A time to rest and reminisce
It’s hard to say how some conversations get started, but once ignited, they take on a life of their own, sometimes going for days and sometimes never ending in our own minds. It was a simple remark, something about no matter how tough the ranching got, we weren’t going anywhere, not in this lifetime.We sat at the kitchen table, a couple of ol’ boys, swapping stories as old as the time our families have been in the valley, stories that we each understood before they began, but they had to be told, nonetheless. If you don’t have the anecdotes, and certainly if you don’t understand them, you’ll never be accepted for what you claim to be, if a rancher is what you claim. Irrigation water that won’t run, cows that won’t fatten, horses that “suck up,” and “help” that is clearly misdefined are typical subjects.And then it took a turn, as Billy let slip that his mother had traveled to Glenwood Springs with my great-grandmother, “Grandma Vagneur,” so that the elder Vagneur could have some eye surgery done. In a situation not that unusual for “new” Americans, Grandma Vagneur needed an interpreter as she only spoke the French patois of northern Italy, in the Aosta valley. Billy’s mom was probably no more than 20 or so, and it was an adventure for her, as attested by her telling of the story to her children.Billy was born in the house we were using for our conversation (he’s about my age), and the big thing about houses, we both concurred, was that they needed to keep you warm and dry. Beyond that, we didn’t much care about fancy or square footage. We generally agreed that, no matter the house, neither one of us was going to be very far from our roots when we hung up our saddles for the last time.”There might be better places to ranch,” I offered, but then, “Where would we go, at our age?” he asked, clearly referring to the fact that it would be difficult to garner and absorb more than 100 years of history into the new spread, in the time we have left. “I can tell you things about this place that would mean nothing to anyone else but mean everything to me,” he said. “I can stand in the middle of the hayfield and feel at home.” But what got us melancholy was the fact that if we stood in the center of it, like tomorrow, without knowledge of the history, without our participation in that history, it would be nothing, if not meaningless.We talked briefly about how my widowed grandfather, Ben, was a “character” at dances up and down the valley, and how neither of us ever got to town enough as kids. “Basalt was close by,” Billy said, “but it was more or less as lively as the ranch.” “At least Aspen had a movie theater,” I explained, “or else we’d a been about like Basalt.” “Oh, my.” Billy liked the movies, you could tell, watching him relive the memories.And the dreams began to interject themselves and we talked on. “I’d like to have a ranch in Arizona, maybe, just to winter the cows,” Billy said, “and get out of here when it’s cold. But you’d stay for the skiing, wouldn’t you?” “Yeah, I like winter. Gawd, don’t you wish we could harness up a team of big horses and spend a snowy morning feeding cows from the hay sled?” “I remember that,” said Billy, “not like today, with the enclosed tractor cabs and heaters. It used to be rough.”It was 6 p.m. and I stood up. “See ya later. I got irrigation water to move.” We were both in our work clothes, dried sweat and dirt on our faces from a long day already. Billy says “yes,” he has “to milk the cows, anyway,” but he can’t resist a parting shot. “It’s Sunday, isn’t it?”Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at email@example.com
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