Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Grand Adventure...

(Snooze alert. I did not realize how long and boring this is until I finished it. Consider yourself warned. You're welcome.)

In April of 1981, The Mrs. and I were a very young married couple with a 7 month old son (an extremely colicy son with constant ear infections that NEVER slept more than one hour at a stretch).  We both walked around pretty well fried like the Colonel's chicken...physically and emotionally.   I had some time off from work coming. 

So, being young and foolish we decided, "Heh!  Why don't we go to visit Brent and Theresa in Albuquerque?  It'll be great!"  Brent and Theresa were probably our closest "couple friends."  Oh, we had lots of couple friends, but we had spent more time with them and done more things with them than any of the others.  Plus, neither of us had ever been to the desert Southwest, so it sounded like a great adventure.

When I hit the campus of Louisiana Tech in June of 1977, I didn't know anybody.  I started in the Summer, so all of my high school buds that were going to Tech wouldn't be along until the Fall quarter.  So, Momma told me, "Go to the Baptist Student Union.  I think they have ping pong tables."  Sounded good to me.  I walked in to the BSU, and saw a few guys and gals standing around visiting, playing ping pong & foosball, etc.

In about 30 seconds a young fellow that already had a receding hair line walked up to me and said, "Hi!  My name is Brent (last names are not important for this story).  I just hit Ruston today, and I don't know anybody."  To which I replied, "Well, join the club."  By the end of that day, Brent and I were fast friends.  It turned out that he was actually a Senior that had transferred to finish at LA Tech from Northwestern State.  He was an Education major, and was engaged to a young lady still at Northwestern who also was studying to be a teacher.

Over that next year we became extremely close.  His future wife was a great gal that got along great with the young lady that I landed.  We did EVERYTHING together.  After they married, and graduated they both landed jobs teaching in Caddo Parish.  I was a college dropout by then, and had married The Mrs.  It was GREAT!  We only lived about 10 miles apart, and man did we have fun in our off hours.

After a year of teaching school, Brent decided that this was NOT what he had bargained for.  He applied to the FAA for a job as an Air Traffic Controller.  He was accepted, and went off to OKC to the training program, and took his first job at ABQ.  It was kinda sad watching our buddies move on.  But, we stayed in pretty close contact, and they would come this way to visit their kinfolks, so we got to see them some.  Anyway, I had this week off, and we decided to go for it!  We flew to ABQ.  Baby son did not do well on an airplane...or anywhere else for that matter.  Did I mention that he was colicy, and battled ear infections constantly?  And NEVER slept for more than one hour at a stretch?

Here is my buddy Brent, holding #1 son at the airport when they met us.  He had finally konked out.  Finally.  Man, it was great to see them.  We visited long into the night when we arrived.  Brent and Theresa showed us the sights around ABQ...went up Sandia Peak, rode that tram that hangs about a billion feet in the air, etc.  We woke up one morning, and Brent said, "Hey!  Why don't we load up, and go to Rocky Mountain National Park?  I hear it's fabulous, and I've got the rest of the week off after today.  Let's do it!"

We were all in for it.  I mean, we were all young, and impulsive, and said, "Sure."  After he got off work, we took off north from ABQ, and stopped in Durango, CO for the night.  Little did I know that I would one day live in the Durango area.  We found a motel and settled crying, and fidgeting, and wanting to nurse every 14 minutes.  He was a "difficult" baby.

We awoke the next morning to two feet of unexpected snowfall.  Two. Feet.  Well, there's a plan shot to smitherrines!  The passes were all shut down headed north, or east from Durango.  So, we got our heads together, got some road info from some truck drivers, and decided, "Hey!  Let's go to the Grand Canyon!"  The roads were pretty clear headed West, so the decision was made in about 15 seconds.  We stopped at the Mesa Verde National Park in Cortez, CO on the way west.  We did have to put chains on the tires to make it up the Mesa, but it wasn't too bad.  There were exactly 7 people in the entire national park.  It was cool.  We had the tour guide all to ourselves, and had a fascinating time.  I've got pictures of the cliff dwellings in the snow somewhere...I'll find 'em one of these days.

Anyway, westward we went.  I'm gonna tell you, I was just fascinated by, and fell in love with the terrain of the US Southwest.  This was a big, fascinating deal for a couple of Southern kids that never had seen any real mountains, or real desert, or much real snow.  We finally made it to the Grand Canyon.  And WOW!

I probably took a hundred pictures at the Grand Canyon.  But, as you know if you've been there, no photographs can ever capture the grandeur of the thing.  The immense enormity leaves you dumbstruck.

Here's that beautiful young Mother at the Grand Canyon.

You can see from this photo that The Mrs. had lost the 70 pounds she had acquired during her pregnancy with #1 son.  Did I mention that he wanted to nurse every 14 minutes, and NEVER slept for more than one hour at a stretch?  And, that he was a difficult baby?

Unfortunately, yours truly had not lost the 70 pounds he put on during #1 son's pregnancy.

