tommy Sheperd loved the Civil War and he knew so much about things concerning that war. He had confederate money and even had board games about that war that he liked playing. My guess is that he liked beating Bruce since he had read so much about it as well. Gary was knowledgeable about many things. I remember finding him during lunch in the little green room that was on the south end of the second floor. He was in there messing around with the plants. I would still go in and start talking with him and found him interesting. Gary was about as much of an athlete as I was, but he still would go out for football. When we were seniors, though, I was very aware why Gary was not in the cafeteria for the most part. He was for some reason or another picked on and many pranks had Gary involved. His green room had become his safe house. I should have been a better friend. My best friend in Kansas died in a car wreck when we were about twenty. Tommy Sheperd also died in a car wreck around the same age. I miss my friends and hope they know how important they were to me. Some of you are my friends, my brothers and my sisters. I hope you know that. 


Gary was a good guy despite living on Davie Drive. Ronnie Petty, Donnie Collier, Warren Everingham, Judy Ames, Mickey Martin, Larry Anglesey, Linda Murphy, and, last but not least, Jerry Moyers, all lived down on that end of Davie. It would have been tough enough for Gary to live so close to Don Collier, but all those others, what can one say?


Ron and Don and I can go for great lengths of time and then pick up where we left off in some way as though time has no effect. To me, that is a gift.


I know that even after a few years have passed and we come together at one of these reunions, it is often so easy to do the same with many of you. Candy and Joy were those I adopted as a child. I ran away from home one time and moved in with the Woods family. How I loved Joy’s parents Modena and Duane. Those of us who grew up going to North Elementary no doubt attended a party in the Woods’s garage. Modena taught us how to play “Spin the bottle” or “Post Office” and she always had great snacks. I remember Modena coming to me a few days after running away from my home and asked, “DON’T YOU THINK IT IS TIME TO TALK WITH your parents?” I was enjoying myself being around the four Woods’ sisters. I believe Jill was married already, but they often had their girlfriends over. That was great being in a girls’ slumber party! I also liked the food, but took the hint and moved back home. To this day, I have no idea why I was angry with my parents and how I ended up at the Woods’ house instead of Ron Petty’s or Don Collier’s, but I have no doubt I made the right decision.


I did have so many memories with Joy and Candy. I remember sitting with them at the bottom of the hill at North Elementary and decided to sing one of Elvis’s songs. It didn’t take too long for them to look at each other and begin laughing. That ended my singing career. I looked at Modena as a second mother, but my guess is that I was not the only one who did so. The night at the reunion, it didn’t take me too long to find three of the Woods’s  sisters and raid the party once again. Jody was the only one who didn’t make it to the reunion. I once had a huge crush on Jody and I figured she might have seen that Bruce was going to be at the reunion, which might have made her decision easier. Janie, the youngest of the sisters, asked me right away why I was coming to talk with them since Jody was, according to Janie, my favorite. She claimed they watched me at one point after walking into a room to see me when I was laying a big kiss on Jody. That was when I realized one of us was showing our age since the only sister I ever remember kissing was Joy when playing “Spin the Bottle” or “Post Office.” Given the opportunity, I guess I should let Jody come up from Florida and I should kiss her once again and that might stimulate my memory. So, Jody, please do not miss the next reunion.


Getting Candy up on the dance floor once again the night of the reunion just took me back and reaffirmed what I have always felt about so many of my friends. Candy and I danced so much over the years. Even if she had a boyfriend who felt uncomfortable dancing to the fast dances, Candy and I danced. For one of the big dances – I do not remember which one or why since Candy was many of the guys’ favorites – we actually went to a dance. I remember arriving at her house on Steven Drive with my flowers and dressed up. Her mom was always so nice to me, but I had to wait for quite a while. It was not because of making the boy wait for you to set some kind of parameter. She had gone to the beauty shop and evidently spent good money only to hate what they had done to her hair. I had seen that experience more than once having a younger sister and an older one. Mrs. Burdell must have felt sorry for me since she sat down across from me to carry on a conversation. Candy was one of my sisters unfortunately, but she was a great sister and friend. That night turned out to be rather intimidating for me. I still wanted her to have a special evening and took her to the Embers, which was a very nice restaurant. At some point I became aware that the piano player was Candy’s dad and he had a great shot of watching us that whole evening during our meal. Candy looked beautiful, just like always, despite the beautician. Mr. Burdell did me a favor by not staring at us too often.


So once again Candy was dancing with Bruce at the reunion, and how quickly she remembered all my little tricks and dance steps. I still feel that if I ran away from home, she and Joy would be there for me and that too is special.


As I entered Sproul Junior High after North Elementary and eventually the high school I did develop new friends, but in those grade-school years there was a bond that carries over to this day. I’ve seen it, too, with those who went to Widefield Elementary and South Elementary as well. In hindsight, it was probably good that for the last semester of my third grade I had gone to Widefield Elementary and had developed some friendships in that short time. Brad Douglas was forced by his mom to hang out with me since I had been found crying on the north side of the building as I was so scared and felt out of place that first day of school. So when we got to Sproul, I remembered many of the kids from that short time.


