Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
February 9, 2013
In the scheme of things, change in Aspen happens rather quickly. Today’s headline makers are soon tomorrow’s detritus; once-popular politicians take on the sheen of staid, unsmooth granite; buildings are torn down one day and quickly reborn the next, as though the old was never quite good enough. Small miners’ cottages, remaining from the 1880s, are lawfully made to retain their historical appearance, at least out front, while in back monstrously ugly, boxlike additions are allowed for those who need bigger houses to compensate for, well, shortcomings in other areas of their lives.
There’s a house I’ve been keeping my eye on lately, a historically important, unassuming house going through the throes of change. For years, a small lamp burned behind the curtains, a signal to the world that the 102-year-old woman who lived there for almost 60 years was still the matriarch of the manse, so to speak. Just recently, the light went out, and the house sold, calling home kids who moved away a long time ago.
As elementary-school kids, we played in this deserted house, like we did many others in pre-glamorous Aspen, running up and down shaky staircases, kicking weak upstairs floorboards down to the ground floor, scaring hunkered-in bats out of dark attics and shaking our fists at imaginary ghosts.
We were surprised when a local family bought the house and began renovating it, making it very attractive and livable, including the construction of a small garage in the back, somewhat in the tradition of a saltbox but different. Implausibly, the same family has lived in this house since the 1950s, after thoroughly restoring the place. (A sense of guilt has resided with me ever since about our pre-renovation destruction, but in truth, we probably saved the construction crew several days of dangerous work.)
It’s hard to see the house now, ensconced as it is behind pine trees leaning toward maturity, their evergreen branches blocking not only the house from view but blocking the sun from reaching through the large windows. Memory holds a vigorous view of the place, teenaged peers coming and going from school, yet another sojourn in my mind as I reconstruct scenes from our early days in Aspen.
I could have stopped the other day, I reckon, as I spotted one of those peers, an older guy with a long, gray beard and longish hair, cleaning out the house. Fifty years ago, the last time I saw him, I knew that kid well and went to school with him every day; but through the beard, I couldn’t say which sibling it was. What the hell do you say to an old acquaintance after not seeing him for 50 years? If you drive up in the midst of what is likely a bittersweet day and announce your identity with some stupid-ass smile on your face, after half a century of no communication, about the best you can do is irritate the hell out of someone. I didn’t stop.
It’s hard to guess the intensity of a person’s life, but I felt the melancholy of what may have been his last look into the streetside mailbox before he got into his rental truck and drove away for the last time. It doesn’t matter what he did for a living because it just doesn’t, but in one of my trips by the place, I noticed a long, tall, good-looking woman helping him, handing stuff into the truck as he stacked it. So whatever he did, he was a success. What more meaningful measure of a man can there be other than he found a good woman to share his life with?
And now the question remains: What happens to an Aspen house, a home really, that has had only two owners in 130 years (three if you count the tax man) and externally looks almost exactly as it did when built? Is the latest owner envisioning a new roof line, an ugly addition off to the side or in what would be totally unusual, someone liking the house and leaving it alone, other than some needed refurbishing?
Only time will tell, and we shall see. In the meantime, bon voyage to the family that treasured it for almost 60 years.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.