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Nothing but the dead and dying

I keep hearing that Beatles song in my head, even though the lyrics meant the opposite of what I’ve been feeling.Old locals hesitate to open the newspapers these days for fear of finding out that another among us has dropped off the earth.On Saturday we celebrated and grieved for Tom Benton, our spiritual leader during the ’60s and ’70s and forever our favorite political artist, who brought out a new Braudis poster for last November’s election.We gathered at the top of the Mountain Chalet, strong in number and most in varying stages of disrepair, laughing and crying during the songs and Benton stories while eyeing one another surreptitiously, wondering who would be next. You? You? Me? You went on ahead, but we’re right behind you, Tom.On the face of it, it’s life’s story. First your (straight) friends start getting married and having babies; a decade or so later they start getting divorced and then, to our shock, they begin to die. The older you get, the more have vanished.But I think there’s something distinctively different about Aspen.It’s not just that we’re a small town where everyone knows everyone else, it’s that back in the (I’ll say it) Good Old Days – of which I missed the best decade – we were like colonists.Aspen was a dirt-road town just coming out of the Quiet Years, and the people who were attracted to it were genuine and unpretentious. They came here and dropped their whole lives just to be able to live here. Quit their jobs, sometimes got divorced, left their city clothes behind, and worked as bellhops and maids so they could be here.Talk to the early colonists, and they’ll tell you how they started off living in a closet in the Jerome, or built a little cabin and kept adding on until it became the Boomerang.I came over the pass by accident and felt that I had found my planet – a place I wasn’t even looking for because I didn’t know anything like that existed.We were all that way. It wasn’t just the beauty or the skiing, but the town and the people – the new colonists and the real old-timers – we passionately, vehemently, fervently loved it all. Sometimes someone would come in with hoity-toity ways, and we’d ask, pretty bluntly, “When did YOU get off the boat?” and they’d either move on or, more likely, would find that they could dance to their own tune here and started dancing.And fortunately, there are a number of newbies who “grok” the true essence of Aspen and are, thank God, holding the reins of the government. Probably temporarily.Since we’re talking about a utopia that began almost 60 years ago, it goes without saying that the ranks of the remaining colonists are thinning – some moving downvalley or down to livable elevations, but a lot just plain dying.There are more handicapped placards on vehicles with ZG plates, more colonists with walkers and canes (and on oxygen!), standing in line at the prescription counter at Carl’s.Each death diminishes us, the ragtag gaggle of us hanging on, to be ultimately replaced by colonists of a different kind, who have already made Aspen a different place.• • • •I was just about to file this column when I heard that Sam Caudill has left us. Woe upon woe. Su Lum is a longtime local who is saddened by the losses. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.


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