Under cloudy skies the five children and numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and a few others gathered at Lone Tree Cemetery east of Telluride to bury the ashes of Walter Pera, my mother's cousin. They grew up together in Telluride.
One of Walter's daughters read a beautiful account of his life and personality, and then others spoke of their memories.
Davine Pera read letters received from those who hadn't been able to come, like my uncle Herschel Gustafson and my mother.
I added a few words about how Walter had been her favorite cousin, always generous with his time, teaching her to play tennis, and how much she would have liked to be here today.
Then the whole group went to the Swede-Finn Hall for a luncheon reception, after which some returned to the cemetery for the actual interment of the ashes.
By that time it was raining, so the crowd stood under umbrellas. Each of the children put something in the metal box (made by Walter) that held the urn. To take with him in the afterlife, they put in a screwdriver (something he hated to be without), a coffee-boiling can he had made from an old Hills Bros. coffee can and used on elk hunting trips, a silver dollar, a bullet, a root beer barrell (candy), a few letters, and a Finn flag. His parents were Finnish immigrants, and he always maintained an allegiance to Finland, visiting their village in 1985.
The memorials were very moving under the somber sky with the steep slopes of the U-shaped valley disappearing into the low clouds. Walter lived and worked in these mountains, living up at the Tomboy Mine for one year.
He lived his 92 years courageously and finally was buried next to his older brother, August, who was born in 1907 and died in 1943. August's twin died before his second birthday, and a sister born when he was two years old only lived a day. Finally in 1911 a sister was born who lived to age 89, and then in 1914 Walter was born.
What a hard life their mother, Mary Gustafson Pera, had. Her husband died in 1924 of rheumatoid arthritis after being an invalid for several years. Mary took in laundry and ran the town sauna for a living. Walter took picked up dirty laundry on his sled and returned them when cleaned and ironed.
When the mines closed in Telluride during the Depression, the family moved to Durango. Walter returned to Telluride and by 1943 my grandfather, August Gustafson, hired him at the Western Colorado Power Company. I heard some stories of my grandfather's kindness to Walter and his family.
In April there was a fire in Walter's garage in Durango, where he and his wife Allene were living. They had to move to an apartment, and this upset Walter greatly. He no longer had his shop area to tinker in. He had increasing dementia, possibly LBD, but refused to go into any assisted living. He and Allene often ate doughnuts and lemon meringue pie instead of healthy meals.
During a trip to Oregon to visit his daughter there, he contracted pneumonia and was dying. He knew it and wanted to end his suffering.
"Isn't there something you can give me so I can die?" he asked his daughter, two days before his death.
"No, papa," she said.
"I can't die, dammit!" he cursed.
He also asked for a gun, in true pioneer style, but wasn't given one.
Now he rests in peace, surrounded by his beloved mountains.
I walked around and looked at the other family gravesites, thinking about his long and courageous life, wishing my mother could have been here for the family gathering and shared memories.
Within a few years she too will be resting in peace in Colorado, her ashes buried not in this cemetery but at Trout Lake.