John Atkinson and Nancy Bentley

Recorded September 26, 2009 Archived September 26, 2009 37:23 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: MBY005756


Nancy Bentley (63) interviews her husband, John Atkinson (67) about his life, focusing on his health issues with eczema and asthma, his work in the Peace Corps, and his favorite family memories.

Subject Log / Time Code

John shares some of his early memories as a child growing up with eczema and asthma.
John talks about his decision to run the Pikes Peak marathon, one of his greatest accomplishments.
John talks about one of the greatest influences in his life, his Aunt Flink.
John talks about his experiences in the Peace Corps in Tanzania, Africa.
John tells his favorite family story about his love of cinnamon rolls, and his experiences making them at family gatherings around the holidays.


  • John Atkinson
  • Nancy Bentley


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00:06 I'm Nancy Bentley, and I'm 63 years old and today's date is September 26th 2009 and we are in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and I'm sitting across from my husband John Atkinson. My name is today's date is September 26th 2009 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and I'm here with my wife Nancy Bentley.

00:36 Okay.

00:40 What are the things that's always?

00:44 Maybe very curious and concerned is

00:52 How you grew up as a child 60 years ago now with severe eczema and asthma

01:03 When did you realize that that was a problem as a child always had first waking memory is not being able to breathe and and feeling like I was going to be choked to death or having a skin rash and and it just just biting into me and having to compulsively scratch it till it till it hurt until it bled. I think my earliest memory is being in the hospital, although probably I I remembered that sticker out in front of my house Inn in Greeley, but I remember be in the hospital in the hospital in a in a in a small bed. Maybe the size of a a small kitchen tables for a big enough to hold a six-year-old Iraq.

01:59 7 year older a five-year-old and with you know a great bars that would slide up so you could you they were at least three feet above the bed. And so you were kind of in this cage and I had my hands tied to the side so I wouldn't wouldn't scratch myself but you know, it was it was funny. I never I never connected the Asmanex meant I recently when there is an article about how asthma was created that may be triggered by eggs, but I really had terrible asthma and

02:39 That my parents said the doctor who was a pediatrician later on when I was an adult I ran into him someplace and introduced me and said all this kid. I'm so proud of him. He's the worst asthmatic I ever had in my entire practice the luckier than all grown up as an adult that you know, that didn't make me feel much better, but he would put me in the hot and Children's Hospital in Denver every year in the spring when the when the power was out for a week or two weeks. And the the nurses would paint a Target on my rear end and they would get little water colors to paint a little I will. In the middle and then they come out I have financial aid paint a little line around that and then they pay a line around that and every 4 hours and wake me up and give me shots of cortizone ACTH is what it was and they wouldn't do that these days but that they would give me these shots and and it was it was lonely is it is what it was cuz you know I could

03:39 Running jumping the pile leaves like the other kids could and and you know, they gave me this awful cream, which was cold hard to put on my skin and so is smelly and you know, just tried mostly to have the other kids not find out how yucky it was but I think my earliest memory is one of my earliest memories is being in the hospital in in Denver and my parents would

04:08 You know, they would come and visit me during visiting hours every day or every other day and they would bring me a little something to read or a comic book or other color and sat around balsa wood airplane. I remember up balsa wood airplane and it was about it was coming a little flat sheet about 8 inches long and about four inches high and it already be stamped out and maybe the future Lodge and they'll be the main weighing and there'd be the Tail land there be the the upright part of the tail in the sideways part of the tailor be a little pilot painted on the side and really fancy ones had a little metal clip on the front so they give him a little late and

04:50 And I had this balsa wood airplane. I don't know why you had it in a hospital work cuz you weren't allowed out of your bed. And if you know, you got one flight and that was it and let you know the nurses wouldn't let you get out of the bed even to go to the bathroom and there be a war there is a war like 6 or a little boys and one bathroom at the at the far side of it. And there we were in our dads are mostly in our cages and

05:18 And there was this there was this kid.

05:22 Maybe a year younger than me. Maybe the same age across from me and one to the right. So there were maybe six or eight of us in that little war room and

05:34 He never had any visitors.

