George Sibley just wrote me an email and he's working on a piece about Firebrand Delicatessen for the Gunnison Country Times. He asked me to write a couple paragraphs on what the place means to me...I couldn't do it, but this is what I wrote:
What does the Firebrand mean to me in a couple paragraphs? That’s like asking Bob Dylan to write about what Woody Guthrie meant to him in a couple paragraphs, but I’ll try to keep in concise.
When I think about the Firebrand I go back to the year of 2001 when I was living in a tent out at Hartmans. I sure was a rough and raw character; I was a full on hippie who was almost always unshowered and unshaven. Like a hobo with a purpose to climb. This was when I got into writing for the first time, and I would literally go to The Firebrand and write poetry on napkins. Sometimes I would transcribe these onto a computer to send off to the college newspaper, others are forever lost in the ether.
A person like myself could have been written off as a vagabond cheapskate but at The Firebrand Heidi Magnus took a liking to me, and started offering pleasantries, like the simple act of giving me a reusable tea container and trusting I would not throw it away.
I loved the “feel” of The Firebrand, the Polaroid pictures on the wall, and the sense of community in this very Gunny gathering place. In a way it was a home more than anything I had in those vagabond days. Hartmans could get lonely all out there by myself, but I knew I always had The Firebrand whenever I didn’t want to be alone anymore.
As the years went by and I become more of a writer I would journal in notebooks instead of on napkins. I loved being at The Firebrand and writing. I would inevitably run into someone I knew there, and have to put the pen down eventually, but that was part of the magic of The Firebrand. And, it was a time period when we weren’t always consumed by our phones. I love the fact that there’s still no WiFi there, hell the place doesn’t even accept a damn credit card.
I grew up but there was always that constant of Heidi and Kate. Sure, the employees always changed, such is the nature of the restaurant industry, but always Heidi was up front and Kate was in the back. I always liked it best when it was slow because I got to have a quality conversation with Heidi as I ordered my meal.
The Firebrand hosted musical events and poetry a lot too over the years. Man, I loved that poetry community in Gunnison. Tell me poetry is dead and I’ll tell you its alive in Gunnison, Colorado. My favorite era was just after I moved away from Gunnison for the 11th time. I’d scored a writing gig at the college, and had returned to Gunny, my home, forever. There were some amazing poets, and a couple of them worked at The Firebrand, Jake Danna and Evan Bennett, being the two I remember. They were the new generation and kept the torch of poetry alive. It was an amazing era.
By then I was wearing a collared shirt and slacks, and hardly resembled the guy who was living out of a tent at Hartmans. But you know what nothing ever changed of how Heidi and Kate treated me. It was always an acceptance rooted in love, no matter what I looked like, or how much money I had in my pocket. When I started up a zine they offered to sell it, and proudly displayed it on the front counter. Now, eight years after that, my zines still get front space on that counter!
Eventually I realized I wasn’t cut out for the 9-5 life, and right around that time I had a relationship end. I’d taken my life in Gunny as far as it could go, and I needed a fresh start in a new place to reinvent myself as a writer. I had a farewell breakfast at The Firebrand, and then I was gone, off to Durango, where I still live.
I get to the Firebrand a handful of times a year. It’s still the same as much as anything else can be the same. The thing that changes in Gunny, a place where things don’t seem to change as quickly as they do anywhere else, is there’s just a little more grey hair on my peers, and certainly within my own hair.
But you know what, the feeling, walking in that door, is as if I could just grab a napkin and start writing some poetry, and I would have cup of hot tea and a breakfast special and everything would be right in my world.