My husband and I live in a small town in the mountains northwest of Denver. Neither of us cares much for crowds or traffic; we’re more comfortable with wide open spaces and fewer people. Most folks who live in the mountains tend to be a little (or a lot) reclusive.
People sometimes complain about how everyone knows your business in a small town. From what I can tell, that only applies when your ‘business’ is embarrassing or illegal. In my small town, neighbors rally together during tough times and if that’s getting in someone’s business, that’s okay by me. There’s always a benefit or fund-raiser at a local tavern or restaurant. Every week there is at least one letter to the editor in the local paper, thanking everyone for their help and concern during a crisis.
We endure long, brutal winters and lack the amenities and conveniences of the city or suburbs, so self-sufficiency and practicality rule. We dress for the elements, not for fashion. We catch up with friends and neighbors at the post office, the grocery store or the bar. In fact, when someone dies, a little flyer is posted in the window at the post office, with a brief history of their life and the particulars of the memorial service. Some might find that morbid or cheesy; I think it’s sweet and respectful.
Last week, we were at our neighbor’s ranch, picking up a side of beef for the freezer. We’re supporting a local business and we know exactly how our beef was fed and cared for. We drove past those cattle all summer and they always looked happy and healthy, grazing in the sun with a beautiful view of Indian Peaks.
As everyone weighed out their beef and loaded it to take home, we chatted with the ranch foreman, who’s been building his house in the woods for 20 years by himself. We compared successes and failures with our gardens. We were warned to watch out for the donkeys on our way out. We talked at length about the huge, record-setting, black bear that was shot a few miles away. Up here, the environment and nature isn’t a nice idea or a cause; it’s a way of life that’s inextricably woven into the area’s culture and economy.
I spend a fair amount of time in the city for my job and the longer I live ‘up in the hills’, the less comfortable I feel in the big city. It’s crowded and cluttered and frenetic; a necessary evil that I endure for my job and to occasionally take advantage of the conveniences that we just don’t have in the hills. I cram my ‘city’ appointments and errands into a concentrated time span, so that I can quickly head back up the hill to my comfort zone.
If I had to summarize living in a small, mountain-town in one word, I’d choose simplicity. We operate on ‘mountain time’; if it’s hunting season, a lot of folks are unavailable. If there’s a hatch on the river, the fly rods come out and if it’s a powder day at the ski resort in the middle of the week, businesses get by with a skeleton crew or just close for a few hours. And you know what? Stuff gets done. Sometimes much more quickly than in the population centers. Everyone knows everyone, so the cable guy or the plumber or the handyman or the massage therapist fits you into their schedule.
We don’t have a Walmart or a Target, let alone a Whole Foods, but what’s more organic than a freezer full of elk, venison or local, grass-fed beef? Nightlife consists of an occasional movie at the tiny, single-screen cinema, a get together at the local tavern, dinner with a group of friends, a free concert in the park or a full-moon snowshoe trek at the golf course.
To most people, it probably seems like a rather boring and unsophisticated place to live. I guess if you measure your happiness by how ‘busy’ you are or by how many activities you can pack into a day or how much shopping you can do in a week, then you’re right; you’d hate it here. That’s probably kind of simplistic, but that’s okay. We like things simple up here.
They are also approaching their 91st birthdays. When I tell people those facts, they always say, “wow, you’ve got some good genes”. Quite honestly, that scares the crap out of me. I’m not quite sure that I want to live that long. We’ll see if I feel that way when I’m 89.
But, this isn’t about me (yet), it’s about them. They were both born in 1920, both lost a parent as teenagers during of the Great Depression, lived through the hardship and fear of WWII, raised 4 kids and have always been absolutely committed to each other.
Betty and Louie still live in their house on five acres right next to where my dad grew up on the family farm. My mom once told me that my dad’s greatest wish is that they die together or a day apart. He can’t bear to think of life without my mom. He and I have that in common, I guess.
I’m acutely aware that every day that we have them is a gift; every day that they have each other is an even bigger gift. I struggle to accept that one day I will lose my parents, but while I have them, I want to acknowledge their guidance and influence that I finally appreciate now that I’m a grown-up.
I was the wild child and my mom often reminds me and anyone else who will listen, how difficult I was, particularly from ages 13-28. That’s a long stretch, I know. My siblings are 15, 13 and 11 years older than me, so I guess we can all deduce that I was unplanned. I recently learned from my mom that a Valentine’s day gift from my dad lead to my conception. He gave her a ring; I gave her years of trouble.
My parents leaned toward the ‘tough love’ school; no whining or excuses were allowed and no bailing me out when I got into trouble. They believed that I could always do a little better if I applied myself. I wasn’t punished for bringing home B’s or C’s, but they made it clear that A’s were preferred. They let me explore all of my interests like sports, music, theater and writing without hovering or pushing. They attended an occasional softball game, concert, play or musical, but only if I wanted them to. There was no pressure to be anything other than what or who I was.
In a nutshell, my old-school parents raised 4 independent, productive and capable children. They allowed us the freedom to pursue our interests, but they were clear that if we screwed up, we would suffer the consequences. There were no phone calls to teachers, coaches, or other parents to fight our battles; we were responsible for our actions. There were times as a kid, when I felt like they abandoned me, but as an adult these lessons have come in handy as I’ve had to deal with the fallout of my bad decisions.
So, while I’m grateful for the “good genes” that they’ve passed along to me, I’m more grateful for the guidance and patience that they employed in raising their youngest and most challenging child. My mom taught me that smart, strong and confident is more important than pretty and popular. She is also responsible for my sense of humor, which has been my oxygen over the years. My dad taught me the value of a dollar, to love animals and he instilled a sense of loyalty by raising me as a Detroit Lions fan. If by chance, I do manage to make it to 90, I’ll carry those lessons for a very long time.
Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad.