Dwight Murphey


From time to time, my daughter Vickie, after being interested in something I’ve mentioned, has said I should write down my recollections.  I’ll do that here for such interest as they may have, but without any pretension about their importance.  My recollection of all details isn’t perfect, so strict accuracy isn’t assured.  This is far from a complete autobiography, but only a recounting of episodes I think may interest my daughter and perhaps other readers.  I regret that a compilation of personal anecdotes inevitably comes through as intolerably narcissistic.  If it seems so to you, just throw it aside.

            Mom, my brother Larry and I came back from Mexico in May or June of 1945, and that fall I was enrolled as a 7th grader at Morey Junior High in Denver.  This meant skipping the 6th grade, since I had been in the 5th at the Instituto Colon in Guadalajara (which still exists).  It was a thrill to be back in the United States, where we could drink out of the water fountains and eat ice cream, and also to get back to my beloved Palmer Lake, with its dusty roads and tumbling streams.

My dad came to Denver in early 1946, and gave Larry and me bicycles.  It was the last time I ever saw him.  He and mom divorced at that time, and he established a second family in Miami.  I have two half-brothers by that second marriage, but have never met them.  For many years, I had a jaundiced view of my dad, but as I’ve gotten older I appreciate the enormous sacrifice he made in allowing us to live the Tom Sawyer-like existence we did in Palmer Lake for four or five months every summer.  He was without his family in Miami during all that time. 

Larry and I lived the second half of the 1940s on our bicycles, and they were the freest years of my life (other than those of retirement, a time of wonderful freedom for those of us who have excellent health and enough money to live as we want to).  Larry was two years older than I was, and was greatly interested in mechanical things (such as putting together model planes, and later working on cars).  One time, he stole a Cushman motor scooter, and  offered to let me drive.  I did OK until we came to an intersection, where my not knowing how to stop caused a problem.  I wound up laying the scooter down on its side.  Nobody was hurt (and I don’t know what Larry did with the scooter, although I like to think he took it back to the owner and left it off).  He got into some serious legal trouble when he was out joy-riding with a friend in a car they had stolen.  When the police stopped them, the friend pulled a gun on the police.  Today, that would likely result in the friend’s being (deservedly) shot, but the police handled it calmly.  I remember our grandfather Pop going down to Juvenile Court for the disposition of the case against Larry.  (I don’t know what that disposition was, but I do know Larry never went to jail, or to ‘Buena Vista,’ the much-feared “boys’ reformatory.”  He almost certainly had a period of probation.)

            Paper delivery.  While I was still eleven years old during the spring of 1946, I started delivering the Denver Post, an afternoon newspaper.  We carriers would pick up the papers after school, fold them, and stuff them into the canvas pouches that hung from our bicycles’ handlebars.  The station for this was a garage in an alley near Morey Junior High School.  In those days, there were no plastic sleeves to put each paper into, which is significant because the spring of 1946 has to have been the wettest Denver has ever experienced.  It rained hard every afternoon at about four, just as I reached my route on Lincoln Street.  Probably no one was ever more conscientious than I was about delivering the papers right to the customer’s front doorstep – but that wasn’t enough to keep each paper from being soaked, no doubt requiring some dry-out time in the oven before the customer could read it.

The carriers had to be at the station in the alley at 2:30 on Sunday mornings.  (Today, we have a hard time imagining allowing an eleven-year-old son go out alone at the time of morning.  There was much less worry then, and it allowed us to grow up with considerable independence.)  One time, while we carriers were waiting for the truck to arrive with the bundles, we took up a collection and I (and perhaps others) went over to the Rockybilt hamburger stand at Colfax and Emerson and got 35 of their hamburgers for the group of us.  (I ate lunch at the Rockybilt many times while I was in junior high school.  The hamburgers were perfect: a small dab of meat smashed out flat, topped with fried onion, and put into a greasy bun.  They cost ten cents, and went well with a great piece of cherry pie for another dime and a bottle of grape pop for a nickel.

            One pretty Sunday morning, but while it was still dark, I was taking the Post up to each front door of homes built on a high, sloped terrace in the 900 block of Lincoln.  While I was at one door, a taxi pulled up to the curb and let a woman out.  As the taxi drove away, she looked up toward the house and saw my dark figure moving.  She let out a blood-curdling scream, and after I screamed back “I’m the paperboy,” ran crying into the house crying (I think).

