Small Town Small Talk in Dubois

knightdedication“I’ve had enough of small towns,” said our dinner guest last Tuesday, a friend of a friend. “I know what they’re like. I grew up in one. Small-minded people with boring lives.”

How many people, we asked, do you know in Dubois?

“Oh, not many. I mostly go to the Superfoods and the post office, sometimes the Cowboy. And then home.”

You should try to meet a few, we suggested.

“How would I do that?”

Oh, maybe go to Happy Hour. Or volunteer for something. There should be some way you could help out.

pict0113One day later, invited to dinner at someone else’s home, we noticed the photos of Italy rotating on the digital frame on her kitchen’s island. And then a few from somewhere in eastern Europe.

What is it about Dubois, we asked ourselves. So many people here with so much interesting history. There are so many fascinating back-stories, once you start to ask. For instance, these weren’t vacation snapshots. She worked for a federal agency and traveled the world on business.

Someone in New York asked me once if there’s diversity in Dubois. Well, not in the usual politically correct sense of the word. Our minister is a black woman, but she doesn’t feel like “diversity” because she grew up here. You don’t see Latinos on the street every day, or people from China or Korea or even Native Americans. But yes: There is tremendous diversity in another sense.

We lived many kinds of lives in many other places, and then at some point decided to take that crazy leap and follow the dream that we had been cherishing for so many years. And here we all are.

billyshouse101515Those who have always lived here are just as worth engaging in many long conversations: The orphan wrangler who married the debutante from out east, and happily settled down on the ranch. The logger who kept on lumbering and built a life after the sawmill closed, because leaving was just not an option. These are just the first two who come to mind.

It’s also great fun to talk to the younger people who have landed here for one reason or another. So many hope to find a way to stay.

This evening I went for a book signing, to celebrate a new biography of local artist and historian Tom Lucas. It’s written by someone who moved here a few years ago (she and her husband just couldn’t stay away), became intrigued by his life, and decided to document it all.

lucas-bookAs I expected, the event was packed, with people spilling out from his gallery onto the sidewalk and lined up inside to buy the book. I can’t wait to read it, even though I know Tom well and count him a good friend. There must be lots I still don’t know.

Tom is a remarkable person, and well deserving of this distinction. But come to think of it, so many fascinating biographies could be written here. The mind boggles.

 

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

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The Lady and Her Knight

It’s her birthday, so she gives a gift to Dubois. A very large one.

john_and_knightIt was her 92nd birthday, so Leota Didier gave Dubois a present: a life-sized bronze statue of a cowboy. He now stares steadfastly off to the north from the front of the log-hewn Dennison Lodge, one of our favorite gathering places.

So typical: It’s Leota’s birthday, so she gives a big present to the town. The sculpture is an enlargement of the knight figure from a chess set that her former neighbor, artist John Finley, created in 1979, using Western-themed characters.

“I wanted to be sure to get this done while I still had time,” Leota said, in her deep, gruff voice. “I saw a statue like this in a town somewhere else, and I said: Dubois needs something like that.”

Like what? “Something that represents the spirit of the town.”

John is a diffident fellow, but also an old friend. Somehow she persuaded him to undertake the arduous task of recreating a chess piece as a monument.

chess-setLeota has already given much to her hometown. In fact, she was important to the historic Dennison Lodge itself, throwing herself into the effort to bring it to town when it was threatened with demolition in the 1990s. Out in the wilderness where she used to ride, it had been part of a dude ranch where notables such as Clark Gable and Carole Lombard once stayed.

Like so many others devoted to Dubois, Leota is a transplant. She was born in Iowa, and first came to town in 1970 when her husband Bernard, a Presbyterian minister, diverted them here from Denver during a vacation.

“Bernard was a funny man,” she told me recently. “He would get these urges. We came to Wyoming and he fell in love with it.”

She had thought they would be traveling on to California, but Bernard changed his plan. He had read somewhere that dilapidated ranches were going for marvelous prices in Wyoming. They came here instead, and a week laterlazylb they owned a ranch.

