Sibling Positives

all_kz (ceptrob)




I’ve known Paul for most of his life — in spite of my impending Alzheimer’s. Maybe it IS because of the Alzheimer’s. Anyhow, I remember a new-born baby ‘fresh’ from the hospital. Must have been 1956.

He was still in high school when he drove from Basalt to have Thanksgiving with Betty and I in Gunnison in 1973 or ’74. He’s much better with directions now, but when he got to Montrose, instead of taking U.S. 50 he continued south on Highway 550. I think he made it at least half-way to Durango in a blizzard before he turned around. Dinner was late that night.

He accompanied us to Mexico to join the parents for Christmas 1974. A long road trip, continual chatter, singing “she’s a pretty little hamster goes to the beach and likes to drink water” (a song about Betty). We took a break from the parents and the house and opted for a camping night out along the beach to the north. I don’t think any of us will ever forget the cowboys with their guns … (it turned out alright).  & I won’t, right-off-hand, mention something else which, heh, influenced the situation …


Of the few 14-ers (about 10?) I’ve summited, he was a companion climber for more than anyone else.  Grays, Uncompahgre, and Antero. Grays was a quick day-trip when we lived in Ft. Collins. He’s become a much more accomplished mountaineer than I, but I was worried when his choice of footwear for the mountain was tennis shoes. In the snow. We camped during Uncompahgre and Antero. Well, I had access to a nearby cabin for Antero. That was snowy too.

We did a successful climb of the northwest ‘Teta’ near San Carlos, Mexico. That entailed going up a cave or chimney near the top. Creaking old lumbering buzzards flew away as we emerged, annoyed that they had to move.


And those seemingly annual (probably more often) wine- bread- and cheese-fueled rock-climbing races, which he always won. I would be in good shape today if I could do half the climbs we did in one day at Vedauwoo.

Wine? — and pinochle. Seems many a night in our mutual college daze, and possibly earlier than, but definitely later than, we’d play cut-throat (3 way) pinochle, usually with a gallon or so of, usually, red wine. We’d play ’til 2 in the morning, or ’til whenever the wine ran out. Does 1500 points sound like a lot? And then …


Later, with bo-Berda, we’d play 4-way, usually NOT ’til 2 a.m. nor fueled by that much wine. My infamous and deservedly-almost-forgotten ‘pinochle dinosaur’ series of cartoons emerged during score-keeping of several of such events.

Being seven years younger, I didn’t really ‘hang out’ nor associate with him much until he was in his later teens. Betty and I moved to Ft. Collins for me to (finally) finish my collegiate studies in 1975, and Paul came up a year later. He moved in with us, of course. It was expected and convenient for all. I remember him building a bed frame in a small interior room, so large that that piece of furniture could never the leave that room unless broken apart. Another time, under the influence of our favorite illegal substance, the three of us had a jam session with ‘dime store’ instruments (a plastic melodica, a slide-whistle, kazoos, etc.) that I will always remember. The muse can manifest and exert influence regardless of the type of medium…


We were relatively serious students, but also had quite the social life. Hardly a weekend went by without a borbathlon, Joe’s Annual Picnic, three-way softball games, midnight nude high jumping, running (?) for student government, more esoteric attempts at musical jam sessions, tossing experimental frozen squash with a detour to terrify some friends from Nigeria, more drinking, and more drinking. Driving the physics department liquid helium truck to Laramie and Boulder. Stopping to climb more rocks in Virginia Dale. Oh yeah, during our joint-sojourn (don’t ask how he “signed up”) campaigning (for lack of a better werd) for student government, he announced that his platform was biodegradable. This was YEARS before thinking green was politically correct.

Our paths crossed often on the CSU campus. I probably should have just gone to sit in an occasional class he was taking. But — he must have been really bored or wanted a quiet place at a specific time of day to read the paper, and occasionally he’d wander in and sit next to me during my Psychology class lectures. What stands out is when there was an exam, he’d grab a copy of the test and answer/guess as best he could.

It was minutes before an important test, maybe the mid-term, and everyone was frantically cramming and brushing-up and doing last-minute memorization. He calmly surveyed this quiet but desperate scene and asked aloud: “What is this test about?”

Several heads swiveled to stare in disbelief. I calmly provided a one- or two-sentence answer as to what specific area of psychology we were to display our mastery of. It might have been “abnormal tendencies” or “aberrant behavior.”