            The last stop on my first route (with the Denver Post), as I planned the order the things, was at Ninth and Lincoln.  I’d drop in on a man who lived in a single large room.  I don’t remember what his disability was, but something caused him to live a hermit’s existence.  There’s not much to tell about my visits with him, other than to mention what a good friendship we he had.  After a time visiting with him, I’d head home to my grandparents’ house at 835 Logan (torn down many years ago) to listen to the radio shows Terry and the Pirates, Captain Midnight, Superman – and I can’t imagine how I could not now remember what the others were.  With the Captain Midnight show, you could send away for a decoder ring, which I did.  The show Inner Sanctum, with the frighteningly squeaking door as its opening theme, came on later, and it, along with The Lone Ranger, were next.

            It was that fall – November 2, 1946, to be exact – that Denver had its 36 inch snowfall.  I remember standing out on the corner of Tenth and Lincoln for hours waiting for the truck to drop off my bundle of papers (under the circumstances, this method of getting the papers to us was used rather than have the carriers go to the station).  Delivering the papers was a matter of fighting my way through drifts of snow up to my chest.  It never entered my mind not to get the papers delivered.  Nor did it enter the minds of my mother or grandparents to intervene in any way to help.  My responsibilities were my own.  (It violates my professional pride as an old paperboy for the Wichita Eagle not to get the paper to our house on the day this is typed when there has  been only a quarter of an inch of snow.  36 inches and I wasn’t about to let the papers go undelivered.)

I eventually traded off the Lincoln street paper route for one on Pennsylvania, about 14th Avenue.  I recall going door-to-door to make the monthly collection and at each door listening to a minute or two of the radio coverage of the on-going Joe Louis heavyweight boxing match.  Louis was a phenomenon of the day, every bit as prominent as Muhammad Ali was in his.

It was while I had that route that I was followed around one winter’s morning by a darling black and while dog whose name I surely should remember.  Mom was agreeable to adopting him, and we had him for a while until he came down with distemper and had to be put to sleep.  There’s a little twist to this memory.  On a trip down to Palmer Lake by car, my grandfather Pop had said to me, “Buzz, you should be more observant,” pointing out some mountain I didn’t know the name of.  This struck home, so a few days later in Denver I noticed a veterinarian’s office and made a mental note of its being there.  As it turned out, that’s where we had our dog euthanized later on.  So I thought, not entirely rationally, that becoming more observant was a mixed blessing.

The bundles of newspaper for the routes came with a tight band of wire around them to keep them together, so I always carried a pair of pliers in my back pocket for snipping the wire.  While I was carrying the Rocky Mountain News (after I shifted from the Post), there was a carrier ice-skating party.  I took a tumble, landing squarely on my behind.  The result was a perfect purple bruise outline of pliers on my right buttock.

The News’ circulation department staff took a bunch of us carriers (those who had gotten a certain number of new subscribers) down to Colorado Springs for a trip up Pikes Peak on the cog railroad.  Even though it was August 20 and 85 degrees downtown in the city, there was a blizzard on top of the peak that was so intense that we could only see what I would estimate to be a hundred feet (or less).      

My years at Morey Junior High.  If anyone’s ever asked “what have your most embarrassing experiences been?,” I’ve long thought there have been two.  The first was at kindergarten graduation at Miami Shores Elementary School when I had the job of taking the box full of diplomas up to the stage to give to the principal. I stumbled, dropping the whole batch into the orchestra well.  The second occurred at Morey Junior High.  The gym class left the building and crossed 13th Avenue to a field there.  I had shown up for class without my gym clothes, and had to go out wearing my long-john underwear, which featured a drop-down bottom.  The underwear is something my mother had gotten me, and probably served me well when I was out delivering papers on those cold Denver days.  But I felt mighty silly-looking dressed only in it.

