SFL (Ski for Light) of the Black Hills
Although officially this is a regional event, it is also well known nationally and attended by international celebrities!
(President Bush named it the 80th point of light). And it was never called Ski for life... but maybe it should be!
My family has always tried to help with this event since the very beginning! (It can be the most heart-warming time of the entire year for anyone who can learn to be compassionate).
When I was very young I learned some important things about caring for handicapped people by watching my cousin. (My dad had only one sibling. My uncle Bill lived close by. One of his girls was severely retarded due to the loss of oxygen shortly after birth... She never did learn to walk or talk or do anything but react to her pain. Mostly she just screamed and squirmed, especially if you tried to keep her from "scooting" wherever she wanted to go). During SFL week there are many challenging people with needs often quite misunderstood by those in a hurry to get through with life so quickly. (An unspoken thought my family always kept to ourselves... but never forgot for one minute while dealing with any of their difficulties).
In all the years and all the problems facing all of these participants... none could ever compare to what I faced while growing up with this severely handicapped, but very beautiful tiny little girl named Cathy!
My grandmother, my mother, and even my sisters often took turns giving her mother a break from Cathy's never-ending screams... but I was the only boy on the farm and seldom had the "chore" of watching her! I always felt bad about that. But more than that, I felt bad about what it did to our family. (After many years Cathy went to a State Home and Bill paid the state a percentage of her care... based on income from his farm and ranch profits). Throughout the following years I watched my dad prosper on many good crops, and at times higher prices for the grain. Although older and wiser at the time, his brother Bill never saw a gain either way and I figured it diminished his attempts to try any harder. I blamed the state for his problem before I was old enough to understand anything.
Bill remained with mostly the ranch side of our "operation" with only about hundred head of cattle from the beginning to the end. My dad on the other hand began to expanded the farming and mechanical work in our shop anytime there was a spare nickel. (A good example of that is my senior picture... once again taken without a smile. I could not smile as one of my front teeth had by then rotted down to an ugly stem! Money was not the problem either... The year before this Allied Chemical had offered dad one million dollars in cash just to turn over his fertilizer and chemical business to them. He had three other businesses doing well by then anyway. We had build almost 50 fire trucks and several tractors by hand. (The oil money had been wisely invested)! The "business" actually only included three tanks with a pump and an old double-pup semi... it was the "customer list" they were buying! My mother and I argued for several hours that day trying to get him to take this offer. His only comment the entire time was "if they think it is worth that it must be worth more, if we keep it and run it better"... and he was right. But we also knew it would be more work for us. And we all paid for using many of those soon to be banned chemicals during those years! You should also look at my high school years picture book. You will see no shots of me in sports either. That required a longer practice, past the end of the school day... But I had to ride the bus home everyday. I had work to do and would get plenty of exercise doing it). I really hated the "dirt" farming too (we had no irrigated land back then) and I especially hated working late into the evenings helping build things in that shop. I also resented seeing Bill go off to milk the cows and feeding the stock out in the cold while dad worked by the old pot-belly stove.
Now to be fair, in the spring everyone helped some with calving season. I did get to ride a horse and help with the roundup. I even did some fencing and had fun checking windmills with my grandfather while very young. But as I got older I was more often on a tractor in the field or welding in the shop. (We built everything from septic tanks to fire trucks)! But throughout all those years I just wanted to belong to the ranch... Bill had only one boy too and I was older than he was. I once told Billy I would change places with him for the summer, but he did not respond. Everyone thought I was just kidding. (Although after that dad did let me feed some of the stock and "do chores" with Bill some evenings). I grew very fond of Bill and wished I was more a part of his family, even to include taking my turn with Cathy! (Which was more often limited to a short shift in the cry room during rolls & coffee after Mass).
My first memories of Cathy while even younger was watching her scream through the glass window of this cry room during Mass. Nobody said anything... but you could see the feeling of disruption and often the outright anger of some of the elderly who were attempted to pray. After church at times you would hear someone mummer something to the effect "Why doesn't she just stay home... she isn't getting anything out of going to Mass anyway". I remember blaming God for this tragic thing that had happened to Cathy. Later I even blamed someone they called a "candy-striper" in some hospital out in Denver. (As the story goes, they were short of help after the war and a volunteer did not correctly check the oxygen tank on the tent over Cathy. This conversation ended with "she was already blue... they should have just let her die" was also overheard one morning after church). The guilt I later felt from the hard feelings towards my elders, the sadness for my family, and the anger towards God weighed heavy on my heart.
