One weather worn hand gripped the hand rail firmly. The other held a cane. Once again, Grandma Started the long journey up the two flights of stairs to her home in Midvale.
Many questioned why a 95 year old widow would continue to live on the 2nd floor of a modest condo. "To many stairs Lela" they would say. "Move to an assisted living center or in with family who will take care of you". They had no idea that the stairs were an intregal part of what kept grandma alive. They represented a cornerstone of her life.
She had moved to Salt Lake 12 years earlier. The winters in Park City had become to harsh for her to continue to live there. The last one had been particularly brutal. I still remember the 140 mile round trip I made nearly every week to shovel more snow off the old miner shanty she had called home for 70 yrs.
Fourteen feet of snow fell that winter. By March, I was standing on the roof throwing the snow up onto banks of snow to keep it from crushing the ancient roof. By spring she relented and left the only place she had known as home for the gentler winters in the Great Salt Lake Valley.
She was born in Park City, Utah on July 24, 1910 to Clyde and Magdalena Yates. Her first home was on Rossie hill 500 stairs up from what was known as "swede" alley, the street directly below mainstreet. Her father worked the mines as an electrician. Because he had an education, Clyde's lot in the silver mines of Park City was better than most who toiled underground on twelve hour shifts with no Unions or health care to protect them. He died in his 40's of pneumonia; a direct result result of his work in the mines. Even with the better job and social standing he enjoyed, his family, like my Grandfathers, was left destitute. No company life insurance or pension, and the Social Security Program was many years away from saving millions of retirees from spending their last years in poverty. Things we just take for granted now.
Often, in her younger years she and the other children would coax the miners to toss lumps of coal out of the ore carts that crossed the town between the many silver mines that wound underneath the city. Coal was a precious commodity and a couple of lumps meant the difference between a warm nights sleep and a cold one. especially to a poor widowed mother and her children. Eagerly, she would take the prize up the 500 stairs to her mother.
She married Grandpa at 16, and moved to the home she would know for the next 70 years in empire Canyon on Daley Avenue. She still continued the climb up the 500 stairs to take care of her ailing Mother. Somehow she also managed to take care of her husband, her husbands mother and raise 2 children.
I remember many stories she would tell me of marching up and down the stairs on Rossie Hill. To school, church, social events. Each required 500 stairs.
When I was 8 years old, I made the journey with Grandma up those stairs on Rossie hill to Grandma Yates house. I have always been active, but, I remember... just that one trip wore me out. I wanted to quit, but, Grandma wouldn't let me...I was tired and angry. Why did she make me finish that ardous climb?
Many years later, I now understand the important lesson she taught me that day. Never shirk from helping others in need, no matter how many stairs you have to climb. All true miners know that mining communites have always banded together to help each other. Even if its their last dollar. They continue that tradition today. Dont believe me? Ask a miner.
Her whole life, she never complained, about life's journey or the many stairs you have to climb along the way. She endured the death of her sisters, her son and her husband. At 97, she was still volunteering at the senior center, helping much younger seniors get meals and arrange Dr.'s appointments.
She conquered those stairs at her condo 3 time a day every day she lived there.
It was no surprise to me that all those stairs never defeated her. She fell in a flat parking lot at a Walmart, breaking her back. To old to recover, her brave soul ended its journey at age 98.
So my friends, I'll proudly say my neck is red...and now you know why I am pro-union, Social Security and support single payer Universal Health Care. To do do any less does not honor their sacrifices of blood and sweat.
Companies don't care about you. They are not people because they do not understand right from wrong. They only understand souless profits and losses. Miners have understood this since the beginning of time. That why unions began. Its also why they stick together and are the most generous people I have ever met. Its a shame so many of us have forgotten this basic lesson.
I leave you with one vivid memory that was the inspiration inspiration for this piece. I took grandma to Park City to on a Memorial day to decorate the graves. We had a great visit with Nan Macpolan and decorated all our family plots. Both of us were exhausted at the end of the drive home. I helped her out of my truck and held her arm as we approached the stairs to her Condo.
Gently, she pulled away and as I watched those hands grip that rail,... as that determined look came on her weathered, beautiful face, I realized what importance those stairs had for my grandmother. I could almost hear her say..."One more time old friends"