Roger Marolt: Roger This
October 22, 2009
At 10 in the morning, after two cups of coffee, on one of those crisp fall mornings that only happens in movies starring animals and in Aspen a couple of times each October; of all the things that might make a man sleepy in church, this set of circumstances is not the likely culprit. Normally it’s energizing.
The low-angled sun shining through the stained glass windows making the insides of your eyelids glow with kaleidoscope colors should be enough to make you want to stay alert if only to see what fabulous thing might happen next. But there I was in a middle pew at St. Mary’s Church with my chin bouncing off my chest during the sermon last Sunday.
Not that the message was lost. With the eyes closed, my ears opened and mind focused. I caught every bit of it – the fundamental reason we practice our faith is for salvation just as the primary reason we get married is because of love. Yes, we get sidetracked and end up going to Mass to talk football over coffee and donuts afterward and, hey, it doesn’t hurt to pick a spouse whose grandfather made a killing selling Chryslers in Oklahoma back when Lee Iacocca was running the show for free, but at the bottom of it all it has to be about love and salvation and it is important to remember that. Those are the cornerstones. Without them we’re building on sand.
And how’s that, Brother, for absorption and retention?
But, that’s not the point. The point is the reason, and the reason I fell asleep was because I forgot my glasses. If you drive yourself to town you are unlikely to forget them, but if your teenage daughter drives you the chances of doing so are greatly increased and maybe even subconsciously on purpose, at that.
So, life was a blur, and since I am alive enough to write these words you know I mean that in the most literal sense. The interesting thing is that in a blurry world many things that normally grab your attention don’t, and others that shouldn’t do. Squinting out over the congregation I couldn’t see who was missing to make speculations about sinful Saturday nights or watch kids pestering each other behind their parents’ backs. An alter boy’s hair could have caught on fire and I’d have been none the wiser, except that the smell would have got me eventually. So, what I was left with was my imagination and that works best with my eyes shut. Down came the lids and away my mind drifted.
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Be that as it may, and putting off an answer to my Maker about my inattention, I had a different kind of revelation as my kids led me back to the car after the closing hymn, still drowsy. Not being able to see what I usually do coming out of one of the oldest buildings in Aspen, I was struck by the strangest of thoughts: I couldn’t think of a place in this world with less history than Aspen. Now that I couldn’t see it, I didn’t miss it. Even Las Vegas (settled by the Mormons in 1855) has more. So what?
Considering where I stood, across the church lawn from City Hall, I probably should have been struck by a white-hot bolt from the cloudless sky or the mayor’s office for the words I uttered in my stupor. My kids giggled nervously and my wife cleared her throat. It wasn’t how I’d said it, of course, but rather what I said – “We don’t have much of a past!”
It’s true, lightening be damned! Take two seconds to think about it. That’s about all you’ll need. The Silver Boom lasted 14 years. The Quiet years went on for about 50. The real estate grab has been going strong for almost 60 now. Greed followed by poverty followed by greed – that’s our history. Preserve that, if you can. It barely covers a span of a hundred years! For crying out loud, Pizza Hut has been operating in the U.S. for almost half that time.
So, what’s all the fuss about keeping every rotten board in place on every old, hastily built cabin that wasn’t intended to last more than a couple of years to begin with? Most of what’s happened here isn’t half as interesting as what is described by the average “Point of Interest” sign sitting amidst discarded dashboard trash along our country’s highway turnouts. No massacres, floods, or wars here; do you see what I mean?
Then again, maybe our lack of history is what causes us to fight so hard to preserve it. Like food on a miner’s table and silver in a potato farmer’s dreams, there isn’t enough to go around. If we don’t keep close tabs on what little we have, it might suddenly blow away.
I hate to be the one who brings mayonnaise-ed fruit salad to the picnic, but we are not now, nor have been the Incas or the builders of Great Walls and Pyramids. We are not going to mysteriously disappear and leave many unanswered questions like the Ancestral Pueblans did – the employee housing program is too well documented. What we are is an eclectic group of soul-searching transplants who discovered this place on our ski vacations. While this makes us interesting conversationalists and insufferable braggarts, it is not the basis for the next great society that should be remembered by every schoolchild.
Frankly, historic preservation here in the not-so-old-after-all mining town is for the tourists and they are not that hard to impress. We should never forget this. The historic Isis Theatre, the preserved Mother Lode building, and the restored Conner Cabins on Hopkins Avenue are really nothing but the thinnest faux finishes painted on aluminum siding. But, they are nice to look at and visitors will continue to thank us kindly for our efforts. Maybe that should suffice.
With my glasses off, though, I don’t see that most of what we’ve done with preservation will stand the test of time. Semi-old Victorian houses embedded into the porches of gigantic modern homes in the West End say little about who used to live there. But, maybe that’s the point. If anything that we are building now is politically pickled for posterity, in another hundred years, or so, future Aspen visitors will know how very much we cared about keeping up appearances.