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All About My Mother

My mother died a year ago--on April 8th, 2017. This essay is my way of honoring her memory. By the measure of the world, she lived a small life. She was unknown outside the small circle of her friends and family. But I believe (along with George Eliot, who I quote here) that "the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life." Things are "not so ill" with me; things are great with me, in fact, and I owe much of that to the lucky circumstance that I had one parent--my mother--who lived her whole life quietly and purposefully focused on doing the thing she did best: being a mother.

She was born in rural southern Colorado, the second of three girls, in the early 1930s. The Great Depression was getting fully underway; the family was poor. Her mother's family were Colorado pioneers, having settled in the San Luis Valley in the 1880s and survived on farming and various trades since then. Her father, Fred Ragland, was a somewhat recent arrival from western Kentucky. He had been raised on the myths of the American West and came to Colorado to experience them as a young man. As the Depression deepened, Fred found no work, and his dream of being a cowboy was now pretty well shattered by his being the father of two infant girls. He imagined that he could find a better situation for himself back in Kentucky, among his own people. So he loaded up the wife and the two girls and headed back East.

It didn't go so well back East. Fred didn't find work, and his people were doing no better than anyone else. The family had no furniture, and little food. A third child came along, another girl, and everyone was hungry. The Colorado family--my mother's uncles and grandparents--decided that the situation in Kentucky was too precarious for three little girls. They drove to Kentucky, collected the girls and their mother, and brought them back to Colorado. That was the last that my mother saw of her father for 40 years.

Back in Colorado, everything got better. The extended family pooled their resources and leased land further up the Rio Grande to begin a major undertaking: the building of a dude ranch. My Mom's spent her childhood and adolescence as a junior member of this enterprise in which three generations worked together to build the Cottonwood Cove lodge and its surrounding cabins at Wagon Wheel Gap, Colorado. The disused railroad depot, just a short walk up the tracks from the site of the lodge, became the family home.