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.


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.




Back in 2017 our neighbor Harry told us what it was like to be one of the first homeowners to move into the farm fields that became Southern Gables. Now we asked him to go back to an earlier time, when he was a kid growing up in Denver. We asked, “How has the country changed during your lifetime?” 

By Harry Puncec

In thinking about how things have changed in the wider world it occurred to me to describe what I remember from when I was a kid and you’ll have some of the answer.

In the 1940s my Mom was a stay-at-home wife who coped with three young boys, cooked meals from scratch ingredients on a gas stove (eating out was unheard of), washed, dried, and put away the pots, silverware, and dishes, washed clothing and bedding in a Maytag wringer washer and hung them out to dry on a clothes line in the back yard, made the beds, and performed all the other thousand and one chores that came her way – and they all did.

Before refrigerators, iceboxes looked like this.

During the summer we all suffered from the heat and relied on a couple modest fans to move the air. We did have an ice box that required blocks of ice to keep food cold. Every few days a truck would come up our alley and the driver would chip away a square block of ice from a massive “iceberg” in the back of the truck, hook the ice with big tongs, and carry it up to the back porch where he put it into the ice box. While he was doing that us kids were climbing into the bed of the truck to gobble up slivers of delicious and refreshing ice. Ahhhh!

Our first house was heated by a coal furnace in the basement that had to be fed a few times a day during the winter leaving a film of coal dust everywhere, and which belched black smoke from the chimney. Every week or so a truck would deliver fresh coal that was sent down a chute into the basement and, of course, created its own dust cloud. There were no thermostats so you either got too much heat from the very hot burning flame or none if, God forbid, you forgot or slept in and failed to add coal on schedule.

We had one quite large console radio in the living room which took a minute or two to warm up and begin broadcasting. During the day Mom might have had it on, I can’t really recall, but every evening Dad would flop down onto his easy chair and listen to “his” shows, mostly a 15 minute news broadcast followed by radio plays and comedy shows. He ruled the radio. We boys were expected to entertain ourselves which we did mostly by picking on each other.

After we moved to Emerson Street in the late 40s we’d get up early in the summer, have breakfast, and then headed out to Alamo Park a block from our house where we would spend the day. No kidding, we’d spend many hours there on the swings and slides, doing crafts (if mom had given is some money and the counselors were working), play tag or hide and seek in the shrubs, or head over to Cherry Creek to catch minnows. Sometimes we’d organize all the kids into baseball teams and play with only a ball and bat, no gloves or bases. This was before we had 911 to call, so injuries were shaken off.

Something missing from the park were moms. I can’t recall any parents lurking around; they had too much work to do at home. Looking back I think the theory was that if you couldn’t remember where you lived you deserved to wander off never to be heard from again. I know my brothers and I never missed a meal.

In February of 1955 we moved from Emerson Street to South Clarkson and things changed. Dad had died in 1951, Mom had struggled, but by ’55 a couple good breaks had finally come her way. Friends of hers had helped get a house that she could own, we were enrolled in ADC (Aid to Dependent Children) and the welfare checks were keeping us afloat. We even bought our first TV, a 17” black and white set, which we all could watch. There was even a bus stop at the corner so we could go downtown to shop or see the Christmas displays in the windows of the department stores that lined 16th Street.

Yeah, life was different back then. Even in the small things like answering the phone. You quickly picked it up when it rang because it was always family or friends or, if it was late at night, something terrible had happened to somebody you knew so a call was always important. Now it’s with us everywhere, unbound from its wire leash, and for lots of people we know talking has become a nuisance so they would rather text.

Changes. Some are for the better, but sometimes we miss the things that were tough on us. Whatever we think of the old days, good or bad, we are grateful for them getting us here.

Harry and Judi Puncec are some of our good neighbors in Southern Gables. If the names seem familiar, you might have met them before. Meet Harry and Judi Puncec, January 2021.