A few weeks ago, my sister, Robin, and I were given the tremendous gift of getting to step back in time for a few days and with our parents as our guides, revisited the place where we spent our earliest days – Evergreen, Colorado.
Although our time there was relatively short, one would assume that we had lived there for decades given the many stories Mom and Dad have shared with us throughout our lives. Because of the many stories and the joy with which they have been shared, I grew up knowing how very important this little mountain town was in my parents lives.
They were young, very young, 20 and 25, with a baby on the way (Robin) and were actually on their way to Oregon, simply on a “Why not? It sounds like a nice place to live…” when they stopped in Denver to see my Mom’s parents. While there, Dad found out that to teach high school music in Oregon, he needed a master’s degree (something that would come later and in Missouri), so they decided to simply stay in Denver. Besides, with a baby on the way, it would be nice to have family nearby. I love thinking about those carefree 20 somethings with a baby on the way pointing their car and trailered belongings west, without really having much of a plan. Somehow it gives the many wing and a prayer plans I’ve had a bit more weight.
There were no teaching jobs in Denver, but while interviewing, a call came through from the principal in Evergreen with the news that the high school music teacher had not renewed his contract and through the perfect timing of a synchronistic moment, my Dad had a job and their plans to continue their journey west to Oregon were shortened to the short 30 minute drive west from Denver to the scenic mountain town of Evergreen.
Robin and I have both heard the stories, countless times, of our time in Evergreen, but to get to hear them again, with the soil underfoot, was truly a gift. Hearing about Dad coasting down the mountain from Evergreen to St. Anthony’s hospital in Denver, my Mom in labor with me, made a lot more sense as we recently made our way down from Evergreen to Denver – an easy coast of a drive that was a necessary choice on that day, almost 60 years go to the date, as the gas tank was near empty (he made it with fumes to spare, I’m told…).
Although Robin and I had tried to find the house we lived in when we were in Colorado last summer, our interpretation of Mom and Dad’s directions had us on the wrong end of the town, but with their keen memories and navigational skills a few weeks ago, we drove right to the house. Both of our initial reactions upon seeing the nice house that sat off the road on 5 acres was… “wait… I thought we were poor” …. Yes, they reassured us… we were poor. They said it looked like the house had been added on to and that while it looked nice on the outside, the inside had needed work… work that Dad chipped away at when he had the gift of both time and money. The furnishings were sparse and although Mom had a wringer washing machine, she didn’t have a dryer, so after washing the clothes, diapers in particular with two under the age of two, she’d hang them out on the line, where they would freeze dry in the arid air. She’d then bring them in and lay them throughout the house to thaw. For some reason, I’ve always connected with pioneer women and have sworn that I must have lived during that period of time in a past life. This explains it. I did.
As we sat in the drive and looked directly at our past, hearing the stories from the ones that created them, that piece of my past, that I don’t remember, became real and I understood where my love for mountains was born. Dad told us that when Mom was pregnant with me she told him that she was not going to come home from the hospital until we had a flushing toilet IN the house. Yes, these adventure seeking parents of mine were using an outhouse, not to mention transporting their water in 50 gallon drums. Dad worked tirelessly at digging the leeching well near the house in preparation for my arrival, using a pick axe, a shovel and his favorite tool, dynamite. And lo and behold, Mom had the flush toilet she had requested upon her arrival home from the hospital with me. Simple times, but not all that simple of a request. Still, every mom just home from the hospital with a new born and a one year-old to greet her, deserves the luxury of indoor toilet… and one that flushes no less. It sure beat any “congratulations on your new baby” flower arrangement Dad could have gotten her.
|My Evergreen, Colorado roots|
Out of the many stories I’ve heard over the years, and my hands down favorite, I heard for the first time last year. Because we were surrounded by evergreen trees, Dad would simply go to the woods behind the house to select the Christmas tree, then would drag it down to the house. I believe it was my first Christmas (and if it wasn’t, I’m taking artistic license here) that Mom questioned the tree he brought home, wondering if he could have found a tree that was just a little bit prettier. So, on his way home from work the following day, the perfect tree came into view with the lights of his car. He cut it down, put it in the car and as he was pulling away, his car lights gave him a better view of exactly where the tree he had just cut down had come from… the landscaping in the front yard of one of the summer vacation homes in the area. When I asked him what he did when he discovered what he did, he told me that he couldn’t exactly put it back, so simply covered the stump with snow and drove home. Given that it was a summer vacation home, he had several months before the missing tree would be noticed. No doubt some of that guilt waned with Mom’s overwhelmingly positive reaction to the beautiful specimen of a tree that would grace our small living room that Christmas.
“Now THAT’s what I had in mind! It’s the PERFECT tree!”
Dad had set the Christmas decor bar high on this one…
I’m not sure how long it was before he came clean on exactly where the tree had come from and am betting that the following Christmas, it was back to the scrappy juniper Christmas trees. All of our Christmas trees in those early Colorado days were decorated with pine cones that Mom had spray painted gold. It was only in later years that I understood the significance of Mom insisting on adding what we thought at the time were “the tacky gold spray-painted pine cones” to our then more lavishly decorated trees. It was a nudge to the memory of where they began as a family, and although times were very tough, they were also very good.
I love hearing their humble roots stories – two kids with two babies eeking out a living in the mountains of Evergreen, Colorado. Funds were so tight that when a job offer in northern Missouri came in for far more money and an unlimited high school band budget, Dad had to say yes. He has told me several times that when they drove out of town for the last time on their way to Missouri, he had hoped for a rainy, cloudy day or at least weather that was over cast enough so that he wouldn’t have to see the mountains in his rearview mirror. It was sunny that day. To this day, I think both Mom and Dad would agree that it felt like the mountains were waving goodbye to them as they left them in the rear view mirror.
What a gift it was to return to those Evergreen mountains just as they had left them so many years ago and better yet, to get to return with the keepers of the stories. Although I was always a part of the stories, I feel a real sense of their connection to me now.
|something I still enjoy.. playing in the dirt…|
|Mom and Dad… who still have a bit of that Colorado spirit in them….|