by Andy Mitchell
Year after year we would plan to leave at the crack of dawn, and year after year we would pull out of the drive around ten o’clock, miserably behind schedule. Bless his heart, Dad was an unreasonable optimist. He seemed to think belief was all it took to make something happen. Every year he had faith that we would get an early start, while the rest of us rightly suspected our departure would be delayed.
But once we headed up College Ave. the stress of mounting enough luggage atop our faux-wood-paneled station wagon to topple Jed Clampett’s pickup, was left behind, like our beloved dog (Mac) and cat (Lucky). By the time we reached the edge of town the distinctly American pursuit of the West, with a capital “W,” took hold, and we were transported beyond the literal landscape. Or at least I was. For, as much as I thrilled to the pleasures Florida offered (white sand, green sea, pink bikinis!), I took more profoundly to the pristine scape of Co-lo-ra-do, that sweet quartet of syllables that rolls off my tongue and into the past.
Each summer our family escaped the inferno that is Illinois in August, traversing the purgatorio that is Kansas any time of year, in pursuit of those pearly gates that came in the form of a big green road sign reading, “Welcome to the state of Colorado.” Aw…the wonder, the joy. For me it wasn’t merely one of the fifty U.S. states, it was a state of grace. Co-lo-ra-do, rolling off my tongue like a boulder. That’s how much of an impact it made on me.
Names like “Limon” are seared into memory. The lighted sign at midnight where the road forks off to either Denver or Colorado Springs, our destination: Co-lo-ra-do-Springs, syllabic quintet sublime–paradiso!
Late into the drive in the far back seats facing one another, my brother and I rode into the sunset, dreaming of the days ahead, days of bluff-climbing, pretending we were Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. As a matter of fact, we saw the film starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford on one of those summer vacations. To this day it remains a favorite.
Every year our family had an open invitation to visit our friends, the Birdsells, who welcomed us into their home as though we were family. For the first week we would stay with them while Dad and Joe Birdsell played as a team in the Colorado Springs Country Club member-guest golf tournament. The following week our family would take the Birdsell children, who shared similar ages with the Mitchell kids, somewhere into the mountains. In early years we tended to stay in rustic cabins. But by the time I was in my teens we were staying in places like Vail, where I would walk through the alpine sport shops, as if they were cathedrals or museums, buying as many ski magazines as I could carry, imagining what it would be like there in the winter, lost as I was in fantasies of downhill racing fame.
I never have been to those mountains in the winter months. Alas, I’m afraid it’s a little late to hope for Olympic gold. Nevertheless, Jenn and I did pass through Colorado Springs driving back from California some years ago. As we drove by the Birdsell’s former home, a splendid Spanish-style stucco affair, Joe, an architect, had designed himself, there was a woman outside getting the mail. I explained my history with the house and its original inhabitants. You know Joe and Bertie? Know them, I said. They’re practically family. It turned out their beautiful estate, situated on the edge of the golf course, at the foot of the bluffs we used to climb, with a bonafide breathtaking view of Pikes Peak from its courtyard, was being transformed into a retirement home. The amiable woman offered us a tour. It was surreal to be haunting this place which had been completely redone for new purposes. I felt a little like Charles Ryder revisiting Brideshead.