Much has been made recently about the problem of bullying in schools.  Well, I can report that the same thing occurred back in 1946 or 1947, and it was miserable.  There was one fellow who was the scourge of the newspaper station.  I’m amazed I never got in a fight with him myself, which was uncharacteristic of me, since I had some pretty violent fights after school.  One was on the SW corner of 13th and Clarkson, with a fellow who for one reason or another “had it out” for me.  (I see myself, to this day, as the innocent party, since I never initiated a fight and actually felt sick about the prospect of one.  There was no way I was going to back down, though.)  Another fight gave me a pretty good beating, chipping the front off one of my lower front incisors that I enjoy showing my dentist’s assistant as being the residual of combat some seventy or more years ago.  I had found a ring with a Marine Corps insignia on it a block from the school, and another bully-type fellow claimed it was his (even though our friends said he admitted to them it wasn’t).  He got me down out by the bicycle rack and pummeled me pretty good.  You could say I lost that fight, but if the victor is seen as the side that occupies the field after the battle’s over, I guess I have to be counted the winner, since I continue to have the ring.

Somebody stole the rubber handlegrips off my bike at school, and this resulted in another mark-of-distinction I still sport.  The city had laid down a couple of inches of sand on the street at 8th and Logan after an ice storm.  As I rode the bike, the sand caught my front wheel, throwing me to the pavement.  The handlebars, now bare, twisted as I fell, and caused a long cut across my chest.  A thin white scar still reminds me of that agony many years ago.

One winter’s night after Larry and I attended the Morey Junior High operetta, we decided to take our sleds over to Nob Hill at 7th and Pennsylvania.  There was a steep run down the hill to the alley, and we’d go head-first down the hill and proceed along the alley.  The only problem was that there was a telephone pole right across the alley at the point we would turn.  I missed my timing, and ran face-first into the pole. All told, I was mighty lucky not to lose my eyes.  I had a plastic surgeon reduce the scar on my right cheek some years later after I started practicing law (at the same time the surgeon took off the large mole I had been born with on my left cheek).  Mom ran me off to Denver General Hospital, and I wore a bandage for some time.  We hadn’t gotten permission to go sledding after the operetta.  Larry and I told Mom the accident was from a fall on the way home from the musical, and I never found a time when I wanted to tell her the real story (or had the courage to), probably out of a desire not to disappoint her and a desire on my part not to tarnish the reputation I had with her as the good boy of her sons.  (Mom loved Larry, probably more than she had reason to love me because of his happy nature,  but he was a “problem child” until he went into the Marines at age 17.)

            I sported the bandage on my right check for several days, and at some time I had to wear a cap in class, by order of the principal.  Why the cap?  Four of us went to the barber with the intent of getting Mohawk haircuts (just a tall strip down the center, with the rest bald).  I was the first in the barber’s chair, and when the others saw the cut I received, they chickened out.  In those days, aberrations like the Mohawk were frowned upon in school, and that precipitated the principal’s action.

            While we were still living on Logan Street (which was until Mom married Clarence Trichka and we moved to the house at 650 Williams Street), Larry and I would take rubber rafts and head west on 8th Avenue to the Platte River for rafting.  What sticks in my mind was one time when we rounded a bend only to find a waterfall coming up in a few feet.  We paddled like crazy and managed to make it to the bank.

One of the Denver papers (I think it was the Rocky Mountain News) co-sponsored with the U.S. Mail Service a contest for junior high school kids to write essays on “The Advantages of 5-Cent Airmail.”  I wrote a winning entry and was one of the group given a free airplane flight from Denver down to Pike’s Peak, and around the Peak before returning to Denver.  I wasn’t all that great a student in junior high, but must have written pretty well, because when the English class set out on a project to write a mock-up newspaper, the teacher appointed me editor.  I wrote a story about the pending retirement of the shop teacher, which started “After a quarter century of teaching at Morey….”  The 25 years impressed me as a monumental figure at that age.

I well remember the morning of March 8, 1948.  We had just moved into the house on Williams Street and I had started delivering the Rocky Mountain News between 5th and 8th Avenues on Gilpin and Williams streets.  On that particular morning, there had been a beautiful snowfall (of perhaps four inches), which covered everything and hung from the bushes and trees.  At the time I got out with my bike full of papers, there hadn’t been any cars leaving tracks to mar the beauty.  So I have an indelible “Hallmark Card” memory.

            We had a black and white female Springer Spaniel named “Pepper” who was one of the most memorable of the many dogs we loved.  One time, Clarence, Mom and I were fishing on the Colorado River near Granby when suddenly we saw Pepper in the middle of the river being carried downstream by the current.  We raced to get farther downstream and managed to save her.  I think it was on that same fishing outing that we became almost feverish from mosquito bites.

