Some Things Never Change

Some things never change.

This time last year Mike was stacking wood and shoveling snow (I just read last year’s newsletter!) in a “blustery 18 degrees” and today he does the same in 9 degrees of blowing snow. I’m comfy in my fuzzy pink bathrobe by the fire, still determined to give the snail-mail authorities a little extra business this year.

Our family continues to grow!

Travel this past year included two weeks in California where I was honored to help my sister Christine and her children with my brother-in-law Keith’s transition from this world to the next, my trip to Smith College to speak on a panel at their Leadership Conference, a trip to sister Carol’s to visit with Mum and sister Charlene, an unexpected trip to Hilton Head to visit with author Janet Sheppard Kelleher (where I parasailed and avoided gators and dropped my phone in the ocean and put together my book Haikus Can Amusebecause I dropped my phone in the ocean), a week in Maine to visit with my Mum and family at Susie and Jim’s gorgeous waterfront home, a road trip to visit Jake in Austin and another couple of weeks in the trailer at Moab and Lake Powell with Mike and the Ranger-dog. I’m becoming quite the Stand-Up-Paddleboarder and absolutely love being on the water! There were also several Colorado road trips to attend various author events at schools and libraries. Pitch: Please support your local libraries! They do much to support their communities and their local authors.

Summit Library’s Teen Reading Program director went all out for my visit with her group!

I continue to write and publish my books on Amazon and blog at about lots of things including another no-kill hunting season and my first warm elk harvesting from an early morning roadkill call. We finally had a legitimate reason to purchase a separate freezer. Waterwight hit the streets on Leap Day. It was great fun to write, and now I’m working on Waterwight: Flux, the second book in the series. I have a feeling 2017 will be a year of great productivity as I have several other writing projects in various stages of completion already.

Wildfires are always scary.

Training for and competing in his 11th one-hundred-mile mountain bike race this summer just wasn’t exciting enough for Mike, and though it wasn’t his plan, he ended the race in time to manage one of many of the wildfires in Colorado last summer. After several exhausting days he returned to a structure fire, and as soon as he was convinced all was in control, I drove him to Denver to have his second hip replacement, but not before I sent him off to California to climb mountains with his brother Mark over Labor Day weekend. He had to make sure he used up every last bone surface and I had to get him out of the house to compete in a 3-Day Novel contest. By the way, he’s now quite happy being Titanium Man, and I wrote my best piece of fiction ever. Not sure what the county would do without his Emergency Manager expertise, and he’s pretty happy with his influence in many areas throughout our community.

Our beautiful home!

He humored me by letting me offer our home for Leadville’s Victorian Homes Tour right after Thanksgiving, for which I felt compelled to complete the installation of hardwood floors in several rooms. We had a toilet in our living room until the day before Thanksgiving and couldn’t really use the kitchen for the whole week prior, but that didn’t stop me from being able to feed an Army Thanksgiving afternoon.

Have I mentioned what a great guy my husband is?

As for our sons, Jake still enjoys life in Austin working in the IT world and still working on the van that broke down there over a year ago. My Mum made the difficult decision to stop driving last summer and sent her vehicle to him, much to his surprise and delight. He visited us this past summer and at Thanksgiving, but will stay in Austin to have a friends’ Christmas this year. I knew it had to happen at some point, and it will be most peculiar having our first Christmas without him home, but we’re happy he has good friends with whom to share the celebration.

First Lieutenant Nicholas McHargue (Army National Guard promotion this past summer) continues to work at the mine while completing prerequisites for applications to medical schools. We still love having him live just a mile away, and I think he enjoys his mum’s home cooking every once in a while.

The Ranger-dog is still a goofball and loves traveling with us. If you’re interested in knowing more about him, I wrote a blog post called “Don’t Get a Dog” which you might want to read before making a decision to get a dog. We really do like him.

And so, as this year comes to a close, I reflect on things that have stayed the same, but acknowledge the many things that have changed. Like most everyone else, we lost and gained family members and friends this year. The gains are always happy, the losses always sad, especially when we think “too soon” or “not fair.”

I appreciate one of Langston Hughes’ poems about life and death:

“Life is for the living.
Death is for the dead.
Let life be like music.
And death a note unsaid.”

Each year I try to do better at treasuring the beauty of each new moment—even the painful ones—in my fleeting life. I wish the same for you.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, whichever ones you choose to celebrate. And may 2017 be a year filled with health, happiness, and unconditional love.

~ ~ ~

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SuperMum: Part 2

“I’ve made the decision to move in with Carol and Michael.”

Mum’s words, measured and gently delivered, put a knot in my throat. Several moments passed before I was able to tell her why her decision on September 10th was making me cry.

“I’m not stupid, you know,” she continued, “but I am proud.” She confessed that her pride kept her living alone in the beautiful home she and Dad enjoyed for their last 15 years together. “And I miss the sound of other feet in the house.”