If any of you ever doubted that Andy was once a bit "tubby," well them are 40's I'm a'hangin' over there.  I think Brent took this shot at the Mesa Verde.

I think back on a trip like this now, and it's really hard to remember the days when we just did things on a lark.  No planning.  No reservations, etc.  Just "Go for it!"  Aaaaahhhhh, youth!

Here is my buddy, Brent at the Grand Canyon.

He and I were serious amateur photographers.  That's a Mamiya RB 67, and I think a Nikon over his shoulder.  I just realized I was using a square format 6 x 6 myself...not sure which one.  I've gotten rid of a bunch of them since then.

Over the years, we kind of fell out of touch as life pointed us in separate directions.  Oh, I'd hear from him, and he from me occasionally.  When we lived in SW Colorado, Brent, Theresa, and their son came to visit us as they were traveling through.  After e-mail came along, we kinda reconnected.  I got an e-mail from him one day about 10 years ago that really shook me.

He and Theresa were divorcing.  Long story.  But, it made me sad.  Then, the time came that I didn't hear from him for ages, but didn't think much about it.

One day about 8 years ago the phone rang.  It was Brent's uncle (who was the same age as Brent, and who I'd also become friends with).  "Andy, I had trouble finding you.  I've got some bad news.  Brent is real sick.  Real sick.  He's in a hospital in Jonesboro, Arkansas (I knew Brent was living there), and there is nothing they can do to help him.  He's got an autonomic disorder that has shut down his digestive system."  Then he went in to the details of it all.

He gave me the telephone number of the hospital, and I called.  A very nice lady that Brent had taken up with answered the phone, and I spoke with her a long time, telling her who I was, and such.  After we talked a while, she said, "Brent has been listening to my end of the conversation, and he's motioning to me to give him the phone."

What I heard on the other end made me cry.  Bless his heart, he was trying his hardest to speak to me, but his condition had made him so cotton-mouthed, and slurry that I could barely understand a word.  But, I faked it.  I told him how much we loved him, and how much his friendship over the years had meant to me and The Mrs.  We left it at that.

He died shortly thereafter at the age of 45 (46 maybe...not sure).

Heading back to Albuquerque from the Grand Canyon, we were all a bit worn out.  #1 son had found that sweet spot of sleep that only a long road trip can provide to a difficult baby.  The road was humming, and the moon over the desert was just gorgeous.  I had fallen in love with the desert Southwest.

Then we topped a hill, and I saw Albuquerque at night!  Stunning.  If you've driven in to ABQ from the West at night, you know exactly what I'm talking about. 

A few years later, Jim Glaser recorded this song.  I YouTube it every once in a while for memories.  I never listen to it without remembering our Grand adventure, with our great friends, in God's glorious Southwest.


  1. What is up with that rule where we have to weigh more than our pregnant wives? Dude, my idiot kid's mother gained so much weight it made the Earth wobble in orbit. I was heavier than her, too.

    Great post, Andy.

  2. I spent some time at the La. Tech BSU in 1977-78 and Brent looks very familiar to me. His story is a sad one. Thanks for sharing...

  3. Yeah Dadman, Brent was my running buddy. If I wasn't hanging with Bart, it was with Brent. Or both of them. I know Bart remembers him, as he hung out in our dorm room a lot.

    Paul, ain't it the truth. Only one pregnancy did I not eclipse Pam's weight gain.

  4. I've started this a couple of times and can't find the right words. What a wonderful, bittersweet account of friendship and love. Relish the memories.

  5. Jim, you are very kind, sir. Thank you for reading it. The older I get, the more I appreciate just how special that stuff, and those relationships were.

  6. What all my predecessor commenters said, i.e., beautiful post. I'm sure Brent would appreciate this post, and if'n you're of a mind that believes in the afterlife and such he prolly IS appreciating it.

    All that said... there's this: Then we topped a hill, and I saw Albuquerque at night! Stunning. If you've driven in to ABQ from the West at night, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

    The Second Mrs. Pennington and I dropped off the mesa into ABQ after a looong night of driving from SoCal early one morning on our return trip to OKC back in the mid-80s. It was during the (unknown to us) Balloon Fiesta, and we were treated to the sight of hundreds of hot-air balloons ascending into the skies. That was a sight seldom, if ever, equaled in subsequent life (lives). I've since seen ABQ from various and sundry vantage points... both at night and in daylight... but NOTHING equals that first view I had. Nothing. And little did I realize I'd actually be LIVING in NM 25 years from that date. Life certainly takes strange turns.

  7. Buck, life does take strange turns. I have actually been to the Balloon Festival in ABQ a couple of times. I forgot to mention that in the post. But, I forget a lot of things these days.

    It is one amazing sight for sure.

    I figured you'd know what I was talking about with the Western Highway view of that Diamond at night. Breath-taking!

    Man, I miss it in many ways. But, life is what it is.

    Thank you, sir.

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  9. God bless you Andy. All any of us ever yearn for is to be remembered.

