The Magic House
Ann Johnson opened her home to soldiers as a temporary refuge of sorts for when they come home. It's one of countless such efforts across the U.S. made by mothers, wives and others to let the troops overseas, and those who've returned, know that they are not forgotten. Ann's non-profit organization is called Adopt A U.S. Soldier.
THE MAGIC HOUSE The invitation came from Ryan "Doc" Krebbs: "Planning to take [David] Nash, Warren [Leming] to the house out by Rocky Mountain Nat'l Forest. Owner is the mom of a guy that was [in Iraq] for both tours. She lets soldiers come stay,cook,serve drinks. We always get pretty f***ed up when we go. Good times. Let me know if interested." -- So we drive from Denver into the Rockies to the weekend home of Ann Johnson.
ANN JOHNSONAnn says up to 45 soldiers at a time, wounded physically, emotionally, have stayed at "The Magic House" -- the name given to it by one of its first visitors. He said it was the first place he could sleep through the night after Iraq. Ann's son, Paul, returned from Iraq in '07. She realized immediately he, a lot of his buddies, had PTSD. "They needed a home, they needed a mom ... an escape ..."
THE BAR LIGHTUpon arrival at the house, Ann collects everyone and announces sternly -- there's only one house rule: "No drinking!" Pausing for dramatic affect ... she adds with a loud laugh, "... unless the bar light is turned on." A stainless steel martini glass, with softball sized olive and bright light for the pimento, sits on a counter in the basement game room. It's rare, if ever, that the light is turned off.
POKER & BEERBefore leaving Denver there was an obligatory stop at a liquor store for beer and vodka. Within minutes of arriving, the cards, the poker chips and the booze make their first -- but not last -- appearance.
DINNER GATHERINGFor some, like David Nash, who gather around Ann's long table, a sit-down dinner starting with a prayer is an experience as foreign as it seems wholesome. Midway through dinner, the strangeness of it convulses Nash into uncontrollable laughter. He excuses himself, returns sheepishly a few minutes later, explaining how bizarre this way of life seems to him. Ann smiles and pats his hand.
SMOKING IN THE GARAGELate Saturday evening, smoking a variety of substances, the veterans migrate to the garage, a makeshift warehouse with Paul's old Army uniforms and helmets spread out on the floor. Their conversation -- at times hilarious, at times sober -- is a journey through their experiences in Iraq and what they feel was a justly deserved reputation as being a part of the "s***bag" platoon once they came home.
PLAYING GAMESPerhaps in their "younger and wilder" days there would be some gun play out on the balcony at night. But now, they're all in their mid-20s or older, so after a day of lazing in front of a television screen idly playing video games, the former members of the Third Platoon eagerly team up against the film crew for a wholesome game of Crainium. The ex-soldiers win.
ANN TEACHING BREADMAKING TO RYANIf her guests are interested, Ann Johnson is happy to share with them her techniques and recipes for potato bread or cinnamon rolls. Ryan Krebbs says Ann was a little overwhelming the first time he met her. "That's kind of her nature. She was overwhelmingly nice and you're not used to that. It kind of weirds you out. But you get used it quick and you have a good time ... a really good time."
TARRYALL RIVERWith the sounds of the Tarryall River rushing by, the vistas extending for miles and the freedom to do just about anything they want, the appeal of The Magic House for these returned soldiers is hard to overstate. "It's quiet and away from the cities and all the people that just irritate you," says Ryan "Doc" Krebbs. "This is about as far away from Iraq as you can get ... which is the point."