For many years, they ran the Lazy L&B Ranch (the “L” is for Leota) just down the East Fork valley from the Finleys. Two owners later, it’s still a very successful guest ranch.

(I owe my presence in Dubois to Leota, as I love to remind her. We stayed at the Lazy L&B nearly 30 years ago, and never stopped coming back to this area. I was delighted to see her still here when we finally moved to town.)

When Bernard passed away, Leota sold the ranch. As she aged, she slowly gave up her beloved horseback riding and moved to town. You see her often, always elegantly dressed and wearing one of her signature cowboy hats, whether at the rodeo, at church, or checking guests in at the weekly square dance in town (which devotes its earnings to charity).

leotaIt seemed like the whole town had turned out at the Dennison yesterday, to celebrate with Leota and join in as Reverend Melinda Bobo gave a blessing.

I was late for the ceremony. “What did you bless?” I asked Melinda.

“The statue,” she said. “The town. The community.”

One of its great blessings sat on a folding chair near the door, evidently enjoying her birthday celebration, and wearing her signature smile.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

A Perspective on Distance from Dubois

Thoughts during a long visit with my aged mother back East.

LeslieGwynedd051316_2
Mom in her room

I’ve been back East for a long visit with my aged mother, which is how we will continue contact after  the great leap westward. Instead of driving from New York once a month, I’ll fly out from Dubois to see her regularly, and stay for a while.

Of course there are trade-offs to choosing a life in Dubois, however wonderful its benefits. This is one of them.

“Don’t tell me you didn’t think of bringing your mother with you!” said a good friend when she heard about the move. This sent me into a frenzy of inquiries.

No, I hadn’t considered it. Mom is no longer mobile. The nurses use a lift to transfer her from chair to bed.

Just transporting her to Dubois, I found, would probably require a medical airlift. Then how would we care for her? Dubois has a wonderful assisted living facility, but the nearest skilled nursing units are an hour away (and have waiting lists with indeterminate endpoints). Finding or importing private day nurses  would be a tremendous chore–not to mention an impossible expense.

I agonized for a while, and then decided it truly doesn’t make sense. Mom lives in an exemplary facility. She chose this retirement community for herself to limit the burden on me, her only child, after living with our family for decades. Back when it would have been possible for her to rejoin us, Mom wanted to be independent. Now that she can’t be, it’s no longer possible.

MarkLesKatieLazyLB
Mom on a visit to Dubois with the family, years ago.

I chose to extend my visit through Labor Day weekend, to see how she fared over a holiday break. (The usual staff weren’t all replaced with strangers, and the weekend was fine.) What I saw was what happens when adult children stop by for the day to visit to Dad or Mom, as we used to do before the move.

The usual peace and quiet gives way to a frenzy of activity. There are earnest, all-too-public updates on events in the family and entreaties to finish meals. There’s a pause from the TV noise in the lounge while someone’s daughter plays piano, too loudly and too long. (“This is truly awful,” remarked one resident who usually can’t find the right words.)

Today it will return to the day-to-day rhythm of events, and the regular flow of visitors. Some residents go for weeks without seeing anyone from outside the unit. A few, whose spouses live elsewhere in this planned village, have a visit every day.

LesKerchief
A new find: Mom and me.

It’s not necessarily uncaring neglect that leaves some residents without visitors. One woman here has a son whose job took him to the West coast (and who phones often). Her widowed daughter-in-law comes as often as she can, while also tending to her father who has dementia. An adult grandchild lives nearby but is institutionalized with a severe disability.

I will continue my flying visits as long as Mom needs me. It’s one cost of living in Dubois that I will gladly pay.

I’ve spent the past month going through photo albums with Mom, discovering heart-stopping old snapshots I never knew existed. We’ve eaten many meals together (although I eat far more than she does). I’ve been reading to her (either from the Bible or a travel book, as she chooses), bringing her wildflowers from the roadside, taking her outdoors in her wheelchair, talking to her (and interpreting for her in conversations with others now that she can’t speak for herself), and reading what she writes to me in her notebook.

The words “remote” and “distance” have two meanings, it occurred to me. One of them describes my relationship to my mother. The other does not.
© Lois Wingerson, 2016

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.