Vail Daily column: Grandpa’s Garage and Grammy’s Attic
Most locals, even those long-term, and more than a few tourists know it as Grammy’s Attic. However, I know it as Grandpa’s Garage, a good ol’ boys denizen of booze, bullshit and bantering. It was the cliched bucolic refrain of rustic hangouts setting the stage for countless noir novels and flicks from New England to old Westerns, a place that couldn’t decide whether its primary purpose was business or clubhouse.
Even though my grandfather, Ralph Meyer, oversaw the bantering and undoubtedly spaded up an occasional baleful of bull alongside that of his throwback coterie of bros and homies (although they didn’t refer to their brotherhood in those terms), he was hardly a bantam rooster. He was a large, laid-back presence bundled in overalls and magnanimity. Ruling his roost beside the gas pumps straddling Main Street or the pot belly stove ensconced within, at one time his (and Meyer’s Garage’s) town legend approached that of another Minturn bedrock — Lionshead.
Ironically, when grandpa assumed proprietorship of the garage in March 1937, the establishment bore the leonine imprint — Lionshead Garage. It’s intriguing but doubtful that a prescient recognition of a future rival to his posthumous position in Minturn lore prompted him to depose Lionshead as the garage’s titular figurehead with his surname inscribed on the enterprise’s pens, signs, stationary and symbols nearly a half decade before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The terrestrial lion overlooked the town, staunchly guarding its pride and territory until Mother Nature unseated it in ways that grandpa’s deposition couldn’t imagine.
Both Lionshead and grandpa were Minturn royalty, albeit different sorts of monarchs. Lionshead held the town’s scepter loftily and aloofly from on high while grandpa extended a helping hand, credit, a shot of whiskey and the benefit of a doubt from below, ruling as town samaritan.
Perhaps the building’s contemporary name, Grammy’s Attic, best describes its history. Actually, Grammy’s Guard works even better. While the daily operations of Meyer’s Garage, greased with oil, booze and testosterone, contributed to the legend, the reality is actually somewhat stern and strict. My grandmother, Irene Meyer, performed the part of mother hen among the barnyard roosters, a perennial power and position behind the storefront slogan that advertised grandpa’s good cheer and generosity in successive Battle Mountain High School annuals.
She served as custodian, cleaning up after grandpa’s antics and absences, maintaining the fort and a profit and enabling his entrepreneurial and altruistic efforts to become fodder for Minturn myth.
Grandma’s attempt at grassroots prohibition typically failed to preclude the alcohol-induced binges and blunders still retold decades later. It’s an amusing image — the rustic old boys club shadowed by a den mother. Between surreptitious sips of whiskey, a lookout stood sentry, watching and warning about grandma’s approach. A car toppled a gas pump. Grandpa, friends and a bottle, all piled into a car, drunkenly transporting a small horse in the Pontiac’s backseat. Bouts and binges at Jeff’s, the precursor to Minturn Saloon.
By the time I came along, the bottle and grandpa had gone dry and the garage gang indulged in nothing stronger than snuff and small talk. At age 70, grandpa still maintained his business and membership in the good ol’ boys club. The garage was still the clubhouse.
Famous Last Words
After decades of drama, the business and club ended in a blip rather than a bang. Seated around the pot belly stove, grandpa asked a regular, Scotty Matheson, for a hit — “Pass the snuff, Scotty.” He then suddenly slumped and toppled, felled by a heart attack. Like the other Minturn legend, Lionshead, the fall was abrupt and final; inevitable but still surprising. On October 16, 1972, both the business and club ended.
Another historical Minturn character, Pink Ruder Fahey, scripted his obituary for the Eagle Valley Enterprise in October 1972.
“Ralph will be missed by relatives and friends because he was always careful, friendly and helped people most of the time. He was a most considerate individual and was well of thought of all over Eagle County,” she wrote.
Fahey had it mixed up. The definitive description of grandpa as “always careful” was inaccurate and she mistakenly qualified his altruism with “most of the time.” He definitely was not always careful, but he consistently and completely helped others.
Four decades past, nostalgia, death and distance bequeath legend and myth. The more mundane reality is that everyday existence is comprised of people, places and things that claim defects and attributes. Grandpa, his town and his time were no different.
Note: Ralph Meyer was the nephew of former Eagle Mayor Gus Meyer and Oscar Meyer, the slain sheriff who was among the fallen emergency services personnel honored in the Eagle County Ride in Remembrance tribute on Friday.
Wayne Trujillo, director of communications for the Chamber of the Americas, is a Minturn native and Battle Mountain High School graduate. His family moved to Eagle County nearly a century ago.