Stories from a simpler time: Verne Albertson wins historical society honor for his charming memoir
If you go...
What: Eagle County Historical Society’s Nimon-Walker Award Reception
When: Sunday, April 29
Time: 2 to 4 p.m.
Where: Avon Public Library
Details: All are welcome to attend. The winner of this year’s Nimon-Walker Award is Verne Albertson. The guest speaker for the ceremony will be Michael Crouser, author and photographer and a finalist for the 2018 Colorado Book Award. Crouser has produced three photography books including “Mountain Ranch” which was published in 2017. On page 194 of “Mountain Ranch”, Albertson is featured.
When they were kids, Shayne and Gail Albertson used to ask their father, Verne, to tell them stories about his own childhood — growing up in Burns during the Great Depression and World War II.
He would oblige by weaving tales of how he and his older brothers Chuck and Frank shot beanies (slingshots), rode both real and stick horses, fished Emerald Lake and Derby Creek and whiled away the hours of an idyllic childhood.
As they grew older, the Albertson children still loved to hear those tales. Shayne passed away in 1980, but Gail periodically asked her father to write down his memories. About two years ago, Verne Albertson started doing just that. The result is a charming memoir titled “Beanies, Stick Horses, Marbles and Mean Chickens: Growing up in Burns, Colorado in the 1940s.”
In recognition of his book, Verne Albertson will be honored with the Eagle County Historical Society’s Nimon-Walker Award on Sunday, April 29.
“It was very rewarding to just to get the book published,” Verne Albertson said. That’s not to say it was simple.
After he finished writing down his stories, Verne Albertson reached out to published author/photographer Michael Crouser (who will be the guest speaker at the Nimon-Walker ceremony) who agreed to help type up a manuscript. From there, Verne Albertson wasn’t sure how to take the next step. A friend had given him a “How to Write Your Memories for Dummies” book and advised Verne Albertson bring his work to the local library or historical society. That’s what he did and he said reaching out to Eagle County Historical Society President Kathy Heicher provided the critical assistance he needed to get his book published.
Verne Albertson calls winning an award for his literary efforts “sugar on the strawberries” or “gravy on the potatoes.”
“From a historical society viewpoint, we came out on the winning end of this work with Verne,” Heicher said. “You will notice at the end of the book an appendix that includes his grandmother’s memoir about homesteading in Burns (she came via covered wagon in the 1880s); and a chapter of his father’s memoir that tells the story of the very hard winter of 1917-18 — all really valuable historic information.
“Plus, Verne has a surprising knack for selling books,” Heicher continued. “His memoir is now in its second edition. We sold the first 250 in two months. The book sales were a boon to the historical society. Part of the success is the enjoyment of reading the book, which is ‘folksy’ and everybody likes Verne.”
Verne Albertson insisted he didn’t embellish his stories. “It was a unique childhood, with two older brothers and living out there in the country,” he said.
His stories, told in a straightforward manner with a healthy dose of self deprecation, roll off the page.
His parents, Joe and Ruth Albertson, ranched in the Burns and Derby Mesa. The Albertsons first arrived in the area in 1893 and Ruth was the daughter of Bert and Nona Gates, who homesteaded on Derby Mesa in 1897. While he was born in 1935, Verne Albertson’s childhood recollections seem to belong to an even earlier era.
On Page 1 of his story, Verne Albertson writes, “I was born in an old home typical of all homes in Burns at that time. No electricity, no running water and no indoor plumbing.”
He noted how people would ask his father about what his boys did while they were growing up. “Dad would point north, east, south and west and say ‘As far as you can see was the boys’ playground.’”
In the following pages of his book, Verne Albertson demonstrates just how right his father was.
Back to the title
Verne Albertson dangles some clues to the tales he will tell in his book title.
Not only does he explain the term “beanie,” he offers tips about how to build one — an oak fork and real rubber tire inner tubes. “I still have my beanie, but synthetic rubber does not work,” Verne Albertson said.
The Albertson children spent lots of time on horseback. They rode their horses to school and to help out around the ranch. But they also enjoyed breaking and branding horses of the stick variety. “The ideal stick horse was a 1-fo0t-by-1-foot and 3- to 4-feet long, from planed boards to avoid stickers in your crotch area.”
Stick horses from the Albertson herd bore family brands — VII and WZ. Verne Albertson tells a wonderful story of how, 10 to 12 years ago, he actually found one of those stick horses, still showing its brand.
The Albertson boys were also inspired by agriculture when they played marbles. They didn’t play the traditional shooting games, but rather viewed their spheres in a more imaginative way. Their marbles represented imaginary cattle herds. The bigger marbles were the bulls, the smallest ones were the calves.
“We used Tinker Toys, blocks and other things to build corrals, sheds and houses. The rug in the room was the pasture land and split three ways. I believe before we outgrew being ‘cattle barons’ there were about 500 or 600 marbles in our ownership.”
And finally, to this day, Verne Albertson doesn’t like chickens. “My mother always had chickens and a few turkeys. The roosters and gobblers were always mean and jumped on me because I was small. They not only hurt, but really scared me,” Verne Albertson said.
In one of the books best stories, he tells about his ill-conceived payback plan. Things don’t turn out well, but no spoilers here.
An unforgettable Christmas
Verne Albertson’s book was published in early December, but he managed to keep the news secret from a couple of important readers — his daughter Gail and granddaughter Ella.
“I insisted that they not open it until the very last present,” Verne Albertson said.
Naturally the book was a huge and wonderful surprise for the family. While they were plainly his primarily target audience, Verne Albertson is tickled that others have embraced his work.
“I heard there was one lady who bought it and said she had to have it just because of the title,”Verne Albertson said.
Because his memoir writing experience has been so wonderful, Verne Albertson offered some advice to other would-be writers.
“Everyone needs to write down their stories,” he said.
July means plenty of activities including free family fun in Vail, the annual Camp Hale Half Marathon and live music, parades and more at Gypsum Daze.