I live in a high rise in Chicago now, but In 1972, when I was almost 22 Larry hired me as his assistant on the Storm King Ranch. I lived there too. It was a dream job for me. I had recently finished my program of outdoor education and recreation and natural sciences at Colorado Mountain College. Larry provided me with opportunity and he taught me countless things and I am going to list a few.
Aside from my own family, few people, if anyone has taught me me such lasting lessons about life as Larry Velasquez.
Much of the time we worked side-by-side, and often I was just directed. Many lessons were not profound but basic. Larry taught me about working hard and enjoying it. We accomplished a lot, and then when the time was right, we relaxed and played hard too. We laughed a lot.
He was a great mentor to me. He taught me mostly by doing and by example. I felt he was always there for me.
Larry taught me a lot about leadership and responsibility; he knew how to accept it and he knew how to assume it.
And he taught me how to actually do things, like how to prune fruit trees, how to measure water and increase its flow, how to survey, how to irrigate, how to paint and roof buildings, how to fix plumbing, how to plow snow, and how to snowmobile.
One of my favorite days ever was snowmobiling with Larry and Mike Waller. We were up on the Flat Tops and there was lots of snow and we stopped to rest. Larry said, wait here and he rode out to a cliff we knew to have a look. After a few minutes we could hear Larry coming back, but he was coming from the wrong direction. When he got back we tried to ask him how and he just smiled and said follow me. When we arrived at the cliff to our shock, Larry just looked back, smiled, and dropped off the cliff. We played on that cliff for hours till our machines were filled with snow and the sun was going down.
He taught me how to manage big fires and we had some wonderful fires. Larry loved to burn stuff. I remember several piles of brush with fallen trees and scrap that were so big we used 5 gallons of diesel and 5 gallons of gasoline to ignite. They would literally explode into flame with a mushroom cloud of smoke. It was awesome. I loved it too. They would burn for days. I remember both the Forest Service and BLM coming up to see what was burning.
Larry taught me how to hunt elk and deer and how to dress them out and butcher them, even how to make sausage. How to work a pack string of horses, how to work and care for a herd of horses, even how to negotiate for horses. He taught me how to be a hunting guide and mountain guide. How to identify wild asparagus.
He showed me the value of history and to appreciate Veterans Day and Memorial Day. We enjoyed an occasional blackberry brandy or Kuba Libra or Moscow Mule.
Larry taught me the meaning of the word and how to use aposiopesis. He was a master at this and often used it to negotiate.
Sometimes we would run across some obscure piece to a tool that had been burried in the dirt or in some dark corner of a basement, and he would always know what it was for.
He and his wonderful family always showed me such warm hospitality.
I kind of half lived at their house for a year. They fed me a lot and often invited me, maybe always invited me, for holidays since my family was in Florida and I was by myself and living on the ranch.
On Mondays Barbara would yell at me, You know Monday is my day for laundry, oh just leave it #@! dammit Ill do it. Smiling, I would slink away, thank you Barbara.
I was the hired hand but Larry was not above putting his kids to work. I knew that Greg and Jeff were a little jealous that I got to spend so much time with their dad, and they had to go off to school. It was easy to see how much they loved their dad and wanted to be with him. We were close enough in age that there was some rivalry there but also some brotherly feeling to go with it.
They were all very kind to me, a wanna be cowboy from Miami, Florida.
And they were all very tolerant of my lifestyle and strange ways. We all laughed a lot.
Often when tourists and guests came up to the ranch Larry wanted me to spend time with them. Larry would say, I was comfortable talking to them, and I was, but he was the one that they wanted to talk to. It was his stories they wanted to hear. He was the flavor of the west they craved. I think we all did. He sure had a starring role in Steves great western adventure. And then cameos throughout my life.
The second day I worked for Larry, we had a big crew and were at the Coffee Pot Cabin on the flattops. Larry woke me up and said The sky is on fire, go take pictures.
Sometimes the family would take short vacations from the ranch and Larry would call to check on things. First he would ask about his dogs, Barney, and Mickey, and then he would ask about his red Ford pickup, and then the ranch. I know, it sounds like a country western song.
Its hard for me to clean the counter today without thinking of Larry.
I spent a lot of time in their home on the Storm King Ranch, and Larry would be on the phone a lot or we would just be talking, but he was always doing something at the same time, like cleaning the counter or preparing food. Making good use of his time. He knew how to play and relax also, but he seemed to lean towards work.
He was a lot more than my boss, and landlord and neighbor. He was very much a father figure to me, and he was my friend. He was my mentor, I loved him a lot, still do and always will. I always felt his love too.
I had a year with Larry working side-by-side most the time. It was one of the best, most memorable years of my life.
But it was more than that because that year has stood out as stayed with me, and still is now. Other years blur together, but my year with Larry and the Velasquez family stands out bright and shining and clear with vivid memories and warm feelings. It is a, if not the, highlight in the picture of my life.
Im sad that I will not get to see Larry again, I will miss him, but I am glad and thankful that, my bride, Peggy and I got to see him, and spend some time with him last fall.
One visual I will miss is watching Larry put his right fist up about head high and add an energy pump. It was a good sign.
My bride of 17 years was surprised to find that I only worked for Larry for a little more than a year because I refer to him so often. Even the fact that I almost always refer to my wife as my bride is because thats how Larry referred to Barbara.
He always stayed in touch, and I always looked forward to the Christmas card and the included folded letter that filled me in on many of the family milestones of the year. Next year will be different, there will be an absence.
You know how a lot of things you learn, but you dont even know exactly what you learned, but you somehow feel enriched, like youve grown, changed in some positive way. Like being a better person, or like you are more of your true self, or on a better path, or have more tools, a keener perception, or a better foundation because of some experience or someone or something.
Well there was a whole lot of that. It was mostly that. And that is what makes it more than just knowledge, there was an acceptance, a feeling of belonging. It was always easy and natural.
Every person should be so lucky as to get a year with a Larry of their own. The world would be a better place. I sure feel that I am a better person on many levels because of Larry. And it was a lot of fun!!!
Also FYI, here is link to a great interview with Larry about his life that I found on line, its inspiring: