History is my Grindstone

I tried once to explain in this blog how things are for me and for others like me. When you grow up in a violent and seriously dysfunctional environment, you really do not know any different. You have no baseline for normalcy; none.

I have found kinship with other adult children of alcoholics. We can share a common experience. My husband grew up in as whacked a home as I did. In one sense.

I have not found many other people who grew up like I did in another sense.

I grew up in a rough neighborhood;

I mean really rough.

I have in my lifetime met two other people who lived through what I lived through. Maria grew up in the Cabrini Green  projects during the same time I was growing up outside of Denver. Maria is Chicano and left Cabrini Green after her brother was killed. She moved to Iowa City her senior year too. She left alone knowing that she would end up dead if she stayed. We were friends with another new kid, Essay. Essay would tell you he was from Persia. He would say, “People here are stupid. Persia? I am from Iran. I can not say I am from Iran.”   He was right. The hostage situation was not far in the future.

Maria and Essay and I became friends. We were like refugees from war-torn countries. Essay was a refugee and our stories  and experiences were the same.

I want to be able to share my story without frightening anyone. I want you to know that for me, this is just how it was. I did not know any different.

It just is what it is.

History contributed to my PTSD. History is my Grindstone.

It wore me down and I blew away the filings.

My rough edges? They are the proof.

My Heart and My survival? They are the Gift.

Please do not pity me or worry for me. Please KNOW that other kids are growing up JUST like this somewhere not far from where you are.  I hope that they too can blow away the filings and carry that rough edge  into life without using it for harm, but for good.

I am not the first and I will not be the last to have History Grind me Down.

The way I grew up informed my choice to become a community organizer. Seeing what people working together can do inspired me. Corky Gonzales and the Crusade for Justice, Cesar Chavez and  the Berrigan Brothers working against the war in Vietnam inspired me.

History grinding you down; not all bad.

Here is some of my story.   Remember,  it just was.  There is no judgement. I am who I am because of everything I have been witness too. I am fortunate in that sense.

I have seen a lot.


I have been told by therapists that my PTSD is as severe as that of a combat veteran.

I hope what I have written below will help explain why.

Peace, Jen


Our house was next to my fathers gas station and right on the rail-yard. We did not have a swing-set. We did not have a blow up pool. We did have the train tracks that ran on forever. We did have the boxcars of the trains sitting in wait. I can in this moment call up the smell and texture of the creosote that covered the wood that held the tracks. I can in this moment feel my face against the track; the steel warm on my skin. We knew to be aware of our surroundings. We knew to feel the tracks for any sign of an oncoming train. When we were  kids, I could feel the track and tell you, based only on the faint vibration, about how long we had before the next freight train came through.

We also had my dads gas station, The Brighton Oil. We had our jobs; pumping gas and cleaning windows. We filled the candy machine and the pop machine. We unloaded truck loads of tires and learned to mount and balance them as we got older.

We had a lot for not having much.

We were poor. So was everyone else. Most of my friends had several generations of family living with them. I grew up watching Jackie’s Abuelita make refritos and tortillas in the morning. I grew up half understanding the Spanish that flew around me.

The Brighton Oil was a local hang out of a sort; there was always some group or another hanging out talking politics. My dad made friends easily and was heavily involved in the community. I loved to sit on the counter that held the motor oil and listen to the men talk. There was an awful lot to talk about in a small neighborhood in a small town outside Denver in the 70s.

All of our neighbors and all of my friends were Chicano and revolution was in the air.  Corky Gonzalez and the Crusade for Justice had worked with others to form La Raza Unida; a non-violent political party.  The Brown Berets were working the other militant minority groups for Chicano rights. The migrant workers who came in the spring for harvest  knew that a tent city in Brighton would be taken care of.

We were a tight community; until we weren’t.

The spring and Summer of 1973 brought violence to the movement. A couple of Chicanos were arrested for ‘jaywalking’ in Denver. Guns came out and then explosions. The cops blamed the Crusade. We all knew the cops were lying. Later that Summer, cops killed some activists in Denver; riots ensued in the neighborhood I live in now.

The riots in Denver were the beginning of the end of what community we had. Something snapped. We fell apart at the seams. The kids we had spent years playing with on the tracks now shouted out to us,” Que Onde Quera?” using a derogatory term for ‘white person’.     We were no longer friends. We were  ‘Quera’ (pronounced  something close to weda)   Many of my friends had brothers or sisters who had been in the riots. Many of their family members had joined the Brown Berets and they were proud of them, as were we.  The problem was; it was not our fight. We were white; white began to mean ‘suspect’.

