Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore |

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Tony Vagneur
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

If you live in Woody Creek today, it could be alarming, even though there was a resident helicopter there 20 years ago, or more. I’m talking about a small aircraft, maybe a Piper Cub, droning up the valley, low to the ground, just clearing the tops of the cottonwoods.

It didn’t raise much of an eyebrow when I was a kid, other than everybody started getting excited about the man flying the machine. His name was Hartford, a moniker that seemed to strike magic with all the women around, even though I wasn’t really paying attention.

An air of excitement surrounds some people, and I guess landing a plane up the valley from our ranch house was exciting stuff. Hartford would put that thing down in the hayfield, and how he managed the irrigation ditches, I could never be sure, and then taxi down to the horse pasture, where a waiting crowd of one or two people would be waiting, usually my dad or mom, who’d then drive him down to the main house.

By the first glimpse, he might have just walked off the face of a post-WWII postcard, or out of any number of juke joints along a busy metro street. White T-shirt over tan cotton slacks, lace-up brown boots and a pack of Lucky Strikes (means fine tobacco) rolled up in the left sleeve of his shirt. Long, curly blond hair that seemed to grow up instead of down topped it all off.

The guy probably didn’t weigh more than 130 pounds wet, but was wiry and tough and loved working the land. He could tell story after story, about where he was last month, where he was going next week, how cold it gets in Alaska, and how he’d be back next year and spray the crops once he got his rig set up for it. But he never told us where or how he got his plane or how come he didn’t stay up North or in the corn belt and make some real money. But, I don’t think anybody truly cared. We just listened to the stories and imagined the reality.

High energy prevailed until something triggered him, and then his mood would get sullen and the valley too narrow. Not much for good-byes, we’d hear the plane bust over the house about dawn, just when the old man thought Hartford should be out irrigating or catching up the horses.

A woman came with him the last trip, and it didn’t seem right. He and his gal needed some privacy, so my granddad put them up in his rambling, five-bedroom house, at the other end of the hall from his room. Gramps said the couple fought more than they didn’t, and it was a little noisy some evenings. The wild stories were hard to come by, and it seemed like Hartford’s inner light was beginning to flicker.

The woman is the upshot of the story, I guess, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t detail the afternoon I somehow got left at Gramp’s house with her, mostly because the men went to town without me. She didn’t have much sway with kids, it didn’t seem, and made me stay in the house.

After a while, she sequestered me in her room while she took a long, leisurely bath. Eventually, she slipped through the door and flopped onto the bed, wearing nothing but a flimsy bra and white panties. She made me sit facing her while she rubbed lotion over most of her body. Heady stuff for a young kid.

Early the next morning, the cottonwoods swayed furiously from the rambunctious path carved in the air by a small plane leaving the valley. No one ever mentioned the woman (unforgettable to me) and there was conjecture for years as to what might have happened to Hartford.

It’s simple and not the kind of thing you can worry about. Hartford just never came back.

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