05:37 And he never anything to play with anyone who like the kids would talk with each other and and you know, we didn't have those adult skills to be friends, but he was just sitting over there watching everybody and

05:52 And and I had this balsa wood airplane and then you fold up the wings they fold up in front of a little kind of a flat V. I pull it up too much and it's cracked a little bit and you can't quite get it back to the plains. I was going to go out and prove one way and I'll never go straight and and my parents has he brought me another one and we were getting ready to leave and for some reason I had

06:21 Form an empathetic bond with this other kid, and I knew that he didn't have anything and I didn't have much. I mean we weren't Wealthy by any means but

06:33 I am resolved to give him something when I left until my parents came to get me and you know, I was trying to figure out how I could give him my crayons or something and I and they they call for me to leave and I was afraid that they would get mad if they saw me giving away my stuff, but I had this balsa wood plane that had the slightly bent Wing not my not my number one playing but the number to plan and so on the way out. I just reached my hand over and stuffed it in between the the bars on his bed and and and walked on out and that was my first memory of of an empathetic.

07:18 Did that I had done for somebody else. I

07:24 How is it went about that kid? I always feel a little guilty that I didn't give him by a good plane. But then you know, I was only seven or eight and that's a big thing for a 7 year old to do to give up a toy.

07:39 But you know it was it was such a lonely existence.

07:48 With with asthma and eczema that kept me out of doing the things for the other kids. He kept me kind of hiding on the sidelines that somehow

07:58 Out of out of all of that. I was still able to see this other kid, you know, maybe I was seeing a part of myself that would

08:08 But that's the first time I can ever remember reaching out to somebody else. When did you feel that? You began to feel better? Did that happen as a Young Elementary School Kidder, you know, they always said I would have gradually outgrew it pro it and I and I did I did gradually I grow it and in the medicines got got better. If I were used that they would actually my mother would take me down to the doctor and he would give me a shot of adrenaline with a with a with a needle and an in my rear end.

08:50 And after about three minutes of wheezing was stopped and and then after another two or three minutes, I would start to feel really good. And so I can remember my mom driving me home and I was saying I was going to do this when I got home and I did that when I got home and I was really sky-high at this point and

09:12 And by the time we get home, which should be about 30 minutes, I would be just totally wiped out. I would be so exhausted. All I can do is go down to go in and lay down on the bed and take a nap, but then they would give me ephedrine which is a pill and it says it's kind of a an offer but it also dilates your your bronchial Airways. And and that would make you Sky High for 3 or 4 hours and your dad be like drinking for 5 cups of coffee. And in fact, that was a self medication that some people would do an in the old days but drink lots of coffee because of the caffeine but there'd always be down part where you have a crash and you just be totally exhausted and you know, you feel like you had a lot of energy but you really couldn't couldn't really concentrate on something. He was frantic frenetic energy.

10:10 And

10:12 Interesting thing about that is I was in a men's group a few years ago and Everybody's Talkin about recreational drug use and they're even somebody said well and there's about 12-13 guys in the group. They are all adults in their forties or fifties and said, ok, everybody raise her hand whose experiment and it was some kind of, you know street drug marijuana or cocaine or whatever and everybody raise your hand, but me

10:40 And I was floored and I and I said, well, you know, I don't want to be unusual here. But the drugs I've had a lot of drug experience because all prescription drugs the doctor gave me an extra. There's no way I would.

10:54 I know that there's going to be a crash after high and end to be out of control with a drug control in your body. There's no way I would ever do that. When did you begin? And what made you think about running the Pikes Peak Marathon?

