Ranch wife, 85, has stories to tell

At 85, Elaine Gay has yet to grow old. She is full of wisecracks and opinions -- ready to fight the world or feed it, depending on the needs of the day.

After she married Bob Gay when she was 20 years old, Elaine Gay spent most of her life in the kitchen, happily feeding hired hands and family with fresh baked bread, eggs from her chickens and vegetables she grew herself.

The secret to filling so many bellies, she said, is "get up early and get busy."

The only thing that has changed for Gay in 65 years on the ranch are the conveniences in her kitchen. She doesn't have to churn the butter anymore, or haul water from a spring or pluck her own chickens, but she remembers all those things, and Saturday, she plans to tell the story of the hard but rewarding existence of a ranch wife.

Gay has spoken many times in the valley -- at the Tread of Pioneers Museum and last spring for the Circles of Wisdom. She continues to tell her story, because she's the last one left to tell it.

When Gay was fighting the development around Lake Catamount and consequently her home, she wrote a book called "How Pleasant is the Valley." The book chronicled the history of the area where she lived, known as Pleasant Valley, but as she started to write, Gay found that she had the oldest memory of the area.

"There are a lot of things that no one is going to know after I'm gone," she said. "I don't know how great that is to be the last of the Mohicans, but I guess that's what I am."

Life on the ranch was hard, she said.

"It's hard yet." But more than that, it is becoming lonely. "No one else is doing it," she said. "We used to have neighbors who ranched, and let's say we spoke the same language. We're one of the last ranchers in (Pleasant Valley)."

To get to the Gays' ranch, you drive from Colorado Highway 131 past Catamount. Once you reach the dirt road lined with grazing cattle, you've entered one of the last bastions of agriculture in Pleasant Valley.

"We just love the land," she said. "We have cattle, horses and sheep." Her now deceased husband always told her it was pretentious to tell a stranger how much acreage or how many head of cattle they owned. She would only say "a great many" acres, most of which are protected by a conservation easement.

Gay's house isn't "on the way" to anywhere, yet she always has visitors.

"I don't get lonely out here. A lot of people come visit me," she said. And she always has food ready -- at least a pie.

Author of one out-of-print cookbook, making a meal is one of Gay's favorite things to do, second only to socializing.

"I play a lot of bridge just to visit with my friends," she said.

As she looks out the window at the changing leaves that paint the mountains all around, she knows much from books she has read about the Utes and the early settlers who lived on that land before her. It's part of the story she plans to tell Saturday.

"There didn't seem to be any famous women (from that time), but there were a lot of famous men and I'll tell about them and their hardships," she said. She'll tell her own and their stories until she can't anymore.

Gay is thinking about putting up a sign near her home that reads, "Pleasant Valley," the name given to the area by one of the first female pioneers. She doesn't want anyone to forget.

-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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