Of love, family and liquid gold | AspenTimes.com

Of love, family and liquid gold

Tony Vagneur

When I was about 13, through a diffuse network of women, my mother somehow got me hooked up with a girl on another part of the western slope, for what reason I cannot be sure. But the relationship was a prolific one, in a sense of a different kind, as you may see.The girl was dark-skinned and petite, with hip-length black hair, seductive eyes and a temper as fiery as the top of Mount Vesuvius. Her mother was not afraid to entrust her car and her daughter to me, a kid glowing with an infusion of adolescent hormones and an attitude that the world was somehow made for him. But this column isn’t about the daughter, or me – it’s about the mother.Just as the daughter was dark, the mother was a light-skinned, tall blonde, usually clothed in long dresses and long sleeves, even in the hot days of summer, but not always. She had a way of presenting herself that could bowl over all but the strongest of personalities, and I mean that in a good light. Her energy level always appeared to be turned on high and wherever she went, things happened in fascinating ways. She had that incredible sense that some people have, of knowing a given situation better than the players and thus, being more in control of the action than most anyone else could understand. She knew that her daughter, older than I, would be able to withstand my advances, and she further understood that I, being a ranch kid, was a conscientious driver and would bring her daughter safely home.The daughter and I never really hit it off, although we tested the limits of good behavior a time or two, but our association did create a friendship between the two families that lasted for a couple of years, or more. Summers were good for socializing and the other family would come to the ranch and either camp out down by Woody Creek, or stay up at the house in one or two of the four bedrooms while us permanent residents found somewhere else to perch for the duration. All told, there might have been five or six kids lurking around and there were parties, horseback rides, moonlight hikes, hard work, swimming in the creek, and all other manner of things that might keep youngsters (and adults) involved.Alas, the heartache arrives when the monster, quieted for so long, sneaks quietly in the back door, unannounced and ready to rip lives asunder. During the war, the mother had been an overseas nurse and had been diagnosed with a serious infection that required extensive abdominal surgery. The recovery that followed was incredibly painful, and through ignorance or ineptness, her doctors unknowingly married her to the needle that delivered the torment-dulling morphine. “Butchers,” her physician husband would later call these doctors, and although it took a very long time, she kicked the habit and seemed to slip seamlessly into an upper-middle-class life that appeared suited to her desires. But, for whatever reasons – perhaps as Charlie Parker, the alto saxophonist, once said, “You can get heroin out of your body, but you can’t get it out of your brain” – the temptation to smooth over problems with an old friend became too great, and the first of recurring needle tracks began to appear.The telling note came on a pitch black, quiet night at our house, the daughter helping her mother surreptitiously sneak out and leave in the middle of the darkness, desperate to make a soul-calming connection way down the highway, many miles away. I didn’t understand at the time, but slowly came to realize, as I saw everything else take a back seat to the liquid gold coursing through her veins, the severity of the problem and the devastation it had on everyone who loved her, including me. Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes comments at ajv@sopris.net.

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