For once, I understand why someone would settle in a place if riches were not necessarily part of the equation. If a 120-year-old cottonwood on Milwaukee Creek takes precedence over a deadline, well, you must be in Paonia.
I arrived at 2 in the afternoon on a Saturday and was immediately drawn to the Brewery on Grand Avenue. My son and his wife were an hour behind, and my other daughter was already here and hiking around the grapes and peaches with her sister. I had no problem having a beer after the long ride and thought, “I’ll wait for the other two right here in this pew sipping on a brew.”
While I enjoyed my second, I listened in on what people were saying. “The tomatoes are not doing well,” and someone else is wondering if “Joe’s brother was going to pay for the work Jerry did on Maggie’s shed,” “You going to Lauren’s fundraiser tonight?”
Paonia is one of those towns where everybody knows everybody (and their business).
Sounds like a simple life if these dozen or so locals were any barometer. As the afternoon and evening unfolded, I would realize what an understatement that really was. As a matter of fact, life in this valley seemed a little behind simple, and I got the impression that they care more about themselves and each other than they do the legal tender.
My youngest daughter, who graduated from Evergreen College, where they put smiley faces on your test paper rather than a grade, decided to follow her liberal ways and settle in this place. When I asked her, “Why Paonia?” she simply replied, “because there are good people here and life is a little slower than everywhere else.” (Another understatement.)
My phone rang and it was my son. “We’re about to pull into town,” he said, “and I’m not sure where I’m going.”
“Don’t worry. You cannot make a wrong turn, and even if you do, you’ll recover quickly. Just drive down Main Street. There’s a church on the left side and it’s masquerading as brewery. I’m standing in the street, holding a beer and looking right at you.”
I bought them a beer, looked down “Mayberry Lane” and said, “This is certainly not Denver, and I’m pretty sure there are no roots back to Vail.”
The fundraiser I heard mentioned was actually my youngest daughter’s effort, and it was the reason our family gathered here. It is her intention to put together a model of Portland and their success creating “Alley-Art-Scape” in this sleepy little town. (Imagine that; an idea from Portland being re-created right here in Colorado, and my daughter, who achieved more smiley faces in college than your daughter, is spearheading the effort.)
I was proud of her when she began to speak to a relatively large audience gathered in a donated hall. I was also happy for my other beautiful daughter sitting right next to me and holding her future husband’s hand. And, of course, my son and his wife were completely blending in with the rest of us.
The “no charge” band started to play, and I didn’t choke up, but it was still early. The music sent the message that no one was allowed to “sit on the wall” and 16 to 80 years young were all dancing.
As the 19th hour approached, we all woke up in an old farmhouse and had brunch under a 120-old-cottonwood.
My youngest and her friend were happy with the evening’s events. My eldest and his bride were now familiar with a new place in Colorado to love. My second-born was still holding hands and told all of us that I was going to be a grandpa.
I walked over to Milwaukee Creek and cried for happy ....
Greg Ziccardi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.