J. C. Adamson
Near the end of World War II, Dad was discharged from the Army at a military hospital in Indiana. Apparently, he met someone there who offered him a job in a tiny Corner-of-Colorado town called Cortez. Dad had first entered the Army in World War One, at Fort Logan, near Denver, and he and my mother longed to move to Colorado. I wonder if they knew how far Cortez is from Denver—not only geographically, but culturally, emotionally, ethnically, even spiritually.
My mother's family comes from Florida, and earlier from Georgia. Dad was born in Iowa, and grew up in Missouri. My birth in Cortez was just an artifact of twentieth century mobility and restlessness. My only memories of my birthplace come from passing through the town later in life.
Family stories give the impression that Dad made a mess of our life in Cortez. Apparently he left the employ of the man who had given him the job, and started a competing company. I guess that new company failed, and Mom and Dad left Cortez for Denver, when I was eleven months old.
They didn't have much money—maybe none at all. We lived for nearly a year in a hotel room above a bar, on Tremont Street in downtown Denver. I remember being told that my father improvised my first crib in that room in a dresser drawer.
There was a park less than a block from the hotel. A brownstone rail enclosed a block-sized sunken garden, with large flat lawns, tall old trees, curved walkways, and flower beds. Court House Square, it was called, because it had been the site of Denver's city court building before Mayor Speer built the grandiose Civic Center project, across Colfax avenue from the downtown business district.
Many years later, that park became the site of the May D&F department store. Jerome Nemiro was the President of May D&F when I was recruited to work there in 1974. At the beginning of my interview, he asked me to tell him everything there was to know about me, and to leave out nothing.
I pointed toward the floor, and said, "Well, I learned to walk right down there." I reached into my wallet for a photo of my brother standing in the park, the background showing the hotel where we had lived, just across the street. By the time Nemiro and I were through chatting about Denver's earlier days, the allotted time for my interview had expired, and he hired me.
Twenty-five years before my conversation with Jerome Nemiro, my chatter had been less eloquent, and my steps were even more cautious than the first steps I made as a retail executive, in that same geographic space. During my first tenure in the Court House Square neighborhood, I frequented the streets, shops, and the small park, in the company of my loving parents. Dad was also a regular customer at the bar below our room.
I know from pictures and tales that my father was proud of his toddling son. Dad was forty-seven years old, and grey-headed, when I was born. Strangers meeting the two of us often speculated that he was my grandfather. He corrected them with confident pride. I can imagine him introducing me to the Tremont Street bar patrons as his bodyguard, just as I recall him doing several years later, in many similar taverns in other places.
At that Tremont Street tavern, our little family became acquainted with a barmaid named Dovey who, with some regularity, served me beer in a shot glass, as I sat on my father's lap at the bar. I was told later that I adored Dovey, and would look from our hotel-room window for her arrival at work. On spotting her, I would yell, "Beer, Dovey," to the delight of anyone within earshot.
My readers today may cringe at these images. They might think that serving beer to a baby is abusive. It was not—certainly not in intent. Neither my father nor Dovey would ever have intentionally hurt me, or any other child. In my estimate, looking at the scene from a half-century distance, I think it did no harm.
My parents moved from the hotel room, but Dovey stayed in our lives. More than a dozen years later, her daughter and grandchildren stayed in our home on their return from Germany, in the midst of a separation from the children's father. I remember playing with the small children, and being as infatuated with Ruth as I'd probably been with her mother, years earlier. I have a picture of my father with Ruth's son, Jeff, taken during their time with us. In the snapshot, the small boy is obviously skeptical about some tall tale my Dad seems to be weaving.
Later, Dovey moved to California, and finally married a man whom she adored. She always kept in touch with us, writing to my parents with some regularity. Even after my father died at the age of eighty, Dovey corresponded with my mother.
More than forty years after the Tremont Street days, my mother hesitatingly opened a letter from Ruth. It couldn't be good news. Indeed, the former barmaid's daughter had written to tell of her mother's death. Enclosed in the note was a partially completed letter that Dovey had been writing to Mom before she died. Ruth had found it in Dovey's purse. The shaky hand, and imperfect grammar told of simple events, the stuff of daily living. But Dovey had stayed faithfully in touch with an old friend.
© J. C. Adamson, 2001
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