Aspen’s ladies of reminiscence
You won’t find these women on the glossy pages of schmooze magazines, nor will they be included in musty tomes put together by palefaced, clinch-butted scholars. But they were some of the women who made Aspen what it is, vibrant people who deserve a second chance at immortality. Unique, they passed just under the radar and are riding a slim rail in anyone’s memory today. I couldn’t start this assignment without mentioning the Stapleton women who lived at 233 W. Bleeker. My maternal grandmother, Nellie Stapleton Sloss, and her sisters, Marie and Julia Stapleton, were three schoolteachers who were all born in Aspen in the 1880s. They grew up just outside of town on the ranch that is, in large part, Sardy Field today. In particular, Nellie and Julia were in demand throughout the state as “icons” of various rural, mostly one-room schoolhouses from Brighton, Black Hawk and Central City to Minturn, Avon, Edwards, Emma, Basalt, Brush Creek, Owl Creek and Aspen. All three were in their 60s and 70s when I was a young boy. Julia was also a large landowner around the Buttermilk area with a couple of her brothers and was tough as nails. She broke horses, took working “vacations” on Wyoming cattle ranches, was usually the first one into Snowmass Lake in the summer and taught school for a couple of years in Alaska just to see how rough it could get up there. The Bleeker house seemed to be the focal point of a lot of visiting when the ladies were home, with visitors such as Lily Reed. Lily lived her life in the brick house now on the corner of Monarch and Hopkins, unfathomably called the Katie Reed house. (Katie built it, but Lily kept it together for many decades.) A tall, imposing, imperious woman, Lily drove a purple Ford, always seemed to wear a purple or lavender dress and wore her white hair high on her head in a beehive sort of arrangement. I swear it had a purple tinge to it as well. Her piercing eyes kept a young boy from asking impertinent questions. In spite of it all, there was a sense of fragility about her that always made me wonder how she was doing. There was the woman with an Italian accent who lived at the corner of Third and Main, a Gina Lollobrigida look-alike who, without knocking, stormed into the Bleeker house one day and erroneously accused me of stealing a Bible from the Community Church Sunday School. My shy, quiet grandma took after her with a house broom, telling her on the way out the door that she could borrow the broom to get home, if she needed it. Right next door to my grandmother lived Mrs. Robert Coe, not particularly remarkable in her own right other than that she was mostly Native American, with long, black, silky braided hair. She taught me to tie my own shoes (OK, she was remarkable) and to eat butter and sugar on a slice of bread. Her major contributions to the town were three gorgeous daughters, Susan, Nancy and Judy Coe, still talked about by boys (now men) who knew them when. Playmates of mine, they were affectionate, earthy girls who moved away around the time it could have gotten truly sweet and dangerous between us. On the northeast corner of Main and Garmisch lived Mabel Beckerman, a slight, 70ish woman in a yellow dress who sat out on her porch most every afternoon, with her short, brown hair tied up in a knot on top of her head. Taking in the last vestiges of the day, she would be smoking a cigarette and sipping a glass of whiskey. Mabel had a three-story Victorian, the perfect minihotel for seasonal ski bums, right where the Orthopaedic Associates building sits now. From her perch, she could throw a colorful epithet at anyone who passed by and usually did. Sometimes, if she was feeling good, she’d share her afternoon libations with a scrawny kid of 9 or 10. Once her house was gone, Mabel wasn’t far behind. I love ya, ladies!Tony Vagneur writes on Saturdays and likes to reminisce. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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For those of you who follow my monthly missives, and occasionally read between the lines, you may have noticed a trend toward a bit of cognitive dissonance and some internal conflict on my part.