Memories of two incredible people in the Colorado Rockies
IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES
by Kati Rounds
If a rock could speak, what kind of story would it tell? When I saw the forty-foot red boulder for the first time, I wondered what it could tell me. Would it whisper the tales of the dinosaurs that roamed through the valley between the hog back and foothills west of Denver, brushing against it as they passed by? Would it tell of the Wood People, who lived there thousands of years later, or of the Ute Indian tribes that slept at the foot of it for protection during the harsh winter months of the 1800’s? Did it witness the stagecoach, as it rumbled down rocky paths, on its way to the Old Bradford Hotel, on Ken Caryl land? If a boulder could speak, would it tell me the story of Ray and Peggy, whose house now snuggles up to it?
My business partner and friend Darrel and I had an interview with Ray and Peggy. Weeks before, we had left a flyer on their door.
“Window washing, house cleaning, yard work. Whatever you need, please call.”
We pulled up in front of their property on the main road leading us to their home in the foothills. I sat silently in his blue beat-up jeep, trying to see their house out my window, through the tall overgrown dry grass.
“Hope we haven’t taken on too much this time,” Darrell mumbled to himself while pulling on his short white beard.
“Well let’s go see. We’ll never know sitting here.” Darrell ground his jeep into gear. With a kick, we turned right, and headed up the long paved driveway. It led us to a gated fence, surrounding the entry porch and front door.
I instantly fell in love with their home, on the two-and-a-half acres of grasses, and red boulders, which surrounded it.
A small elderly woman, with gray permed hair answered our knock and led us into the foyer. Introducing herself, Peggy won me instantly with her warm friendly smile. She welcomed us both into her home. On the way to the family room, in the back, I noticed this mountain home was beautiful, and rundown. The foyer wall was made of river rock, going from floor to ceiling, with an inch of dust covering their natural beauty.
“Come and meet Ray. We will sit in the family room and talk. Then you can look around.”
Ray was the same height as Peg, also with gray hair, and just as friendly. While the four of us talked, getting to know one anther, I allowed my eyes to roam around the room, making mental notes of what needed to be done. There was a thick covering of dust on practically everything. The white blinds were a pale gray; the plants had grown out of control. The windows, which looked over a huge red boulder, had a film of dirt on them.
As we talked, they showed us around. Their home had four bedrooms, “plenty big to raise their two daughters.” They showed us the long living room, with wooden beams decorated with webs. The end window, extending from floor to ceiling, came to a peak at the top, allowing a view of the red boulders and open spaces of the foothills. This will be a big job, I thought to myself.
“We were one of the first seven homes to be built up here. But now we are older, our children have moved to Minnesota and California, and we need help,” said Peggy wistfully, as I gazed out the window.
“You betcha,” Ray spoke up, with a grin from ear to ear. Though he had an oxygen tube connected to his neck at all times, I could tell this man had a great sense of humor.
“I can’t do the outside work anymore, because of health problems. The house needs a thorough cleaning, the windows need to be washed, and the property needs to be cleaned up and maintained. Would you be interested in helping us out around here?” I looked over at Darrel, who again was pulling on his white beard.
“Yes, I believe we can. It looks like a great challenge.” Darrell, a hard worker, enjoyed challenges, and while he and Ray shook hands, Peg hobbled over to the kitchen with her bad knees and offered us an ice-cold soda.
We filled the next few weeks with hard work, and the making of new friends. Ray and Peggy not only welcomed us into their home, they invited us into their lives. We were never treated as employees, but as friends, spending time together talking, laughing, and getting to know each other.
I sometimes would find Darrell and Ray out in the garage, talking and laughing about whatever the topic was for that day. While I worked in the house, Peggy would invite me to, “come and rest awhile.” We talked about our kids, religion, television shows and many other topics. I began to confide in this amazing woman while Darrell laughed with Ray.
Darrell shined the windows until they sparkled, while I took down all the webs throughout the house, dusted, vacuumed and cleaned bathrooms. I enjoyed the work, but it was summertime, and the outside beckoned me.
