Chapter 2: Colorado I - Brush Years (1955-1957)
Five Significant Events
We Built A Log Cabin
We moved from Virginia to Brush, Colorado, and Dad worked for Public Service Company. He and Mom spent quite a while building a wonderful three-bedroom rancher log house for $10,000! Dad loved Colorado, and anything western, so the house fulfilled in part his “go west, young man” dream.
We lived in the basement while they and some friends finished the main level upstairs.
During this time, when the main floor of the house was a flat area that we shouldn’t play on, Mom taught me how to make my fingers work to do “Itsy, Bitsy, Spider” during a conversation with a friend as they both held their baby boys. Finally getting it worked out was an accomplishment I showed everyone I saw for a while.
When construction was finished, I loved the log house. What a happy place. I waited on the front steps for Dad to come home from work whenever I could. I’m sure he didn’t listen to all my chatter but he allowed me to sit on his lap for a few minutes until I jumped down, bored of my own chatter while he read the paper with beer in one hand and pipe in the other. What a peaceful memory.
The house had built-in three-foot high bookshelves dividing the living and dining rooms. Mom kept our baby books there and I liked it when she would take out an inkpad and let us make our hand and footprints for the books as we developed. I don’t know why I didn’t do that for you, dear son!
In the dining room three copper Jello molds hung on the knotty pine paneled wall just like those in many 1950’s homes. Mom tried valiantly to make perfect Jello molds like they had in the magazines, and I heard her frustration when they didn’t turn out as well as the pictures. The altitude, lack of humidity, or something else caused it but until Tupperware developed bowls with detachable bottoms for easy removal, the Jello desserts she spent hours creating were exhibited in beautiful glass bowls.
Our clean house, downwind from the stockyards, typically smelled pleasant but when the wind shifted the stench embarrassed Mom and Dad. We children seldom noticed, but it probably made the move to Denver easier!
Your Uncle Wes was Born
Wes came into our family during this time just days before Anne’s second birthday. They would always have someone to celebrate with! A brother. How thrilling! I proudly held him while I sat in my little rocking chair for pictures. Though I loved having Anne in my life, Wes added a dimension.
His big brown eyes and brown curly hair fulfilled Mom’s dream to have a child with Dad’s primary features which unfortunately, for her, neither Anne nor I did. Mom often dreamed of having a girl with brown eyes and brown curly hair. Erica’s brown eyes and brown curly hair pleased her because she finally got her dream in a granddaughter! I wonder if she ever took the chance to tell Erica that.
Dad Got Saved
The Methodist friends who helped them build the house witnessed faithfully about the Lord to Dad and Mom. At that time we seldom attended church except for Christmas and Easter but liked these friends. Mom expressed some regrets that after Dad got saved and we began attending church regularly, that we didn’t at least try the Methodist church with these friends.
Dad carried the flagship of Methodism every time he signed his full name “John Wesley Kemper.” He grew up in Salem Methodist Church in Hillsboro, VA with less than positive memories of the experience particularly the long invitations during revival meetings, so I believe that’s one reason he avoided that denomination. He always preceded references to the Methodist church with the adjectives “cold” and “dead”.
After Dad accepted the Lord as his Savior in a Baptist church revival he became very committed. His and our lives changed drastically as a result.
His decision to quit smoking and drinking happened in one day, and he poured all beer in the house down the sink and threw away all forms of tobacco. He never touched either tobacco or drink again. However, even years later when I smell a pipe, it brings back fond memories.
Mom said she appreciated his call to ministry even more because she knew we grew up in a more peaceful home with the Lord in our lives without alcohol and tobacco. I believe it.
When Dad felt the call to the ministry an uncharacteristic hesitation overtook him and for probably the last time in his life, he procrastinated nearly a year. When he applied for Bible College, he learned that his GI education bill expired and if he had gone to college a year earlier his military benefits would have paid for all tuition. Instead, he worked several jobs to support us while he earned his degrees. We often heard this sermon illustration encouraging us to follow what God tells you without dragging your feet.
Not long after Wes’s birth, we drove to Grandma and Grandpa James’ ranch to see Grandpa James for what Mom and Grandma thought would be the last time because a stroke left him incapacitated. Grandpa wanted to see Wes because they thought he’d never live to see Wes grown. Male descendants were especially significant to him.
The huge hospital bed, set up in the living room next to the front door, would have been very scary to me if it hadn’t contained Grandpa. When he looked at me my mind heard him calling me “little ole” granddaughter” and my four-year-old mind contentedly considered him well.
Over a few months Grandpa gradually recovered and returned to ranching, even riding his house. Grandma saved the paper on which he laboriously wrote for the first time after his stroke, a grocery list – his self-therapy. He lived four more decades after the doctor’s prognosis. He even lived to see Wes’ son, Craig, nearly grown!