            The folks paid for me to spend a week at Camp Chief Ouray near Granby each summer.  One of the coldest experiences of my life was when we campers were taken to Long’s Peak in the open back of a truck.  After we got to the peak, we had a choice of hiking to the top or of fishing in Chasm Lake at the bottom of the “east face.”  I chose the fishing, but there was no sign of trout.  While I was gone, the baseball team I was on somehow transformed itself from a poor one into one of the top teams in the league.  We played one game in the ballpark at Elitches Gardens in NW Denver, and I remember striking out looking on three pitches.  A man yelled “ya gotta swing,” but I was mesmerized at the plate.  That wasn’t good, but I console myself with knowing we never had any batting practice to get used to a ball coming at us.   In all, my athletic skills were zilch anyway.


High school:

            It was a thrill starting into East Denver High.  I was the third generation to attend East, after Pop and then my mother Reata (who was in the first class to graduate when the school had moved to the regal building on Colfax just south of City Park, which is where I went; the one Pop had attended was downtown).  I got my first job (other than the paper routes) doing after-school janitorial work cleaning the north wing on the third floor, for a bountiful sum of 35 cents an hour.  At some point early-on, motivated by being in East and probably by the love and esteem I always had for my grandfather, who set a high example of what a man should be, I set myself on the track of becoming a good student, working hard on homework and doing extra projects. 

As a student in the ROTC program, I lined up in formation one day in 1948 next to Jack Deeter, who soon became a friend and has remained one for all these years.  He was the “best man” at Ginny and my wedding in 1963.

I had long played Little League baseball (although it’s possible it wasn’t formally affiliated with the actual Little League organization per se), and at East I played in the intramural program after school.  One time, I hit a foul ball right back at the catcher, hitting him in the right hand and causing the extremity of one finger to stand up at 90 degrees from the rest of the finger.  It looked pretty gruesome, but the teacher present treated it matter-of-factly, snapping the finger back into place.  I thought about this often when years later our grandson Logan played catcher in games at the Cooperstown baseball complex.  It takes a lot of guts to be a catcher, although in his usual quiet fashion Logan took on the chore without the slightest seeming concern or bravado.

My interest in baseball led to my becoming the “manager” of the East baseball team.  The “manager’s” duties had nothing to do with coaching or making game decisions, but instead was a glorified name for a ball boy and equipment keeper.  The Sociology teacher was the baseball coach, and he would send me out during class to rake the mound of the school’s diamond.  The team was top-notch, and we traveled south to Pueblo for the state championship game (which, if I remember correctly, we lost).  I was the ball boy at the Colorado high school all-star game one year, held at Bears Stadium (later made over into Invesco Stadium and the home of the Denver Bronco football team).   I was lucky when one of the players in the on-deck circle threw a bat back over his shoulder and it  barely cleared the top of my head.  The work with the baseball team was a delight, but led to some acrimony, which as I look back upon it was mostly due to my own stubbornness.  The coach told me I was entitled to get a letter sweater.  I got one proudly, but when some of the team members told me roughly that it ought to have a big “M” on it to indicate “manager,” I stood by my right to have it as it was, since I hadn’t been told that before I had the sweater prepared.  The problem was that I wasn’t about to be forced to make the change.  (I presume that if I had been spoken to in a nice way about it, I’d have seen the sense of adding the M; but I can’t say for sure I would have, since I had my own notion about things, and they weren’t always sensible according to our later lights.)

            My first summer job was at my Uncle Bill’s jeep lot in Englewood on South Broadway.  I would start all the cars every morning, and do a fair amount of car washing and waxing.  Uncle Bill taught me to drive that summer, and I bought my first car, a massive black iron 1936 Chevy with running boards and the barest slits for windows, for $75.  Bill and Aunt Reba and I would have lunch in their apartment on the second floor of the building next door, and for years afterwards joked about how much we had enjoyed pickled pigs’ feet together for lunch almost every day.

