A Chance to do Right

It began on a Fall afternoon in the mid-eighties.  I was at my desk in the science building when a dark-haired young woman lurched into my office, squealed like a pig, fell across my desk, and pushed a piece of paper at me.  I took the paper, and read “Please help me.  I am not retarded.”  Block printing, in pencil, many erasures.  She squealed again as I helped her back to her feet, then sat her in my chair.

I went into analytic mode – early twenties, one hand barely functional, no balance, can’t talk.  Makes communication difficult.  Computer lab down the hall – let’s see how she can do typing answers. 

The first thing I learned was her name – Patti.  She had been in a car accident, spent 5 months or so in a coma, and then been moved to a group facility.  She had gotten to campus on an outing, and planned her escape.  She had lurched into my office on her 7th escape attempt.  Would I help?  Only much later I would get the barest idea of how hard she had worked to write and keep her note, of the many attempts the crippled girl had made before she finally made it to campus.  Inside the battered body, the mind was intact but isolated.

I balanced her weak left side, and we walked across campus to Doc Brown’s domain.  Doc was our college psychologist – and I explained that Patti had came into my office, wanted to enroll, but was going to need some testing to figure out what sort of accommodations she would need.  Obviously communication would be a problem. 

I don’t know who it was that learned Patti had been a secretary at Adolf Coors.  I don’t know who got in contact with Coors.  I do know that someone at Coors made sure Patti got an Apple with a word processor and brought the gift of communication back to her.  At first I’d see her coming across campus balanced by one gunsmithing student or another.  Later, I’d watch her cross campus alongside one of the girls basketball players.  In general, it was safe to say the world respected the young woman trying to get her life back.

All the while, she would make a point of going out of her way to stop by the science building every week or two.  She was recovering the ability to type with her good hand.  Math – even simple addition and subtraction – was pretty much gone – but she did have a calculator.  Speech never came back. 

I would like to believe there was a happy ending.  I left Colorado and moved back to Montana.  We exchanged letters occasionally – but, as Dad said, “When the anchor goes up, everything is finished.  But Patti gave me an opportunity to do right, and many people at TSJC also shared in that opportunity.


Professor Mikey- The Early Years

A friend’s photograph, from the early years of our marriage – at the first stop in my career in academia, teaching at Trinidad State Junior College.  A T-shirt that came in a Christmas package from my mother that is recognizable, as is the Oldsmobile.  The photograph is a bit out of focus, and I suspect that, over the years, the memories are also a bit out of focus.

At Trinidad State, with an entire department dedicated to gunsmithing, and the NRA Whittington center just across the pass in Raton, my hobby interest in firearms could grow.  As a teacher, when Kelly Vigil asked, “Why can’t we do it this way?” I had the time, and reason to answer the question – when I had been designing irrigation systems, I had just done things as I had been taught.  As a teacher, I had time and space to discover why.

Below the college library was a place of magic – earlier TSJC had offered an Associate’s program in museum management.  While the degree was no longer offered, the practical museum was still there – and the artifacts and bones from the Folsom excavations were mine to inspect and appreciate, just because I was the one faculty member interested in archaeology of the Southwest.

As I look at my own artifacts, I notice my switchblade – given to me by my student Gonzalo, “that you might have something to remember me.”  I remember Gonzalo, and his story how his mother, a pregnant teenager from southern Mexico had crossed Mexico that she could give birth in El Paso, getting him birthright US citizenship before she was sent back south by la migra.

My dentist, whose office had once been occupied by Bat Masterson, a half-block away from a saloon that was once damaged by Cary Nation’s hatchet in a temperance rally.  A few miles to the north, Ludlow, bloody Ludlow, where the striking miners fought back as their tents were targeted by the machine guns of Colorado’s National Guard. 

Perhaps the memories are no more out of focus than the photograph.