11:14 I was really there was really fun. I was

11:19 You know, that was it that was a huge accomplishment for me. I was 40 something at the time and

11:27 I think I did the thing that ever he posted worse a person does we just start jogging and and one thing led to another and I was running out of the Y and pretty soon I was running with a bunch of guys and we're doing 5 miles everyday. I'm and I was doing okay and somebody said well like you out of you are to run the marathon and I thought I'd never done anything like that. And so I went to a camp that the YMCA sponsored at the Catamount Ranch in up there for a for a week and they touch your techniques for running up hills and down Hills and how to pace yourself and

12:03 My done some 10 K's and

12:08 I was in I was in good shape for the all that running. I was down probably drop 20 pounds. I probably weigh 235 pounds soaking wet Atmos done. And so it just it was a unique thing. And the first year that I basically was people at the camp. They said all you can do it. You can do it come and come and do it with just walk it and so the first year I just walked and that was 13 miles up with an 8000 foot game and I came in about in the top 25% and their overall racing in my age group and then

12:48 The next year I trained for and I lived up in Woodland Park which was it 8500 feet in and I really pushed it that year and came in and the top 10% North in the race in my eye is drooping and for a guy who's lungs are measured it at 50% of and 75% of normal capacity for my age and height when I go into the to the allergist. I was pretty proud of that but at the end of the race to the raise the party afterwards were they had pictures of everybody in the racing and I'm the music and everything and they had they had a picture of these two guys up against the building just exhausted just looking like death warmed over and one of those guys was said I was the only picture in there, but I I was I pushed it I was probably

13:43 Now there's a word for for being out of oxygen but I was an oxygen debt for sure but it was I was I was pretty proud of that. Tell me a little bit about and flank. I know she was a really a really significant part of your your childhood was my mom's sister and her name and she was a grade school principal and my all my parents and there's such as and siblings for educators. And so that way there's a big deal that my parents. I'm not sure that in these that this day and age they probably would have gotten a divorce and when they had friends over and my relatives came to visit especially flank it was a lot of fun and she really she was cheerful and upbeat but she did she had no kids, but she

14:36 What is Xzibit for life and she?

14:42 She was really it was really neat one year my my brother and I got a basketball for Christmas from flake. And how did she know we need a basketball? I don't know why she need to ask. Mr. I got a baseball bat. It was a big it was too big and too heavy for me, but I was playing American Legion ball and in in junior high and and I used that bat and the best.

15:07 Ball, I ever hit clean right in the Suites by just the line drive straight to the Outfield. It was only a single bit if I hit it to the between The Feelers it would have been a homerun that was off of the patchy sent but you know turned out she was talking to my mom and she know what boys like to know it was like this wonderful source of of caring some there was a some one person who understood me that was outside of my family.

15:38 I'm sorry. I have a picture of me holding a hose in my baby book when I'm 5 or 6 and it said that link is standing next to me. And the caption says right after we took this picture your turn the hose on on your aunt flake spray and everybody and tell your dad turned off the water to the house, but she was somebody who could could play and and was which is fun to be around but she you know what I want to join the Peace Corps. It was it was really interesting. I went to visit her and in Michigan on the way to New York to Rochester for for 3 months of training and she said to me about why you going to buy you going to the Peace Corps and I didn't have a really good reason part of it was it was it was interesting it was you getting out of the country and park boys to help people that's been well. I'd like to help you have to go that far. You can just look in your own community and find people to help and you know, she didn't have that catchphrase.

16:38 Normally, but I walk away but yeah, 10 20 years after that. I thought about that and she was right. So so I go in the Peace Corps and I teach School in in Tanzania and

16:55 And

16:57 The first the first my very first class was it was a science class how to an end. There is an experiment and where you put some dirt in the water when you boil it and then you collect the steam in the steam condenses and you have pure water sounds that teach these kids how to make pure water and we didn't have much orientation where late in the school year and we were we had two weeks and your slime they put us on a train and set us up country in the van right in the classroom in his my very first lesson, I walk in and

17:29 And there's 45 students sitting in benches of three two, and three to a bench and they'll stand up and and I looked at him and I said my God, they all look the same. How am I going to tell them apart? Cuz they had uniforms had white shirts Cotton white shirts and and brown khaki shorts and and the address just her and I'll stand up when you come in the room and I did you know, I was embarrassed. I said sit down. Anyway, I did this this wonderful lesson on pure water and how to in a boil the water to catch this to him and then and and so on and when the bell rang and the bell was was a tire rim that the part that the tire goes around hung on a chain outside the window on one of the one of the kids was the timekeeper for the school and this was a mission school and they had eight classes of 45 kids in each class 2 for 5th 6th 7th and 8th grade. I'm in the eighth grade class.