There are so many that I haven’t seen in years and some who never came back for any reunion. For the 45th reunion we had some who were able to come and some who have never come to anything like this before. Denese Clark, Terri Eberhardt, and Marty Dostal were some I saw and how delighted I was to see them and spend time with them. Marty still tells great stories and can make me laugh. I always thought Marty was such a free spirit and his eyes still twinkle when telling stories. How his smile still today can get the girls’ attention. Have I embarrassed you yet, Marty? My mom and both sisters still adore him. I can name so many who are able not to come or choose not to for different reasons. I would love to see so many. At this stage of life, I do hope they are okay. I did have a huge crush on Nan Manning in the third grade. Judy Brown was many of the boys’ heart-throb in the fourth and fifth grade. Gerry Wright was getting our attention in the sixth grade. Dave Lowe was one of my good friends in high school along with Eddie Nickum. We played basketball with Paul Delay, Chuck Johnson, Dane McCaffrey often – sometimes behind the Catholic Church or on Chuck Johnson’s driveway. I was so hoping to see Stella Romero at the reunion and see if she knew whatever happened to Carolyn Simpson. I thought maybe Denese Clark could get Rod Gilliland to come to the reunion. Where is John Gibson, Ron Skaggs, Skip Norcross, Alan Pinder, Dean Pinner, Linda Horst.  Ron Petty and Linda Horst have some stories I wish they would forget. 


Dave Smedsrud, who was so much fun watching play basketball, lives in San Diego the last I knew. I had an interesting conversation with him when calling for the 40th reunion. I was talking to him on the phone and at one point he said that he didn’t remember me. That statement caught me by a little surprise and I told him that might be good. I played basketball with him outside the locker room several times and had several classes with him. There are those in high school who became such friends to me as well: Andy Armstrong; Debbie Armknecht, Starr Coakley; Twila; Rhonda; Mickey Martin; John Paden; John Griffith (who I had such respect for); Dane McCaffrey; Pete Spiers; Vicki Hawes; Mary Ashley, Barbara Smith; Wanda Floyd; Myra Boberg; Paul Snell. I can list so many more and with most I have such fond memories. Whatever happened to Terry Chase, Vicki Resley, Harry King, and Tony Valencia? Those of us who were in Latin and liked wearing those sheets at those banquets, I have no doubt a person studying Freud would have a heyday with us. Are you getting the idea that Bruce feels so thankful for those who God brought into my life?


Since we had opened up this reunion to all the classes of the ’60s, it was interesting to talk and try to see some of those who were friends of our big brothers or little sisters. The stories were flying and so many people were laughing. After high school I headed to C.U. in Boulder. I could write several pages about my experiences in college and how difficult I made it for myself by some of the decisions I had made. However, over the years I have become more and more aware of those who got drafted or joined the military during that period of time. I was not aware of how many were in the middle of that mess in Southeast Asia and what so many of you had to go through and how many of you were treated after returning to the states. I remember we were seniors when we were going to have a special assembly to remember Karl Thompson (the class of ’65), who had been killed in Vietnam. Karl spoke with a German accent and I remember he also wrestled. He was a very nice guy and had a sister who was younger. That was really the first time I had paid much attention to the place called Vietnam. I remember feeling so strange sitting there in that assembly knowing Karl was dead and how alive he was just a few months earlier. I remember walking with him after school to our homes.


I had gone out for football my sophomore year and in a freak accident blew my knee out, which put my N.F.L. career to a quick end. When I turned 18 I went down to register for the draft. They asked me for my history when it came to any old injuries. I signed the appropriate papers to give them permission to contact all of my doctors. When my draft card returned I had a 4D rating, which meant I could only be called up in a declared war or national emergency because of my knee. Then a few months later I went off to Boulder to put myself into a culture that in the beginning was so strange to me. I had no idea how many of my classmates and those in other classes before and after were over in the middle of all this. I had no idea of how young we were at that age, nor did our fathers when fighting in their war. One of the people who came up and talked to me that night was Mark Sweet and I listened so intently what he was saying to me. Mark was a year older than I was and in high school it seemed like the girls liked him and he was a pretty good athlete. I had run into him in Boulder at the place where Warren Knight’s sister Donna lived. He was back from Vietnam and had been severely injured – another growing point for Bruce to see and watch him and the reality of war. He didn’t have to say anything because it was obvious he had gone through more than I wanted to know. The night of the reunion he said something to a blind guy that made me think. He said something like “Bruce…the first twenty years I was an angry man, but the last twenty I am enjoying life.” Someday, maybe I’ll get the chance to have him expand on this whole process. All I know is that he was out on that dance floor more than once and the girls seemed to still enjoy him. I know some of you saw and heard things and went through so much in Vietnam only to come back and sometimes be spit on. I was at C.U. skipping classes, eating pizzas and going to football games. Those things do not seem the same as what many of you went through or might still face at times. I wish I hadn’t been so caught up with self at so many times. Marty Dostal, Dennis O’Rourke, Mike Adragna, Roy Manuszak, Jerry Moyers, Jerry Allin, and so many more: thank you so much. I am so glad that at this point in time we are treating our young men differently than so many people treated you during that time despite our political beliefs. I’ve been crying writing this part. I guess it’s a sign of old age?


I guess I’ll shut up for a while. Can you really realize that our next reunion will probably be our 50th?  I have gone to some of our classmates' funerals the last few years. I actually enjoyed Larry Cordova’s funeral and listened to so many who loved him and what he had done with his life. Larry Sandovol recently died. Vietnam did much to affect Larry after getting home, too. He was such a gentle guy who made the honor roll often. I saw him a few times in the Kwik after he had come back, evidently with many nightmares .


Life has its challenges and sometimes we might feel very alone and even isolated. I was indeed given a gift when my parents moved to Security Village and so many of you became my extended family. My door and my heart will always be open to you. Spending time planning the last few reunions have helped me in some cases see what I missed with some of you. It’s good. Barbara…thank you!