Much later I could see how it affected all of us in different ways. My aunt and uncle became very compassionate and caring people. My dad became very rich even before they struck oil out behind the barn. (After that my mother had two more boys and in time I was free to go). Even after I quit working full time for my father I still remained close by to help out during harvest or spray season. (I always stated I started working when I could "walk good" but it was not until about 1956 that I actually "paid my way" as dad would put it... I left twenty years later after dad was back on his feet from his first major injury to his leg). The next ten years caused him a number of hired men before my brothers finished school. Once Mike was married things changed quickly. Within a few years the operation became a number of multi-million dollar businesses. In a few more years lawyers had divided things into a number of different corporations!
Mike soon wore a "hands-free" headset phone in one ear and the farm business band radio in the other... He also developed nerve and "tummy" issues even before his son was married. (They both joined the local fire department and do some fire equipment work still to this day). The chemical and fertilizer business slowed down some, but the seed business expanded for both brothers. The irrigated farming expanded throughout all three counties and continues to grow. However, my youngest brother has no son! He also had some major health issues and has tried to back away a bit. (He told me he figured he might be rich enough to take a long vacation someday)... But there will be no rest for Mike, he has several sons and a number of grandchildren to make room for in the near future!
At the other end of my life I now see the outcome. My sisters and brothers are all active in the practice of irrigated farming in partnership with my father. My wife and I remain in the city, separated from all the worries of this big money. They live year to year, and worry all the time about the price of everything from seed to fertilizer. Then they worry about when to sell and at what price. We on the other hand, live day to day. Our kids went every direction... but they never forgot about compassion. Even when I went off to war and many said I may yet "die and make my mama proud" I was still learning to be a better person according to my little brother Mickey! (Nobody then could have ever imagined what would happen in the years to come. Nobody even thought of this kind of expansion... out in the middle of nowhere).
Back at the ranch, Bill is all alone now. His Christmas letter often speaks of a new fruit tree or a fresh coat of paint on the old barn. Over at the farm it is non-stop progress, a never-ending struggle! They could slow down if they wanted to... (When my little brother's boy got married years ago I made that foolish statement after the wedding. I showed my brother on paper proof positive... showing him at the current market price of corn at $7.77 they could sell their current crop for almost four million dollars! I argued we should all take the next day off following this unbelievably expensive wedding. My entire family had driven that thousand mile trip in three cars due to our busy schedules and most of us had the next day off. My brother argued they had a big mess at this hall, a bigger one at the church, and more to clean up at home! We offered to help but he would not have it... "The women already have it covered" and I need to go check the corn! He also added as I loaded up our cars that "YES, we have a half million bushel storage in the bins on the farm... but much of that had already been sold at a lower price and must still be delivered". ALSO, it is too risky to sell the new crop until it was out of the field and they knew for sure the total yield and the price of next year's seed? (That is a very old cliché actually... it is not that simple in modern days)! Fuel for farming the land is no longer an acre of oats for the horses. Fertilizer is no longer what comes out of the back end of those horses. Lunch for the neighbors on "thrashing day" does not quite cover the cost of harvest these days either. (A combine with auto-steer and two heads cost almost a half of a million dollars... and they have two of them, so it goes faster). Oh yes, I forgot to mention they also sell and apply the fertilizer. They sell the seed too! They even sell grain bins and have several large cranes to install the equipment on top of them. They could have taken a little break though. Maybe even had gotten to be around my family for a while that next day... I doubt we will ever have another chance to all be together again!
Now, many more years have passed... That wedding produced another four boys and a girl. My dad approaches ninety now... but when he makes it out to the shop in his little walker he still has a list of things to do for the oldest of those four boys. This cycle will never end. (We are in fact in another down-turn for farming... not unlike the last one in the early eighties! Land prices are dropping almost as fast as corn prices, now hardly above the "cost-of-production" on poorly run farms! Many who have been farming on borrowed money will again fail and be forced out. My family will buy those farms, burn those barns, and expand once again).
