Lessons from a grandfather
There comes a time in every man’s life when he must break the bond with his mother and make amends with his father for the days he let his mother hide him behind her skirts. The son must do this to be able to tell his father he loves him. But how does the transition take place between a boy and his grandfather? It is more subtle, I surmise, but perhaps more powerful. The gruff voice was persistent as it called out my name, and I was wishing it would go away and let me sleep, when suddenly I realized it was my grandfather calling. Fully awake at this reckoning, I figured it must mean trouble, as he usually only hollered at me when he suspected I had messed something up.Peering out of my bedroom window into a bright, warm morning in early June, I saw the big bear of a man, sitting astride his horse, motioning me to come on outside. It’s a picture forever etched in my mind: He sat there under a wide-brimmed, off-white straw cowboy hat, brim laid out flat, covering gray hair, bushy eyebrows, and shadowing a ruggedly handsome face. He wore a gray work shirt, buttoned up through the very top button, with the sleeves rolled down and buttoned. His left hand held the reins, right hand pushed against the swells, and both hands were covered in leather gloves. He had on an almost new pair of Levi’s and his old standbys, a pair of lace-up leather work shoes. There he was, sitting patiently in the middle of the Woody Creek road, scaring the hell out of me.We went on the first of countless rides that day in the summer of my sixth year, up Collins Creek or through Kobey Park, moving cows or chasing wild horses high on Vagneur Mountain. It became a way of life for me and carried him through the rest of his. I felt threatened and not too pleased about it in the beginning, but by trying to emulate him, mostly in silence, I quickly learned how to hold my own with Ben Vagneur, the “big boss” in our neighborhood, and began to look forward to our daily convolutions through the mountains above our ranch. It wasn’t all the best of times with us, and I can honestly say I learned some creative ways to string cuss words together, some of them directed at me or my sometimes clumsy attempts to close gates, rope cows, tie knots or ride unruly horses. But when his temper had reached a high point and I thought he might club me with the nearest prop, only once did I fail to see his face soften, the eyes look away, followed by the always surprisingly gentle nudge to “let’s try it again.”He taught me how to saddle a horse and get on by myself, even though I could barely lift the saddle. As the years went by, his house became our headquarters and we’d pack a lunch together before hitting the trail. Rarely, we’d split a beer, or for more excitement, we’d fire up his green and white Oldsmobile and head for town where we’d have lemonade with the ladies or play pool at the Elk’s Club. Some years, we would ride our horses up Collins Creek in fresh snow to find a Christmas tree for the annual family gathering at his place, the only day each year the house didn’t seem so lonely. He and I would put the ornaments on, if you can believe old pictures, some of the scraggliest trees ever used for such a purpose.In his 67th year (my eleventh), we took our last ride together in the cool, golden breezes of September. He never rode again and by late winter, death’s merciless claw, aided by an insidious and incurable disease, stilled his strong heart. For me, it was a blow as deep as a human can feel, and it took a majority of my journey through this life to finally accept the loss of my first real mentor, good ol’ Gramps. Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Vignettes of life in the valley. Some you may have heard; hopefully, others will be new.