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Outsider

Enough to make you weep

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When I was a boy in the late 1940s/early '50s, our family spent a week or two each summer in a little "resort" near Meeker, Colo., called Woods Lake.

I say resort advisedly, since it was nothing more than a cheerfully dilapidated group of unheated log cabins huddled between a couple of mountain lakes. It had been in operation since the 1890s, and my mother had gone there as a girl in the years before World War I.

For a boy, it was paradise. The fishing was great; there were woods to explore, meadows to run through, trails to follow, horses to ride -- what more could you ask for in those halcyon, innocent years before cars, beer and girls?

It was a quiet, peaceful place, one to which families returned from one generation to the next, as had ours. One summer, my mother fell into conversation with an elderly gentleman, who had first come to Woods Lake half a century before.

"You know," he told my mom, "when I was here 50 years ago, I fell in love with a girl, wrote her a love letter, and then I was afraid to give it to her. So I hid it between the logs of the cabin where we were staying, and forgot all about it, until now."

I don't have to tell you what happened, do I? Mom organized a search party, and for that entire afternoon we searched every likely cabin for the missing letter and, of course ... we found it!

The old man was stunned. He opened the letter, read it, and silent tears coursed down his cheeks. I was amazed; I'd never seen a grown man cry. My mother hugged him and cried as well. The rest of the adults were shaking their heads, blowing their noses, or just openly weeping. I was unmoved; I just wanted to know what was in the letter -- and so I asked.

The old man (who was, I guess, just about my present age) looked at me, smiled and shook his head.

"No, Johnny," he answered gently, "it was private then, and I reckon that it's still private. Maybe one of these days I'll find the person it was intended for, and give it to her -- and if she wants to show it to you, she can." And all the women started to snuffle again, so I figured it was time to beat it. After all, what was the big deal? And why write a letter to a girl?

I don't know the rest of the story; whether the letter ever found its intended recipient, or whether it remained unread, only to be thrown away years later by the old man's uncomprehending heirs.

Yet the memory remains -- the weeping adults, the love letter from the past. And I understand now why they wept.

Thinking about the discouraging news of the past several weeks, that letter came to mind.

I thought about the City Auditorium, which Council is still eager to turn over to anyone; and about Prospect Lake, which the City, having drained, is now too cheap to fix and refill; and about the imminent death/removal of scores, even hundreds, of noble old trees, most more than a century old, from the heart of the city.

The trees died because the City refused to allocate enough water to parks and medians to save them, sacrificing them so that bluegrass lawns in distant suburbs might thrive. Prospect Lake, which has delighted residents for a century or more, is to be cut down to mud-puddle size, if indeed it's ever refilled. And because Council has, like a slum landlord, refused to maintain the City Auditorium, it's surplus property.

The Auditorium, the trees, Prospect Lake: What are they but love letters from the tangible past, the living evidence of a now-vanished community? That community, numbering less than 25,000 souls, with a tiny municipal budget, without even a sales tax, had no trouble building a city auditorium, no problem maintaining street trees (even through the dust bowl years!), and kept Prospect Lake full of clean, swimmable water.

Our City Council has different priorities now. They're happy to subsidize new homebuilders, and convention center promoters, and any Johnny-come-lately business that wants a handout. They don't much care about anything else. It's government of, by and for a transient plutocracy.

But it's still a democracy. So come next April, let's fire a few council members, and give 'em a ticket to ride -- let 'em leave, and find a new city to ruin.

They won't even know the difference.

--johnhazlehurst@earthlink.net

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