I was born and raised in a small mountain town in Colorado. At 8000 ft in elevation weather can be harsh. Defining. At times life altering. There are many friends I grew up with. Many of them sons and daughters of the same people my father worked with at the local college. We spend whole summer days together playing in the neighborhood. At each others house. In their rooms. In the backyards overlooking real alleys. No locks on doors. Bikes left haphazardly in the yards like forgotten dominoes. No one steals anything. Its not done. Its not thought of. Discipline is a community affair. If you did something deemed ‘wrong’ at a friends house, you would get a stern talking to there and then again at home by your own parents. And it was not looked at as intrusive or wrong for another parent to have done this. It was expected and dealt with seriously when you returned home.
There is school. There are two elementary schools and one high school. Everyone goes. There are no snow days. It can snow a foot or two. Everyone goes. It can be 40 below. Everyone goes. Is there forced busing? Only if you wanted to go to school from the farms and ranches outside of town. Lunches were at a central building in town. We got on the bus and went, ate lunch, and then bussed back. No big deal. It was how it was done. Lunches were excellent, plentiful and you ate what was served. Thats it.
In the summers we played with lawn darts, bows and arrows, baseball bats and balls, jumped bikes over ramps, crashed, skinned knees, got scars, cried a little, and then got back on. No one died, no parent was overly cautious and pulled out anti-bacterial hand cleaner. You just played. And learned. And grew up.
When in high school we were all together in one school. Kids from the college parents. Kids from the ranches outside of town. Kids from the store owners in town. All of us under one roof. The ranch kids showed up at school at 8 am just like the rest of us. But they had already been up for hours feeding livestock, doing chores, checking on cattle and horses. And then going to school all day and then repeating it again. And again. And again. Sports were defining also. The next closest school is 60 miles away. Over mountain passes. Hard enough to drive in summer, let alone in winter weather. In a school bus with 60 kids aboard.
Many of the kids hang around after graduating for a few years. Maybe the local college. Or a job. But they disperse slowly. One by one leaving the closed confines of the Gunnison Valley and trying to carve out a life somewhere else. Somewhere bigger, somewhere warmer, somewhere else. Somewhere.
And now I return for funerals and memorials. I return only occasionally. Maybe I am just passing through to somewhere else. Maybe I am going to turn down Spencer Street and look at my old house and my friends houses. I will remember my parents and my friends parents, most of whom have passed on now. Maybe I’ll go by the cemetery on the hill and recognize all the names on the tombstones. I will remember old friends and look for special places that remind me of a time and of a place long time ago. A special place high in the Rockies where we were defined not by the circumstances of weather or location. But defined by the love of a caring community and the love of friends growing up that define a life even now.
There are no wrong side of the tracks in Gunnison. We are all on the same side of the tracks. In one small community defined by us all.