Mountain memories of Denver, Buster and puppy dog tales
EAGLE – In the 1930s, Denver had two newspapers – each of which sold for $1 a week – and not very many dogs. Images of dogs were used in many of the newspaper ads. One little girl poured over every ad featuring a dog, wishing fervently that she, too, could have a dog. “A dog always made life look better and more fun,” muses 7-year-old Mary Louise (Jeurink) Macrossie in “The Buster Book.” Wishes do come true. One day in 1938, a cocker spaniel, named Buster, showed up on the Jeurink’s doorstep and practically demanded to become part of the family … and Mary Louise’s life was never the same.”Buster’s being was in a time in the 1930s and 1940s when cocker spaniels were all the rage. He was, of course, the most handsome in the city of Denver. He was 3 years old when we met. He was black and white, with long black ears. Depending on the day’s adventure, these ears were often wet or muddy because Buster was built very close to the ground and puddles,” writes Macrossie.Thus begins the tale of a very special friendship that would span most of Eby Creek resident Mary Louise (Jeurink) Macrossie’s childhood. She recently published a book that tells that story.Growing up in Denver in the first half of the 20th century, Macrossie and her family lived in a handsome, two-story, brick home at 2020 East 4th Ave. – today an upscale neighborhood in the Old Cherry Creek section of the city. As Macrossie reveals in her recently published book, Buster ruled the roost from the day he arrived.”He was my best friend,” says Macrossie today. “Most people didn’t have dogs in the 1930s. Dogs could go everywhere.”That friendship is central to the story of “The Buster Book: Memoirs of an Important Cocker Spaniel and His Little Girl” – a story to which anyone who grew up with a beloved dog can relate. Early Denver chronicledMixed in with this tale of girl’s best friend, is a fascinating, intimate look at Denver seven decades ago – before the skyscrapers, light rail and endless traffic. Macrossie writes of a far different Denver, when there were still empty lots, blue skies, and streets filled with trolley cars. Horse-drawn wagons mixed with cars, ladies wore hats and gloves, doormen opened doors, and idyllic childhood adventures awaited around every street corner.In little Mary Louise’s Denver, pollution was a thing of the future, and blue skies and starry nights reigned – although, whenever the wind blew, smells of the stockyards wafted toward Cherry Creek. She and her brother, Jack, did find an occasional tin can in the backyard from the days when much of Denver was a landfill. She also recalls when the mayor decreed that Speer Boulevard and other parkways and the City Park be lined with thousands of elms, maple and cherry trees. Macrossie’s parents, Dr. Vernon and Helen Jeurink, rubbed elbows with the movers and shakers of early Denver. Some memorable names are sprinkled here and there, couched in casual childhood memories. The original Neusteters of Neusteter Department Stores drove by in their chauffeured car, waving at Mary Louise. Her mother socialized with Mary Elizabeth (Elitch) Long who, with her husband, created Elitch Gardens. Among the upscale houses where the Jeurinks lived in Cherry Creek (named for the chokecherries that grew along the creek’s bank) – an early, gated community – still could be found the occasional, incongruous tin-and-papered shack.
With a delightful mix of history and memoirs, Macrossie paints a vivid picture of early Denver. There is a still-young Denver Country Club, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the old, Tabor Grand Opera House, built by silver king Horace and Baby Doe Tabor, and remodeled into the Colorado Movie Theater by Macrossie’s own Grandpa Johnson. Macrossie’s tale begins in the Depression era, when destitute families paid Grandpa Jeurink for his physician’s services with crops. The story continues through the World War II years, with victory gardens, war bonds, patriotic recycling efforts and war rations. Macrossie writes nostalgically of tin-type cameras, listening to “Tom Mix” and “Captain Midnight” on the big Zenith Radio, having blocks of ice delivered by the iceman, and bottles of frosty milk delivered by Royal Crest Dairy’s horse and cart. Younger readers, too, will be enthralled with and even laugh at her stories, such as the time she got her pigtail caught in a laundry press. “Would we have enough food to allow a little black-and-white dog meat scraps to eat?” young Mary Louise often worried. Then there was the polio epidemic in the 1940s, and Macrossie recalls being confined to home one terrifying summer.The book is chock full of fantastic, archival-quality pictures – some from the Colorado Historical Society and the Denver Public Library, but mostly culled from the family basement. Several people have requested Macrossie’s book for the photos alone. Yet, the real charm of “The Buster Book” is Macrossie’s delightful story. The voice of that long-ago, precocious, imaginative and quick-witted Mary Louise, who loved to laugh and adored adventures, is engaging.”I had long, brown pigtails, very big brown eyes and a heart-shaped face that giggled a lot,” Macrossie writes in “The Buster Book.”The idea for the book had been brewing in Macrossie’s mind for years, but it was her recent involvement with a writer’s group in Avon that finally spurred her to write the book. “That seems to be a big part of my memory – Buster and those years,” she says today. Her time as a college student at the University of Colorado, she adds, doesn’t have the same clarity, the same (special) feeling of those long-ago times with Buster.This is Macrossie’s first book, and she wrote it mostly for friends and family, self-publishing it with the help of Copy Copy in Avon – “as edited by Buster.” When one of her grandchildren complained the initial spiral-bound copy didn’t look much like a real book, she dug out more great photos, expanded the volume, and arranged for the book to be beautifully bound and printed in 2004.The result is a book even strangers, whether 70 or 7 years old, will enjoy curling up and reading with the entire family.As Macrossie notes, “There’s something in it for everyone.” Buster adopts the jeurinksBuster, writes Macrossie, lived a few blocks from the Jeurinks “with an elegant lady, named Mrs. Dodge, her daughter and another dog and a cat.” With no leash laws at the time, Buster was free to roam, and he often chose the Jeurinks’ home for his visits. But, young Mary Louise was certain Buster would be safer at her house. After all, hadn’t the newspapers reported that Mrs. Dodge had been drugged and robbed?Buster began escaping from Mrs. Dodge’s house the minute he was brought home, and would to the Jeurinks’, where one thankful, loving little girl anxiously awaited him.”Actually, I never owned Buster. We chose each other as best friends,” explains Mary Louise in “The Buster Book.” “We did not have a cat; and at our house we understood the importance of a handsome and smart cocker spaniel.” One day, as Mary Louise and Buster watched squirrels chasing each other from her upstairs window, they saw Mrs. Dodge drive up in a “shiny” car, and carry a big box into the Jeurink’s home. At first, Mary Louise worried that Mrs. Dodge had come to imprison Buster in a cage, but soon found out, to her joy, he was to live with them forever.