In another ten years some of those boys will marry. They must make more room for them soon! There is no room for compassion either... "if we don't do it the neighbors will" they have said! And this is also true. Someday I will speak no more forever, but not yet... I have been silent too long! The time will pass and progress will proceed. I will pass, but this page will remain somewhere forever!
You can see it in the eyes of my youngest daughter while helping someone in a wheelchair go through the line for food up at Deer Mountain early in the Eighties. I think he would have done fine without her help, but got a real kick out of her attempts to get him what he wanted from the selection. In the Nineties all six of us worked at the hotel when gambling first started. SFL week was the highlight of the winter for us. We worked both on and off of the clock to help in any way we could.
Even our dog attended this event several evenings each year!
I was always a big hit with the blind (the visually impaired) as my voice carried well and could be heard in a crowd. As "man friday" for Bill Walsh I could work any position and had full run of all things going on in this hotel (which at that time was headquarters for SFL week). Rudy Winfrey (actually a cousin to Oprah) once told me he reassured his dad (who was also totally blind) when they arrived all he had to do was stay with the crowd until he heard my voice... then they were "home" free.
Almost all of the SFL participants knew my voice and knew I could get them whatever they needed. (If not me, my wife or one of the four children would take care of it). No task was left undone. (And for weeks before each event we always told people "you get to go straight to heaven" if you do not loose your temper even once the entire week)... Very few could do it either, but we did it again and again every year!
One other thing my family did that was not normal... was being recognized or taking credit. (My aunt and uncle taught me to learn not to make a fuss out of this act of compassion... not let the right hand know what the left is doing or whatever). Not once in all those years did I sign my name as a helper for a free meal or a free room or a free pass for anything... I paid. Not once did I even take gas money for a ride to the airport or elsewhere. (In time this was noticed by some of the organizers and they tried to make something bad out of it). Finally they got their chance when I borrowed money to buy a computer for editing all the old footage for a memorial to the family of Dallas (one of the original leaders). When the work was completed and the first "rough-cut' video was ready for the board to approve I ask them to help me get the guides and sponsors to pay for their copy... to help me cover some of my costs! (Not for the many years of shooting the video, or the many months of editing work... just some to pay down on the computer used to make the movie)! Finally they had their chance to badmouth me for being a "taker" of such a worthy cause. (Understand now, some of these people had grown rich "playing the crip card" over the years, often using pictures I had placed on the web or given freely to draw pity points or gather money... Many also used snow machines and other equipment purchased with that money for their own use all winter as well). They hated that my family and I were so "lilly-white" and so well liked by those who really mattered.
They got even though... but with the wrong people. I was told off. They took the "try-out tape" from me before leaving. (It was only a low quality sample run. Recorded at the slowest 6 hour speed on a standard VHS tape, not direct-dubbed onto S-VHS from the computer for professional duplication). They gave it to Terry and he spent the next 4 months with two standard VHS machines making even lower quality copies for the board of directors to pass out). I do not know what happened to those tapes, but my footage and the computer was later destroyed by some other foolish thieves from Deadwood.
They may have gave me the name Loud Mouth Larry... maybe not, but they sure liked calling me that!
Receiving a nickname was actually a privilege among repeat SFL participants. (Kind of an inside joke at times... often it was cruel or naughty too)! Terry Long was the first to say it that way though, but that could have been a coincidence. (I was known as loud Larry to many who could not see for years before that! I was also called luggage cart Larry, Deadwood Dan or Deadwood Dick... even Deadwood limp-dick).
The final straw was of course my stand on the pot4pain issue! All through the Nineties (and until the hotel sold) the third floor north wing during SFL was reserved for the pot smokers! I in fact discovered this by accident while doing a security walk. I was told even the cops knew it and it was not a problem! (Over the years I saw how it benefited anyone who had leg-shaking problems. Also other problems related to treatments or the strenuous activity in the snow and cold. Even muscle cramping, or what some called "spaz" or crazy legs)! In time I took the lead defending them too. (This did not set well with those who found comfort in the bottle instead). They in fact later took over this event entirely after the hotel sold. The following year any openly positive pot smokers were shown the door. To this day the Mineral Palace Bars are very proud of liquor sales during this major event. (That first year even my wife Pam, often known only as Gladys for most of the previous 17 years, was told she was not needed, even as a volunteer in the dining area). Pam is normally a very strong person... but she cried when she told me.
I no longer have any compassion...