It was while I was riding the city bus out to the lot on June 25, 1950, that I heard the news of North Korea’s invasion of the South.  As the war was waged that summer and fall, the United States in effect won, with General Douglas MacArthur’s invasion at Inchon cutting the North’s forces in half and leading to the American (“United Nations’”) conquest of the entire peninsula.  What was really a second Korean war began when Mao sent in many thousands of Chinese soldiers (who, as revealed by a Mao biographer years later, included many captured soldiers from Chiang Kai-shek’s defeated nationalist army).   Instead of allowing him to defeat the Chinese (who had just the prior fall finished their conquest of China), Truman fired MacArthur.   The reason I’m telling about all this is that I was 100% on MacArthur’s side, and was so disgusted by his firing that the thought never occurred to me when I turned 17 right after graduating from East to volunteer for the Marines (despite my long romanticizing of the Corps) to go fight in the war.  Instead, I went on to college, joining the Marines after I finished my three years of pre-law at Colorado University.  (While I’m on this subject, it’s good to mention that my brother Larry had joined the Marines in January 1950, and stayed on at the Parris Island boot camp as a drill instructor.  He said he was the only member of his boot camp platoon alive a year later; the others had all gone to Korea and been killed in the initial defense against the North’s invasion, probably when the United States was pushed down to the Pusan Perimeter at the tip of the peninsula.  I don’t know how Larry knew this, and so am not sure about  whether it was accurate.  Larry’s platoon’s experience reminds me of the night when in boot camp in San Diego years later my drill instructor, using the gallows talk drill instructors love so much – it hardly seems fitting to call it “gallows humor”--, told us we’d all be dead in Indochina by that Christmas.  It was just weeks after the French took their beating at Dien Bien Phu.)

Jack Deeter and I were prime movers in starting the East High Young Republican Club, of which I became president.  We expanded to form the statewide Colorado High School Young Republicans, and I remember going out to Limon, Colorado, with the president of the adult Colorado Young Republicans to give my first political speech, which was to the Limon Women’s Republican Club.  I was president of the state group as well as of the East club, but that didn’t amount to much, since the only other club we succeeded in forming was at Regis High School. 

            The members of the East club were active in the senatorial campaign for Senator Eugene Millikin in 1950.  We covered 90 blocks in northwest Denver with literature house-to-house one night.  Millikin was a close associate of Bob Taft in the Senate.  Jack Deeter and I had fun at the 1950 Lincoln Day dinner, wearing just shorts and walking inside barrels with a strap over a shoulder, the point being that high taxes were taking the shirts off people’s backs.  The club met in the conference room of a business downtown, but we were ousted from that when a couple of our members had fun going up and down in the elevator a number of times.  This certainly wasn’t very serious misconduct, but our sponsor didn’t appreciate it.

I was active in the debate club, and in my sophomore year attended a speech meet at Colorado University.  For the extemporaneous speaking category, I drew a slip with the subject “The role of technology in modern society” (or words to that effect).  Speakers had an hour to prepare a five-minute talk.  I had no idea what “technology” was, and ran over to the Norlin Library on campus to consult a dictionary.  The speech that resulted could not have been memorable.  My partner and I did pretty well in debate as our high school careers went on, but we had something of a falling out when he decided to advocate the repeal of Social Security without telling me.  (He was the same guy whose elevator antics had gotten us kicked out of our meeting place.)  My impression of the Colorado University campus was decidedly unfavorable because of all the trash scattered in the hallways there at Hellums Hall on the Saturday of the meet.  Later, when I was considering where to go to college, I got a much better impression of what really is a very beautiful campus.

At the end of my junior year, I won an essay contest on “good government” jointly sponsored by the Rocky Mountain News and Colorado Young Republicans.  The prize was a trip back to the week-long Republican “school of politics” at Hamilton College in upstate New York.  I had my first experience with the dishonesty of the media when I heard a News reporter ask the YR chairman “how much money are you giving Dwight for the trip?”  The chairman told him, but then the reporter said “we’ll say it was twice that.”  (Whatever it was, it was enough for a coach train fare and whatever the expenses were at the school of politics.)

Another member of the East YRs paid his own way to go back to the school, and we rode together on the long train trip, which if I recall correctly took at least three nights.  I was exhausted, but the other fellow, who was quite a boisterous extrovert, decided to throw a party in the dorm room we were assigned.  About two in the morning, I gave up on my chance of sleeping in the room, so I grabbed the mattress off my bunk and headed outside with it.  I found a spot next to the grave of the one-time Secretary of War Elihu Root, and settled down there to sleep.  Right after dawn, though, I was shaken awake. A girl was missing from her dorm, and it was thought perhaps she and I were together (no such luck!).  A sheriff’s patrol had been out looking for us.  By the time I and the mattress got back up to the room, the party was over.  Years later, while I was a brand-new attorney in Denver, in probably 1960 or 1961, I was invited to give the Lincoln Day dinner speech in Central City.  When I got there, it turned out the same friend (the boisterous fellow who had put on the party at Hamilton College) had also been invited, after the folks organizing the dinner forgot they had asked me.  (This shows how important I was.) We decided on the spot to split the time.

