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The Big Bird

The Big Bird


Happy Thanksgiving!  Our neighbor Harry Puncec is as much a proponent of the traditional turkey dinner as anyone, but the season brings memories of one year when there was not a turkey to be had. An alternative was walking around nearby… 


By Harry Puncec

It must have been in 1945 right after VJ Day, the day in August when Japan decided to surrender and the war ended. Things were recovering from the austere war rationing rules as the soldiers came back home and tried to fit back into their old jobs. Some did, some never would, and most families just kept on getting by. We were living at the corner of Sherman Street and 8th Avenue in Denver in a duplex with a tiny enclosed back yard. My folks brought a live goose home to live with us. My brothers and I fell in love with it, it was our first family pet after all, and we embraced taking care of it. That’s something of an overstatement as all we did was feed it and chase it around the enclosure.

Any farmer will tell you a big no-no is to name a farm animal. Regardless we named the goose Billy as I recall and he – or was it a she? – became family. Things went along swimmingly with Billy, even despite him/her always trying to escape our hugs.

The people who occupied the other unit were a childless couple named Crane. Mr. Crane worked as an engineer on the railroad which made him a hero to us kids. We later learned that he had grown up on a farm and that explains how he became part of this story.

One day in November we were playing with Billy when Mr. Crane came in with a wooden milk carton and an axe. We, of course, had no clue. He sat us kids on the stoop then he grabbed Billy, laid him over the carton and with one swing of the axe cut off poor Billy’s head. Billy, with blood squirting from his now truncated neck, ran around the yard for a brief time bumping into things until he fell over. Wow!

Later in the day we in incomprehension watched Mom pluck the feathers from Billy.

Finally Thursday came around and it was Thanksgiving. As we sat around the table when mom with obvious pride brought out a perfectly cooked and stuffed Thanksgiving bird. While the bird was being carved a vague notion entered my head and I asked if that was Billy?  Yes it was!  I began bawling instantly, followed by Joe and Paul. Needless to say, we refused to partake.

We weren’t cannibals you know.


Harry Puncec, whose friend Billy is still sadly remembered, was a founding member of not only the Southern Gables Neighborhood Association but the Southern Gables neighborhood itself. Story: Memories of Early Southern Gables.

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Markers in Time

Markers in Time


November 22 is coming up. The date will take me back as it always does. That’s the big one for my generation. Every age has its great shock, that moment when something happens that stops people in their tracks. The date is marked for a lifetime, the moment locked in stark detail. Yours may be September 11. It’s likely you remember where you were when news came that an airliner had struck one of the World Trade Center buildings… 


By Harry Puncec

Perhaps you received a phone call from someone watching the live broadcast of a burning tower. I did.  Whatever you were doing was forgotten as you urgently tried to learn more. You spend the rest of the day absorbing the immense reality.  On 9/11/2001 there were people on those planes and in those buildings, and they were dying.  It was almost incomprehensible.

A Sunday afternoon across America was like that for your great-grandparents on a December day long ago.  For them it was a somber voice over the radio announcing that a United States military base in the Pacific had been bombed!  It was seismic.  December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy.” That sunny day suddenly became Day One, for us in World War Two. For those who heard the news, the moment when it was heard became a lifetime memory.

It happens.  We get comfortable with how things are and are looking away when “stuff” happens.  I was loading copy on a camera board at work when Johnny came in and said John F. Kennedy – our President – had been shot.  My first words were, “That’s not funny.” No, it was tragic. It was November 22, 1963 and for my generation that was the moment that we remember in stark clarity, exactly where we were.

The nation reeled!  For three days we all watched TV as all the channels were on the story.  No commercials and the reporters struggled to avoid breaking down in tears.  By the day of JFK’s funeral we thought we were emotionally drained. Then John Jr., the President’s son, saluted. We lost it.

Photo by UPI photographer Stan Stearns. JFK Jr. saluting as his father's funeral cortege passes by. Since then we’ve had other such moments. If you were living in 1986 you remember seeing the space shuttle Challenger blooming deadly orange and white against a dark blue sky, and the nation’s collective shock. Columbine, too close to home for us, with students and teachers murdered. Great leaders assassinated. Our Capitol attacked. Each time, we stagger.  We ask why, why???

It is helpful to remember that it is our history being written. Recorded history preserves these stark memories beyond the lives that felt them, turning vivid and indelible markers into recitations of facts. Fort Sumter bombarded in 1861, the Battleship Maine sunk in Havana’s harbor in 1898, on and on. There are so many such moments, lifelong memories for those who are now themselves gone, but still moments that determine our fate. What can we do?

Our job is to remember and be strong when it happens the next time.


Harry Puncec is a writer, a neighbor, and a founding member of not only the Southern Gables Neighborhood Association but the Southern Gables neighborhood itself. Story: Memories of Early Southern Gables.

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Big Day in the Neighborhood

Big Day in the Neighborhood


Last Saturday was a big day in Southern Gables. With our wild and sudden weather changes, the leaves on many of our trees are hanging on for dear life. We don’t often hear leaves talking (they usually just whisper), but last week they were saying, “Hot day, cold day, oh look, snow!  I’m so confused, I ain’t goin’ nowhere!”  The Friday leaf raking for our seniors and disabled residents was snowed out and postponed, but by Saturday’s Leaf Collection Day we were “open for business” for everyone else in the neighborhood. 


By the time Saturday dawned, the snow that had interrupted Friday’s leaf raking was long gone. Its effects would be felt for a while though. since the young volunteers from Denver Christian Middle School were prevented from raking for our seniors and disabled neighbors who had signed up. During the following days (and even continuing into next week) many of them with their individual families are doing the work, one by one. For the rest of our Southern Gables list, we solicited volunteers to finish the job. Neighbors are stepping up: Good Samaritans, willing to help.  

There are still some openings where volunteers would be welcomed and appreciated….   

But didn’t we have a great time Saturday!  Our Leaf Day was well attended, and we took in 664 bags of leaves from 79 neighbors who drove in and a few who walked in, compacted in our collection bins by dedicated leaf stompers. In addition to the stompers, Ken Fischer brought in a big load with his big blue dump truck, and several other truck runners went around picking up bags of leaves.

Where do they go?  Our contract with Republic Services was not just to haul the leaves away, but to get them into the process of composting so they will have a beneficial future use. The organic matter will be made available through commercial channels to be returned to the soil – where in addition to things like fruits and vegetables, they will end up making more… leaves.

Thanks to all who helped out! Groups of volunteers came from Westwoods Community Church, Carmody Middle School, D’Evelyn and Lakewood High Schools. Individuals from the neighborhood included Doug and Judy Whitten setting up in the early morning and then directing traffic in and out the single gate; Ken Fischer and Jeff Bair driving the truck doing scheduled pickups; Marci DeMott, Michelle Tovrea, and James Johnson at the check-in station; Bruce Loftis, Carolyn Wolfrum and Monica Norval unloading, with Bruce and some of the adult Westwoods volunteers taking turns atop the bins stomping along with the students.

It was a great day!  Click a pic, scroll through.