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Back to Blue
By MAGGIE HINTON
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2016 Maggie Hinton
All rights reserved.
My story begins on that hot summer day in Blue. That's where we were staying that summer of '95. Blue. Blue, Colorado. I had just turned eleven. We had moved around a lot with our mother — from one little town to another, with a couple of big cities thrown in here and there. We loved staying at Gramma Moon's farm just outside Blue. We yearned for the security and peace we found with her. But those days were always a hold-your-breath chapter in our lives because we never knew how long we were going to get to stay before some whim of our mother's would sweep us away again into the transient, turbulent life we were forced to spend with her. We were able to endure those weeks, those months we spent with Rainie, (our mother), wherever it might be, because we knew that we'd eventually get to find respite with Moon again. Our mantra was "When we go to Blue ..." or "When we get to go to Gramma Moon's ..." Blue, Colorado was "home."
The little rural community, nestled in the San Isabel National Forest in southern Colorado, had been founded in the early part of the century and was constructed one building at a time, right along the banks of the Blue River. Things haven't changed much since that summer, but in l995, the town of Blue consisted of one main street that accommodated a couple of dozen little Mom and Pop establishments — all different colored buildings, all different sizes and shapes. From coffee shops to local artists' and crafters' consignment stores, from Stoney's grocery store (that still boasts two fully-functioning, vintage, red gas pumps out in the front.) From an "authentic home cooken'" café to candy and ice cream parlors. There were two bed and breakfast accommodations. And at the end of the street were three rural churches — Presbyterian, Catholic, and Mormon houses of worship. On the road going out of town there is the River Roost, an elegant restaurant, and, even further out, the Bordon brothers' white river rafting and mountain climbing businesses.
For movies or malls or Walmarts, for medical attention other than Blue's 9:00 to 5:00 urgent care clinic, you have to travel east on local road 78 to Edgewater. Or drive on until you reach Highway 25 and Pueblo. A little further north is Colorado Springs. Or you can travel all the way to Denver, which is only about 160 miles northeast of Blue.
Across the street from the quaint shops is the Blue River. The river itself flows with water all year long, fed by the tributaries of the Rockies to the north. A wide boardwalk runs alongside the river's edge. Beside the walkway, every fifty feet or so, a wooden bench, or sometimes a pair of benches, provide places to stop and view the breath-taking woods and listen to the soft rush of the river. Old Victorian lamps behind each bench provide subtle lighting from dusk to dawn. Big baskets of flowers hang from an arm on each light post. And, if you have the stamina to walk the three miles to the end of the wooden trail, you're rewarded with a breathtaking view of a modest, not-too-distant waterfall and the full majesty of forest peaks.
There is a cat-walk going on up the side of the mountain, with a narrow, antiquated board walkway chained to the side of the towering precipices, along with hanging bridges between deep gorges. The catwalk had been closed for as long as I can remember. There had been too many accidents, even a couple of deaths on it. So the city council voted years ago to put an end to the precarious walkway. But, of course, a few brave souls, mostly teenagers ... or those who think they are still teenagers ... know how to circumvent the fence and make the trip to the end of the dangerous trail. It still is a rite of passage, mostly for Blue's males, to be able to brag that they'd "walked the cat."
More often than not, passers-through passing through Blue fall in love with the ambiance of the picturesque little town settled amidst the woods, between the mountains and the river. And they decide to spend time there. Or vow to come back when they do have timel
Grandpa Ben's house, a few miles out of town, had been built in the l940's, just after the war, and stood pretty much as it had been then, except for the kitchen and bathrooms, which had been updated in the 50's. It was a sandy pink color with forest green trim around the windows and doors. It had a wide, roof-covered porch across the front, one side, and the back kitchen side Two storied, with twin gables in both the front and back and a green shingled roof, it reminded me of whimsically illustrated houses in nursery stories. Sort of a combination of the gingerbread house and the three bears' cottage. As if Nancy E. Burket had designed the house herself.
Still hanging from the ceiling of the living room is this huge, one-of-a-kind twig chandelier which Grandpa Ben had created, with intertwined tiny branches and plant shoots woven between a myriad of tiny light bulbs.
And what I remember in detail is Gramma Moon's bedroom — which paid homage to her Hippie leanings. The dark and light blue curtains at the window featured zodiac designs. During the day, when they were pulled to one side, the breezes from the river would gently touch the sun, moon, and stars wind chime hanging in the window, and the pieces would tinkle delightfully. (Of course she told us that it was fairies wings making those sparkly noises.) Her bedspread was all smudges of pinks and purples and blues, with a golden Celtic star in the center. A black light poster — complicated designs in psychedelic colors — hung above her bed. There was a poster of Pink Floyd and another of a Grateful Dead Shakedown Street Sign on the wall. Along with a tapestry featuring a peace sign with "Love" and "Peace" written around its borders. Long beaded necklaces and leather head bands draped from the fold-out-mirrors of her antique dresser. A beautifully designed dream catcher hung from a hook on the back of the door leading to the hall.