That Summer there were bridge bombings. The word on the street was that the cops were trying to frame the leaders of La Raza and the Brown Berets. I heard the men talk in the gas station, “It’s not us Winkel. It’s the cops man. They are setting us up.”   My father agreed with them.  It was unsettling.

School started and the violence from the streets swept into our schools. We had bomb scares and switch blade fights. There were mass Walk Outs in protest of the way the cops in Denver and Los Angles were coming down on innocent people. It was not safe and slowly but surely lines were drawn.

My dad was beaten seriously twice by young punks pretending to be Brown Berets. They were just punk criminals trying to scare my father. They wanted free gas ‘For the Revolution, La Causa’  Daddy knew the leaders of the movement and was supportive. He knew these kids were flat-out criminals. The cops would not press charges against the young men who beat him, “Winkel, you know this will just inflame the situation.”   They had no witnesses but me. No one was willing to testify against the men and boys who beat my father. My father used to keep a gun at the station. Daddy had removed it weeks before the first beating, “Anyone robs me, they will use it against me.”  He was right. They would have.

I have PTSD.

I have PTSD for many reasons.

We had a drill: if you hear gun fire, get on your tummy, crawl into the bathroom and stay there. Do not move until Daddy says it is safe. We would all lay down low in our tiny bathroom until the noise went away and the police could be heard arriving.

My parents were alcoholics and we lived in an increasingly violent,  poverty-stricken neighborhood being torn apart.We also  lived down the way from a bar. On the door of the bar was/is a sign that says:

“Leave ALL weapons outside! No guns or blades allowed!”

 They would go there at night and leave me to take care of my sister.

Before the Summer of ’73 it was not that big of a deal; after that it was scary.

Eventually my dad had protection from the Sons of Silence 1% biker gang. They would leave one biker at the station at all times. My father was not beaten again after  the Sons took over watch.

No Shit.

I had my lunch money stolen nearly everyday after the Summer of 1973. I saw more switch blade fights than I can count. I saw a kid get his neck broken on Valentines day in the hallway at school when a fight broke out.  I saw violence most everyday of one kind or another. I was under threat all the time.

I have severe PTSD. I earned it. I think I carry it well all things considered. I know to be safe.

I am the most street smart white girl you are likely to meet.

And I get scared. The murder in the news yesterday, another act of violence at my dad’s old station sent me over.

I walked out of the Y with my keys between my fingers, I watched everyone carefully and did not turn my back on anyone.  Today, I locked the door of my car as soon as I got in.

Old habits, honed on history die hard.

Peace, Jen


Below are resources for more information about La Raza Unida and the historical events that shaped my childhood.

The best book I have read about the Chicano movement is:

 Chicano Militancy and the Government’s War on Dissent By Ernesto B. Vigil

This book is comprehensive and validated all I remembered about the events in my childhood.

You can read most of it below.


Oscar Acosta and the Chicano Movement

Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzáles

Los Seis * Chicano activists killed

The best book on the Chicano Revolution in Denver * Crusade for Justice: Chicano Militancy and the Government’s War on Dissent By Ernesto B. Vigil   You can actually read this online!

Chicano Leader Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales 1929-2005: “He Was the Fist. He Stood For Defiance, Resistance” * Interview Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!

~ by Step On a Crack on April 3, 2012.

22 Responses to “History is my Grindstone”

  1. I am lucky to have you. In so many ways. That you are still here. That you helped me have. Loud noises and screaming, knowing the caliber of gun when I hear a shot. These I have left from our youth. But my wounds have never been as open… Or weeping. Thanks to you.

    I try and remember all of this when annoyed by young and not so young angry people. People shorted by the system and filled with nothing but anger and violence. I do not know what their experience is. How they earned their anger. Maybe if I treat them with the respect they have deserved some of the anger will fade. If even for a moment.


    • Dear Andrea, I treasure you and I hope with all my heart you will always know that.

      YOU. You were there long before my boy and you hold a special place there that no one else will ever fill. I am glad that you had some barrier from the stuff that fell around us. You deserve that.

      I respect and admire you. yes. Angry people have their reasons; some root cause. Remember Daddy saying that every curmudgeon has some very sad story to tell and if you can get them to tell it, well, their hearts just might open up. YOU are saying the same thing.

      Lets teach our adorable kids this lesson. Lets practice it.

      I adore you….



  2. Wow, and more wow. You are here! You were there! Survived, thrived … all for good. Andrea is so right … you took the shots for your family. You protected your darling sister before your time to be “in charge”. I love what Andrea says about treating angry people with respect … regardless of their badges, or how they got there. To be sure, an innocent child is not born angry. It just won’t happen.

