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To Bee or Not to Bee

At 5 a.m. I rolled over and said, “Linda, I just wrote a column in my head.”Linda said, “Mozart composed that way.”I said, “Is Mozart the one you don’t like?””He’s not my favorite,” she said.More than 30 years ago I rented a house on Chicken Hill in Leadville. I was young and didn’t know much. Even before I moved in, a friend warned, “Your landlady is crazy.”As you head into Leadville from the south, right after Stringtown the road jogs 90 degrees to the left by that gas station. But if you continue straight up the hill, instead of turning left, in a few blocks you’re at the edge of town next to the mine dumps. You’re on Chicken Hill.At 30-something, my landlady Mary was an “older woman.” She was fairly gorgeous, in a blue collar, tight Levis, two-pack-a-day sort of way. My first night at the house, she dropped in. She gave me a come-hither-sonny-boy look and said, “Let’s do the town.”My knees knocked when I said, “Sure.”Just about everybody at the Manhattan Bar knew Mary. She told me her story. Her husband worked at the Climax mine, but she’d thrown him out just the other day, the loser. Could she buy me another drink?After the bars, we got into her car. All of a sudden she stopped in the middle of a downtown street, grabbed a basket of dirty clothes from the backseat, and scattered them across the sidewalk.I said, “What the . . .?”She said, “My ex lives here. He thinks I’m still going to wash his clothes.” Then she looked up and screamed at an apartment window: “Hey, Bill, here’s your #&*@#$#% laundry!”A face appeared in the window just as Mary burned rubber halfway to Harrison Avenue. She said, “Let’s go for a drive in the country.”Somewhere out in the boonies she said, “This is where the teenagers park.” You know, usually I can take a hint, but this one time I didn’t.When she dropped me off, her eyes said, “Kiss me, you fool.””Thanks for a great evening,” I said, and got out of the car as fast as I could. Like I mentioned before, I didn’t know much, but I did know how to spell “trouble.”I rented that old house all winter. It was an odd place. It had sat vacant for many years, but Mary had painted it inside and out. It evoked the silver boom days — from the massive wood-burning kitchen range to the purple velvet love seat to the nickel-plated potbellied stove.But it didn’t have electric power. It needed to be re-wired, I guess. That was why I paid only $50 a month rent. I kept the propane heat on just high enough to keep the pipes from freezing. I used the back bedroom for a refrigerator and the back porch for a freezer. I heated my bath water in a tub on the cook stove. I read Longfellow and Edgar Allen Poe by candlelight.It gets so cold in Leadville that you forget how cold it is. In one three-week stretch the mercury dropped to 20 to 30 below every night. One evening I thought, “It’s nice outside,” and walked downtown wearing a tee shirt and unlined denim jacket. The bank thermometer read minus 13 degrees. Strange what you remember, no?One fine day I was in the yard splitting wood when a rough-looking character stopped by. He introduced himself as Mary’s husband. They’d apparently reconciled. We talked across the fence. He eyed me searchingly, and then out of the blue he said, “You know, if I ever caught Mary fooling around, I’d pound the guy.”I had a clear conscience, so I stared right back. “I don’t blame you,” I said. “She’s one in a million.”Beekeeper and ski patroller Ed Colby prefers the winters in Peach Valley. Ed’s e-mail: esc@sopris.net.


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