Each morning as we drove up the driveway, we noticed a doe with twin fawns. Each morning I would take a second to acknowledge them and say hi. They stopped grazing and watched us as keenly as we watched them. In the early afternoon, many more deer joined them, grazing in part of the acreage in front of the house; the part we needed to cut down.
After several days of scrubbing and polishing the house, Ray and Peggy let us go out to start cleaning up the property.
“Kati, we have a tractor you can ride, to take down all the grass, while Darrell starts pulling some of the stink-weed that’s growing on the side of the driveway.”
I had forgotten to consider the extreme heat of late June afternoons. Riding on the tractor was great fun. I was a sight in my large white floppy sun hat and over-sized sunglasses. Getting on the tractor, I went back and forth, while Darrell watched from the side of the driveway, protecting his baldhead from the sun with a baseball cap. A herd of deer watched from a spot I had not yet done, looking like they wanted to ask me why I was cutting down their favorite eatery. I bounced along, keeping my eye on them, singing, “Green Acres is the place to be. Farm living is the life for me…” at the top of my lungs. I wasn’t embarrassed. I was in the country, riding a tractor, watching deer, and being paid for it. How good could a job be?
Ray and Peg had a park bench on their front porch, which Darrel and I frequented on a daily basis, taking advantage of the shade the porch offered while eating lunch. It was a relief to get out of the hot noonday sun. On one of these sweltering days, as we were eating lunch, I noticed a herd of deer passing us on the left, leaping over the gated fence, going towards their mown down field in front of us. As we watched, not making a sound, a doe separated herself from the others. Turning, she started coming towards us.
“What is she doing?” I asked Darrell. I was excited to be able to see a deer close up, yet wondered why she would be coming towards us.
“I don’t know what she’s doing. Maybe she smells our food.”
We watched, as she continued walking in our direction. She took slow deliberate steps, keeping her eyes on me. The porch had three cement stairs going up to the bench, for which I was thankful, thinking they would stop her from coming closer. But they didn’t!
“Darrell, I’m serious. What is she doing?” I buried my lunch back into the green insulated bag and quickly zipped it up, but that had no affect on her.
“Is she coming after me because I mowed down her restaurant?” I sarcastically asked, though wondering if that had anything to do with her behavior. I also wondered if she was the mother of the twin fawns.
On that hot June afternoon, I broke out in a cold sweat, with my heart pounding. My friends knew me as a person who loved wildlife, with one of my closer friends nicknaming me, “Miss Nature Girl.” This love for wild animals and forests started at a young age, spending vacations with my family in the northern Illinois and Wisconsin woods. But this wasn’t normal.
I was truly becoming frightened. The closer the doe came, Darrell, sitting elbow to elbow with me, started laughing. It wasn’t a nervous laugh, but a deep, hearty laugh.
“Hey, Ray and Peggy, you need to come see this,” he yelled. I hoped maybe his loud voice would scare her off somewhat.
Darrell was sitting to the left of me, with the screen door to the right. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed both Ray and Peggy standing at the door, watching. I couldn’t pull my eyes off this magnificent, frightening creature. She was coming closer and started to come up the stairs. I had the notion that if she could crawl in my lap, she would. I couldn’t turn away from her large wild brown eyes. Her black wet nose was so close I could touch it with my ice-cold hand if I wanted to. Putting out my hands, expecting to push her away, I found my nervous voice. “Honey, you are beautiful, but I don’t know what you want and you are making me nervous. You really need to back off.” I regained some courage as I spoke the words.
Darrell stopped laughing and was quiet, along with Ray and Peg. The doe hardly gave me any room, but I slowly stood up, with her watching every move I made.
“I’m not going to hurt you. I’m just going into the house.”
Ray and Peggy saw what I was doing, opened the screen door wide. I sidestepped my way into their home, keeping an eye on my new friend. The screen door closed behind me, leaving Darrell and the doe to scrutinize each other.
Now it was my turn to laugh, along with Ray and Peggy, for no sooner had I left, the doe fixed her attention on him. She looked him over, as a woman might when she sees her blind date for the first time. She looked confused, he looked scared, and we were rolling with laughter. This magnificent animal rejected poor Darrell. She turned, trotted down the walk, and jumped the gated fence, to join the others. My nervous tension spilled out in waves of shared laughter with the other three. Both Ray and Peggy said they had never, in all the thirty-nine years of living there, seen anything like that happen. We laughed about it for days.