At the next class the professor asked “Who is Ben Zazen? He isn’t on the roster for this class.” I went to look at the posted scores and was pleasantly surprised to see that Ben Z had scored in the mid-60’s — close to a D-. Pretty good for not taking the class.

Photographically he might still but definitely used to know his stuff. I remember a close up of a steaming freshly-deposited pile of doggy doo-doo. The pavement had to have been laid within the hour — so the steaminess was almost mystical. That photo might still win awards, not to mention serving as an occasionally appropriate screen-saver.

I was at my daughter’s high school graduation, and the so-called telephoto on my camera made her one-half-inch high instead of the speck she was at that distance. Paul took some shots which made it seem she was twenty yards away. As I typed this, a photo he took of our pet toad in Ft. Collins peers over my shoulder.

He asked me to play ‘the wedding march’ when they got married at the Colorado National Monument, summer 1982. It was my second (and last) wedding — to play at, that is.

When we moved into our house, he assisted a bunch. He sat on the stairs with some tools and took apart the heavy metal stair lift (a sort of elevator for wheelchairs) and we hauled it outside. I helped them move a few months later.


The most enjoyable/memorable part, for me, of the 2004 Peters reunion was going canoeing with him on Lake San Cristobal.

This isn’t ‘positive’ but we (with Chris) put my parents more through the (w)ringer than they had already wrrung themselves into before my sister’s wedding. That was summer, 1972.

Mom and Dad had only one daughter, and were presiding over the first wedding of any of their kids.  Being their only daughter, there was (as customs and society and tradition dictated) more impetus to put on ‘a good show’ than if the circumstance involved a son.  I think we all can identify with that.  But what they must have sensed, in the proverbial “deep down inside,” was how futile clinging rigidly to that idea ultimately was.  My brothers and I were not exactly adherents to concepts such as “tradition’ nor “polite expected behavior” — heck, we were all in the phase of our lives where we didn’t even call what we were doing, day-to-day, as winging it.  Yee-haw!

So … picture us pulling up at the restaurant where we were to meet the rest of the family.   Mom and dad were inside at the wedding-day breakfast for (a) important wedding-day personnel, (b) anyone who happened to show up then.  There was a big mirror-like window inside from which they could see us clearly. We got out of Chris’ car, long hair blowing in the breeze, a veritable avalanche of beer cans bouncing out along with us …
This too isn’t positive, but it was a hoot. When he and the ‘rents were living in Aspen in 1969 or so, he invited me to go and ride bikes. This was probably after the “bicycle ticket” event mentioned in the “Chris” section, following. I followed him, not knowing what to expect, only that something weird was up. Sure enough, after weaving and sprinting down a few blocks, a police officer in his car gave chase. I would have stopped and “given it up” but Paul took off like a rabbit. I followed. He’d tantalize the cop for maybe half a block, then dart across a yard, jump a fence (he’d get off and haul the bike over) and down an alley. After a brief series of windsprints and steeplechasing yards and fences and other obstacles we’d lose our pursuer. Only to have Paul start weaving and … soon to have either the same or another police officer give chase.

Aspen must have just inaugurated a “get tough” on bike-riding at night without lights, not in the right lane, not stopping at stop signs, policy. Again, see the “Chris” section.

Best drummer in the family — good enough to play with professional groups.  Also the only one in the family to brew his own beer, used to make wine (I don’t know if he still does this), and can identify the various grasses in your lawn.  Also, another thing I will never be able to do which he does well is to back up a truck with a trailer attached.  And back during our mutual college daze, the “d” werd was aided and abetted by his almost-weekly batch of brownies containing an at-the-time illegal substance (but legal in our state now).   Baking would occur Friday nights — we’d wake up and study the next morning with tea and brownies … until the textbooks and notes would start swimming and then we’d all (Betty too) go out to do whatever …

I SHOULD PERI-ODICALLY (evenically, even) SUMMARIZE/up-2-daytid-ness:

