A Mammoth Loss
In the fall of 1994, my parents bought their dream vacation home up in the Northern California resort town of Mammoth Lakes. Because of their investment and generosity, my own family has been blessed beyond measure to enjoy innumerable weeks and extended weekends up there for these past almost 20 years. We have escaped to this breathtaking mountain retreat for as long and as often as we possibly can throughout any given year.
When back home in the Crescenta Valley, however, my personal link back to the mountains has always been our wonderful next-door neighbor and full-time Mammoth resident Evie. A gourmet chef and professional caterer, Evie has always let me know right away by email whenever a storm would dump snow on our neighborhood. She would attach pictures taken from her living room window of the back deck on our family cabin to show us how much snow had fallen. Or how the wildflowers were growing in the summer. Or of a deer or bear running wild between our homes. Her emails from 300 miles away have always been a welcome respite from the humdrum and ho-hum of “normal” life and a reminder that high-altitude adventure and escape is only a six-hour drive away.
As much as the towering Jeffrey pines, jagged granite peaks and snowmelt-fed, gem-blue lakes, Evie has been an integral part of our family’s Mammoth experience and – of course – of our many memories of long, leisurely vacations and weekend getaways up there. On countless occasions, Evie and her husband Paul have graciously invited us to walk the winding dirt path between our high-altitude homes to join them for a multi-course, expertly prepared dinner.
If there was a limit to her hospitality, we’ve never found it. When our daughter got married several years ago and spent part of her honeymoon up in Mammoth, Evie hand-delivered a specially prepared dessert to the happy couple to help celebrate the occasion.
Two winters ago, our son drove up to the cabin late one Friday night with friends on what was supposed to be a long Valentine’s weekend snowboarding trip. Upon arrival and after digging through a deep bank of snow to unlock the front door, our son and company were greeted with no power and the sound of rushing water. Lots of water. They quickly discovered that a water pipe had burst in an upstairs bathroom more than a week before their arrival and had been flooding both upstairs and downstairs ever since. When Evie found out about the disaster, she insisted that our son and his friends stay at their house for the weekend, but also cooked wonderful meals for them their entire stay.
I’m writing all of this in somewhat of a state of shock. That’s because late this past Sunday night I received one of those calls that you almost immediately wish you’d never answered. It was from Evie’s husband, calling with the unbelievable news that she had collapsed and died earlier that day. She was fine on Saturday and gone on Sunday.
How could that be? Evie had emailed me just this past week with a report of fresh new snowfall. When were we coming up again, she asked, like she always did. And if so, would we have time to join them for dinner? Again, like always.
We did not share a common faith or political views. But that never seemed to matter because we spent so much time sharing our mutual appreciation for – and enjoyment of – the mountains, good conversation and even better food. (It makes me want to gather our current crop of politicians together in a glorious place like Mammoth and see what happens.)
Although most of our state is emerging from one of the warmest and driest winters on record, this past weekend winter suddenly turned painfully harsh in Mammoth Lakes. For my family in particular, it has left a chill that we’ll feel for many seasons to come.
I’ll see you ’round town.