Darrell and I worked on their property for another two years. We took down dead trees, weeded flower gardens, and kept the grasses trimmed. In the winter, we cleared the driveway using a snow blower. Then, the day came to say goodbye to this special home tucked into the red boulders of the Colorado foothills.
Our last day of work there was also the last day that Ray and Peggy saw their home. Because Ray’s lungs were failing, and he was on full time oxygen, they made a hard decision, to sell their beloved mountain home, and move to a suburban town home west of Denver. The four of us worked hard, side by side, to prepare the house for the market. It sold within a couple of months.
The day came to say goodbye. The movers came early on a crisp autumn morning.
“Why don’t you and Kati come by at around eleven, so we can polish up after the movers leave,” Ray suggested to Darrell.
On that last day, we drove up on the main road, in the old beat-up blue jeep.We stopped where we had the first time we came to this home. The house looked the same, but the windows, which now sparkled, looked sad, with all the blinds drawn halfway. The property was immaculate. The dead grass was down and gone, along with all the stinkweed Ray hated so much. The flower gardens were impeccable. As we turned up their driveway for the last time, the deer stopped grazing, put their heads up, and watched us. I was dreading this day. We would have to say goodbye to the deer, and our dear friends, Ray and Peg.
The house was empty, except for two dining room chairs that sat alone in the middle of the living room.
“We asked the movers to leave them, so we would have something to sit on until we’re ready to leave. We’ll put them in the back of the van.”
Ray and Peg looked old, sad, and tired.
We were to go over the kitchen for the last time, clean the bathrooms, and vacuum the entire house.
“I know we’ve sold the house,” Peggy offered, “but I have my pride and I want to leave it clean.”
Darrell shined up the bathrooms, whiled I finished the kitchen, polishing the white enamel sinks with Comet and spraying the fixtures with Windex, rubbing them until they shined. I stopped for a moment, looking out the window to the yard that was now groomed and beautiful. The scrub oak surrounding their home had turned deep hues of red and orange along with the foliage that ran along and over the forty foot red boulder. Goodbye yard.
While Darrell and I finished the different chores, detailing this long time sanctuary of Ray and Peggy’s, they came over to us.
“Ray and I have talked and we want you both to continue working for us when we get settled in our new townhouse.”
“You betcha,” chimed in Ray with his favorite expression. I felt honored that these two elderly people, so elegant in their way, so warm and friendly in character, would want to include us in their new home and their new life.
“We wouldn’t have it any other way,” I answered, and gave them both a hug.
Their exhaustion and emotional stress, from watching thirty nine years of laughter, tears, and memories being packed into the back of a moving van, overcame them.
“You both need to sit down while we finish up the vacuuming. We’ll be out of here in fifteen minutes or so.” I felt annurgency to hurry and leave, giving them a chance to be alone these final moments. I turned to the living room, having placed the two chairs in the corner by the dining room.
Darrell went to vacuum the bedrooms while I started the living room. As the vacuums hummed away, I sang with them. For several moments, I immersed myself in my work, lost in thought and song, fighting the dread that was threatening to wash over me.
As I neared the dining room, I turned to see the two chairs placed side by side, with Ray and Peggy sitting in them. They were holding each other’s hands, with unchecked tears streaming down their face. I realized that as hard a time I was having, saying goodbye to this tiny part of my life, how much harder it must be for them. I turned away, pretending I hadn't seen, brushing away my own tears as I continued to work.
After packing the rest of our cleaning supplies and vacuums into the jeep, we said our goodbyes for the last time. Not so much to Ray and Peggy, but to the house, and red boulders and open spaces that we took care of, the gardens we weeded, and our precious deer. It was not often I cried in front of Darrell. We usually found laughter through our jobs.Now I wept.
Goodbye, I’ll miss you, I whispered as we drove down the paved driveway, while a doe stood in the yard and raised her head to watch us leave.
Did I hear the boulder whisper, “goodbye,” through a breeze? I wonder.
Dedicated to Ray, who passed away on February 7, 2007.
“So it’s the laughter, we will remember...”