Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
We have a tendency to talk about how great the old days were and save our complaining for politics, ex-lovers and the new people in town.
There was always more powder, bigger bumps, the people were “cooler,” the nightlife was livelier, and we damned well had more fun. Didn’t we? We also forget that whenever the old days happened for us, we were younger, more gullible and vulnerable, and when the menu said, “shit on a shingle,” that actually might have been the case, rather than the chipped-beef variety our mothers slung before us on occasion.
The old days were certainly better for the old man whom Spook James and I followed in the 1950s, curious to determine where he lived. Clearly “down to his last shuck” and typical of his peers in bib overalls, leather lace-up shoes and gray hair protruding from under his frayed cap, he was an unknown quantity to us. When his clever methods of avoiding our incessant detection methods finally failed, there was a short-lived victory. His tiny, one-room aerie on the second floor of a ramshackle, deserted miner’s cottage from Aspen’s “heyday” was nothing more than a mattress piled high with threadbare blankets and a few boxes at the top of ever-deteriorating stairs. Wind whistled through the walls, and I can only guess how long the cold winter nights must have been. For me, it was a lesson about minding my own business.
When I was a kid in Woody Creek Canyon, there was no electricity, and for the first few years of my life, there was no running water in the house, either. If you moved here in the 1960s or even the ’70s, and chose to live in an aspen-locked teepee or abandoned cabin without such amenities, it might have been a journey of intense personal discovery, but when there is no choice, no home to go home to, one has a different perspective on such hardship. Even so, with kerosene lanterns (we called them coal-oil lamps), there is a gentle nudging into the setting sun, a soft, soothing reminder of peace, relaxation and tranquility, intangibles that bright lights destroy.
My widower grandfather ate vegetables out of a can and kept the winter’s meat supply thickly wrapped in canvas tarpaulins, hung along the perimeter of his long, open-air porch. Breakfast at his house was one of listening to and watching the forever-scrounging magpies fight over self-created holes in the tarp, their long, skinny beaks diving deep into frozen flesh with the same zeal that today we might slurp up Petrossian caviar. Occasionally, someone at the table would decide to end the racket and run outside with a broom, driving the black-and-white marauders off for a few moments. Smart birds, they knew the difference between a broom and a rifle, and besides, you seldom could shoot them for fear of hitting the house or otherwise creating a dangerous situation. They only seemed to come around at mealtime. Theirs.
In those “good ol’ days,” friends and loved ones left and went to places like the Red Butte or Aspen Grove cemeteries. Today they leave and go to God knows where and then write, telling us how much they miss the Aspen ambiance they once knew and send pictures of families we will likely never meet.
It’s a hell of a place, that’s for sure, no matter if you knew it “back then,” or are just learning to navigate its nuances. Unless you trust the source, believe little of what you hear about the good old days and concentrate on creating such things for yourself, as no one can provide them for you. And then you can tell your own stories.
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