18:28 And he has a spanner wrench. So he has this little wrist watch. He's watching the time time for Classic Lanes at McDonald's that rhyme with that with a ratchet makes a bell sound that if I can hear and I turn around us at any questions. Okay. So the classic new teacher, I hadn't engage the students at all. And I'm waiting on Tristan one guy races antecessor. What is pure water and turns out that they were used to the British the clipped British pronunciation and if I answered water and I would have gotten it and and and so that the lesson wasn't much of a success.

19:15 And but they soon learn to put up with my American accent and and I learn to tell them apart. They were each a unique individual and growing up in in Denver, Colorado and really a very de facto segregation Caucasian part of town and

19:44 It was not unusual that I couldn't tell Africans apart without getting to know them is as people, but

19:53 That that that that Peace Corps experience was was really interesting but I'll always remember flanks question. You know, why are you going someplace else when you could help people right next to you and and so that's been a great Solace to me. When I when I see things that are going on around the world that are sad and and and traumatic. I think that the thing about the Peace Corps was it was a really positive experience for me that the people there didn't have a lot but they were joyful about their lives. They were truthful with each other. They were polite there even exuberant about just being with each other. They didn't have to have all these things that we have to enjoy life. Of course. They didn't always have the best Healthcare and

20:44 It be in there in Africa also connected me with nature see you in trees that flower and Vines are in bloom all year long with just incredible gave me a connection to Nature that and two birds and animals that has been with me ever since seeing it living it really helpful to people you had your your inoculation program smallpox vaccination project. I'm probably one of the few people in the United States today that's seen an active case of smallpox. There was this guy that walking down the side of the road and he had a minor who is going ahead of him about 30 feet Shouting Out Here Comes like I was smallpox and then it's a deadly disease not so much that it kills you about the infection sit or it blinds you will tell you and we

21:42 We went into very rural areas for the witch doctor was telling people that we were going to sterilize the women and they the head man would have to get some of the guys to chase people down and bring them back in and inoculate people and I'm I'm I'm proud of that it it's it's what I didn't count on about the Peace Corps experience for what I call the the croissant moments of the blows to your emotional solar plexus when I when I got back my Headmaster, I've been back through four months and he sent me a letter and tell me about what things are going. It was an English Nanny switched over to Swahili in it, and he explained that the daughter that his wife was pregnant with was born after I left and she was about 3 months old and then she got a got an illness and after 3 Days to Die and they spent many days crying and that it was there was really heart-wrenching for me because he was such a great

22:42 Cheyenne were such close friends and we we live next to each other for two years and shared meals and share jokes and

22:51 And

22:53 And had a great time but it's you know it and things happen over the years where you see Strife in Africa and the genocide in Rwanda and they're just so heart-wrenching for me. I remember I was that the Gazette had a picture all the refugees that had fled out of her onto into the Congo and I was sitting by myself and and if it took up the whole front page of the paper at least that top half of it and and and suddenly I could smell the smells of that place in the perspiration in the human and human perspiration in the humidity and the cook fires and an n and I was there and and and and the people started to move and and when I sort of came to my my face was a couple inches off the paper and I talked to psychology about it. He said

23:53 About it just for like post-traumatic stress syndrome and I happen to a lot of guys who have been in situations and and so I don't but but what happened is

24:07 I can't wait much and no people in an area as people you can no longer use the same rationale psych like when there's a famine in South America or there's a flood in China, you know, I can do what everybody else says. They are. Why do those people live that way are there different? They're all the same that's really silly must be their fault. But with with Africans, I know better and I didn't count on on having that sense of connection.

24:43 Stay With Me from that Peace Corps experience, but I value that the ability to

24:51 Know that people in a group no matter how much you might see them in a group are really individuals.

25:00 Do you want to tell me your favorite your favorite story your favorite family story?

