by DiVoran Lites
Ellie and Vera
“I don’t think you will understand about your father, but you’re right, it’s time you knew.
I’ll start with my family. Dad was a miner from Wales, and mother was a farm girl he met and married on his way to Colorado. He heard they needed miners in Rockridge, which is high up in the mountains. I was born there in 1864. We lived in such a spread-out community that a cabin could be a mile up the ridge from its neighbor. The town, which was down by the railroad, had seven buildings: an assay and claims office, a general store, a Chinese laundry, a depot for the narrow-gage railway, a general store, and two saloons.” Vera lay down and took a deep breath in preparation for going on with her story.
Ellie settled in next to her mother, happy to be talking with her and listening to her. They hadn’t had enough of that in her young life.
“A handful of children lived in log and wattle cabins, but there was no school. Your grandmother, Hester, taught us to read, write, and cipher and that was all. From then on she taught us practical things like cooking, sewing, and raising chickens. We added to daddy’s meager pay by serving meals to miners on their way to work or on their way home. We assembled baskets full of sandwiches to take to the train for its noon stop in town.
“We also learned to shovel snow to get into and out of the cabin. There were times,” she mused, “when the drifts were up under the eaves and we were snowed in. Fortunately, either our supper or breakfast gang would shovel us out so they could eat, or we might still be trapped.
“When your grandmother hit upon the idea of teaching us to crochet we started ordering yarn from the Sears and Roebuck catalog and making afghans, sweaters, doilies, antimacassars and even doll clothes for a department store in Denver. We sent them down on the train.”
Ellie wished she’d get on with the story, but not wanting to be rude, she remained quiet.
“One day after I turned sixteen, Sis and I went down to the station with some grub. A fine gentleman got down from the train. I’d never seen anyone as elegant – though I didn’t know that word at the time. He called us over, bought four sandwiches, told us his name was Louis Norton and that he was looking for a place to open a dry goods store. He also asked about a place to sleep. There was no hotel, but we thought Mother and Dad might find him a place, so we took him home with us. It was muddy and slippery getting up to the cabin, even though dad had built a wooden stairway. We carried his suitcases and sometimes got behind him to push because we were afraid he’d fall if we didn’t. He and I got to laughing so hard that Mother heard and came out to see what was going on. He was about the same age as Dad, but when dad came home from work we saw a great difference in the city man and the dirty, hardworking miner.
“Mama and Daddy took a liking to him. Daddy cleaned out the woodshed and caulked the gaps between logs so Mr. Norton would have a warm place to sleep. It was real cozy and he said liked it. He asked us girls to show him around and we climbed the hills. He was in fine fettle.
“Each day, when the miners left after supper, the adults sat and talked. Mama and Daddy told him the mine was petering out, and we’d have to move on. It didn’t take long for Mr. Norton to know Rockridge wasn’t the place for a new store and never would be.
“Within a week the miners were moving on. Arthur Schultz made our parents mad by saying they should watch Mr. Norton around their young girls.
“One day he asked Mother and Daddy to come to Chicago and work for him at his store. Daddy said they’d wait until the mine closed and pick up some money for the journey. Mr. Norton couldn’t see any reason we girls didn’t come right away. He said his wife would help us get enrolled in school. Sis was eighteen and done with even the thought of school. She was in love with a young miner so she decided to marry him and go wherever he went.
“To me, though, going to the big city and maybe to school sounded like an adventure. My parents thought I was a good learner and could do well. Besides, I needed polish, and Mr. Norton would be just the person to see I got it. I packed everything I owned in a gunny-sack, and Sis and the parents saw Mr. Norton and me off on the train. After several days, we arrived in Chicago in the middle of the night and because Mr. Norton had sent a telegram from up the line we were met at the station by a long, black automobile. We went directly to his store. Mr. Norton unlocked the door and took me in for what he thought of as proper clothing and outfitted me then and there. I felt all grown up even though the clothes he chose for me looked too fancy for a sixteen year old.
DiVoran’s Promise Posters, Paintings from Go West as well as other art can be purchased as note cards and framable art