  10. Wonderful story - except so sad about Brent but I'm convinced the good die young.

    I've driven into ABQ from the West at night twice and once at dawn. Stunning.

  11. Red, that is so kind of you. Thank you so much ma'am. I can certainly use the blessings of God. I mean it. I REALLY appreciate that.

    Barry, thank you for taking the time to read this. It is truly appreciated. The western entrance to ABQ certainly is "stunning." Out there in the middle of nowhere...well, you know.

    Barry, Brent was "good," and he did die young. Heck, I'll probably live to 172 or something.

  12. I loved your story. It brought back lots of different memories for me - memories of college, making lifetime friends, my son (born in 1979 while we where at SWTSU), doing some crazy road trips, etc. I could go on and on, but I will only expound upon one memory: When I was teaching in Northern NM, I took a high school debate team from Questa, NM. to Alb. for a tournament. I can't remember the name of the high school in Alb, but it set up on the side of the mountain. We went into the school during the day, but when we came out late that evening, the view of Alb and the lights was just stunning. My country kids stopped dead in their tracks with their mouths hanging open and their eyes wide. The view was amazing. Then like all wild teenagers and their teacher, we went back to the hotel where we all climbed on my bed and rented a movie through the hotel and called in a pizza order.

  13. Lou, you made me smile, chuckle, and kinda' tear up at the same time. A '79'er you have...WOW!

    Your comment brought back my own memories of high school road trips with really cool teachers.


    Questa...WOW! Golly, this old virtual world is pretty small.

    Thanks, young lady.

  14. Great Story.

    About a year ago a friend called me and said that we needed to stop in on our next trip to Tulsa. We were going down about every 60 days to visit with Mom. For some reason I didn't seem to make that 15 mile detour to see him. I got word that he died and when he had called he knew it was about over from Cancer. I really feel bad that I didn't get to tell him that I loved him in person. Dang, I hate it when that happens. MUD

  15. I'm really sorry to hear about your friend, Andy. It sounds like you do have some great memories of him though. And as long as you have those, yeah, he's still around.

    I was stationed at Kirkland for 4 years. I loved my time there. Went to many of the balloon mass assentions there. Horseback riding under, in and up in the Sandias. Did you know it is called the Sandia range because that translates into watermelon? And when the sun sets it turns the Sandias into the color of watermelon?

    I've kept close check on the New Mexico political spectrum. I would one day like to retire in New Mexico some day.

    A very nice warm and great post in tribute to your friend, Brent.


  16. JW, that is very kind of you ma'am. Yes, I do have some great memories of my friend, Brent. He was a "good guy." Not perfect, I'm sure, because none of us are. But, a "good guy."

    I'm glad to know that you were at Kirkland. A lot of folks don't understand the allure of the desert SW. It is so peaceful in its' way. I hope you get to retire there, if that is what is in your heart.

    I had ZERO knowledge of Sandia being in any way attached to the concept of watermelons. Seriously! But, when we were riding on that tram deal across the peaks, I sure felt like I had eaten a couple of them, and needed to get some relief!!!

  17. Simply, exquisite. The photos, the memories, the travelogue, the camaraderie. The beautiful young mother in the snow and the dear friend cradling your first-born.

    I've waited to read this because, somehow, I intuited that it would have a sad edge and I wasn't up to "sad."

    But, it's also joyful in its loving memory. You rolled around in your memory very well, Andy, and gave word to it perfectly. Touchingly.

    I'm glad you got to have that last conversation with Brent. By the time I got to the Jonesboro Regional Medical Center -- probably the same hospital -- JB was comatose.

    Here's to our dear friends. And God bless you, indeed, and thanks for sharing.

  18. It's spelled Teresa, not Theresa. :) Cute story, thanks for sharing it.

    ~Brent's Son (Matt)

  19. Hi Matt! I don't know if you remember me or not. I just met you for a short little while, about 16 years ago, or so.

    Your Father was a wonderful young man. I know that I probably got some of the details wrong while telling this cute story.

    But, I'm getting older, and details don't seem so important these days.

    Your Father has been on my mind quite a bit in the last little while. I just needed to write about our friendship for some reason. It seemed that he always popped up in my life at a time that I really needed a friend.

    I hope that I didn't do any disservice to you, or Teresa (Yes, I know that's how it's spelled...I was just trying to protect the innocent here) with this. I got to know your Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, etc. very well in those days, and have a great affection for them in my memories.

    My best to you, Matt! You come from good stock. The best!

  20. Andy,

    No, I don't remember you, sorry. I would have been about 4 or 5 when we met so I figure that's somewhat understandable though. ;)

    And you didn't do any disservice with this story. My mom, as far as I'm aware, enjoyed reading it, as did I. As for the details, I wasn't around so I haven't the faintest clue. ;)

    Regardless I'm glad to have been able to get a few pictures from you. There aren't to many digital copies of photos from back then. Thanks for that!

    Hope you're doing well. Glad you have fond memories of my family.



Don't cuss nobody out, okay?