Reading an obituary of a friend’s cousin on Facebook recently, I was struck by the similarities in the way both children grew up in different small towns here on the western slope of Colorado. The cowboy culture has remained very much a part of raising children, no matter how far they moved away from home. So many of the original ranching families still get together for reunions every so often, that I am not surprised when someone says, “Hey, you are from Meeker, have you met anyone in my family yet?” They proceed to list more than a few familiar names.
I was particularly moved by the fact that my friend wanted to remember and share the life story of her cousin, who grew up with the same set of values passed down from the original ranchers in the White River Valley. While her cousin was raised on a Woody Creek Ranch near Aspen and had moved years ago, the family stayed close. I met a branch of the local contingent of this family not long after moving here. This “ol cowboy”, as George Layton referred to himself, just happened to be helping brand calves on a neighboring ranch. He kept us all entertained with his stories, so that over the years when I would run into him, he would make a crack or two that let me know that he was that same old hand just helping out a neighbor.
“If you lived here, I’d know your name” by Heather Lende was the title of a book about a woman who got her start in an Alaskan small town as an obituary writer. For a while, when I started out in newspapering, I felt the same way. I would go out to interview someone and end up talking about all the interesting members of their families, living or dead. So the names of family members who settled in the White River Valley kept coming up throughout the years, no matter where I traveled. Links to pioneer families kept being mentioned in casual conversation. Most were the sheep and cattle ranching families, but many of these people who came to the area were following a different kind of dream, so the stories of merchants and miners came out as well.
My most vivid memory remains the woman at the museum who greeted me that first year here by saying, “Welcome to Meeker. I am a newcomer too! I have just lived here 30 years. This will be first year going to the Oldtimers get-together.” Earlier that same year, while my husband and I were exploring the backroads and the high-country of our adopted state, we met a couple our age in a family diner not too far from Twin Lakes on our way over Independence Pass. They had just moved to Aspen from a city “somewhere back east” and couldn’t say enough about the wonderful new life they were forging. It sounded bucolic.
One of our favorite new Meeker friends had grown up in Aspen and regaled me with stories about life there before it hit it big as a ski resort. He did not grow up on a ranch, but his family were tradesmen of some sort and as a plumber, he continued to practice the same values lived by those who grew up with the western cowboy culture and rural small towns. Neighbors always helped neighbors and when someone was in trouble everyone pitched into to do the hard work. No one said “let me know if I can help.” They just met their friends at the door bringing food and enough folks to get the job done.
My memories of writing about those days are still so clear. Their stories told by their friends and family, or friends of their friends and family brought the days gone by into the present where it remains.
Special to the Herald Times