When I was a little boy, perhaps seven or eight years of age, our family was acquainted with a family who lived across town. They occupied a fine old brick home not far from the river. To my eye this was an elegant place, and it was beautifully decorated within as well with intricately crocheted antimacassars on the sofas and chairs, and tapestries on the walls. Rich people, I thought.
One day their household was bereft of the presence of its matriarch. "She is away for a rest," it was explained to me. Word, though, soon enough got around as kids whispered amongst themselves that Mrs. C was in Pueblo. Now Pueblo in Southern Colorado was noted for two things: steel mills and the Colorado State Hospital, known as the Asylum for the Insane. To say someone was "in Pueblo" was to say they were crazy, in the understanding of the children in the community. "Is it true," I asked Mama, "that Mrs. C is crazy?" "No! Don't say that. It is true that she is in Pueblo. She had a nervous breakdown and she has gone there for treatment. We are praying for her that she will get well soon."
Photo of Pueblo Asylum courtesy Denver Public Library
Several months passed. One day the parents announced that Mrs. C was home, and not long thereafter our family was invited to dinner in the C's home. I remember, little boy that I was, wondering what it would be like to be in the house with a crazy lady. (See how kids think, or at least how this kid thought.)
Mrs. C was the gracious hostess. She served us the dinner she had prepared and Mama's compliments on the china and crystal prompted the hostess to explain that they were heirlooms that had belonged to her grandmother. After dinner, everyone sat in the drawing room and visited. I recall seventy years later how Mrs. C unabashedly and without reticence related her experiences during her absence. She recalled clearly the incidents leading up to the necessity for her visit to Pueblo as well as the treatment leading to recovery. The hair tingled along the back of my neck. Eerie. How could someone go crazy, remember every detail, and come back home, seemingly normal, to tell about it?
You have to understand this tale from the perspective of a nine-year old, very naive kid.