I was somewhat “gainfully” employed when we all moved to River City, 1979 or so.  He was not real hung-up on whatever he was working at, ’cause he WAS working, enjoid it at the time.  For many, many months he was a temporary field-environmental-reclamation-all kinds of outdoor work for the BLM (U.S. Bureau of Land Management).  He’d be employed a day short of 6-months, ’cause at 6-months he’s be a permanent full-time employee WITH BENEFITS (& accruing retirement, vacation, etc.).  & the Powers that Were didn’t want that (extra full-time employees w/benefits, etc.)  He’d have a day or long weekend off, then start up on another 180-some day ‘tour.’  A lot of his work laid the groundwork and was formative for what he’d later become.  Example:  he’d be a passenger in a helicopter and the job was to locate (then fix on a map) EAGLE AERIES because any mineral-extraction work could not be within 500′ or so of such a location.  Stuff like that.  Then he got on with the State (Colorawdough) — Abandoned Mine Reclamation (a part of C. State Geology Dept?) — which further expanded his work-scope and ascension up the chain of command.  He’d be Project Manager of sub-contracted work to make nasty polluting old mines (usually heavy minerals, but I think also coal) and pits and tunnels “safe” and render such sites incapable of further environmental detrimentation.

Fast (or, not-so-fast, but gradual) forward to today, where he has ascended to a prominent and important position with the BLM (he was lured away from the State some years back) — and all the posts he’s held involve not only travel and attending scientific, environmental, programmatic symposiums and such — it seems he’s incorporated most of everything he’s ever learned, no matter how banal, to be the (seemingly) competent Program and Project Manager he is today.  (Today is later November, 2017).


Professionally, work wise, I used to think that Chris was the most accomplished. His professional architect registration nowadays takes an aspirant five years of college, then slaving away for someone(s) who will vouch for you, then you have to pass the test. And, presumably, an architect has to maintain a modicum of engineering, mathematical, and technical proficiency.

He still may be … ’tis diffy/occult  to judge “most” between, say, an architect in private practice, versus a school-teacher, or someone involved at a fairly high level of governmental land-management/environmental-restoration programs.  I KNOW I’m nowhere near “most accomplished” — but the fact I was more-or-less continuously employed for about 17 years EACH by two different employers should count for something.  Well, it does “count” for a modest retirement stipend …


Well, Francie (professionally) is somewhat of a saint, as she has ‘fought in the trenches’ (public school teacher) during her professional life.

If Chris was reduced to living in a van down by the river, he might still get by as a musician. Though Paul is ‘polished’ and adept enough to probably play many or most styles of drumming, Chris has a knack with things with strings.  (UPDATE: Nov. 2017 — I don’t think he is “keeping up” with the music thing.  The rest of life, work especially? has cut into musical practice time.  Betty (Deb) and I still hope that some day, SOON, he’ll make the time to come play bass with us on a regular basis.  (Sigh.))

We were, allegedly, the first people ever given traffic violation tickets by the City of Aspen for erratic and illegal (and also under the influence) bicycle riding. I think this was in 1969. He looked at the ticket, handed to us by the chief of police himself, grinned ear-to-ear, saying “Thanks!”

Chris and I attempted the south, or east ‘Teta’ in San Carlos. The last pitch was sheer rock, so we sat and played harmonicas just below the summit.


Speakin’ of harmonicas — Chris used to try to include me in most the musical undertakings he was part of. I miss playing live music, but Chris gave me several more outlets and experiences than I otherwise would have had.

Chris would visit when I was a “starving artist” in Boulder. He was part of the ever-changing incarnation-of-the-week Cliff Athey’s Frank-Zappa-wanna-be band at Tulagi’s night club once. He played the fiddle.

My beautiful picture

When Deb and I would visit up in the Roaring Fork valley, we had a few hellacious multi-continent risk games — the most infamous with Mike Danelli — who built a table-top risk board with cup-holders, ash-tray spaces, and more than a dozen continents. Wherever Conan-the-Barbarian was from — THAT continent was there, also Atlantis and Lemuria I think, etc. and etc.


I believe that Chris has really, sincerely, honestly tried to steer his daughters onto a path much more straight and narrow than that which they have taken. And he’s put up fairly well with the crap the fates have dealt him, most of which is seemingly undeserved.

