I was starting to clean my house today in preparation of my brother’s family flying into Birmingham for Thanksgiving this weekend, and it oddly facilitated a thought on how to start the second part of this blog. You see…. my brother is a special person in his own right. The things he did after college were extraordinary and the life he has led up to this point impressive. Because both my parents have interesting and unique stories about their lives, what shaped and molded them, how they met, along with my brother’s unique and gifted ways, I needed a story too. I knew driving up Vail Mountain that day in September 1999 my story had begun.
My narrative started with God, and even though I never doubted there was one, the Rocky Mountains are evidence of his creation. I had never seen ledges so high, mountains so steep, such a blue clear sky. Seriously, clearest sky I have ever seen with big white clouds and snowy peaks. I could actually feel the air start to thin into this crisp breeze that made me feel alive as I got higher and higher. John Denver was not kidding about the Colorado Rocky Mountain High, or maybe it was just altitude sickness. Regardless it is was amazing.
When you look down the mountain towards Denver you can see where the city just stops at the foot of the Rockies. It’s as if the settlers were all be-bopping along in their wagons and when they saw the Rockies in front of them they just paused and said, “Ok let’s just rest here for a while, or maybe forever. That is one hell of a mountain to get our wagon over.” I was not the settler, I was venturing over the mountain. I longed to be away for the city and nestled in a small mountain town.
|Carmella and Robin Skiing in Beaver Creek|
After Starbucks, finding a job was looming over my head. As luck would have it, the real estate company that Carmella worked for had put an ad in the paper that week. Their Vail Village Office needed a front desk secretary. So I applied and three days later I had an interview. I remember every outfit I was wearing in most major moments in my life, and my first interview was a major moment. I walked in to the HR department at Slifer Smith & Frampton Real Estate and the head of HR said with a smile,
“I heard they dressed up at Alabama football games, but here you are in the flesh. Y’allllll do dress to the nines down there.”
Her name was Diana and I think she was from Kansas. I had never met anyone actually from Kansas or the mid-west. She even looked like Dorothy. She was wearing jeans and these cute little clogs and a bluish and white sweater with silver buttons that looked like it came from Austria or Sweden. A mountain look true to Vail that I would eventually become accustomed too.
|My Office on Bridge Street in Vail Village|
|My Desk at Slifer, Rod Slifer my boss, |
Manders and me(still have the vest!!)
I met the ski instructor, the snow border who showered once a week, the rich boy staying at daddy’s château “sorting things out for the semester”. The vacationer who said he fell in love with my smile from across the room, only to leave on a jet plane the next week. The 23-30 year old Vail boy does not commit until he has conquered the entire mountain and I realized and decided that I was not going to be a part of that trek. I finally grasped the concept that I did not need a man to define me. The guys out there are the best when they are just your friends, and they come in handy when learning to ski or singing on stage at the favorite watering hole The Club.
When I got over the Vail Male, the next thing I realized, and almost too late, was if I was going to survive in this crazy resort town with all these crazy rich people coming and going bringing their shenanigans, my friends and my job were going to be the only thing to keep me grounded. I coveted my job at Slifer Smith & Frampton Real Estate and have placed it neatly inside a shadow box in my head and heart for eternity.
Jobs plural was the name of the game out there. The price of living in Vail is really high so we all wore many hats. On top of my real job, I worked two and three jobs at a time, best experience of my life besides waiting tables in college. Everyone needs to be on the other side of the money. It is eye opening. I house sat, worked in a ski shop, was an actual personal shopper for a catalog called Gorsuch Outfitters. Over-the-top fancy ladies and men from all over the world would call in and we would help them shop the catalog. It was insane, and fun, and I did it at night and on weekends with the best friend I met out there - Manders -which leads me to the most important part of my story.
Amanda Jane Barnard (now Brady) was my first girlfriend in Vail besides Carmella. We had been invited to go out with some other Slifer Smith Frampton folks and when we arrived at their house Mandye, whom we all called Manders, instantly became like a sister. Carmella patiently taught me to ski Vail Mountain, Manders, well she became my partner in crime on the ground and on the slopes. Make new friends and keep the old right? I found my self drifting away from what I was when I first arrived in Vail and what I was trying to be. Carmella showed me the ropes, looked after me, and is one of the most caring people I know, but as we grew we took separate roads. I am thankful for the time I lived with her out there, and also for the time I chose on my own finding my best self. It felt like a double edged sword when I drifted from my childhood to what was waiting for me on the other side.
My best in the west Manders aka sista' golden hair, well we got ourselves in more trouble than the ladies on Designing Woman. One little predicament skiing the back bowls is our most famous feat ever. If you are familiar with Vail, you will know the name Sundown Bowl. Well let’s just say, the sun was going down when we finally got out of there. We were following behind two guy friends that were way faster than us. Somehow Manders and I got off track and lost the boys. We had crossed over into a no ski area and were seriously lost. The last thing I remember about that day was taking off my skis and literally catapulting them down a rocky hangover so we could traverse on our bottoms down the side to a ski run we spotted below that would take us home. Getting out of that mess and then accidently ski-biking off a 15-foot cliff a couple months after that are my Vail war stories. There are more, but they conclude with laughter and tears and all end up on September 11th 2001 where my story starts to come to an end.
I was half a sleep in my down covers that morning. I could smell someone was making coffee downstairs and Manders came in my room and touched me on the shoulder. A plane hit the one of the twin towers in New York she said. It took me a minute to even remember what the twin towers were. She turned on my TV and Katie Couric was shaking, talking fast, and repeating over and over another plane just hit the World Trade Center, the second tower has been hit. She said something close to, this is not just an accident we are now linking this to a terrorist attack. Everything after that was a blur. I know I went to work that day. I watched the towers fall standing hand on shoulders with the brokers in my office. Many of them with clients who lived and worked in New York, we had no idea what to think, what to do. That was the start of the end of an era. I know they took tough hits in Real Estate after that. It was when our world was slowly drifting from the big bang of the 90’s and creeping down the hill towards an eventually a dying economy.
Before 9/11, I had been getting homesick for the South. After the events of 9/11 I took it as a sign that it was time for me to go home. It was my last dance, one heart break away from giving up on love, one penny away from being broke, one reality check away from experiencing life in the real world. I was the most selfish version of myself in Vail. I did what I wanted, worked and played for myself, made decisions based solely on myself. I met some outstanding people young and old, rich and poor (well poor for Vail). People who loved me for my mistakes, who shaped me into the woman I am today and who taught me how to just grab life by the bullhorns and fight for what I wanted. I am very lucky and blessed to have had the experience I did in such a unique setting.
I try and use the word blessed sparingly. People down here in the South use the term “blessed” a lot. She is blessed, you are blessed, bless her heart, bless this bless that. We say it so much that I personally start to feel like being blessed is just a trip to the Winn-Dixie and back. When Michael and I started trying without success to have a baby a few years back one of my pregnant acquaintances said to me, “My husband and I feel so relieved that we did not have to go through what you are going through, we just got pregnant right away. We are so blessed.” I know she meant well, bless her heart....but I was thinking so you are blessed, but I am not? What does one have to do to be blessed around here?
|Rafting on the Colorado|