Growing up in the Roaring Fork Valley was rough going |

Growing up in the Roaring Fork Valley was rough going

Immigrant Stories
Vera Diemoz, second story
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Vera Diemoz

Diemoz: My family came from Italy in 1908. My sister was 4 years old, my brother was 2 and my other brother was only 6 months old. My grand father had come a few years before with his brother and settled up around Old Snowmass. He wrote my parents and told them there was a chance for them to have their own land in America. There was very little land to be had in Italy. If you had two acres and a cow you were considered to be upper class.

When my mother first saw the Statue of Liberty all she could say was “I Americ.” She was so happy. They landed in New York and spent four days going through all the medical examinations. The doctors checked them thoroughly because anyone with an illness was sent back. My family was lucky, they all passed inspection.

When they were finally released, the officials put tags on them that explained their destination and put them on a train. They arrived in Glenwood Springs, and my granddad and my great uncle met them at the station.

Gallacher: What are your early memories of growing up?

Diemoz: I was fifth in the family and it was rough goin’. I would want things and Mom would have to tell me, “We just don’t have it.” They did get me a little dog, and I thought that was the greatest present in the world. I used to try to feed her scraps from the table and Mom would always say, “Don’t do that, we got just enough to get by on.”

We went to a little country school that had kindergarten through eighth grade all in one room. My two brothers and I used to ride the horse to school. And when the weather was nice we walked, it was a good four miles. In the wintertime Dad would hitch a sleigh to the horse and Mother would warm up rocks and put them in around our feet to keep us warm on the way to school.

They had a stable for the horses at school and we would bring our own hay. That’s the way all the kids got to school. Some of them lived eight to 10 miles out. We would bring milk because we had cows. Other kids brought the sugar and chocolate. The teacher had a big pot that she would put on the potbelly stove and she would make us hot chocolate. We had a great time at school.

The teacher brought our drinking water in a five-gallon milk can, and we brought our own tin cup from home. We brought our lunch and during the rough times it was just a pancake from breakfast. When things were good we often brought sausage sandwiches. I liked to trade my sausage sandwich for cake and oranges. During the winter, the boys hauled in the buckets of coal for the stove and the girls would haul the wood.

We moved a few times when I was a kid, first to Capitol Creek and then to place at the foot of Mount Sopris and eventually to ranch outside of Carbondale on Highway 133. We were doing pretty good. We had chickens and cows but no money. Dad was hauling beef to Aspen and selling it to the butcher shops up there. He would hitch up the horse and buggy and leave at about four in the morning so that he could get back by four in the afternoon. Mom was taking eggs to town and selling or trading for flour, sugar, matches, coal oil and other essentials that we needed.

It was 1925. That’s when my two little sisters died of diphtheria. We all had it except for my mother, my brother and Dad. We were quarantined for 30 days. It was a terrible time, and I still have an ache in my heart from it. We couldn’t have anybody come into our house. The mortician couldn’t come in. So my mother dressed my little sister for burial. I helped her. We laid her out on the couch. And then the mayor and another fella came over with his pickup. They couldn’t come in so I had to help carry the casket out and put it on the bed of the truck.

And so then when my other sister died three days later it was the same thing. I helped mom dress her and I helped carry her casket out. My brother and my dad went up the hill to the cemetery while mom stayed with us kids. They had to stay quite a distance from where they were buried. They couldn’t get near anyone and people from the community couldn’t come for the burial for fear of the sickness.

That has stayed with me all these years. That is why I always say, “Love your children,” because to see a little child taken from you in that way is a very sad thing. I cannot go to a child’s funeral to this day.

We eventually moved from that ranch to a place just below the mining towns of Spring Gulch and Marion outside of Carbondale. There was still a little mining going on but very little. The old saloon and other buildings were still there and we kids used to go up and play. They left the buildings and all the fixtures and just walked away. There are houses in Glenwood Springs that were moved down from Marion and Spring Gulch. They hauled them down with teams of horses.

My brother got a job scraping the roads up to Spring Gulch. My mother made money by washing clothes for the miners. She did it all by hand. The miners’ clothes were filthy and hard to clean. We had a big vat outside that we used when we butchered pigs. When Mom was ready to wash clothes, the boys filled the vat with water and built a fire under it and got it to boiling. Then Mom would always add a tablespoon of lye and that would create a scum on top of the water. She would scrape that off and the water would be so soft, just like snow water. Then we would take half of that water and put it in a washtub and wash the clothes. After we washed them we put them back in the vat and boiled them to get them nice and white.

Then my mom got sick with double pneumonia and I had to take over her chores. It was up to me because I was the oldest girl at home at that time. She was sick for a whole month and was barely able to move. The doctor would call and tell us what to do for her. This sounds odd but he told us to take groundhog grease and rub her chest. The doctor told us that when she said she could taste it we were to stop rubbing and put a hot cloth on her chest.

Mom was a very loving person. Her children always came first. She protected us kids. She loved us all, all 12 of us. We were all precious. My father, though, was a very hard man. He thought a wife was someone to sleep with, raise a family and cook and wash for him. It was hard to know how to take him. Sometimes he’d leave around nine o’clock in the morning and go meet up with some of his old cronies and play cards and drink. On those days, Mom would tell us to get busy and get all of our work done real nice.

Immigrant Stories runs every Monday in the Post Independent.

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