At one point in her life, my mom lived in Montrose, just 60 miles to the west of Gunnison. As she has done most of her life, she was hosting everyone for the holidays one year. I don’t really recall the mechanics of it, because I was the only one living here, but somehow Tia and Grandma, my mom’s mom, launched from Gunnison in one car, and Terri and I followed an hour or two later in another.
My mother is a firm believer in beginning a trip with plenty of gas, so when it turned out Terri and I hadn’t done that, and had to stop in Cimarron (a barely-there sort of place), we made a pact that we wouldn’t tell her that we had to get gas along the way.
We were all sitting around the living room, everyone engaged in their own activity, reading or whatnot, and my mom, paging through a magazine, asked without looking up, “How much is gas in Cimarron?”
Terri and I were across the room from each other and we immediately locked eyes and had a silent conversation via facial expressions: Did you tell her? No, I didn’t. Well, I didn’t either. Finally, one of us broke the silence. “How did you know we stopped for gas?” Mom never looked up from her magazine, just kept turning pages. “Mothers have a way of knowing these things,” she said calmly, perhaps a tad mysteriously.
It turned out, Tia and Grandma had also stopped in Cimarron to get gas (what are the odds?), and they had confessed when they got to Montrose. Mom had no idea we’d done the same thing until we outed ourselves, but she just rolled with it as coolly as one ever could and let us think those eyes in the back of her head were a real thing.
Today is my mom’s birthday, and this year is a milestone: she arrived here on Planet Earth 80 years ago. She made her debut in Nebraska, but she did most of her growing up in Monte Vista, about two hours south of Gunnison. She went off to college, met an Air Force guy stationed in Denver, married him, taught school while he worked on his master’s, produced three children and then moved everyone to Gunnison when her husband got his first (and only) teaching job at Western Then State.
He taught school while she worked on her master’s, and then they both taught at Western Then State, she as an adjunct. She also edited work for my dad’s colleague while also typing his manuscripts and tests. (This would be Duane Vandenbusche, still at Western No Longer State.) She got very involved in our community theatre group, Webster Players, and campaigned to bring educational TV (Mr. Rogers!) to Gunnison.
Then she moved on to political campaigns, serving as the manager for two successful state senate runs by another of my dad’s colleagues (Marty Hatcher, if you know your Gunnison lore), and working on other campaigns up to the national level. She hosted Gary Hart at our house one time — that’s how practically famous we were back then.
(She also impressed her children into the political life, and I got my start — and mostly end — licking envelopes and stamps and tossing bubblegum at parades.)
Because she was bored (not enough going on, I guess), once she got all her kids in school, she and her friend Judy Barry started looking around and decided they needed to start a children’s clothing store. The Peanut Gallery (yours truly came up with the name; 11-year-old Terri’s suggestion was From Tots to Tits) operated for several years, surviving a move across the street and a change of business partners when the Barrys moved to South Dakota briefly.
Mom — okay, by now I need to confess that I generally refer to her either as Sharon or S — also got appointed to the state Board of Social Services. She always maintained that she got the appointment because they mistakenly assumed she was a quiet Republican housewife from western Colorado. They got the location right, anyway.
A lot of this took place while my dad was terminally ill, and she managed all of this, and us, and him, with remarkable aplomb.
After my dad’s death, she met and subsequently married John (I have pictures!). He was with the US Forest Service, so that’s when she took up the peripatetic lifestyle, going from Gunnison to Fort Collins to Montrose to Santa Fe to Pueblo, where he retired, finally coming to a stop (for now) in Arvada, where the grandchildren are.
She has scaled back her extracurricular activities considerably, to the point where many people she knew in Gunnison don’t believe it when I tell them this. But she still meets like-minded politically aware people on a regular basis, and last fall she helped elect her state representative. (More stamp and envelope licking.)
And of course there are grandchildren to chase after (basketball games, plays and choir concerts), and children to manage. Or at least try — somehow, somewhere, we all picked up this independent, opinionated streak, and no one can figure out where it comes from.
The world changes a lot in 80 years, and Mom has gone from sitting on the kitchen floor, idly scrubbing it as she talked to her mom on a phone attached to the wall to sitting on her couch next to all her sewing and tatting projects talking to her children on a cell phone that serves as her major access point to the larger world. (I forgot to mention her Twitter habit, where she sets people straight in 240 characters or less.)
But some things don’t change, and while she’s not always pelting off to save the world or educate people, she still believes firmly in both of those things, and so do her children. I hope you will join all three of us in wishing her a great big HAPPY BEE DAY!