In mid-September of 1975 my wife and I were encamped on the shores of Minnesota’s Cross lake, a popular Army Corps of Engineers recreation site.
For many years, providing contract services to various government agencies had been the income source that enabled us to make our dreams come true.
During the fifties, tree service contracts at Arlington National Cemetery, the Naval Academy, and elsewhere, afforded us the opportunity to build a horse breeding and auction business in Maryland.
In the sixties, proceeds from contracts with U.S. Forest Service allowed us to establish a ranch home for needy boys in New Mexico.
This time, we were maintaining buildings and grounds at two Corps of Engineers reservoirs. Our goal, to purchase breeding stock for a cattle ranch on the Laurentian divide.
As cooler autumn days displaced the warmth of summer, our workload diminished. The grass stopped growing, campers left for home, and only a few hardy fishermen launched their boats on the weekends. We laid off the summer help and managed the work alone.
Then, on a sunny October morning, as we walked around the parks on our daily rounds, I began experiencing pain in my chest. When I rested the pain subsided, but it returned when I resumed walking. Naturally I grew concerned.
I finished the contract by minimizing physical activity and pacing myself. In mid-October we returned home, and I visited my primary care doctor. After a complete physical exam, the doctor warned that I was exhibiting characteristic cardiovascular disease symptoms. The following week, a cardio angiography confirmed his diagnosis.
My military service during the Korean war entitled me to certain benefits. Fortunately, those benefits included healthcare, and I was scheduled for surgery at the Houston, Texas VA Medical Center.
Dr. Michael De Bakey, the renowned heart surgeon, was teaching medical staff at the Houston facility, and my operation was performed under his supervision. By the grace of God and the VA, the expensive triple bypass operation was performed at no direct cost to me.
Several days later I shook Dr. De Bakey’s hand and thanked him for extending my life. Today, at age eighty-five, I continue to receive all my healthcare from the Veterans Health Administration.
Apparently, Dr. De Bakey and that team of VA professionals did a first-rate job. I returned to my ranch and continued living a robust lifestyle. During the next twenty-seven years I owned and operated a cattle ranch, trained and traded Quarter horses, operated two successful dude horse businesses, designed and produced rustic art furniture, continued running my nationwide contracting business, and founded an alternative energy company in cooperation with E. Kendal Pye, PhD. the inventor of the Penn/Ge cellulose to ethanol process.
In 1993, my wife and I moved back to Colorado. On the advice of my doctors I discontinued my other business commitments and concentrated on horse training and sales. Then, in 2002, while demonstrating a young gelding to a potential buyer, I suffered a stroke which led to a second by-pass surgery. This time the emergency surgery was performed at the VAMC in Denver. I was seventy years old and in serious condition. Several mishaps occurred during the twelve-hour operation. Blood oxygen deprivation and Ischemic hypoxia resulted in brain damage, permanent visual impairment, and other physical and mental debilities.
The effects of that event impacted negatively on my artistic pursuits. After that, when my visual art efforts met with frustration, I turned to writing. Painting Pictures With Words. To my surprise, this substitute avocation was equally gratifying.
In December of 2014, a stent implant was attempted to address increasing angina. The procedure was less than successful and resulted in a myocardial infarction. As it turned out, however, there was a silver lining in that cardio cloud. To pass the time while hospitalized, I began reciting my poems to other patients and staff. One day a hospitalist appeared at my bedside.
“They tell me you’re a pretty good poet.”
He said with a smile. “You should enter something in the VA Creative Arts Competition!”
That was the first I’d heard of the Veterans Administration’s Recreational Therapy and Creative Arts programs. It was, A Most Beneficial Discovery.
Back home, I went online to get all the details. There was a competition on the horizon, so I entered my work in three Creative Writing division categories. Humorous Poetry, Monologue/Duologue, and Short, Short, Story.
A few weeks later I was notified that I’d won two first places and a second in the regional competition. My humorous poem, “An Old Man’s Lament” and the Monologue/Duologue, “The Old Man In Red” were advanced to the national finals. In June word came down that I’d won a Gold Medal for the poem and a Bronze for the Monologue!
I reckon those awards proved something or other. Either this ol’ cowboy hit a lucky streak, or all those windy’s around the campfire made me a wordsmith of sorts. Whatever, I was delighted, elated, and overjoyed! That uplifting experience was the best possible medicine for this old Has-Been. It renewed my self-confidence, restored my pride, inflated my dispirited ego, and inspired me to set exciting new goals!
I was invited to attend the Creative Arts Festival in Durham, North Carolina, but declined due to my wife’s failing health.
In 2017, my humorous essay “The Last Outhouse” won Gold! This time, along with other Gold medal winners from around the country, I attended the memorable festival at Buffalo, New York.
I’ve never fully recovered from the 2002 setback. But to this day, with encouragement from my family and the Veterans Creative Arts program, I continue working toward rehabilitation. Perhaps I’ll attempt a sculpture this year!
One more thing in closing. Over the last few years I’ve been thanked countless times for my service those many, many years ago. It’s very nice to be appreciated. Now it’s my turn.
THANKS TO THE VA, THE AMERICAN LEGION, AND HEROES MILES FOR SUPPORTING THIS MOST BENEFICIAL DISCOVERY!