ROCKY MOUNTAIN ‘HI’
**I believe in signs. This one was from my favorite calendar, the day before we left.**
Speaking of signs, we finally did it. After saying we should on every other trip, we finally stopped at the state line by the iconic sign for pictures.
The rest of the state line story comes with a price. If yours is right, Gail and Suzanne will tell you the rest, but only if I get a healthy cut. Remember, we are not telling all.
Waking up to this sight in Manitou Thursday morning, just as I said we would last week, can only bode well for the rest of the weekend.
And it did. We lingered a bit in Manitou Springs on Thursday, taking in shopping and a tasty lunch—and a game of shuffleboard—before we began the ascent.
In our effort to satisfy Suzanne’s love of ferris wheels, we attempted to stop at The North Pole on the way up.
While I have laughed through the movie at least a dozen times, I have never before been able to empathize with the Griswolds in Vacation: The North Pole was closed.
Closed Until May 1st. The ferris wheel, noted to be the tallest in the world given it’s altitude, wasn’t even there; wasn’t visible from the road as it usually is. We found out it had been taken down for refurbishing, refreshing and renewing. It will be ready for us next time.
And so on westward we went. John Denver did his part on CD, getting us into Cripple Creek. Cripple Creek, where the gold-mining mother lode was struck years ago, and where The Sister Lode idea was conceived only one year ago.
And the real fun began.
Our friends who own the Hospitality House were ready for us:
They look forward to our return trips, as do we. We love them, and we love their place. We savor the spirit of the place, as well as the space.
We do a lot of enjoying their space; simply sitting and sipping is one of the simple pleasures we enjoy. Sometimes that’s all we need to fulfill our expectations. Sometimes, it takes a little more.
This time, there was a full moon to greet us. While pictures can never do it justice, the moon was in grand splendor along with the mountains it rose up above.
From a full moon to a Blue Moon–in honor of my favorite libation, there was this good omen in the street in Manitou on our way there.
Perhaps it is the Midwestern, hospitable farm girls in us. Perhaps it is the fact that we are away from home and in a higher altitude; a higher place. Maybe it’s just who we are. Maybe it’s all the above, but we find ourselves saying “hi” a lot while we are on our trips. Not that we don’t do it when we are home; it’s just that there are so many more people to meet in a place like this. Chances are, we already know most of the people already in our circles at home.
We reach out, we strike up conversations with strangers, we somehow have other people do the same to us, and most of the time, we welcome it. Most of the time.
If we hadn’t reached out, we wouldn’t have made friends with these fabulous hotel proprietors.
Given that they are now our friends, we asked for Rick’s advice on a predicament we found ourselves in, likely in part due to our outgoing natures, and in equal or greater part to a misinterpretation of our intentions.
Rick (in front) simply said: “stop saying ‘hi.’” Sounds like a simple, obvious, easy answer, sure, but we can’t do that. It’s not who we are.
If we’d stopped saying “hi,” we wouldn’t have met this dear, delightful young woman who became our favorite waitress at our favorite restaurant several years ago:
Kaitlin serves us beyond and above, and she is preparing to do the same for our country. A few days after our visit, she will become a member of our armed forces, joining the Unites States Navy. We thanked her for her wonderful service as our favorite waitress over the past few years, and we thanked her in advance for her future service to our country. We wish her so much love and joy in her new venture. She will likely be replaced in the restaurant, but she will never be replaced in our hearts.
And where would we be without Christine? Less bejeweled, that’s where. And that’s no fun. Our favorite shopkeeper in Cripple Creek keeps us shopping and adorns us with the most beautiful baubles and gems.
Her shop, 9494, is cleverly named after the town’s altitude. Given her charm, grace and allure, we feel even higher than that when we are in her store, and especially in her presence.
The native donkey herd that roams the streets freely in the spring and summer (as shown here on our Labor Day trip)
is taken to pasture for the fall and winter–with shelter. Tourists who miss them in their off season—like us—are urged to visit them in their winter home just outside of town. The shopkeepers supply the donkey treats, and we do the rest.