A local radio station’s contest in which they hid a “bag of gold” somewhere in the area, gave daily hints. Mom and Dad thought they knew for sure its location, so one evening we drove for, what felt to my little body, hours. We stopped on one country road near a railroad track and were told to sit in the car while they looked for the gold. They were so optimistic and excited but never found it. Anne and I rode in the car, standing behind the front seat, hanging on and the boys joined us as they grew. Allowing children to do that today would be grounds for child abuse charges, I’m afraid, but we loved looking out the windshield and being close to Mom and Dad. Once the floorboard in back wasn’t there, and Dad substituted it plywood.
We had to be careful when we stood there so we wouldn’t fall out (I don’t believe we would have been allowed back there if we could have actually fallen out!)
Dad built the world’s coolest sand box in the back yard. Even though Mom knew we loved it, she didn’t because it became the local litter box forcing her to clean out the cat refuse each time we wanted to play. She never missed it when we moved to Denver.
One of the cats that used our sand box adopted us and refused to leave. Dad and Mom decided it would be a good ranch cat. We took it to Grandma and Grandpa James’ ranch the next time we went there, over one hundred fifty miles away. Dad was annoyed a few weeks later when he opened the door to go to work and saw it, thinner but distinctly the same feline, sitting on the steps!
Mom and Dad, children of the depression, seldom threw toys away if they could be fixed. Losing toys was wasteful. If something broke, they repaired but seldom replaced broken toys. However, one toy they wanted us to lose always reappeared, a noisy metal push toy that could be heard a block away. It disappeared every once in a while, when another child took it home or we left it at a neighbor’s house. But just like the ranchless cat, it resurfaced.
Mom and Dad bowled. I do remember (Mom told me there was no way I could because I would have been three) sitting in a bowling alley when Dad bowled and turned around to wink at me before he took his turn. It made me happy because I loved my Dad and thought he was the greatest, most handsome man alive. This may have been during the time he sometimes drank too much, which Mom didn’t want me to remember.
Drive-in movies were a treat. They would pack us up in the back seat with lots of snacks and blankets. I could usually stay awake all the way through the Little Lulu cartoon and try valiantly to continue for the big movie but inevitably I’d wake up the next morning in my own little bed!
Once after we began attending the Baptist Church in Brush, we went to a picnic near a lake involving all the church people. We were invited to take turns riding in a boat. I believe we children were too young to go but Mom went with some other people while we stayed with Dad. Something went wrong and when she stepped off the boat, dripping wet, obvious relief and stress showed through her drenched smile. Water didn’t frighten me afterwards but Mom never liked anything except the shallow end of pools.
Traumas and Phobias
Anne and I shared the room in the front of the house and even had our own closet where we put our toys (or at least we were supposed to keep our toys there). I eagerly anticipated Halloween the year I turned four because Mom told me the next year when a BIG five-year-old I could go trick-or-treating. While Mom made popcorn balls, I practiced all afternoon answering the door and handing out treats. This was in the late 1950’s when it was safe for children to walk up to strangers’ doors and accept candy and other treats from them.
Unfortunately, the first time the doorbell rang and I saw a big, to me, costumed kid outside I ran screaming to our closet and didn’t leave it until bedtime when Mom promised the trick-or-treaters were gone. I know Anne joined me in screaming but her cries were more like laughter! She always is braver.
When I was four years old I decided that I would no longer drink milk. This aggravated Mom and I never will know how I got away with it. However, except for lunches at the Grays’ house in Virginia I never voluntarily drank milk again but I’ll cover that later.
One of the most traumatic events of my life occurred at the Brush house and as stressful as it was for me, it was at least that frustrating and annoying for Mom and Dad but humorous, too, no doubt. Dad belonged to the JCs (Junior Chamber of Commerce) and they conducted a competition one year to see who could grow the longest beard during a particular time frame. I loved the one Dad grew that year. Dad, my hero, did everything perfectly, in my four-year-old opinion. Smelling his pipe was my favorite smell and when I sat on his lap, chattering, thinking he listened to my every word. I treasured “my” bearded man.
I was totally unprepared for the morning I woke and saw Dad’s back in the bathroom. I ran in to hug him and realized the guy I was hugging was beardless!
I cried all day, that I wanted my “real” daddy to come back. The intensity of my feelings threw them for a loop, not doubt. His facial hair permanently left but eventually I grew to realize that he’d been the real one all along!
Your Grandpa Moore was transferred and moved the family to Lakeland, Florida where the twins, your uncles Raymond and Roger were born. Their births changed the family dynamics drastically because Daddy was no longer the cutest baby of the family.
Every time we’ve driven across Florida going to LegoLand, Daddy points this place out.
Aunt Flo, twelve at the time, became responsible for taking care of him. I’m sure she must have disliked doing that instead of playing with her friends.