Mum reading my novel a few weeks ago.
Mum reading my novel a few weeks ago.

Despite her wonderful neighbors and friends who checked in on her and took her to lunch and expected to see her at McDonald’s for oatmeal on Saturday mornings, Mum was lonely.

“And I know you’re crying because you see this as my last transition.”

Mum has always joked that the two of us are twins separated by years, but I’ll be damned if she wasn’t reading my mind as I sniffled at my end of the phone.

“But this makes me really happy, too,” I told her.

I spent a couple of weeks with Mum after Dad’s death just shortly before their 65th wedding anniversary and was blown away by her strength. I’m not sure why I should have been surprised. She managed our estrogen-filled household like a CEO of a Fortune 500 Company until all five of us “little chickens” flew off to build our own nests, and was there to help ensure each new nest was decorated and arranged tastefully.

The Bernier family a few years ago.
The Bernier family a few years ago.

I’ll never forget my husband’s response while living in one of our houses when he learned of an upcoming visit from Mum and Dad. “Just keep her out of my underwear drawer, okay?” Mike tolerated her proclivity toward rearranging things when she visited, but he had to draw the line somewhere. In each of our houses over the years, Mum has derived great pleasure in rearranging things, always with an eye toward efficiency, and I have always appreciated her talent.

Dad used to joke about being afraid to get up to pee in the middle of the night because the bed might be in a different location when he returned. I miss Dad’s jokes, and Mum misses so much more.

Dad never put Mum on a pedestal. He didn’t need to. They were partners. Anyone spending any time with the two of them would walk away knowing how much he adored her. And she loved, respected and defended him unwaveringly. We five girls knew the futility of trying to play one off the other if we wanted something. They were a united front.

Mom and Dad were always a team.
Mom and Dad were always a team.

Sure, they had squabbles. Sure, he could be brusque and she could interrupt his stories. And I don’t know how many years Mum hid sweets in the house knowing he would find them when she went to the store.

“Just give me a nickel’s worth!” is still Mum’s response to any offer of dessert or treats, and it has me baffled to this day because I inherited Dad’s sweet tooth. To me, “a nickel’s worth” is just a tease, and certainly does nothing to satisfy a craving. But I think Dad understood Mum’s desire to keep her man healthy, he being genetically predisposed toward heaviness, and I’m pretty sure Mum “hid” things as a compromise. I guess I should ask her about that. It amuses me to think they both understood the game.

After 65 years together, I’m certain the games they played were plentiful, and I loved the way Dad’s joke—about why they had so many children—always made her laugh.

“It’s because your mother was hard of hearing,” he would say.

“What do you mean?” someone would ask.

“Well, if she was busy, I’d ask her if she wanted to watch TV or what, and she’d say, ‘What?’ ”

They joked together, teased one another, laughed with, kissed and held one another until

Hugging. Always hugging.
Hugging. Always hugging.

the very end, and Mum remained stoic at his funeral service because she knew he would have wanted her to be the pillar she had been for him his whole life. She was not about to fall apart in the presence of all who came to honor my Dad.

So her decision to accept my sister and brother-in-law’s request that she move in with them almost two years later startled me only because I had just visited her a few weeks ago at her home. We had the most relaxing, wonderful time together, though I did bring up a few concerns I had.

Mum always does something with my hair when we visit. I love it.
Mum always does something with my hair when we visit. I love it.

A tad taller than I am, she weighs a mere 101 pounds despite allowing herself to enjoy more than a nickel’s worth of dessert now and then. And her driving, which once could have rivalled Mario Andretti’s, has become overly cautious. I’ve been worried about her, as have my other sisters, so I finally choked back my tears to tell her we all believe she’s making the right decision.

And by the end of our conversation, I could finally take a deep breath knowing that this move does not mean the end for her, but rather a new beginning, one she will accept with the grace and dignity she has modelled for her ever-growing family for over half a century now.

I have ever-so-much more to say about Mum, and Mum and Dad, but for now I’ll leave you with thoughts of your own transitions. Will you share?

We're a family of huggers.
We’re a family of huggers.

Laurel McHargue / Laurel’s email / Leadville Laurel Facebook page / Laurel’s Twitter



I jotted notes about my Mum’s major life transition shortly after Dad died just two years ago, but never got around to finishing my story. After my phone call with her on September 10th, however, I knew it was time to brush off and finish what I started.

Patricia and Charles "Pat and Charlie" Bernier
Patricia and Charles–“Pat and Charlie” Bernier

I don’t believe Mum ever made the transition into retirement when Dad hit the magic number most men in his generation aimed for and stopped working. Theirs was a different generation, one in which women were transitioning into the workplace more frequently, though they were never treated as equals with their male peers. I don’t think it’s particularly funny that we’re still debating the merits of equal pay for equal work in 2015, but I’m certain it was never an issue Mum complained about.

