A Stitch in Time

At the Blue Jay Inn in Buffalo Creek, life sews on.

The breeze moves across the creek, turns the corner by the old porch swing, dallies with the ancient lilac bush and settles where the ladies sit in rockers with their quilting hoops: A mother, an aunt and three daughters, all taking refuge from the heat of the eastern plains. The aunt, like the rest of the family, is a paying guest, but that has not stopped her from planting purple petunias in the dark-green-painted planters that line the porch where the women now sit, sewing and talking. Catherine Ramus, proprietor of the Blue Jay Inn, comes out onto the porch carrying several cushions that date to 1947, the year she bought the inn.

"Oh, thank you, Mrs. Ramus," the mother says, allowing herself to become even more comfortable.

"Oh, look, ladies," Mrs. Ramus remarks, "there's that little bird that's been circling about. Is it a wren?"

"It's hot in the sun," says the oldest daughter, who wears sunflower earrings made of paper. "But the breeze is awfully nice."

"Isn't it nice to just sit?" agrees Mrs. Ramus.
It is nice to sit and listen to the song of the possible wren and the creaking of rockers and the almost inaudible pop made when a needle enters and exits several layers of 100 percent cotton fabric and batting.

It is nice to quilt, away from husbands, children, jobs and hometown tasks. Lunch was more than nice--"the damask tablecloths she uses, and the beautiful silverware!" the middle daughter says--and whenever anyone gets thirsty, there's a nice pitcher of water from the spring deep below Buffalo Creek.

"Sitting here," the mother says, "you can picture so much what it would have been like decades ago--the people, the quiet, the sign above the sink that says, This is country plumbing please be careful. People who came on the train, mothers and children. They stayed all summer. Imagine people staying all summer!"

Mrs. Ramus overhears this, although strictly speaking, she is occupying her own rocker space slightly removed from the quilters. This is not because she has lost interest in quilting but because her eyes are failing. Needles and thread have become too slight, and putting together the lovely lunch, with the silverware and damask tablecloth, required considerable effort. Now it is nice to sit and think about staying in Buffalo Creek all summer, which is what she has done since 1921, when she was nine years old.

"All the families had flagpoles," Mrs. Ramus says. "Whoever ran their flag up first in the morning--that was whose house all the others would assemble at. For hiking! Or picnics! Picnics every day."

Hymn-singing every Sunday. Mr. Ramus, when he entered the picture, tying flies on the porch every evening. Lights out early. Hired girls in fancy aprons. Souvenir plates on the walls.

"One of them," Mrs. Ramus confides, "was given to me by such a nice young man from West Point, who gave it to me because his wife was mad at him." A flirtatious plate. Mrs. Ramus, who is 84, laughs her girlish laugh, and the quilters look up from their handiwork. (They range in age from 27 to 60, but none is the girlish-laugh type.)

Seeing that she has their attention, Mrs. Ramus ventures a story of country life.

"I looked out the window, ladies," she says, "and there was an elk, looking back at me!"

The quilters smile, then return to their family chatter.
Mrs. Ramus rocks a little, wondering when someone from one of the 25 families that live permanently in Buffalo Creek will come by to drive her to Green's Mercantile, where her post-office box is the oldest in continuous operation. Quite wisely, Mrs. Ramus recently stopped driving herself. So several weeks ago, when she came to the Blue Jay Inn to begin her regular three-month summer stay, a Denver neighbor dropped her off.

"Jenny and Jimmy came in to help me clean up, and they said I'd freeze to death in here, as it's been awfully cold," Mrs. Ramus remembers. "I said, I certainly will not freeze to death. I'll light the wood stove right quick, and I'll be fine."

What was not fine was Buffalo Creek. In mid-May, a forest fire ate up much of the land around the town. When it finally was over, 10,000 acres had succumbed, leaving a smattering of helicopters, a trail of exhausted firefighters and a strange landscape of blackened trees with burnt orange needles sitting amid heaps of silent silver ash. Cabins--and much grander buildings--that had been in Buffalo Creek families for five generations were destroyed. The fire came within a quarter-mile of the Blue Jay Inn but changed its mind.

And now the hotel's 116th summer begins.

Ask anyone. Buffalo Creek has always had its loyal corps of old ladies.
When Catherine Ramus, then the nine-year-old Catherine Davis, first summered here with her family, she relied on old ladies for her spending money.

"You see, there were no postcards to be had," Mrs. Ramus recalls. "You could buy views of Estes Park, and that was about it. So my mother started taking pictures the minute we landed, and my brothers and I sold them by the hundreds, six for a quarter, to all the old ladies in all the cabins."

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