Perhaps the three of us—at times–have something in common with the asses…
Rhonda, however, doesn’t appear to let that affect her. She became Gail’s neighbor at the Blackjack table on Friday, and came back on Saturday, too. We hung out there too; Suzanne even tossed a few chips out next to Gail.
In an unprecedented joint decision between the three of us, Rhonda became our honorary sister for the weekend. She was one of us, and we welcomed her into our circle. Gail typically befriends the others risk-takers at the blackjack table, and by the end of the weekend, she has either renewed her friendship with, or created new ones with the dealers and pit bosses. Only Gail has that skill, the ability to turn tough guys—and girls too–into butter. We tried to take a picture of one of our favorite tough guys, but he assertively reminded us that pictures inside the casino were not legal. Sorry JR, we snapped the one above accidentally on Friday before you told us that on Saturday. Oops!
An honorable mention and a shout-out (pun intended) goes out to Dave and his wife Charlie, our other new friends at the blackjack table until Dave’s excessive decibel level created the false notion that perhaps he was breaking another casino law: no gambling while intoxicated. We know better, and JR was just doing his job. Still, they are keepers in our memories.
Speaking of memories, March 4th was a memorable date; a bitter-turned-sweet-bitter date. A date that will never be forgotten in our family.
My work keeps me closely acquainted with death as a fact of life. Before my parents died, I would see this stark reality, and somehow push it aside, not letting myself actually believe I would likely lose each of my parents to illness. I didn’t let myself go there in my mind; I somehow managed to avoid it, magically thinking “So far, I’m lucky. Perhaps I won’t have to deal with that.” The thought of losing either of them was too much to bear. Seeing the illnesses that some of my patients succumbed to, I simply assumed that if they were to die, it would be due to illness. Never in my wildest nightmares did I think I would lose them the way I did.
A part of me died with them—at least for awhile. At the moment the news was delivered, I felt a death blow myself. Crawling up out of that dark pit, first on my knees, then eventually pulling myself upright again, took more strength than I ever wanted to possess.
But I did possess it; we all did. It was there. And we keep growing stronger. But that’s not to say I don’t still have my moments. Like on the morning we left Cripple Creek, the morning of March 4th–the ten-year anniversary of their deaths. We played John Denver on our way out of Cripple Creek that morning. The morning of our departure is always blue, but this one was closer to black. For me, for a brief moment, it was a Rocky Mountain Low—but just for a moment. I don’t even think Gail and Suzanne knew I shed a few silent tears in the back seat. Then, as quick as they came, they were gone, and I was okay. I was tired and still blue, but, just as I have known for many years now, they are still with us.
I wouldn’t have believed anyone who said this if I hadn’t experienced it, but if you believe that love never dies, you get to carry the most precious part of them with you at all times in your heart, and that can never be taken away—not even by death. I feel them within me; their spirits will live on through all of us, and all we need to do is look within. They are always there—just as Mom told us she would be in The Letter. And dare I say this: sometimes it is even more whole, more powerful than when they were here on earth with us.
The darkness always turns to light, and the blues always give way to brighter colors and brighter days ahead. Remembering the importance of something to look forward to, I came home Sunday night with ten minutes to change clothes and turn around to go to the beautiful art-deco theater in the downtown of our small city to take in this incredible performer:
Mom knew how much I always loved his music, and I know she had a hand in this. Plus, the theater director has a long history of scheduling the most incredible shows on important dates for me like birthdays and anniversaries—thanks Jane.
The blues faded, and by Sunday night—even though Gail and Suzanne didn’t go to the show, we were all Back in the High Life Again—thanks Steve.
Soon, the skies will be mostly blue, with perhaps only a cloud or two.
The green grass will soon return, and our smiles and laughter will be in full bloom again. And, in our usual style, we will continue to March Forth.