Growing Up in The Valley

Writing Prompt: Describe what moving the Valley as a child in the 80s was like.

“When I was nine, my parents informed my sister and me that we were going to be moving to Westcliffe, CO. Up to this point, we had always lived in southern states, with our current location being Bossier, LA. We moved a lot, so this wasn’t terribly shocking news. I asked the questions that were relevant to me at the time which were ‘is there a toy store’ and ‘is there a library?’ My dad had a knack or sharing partial truths to get the reaction that he preferred. Yes, there was a store with some toys and yes, there was a library. Were they what I was envisioning in my nine year old brain? No. Not in the slightest.

We left Bossier, LA, population 51,817 +/- in 1982, and arrived in Westcliffe, CO, population 324+/- during the summer of 1982. I vividly remember pulling up in front of Antler Liquor and Motel and being pretty sure that my parents had absolutely lost their minds! I knew that the sign said ‘motel,’ but it was no hotel that I had ever seen! I guess that I didn’t really know what a motel even was. I thought that all hotels were like a Holiday Inn. In all fairness, the weather was a lot nicer than Louisiana in the middle of summer.

I was always a fairly introverted child. Being introduced as the new kid was always hard for me. I can remember the knot in my stomach when school started each year and feeling sick having to get on the bus. I loved reading! No matter where we moved, my mom always found the library. The libraries in the cities where we lived always had wonderful children’s sections. I remember one that had clawfoot bathtubs full of pillows that you could sink in to and read for hours. Since I didn’t have much life experience, I assumed that all libraries were this way. While my parents were spiraling into insanity (I was pretty sure this was the case when we moved to Westcliffe!), at least this little mountain town had a library!

For those of you that have been here for less than 25 or so years, I need to explain what the library in town used to be. Most are familiar with the community room that sits to the west of the library. This used to be the actual library. That room was not what it is today. Not in the least. Here is my memory; Yes, my dad told me! There is a library on Main Street. I don’t think that the word horror could adequately describe when I walked into the Custer County Library circa 1982. I remember a dark building with creaky wooden floors. It seemed to be very big with high ceilings. Ok, that part may not be true, but everything seems bigger when you are young. It was really dark and really creaky, though! The books were all old and the whole building had a funny old smell. The books also smelled old. I couldn’t get out of the building fast enough! It scared me. FYI, there were no children’s books! Nothing to check out that my mom and I could read together before bed. Nothing! Nothing! Just, nothing!

Well, as we all know, life goes on. My grandfather came to visit. I really don’t remember how long he stayed with us. What I do remember is the late afternoon where he grabbed his chest and fell over. Again, I had spent my entire life in cities. My parents had taught me about 911 and what sort of situation required making this call. Common sense told me that this was that moment! I ran to the phone and dialed 911. Let me tell you what happened when you dialed 911 in Custer County in 1982. Nothing! Dead air.

When we live in larger places that have services such as libraries and EMS, it is natural to think that it is like that everywhere. That it just IS. I don’t remember when the mill levy for the library was passed. I do remember when the construction started on the library and how happy I was and am to watch the library evolve to what it is today.

I was thrilled when citizens could dial 911 and there would be a person on the other end of the line. Such a difference from when I was young. Many of the services such as the fire department and EMS started because concerned citizens felt that the service was needed. It was next level volunteerism. Mr. and Mrs. X would go ahead and act as dispatch on Monday – Wednesday, while Mr. and Mrs. Y would handle it the rest of the week.

Now, we speak of taxes and what taxes are supposed to pay for and what is expected of these services. I’m going to guess that the taxes that my parents paid on their house in suburbia was quite a bit more than what they paid in Custer County, even if we convert the dollar from 1982 to 2023.

There are many differences between the community from my youth and the community today. Some good, some bad, but isn’t that always how it is? Every generation remembers a different time. A better time? I can only speak to my experiences. I will always think that the services that we have here are a gift. Yes, I said gift. I will never say that I expect a particular service because of taxes that I pay, because I will never forget that nine year old introverted, city girl that just wanted to read a book and knew how to dial 911 at the right time, but nothing happened.”