She worked as a Main Office secretary at my high school, and from what I can gather, she was the best. She could type 120 accurate words per minute on a clickity-clackity typewriter and didn’t need to be told how to punctuate. She was home by 4 p.m. and never failed to put a scrumptious dinner on the table for her five daughters.

Susan, Laurel, Charlene, Carol, and Christine
Susan, Laurel, Charlene, Carol, and Christine, the Bernier 5! Too bad we didn’t sing…

Dad worked for AT&T and was home by 5:30 p.m., ready for his scotch and newspaper.

LTC Charles Bernier
LTC Charles Bernier

He and Mum would sit in the living room together, Mum with her glass of Sherry, Dad with his Dewars, and they would catch up, I suppose, on their day’s events. I say “I suppose” because we kids either knew enough to respect their time together, or we were likely more interested in ourselves. In any case, it was their routine.

After 40 years of working both in the corporate world and in the Army Reserves—retiring as a full Colonel—Dad officially retired, a word that doesn’t mean the same thing today as it did then. And Mum finally retired from her still-full bottle of Wite-Out. But while Dad transitioned into a life of leisure, spending more time watching news and completing crossword puzzles, Mum transitioned from taking care of the school’s principal to taking care of Dad.

Mum is a nurturer and thrives on being needed. Dad had no reason to complain about his status as numero uno in the household once they married off daughter #5, so a new routine was established quickly.

From my perspective, Dad got the better end of the deal, he being the one who would be cared for and pampered—willing and lovingly by Mum—until his last day, over 20 years after his retirement from the workplace. When Dad died, Mum was faced with reevaluating her decades-long routine.

Theirs was a love and devotion that spanned 65 years.
Theirs was a love and devotion that spanned 65 years.

Watching her as she has transitioned over the past two years as a widow has taught me much about this woman, 30 years my elder, who is as much a part of me as my own sagging skin.

I will share more observations, and the phone call, in my next post.

Laurel McHargue / Laurel’s email / Leadville Laurel Facebook page / Laurel’s Twitter


Boom Days Dodger

I’m awake at 05:45 without my alarm after having gone to bed a mere four hours earlier—having enjoyed a long evening of side-splitting laughter with the family and friends who are sharing beds and couches while visiting us this Boom Days weekend. The laughter helped me escape my somber mood from earlier yesterday when my sister called to tell me that our Dad was in the hospital.

I make my signature cheesy eggs and sausage for friends who will board a plane to Germany tomorrow for the next two years. We never made it to Abu Dhabi to visit them these last two years—for which I feel a twinge of guilt—and I promise that we will visit them in Ülm. I intend to keep this promise. They leave with hugs and full bellies, and I am just a little jealous of their new adventure.

At 9 o’clock there are people and floats and noisy, pooping animals traveling down our road to line up for the 10 o’clock parade to kick off Leadville’s Boom Days celebration. I haven’t missed a parade in nine years, and often I’ve even walked in the parade. Today, however, I can’t seem to muster a bit of enthusiasm for the spectacle.

My head is fuzzy—I haven’t slept well these past several nights—and as the rest of the house awakens, I can think of nothing but sleep. Two lovely girls descend the stairs in Victorian dresses, one son and another friend threaten to attend the parade in pajamas and Snuggies, my husband and other son leave for a mountain bike ride in preparation for the Leadville Trail 100 race next Saturday, and I’m already thinking about another houseful of early morning racers in 7 more days.

At 9:50 I know I will not attend the parade and holler at them all to get out of the house—and to not come back for two hours. I’ve got to take a nap, but I’ve got to use the bathroom first, and all three bathrooms are in use. I suppress a wave of resentment by remembering that I love the crazy days of summer, and even more, I love that we have friends and family who want to be with us. I want to live in the moment and be a part of the wacky Wild West festivities.

But my dad is in the hospital, his lungs filling with pneumonia, his skin cancer—after nearly a year of torturous radiation and chemo—raising its ugly head once more, and I want to get on a plane and be there right now. I want to run away from the fun and laughter here and bring some to my mom who has slept far less than I this past year, and to two of my sisters who have been carrying the load along with her.

Everyone leaves, and at 10 o’clock I’m in bed laughing at the foolishness of thinking I can sleep with the steam calliope warming up outside my bedroom window and the olde thyme prop planes buzzing the growing crowds along the parade path. Nevertheless, after seeing 10:25 on the clock beside my bed I fall into a bottomless sleep and I’m pretty sure it’s wonderful.

I awake for the second time today, but startled this time, hearing the clip-clip of hooves and the braying of mules—not unusual for Leadville—and wondering why I am in bed looking at 11:30 on my alarm clock. I check my pillow for drool.

