Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Heart at the end of May

The end of May traditionally brings two of my favorite events in this high mountain village. This year there were three, given the coronavirus cluster that postponed a traditional ski area ending festival to the start of summer. But all three are hyper-local in nature and reflect a bit of the “old” Crested Butte. All three are filled with heart. All three reflect the underlying community values of this changing town.

Memorial Day typically brings the families of old-timers back to Crested Butte. Most have moved on and probably don’t even recognize much of what the place is now, but their general love of the place is always evident. Memorial Day in Crested Butte is not like the Fourth of July. It normally starts with a Memorial Day march of local veterans from the Old Town Hall to the Crested Butte cemetery for a mass and a playing of “Taps,” followed by a potluck in the parish hall and a polka party in a local watering hole. It sounds and feels more blue collar than ritzy resort, and it is. Thank God.

But even that was not to be this year. A small formation of three veterans, one carrying a flag borrowed at the last minute from the Bluebird Real Estate office and two carrying rifles, marched from Second and Elk to the Four-way Stop. A couple more joined them at the bone yard for a rifle salute in honor of those locals who lost their lives in the military.

Because of the public health orders banning large gatherings, more soldiers did not participate and the potluck and polka party were not allowed. But just seeing three men in tight-fitting uniforms march down Elk Avenue in the early morning chill with two marshal’s cars and a fire truck to a smattering of applause choked me up. The few people downtown at 9:30 Monday morning stood and saluted, clapped, placed their hands over their heart or removed their caps in honor of local warriors who lost their lives. It is always small town America at its finest. It is a connection between old-timers and new people. It is deep Crested Butte and while it never draws numbers it exemplifies community. It exemplifies the underlying heart.

The new Flauschink king was by the post office in his royal garb (and a mask) Monday morning to pay his respects to the Memorial Day tradition. And Flauschink is another of the hyper-local events that exemplifies community. Flauschink landed in May this year because of the COVID-19 cluster. Normally Flauschink marks the final days of the ski season but this year it strangely marked the start of summer. The new royals were announced by another of Sherrie Vandervoort’s fun poems that lay down the clues of who is about to be gifted a cape, a funny hat and a plunger for the next 12 months. This year though, the poems were read Friday on KBUT as has-beens and their consorts danced at the Four-Way to the Friday Night Fish Fry that played more polka than zydeco.

Like with Memorial Day, polka plays a big part in a normal Flauschink. The old miners of Crested Butte played their accordions and danced on the wooden bar floors throughout town and in these days the Flauschinkers take great joy in rolling out the barrel (and libations) while shimmying to the chicken dance.

Flauschink has roots in the Crested Butte traditions and it is fun and funny and weird enough to still be going on more than a half century after it started. It too honors old-timers, while mid-timers take part and newcomers who are not afraid can learn some things about the old Crested Butte. Past royals include parents, professionals, politicians and pretty much every cross-section of what this community represents.

And then there is the Crested Butte Community School graduation. That will take place this Saturday, May 30 in a different sort of way—a drive-in and vehicle parade through town sort of way. Normally, the high school graduation draws the community together in a packed gymnasium to watch its children leave the nest and begin their first steps into the next chapter. As a friend said recently over a socially distanced beer, “Once you’ve been to one of these graduations, whether you have a kid there or not, it’s hard to miss another one. It is so full of heart.”

It is indeed.

While certainly growing in numbers, the teachers, administration and staff at the Crested Butte Community School are doing whatever they can to retain the community part of the school. Thank you. And graduation is a big part of that. It is at graduation that the young adults officially connect with their village and the village connects with the next crop of young adults. It offers a time of celebration and a recognition of important milestones. That will still be the case but in a really weird and different sort of way, given coronavirus complications.

Weird and different exemplifies Crested Butte anyway, so the kids probably aren’t all that bummed. The students graduating from this little school at the entrance to town are probably chomping at the bit to get out of here. That is the way life works. And they will…

Then many of them will want to come back to this little village high in the Rocky Mountains as they experience a “real world” full of cubicles and crowds, as opposed to parents in funny Flauschink hats and weathered veterans marching quietly down the main street to pay their respects at the cemetery.

Heart indeed.

—Mark Reaman

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