Nov. 2017 (this essay was originally conjectured and the sketches put to paper many years ago.) — he has been happily married for several years now.  A s(t)olid? regular predictable? life.  She (Amy) is sometimes the rudder on his ship, quite often the sails, and probably does most the steering.  He works.  Has brushed up on craftsmanship (now THAT is something I never had, and what little I could pretend to do has long since evaporated) — wooden furniture (we have a big dining table he re-finished/re-worked) — can do basic remodeling of houses, but I think he stops short of fixing cars.  And his daughters seem to be on a more “straight and narrow” path than at times in the past … well, haven’t we all veered off the S&N from time to time?   And it definitely seems he (& Amy) are the consummate doting good-example grandparents to their flocks of (some are not so) little ones.


My beautiful picture

Now, some of what I’ll reminisce may seem derogatory, but it’s not. When my brothers and I were late teens/early twenties, we were not making our parents comfortable with our perceived (lack of) progress towards self-sustainability, etc. Francie was like a third parent, only that she would get on our cases mercilessly while the ‘rents usually held back, somewhat. Being in my early 20’s, I would refer to her as my “35-year-old younger sister.”

Then (I think it was the divorce) it was like her brain snapped. For many months, perhaps longer, it was embarrassing to go out in public with her. She’d throw food up in the air at restaurants and comment loudly without even a modicum of restraint about people who looked weirder than we.


During the transition period between a prematurely middle-aged college student to a regular college student she had a memorable, um, slip. Well, I don’t think it (the ‘slip) was intentional on her part. I was visiting / hanging out at the parent’s house in Aspen. Francie was off at a birthday party elsewhere in town. The phone rang. “Jay …” (giggle giggle) “… what’s it like to be …” (giggle) “… stoned?”

“I think you already know,” I answered.

She had eaten a piece (or two) of the birthday cake. “There are some green flecks in it. I’m leaving right now and will bring a piece home for you.” I looked forward to it. A half-hour later she completed the walk home. She had eaten most of my piece of cake, but a few crumbs remained. I scrutinized them, seeing several parsley-like green bits.

My beautiful picture

For many hours afterwards I sat in the living room, mostly astonished as she talked incessantly. Often she rolled on the floor, laughing, off the couch, hopping back up on it, then more rolling. And more laughing. I am fairly sure she hasn’t indulged in illegal substances since (or rarely) but she certainly did enjoy that one experience.

Nov. 2017 status — she was diagnosed with “Alzhie” (her nick-name for her ¿friend? Alzheimer’s) for perhaps 2 and a half years now.  She is soldier-ing through it mostly like a trooper, keeping a positive outlook on her life, and as best she (& Rick) can, rolling with whatever punches and sometimes punching back at the rolls.



Betty’s brothers and sisters are, after all, kind of like MY brothers and sister, being “in laws.” Basically I like all three of them, but one of them is a frequent challenge, and another has been an occasional challenge. Bill, however, I have a lot of respect for.

Betty says it’s because I don’t know him and his history that well, but from what I’ve personally seen and experienced and talked with, he has a good heart. He is sincere. He doesn’t wish ill on anyone.

Nobody is more pre-occupied with nor has seemingly dedicated her life for her kids more than Ann.

And Bill, Ann, and Alex used to rarely miss many family gatherings. Alex and Ann were in Grand Junction for either or both of my kid’s Bar/Bath Mitzvas. All three were at Rachel’s and Tom’s weddings — not an easy trip from the east coast for any of them. Much appreciated.
Alex was a lively participant in one of my family’s “Peters” reunions!


My beautiful picture

As far as I remember, Rick has been invariably pleasant to all of us. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say anything derogatory about any family members. Not even about Francie!
Serious about cooking, and his music.  Possibly the best-est musician in the family.  Certainly knows the theory!  On the sad side, he is a poster child for what Jack Kerouac once postulated:  that we all, ultimately, choose our own form of suicide.  Rick is  smoking himself to a much shorter life-span than would -a.

And THAT has accelerated since the ‘Alzhie’ prognosis.  I reserve? judgment? ’cause I can’t possibly even begin to figure how I’d cope with that.  He is probably doing better than any of us could, and would.


4 thoughts on “Sibling Positives

  1. You are lucky in your family! I have one brother and I would have to lie in order to say anything nice about him.

    Being kind of an armchair mountaineer, I think it would be interesting to hear about one or two of your fourteener summits with your brother Paul. I’ such a flatlander that I get headaches at 5,000 so I have to enjoy these things vicariously and I haven’t read a good one since I finished Hillary’s High Adventure a few years back.


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