Just before Moon went to bed at night, she would light her long sticks of incense. The wafts of fragrant smoke always mesmerized me ... I imagined there was some kind of ancient magic in that smoke.CHAPTER 2
Gramma's farm is within a short rambling distance from the river itself. There is an apple orchard right across a wide field. The orchard belonged to my grandma so we could pick ourselves an apple to eat anytime we wanted to. (Well, when they were in season, of course.) (Well, sometimes before they were in season.) Grandma Moon told us from the time we were toddlers that the grove was inhabited by fairies. An herb and flower garden bordered the house to the west. There was the old tire swing hanging from a high limb in the ancient oak tree in the back yard, and we spent hours pushing each other on that raw rubber-smelling tube, reaching for the lowest boughs of the oak trees with our outstretched, bare, dirty-bottomed feet.
The woods are just across the unpaved road, and we consumed lazy hours roaming myriad trails and exploring ravines and deep, pathless thickets. And making forts out of the fallen trees and broken branches. One summer we were even quite ingenious at building a two-storied tree house in the high, thick branches of a maple tree.
We rode the old bicycles that had belonged to our mother and her two brothers when they were our ages. We learned how to repair oft' patched tires, and replace handle bar grips and split pedals. We spent long hours on the dusty road leading to Blue, over shaded trails in the woods, and along the sandy paths down by the river. By the end of each summer, the history of our bicycle expeditions spread in crisscrossed, beaver-tailed patterns in the dust from one end of Blue to the other.
When I say "we," I mean my brother, Ford, just two years younger than I am, and my little sister, Monroe, who had just turned seven that summer. And, for just a couple of weeks in June, Tucker, Uncle Easton's eldest son, had come from Denver to spend part of his vacation with us. (I think now, as I did then, that Tucker's mom and dad had just wanted to get rid of him for a while. I wanted to get rid of him myself after only a couple of hours.)
Sometimes, at the last light of day, we'd wander over to Gramma's friend Sam's little pond in the middle of his goat pasture and watch the bats diving down like World War II fighter planes, swooping to devour the enemies — bugs hovering in swarms, skimming just above the still water. From the distance, the bats look beautiful. Up close they are ugly as sin. (A truly deceitful phrase. Sometimes sin can be undeniably attractive.)
Tucker was obsessed with trying to locate where the bats holed up during the day. One moonless night he and Ford tried following them with a flashlight. But lost the flying creatures before they'd gone very far. (I knew that Ford was secretly relieved that he didn't have to accompany Tucker into some damp, dark cave somewhere.)
On Tuesdays and Thursdays mornings, I took free gymnastic lessons, sponsored by the Blue Park and Recreation Department. Monroe chose to take the art classes. Gramma signed Ford up for archery but he admitted he "sucked" at it and quit after two sessions. (He confided to me that he had barely missed shooting an undisciplined arrow into a kid who was walking down the sidewalk east of the archery range. As it was, the arrow shot right between the boy's legs, miraculously missing either one of them.)
Monroe proved to be a natural artist and Gramma bought her a fold-up easel to drag around and set up all over the countryside so she could paint her landscapes. Some of her water colors were even displayed in the local businesses' windows.
I excelled in gymnastics. Our teacher, Sandi, told Gramma Moon that I was a natural acrobat. And that my skills on the uneven parallel bars were the best she'd ever seen. I was intensely determined to perfect my beam and mat routines, practicing on the front lawn of the house every evening. We were going to perform at the end of the summer and I determined to be flawless by then.
Ford and Tucker made fun of me while I back-flipped and cartwheeled across the yard. But I could tell they were really impressed by my skills but were just too cool to admit it. Gramma Moon told me over and over again how graceful and agile I was. She persuaded Rainie to come out to the yard and watch one time, and my mother did concede that I was "pretty good" at doing my thing. But she only watched that one time. (Back then, I was hungry for her approval. Even though I had already learned that her praise would be pretty much nonexistent in my life.)
Rainie accused Gramma Moon of letting us kids "run amuck" when we were at the farm. But Gramma didn't pay much attention to her daughter's criticisms. Especially since it was she, not Rainie, who fed us, kept our clothes clean, and provided the activities to entertain us. Like monopoly marathon games played on many a long, hot, muggy night. A Crazy-8 or Gin Rummy game could last for hours. Some evenings were spent rummaging through an old trunk we'd drug thumping down the stairs from the attic and finding old clothes in it to serve as costumes to wear for the skits and one-act plays I authored myself. We'd perform the dramas for Gramma and her sisters and Sam.
