As impoverished married students, Maggie and I spent the first couple nights of our honeymoon near Estes Park, sleeping in tent we rented for $2 a night from the KU Student Union. One of my brothers gave us a large cooler as a wedding present, and well, we didn’t need much more. That was in August 1977.
We returned to Estes Park and to Rocky Mountain National Park earlier this month, but we were hardly alone. With us were our two sons, Connor and Preston, their wives, Jac and Becca, and Connor and Jac’s two sons, Abram and Wesley.
We also brought our dog, Ellie, who gets along with everyone and will drool on anyone regardless of their station in life if they dare eat in front of her.
We were more comfortable this trip. Courtesy of Maggie’s brother and his family, we lived in near luxury in a genuine mountain cabin overlooking the YMCA of the Rockies. There were no pillow mints, but it had a well stocked kitchen, three bedrooms, three baths, a near-wraparound deck with a view of the snow-capped Rockies and a large television. This wasn’t a campout — this was a reunion at 8,500 feet, and I’m not sure it could have gone better.
We drove out separately in three cars and arrived at different times. By the time Maggie and I got there, a ruthless game of “Catan” was well underway.
“Catan” wasn’t the only game. Abram had little trouble finding company for Uno marathons or rounds of checkers, and we brought a decent assortment of toys for the grandsons to play with. Preston, one of those who is comfortable in any setting, introduced us to the “Family Feud” card game and was unmatched in the role of emcee now occupied on TV by Steve Harvey.
There was plenty of hiking in park trails, though because of our years of smoking, Maggie and I took less arduous paths. To their credit, Abram, who’s 4 (“and a half”), and Wes, who will be 2 this week, were up to the outdoor challenges. We also took scenic drives, including up Trail Ridge Road, and some long but not-so-scenic trips into and through Estes Park for groceries.
The adults took turns cooking indoors and on a propane grill on the deck, and while the dinner menus included plenty of burgers, brats and chicken, salads that contained ingredients with which I have little familiarity and Jac’s pizzas were the highlights. And yes, the beer was good. I rarely drink alcohol, but I’m happy to make an exception when our sons are around.
We sampled the offerings of three Estes Park breweries, enjoyed ice cream cones and rifled through scores of T-shirts at multiple shops before making choices. We also played miniature golf — all eight of us — though we let a few groups play through. We all got a few holes in one and I ended up owing both of my sons a beer based on our respective scores.
One outing of mini golf wasn’t enough for Abram. He lobbied for another round until he was assured we would go again, and then he pestered us to find out when. He must have doubted us because a couple days before we packed up, he informed Aunt Becca that he and Wes had come up with a plan to play mini golf the next day. When she asked how he and Wes were going to get to the mini golf place, he said he didn’t know, but that if she drove them, she could play too.
To no one’s surprise, the boys idolized her and Preston. For Maggie and me that was gratifying because apart from FaceTime sessions, Abram and Wes won’t see Preston and Becca for a year or more. We hope the time they enjoyed together leaves a lasting impression.
Happily, the weather allowed us to spend plenty of time on the deck. Not only did the deck offer a spectacular mountain views, it was where we played “Family Feud,” caught up with one another and gazed at the waxing moon after dark through the telescope Preston and Becca brought. Ellie, just happy to be there, took it all in.
It’s hard these days to get families together, even for an afternoon; it’s nearly impossible when some members live overseas. But we were able to pull it off, thanks to flexibility from all involved.
For the record, we watched one movie on DVD (“Happy Feet”) and another on VHS (“The Land Before Time”) and we all stayed off our cellphones except to take photos.
It was about as good a week as I can remember.
Braun retired in 2017 as the Mercury’s editorial page editor.