27 December, 2010

The 2nd Day of Christmas

Leadville, CO—Christmas, 1958

At ten thousand plus feet in altitude, there was snow.....plenty of snow. Its the kind of snow the Colorado Tourism Board touts as "Champagne Powder," very light and dry. My Uncle was the parson at St. George’s Episcopal Church, a Carpenter Gothic, wooden Victorian structure with a hand pumped pipe organ. We spent Christmas with Uncle Bill, Aunt Barbara and their three boyz. The parsonage, located across a gravel and dirt street from the church was, at one point in its history, Leadville's synagogue. The ceiling in the attic, which had been turned into a dormitory for the boyz, was a deep cerulean blue with gold 6 sided stars and Hebrew biblical script painted on it.

I vividly recall the smell of coal burning stoves...Most folks still heated their homes with coal or wood. Propane was not yet available. Neither were fuel oil or natural gas. AND, my aunt and Mum cooked on all our meals on a huge ol’cast iron kitchen stove with chrome plated appointments and a large oven. The Christmas turkey, sweet breads and cookies seemed to appear from that oven in an endless stream.... THAT, beloved, is an art truly lost to this post-modern age.

How much snow was there?

We boyz did not build snowmen. Instead, our wild "BOY" imaginations led us to warfare and engineering! We burrowed in the back yard, creating tunnels and caves and two opposing snow forts where we staged the Battle of Falkirk (or some such historic event) with snowballs one brilliant blue skied day of that Christmas season.

‘Tis Holiday memories like that, the utter, innocent exhaustion at the end of the days play, the grand meals that prepared on that wonderful old stove, that make my heart swell... AND…The sobering, yet joyful sharing of the Christmas gospels as we exchanged gifts throughout the 12 days of Christmas leading to Epiphany, when we were finally allowed to pull the Three Wise Men out and have them come forth to give their gifts to the infant Jesus.

Yes, its deep, foundational traditions like these which have helped keep my faith from completely withering under the constant, bombastic assault from this wicked old world.

Leadville is a strong and strange community. It has been through three major "boom and bust" mining cycles. The gold and silver boom produced folks like Horace Tabor and his wife "Baby Doe"Tabor; John Brown and his equally famous wife Margaret "Unsinkable Molly"Brown. The 1890 market crash, followed by the devaluation of silver, almost turned Leadville into a ghost town.

In the '1920's and early 30's, secondary metal, like zinc, were mined to help feed the growing Steel Belt factories in the mid-west. The Great Depression came and, again, Leadville fell on hard times. World War Two and the need for stronger steel called.

Prospectors and engineers plied the rugged mountainsides. A rich deposit of molybdenum was discovered up the hill aways in a wide spot in the road known as Climax (11'360ft). Leadville once again boomed. The Climax mine ran until the late early 1970's when environmental and economic pressures closed it down.

Tourism has taken over as one mainstay income provider now. Winter sports, skiing and snowboarding require cheap housing for service workers. Leadville is close enough to some of the major resorts to provide inexpensive homes for some of those workers.

Through it all, the old town retains it's no-nonsense, bare knuckle bravado. The folks who live and work at 2 miles high are a tough breed...with big hearts. And St. George's Church still has a midnight mass on Christmas eve to welcome our Saviour, Jesus Christ into the world once more.

A Very Merry, 2nd Day of Christmas to one and all!

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