    But you my friend earned every letter of your PTSD. You survived a more than any human should be allowed. I never knew the depth of you until we reconnected. You were so shiny and giving and happy in college. I thought you had magic beans in your pockets. Still, i liked you !!! HAHA. Not usually attracted to shiny happy people. YOU WERE AND ARE STREET SMART, and i gotta have that. That’s where life starts and lives and ends.

    Like you i think i need the raw stuff. In fact, i’m probably attracted to it. It makes me feel SANE! To be in combat, makes me feel sane … and i saw that in you.

    We will keep doing good with our battle scars, love. XO Mel


    • Mel! Andrea is SO right! The kids who were the toughest the meanest the real Bad Asses, well they usually had it worse somewhere else. My dad had compassion for the kids who beat him. I kid you not. He taught us it was NOT about race but about poverty and ignorance.

      “an innocent child is not born angry. It just won’t happen” Dead on Sister! If we could all keep an eye on that idea what would happen in our world? compassion will always win.

      When we met I was JUST out of there. I did not yet know that normal people existed really. (SH was my first ‘normal person’ experience) I thought Iowa City was some weird unreal place; kind of like Disneyland. Really. I kid you not.

      I tell you, going to City High was a fucking trip! I could not for the life of me get used to it. Thank God it was only one year. There were maybe 4 people of color and everyone was friendly and nice. I thought the Pot Lot was a hoot. We had kids doing drugs in the head in Jr. high. Ahhh. Memories. It is so odd; I hated City High and it was safe and clean and people were nice. What is up with that? I just felt like such a fish out of water. The first time someone asked if I wanted to eat lunch with them I almost decked them; I thought it was some weird white chick scam.
      So it goes. It really is just what it is. I did not know anything different. Home life was lousy too: alcoholics yelling and …. oh all manner of weirdness. Not safe at home: not safe at school; not safe in the streets….. It just was what it was.

      I know exactly what you mean! I feel more at home in combat. ACA has helped a ton with that. I am not doing battle anymore. I am safe.
      Still crave the adrenalin rush though… I still do. Isn’t it weird? Twisted maybe.. Is it??

      XO Jen


  3. Wow. I have PTSD as well, but for entirely different culture and surroundings. The war was inside my home. it was unpredictible and unpreventable, although children were usually blamed for setting dad off. I’m a Canadian. Presumably we’re ‘nice’ but I have PTSD.

    there were things that happened at work a year or 2 ago and the uncertainty, the betrayal, the fear for my future brought up the paranoia, the anxiety, the terror again.

    people don’t understand – my violence was always preceded by words. and usually betrayal. I have PTSD.

    I do no know anything of the brown berets or other things you write about. I will have to read up on them, so I can learn more.

    take care my friend. I have PTSD. You have PTSD. Together, we will recover.


    • Louise, I really was hoping this would let people see my life but not freak out. When you grow up you only know what you know. I have PTSD from home life too. No where was safe. AGAIN, It was all I knew both at home with alcoholics and in my neighborhood. In many ways, moving to the Brighton Oil was a HUGE relief. My dad left Texaco and he was home all the time. My mom beat me and I was about to be removed from the home. THAT is why he left Texaco and why we ended up in Brighton. SO it was a blessing to have Daddy home. Mommy couldn’t easily neglect us. Or beat us. (she did still hit…hit is WAY better than beat)

      I am so sorry you had such a horrific experience! I believe I know what you are talking about. When you say ‘my violence’ my heart breaks for you. I am so so sorry. Betrayal is one of my triggers too. I am working to learn to trust and trust the right people and not hold people to too high of a standard. I don’t know about you, but for me, isolation is easier. Isolate = no betrayal. also means lonely.

      I think that the wars are helping those of us with PTSD in a weird way. There is more awareness now. I hope that more therapies come out of this. I hope something positive comes out of this debacle.

      PTSD is a terror. I HATE it. I HATE it SO much and I have learned coping skills and EMDR/Brain spotting has helped an awful lot too.

      A good therapist is worth her weight in GOLD! You my Friend are Golden!

      We will recover. XOXOXO Jen

      Thank you Louise for telling me this. Thank you very much.


      • I think for those of us in recovery, your story is just your story. for us it’s your story. but for you it’s your past and so much harder to deal with. take care. we will recover


      • Louise,

        You are 100% right. I know for those of us with tricky childhoods this is “just the facts ma’am.” I have found that sometimes, for others it is not the case. I KNOW that we each of us, carry pain. no ones pain is greater than another’s. I need to, I want to honor that.

        We will ALL recover.

        Peace Jen


  4. PTSD is a strange animal to live with. I have it — I don’t know how severely, but I know the events that caused it for me and what things will trigger it. It was not because of public sociopolitical reasons like this, but private quiet events. But I know it is a crazy unpredictable (in some ways) animal to have living beside oneself. Inside oneself.

