Craig resident Howdy Davis holds notes he's taken for a Colorado Northwestern Community College class on memoir writing. The non-credit section of the course takes place at American Legion Post No. 62 in Craig. Davis' memoirs include his childhood escapades in Pennsylvania and his experiences in the U.S. Navy.

Photo by Bridget Manley

Craig resident Howdy Davis holds notes he's taken for a Colorado Northwestern Community College class on memoir writing. The non-credit section of the course takes place at American Legion Post No. 62 in Craig. Davis' memoirs include his childhood escapades in Pennsylvania and his experiences in the U.S. Navy.

Class teaches Craig residents to write memoirs

It's the mid-1950s.

Howdy Davis, 16, is making his annual summer trip down the Susquehanna River from New York to his home in Pittston, Penn.

His brothers Teddy, Bobby and Pat, and a friend, Charley, are accompanying him on the more than 100-mile trip.

Along the way, the trio makes what they think is a valuable find: an abandoned refrigerator. They haul it into the river and add it to their fleet of makeshift boats.

They stop downriver and pull the refrigerator back to shore, deciding to store it there and use it again next summer.

They quickly change their plans.

"All of a sudden, I looked over at the refrigerator and the molding was moving," Davis said.

The defunct appliance had borne more than three wayfaring boys down the Susquehanna.

The refrigerator's lining was crammed full with copperheads, a kind of venomous pit viper.

"Needless to say, we ran and grabbed up all our gear, got in the boats and got the hell out of there," Davis said. "We were so spooked, we spent the night tied up to a stump in the river."

This adventure is one of several Davis, now 71, plans to include in his memoirs. He and 16 local writers are recording their life adventures with help from a class offered by Colorado Northwestern Community College.

The course is part of Wellness Wednesday. The Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association includes the class in its Aging Well program, which is open to people ages 50 and older.

Classes are offered on a non-credit basis and take place on Wednesdays at American Legion Post No. 62, 1055 County Road 7. Residents still can sign up for the class with instructor approval, and registration costs $160.

Downtown Books co-owner Carol Jacobson has taught the course since 2006. Her curriculum covers a wide range of topics.

"I teach how to write about place," she said, "where you are, where you grew up, where you've been."

Jacobson instructs writers in other techniques, such as how to make a narrative read faster or slower.

Students have a different assignment each class. One week, it may be listing every car he or she has ever owned.

Getting students thinking about a topic usually stirs memories, Jacobson said.

Memories have a chance of becoming stories.

About half of her students are in or near their 80s, Jacobson said, adding that they write to record their life experiences for their descendants.

Davis is one of them.

"I wanted to do this because I always had : my wife on my case for writing down these stories that I'm always telling, especially for the grandchildren," he said.

Davis credited Jacobson with making her students' literary aspirations a reality.

"That gal is an inspiration to every one of us," he said.

Stories in Davis' memoir file contain accounts thrilling and poignant, humorous and chilling.

After class Wednesday, he recalled his first car: a 1937 Chevrolet with worn-out brakes. When he drove to his high school, located on a hill, Davis said he had to tie the car to a nearby telephone pole to keep it from rolling away.

Davis' father demanded he get rid of the car, but Davis wouldn't relent.

He wanted to drive a convertible. So, he cut off the top of his car's cab.

"On rainy days, I had to ride down the street with an umbrella," he said.

Some of his more somber stories came out of his four-year stint with the U.S. Navy.

He joined the military at 18 in 1956 and remained there until 1960. His duties included serving as first loader of a 40-mm antiaircraft gun.

And, on certain missions, his primary job was to collect dog tags from fallen service members when the situation required it.

He realized what this meant.

"This really got to me," he said. ": That really hit home."

Fortunately, Davis never was sent on such a mission.

Davis eventually plans to publish his memoirs in a book. He already has a title in mind: "The Confessions of a Poacher."

"I was a bandit for a lot of years, boy," he said, laughing. "I did a lot of off-the-record stuff."

He won't have any trouble finding stories to write about. Instead, the challenge will be to not let his adventures from a more youthful time land him in hot water.

"I've got to camouflage this, so they don't start knocking on my door with a pair of handcuffs and a paddy wagon," he said.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.