Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Living The Big Sky Life: What About Steve?

No sooner had the basement of our Montana Unabomber bungalow been stacked with the last of my moving boxes, when I got a phone call from a long-time girlfriend back in Huntington Beach. She steamrolled right over my obligatory “Hello” and got straight to the point, “You’ll never believe what I just found out about my cousin, Steve!” What else could I say to an intro like that except, “What about Steve?”

Now my girlfriend and I go way back - so far back that her nickname, ‘Mamasan’, has practically overridden her real name in my vernacular, and vice versa (her nickname for me is ‘Dudette’). She goes just as far back with Chef since the three of us grew up and went to grade school together in the “land of the beautiful people”. I always believed that Mamasan was in her own way one of the “beautiful people”. And boy, could she attract those beautiful boys to her like bees to honey – a true force of nature.

In contrast to her nickname, Mamasan came from a large Italian family. She had two pesky little brothers that we were known to boss around on occasion, and plenty of cousins, four of whom grew up and went to high school with us in Huntington Beach as well. The oldest of the four cousins was Steve, but many of us simply called him “Scope” instead. He was one of the “beautiful people” too.

My history with Scope goes almost as far back as my history with Mamasan and Chef. Scope was about three years older than we were, so he tended to hang with an older crowd, although there were some overlaps. One big overlap was my first husband, the deadbeat-cum-sperm-donor that the courts refer to as the father of my children. His name, by the way, was Steve too.

Scope was a highly skilled finish carpenter, a musician, and all around free bird who went with his own flow. He could build just about anything in my opinion, so when my first husband (the other Steve) and I were enticed to move from California to Colorado in 1978 during a Rocky Mountain construction boom, the free-spirited Scope wasn’t too far behind. He even stayed with us in Littleton for a while before eventually landing an opportunity in Vail, where he lived for several years thereafter … until the Colorado construction boom ultimately came to a crashing halt in the mid-80’s when the mid-west energy crisis hit, and interest rates bordered on usurious while property values plummeted, which pushed the banking system to the brink of collapse. Sound vaguely familiar? Scope ultimately made his way back to The OC where he managed to marry his wife, Karen, and secure a nice job with a local university.

Until Mamasan’s phone call that day in Whitefish, the last I knew of Scope was that he’d left his job at the university and taken to the road. He and Karen had decided to sell everything, buy a motor home, and roam the country like nomads for a couple of years. Apparently the last of Karen’s two sons had graduated from high school, and they no longer felt any obligation to stay put. And with Scope’s skill-set, there was little doubt he could find work anywhere they chose to land along the way.

Mamasan couldn’t contain her excitement when she learned of her cousin’s coincidental relocation to Whitefish, Montana, and understandably couldn’t tell me fast enough. And he didn’t just settle in Whitefish, he moved into a house they’d purchased only two blocks away from the Unabomber bungalow – and all of this within a month of my arrival. Imagine Scope’s surprise when I showed up at his front door unannounced the next day.

Part of me was secretly relieved upon hearing Mamasan’s sensational news. Maybe I wouldn’t be so isolated after all. I liked the idea of knowing someone other than Chef in this remote locale. Although Chef knew of Scope while growing up, the two had never met. The same was true of Karen and me. I’d heard plenty about her over time, but we’d never met either. Clearly Scope and I were the common denominators in this mix.

Scope did a much better job of blending into the cow town of Whitefish than I did, and with relatively little effort I might add. Maybe the time he’d spent in Vail helped him learn to better synchronize with the idiosyncracies of the small town mentality. I suspect it helped that he had always been in possession of a somewhat laid back nature, in a relaxed hippie kind of way.

Courtesy of www.MuseumOfGamingHistory.org
Six months down the road saw Chef working regular dinner shifts and Karen working evenings in a retail job. Scope and I thought it would be fun to spend some of our mutually free evening time learning something new, so we signed up for weekly country swing dance lessons at the Remington.

Little did I know though, Scope couldn’t dance - not even a little bit. And here I was afraid I’d be the ball and chain who’d weigh him down on the dance floor since I knew for a fact that I couldn’t dance. Not the country swing anyway. I had a history of drunken cowboys storming off the dance floor at ‘The Little Bear’ in Evergeen, Colorado because I was unable to follow their lead without damaging both their feet and their pride. Well, dancing with Scope was like dancing with a big plank of wood, but his stiff moves didn’t seem to matter so much since he didn’t know how to lead anyway. In the end, those lessons did absolutely nothing to improve our swing, and it was hard not to get a little discouraged. At least no one got hurt…

Big Mountain from my back porch
…which is a lot more than I can say about snowboarding with Karen up on the Big Mountain. Personally, I think the Big Mountain has one of the best bunny slopes I’ve ever experienced. It was the perfect place to learn a new snow sport, and what made it even better was the fact that access to the slope and its chair lift was free.

When it came to snowboarding though, the first thing I learned was that being able to ski well offered me no edge when it came to learning how to ride a snowboard. And believe you me, to know the agony of defeat is to barely tip the front edge of that snowboard with your big toe, and inadvertently bring all downhill movement to an abrupt halt, which unto itself is no big deal and to be expected. It becomes a big deal, however, when the signal to stop doesn’t reach the upper half of your body until your face smashes into the snow like a speeding missile plunging to earth.

Suffice it to say, my adventures in snowboarding came to a very ugly end one afternoon after finishing up what I thought was a pretty good day of bunny slope practice.

Karen and I had decided to make our way to the car straight off the slope by gliding along the catwalks leading to the parking lot, because frankly, who would willingly walk that kind of distance with a bulky snowboard slung over their shoulder if they didn’t have to? Well, I almost didn’t make it to the car alive.

I was caught off guard deep in the woods by a sneaky patch of sharp ice which threw me off balance, and caused the edge of my snowboard to tip and catch. My upper body continued to propel forward unhindered at the speed of light until my face stopped all momentum with swift finality the second it slammed onto the icy earth beneath me. I literally saw stars … after I heard the back of my skull crack from the force of the impact, that is. No one witnessed my mortifying and quite undignified face-plant, but everyone got to see the damaging aftereffects all over my battered face for weeks. Nothing says “I’m done with snowboarding forever” faster than a black eye; a busted and fat lip; a scraped, bruised and bloodied face; and a concussion.

In reconnecting with Scope like I did, it wasn’t long before I realized that my big blast from the past was to play a big part in my future when we ultimately hired him to build our licensed catering kitchen. And what a fine and trusty co-conspirator he proved to be when I requested that he secretly build me “The Door”…

Living The Big Sky LifeTM
© by DK King


  1. Isn't it amazing how small the world actually is? We moved from Mass. to Oregon in the late 70's and ran into an old high school friend simply walking down the street!

    I love your snowboarding story. I have never tried 'the slopes', but most everyone here in WA state ski's. They even offered it as an extra-curricular when my kids were in school. My daughter ended her lessons in almost the same exact way, face skiing. But years later, she tried it again and now is a regular.

    I'm looking forward to finding out more about what happened to Steve!

  2. Love your writing, DK. It's witty, easy to read, clean, nice use of words.

    And how small are karmic circles, eh?

    Keep up the great work. I look forward to seeing your name on many book covers one day.



Comments? Great! Please say it kindly. Gratitude, DK.