The week at the school was wonderful, on a delightful ivy-covered campus and with perfect summer weather.  The beauty of upstate New York bedazzled me.  Thomas Dewey, who had lost the presidential race to Harry Truman two years before, was the main speaker.  As a Millikin-Taft Republican, I never much cared for Dewey, but I came to appreciate him later in life when I learned that the Korean War would have been prevented if Dewey had won instead of Truman, whose policies opened the door to the North’s invasion.  (In 2018, the world is still threatened by the Communist regime in the north.)         

My interest in journalism led me to become a columnist for the East student paper.  I probably held forth mightily on the MacArthur issue, especially after the students all listened in an assembly to his farewell speech to a joint session of Congress.  This was the eloquent “old soldiers never die” speech. Early on while I was a freshman, while I still aspired to get on the paper’s staff, I went to Boulder to sit in the press box taking notes while the East football team played (probably Boulder High School).  This was probably as unrealistic an undertaking, in light of my ignorance about football, as my later aspiration to become a cheerleader (without even the ability to do a cartwheel).

I did experience a period, especially in the summer of 1951, of quasi-religious fervor that coincided with my going up into Cheeseman Park and watching the sunsets as they went down over the mountains from Pikes Peak in the south to Wyoming in the north.  Spinoza’s pantheism was attractive to me, and continued to be until I realized that a love of nature without a belief in an intelligence guiding it was not really a “belief in God” at all.  I’ve continued to love the beauties of nature, but without thinking of it as a religion.  A number of years later, I gave a talk to an Honors class at Wichita State University that has some bearing here.  The thought was that the beauties of nature are unaware of their beauty – the aspen trees with their quaking leaves, the large rocks resplendent in late-afternoon sunshine, the stream water tumbling over rounded rocks.  It is human beings, especially the artists and poets among us, who serve as the eyes and ears of a world – indeed, of a cosmos – that is unaware of its own existence.  We would do well to appreciate our own privileged and extraordinarily unique role.

            In all, I attended seven years of college after leaving East, and never in all that time did I have so fine a teacher as Genevieve Kreiner, a patrician woman of impressive bearing who taught English and Speech at East – and attracted all the best students as her own special community.  She directed the Christmas Pageant, in which I was a lesser light as one of the shepherds; and organized the annual oratorical contest, in which I competed unsuccessfully, giving Patrick Henry’s “Liberty or Death” speech.  I remember years later how surprised I was when she told me she was a Democrat.  I had always assumed someone so devoted to excellence would be a Republican!  After law school, I was invited to debate the head of the Young Socialist Club at an East assembly.  It turned out my adversary bugged out, leaving the assembly just to me to speak on the merits of a free economy.  I started with a tribute to Genevieve Kreiner, and wasn’t surprised  to hear lots of applause directed to her.

            My mother, step-father Clarence and I often went up to Rich Creek in the Buffalo Peaks area south of Fairplay for some great brook trout fishing.  In addition to Rich Creek, there was Tumble Creek, which was reached by about a mile’s hike over a sugar-loaf shaped mountain (probably a glacial moraine) that mom called “Columbine Hill.”  Years later, I did a small oil painting of the scene as the path reaches the top of the mountain; it’s among the “favorite spots” that are the subjects of many of my paintings.  I’ve also done an oil showing the town of Fairplay from four miles to the south, sketched from along “Four Mile Road.”

            My step-father Clarence was vice president of Sturgeon Electric in Denver.  One night at dinner he complained of how tired his legs were.  He seemed surprised by it, but conversation revealed he had climbed all 29 (approx.) floors of the Security Benefit Life Building that was under construction.  The elevators weren’t installed yet.