Gramma Moon had a beautiful soprano voice. We found out later, from her two sisters, that as a teenager she'd sung with some of the local bands in cafes and bars in Blue and up and down the road to Pueblo. She'd given up her singing "career" when she got married.
There was a player piano in the dining room that had belonged to Grandma West, and during frequent summer, rainy afternoons, we'd spend hours pumping out timeworn tunes Gramma Moon had taught us to sing. Naturally we would quarrel about who got to pump the pedals. We learned all the words to "Moonlight Bay", and "Side by Side" and "I Love You Truly," to name just a few of our favorites. Not only was there the song "A Bicycle Built for Two" but there was actually a bicycle built for two out in the barn. Grandpa Ben had bought it right after he and Moon got married. The two of them had ridden it up and down the dirt roads around Blue. And showed off on it year after year in the Bodacious Blue parade. There are scrapbook pictures of them riding it, Grandpa in his black bowler and Gramma in her big straw hat. We kids never could get the bicycle built for two in running order. It had been crashed down a ditch by our uncles, the twins, and lay crumpled and useless in a corner of the barn. (Moon could not bear to have it hauled to the dump.)
We kids slept on the covered porch that ran along the back of the house. There were tall screened windows on three sides of the room, and the night breezes traipsed across the porch and kept us pleasantly cool all night long. Nearly every night, before lights out, Moon would read to us out on that porch. While we listened to her voice, we'd watch the soft, mesmerized moths gathering around the outside porch light. Until our eyelids got heavy and we'd listen with eyes closed, trying our best to stay awake so we wouldn't miss one word. There was Black Beauty and Kidnapped for the boys. And Heidi and Anne of Green Gables for me and Monroe. The Cay was a favorite for all of us.
I read Little Women by myself at the beginning of that summer. And then I discovered Moon's Pearl S. Buck's books and hungrily swept through them "after hours," using a flashlight to read by. And I will forever associate the sneak-reading with the taste of wintergreen Life Savers, because that's what I'd suck on while I read. They were my choice on those rare occasions when we went to Stoney's store with Sam instead of Gramma, and he'd give us kids quarters for candy. I'd save the tiny rounds of candy to enjoy until reading time. (I could make a single one last for fifteen minutes or more.) So with the sound of the river in my ears and the taste of wintergreen in my mouth, I became the clichéd "under-the-covers" reader that summer.
We never knew our great grandparents. They had died before we were born. Moon's parents', my great grandparents', last name was West. They had named my grandmother, their eldest daughter, America. America West. My great grandparents must have had strange senses-of-humor. (Or should it be "sense-of-humors"?) because their next child, a son, was officially named Farr West. Farr, who would have been our great uncle, died when he was only fifteen years-old. From leukemia. Grandma West became this bitter, laughless, joyless woman and was that way until the end of her life. With Farr's tragic death, she lost not only her son but essentially all her other children and grandchildren.
My West grandparents' last two daughters came into the family six and seven years after Farr was born. They were baptized Dew West and Virginia West. You can understand the Dew. But the Virginia was a little more complicated. Here was their reasoning: On school rolls and on some legal papers, her last name would come first. Thus she would show up as West Virginia, (albeit with a comma in the middle.) Both of these women still live in Blue. They run a Victorian-style bed and breakfast right square in the middle of downtown Blue, with tall guest room windows overlooking the river itself. (The kids of Blue claim that the "Dew Drop Inn" is haunted by the first owner of the rambling old house, who died mysteriously while out riding his paint stallion along the river path one stormy night.)
Both our aunts are spinsters, both a little plump, both a lot jovial ... chuckling or laughing three-fourths of their waking hours ... (and I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't giggle in their sleep) ... and played a big part in our days of contentment when we were in Blue. They were enthusiastic fans of our plays and programs and would applaud and praise all of our dramatic endeavors. The aunts helped spoil us and furtively sneaked us sweets and jerky, which Moon more-or-less forbid.
They were morally against television, but I think out of sheer boredom, finally bought a set. (After all, they'd lived all their lives sitting across the meal table from each other or spending night after night together in the "parlor", looking up from their crocheting or knitting to see each other's all-too-familiar faces.) Virginia and Dew got attached to their soap operas and watched them religiously. They talked about the programs' characters as if they were old and dear friends ... or mortal enemies.
Our Gramma Moon was a Hippie. She had embraced the cultural implications of that lifestyle back in the sixties, when she was just a teenager. That was when she changed her name from America to Moon.
Excerpted from Back to Blue by MAGGIE HINTON. Copyright © 2016 Maggie Hinton. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
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