Saturday, February 7, 2009
For most of my childhood, there was only one grocery store in Big Piney. Burney & Company sat at the end of the only paved street in our town, at a curve in the road about a block from the high school, and when I was younger it was dark, with lightbulbs hanging from chains, and a single pot-bellied stove near the center where locals would gather to chew the fat. Thursdays we got produce, lettuce and tomatoes, which we eagerly awaited. Many townspeople charged their groceries for months at a time; the ranchers would come in before snowfall to buy supplies for the winter, and many wouldn't be seen again until spring if things got bad enough. As kids we'd run into Burneys during our school lunch hour and buy candy bars for a nickel and charge them to our parents' accounts.
Then one day, everything changed. The Haddock family moved to town, and decided to open a second grocery store at the other end of the street. There was a community contest to name the new store, and the winning entry became a fixture in our community--Haddock's Food Fair. The Haddocks were from Idaho originally as I recall, and moved into a house just a block down the street from ours toward Highway 189, the main route from Salt Lake City to Jackson Hole, the Tetons, and Yellowstone Park. It might as well have been a million miles from anywhere.
For a child growing up across the street from a power plant, barbed wire fences to keep cattle in and dogs and people out, and the occasional stray moose, there was no life except the constant subverted struggle between cattle and oil, the knowledge that the ranching dynasties of the community tolerated, but often resented, the presence of the more transient members of the community who came in by way of the petroleum industry, many of whom lived in subdivisions created by Belco Oil and El Paso Natural Gas for that purpose.
Because my father worked for a small, independent oil and gas company, we lived in town. We were among the fortunate few.
What I saw from that window was not just the sun rising over the Wind Rivers to the east, but the barbed wire fence across the street to the south, the alley way to the north where we burned garbage and played on propane tanks, and lots and lots of gravel roads, the occasional pine tree, and cottonwoods. Lots of cottonwoods.
For the winds of change to bring anyone else into that setting was something of a miracle. It wasn't just that there was competition in the grocery business. It was that change was coming. It was in the air, on the breeze floating like Forrest Gump's feather.
It was there.
Mark Haddock came on that breeze.
Mark was one of two children the Haddocks had with them when they came to town who were just older than I was, a young teenager at the time blossoming out into a world of possibilities. Mark wasn't a dime-a-dozen cowboy, or a roughneck's son, or a football jock. He was everything that world was not.
He was a drummer.
He belonged to that other-world of the interesting and relevant and not at all mundane, people who thought, and cared about political causes, and listened to music other than KMER, and somehow touched that consciousness beyond small town Wyoming. It was the world that only beamed into my bedroom at night after sunset when we could finally get the radio waves from Oklahoma City--KOMA --bringing the Bee Gees, and Carole King, and Rod Stewart into my store of permanent memory. It was the world I watched on television late at night after the rest of my family had gone to sleep, inhabited by the Dick Cavett Show. Mark dared to have longer hair, and be a musician, and think, and read, and hang out with friends he chose. In another place, he might have been a victim of redneck ignorance, but Mark was very popular and extremely well liked. He played the drums in band and stageband, and was the best drummer I'd ever heard. Ludwig drums and Zildian cymbals. He'd practice for hours, sometimes at the Legion Hall across town, with other musician friends who eventually formed a band. One of the greatest escapes in my life was to listen to that. I could escape the small town, and the four walls around me, and be free.
Mark had a John Cusack wit, and a SNL sense of humor. I loved being around that. I hoped my sensibility was sponge enough to soak up some of it, whether in the back of a school bus coming back from a school trip, or hanging out with his sister, Karen, who became a friend.
To this day I remember a lot of conversations I had with Mark, and many situations involving him, flashes of memory tucked away. He had a beautiful Irish Setter named Major, as I recall--Major Danny Boy Fitzpatrick--who'd run down the road in front of our house. Mark also had a motorcycle, a blue Kawasaki. Larry Vickrey had a similar one, different color maybe. Mark ended up dating a girl from Pinedale, but married a local girl, a few years out of high school. He went on to study music, then acquired several advanced degrees in business. Eventually he settled in Colorado, where he has made his home for the last several years, drumsticks still firmly in hand.
Mark became one of the founding members of the band Due West, and is now drummer for the Walker Williams Band.
Mark was one of the most talented and interesting human beings I had the privilege of knowing, growing up in that small Wyoming town. I always knew he could do anything he wanted. And he did.