25:14 When I when I was maybe 30 or 35, I had a chance to be in Missouri on on business and I called and told can I come by and visit I didn't really know this but she was dying of Leukemia and she was a few minutes away from dying and I was really fortunate to be able to spend a few days with her and she said to me oh Asmanex and you know, I came and took care of you for a week while you're at your parents went away on vacation and you didn't lose it all and when your parents came back you started wheezing and I always thought you were allergic to your mother. And and I think that's true of the you know, that got me to thinking about the emotional component of that in the family Dynamics and it wasn't just just a medical thing to be dealt with like a duck like a doctor would on him in personal basis and

26:01 To have had one person in my life who knew me and could give me.

26:08 2 useful things to think about I think was a was a real gift. It wasn't just her.

26:17 Her exuberance for life, but

26:22 Well, you know that that that the favorite thing about my my growing up was with cinnamon rolls. I you know, I was asked to participate in a Tennessee Community my church and and tell what was your favorite scene. That's all right way my favorite see this wall.

26:41 And and of course if you ask me my favorite spice it's it's it's cinnamon. And if you ask me my favorite food, it's it's it's cinnamon rolls because my mom at Christmas would make cinnamon rolls and she would let I let my brother and I help and then and that she would take care of a pan in the house and every pie pan and and she put brown sugar and butter in the bottom and then we make out this this bread dough on with raisins in it and roll butter and sugar and and and walnuts in it and and and then keep it in the fridge overnight and then on Christmas morning opening presents tell mom had the Mom and Daddy got up and Mom put the cinnamon rolls in the oven and so we would, you know, pell-mell open every present we could and then the floor to be covered with the with the wrapping paper and and I cursed my aunt my great-aunt floss and who is my grandmother's sister would come down from Greeley and she was a former teacher and she our teacher friends with give her All These Little Things lyrics

27:41 Ballinlough pan, and she'd have presents chibi opening presents all day. But anyway that the kids we could my mom would bring in this this gigantic platter of cinnamon rolls and set it down on this, you know, I remember that as least, you know to 3 ft wide bunch of cinnamon rolls, but really they said there was just a pipe 10, so maybe it was eight inches across or something like that and we'd have to offer us an overall but she did take one of the hard ones on the outside and but then she was like she was like a hundred and fifty years old or something like that Jedi glass eye and she had a total set of false teeth. I don't know she she could probably take her all all day to eat that hard one on the outside, but then we would take the plate to the next person and entering that that empty spot to them. So maybe they take another one next to it because I'm the real ones. We couldn't go to the middle and take that really the good ones with all that syrupy brown sugar scraped out of the bottom of the pan off of it, but

28:41 Where to take my next to next to an empty place and so by the time my brother and I got you out there this whole flag lot where this be a little trail to the middle and then this big empty circle out of the other middle of the cinnamon rolls. It was really my best memory of at Africa's because we weren't allowed to have candy any other time and and then but what was it about it is when I when I married my first wife she she asked me at Christmas time with love with you anything special you would like for Christmas. It will make cinnamon rolls. And so she did but she made out of Bisquick and I mean that it's got that metallic flavor in it's just terrible but I I didn't say a thing and the next Christmas joke wasn't headed anywhere right away, but she made to make him out of regular bread dough and she made it out of bread. Do you know they weren't is good?

29:41 Is the ones that mother used to make until the 3rd year Christmas? She said what do you want for Christmas? It will listen to let me let me help let's divide the work equally you you cook the turkey you make that dress and you do the cranberry sauce, you do the mashed potatoes, you do the yams. You set the table. I will do my half and I will make the same minerals and and so I did and I roll them out the way I remembered and pick them up and we use bread dough and they were really they were better. But you know, they weren't the same as the ones that mother used to make. They just weren't the same and and then of course we we got a divorce and then in length.

30:31 In the 80s in the early eighties and I took my son up to visit my brother in Wyoming for it for Thanksgiving. I called and talked to my sister-in-law said don't worry my contribution being make the cinnamon rolls and she laughed and we got up there knows the day before Thanksgiving. I was saying I was going to make the center Olsen and my brother's son and and daughter my niece and nephew started laughing and it turned out that my brother had had also ask his wife to make cinnamon rolls. And so the first year that she made him he said these are good but they're not as good as the ones and so she said the next year when it came to Christmas time. She said well you make the cinnamon rolls. And of course, my mother had died when we were both in college and long before either of us met our our our spouses.