“Maybe Mrs. Dodge was not a mean lady, after all,” the 7-year-old Mary Louise concluded. “Maybe she was the good fairy in charge of finding a dog for 2020 East 4th street.”Buster’s permanent arrival caused adjustments for the family: Buster preferred to do his “duty” under Mrs. Jeurink’s clothesline, lift his leg on her flower beds, and scratch his back at least once daily on her gold velvet sofa. His worst habit, confides Mary Louise, is that he constantly chased cars – even after three broken legs. Yet, the family grew to love Buster. After her father died, Mary Louise’s brother, Jack, found a picture of Buster in a special folder carefully kept in her father’s desk drawer.Denver, an enchanted place For a little girl and her dog, Denver was a friendly place, with no fences and plenty of places to explore, play kick the can or use her “decoder ring.” She could hop the streetcar for 5 cents and venture downtown to have lunch at the Republic Drugstore at 16th Street and Tremont, above which her father, a surgeon, had his offices. Or, she could go have her shoes shined at the shoe shine parlor on 16th Street, or, watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Abbott and Costello or Charlie Chaplin at the Bluebird Theater on Colfax for 25 cents. Then there was Elitch’s Zoological Gardens, where Mary Louise could enjoy the amusement rides, marvel at the bears and elephant, watch summer stock in the elegant theater; while mother and father danced to Benny Goodman at the Trocadero Ballroom.”Summer,” Macrossie writes, “it was magical for me, a pigtailed girl and an 18-inch-tall, very important black and white cocker spaniel dog.”There were no structured activities or youth sports leagues. “We made our own things,” says Macrossie, “We knew what time we had to be home and we did our own thing.”One of her favorite haunts with friends, as Buster tagged along, was a beautiful, fairytale-style home at 5th and Gaylord, which she dubbed the “Pink Castle.” With pink-hued walls and lovely formal gardens, it was a magic place to visit. The kids climbed the walls uninvited to play house.”Maybe God’s house is just above the chimneys,” Mary Louise dreams in “The Buster Book.” Although they never saw anyone, young Mary Louise determined a handsome prince must live inside the “castle.” One day, Buster mysteriously pranced out its front door. “I blinked, and thought I saw the handsome prince watching us from a second story window as we ran through the vacant lots towards home,” she writes.Mountain museToday, Macrossie and her husband, Allan, live north of Eagle. They own Holy Cross Llama Ranch above Eby Creek, where they raise llamas, selling the fleece for yarn for sweaters. “It’s a great labor of love,” assures Macrossie.It’s hardly surprising that Macrossie ended up in the mountains. As a child she stared, enchanted at the purple mountaintops from her home in Denver, and part of every summer was spent at her grandparent’s cabin in Evergreen, romping with Buster, swinging on the old tree swing, and dodging skunks and mountain lions on their adventures.
“I remembered the mountains,” says Macrossie. “It’s one of the reasons I live up here, now.”As you would expect from such an adventurous, curious child, Mary Louise Jeurink grew up to live a diversified and adventurous life. As a University of Colorado student, she sold buttons at the Denver Dry Goods button department, and sometimes would work sales in the dress department, where women would literally tear the $1 dresses off each other. “I think that job was kind of foretelling what my life would be like,” says Macrossie of her varied work experience.She worked for United Airlines for five years, handling reservations at the ticket office. She remembers the traveling salesmen that would chew their big fat cigars, and the complicated, tedious process of manually figuring routes and fares.”There were no computers,” she explains, “It was fun; a wonderful job. I met lots of wonderful people.” When her two daughters, Susan and Laura, were born, she quit, but joined the work force again later as one of only 50 certified travel agents in the state during the 1980s. She eventually became the tour coordinator at the Colorado State Capitol, instead. There, she guided more than 200,000 people on tours each year for eight years. Her favorite tours were with school children. “Their eyes would get so big, they were so impressed,” Macrossie recalls. Allan Macrossie already lived in Vail, when Mary Louise met and married him. For a while, she commuted to her job at the Capitol, but the drives during the winter were tough.Today, she enjoys life on the ranch. Macrossie is no stranger to ranch life. Her parents bought a 60-acre ranch at Santa Fe and Mineral, Hobby Horse Farm, when she was young. She is also currently working on a sequel to “The Buster Book.” And, yes, Macrossie still has dogs today: A German shepherd named Kiva, whose job is to herd the llamas, and a Brittany spaniel, named “Brit,” that she adopted from the Eagle Valley Humane Society.Although she undoubtedly loves each dog dearly, there is one little dog who will always hold a special place in her heart: a black-and-white, spotted cocker spaniel named “Buster.”Thanks to Macrossie’s “The Buster Book,” he can hold a special place in our hearts, too.A copy of “The Buster Book” is available at the Eagle Public Library. Macrossie is also giving copies to the Colorado Historical Society and the Denver Public Library. Or, call Mary Louise (Jeurink) Macrossie at 328-7723.Vail, Colorado