Time to get up; we’re hosting a barbecue for 30 people in four hours. Perhaps I’ll attend some of the fun down town tomorrow.


Seeing old things through new eyes

Living in a race and vacation destination, I have found perfect places to take visitors of every age and fitness level. Sitting at an elevation of over 10,000 feet, Leadville challenges the fittest of the fit, and participation in the yearly Leadville Trail 100 races has grown dramatically over the past several years; completing any of the LT100 races delivers a badge of distinction.

While my husband has earned a drawerful of those badges, I have opted to stay on the sidelines and participate as support wench, a role much appreciated by those who push themselves beyond what most would consider “normal” limits. Because I am often host to racers and their support crews throughout the summer in addition to the routine friends and family who come here to escape the oppressive heat of everywhere else, I have had frequent opportunities to play tour director, and the one place that unfailingly delivers a memorable experience is the Leadville National Fish Hatchery, established in the late 1800s.

I probably should have cut a notch in a walking stick for every time I’ve taken a lap around the one-mile nature trail before depositing quarters in the fish food machine so visitors can leave with stinky hands from feeding the captive fish. My most recent lap was with my two young nieces, their mom, and Sarah, and what could have been a simple jaunt around the familiar path became a much longer adventure as each girl was pulled to explore something off-path at every turn.

The little-girl excitement at seeing a yellow butterfly, a bigger-than-them boulder, a hopping robin, or a mysterious shadow in a lake were enough to reignite my interest in a place that might otherwise leave me feeling jaded . . .

and who could leave a well-trodden path feeling bored after a swing on a playground where you can touch the treetops with your toes?


“Twas the Night Before Christmas . . . “

In an effort to “complete” a piece of creative writing before the start of 2012, I tackled the classic Christmas poem and used it as a template for my own family version. It was more difficult than I had anticipated! (hope you enjoy it)

‘Twas the night before Christmas at the Lead Ass Inn
Not a soul had forgotten their faraway kin;

The stockings were hung on the bookshelf this year,
To help the Red Room appear far less austere;

The children were working on muscles with Dad,
Vacation from college had made them both glad;

So Mike in the gym, and I in the kitchen,
Had just figured out how to minimize bitchin’;

When out in the yard there arose such a noise,
I left my potatoes in fear for my boys.

Away to the entry I ran like a mouse,
Tore open the first door and tripped over Klaus.

The moon on the icicles hanging above
Cast a glimmer from heaven which sparkled like love,

When, what to my curious eyes should appear,
But husband and sons in their gym-sweaty gear,

With a look in their eyes, so hungry and tired,
I knew that I had what their muscles required.

More rapid than ravenous donkeys they came,
And I welcomed them home, and called them by name;

“Now, Nicholas! Jacob! Now, Charlie* and Mike!
Come to the kitchen, I’ve something you’ll like!

To the warmth of the kitchen! To the nicely set table!
Now come on in! Sit right down! Show me you’re able!”

As laborers that before royalty know,
When invited to dine with them, and plan to go,

First up to the showers like eagles they flew,
With towels, deodorant, hair products, too.

And then, with much giggling, I heard from the rooms
The descent of feet on stairs, sounding like booms.

As I waited for them, and expected them soon,
To the kitchen they came with a Christmas Day tune.

They were dressed  in Melanzana**, from their heads to their feet,
And their urgency said it was past time to eat;

Computers and iphones they’re never without,
And they looked like mad scientists abolishing doubt.

Their eyes—how they twinkled! Their faces how cheerful!
I knew over dinner we’d all get an earful!

Their brains were both filled with “the latest” they’d learned,
And with happiness shared all the knowledge they’d earned;

The “interwebs” demonstrate “knowledge is power,”
And provide a week’s worth of “stuff” in an hour;

The boys shared new songs and cute memes and fun sites,
We listened and questioned and laughed between bites.

They were happy to share with their parents their world,
And we laughed as our past became truly unfurled;

A wink in their eyes and a shared chuckle, too,
Soon let us know that our brains would grow new;

They spoke with gusto, but were quick to explain,
And never let on that our questions were lame,

And after our dinner when bellies were full,
And one to the other, to the stairs did they pull;

They sprang to their rooms, after smiles and warm hugs,
And away they both crept into bed like good thugs.

But we heard them exclaim, ere they fell from our sight,
“Merry Christmas to all, may your futures be bright.”

*   Our "guest" cat, who spends more time at our home than his own
**  Leadville's own made-in-store outdoor clothing shop

From Texas A&M to Lehigh

School days continue to challenge Dad, and I start to learn little bits about his younger brother Jackie/Jack/Jake (it does not surprise me that he calls his little brother different names as he also signs his letters in a variety of nicknames including Murray, Moe, Chuck, Charlie . . . not yet Charles). I wish I had some of my uncles letters, as I understand he was very funny! Perhaps my cousins could find some?