31:21 And so he made the cinnamon rolls and he he took one and Ada and gave one to her and she's very thoughtfully it and said this is good but it's not as good as a month your mother used to make he was in a blue Funk. He took him an hour to realize that she had never met my mother and never tasted results and what's his phone is like but he he he was hooked on that. So so my nephew it was a bad can of my niece was my son was about six and if you say what think'st what makes you think your rolls are better than my dad's a parent is when the kids scraped his knee. You say all I know how to fix that you put a bandaid on it as like that will take everything is in a day.

32:03 That's all I have. I have a secret. So the next day you were making the roles and then we've got four pans out one for my son and one for me and one for the niece and nephew and

32:14 My brother comes by and he starts a grouse about it. And he said that starts to boss me around and fortunately my my his wife had a v band. So each of us had our own pan and we didn't have to fight over who was all done. My my little nephew said there's nothing special about those didn't put the secret greedy and I said well turn around and I'll put the secret ingredient in right at me and then we'll cover your eyes with your hands and they got their fingers wide apart with their eyes to the stair. Between their fingers. I will lick it up blue elephant of the ceiling and I reached in my pocket and push my hand around over there and they said you didn't know how I did I did and the the older than the nephew he kind of didn't fall for that. So he and my son went off but then but the nice old bath kept after me and say she she she thought well, maybe I did something you want what you do what you do? What's the secret and she backed me up and then into the Dan + Shay on the couch.

33:14 In front of me and she just when relaxed she had to know what that's what that secret was. And I was just about to say Beth. I was just pulling your leg are there is no secret that my rolls aren't going to be any different than your dad and her mother came up and said, can I tell you a secret and for once in my life? I didn't say anything. I said sure and she Whispers in her ear and Beth comes over and stamps and stamps her feet apart in front of me and puts her hurts arms on Earth for elbows out on her face on her side to side is a secret ingredient chicken has been saved up two steps up to the second floor and down the hallway and I hear the door slam and I am just in a frazzle at that point. So I'm just sitting there on the couch and all of a sudden the door opens. She comes down the hallway down the stairs in the in the room.

34:11 And she says some and she's got a pile of picture books of former former waste your chances Uncle John. Will you read stories to me and without waiting for a response? She drop that pile of books in in my in my lap and snuggle up under my arm and waited for you to read and of course the same thing about that is my brother was why was after her to settle down because they thought she was a hyperactive kid. I think it was just normal exuberance. My brother is being a little bit anally retentive but she was really active and she just snuggle there and we read and reread for the longest time.

34:50 And and the the interesting thing about that is when we came back the next year for Christmas with my son. The first thing she said was like cinnamon rolls, and we did and and so

35:09 I I learned from the body language of that little kid what my what might the other part of that is what my brother and my am I observed was at the next say it was it was so unusual that the rest of that evening that's was so calm and he didn't have to chastise her about being hyperactive. So that that thing of you know, she couldn't say dziecko John give me a hug you that's a really sweet story, but she could bring her down a pile of books and drop him in my lap and that would give her an excuse. To cuddle.

35:48 And so what I learned from that was

35:52 When I add the secret ingredient to the cinnamon rolls that I now make and which I have every year at Christmas and Thanksgiving. They taste exactly like the ones that mother used to make and they're delicious.

36:13 They're warm and they're sweet and their butter and they're chewy and then if you don't finish them all they stay in the breadbox and the next day, they're pretty good and you can warm them up in the microwave and the next day after that. There's two or three left and they are like all-day suckers you they're so hard and you just remember the good feelings.

36:50 And you can smell the cinnamon. There's nothing like cinnamon you put something cinnamon on anything and I'll eat it.

37:02 Thank you.

37:08 Why did you get me into this?

37:12 Because I think you're wonderful.

37:18 I love you. Thank you.