My brother and sister-in-law have been in Denver since Christmas! They leave next Tuesday for a nine month adventure around the world (lucky ducks) It has been so great having them here and remembering that I have a little brother that I can badger from time to time.
My brother is upset about my last post. He claims that he NEVER cheated at monopoly. I said that he has a poor memory AND that I have artistic license to divlege a little when telling a story (since it is my blog). He gave me a guffaw…he is very good at guffawing. I think little brothers come with a strong natural ability to guffaw.
So I thought I would post an old family legend….from my point of view….just to let you know that you’re not alone my bro….Ozzie got it too 🙂
Bohemians in the Backwoods:
My father had a blind date with Colorado. Like many young suitors, he approached this unknown meeting with apprehension. My mother’s family just moved to Denver and she was itching to follow along.
“I want to be close to my mother.” She said
“I just got a new job, I’m not sure if I can transfer. Denver? Denver’s a cow town. Chicago is where my career can really take off.” He replied.
“I want to be close to my mother” Mom said again. After a week or so of debate, he reluctantly loaded up our station wagon.
“Let’s go visit and check it out.” He sighed.
Dad was a little unnerved as he left Illinois. He developed hives as we drove through the prairies of Nebraska but as soon as he saw the snow-capped Rockies on the horizon, he changed.
He was in love. He was a giddy school boy with an insatiable crush. Colorado was a wild girl; her bodacious, curvy mountains, her sweet scent of pine, her untamed spirit. Colorado beckoned him. After a week we reluctantly drove back to Chicago with a 12-pack of smuggled Coors beer in the cooler and John Denver on the eight track. We sang Rocky Mountain High at the top of our lungs and counted down the days until our next visit.
Like any good relationship, Dad and his new land dated for a while. He found a cool mountain stream in the summer. She flaunted her golden finery along the aspen groves in autumn. But it was the crystal skies of winter that finally convinced him to commit. My uncles took him skiing. He fell down the mountain and headlong into love. Dazed, bruised and dreamy in his Chicago office, he would scratch at his February sunburn (who knew the sun would shine in February?) and gaze out onto cold, windy Michigan Avenue. He would corner anyone who would listen and tell tall tales of sunny skies, champagne powder and moguls the size of Volkswagens.
It took a year but Dad was finally transferred to Denver. We loaded up the U-haul, packed the station wagon, wrestled the dog and my little brother into the backseat. John Denver was in the 8 track and we were off.
We bought a little house in a new neighborhood next to Green Mountain. We had frequent visitors; rattlesnakes, rabbits and coyotes popped in from the open space behind us. My mom wore kerchiefs in her hair, my dad grew his hair out and sported a bushy mustache, my two year old little brother ran around naked and ate the dirt of our brand-new backyard.
My uncles helped my dad lay sod in our backyard. After a long, hot day, they all laid on the fresh, new grass with a cold beer in hand, gazing up at the stars and singing Rocky Mountain High; our dog howling beside them. We had arrived.
The Colorado clan consisted of Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and cousins all transplanted from the Midwest and all in love with this land. On summer weekends we got up early, downed a waxy boxed doughnuts from the grocery store, packed up the cooler and headed over to Uncle Stan’s and Ozzie.
Ozzie was a huge, white panel van. The inside was gutted so it could hold bikes, skis, barbeque grills and family members brave enough to sit on the floor or a lawn chair while Uncle Stan wove through mountain passes. Eventually someone would get carsick in back of the van. Uncle Stan would stop, cursing and retrieve the green family member from the back. Ozzie had a faint smell of motor oil, dust and vomit. I could never convince myself to ride in the back.
If you lived in Colorado in the 70’s, it was an unsaid requirement that you cut your own wood. Even if you didn’t have a fireplace, you went up into the woods, inhaled the crisp scent of fall and whacked at a tree.
I loved the hum of the chainsaw, the CRACK! of a tree falling and the vibration through the woods. My brother and I would climb on top of the branches, jump off the trunk and play Star Wars with the broken limbs. We carried wood by the armful into Ozzie; sticky with sap, pieces of bark and leaves clinging to our flannel shirts. It was on these days, full of winter wood and woozy relatives, lumbering down a back-country road, that Ozzie earned his keep.
One fateful day the uncles and my dad were grouped together balancing themselves on a steep mountain ridge, evaluating the direction and force a tree might fall. What’s the best direction? North, South, the direction of the wind? They stood in a group, scratched their heads and sipped on their beers as they discussed.
The rest of us stood on the road next to the safety of Ozzie. My brother and I sat in the dirt sharing a hotdog on white bread and a bag of potato chips. We watched the men discuss the nuances of the tree.
Mom looked up at the men and cupped her hands around her mouth to make sure they heard her. “Should we move the van?”
Uncle Stan yelled back “Nah, don’t be silly. Ozzie’s fine.”
The chainsaws were fired up and the air hummed with anticipation. My mom grabbed my brother and I and moved us further away. The rest of the family members muttered among themselves and moved their lawn chairs and beers into a less precarious location.
The tree was cut and given a push so that it would fall uphill. It wavered uphill and downhill, uphill again and then as a final protest, the tree completely changed directions and landed right on top of Ozzie. The wheels buckled underneath the weight and the golden leaves fluttered over the van.
I gasped. It was beautiful. Ozzie was wearing a big golden hat.
The air stood still as everyone turned towards Uncle Stan.
“Damn it!” He said kicking at the tree. You said the tree would fall the other direction.”
“We said you might want to think about moving the van.” my Grandmother pointed out.
Uncle Stan got up on top of the van and tried in vain to move the golden tree. The rest of us didn’t say a word. Uncle Stan finally hopped off Ozzie, muttering to himself. He sat in the dirt and popped open a Coors.
Ozzie’s top was dented. The damage wasn’t too bad but it was a constant reminder that you never know how the wind will blow and sometimes you might want to listen to family. Uncle Stan hated the dent. I loved it. Ozzie was now a true mountain van.
We returned home in our station wagon home, filthy, sticky and exhausted from the day. My brother and I laid our dirty heads, probably harboring a tick or two, on my Grandma’s lap and snored all the way home. The grown ups sat in the front, giggling and snorting as they relived Ozzie’s meeting with the tree.
We didn’t cut wood after that afternoon. I have no idea where Ozzie is. I would like to think he took off on his own, rumbled up a remote lumber road and refused to start. Perhaps he is back in the woods donning an aspen like a big, golden hat.
Last weekend my husband, baby daughter and I got lost on a road off of Highway 34. We got out to take a walk and bundled our daughter in the baby jogger. My husband, antsy from the drive, took off with her at a slow jog up the pass. As I watched them get smaller, I wondered what her introduction with nature will be. As we become more advanced, we try to tame the untamable, control the uncontrollable. The other day, my husband was glancing through an outdoor catalog and laughed that there are so many products for “roughing it” that we really aren’t “roughing it” anymore.
How will I teach my daughter to love the mountains? She will not ride in the back of a panel van. Our fireplace is gas…no need for wood. But I hope I can teach her to howl at the moon, find that crazy bohemian within her soul. I will tell her how Rocky Mountain High and a mountainside of golden trees will always bring tears to my eyes. Maybe I’ll just teach her how to pee in the woods; that might be a good start.