ESSAY: A Cold Awakening, Part Three
Somehow I survived that first winter without wrecking my ride, but there were a lot of close calls and hours of nerve wracking, white-knuckle driving. It was always an emotional homecoming, ending up in my baby’s arms!
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it was time to enjoy the snow. We had acquired a new purebred Golden Retriever puppy. Her (fancy) name was Gold Dust Mountain Girl, but we called her Dusty. We loved her so much and consider her the best dog we had ever parented. We were actually thinking of getting a male Goldie. We were going to name him Boom Town Mountain Boy and call him Boomer. I told my friend Jim about the idea and he thought the name was cool. About a week later he shows up with his new puppy. He had named him Boomer. After that we’d lost interest in acquiring another dog.
Dusty and I would hike together and play in the snow. She had webbed feet and I had snow shoes. To the east was Oak Brush Hill where the Job Corps had long ago built a tiny ski area. The towering poles that had once supported the Palma lift were still there. I carved channels in the snow from the top of the hill at two different spots. Plastic toboggans were the perfect ride down the steep hill. The north course was named S.O.S. (Save Our Sled!) and the western course was called 911. All the while Dusty, the Snow Princess, kept up with the sleds.
By December we thought we had this winter thing licked. Not quite…
We spent Christmas in Los Lunas below Albuquerque with our son Tait. My parents came out from Dallas and we occupied two rooms at a nearby motel. My dad Spike actually brought one of our old Lionel trains, set it up – and it worked. We also had a little fake tree with sparkling lights, and lots of presents. We would bring Tait over from the State School and enjoy being with him and my parents.
Having an autistic, sickly kid brought our family together, although it was bittersweet. We were very close. My younger brother Robert, the artist, had died on Easter of 1991, so this was the first Christmas without him. It was very emotional for us all. We always made those visits special, and I’m glad we did… Tait had only four more Christmas celebrations left in his short life.
By January the temperatures began falling below zero.
There were consecutive storms that accumulated an abundance of snow; more snow then I had ever experienced. At one point we had over four feet on our roof. After shoveling the roof I had to punch out port holes in the snow berms so we could see outside the damned house. Out on Piedra Road the berms were about eight feet tall! I spent hours digging out our mailbox so I wouldn’t have to mush downtown for the mail. Shoveling and more shoveling.
Jaye, Dusty and I were quite comfortable in our little home, despite the freezing cold. But sometimes even the most mundane task could turn into a catastrophe. Jaye got stuck in the snow and ice in her little sports car and burned out her clutch lickity-split. I’ve never seen a woman so mad. And then I had a few falls coming down the frozen stairs out front, my feet sliding out from under me, and crash landing on my tender sacroiliac. One time I even thought I was paralyzed.
I started calling this miserable ordeal “winter boot camp,” and wondered why we had moved to this frigid hellhole in the first place.
Piedra Road became an icy race track with cars off the road up and down the dangerous hill. Putt Hill turned into a demolition derby with multiple accidents every day and night. The main drag downtown had a ten foot berm smack dab in the middle of the street. Law enforcement and snow removal teams were overworked and exhausted.
By January the temperatures had plummeted as low as -25 degrees! I made sure to plug in my line heater on the car so I could possibly start the damn thing in the mornings. But before we could leave the property, I had to shovel the berms left by the snowplows. (And don’t even think of relieving yourself at twenty below!) The berms on both sides of the road were at least eight feet tall and sliding down Piedra Road was like traversing a spooky alabaster canyon.
One morning I got up and discovered that we had no water and on further examination found that the pipes in the ridiculous pump house had exploded. The water had sprayed everywhere and transformed the tangle of pipes, worthless filters and ancient tanks into an ugly ice sculpture.
I got on the phone and called every plumber in the book without any luck. Every available plumber was out fixing damaged pipes and were hustling for many long days. Unfortunately for Jaye and Dusty, I had to play Taos that evening and would be gone for three nights. Luckily our friends the Tresslers invited Jaye down to the Sky View to collect drinking water and to bathe. I felt sick about leaving as Jaye was driving a little sports car with chains, but I had no choice – music was my income.
When I returned from the gig in Taos, in the evening I ventured over to Jim’s house to commiserate over a few beers. While he and I were bitching, his friend the plumber showed up to fix a busted pipe in the powder room. After the plumber fixed the pipe he joined as at the dining room table with a winter view of the mountains. He introduced himself as Bill Price and turned out to be a lovely person. I immediately asked Bill if he could come over and fix my pump house – of course he was booked solid. I lowered my head and asked for another brew.
Well, we three had a very nice conversation. Bill had gone to Baylor University in Waco and I was from Dallas. He said he used to travel up to Big D on the weekends with his girlfriend. At one point I asked if he had ever heard of my old band called the Bee’s Knees. Not only had he heard of us, he and his girlfriend were big fans and he said he owned both our albums but had misplaced them a few years back. I told him I had copies of those albums at home and if he could come over the next day I would give them to him as a gift, and of course I’d pay him too. He was very pleased and agreed to come over the next morning – at the crack of dawn.
Bill also said that he had asked his girlfriend, Angie – at one of our shows at Faces in Dallas – if she would marry him. She accepted. (I was beginning to really believe that “there is no such thing as coincidence.”) Jaye and I became good friends with the Prices and actually babysat their kids.
From that point on, our rough winter had become much more tolerable. Jayebird and I had faith that we had made the right decision in moving to Pagosa Springs, and we discovered that good friends that you find along the challenging path are a huge part of success – and true happiness.
It has been twenty-six years since we moved here and we have grown to love Pagosa Country. Besides the gorgeous views, abundant wildlife, laid-back lifestyle and many more attributes, I have to say that having so many wonderful friends and confidants is what makes me the happiest! I consider my loving friends, collectively, a large support group. I love you all…