Near the end of my senior year, I was accepted by Dartmouth (where Pop had gone before going to Denver University Law School many years before), but not offered a scholarship.  I couldn’t call upon my mother’s new husband to pay my way through the ivy league school, so I wound up going to Colorado University up in Boulder.  During the summer of 1951, I worked at the Gano Downs department store in downtown Denver selling men’s furnishings (mainly ties).  One day, riding home, standing-room-only, on a bus, I for some reason had an intellectual “ah-ha” experience that has mattered greatly to me over the years.  The thought was that I would no longer believe anything without being convinced of its truth by the evidence.  (Of course, “anything” is too broad; we unavoidably accept much as true without feeling a need or having the time to examine its basis for ourselves.)  I don’t recall just what the consequences were that flowed from this for me at the time, but it probably played a big role in my developing agnosticism toward Christianity and other religion.


Colorado University

In those days – the fall of 1951 – the route to Boulder was by way of a country road north of Denver and then west.  The “Denver-Boulder Turnpike” was opened in early 1952, as I recall, as a toll road, and made the trip a lot easier (unlike with so many toll roads, the toll was taken off after a few years).  I dutifully went through the paces of “rush week” by the fraternities (Pop and my mother were both strong on Greek life; in fact, Pop was at one time a candidate for the national presidency of Sigma Chi).  The Sigma Chi chapter in Boulder seemed like a beer-guzzling party group, so I had no interest in it; and I held back from the friendly importunities of another fraternity to get me to join, I think almost entirely because I didn’t feel I could possibly afford fraternity life financially.  (Ever since I was six or seven in Miami, collecting tin foil for the war effort, I had been “saving for college.”  But none of the savings amounted to anything close to what was needed.)  It turned out I lived in the university dormitory system  -- Fleming Hall in the Baker complex, to be exact.  Mel Coffee, a friend from East High, was my roommate the freshman year, and liked to put on all-night poker parties.  He came in drunk one night, and several of us sobered him up in a cold shower, which hardly phased him.  Mel didn’t do well in school, as might be imagined; but he became serious eventually, went to law school, and became a tax attorney in Denver.  His father was the owner of the “Joe Awful Coffee” steakhouse in downtown Denver.

I could only earn $600 in a summer job without causing my step-father to lose the income tax deduction for me, so I had a month or so off at the end of the 1951 summer.  I spent it down at the Denver library, which was in what later became the Water Board offices at Colfax and Broadway.  My Young Republican involvement had gotten me interested in Senator Joseph McCarthy – and I was no more ready to accept the Left’s hue and cry against him without looking into him myself than I am today to accept the same sort of thing by today’s Left.  So I spent the weeks reading everything I could get my hands on about McCarthy, and about Communism.  Marxism-Leninism surprised and amazed me in its perversity.

At the end of the first semester in 1951, I came down with a horrific case of strep throat right in time for Finals Week.  I got out of bed in the middle of the night to go down the hall to the bathroom, and passed out, falling the length of my body and landing with the back of my head on the room’s tile paving.  It wasn’t the ideal way to confront my first college final exams, but I got through the exams well anyway despite the fall and strep throat.

My summer job in 1952 was as a stockboy at Denver General Hospital, delivering items to the wards by cart, and for part of the summer cutting countertop glass at a Walgreens drugstore on 16th Street in downtown Denver.  A couple of us young employees used to stand outside at lunch time, both watching the temperature on a street clock go up above 100 and counting the number of pregnant women who passed by.   My summer job in 1953 was digging ditches on a gas line repair crew for the Colorado Public Service Company.  Mom would pack enormous lunches for me: three sandwiches and lots else.

In 1952, I worked hard as a volunteer on the Taft-for-president campaign, and didn’t want to wash my right hand for some time after shaking Taft’s hand at a reception.  The public support for Eisenhower was overwhelming, and Taft lost in a bitterly contested GOP convention.  If he had been elected, his presidency wouldn’t have lasted long, since he died of cancer the following summer.

For the first semesters at Colorado University, I got an A in all classes but one.  When it dawned on me that I must have been giving one course less attention than the others, it was easy to be sure not to let that happen, and it was all A’s thereafter.  A change of roommates to join Neil Ashby in the room next door (172 Fleming instead of 174) was no doubt a help.  A magnificent fellow, Lincolnesque in appearance, and brilliant, he majored in physics, went on to Harvard for his Ph.D in physics, and then taught physics at C.U. for many years.  Even after retiring, he has continued to do astrophysics work for one of the government agencies there in Boulder.  (One of his recent astrophysics tasks was working with a group measuring the speed of neutrinos passing through the earth.)  He and I used to play horseshoes out by the side of the dorm, and he wound up far ahead by total count.  He had an extensive collection of classical music, and listening to that with him while we studied created a love for it that has lasted the rest of my life.

