Coming to Colorado
In the spring of 1974, I had just completed my Ph.D. in American History at Columbia University when a man named Bubba showed up at our front door and announced, “I’m here from United Van Lines to move you to Colorado.”
My new wife, Deedee, and I had decided to move to my ranch in Colorado where I planned to revise my dissertation for publication without interruption. We had loved living in New York and after our wedding eighteen months earlier, we’d enjoyed a spacious rent-controlled apartment at 86th Street and Broadway on Manhattan’s west side. Our neighborhood included the world-class delicatessen Zabar’s, a bakery across the street with to-die-for croissants and éclairs, and Lincoln Center only a short walk away. But the city’s pace had begun to wear on us. Deedee said she could use a break from Channel 13, New York’s public television station where she worked as a producer, and I certainly wouldn’t miss the uncomfortable subway ride to the Bronx to my temporary part-time teaching job at Manhattan College.
Bubba, I assumed from his over six- foot size, played middle-linebacker for the New York Giants during the football season. He’d cut his T-shirt at the sleeves to allow for his muscular arms, which were the size of an average man’s thighs. His short neck bulged with muscle from his earlobes to his massive sloped shoulders.
Bubba arrived the day before our scheduled move to pack book cartons, glassware, and dishes. When he entered my study with its three full bookcases, he asked: “Did you read all ‘dem books?” When I replied that I’d read most of them, Bubba threw up his hands, rolled his eyes, and exclaimed, “You must be one smart dude.”
In the process of packing book cartons, Bubba came across a paperback biography of President Lincoln. He thumbed through the pages and said, “I’ve always wanted to know about Lincoln.” I suggested he take the book since I had another copy. He nodded with a big smile. I could imagine Bubba attending a preseason classroom session where, in the middle of a boring football lecture from his coaches on how to “read” a 4-3 defense, and pulling out the Lincoln book for a different read.
The next morning Bubba showed up in his 18-wheeler ready to load everything bound for Colorado. He brought no help. His employer probably figured that anyone Bubba’s size could load three trucks between breakfast and his mid-morning coffee break. The books went first in three trips to the freight elevator with one carton under each arm and two more strapped on his back. The kitchen was emptied in twenty minutes. Then came the big stuff. With a double bed under one arm and a desk under the other, the remainder of our belongings were forced through the doorway into the back hall and the freight elevator. The door frame was stouter and narrower than most of the furniture. Not to worry, Bubba assured me, he was handy with glue and splintered wood. With everything loaded and President Lincoln in his back pocket, Bubba reviewed the paperwork and confirmed our rendezvous point in Colorado, which he believed to be “just west of Iowa.” I corrected his geography and told him I’d contact him in three days at Art’s Truck Stop in Montrose, only thirty-five miles from the ranch. “Never been west of the Hudson,” Bubba admitted, “I’m looking forward to it.” With his last words, “See ya,” we parted company and Deedee and I said a silent prayer for the truck, the driver, and President Lincoln.
With no mishaps along the way by either us or Bubba, we made contact late the afternoon of June 9th. I gave Bubba directions to the ranch, south, in the shadow of the San Juan Mountains just outside the small town of Ridgway. Deedee and I went on ahead of him. Deedee had never seen the ranch and I wanted to be alone with her before Bubba’s arrival. Would she fall in love with the property like I had the first time I saw it? Or would she run to the nearest phone and call a divorce lawyer for immediate assistance?
The day did not start well, with six inches of snow already on the ground and more falling. Deedee looked perplexed. Was this a prelude to anger? To break the silence, I said in a cheery voice “Dear, isn’t the snow beautiful?”
“Not in June,” she snapped back.
The sound of Bubba’s 18-wheeler slipping and sliding up our rutted driveway broke what was certain to be an unpleasant conversation.
Bubba was wide-eyed as he sat hunched over the steering wheel fighting the mud and snow. Safely stopped in the level yard at the top of the steep driveway, Bubba rolled down his window and shouted through the wind and snow, “Any snakes around here?” Assured that it was too high and cold for snakes, he nodded. He noticed an abandoned, half-collapsed shed where the wind was peeling shingles off the roof and directing them towards Kansas; the wind had also flattened the wooden fence in front of our small ranch house; rolls of tumbleweed bounced across the yard to the pasture where a coyote was chasing down a slower rabbit. The snow fell harder. Bubba was looking for a place to turn his rig around to place its rear towards the front door. He slipped and slid the truck as he backed towards house, which had also lost some shingles to the Midwest.
Bubba opened the door and stood there for a moment in his sneakers and no socks, dirty white T-shirt, and oil-stained jeans. He stepped gingerly from the warm cocoon of the driver’s cab into eight inches of wet snow and looked around, taking in the limited view through the blowing snow.
“Sir may I ask you a personal question?” he said.
I half expected Bubba to ask if I could actually afford this cross-country moving cost.
With permission, Bubba asked in a very serious tone, “Sir, is this a move up?”