    I moved to Colorado the next year, in 1974. I was all of 6 and we lived in N Arvada. It was a pretty white, middle class neighborhood in those days, but just to the north of us things were trickier. I remember there were areas in Denver we did not go to because of safety issues in those days (still true now in some parts, but not as bad as I remember then).

    My last year of teaching in Denver (2007-8) I worked in SW Denver in a charter school working with primarily Latino kids — a school population which was about 90% Hispanic. When you work in the field of ESL in a place like Colorado, you work with Latino kids almost exclusively! I loved the kids… Some 30+ years later, the issues for those kids are often gang-related. In fact, it was their parents who were my age or even younger who were the gang members! Our school did not have too many incidents, but there was an undercurrent of gang culture and I am sure more stuff going on than the mostly white teachers could understand. But I could see how something could easily inflame what tension there was just like it happened in ’73.

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. Not only did it give me a window into PTSD but also it helped me understand a little better the city I grew up in.

    Mrs D


    • PTSD is a Beast and it makes zero difference why it comes on or how it started. It is a Monster.
      I think that living with PTSD is living with PTSD and it does not matter what caused it. It SUCKS. No two ways around it. You are right on the money: figure out the triggers and KILL THEM wait, no not that. Figure out the triggers and try to alleviate them and be aware of the reaction to them. There that is what the old therapist suggests (not the Kill them option…)

      I love knowing more about your time here! Teaching ESL is a gift and a service. Thank you! It is so needed in our school systems.
      funny you would mention gangs: many of the gangs actually grew out of the movement. After the Crusade for Justice fell apart and the movement in Los Angeles got messed up (Oscar Acosta IS The brown buffalo in Fear and Loathing. Yes Ma’am. He vanished from this Earth. Totally vanished. He was the leader of the movement in LA) the LA Denver connection became a drug connection. The North Side Mafia grew out of this stuff. Sad to see and there it is: Poverty at work. The NSM is still around and my neighborhood is part of their turf. You should see these kids walk down the street: me; this old white chick staring them down. they do NOT know what to make of me. AND they leave me alone. so there.

      I know that the schools in SW and NW Denver are still struggling with race and gangs. I hope to God nothing blows. The Denver cops are STILL notorious for being jerks. We have gone through 2 chiefs in as many years trying to clean them up. good luck with that…

      Wheww we share turf, PTSD and Dual Identities. What Else I wonder…?

      XO Jen


  5. Oh my gosh, girl.

    “My rough edges? They are the proof.
    My Heart and My survival? They are the Gift.”

    This made me cry….so beautiful, so poignant, so true.


    • OH! I did NOT want to make you cry… Never!

      Thank you for being here and for your really touching comment. you have given me a gift…

      XO Jen


      • No worries about crying…I want to heal and sometimes that means tears are shed.

        Your insight is so incredible clear, my gosh! You have a gift, my dear, for writing. Thank you for sharing this healing journey with the rest of us.

        By reading your blog you give countless numbers of folks the courage to face their own pasts. That my dear, is an incredible gift you give to the world. Thank you! 🙂


      • Oh my…

        I have been hunkered down. and here I am and here you are and my… tears.

        I can not thank you enough for your presence here and your kind encouraging and insightful words.

        I really am very grateful you are here.

        Peace, Jen


      • Bless your heart, thanks SO much! I see others have been deeply touched by your writing too. What a beautiful gift! 🙂


  6. “I hope that they too can blow away the filings and carry that rough edge into life without using it for harm, but for good.”

    An amazing attitude… you have come so far through so much and still fight the battles. I cannot identify. I will not pity. I will pray. I will pray for continued healing. He is good. He loves you.


    • Heidi,

      Thank you! You totally get it. Life marches on and what does not kill you makes you stronger. God does that.

      I am loved. Thank you for the reminder of the Greater Love.

      XO Jen

      stay away from those Texas Twisters! I worry….


  7. i am just awestruck with my eyes glued to your story. No little girl should ever have to go through any of that. It is amazing that you can even tell the story. You are a warrior Woman. Thank you for education us. From a fellow blogger with PTSD


  8. Jen-
    As you asked and as Heidi said, I daily offer my prayers for you, not pity.
    I know a few folks, not many, but a few, who’ve led relatively seamless lives. No edges to fray, no threads that come unraveled with the slightest tug.
    No clue how to hold hands with others with frayed edges.
    Too smooth, words slip like water off a duck’s back.
    You are the antithesis – in every good and inviting way.


    • Dear Debbie,

      Thank you for being here. You have no idea how helpful your comment is to me.

      You know, you are a poet. You write with great and intense beauty.

      You reach me..

      XOXO Jen


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