The Lizard King

December 30, 1997 -- 7:00 p.m.

  My dad looks good. Surprisingly good. I walked into his room half-expecting to find a feeble, withered old man, because too often heart attack patients seem somehow diminished after the event, as though they'd been drained of their lifeforce. Not my dad. His color was good, his spirits were good, he seemed energetic, he says he feels fine. Sure, he was way too thin and looks ravaged by his years, but he's looked that way for a long time. If anything, he looks better now than he did before the heart attack. My dad, the original Lizard King.

It seems I got here just in the nick of time for nothing to happen. They're giving him a stress test in the morning, but unless the results of that are unexpectedly bad they're planning to release him tomorrow afternoon. He had an echocardiogram today which showed no significant damage to his heart and no blockages, so they don't think he'll need surgery. I guess my timing for coming out was pretty good after all; I'll be here long enough to take him home and get him situated and help out for a couple of days before I have to leave.

Now that things are looking up, I'm able to enjoy being in Colorado again. I moved to LA from Colorado, and while I only lived out here for about a year, in my mind Colorado has always been home. It's good to be back, especially in the wintertime. As I'm sitting here alone in my dad's house, writing, I can hear cars crunching through the snow outside. I've missed that sound, and I've missed the bite of the freezing air in my nose when I step outside. I miss winter. I miss Colorado. I'd like to live here again someday.

If I had time on this trip, I'd go up to Big Thompson Canyon just outside Loveland. My dad owned a restaurant there in the canyon, The Covered Wagon. We lived next to the restaurant and I used to play in the forest on the ridge with my friend Adam. If I had time I'd go up to that forest and look for the tree where Adam and I carved our initials, and if I could find it I'd tell Adam that I miss him and I still think about him sometimes. Adam died there in the canyon, and my dad and I could have too if I hadn't moved to California when I did.

On July 31, 1976, during a torrential rainstorm, a dam broke upriver in Estes Park and the Big Thompson River flooded. The restaurant, the house next to it, everything on that side of the river was wiped out. Adam died in the flood with his parents Marty and Frances and everyone else working in the restaurant that day, as well as dozens of other people up and down the canyon. This happened on my dad's birthday, a few weeks after I moved to Los Angeles with my mother and brothers and sister. He was celebrating his birthday with a camping trip with his girlfriend and I was safe in LA, but if my move had been a few weeks later my dad would have been working at the restaurant instead of camping and I would have been with him.

I don't know why I just told that story. I guess remembering my days here brought it to mind and I wanted people to know about Adam, Marty and Frances. I'll never forget them. You shouldn't either.





Copyright © 1997
Chuck Atkins