Growing up in Cheyenne, Wyo., the capital city of the least populated state in the union, had some distinct advantages.
Even as a small child in the 1920s, I knew that we lived in the biggest and most important city in the state and that our gold-domed capitol building was one any state would be proud of. A huge World War I canon on the front lawn stood as a symbol of power and might. My older brother, Floyd, and I spent a lot of time on the capitol grounds because he had discovered that the broad sidewalks surrounding the stately building were the smoothest and best sidewalks in town for roller skating.
The city park was adjacent to the capitol grounds and sometimes on the days our mother had a bridge party to go to, we were allowed to pack a peanut butter sandwich, a cookie or two and a banana into a paper sack and have our own private lunch there in the shade of the big cottonwood trees.
The governor frequently walked through the park going to and from his lunch at the governor’s mansion, which was a few blocks away. We noticed that the elderly retired gentlemen who sat on the green park benches reminiscing about the early days when Cheyenne was just a cow town or shaking their heads over the death of some of Cheyenne’s most promising young men in the trenches in France just a few years back, always called out, “Good morning, governor,” as he passed. Some of them called to him by his first name because they had known him and his family for years. His response was always cordial, and often, he stopped and chatted for a while, leaving the old men smiling as he took his leave.
Floyd and I exchanged greetings with the governor, too. We had made his acquaintance one day when we ventured inside the capitol doors. It was my brother’s idea to go in and have a look around, although I was petrified at being some place where I thought we ought not to be. Fortunately, I was evidently born with a strong heart because I did not faint dead away when a door labeled Office of the Governor, opened and out walked the governor himself.
“Well, hello there,” he said. “Are you two looking for somebody?”
Floyd, as usual, was self-possessed and answered truthfully that we weren’t looking for anybody but just wanted to see inside. As we stood in the rotunda, the governor pointed in one direction and told us the state representatives met in chambers there and pointed in the opposite direction toward the wing of the building where the senate met.
“Too bad the legislature isn’t in session,” he said, “but go ahead and have a look anyway. Then you’ll know where our laws are made.”
“Thank you,” Floyd responded politely, “but I was wondering if we could go up in the dome and look around.”
I was horrified at his audacity and wanted to “sink through the floor with embarrassment,” as our mother would have put it.
“Well, why not,” the governor laughed, obviously amused that he was dealing with a youngster who had high aspirations.
And so it was that Floyd and I walked around inside the capitol dome in Cheyenne, gazing through each and every small window at the full panoramic view of a city that was beautiful in our eyes.
Later in the year, we returned to the capitol building when the legislature was in session. We watched from the gallery as laws were being presented by state senators and representatives who shouted and argued and pounded their fists on their desks and then took the votes that determined the fate of Wyoming’s vast resources. We wondered why lawmakers were so quarrelsome and then often ended up slapping each other on the back or shaking hands in a friendly manner before leaving the chamber together. It was our introduction into the complexities and seeming contradictions of democratic government.
Floyd probably cast his first vote in Wyoming, but my first vote was in California because I turned 21 here shortly after my marriage.
I have voted in every election since then, still wondering why lawmakers are so very quarrelsome.
Lucille K. Lovestedt lives in Grass Valley.
Even as a small child in the 1920s, I knew that we lived in the biggest and most important city in the state …