The sun casts a warm glow through my grandmother’s Doll Room lace window curtain as it rises to meet me in the house in Pueblo, Colorado. Bacon is sizzling from the kitchen as my uncle cooks breakfast and spreads the delicious scent across the house.
I am here in the Doll Room, clinging on to this last bit of home before I return to the arms of the military at Lewis-McChord in the rainy gloom of Washington. Aside from the festivities, I have learned more of the Ridder history and how our family lives out here in the country now.
It was Christmas Eve. My mother and I drove 20 miles to a yoga studio downtown in the morning per my request to fit in a nice stretch during the holiday weekend. Out my passenger seat window, I saw homes spread far apart from each other with prairies and dry, golden fields in between; so different from the Southern California too-close-for-comfort homes and buildings that I am used to.
Following the class, we drove by the grand and historic Pueblo Steel Mills. My father told me this was the place where my great-grandfather worked. When my father was a boy, he visited Pueblo from California. He spoke of how he recalled hearing the “whistling sounds” that signaled the beginning of the work day, lunch, and ending of the day, on those visits in the late ’60s and early ’70s when he was a young boy.
These stories connected me to my family lineage as I gazed upon the majestic factory. Built in the 1880’s, later I had learned, the mill was the catalyst for fuel and steel production in Colorado and provided work to so many families. My mother had said how amazing it was to know that my great-grandfather was apart of “building the city.”
We returned to my grandma’s house to shower and get ready for my grandfather’s memorial. My grandfather passed away October 23rd while I was in AIT, but my grandmother wanted to have the service in December when everyone could fly out.
I wore a locket with a vile of my grandfather’s ashes stored inside, and held it closely during the service. Family from across the states stood in a horseshoe around the altar at the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a small venue that hosts memorials, receptions, and casual good times with a cozy bar and billiards room.
We were lead in prayer, and listened to sweet country songs played from a CD stereo, and laughed as we told stories of him fishing, teaching my dad how to drive shift, and the times he spent in Vietnam. I was too shy to tell my story about how the last conversations I had with him really encouraged me on my enlistment. I told this story to a few people there, anyway, and felt that it was good enough.
Christmas Eve carried over into the highlight of gift-exchange and Santa-outfit quartets. Christmas morning swooped in with the roaring wind beating against my windows, reminding me that it was time to welcome the day.
My mom and I drank coffee together while I read a book, slowly waking up to Christmas. We made plans to see a movie in the afternoon, but before we did that, my father wanted to see the home my grandmother lived in, the one he had visited when he was boy. We drove to Pine Avenue and stopped by the house he knew as a child. My mother and father took flowers to the home, knocked on the door, and smiled as the head of the household, so it seemed as I sat observing from the car, opened the door. The resident kindly accepted the flowers and listened generously as my parents, these random folk, told him the story of how my grandmother used to live there years ago. Although he welcomed my parents inside while his children ran around on the porch with toys, my parents graciously declined and said that we were on our way to a movie.
The day flew by as we caught a matinee of “Passengers,” followed by a tour of my cousin’s home. (For the record, I knew I came from a pretty cool lineage before this trip to Colorado and moreover, my cousin’s home. But I had no idea my family was so bad ass until this very tour.)
They showed us their spacious backyard for their dogs to run around in and the chicken coop that housed the eggs their hens laid, the ones they collected every few days to wash off and put in cartons to later enjoy. I was amazed by their self-sufficiency with this, recalling my consumer behavior of buying eggs from the grocery store. They had guns and rifles secured throughout their home, locked and loaded. In their basement, they had large tubs of food supplies in case of emergencies or natural disasters.
Whatever they were prepping for, my cousins’ home would be my go-to during a zombie apocalypse or alien invasion.
There is so much more to discover with the steel mill and its past. History is here and it is so quiet that I almost miss the echoing whistles. I almost miss the grunts of the workers banging on machinery to construct the foundation of this city. I almost missed their sighs as they looked out upon their hard day’s work, that whispered in my grandfather’s ears as he gazed upon the rising sun with his steaming cup of black coffee and cigarette, wondering what he was going to build or repair that day. It was a whisper that drifted on the dolls my grandmother collected from yard sales as she carried them into the Doll Room that I played in as a child.
I almost missed my past through the wind still rumbling outside my window, but I think I caught the tail end of it. I’m clutching onto it, waiting patiently for time to allow me the gift of whispering it to my children one day.