My grandparents owned a little vacation home in Victor, Colorado from before I was born until they retired in a different part of the mountains when I was eight. We called it a vacation home, but it was really just a small, turn of the century house built during the gold rush. Victor, with its sister city Cripple Creek, peaked at a population of 20,000 between them around 1900. By the time my grandparents bought the house in the 60s, the combined population had dropped to less than 750. I don’t know what my grandparents paid for it, but they sold it in the mid-70′s for $6,000. I just saw a very similar home for sale online listed for $139,000. Grandma would be upset she didn’t hold on for a better deal.
My memories of the place are unrealistically idyllic…I can see that now through my adult perspective. But as a child, our visits there were an adventure. It was small, two bedrooms and one bath, a living room, and a kitchen/dining area. My guess is about 800 square feet. I remember the furnishings looking old then, and not “antique old”, just worn. There was a small box of toys with missing parts on the porch and a black-and-white TV with a large cabinet and tiny screen which got a couple of channels, but otherwise entertainment was up to us.
I don’t remember hanging out in the dark house much: with the stunning Rocky Mountain scenery one step outside the house, why would you? I do remember heading five miles to bigger Cripple Creek to ride the train, browse the tourist shops (the candy store was my favorite), or see the “famous” melodrama. I remember long drives and sweeping vistas between small, neighboring mountain towns, each a to-be-discovered jewel of history and Victorian architecture. I also remember my anticipation of riding the deep, underground elevator in the nearby Molly Kathleen Mine. What I didn’t predict was how boring a mine would be to a 6-year old who lacked the adult perspective of its historical significance and the imagination to appreciate what would drive men to choose that harsh lifestyle.
Beyond the few snippet memories of evening meals and cold bedtimes in the house itself, my most vivid memory actually happened just outside of it, playing in the front yard with my kid sister in the shadow of the glorious Rockies. The neighbor lady, ancient Mrs. McCreedy, kept a couple of horses just across the narrow street – we sure enjoyed watching them. One cold summer morning, as a bonus to the horses, a kitten wandered through our yard into hers. I was allergic to cats, which only made them irresistible contraband. Besides, kittens are put on Earth precisely for four- and five-year old girls. We had just begun to play with the little ball of fur when crotchety Mrs. McCreedy popped out of her house to yell at us to get off of her yard. It didn’t take twice! She looked just like the witch in our Hansel and Gretel book, who lured children into her candy house. We weren’t going to make that mistake. I suddenly lost all interest in playing outside, despite Mom’s surprised queries when we suddenly popped back inside. It’s funny what you remember, isn’t it?
It sounds like the area has changed a lot in the 40 years since I was last there. Cripple Creek approved gambling years ago, bringing in much needed jobs, and casinos now line the historic Main Street. Grandma didn’t approve. Listening to her describe how the changes ruined the once-picturesque area, I had never wanted to go back until recently. I don’t know what changed my mind, but it’s now on my bucket list. I just learned that despite multiple return trips to Colorado over the years, my parents never went back either. Grandma and Grandpa are gone now, and my parents (and me, too) are getting older. I guess I just want to revisit that thin chapter of my childhood one last time. I’m going to try to convince my parents to go with me–a long weekend trip down memory lane, with the people who originally walked it with me. I’ve always heard you can never go back…I think I’m going to try just this once.
“Living is like tearing through a museum. Not until later do you start absorbing what you saw, thinking about it, looking it up in a book – and remembering, because you can’t take it in all at once.” –Audrey Hepburn