Friday, January 31, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Memories of My Youth in Leadville, Colorado

It snowed last night.  Some schools here were on a delay start. Snow is causing all kinds of problems for so many people this year.  It seems that SNOW is the big story this year.  Thinking of snow, school delays, and icy road brought back many memories of my youth in Leadville, Colorado.

I've written about Leadville before, but just as a reminder,  Leadville, at two miles high,  is the highest incorporated city in the United States.  The average snowfall in Leadville is 127 inches a year.   It also averages 310 days of sunshine a year.  It is a beautiful place to live.  It also is a challenging place to live because of the altitude and the snow.  I loved living there in my youth from ages 17 until age 20.  Some of those years were spent in college, so I mostly just lived there during my senior year in high school and during the summers when I was in college.

We lived in reclaimed baggage and freight building that had been turned into a house when my father was transferred to Leadville as an agent for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad.  We had to live in company housing as part of the requirement for the job.  This old baggage building was gutted by my father and redone before he would move us into this old place
.  The building no longer stands where it did in the railroad yards.  It has been moved to another location and serves as a storage shed.  Once this place was home to me.  It holds many dear memories.

The main part of the building was our living room, dining room, my parents' bedroom, and there was also a long narrow room on the left rear of this building that we used as a t.v. room and a place where my brother would stay when he was in town.  The attached building at the rear was the bedroom that my sister and I shared.  There was a partition about two-thirds of the way into this room that provided an additional "room" that served as a bedroom for my youngest sister.  At the back of the building, there was another addition that no longer exists.  This addition housed the kitchen and the bathroom.  

Winters in this house were both cosy and cold.  It depended on where you were in the house.  The house house was heated by a Stokermatic coal stove that looked a bit like this:

Guess where the warmest place in the house was.  You are right if you guessed that is was on top of this stove or standing in front of it.  The stove was located in the dining room which was right next to our bedroom  (Third window in the photo of the house was the dining room.  Fourth photo in the house was my bedroom.)

Memory of Winter Mornings

We never went to bed dreaming of snow days during the winter in Leadville.  Never.  In 2012, there was quite a stir because there was a snow day called in Leadville.  Many said it was the first snow day ever called in Leadville. On a cold winter night, my sis and I would turn on our electric blankets and try to stay warm.  I don't even remember where my youngest sister slept in the winter because we had to close off her room and hang heavy blankets over the doorway to this room in the winter because the heat never got back to this part of the house.  The window of that room would have a thick layer of ice on the inside of the window throughout the winter.   Our room was pretty cold, but we would stay quite warm in our beds until we would be awakened around 4:00 a.m. by the snowplow outside our window.  On mornings when the snowfall was heavy during the night, the snowplow drivers were out early to get the roads plowed.  Snow was not a surprise, and there was a plan, when it snowed in that tiny mountain community.  The dirt road right near our house was plowed because the Standard Oil bulb plant was right next door.  Mr. Carson had to be able to make deliveries of propane oil no matter what the weather.  My father had to keep the trains running.  We were plowed out early.  

Sometimes when the early morning snow plows awakened me, I would actually get out of the toasty bed and make my way to the window to see how much snow had fallen.  Memories of those early mornings when the town was asleep under its thick blanket of snow are precious.  I recall being mesmerized by thousands of silent fluffy flakes falling to the ground outside my window. Soon, chilled, but peaceful,  I'd make my way back to bed.  When my mother would awake me for school, I had an early morning college-prep English class at 7:00 a.m., I would resist getting up until the last possible moment.  Once up, I would run into the next room and stand in front of the Stokermatic coal stove to get warm.  My father had been up early to get the coal into the stove so the house would be warm.  Before I made my quickly executed move from the bed to the furnace, I had gathered my clothes.  These were placed on top of the furnace to heat up so I could put on warm clothes.  

This photo reminds me of the place where the ashes would come out of the stove.  Daddy put the coal in the stove.  Mother emptied the ashes.  I luxuriated in the warmth the stove gave off and did not even think of the work that went into keeping me warm.  

Side note:  The time frame for this story is the winter of 1962 - 63,  In Leadville, where we lived, we still heated with coal in the main part of the house.  The coal that heated the house was railroad coal that was provided as part of the salary for my father's job.  The company, The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, paid for our house and our coal. The agent was given these perks.  One would not consider these perks these days.  The coal was delivered by the work crew from the railroad. It was stored in a coal shed behind the house.  We had left a brand new house in Pueblo, Colorado when my father was promoted to this job in Leadville. At the time, I wondered how this house, and this job was a promotion.  It seemed to me we were going back in time, and, I guess in some ways we were.

Never one for breakfast in those days, on those early school mornings,  my mother would hand me toast as I made my way out the backdoor to the car.  My father would drive me to school on these early snowy mornings as he was on his way to Malta (Click to read about the rich history of Malta.) which was the actual railroad stop on the D&RG line.  (The main train itself did not come into Leadville.)  I have this photo taken in the 60's of my mother with an oil painting she did for my father of Malta.  It was taken inside the depot that was my father's office. I wish I had a better photo of the painting because it is quite beautiful.  I will have to take one.  I'm proud to say my mother is a very accomplished artist.

When I was a young girl in Leadville, I remember the snow being up to my knees more than once.  As my dad would say, "I have the picture to prove it."  I love the backdrop of the boxcar in this photo.  Trains provided the backdrop for my life.  I am a proud railroader's daughter.  Trains are in my blood as much as the high mountain places of Colorado are there.  The D&RG provided our bread and butter and a rich family heritage as my grandfather and two of my uncles also worked for the railroad.

