Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
October 22, 2011
My friend Margaret recently bought a house in the West End. That’s not terribly remarkable if you consider how many houses reside there, but there is something remarkable about the West End.
Growing up at my grandmother’s house in that vicinity (at least when my parents let me off the ranch) has left indelible memories, the kind of childhood stuff we all cherish. But there is more to the West End than that, although if it wasn’t so special, the memories wouldn’t be, either.
I’ve written columns about that area, maybe more than I can remember, but there are still things left unsaid, things that came mostly after childhood.
My “aunt” Geri Vagneur, during her life of building, remodeling and living in West End homes, rented the Marquand Studio on the banks of Hallam Lake for a couple of years. A more peaceful setting could not be found, then or today, and I was lucky enough to be invited to her special wine tastings. Geri loved wine, loved people more and by propitious circumstance, had a grand piano in her living room, its keys about my size.
Robert Langenkamp (RIP) attended all of those parties and became a friend. Robert’s brother, Arthur, was the gregarious founder of Arthur’s Restaurant, who at one point took to bragging that business improved noticeably when he took down his sign out front. Freddie Fisher publicly castigated him for such outlandish thinking, claiming it was the ad Arthur ran in the Aspen Illustrated News that prompted such a fattening of the purse.
Robert was cut of a different cloth, quiet and reserved, and on slow afternoons I’d make a pass through the West End, knowing I might see Robert (never “Bob”) out for a walk. I’d park and stroll with him a while, the two of us engaged in deep philosophical discussions, including the story of the periphery of Robert’s life and how grand it was to live in Aspen. He’d shyly pull a candy from his pocket, asking if I’d “like a Werther’s,” as if there was no greater gift.
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For a couple years, my high school friend Bronco Tunnard (that was his real name), lived in the house my friend just bought. Bronco came to town around our sophomore or junior year, played football, and about the time he finally made friends and got settled in, his family left, taking Bronco away.
A few years later, Bronco came back as the proprietor of the Pomegranate Stables, west of town. He rented horses out, wrote songs and played a mean guitar. We talked a couple of times, but his short sojourn on this earth ended before we ever really got caught up again.
The West End quiet is a bit stifling, unless you go by the park where two or three people might be having a lunchtime conversation. Walking these streets again after a long respite, I see my faded tread everywhere I look: going to piano lessons, playing “Cowboys and Indians,” walking girls home from school, running from cops, playing Mah Jongg in a third-floor enclave above a knight in shining armor, hoofing it to the music tent or the Aspen Institute and pounding on that grand piano in Geri’s various living rooms.
Like everywhere else, it’s a neighborhood, but one that perchance hearkens back to Aspen’s roots more than any other. Neighbors leave welcoming gifts and notes on your porch and come around to see who you are. They live passionate lives and peacefully die in homes they’ve loved for years.
To paraphrase my friend Lee Duncan, it’s impossible to describe the enchantment of living in Aspen to those who have not experienced it. To me, the West End is the icing on the magic.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.