I was elected president of Fleming Hall, and have no recollection of what duties, if any, went with the job.  One of them was certainly not conducting the activity with which we guys amused ourselves while waiting for the food.  It consisted of wetting a finger and running it many times around the rim of a half-full water glass, setting up a sonorous squeal.  It was quite a sound when all of us got to doing that.

Although I was president of the dorm and getting virtually a straight-A average, there are recollections that show my immaturity (as had the counting of pregnant passers-by).  They involve “practical jokes” which were a lark for me but undoubtedly not to the ones who were the brunt of them.  Neil and I were in the mountains west of Boulder one day when we spotted a dead snake on the road.  I brought it back to the dorm and thought it funny to put it into a friend’s bed.  The “juice” (I don’t recall it’s being red like blood) from the snake wet the bedsheet.   I don’t remember the friend’s fury after he crawled into bed that night, but am sure that if he had shot me dead all he could have been convicted of was voluntary manslaughter (“killing in the heat of passion”).  A second practical joke came when I caught a small trout up by Nederland on the opening day of the fishing season in late May. It was too small to take to the dorm’s cook, so I decided to stick it under some paperback books in a drawer in Neil’s chest-of-drawers.  Nothing happened for about ten days, but then the smell burst forth foully, and oils from the fish soaked into the books and drawer.  Neil wasn’t happy about it, to say the least, but his anger was assuaged partly by my rushing to replace the books.  He’s mild mannered, and has continued, despite it, to be a great friend all these many years.  This second misdemeanor occurred about two weeks before my 20th birthday in 1954, and right before the end of my junior year.  I joined the Marine Corps a week before my birthday, and have looked back over the brutality of the men in boot camp painfully.  They were all just 17, though, (except for one who was shifting from the Army to the Marines) and I have come to realize that they were even more immature than I was, which explains a lot.

A major feature of my sophomore and junior years at C.U. was my speaking up forcefully against the great leftist imbalance in the Liberal Arts faculty, and especially the stacking of the presentations against Senator McCarthy during the spring World Affairs Conference.  I’ll pass over the details of this because there is too much to tell.  One small aspect, which relates to what I have mentioned before about journalists, is that I gave a talk to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Colorado Springs describing the socialist message conveyed in the Political Science classrooms.  A friend of mine who was one of the editors of the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph covered the speech, and came out with a news article that I had said there were Communists teaching at C.U.  When I contacted him, he readily apologized for having substituted “Communist” for “socialist.” I contacted the Rocky Mountain News, which had run the story in Denver, asking them to publish a correction.  They refused, saying I could write a letter-to-the-editor if I wanted to.  So much for their desire to inform the public accurately!  (It’s also a good example of the media’s desire, in those days as much as it is today, to make the Left’s critics seem like exaggerating kooks.)

One winter semester, I took a swimming class that started at 8 in the morning.  That was a memorable experience – crossing the snow-swept field to the gym and preparing to get into the cold water.  The class proved very beneficial, as I found out on the second day in the Marine Corps when everybody was given a swimming test and one guy who couldn’t swim was allowed to sink unconscious to the bottom of the pool before they pulled him out.  The C.U. class had prepared me to pass the 100-yard test easily enough, although I chose to do the backstroke, which brought a predictable jibe from one of the many “macho” types.

I took my Logic course from a shrunken little man (quite likeable) who, being from Austria, spoke with a Germanic accent, and all of us who took his course laughed at how he told the same story several times.  It had to do with being in a beer pub on the day World War I broke out, and how everyone stood up, raised his stein, and shouted “thank God we have a war at last.”

My symbolic logic course was from Professor John Nelson, a conservative who became a good friend and with whom I corresponded for many years.  He used my book “Emergent Man” in his course on political thought for a while until he became more infatuated with Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” and used it instead.   

The choice to go into the Marines in June 1954 was to “get my military obligation out of the way before law school.”  I asked whether the Marines had a two-year enlistment, which they did for those going into the Marine Corps Reserve for active duty status.  There were two years of that, followed by six years of being on call as an inactive reservist.


[End of Part I.  There are five Parts.]