During those days in Leadville, my senior year in high school, I would come home to the wonderful smell of my mother's homemade vegetable, beef, and barley soup.  She would start the soup from scratch using soup bones in the morning.  She would cook the soup on top of the small propane stove that heated the back part of the house which included the kitchen and bathroom.  This was the best slow cooked soup ever.  My taste buds and watering as my memory recalls that warm soup that had simmered all day.

Hanging on the outside of the kitchen wall was wonderful old toboggan that would hold four or five people.  One winter evening, my friends and I decided it was perfect sledding weather.  We drove over to my house and stealthily removed the toboggan from the side of the house.  We had a problem with our idea: there was no way to attach the toboggan to the car.  I imagine it was Mary Carson's car.  We found a solution.  We rolled down the car windows and hung out of the windows and grasped the ropes on the side of the toboggan as we drove across town to a sledding hill.  It wasn't the best hill.  There was not a safe landing at the bottom, but our hands were frozen so we chose the first hill that looked like it would work.  The icy, clear, star-studded night was filled with our teenage laughter and screams.  Have you ever seen the star filled sky in Leadville?  If not, you have really missed out on a beautiful sight.

No doubt after sledding, we made our way back to my house to re-hang the toboggan before we headed to the Golden Burro to warm-up.  My favorite drink during those days:  hot lemonade.

When we first moved to Leadville, my father took me to the old Daniel & Fisher's Department Store and bought me good winter coat.  I loved that coat.  It was a London Fog made of a gold colored suede like fabric.  The lining was a plaid blanket.  It was so warm and beautiful.  I was set for winter with that coat.  I also had some wonderfully warm boots that were the forerunner for Uggs I think. Are these the boots, or these my sister's ?  This photo was taken front of our house.

Sad, Red-letter Day in Leadville

Today, these memories were conjured up by the sad news that an "iconic" building in Leadville collapsed under heavy snow during the night last night, January 30, 2014.  (Click here to see more photos.)  The building, located on Leadville's main street, was home to Sayer-McKee Drug for many, many years.  As the news circulated on Facebook today, many wrote of all memories made in this store.  It truly was iconic.  Some said it was the best example of a vintage drug store in the State of Colorado.  The well worn hardwood floor aisles  that I seem to remember (They were hardwood, weren't they?) were lined with shelves holding all kinds of great merchandise.  Valentine's Day, my boyfriend in high school no doubt bought the red fabric covered heart shaped candy box that I kept for years at this store.

I remember that my father had an account there.  I learned about it by chance when I went to pick up a medication one day and the pharmacist asked if he should put it on the account.  "Yes," was my quick answer.  "And could you add this to it too?" I asked as I handed him my mascara and lipstick.  Of course I was judicious in my use of this knowledge, but I must admit that I took advantage of using it.  My dad never said a word.  He just paid the bill.

Whenever we visit Leadville, I would always have to stop at Sayer-McKee.  It would seem I was entering a time-machine and my mind went back to those days of long ago.

This is a red-letter day in Leadville today for another reason: SCHOOLS WERE CLOSED.  This is truly a rare event.  It is snowing hard here in the flatlands where Colorado Springs is located.  I hear it is really, really snowing in the mountains.  I hope those in Leadville are safe and warm and not out in the elements.

Some More Memories of Leadville

  • Being the new girl in town.  
  • Hiking over Mosquito Pass right after I moved to town with my dear friend Mary Carson who passed away in 2010.  (Mary deserves an entire blog post.)
  • Remembering that when Mary first met me she said, "My dad once had a mule named Sal."
  • Being crowned homecoming queen of Leadville High School.
  • Jeep rides with friends all over those surrounding mountains.
  • Making the best friends ever.
  • Listening to "true" ghost stories at night while we sat in cars parked at the foot  abandoned mines.
  • Listening to "true" ghost stories in the cemetery.
  • Driving to the top of Vail Mountain before it was a ski mountain and a resort.
  • Our senior trip to Denver to see "How The West Was Won."
  • Senior skip day to Glenwood Springs that was nearly canceled because we had tied beer bottles on the bottom of the bus.  
  • The bus breaking down on our trip over Battle Mountain.
  • Walking through knee deep snow in my Bermuda shorts on my way to my father's office in the depot behind our house so I could type my senior paper.
  • Listening to Pete Seeger sing This Land is Your Land and Where have All The Flowers Gone? and thinking folk music spoke my language.  
  • Reading Dr. Zhivago in my English class and falling in love with Russian literature.
  • Reading War and Peace for the first time right after high school graduation.
  • Working as a carhop at the local A&W which was across the street from my house.  (I kept my tip money in the above mentioned heart shaped box.)
  • Hearing Barry Sadler sing The Green Beret for the first time while we were playing pool at a beer joint.  Barry Sadler was a Leadville boy.
  • There are so many memories, but mostly I remember the beauty of this place.  Who wouldn't want to live here?  This photo was taken where our house used to stand a few years back.  My youngest sister and I are standing in front of what was the view from our living room window. 
I hope you enjoyed reading about my memories because I had so much fun writing about them.  Now I'm off to make Mother's vegetable, beef, and barley soup.  It's snowing.  That means I make this much loved soup.

Oh, one more thing:  GO BRONCOS!!!!  View this video for a taste of Colorado in the high country.