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In 1920, summer in the mountains had a leisurely pace which has long since disappeared. No electricity, no radios, no records, tapes or compact discs, no television, no fast cars.
My grandfather’s cabin, with its long screened porch, the little stream and foot bridge, presented a setting in which relaxation and the quiet pursuit of building projects, crafts, reading and writing might fill the entire summer.
On a typical morning, eggs, bacon and milk would be fetched from the little house built over the stream which kept foods cool, since even ice-boxes were not available. Grandfather was fortunate as a professor, author and lecturer, in being able to spend much of the summer here and to have such amenities as a maid who cooked, cleaned and did the washing in a tub. Like many other ministers and professors in the valley at that time, he had purchased the land for what Katherine Garetson called a “summer estate.”
After breakfast, Edward might walk up the hill to the one room cabin where he wrote his books and articles. Or he might gather some firewood, which everywhere lay around the cabin and had only to be picked up. He and Sara might walk up the stream to the beaver dams, gathering flowers for an afternoon bouquet on the tea table.
After lunch it would be time to fetch the mail, delivered in a large canvas bag and hung on a convenient tree branch, read it, and spend an hour or two writing letters to friends and relatives. Late in the afternoon friends might arrive for tea, or one might have a nap on the screened porch after having read a few pages from a favorite book or from the pile of unread magazines which had accumulated during the busy winter and had been brought on the three day automobile trip from Iowa.
Dinner was often served at Edward’s cabin on the hill, which he called The Study. It had a magnificent view of Mt. Meeker. Edward and Sara would sit on a bench in front of the cabin and admire the sunset.
After dinner Edward might work with the decorative tin scrollwork which adorned the cabin walls and doorways, but with only kerosene lamps, bed-time came early. The soothing sound of the stream some 50 feet from the cabin, the occasional hoots from the owls and far-off cries of the night hawks provided the perfect setting for sound and uninterrupted slumber.
Twenty more summers went by and as each passed new additions were made: running water, an indoor bathroom, an additional bedroom. Still, Edward resisted the encroachment of the outside world; radios remained banned. Then Sara died, World War II broke out, and the cabin fell into ruin. Today all that remains are the outline of the foundation, a few boards, the stub of the sewer line, and the chimney. Still, when one looks through the guest book, one can feel the tranquillity and gratifyingly serene routines that filled those summers. One can sense that while there were spirited conversations during those teas on the porch, there were also many long moments marked only by long sighs of contentment, as they listened to the rush of the stream and the zephyrs through the pines.
It’s easy to sentimentalize those times and to ignore how hard it was to keep food from spoiling, how difficult it was to have hot water and to do the washing and ironing, using flat irons heated on top of the wood stove. Living here in the winter, without central heat, insulation, or triple-pane windows was harsh indeed, and few remained more than a few years. Indeed, John Grant, from whom Edward bought the homestead, stayed only four years; just long enough to earn the deed.
Still, I hear the jets, the helicopters, the cars and trucks, the ATVs and motorcycles, the chain saws and the barking dogs. I contemplate the need to run down to Estes Park to get a Big Mac or a pizza and a video tape for this evening’s entertainment, and I wish…I wish…
© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner
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