After 94 years, Margaret Darien has a right to feel a little worn out
Want to know when Basalt started to boom? Margaret Darien will tell you.”Basalt really started to boom when Ruedi Reservoir was built” in the 1960s, said the 94-year-old former school teacher.How about Darien’s favorite place to vacation?”Jamaica,” comes a quick reply. “I like it better than any place I’ve ever been.”How does it feel to be 94?”If I felt better, I wouldn’t mind at all,” Darien said from the upstairs apartment she owns on Basalt’s Midland Avenue. “But doctors tell me my right shoulder is completely worn out … After 94 years and the things I’ve done, I’m not surprised it’s worn out.”Things that Darien has done include hauling water from Basalt to Emma when she was a school teacher there, riding her horse from Emma to Basalt to attend high school, doing farm chores as a child, raising four kids with her late husband Ben, and helping her daughter Shirley paint the garage earlier in the week.Darien planned to celebrate her 94th birthday at the Primavera restaurant with “the whole family” on Wednesday, July 24. She was born on a ranch at what is now Aspen Glen, between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale. Ask her what year she was born, and she’ll lean forward in her Lazy Boy and say “1908,” emphasizing the “oh-eight.”Darien’s parents were both from Italy, and later farmed and ranched in the Roaring Fork Valley starting in the early part of the 1900s.Her dad, Julian Letey, was an orphan who came to the Emma area to live with his aunt and uncle. He was 16.”They tutored him, so he spoke pretty good English,” Darien said. “All the Italians that came from Italy … Dad was the interpreter for them all the time.” Darien’s dad was such a good interpreter, a Glenwood lawyer told her after a trial, “He could have been an attorney,” she said. With a laugh, Darien finished the story, “Instead of a poor old farmer.”Margaret married Ben Darien on Nov. 7, 1929. Ben owned a truck for hauling. For part of his hauling business, downvalley farmers bought abandoned houses in Aspen, then had Ben truck them down for lumber. Instead of offering cash, the farmers tried to give the Dariens the land the houses sat on.”Times were hard then. We didn’t want the lots because we were hard up, too. We wanted the money … If we’d have taken the lots, we’d probably be rich by now. But we were young kids, and didn’t know much about anything. We wanted the money.”While Ben was trucking, Margaret was teaching school in Emma. Her first teaching job paid $75 per month. Beside teaching grades one through eight, she had to carry water from Basalt, clean the building, carry in wood and carry out ashes, and perform other tasks.”But $75 a month in those days was pretty good … Then El Jebel offered me $125, so I went right quick to El Jebel,” she said.Darien eventually taught in local schools for 30 years, then was a substitute teacher after that for nine more.Margaret and Ben lived in houses on Second Street and Third Street, and on the present-day bypass, through the 1930s and in the 1940s. In 1944, they bought the building where Darien still lives, and operated a downstairs grocery store there for 24 years. When hundreds of construction workers swarmed through town in the early 1960s, some tried to talk the Dariens into giving them credit. Ben was an easier touch than Margaret. She still remembers the total amount of bad debts they carried at the store when it closed.”$4,000,” she said.After the store closed, other tenants included the post office, and now Mason & Morse real estate. Darien noted that Mason & Morse spent a lot of money to renovate the space. “They’ve got oak floors …,” she said.Darien’s apartment overlooks the west end of Midland Avenue, including what is now the Alpine Bank building. When asked about the building’s history, she nonchalantly says, “It was a (train) depot, a gas station and a bank. I’ve seen them all three.”This summer, the ceiling fan in Darien’s living room is working overtime. “I’ve never seen it so hot,” she said.Walls and shelves are lined with pictures of her parents, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. By her Lazy Boy chair, there’s a small table where she keeps local newspapers, which she reads every day.Picking up the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, she says, “I don’t like this one as well as when it was the Post.”Darien gets up and down her stairs on a chair lift, and keeps a walker next to her downstairs door for when she heads out to the street, or around to the grassy side yard that leads back to her garage. Her yard is full of wooden figurines of skunks, rabbits, little girls and other creatures she makes with her daughter, Shirley.”I sand them, and give them their first coat,” Darien explained during a side yard tour. “Shirley puts on the eyes, nose and mouth. I’m not steady enough any more.”Darien also grows marigolds in waist-high, brick planters that separate her side yard from the sidewalk. She is protective of her marigolds, and is not shy about instructing smokers to use nearby benches rather than leaning on her flowers.Once active as a town trustee, on the library board and in other community capacities, Darien stays as busy as she pleases these days, although she said she hadn’t done “much of anything” Tuesday morning before this early afternoon interview.She’s quick to answer most questions put to her. The final question of the day was, “What’s the key to your long life?””I’ve worked all the time,” came the reply. “If you work all the time and don’t sit around all the time, maybe you can get a little old, too.”
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