Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore |

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Tony Vagneur
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

If you happened by, it may have been difficult to guess what was happening in the little church on the hill above Carbondale, and unless you had a stake in the man’s life or that of his family, it didn’t get a second look. For the record, we were saying goodbye to one of Aspen’s own, an original, native Joe who for all practical purposes spent his entire life here. More and more old-timers are dying downvalley, and that’s not so much because they deserted Aspen; it’s more about being able to walk down the street in the middle of the day and say “hello” to someone they know.

A man of my dad’s generation, one I’ve known forever and for whom I’d swim the deepest creek, turns around in his church pew to shake my hand, and remarks with a grin that I’m one of the last of the young ranchers (with connections to the original settlers) who’s still ranching. There were many like him in the gathering, people who came from pioneer stock and are now staring at the last chapters of their lives, still unwritten adventures ahead if one can judge by the vitality in their flashing eyes. I do claim to be one of the youngsters, but God, it’s getting nice to have someone open a gate for my horses and me once-in-a-while.

There’s the youngest brother over there, talking to some sweet-sounding woman like it’s the only conversation in the world. He was always the good-looking one, the one with a wide smile. Wherever there was music, he’d be there, usually in a light-blue silk shirt, gold chain around his neck, pushing some well-dressed gal around the floor. That kid could dance, flashing big moves and showing off his stuff. And unlike a lot of guys, he didn’t drink too much and somehow never let the sweat show through.

We’re at the reception and an intriguing woman I grew up with sits across the table from me, her enticing smile and generous attitude slowly mesmerizing me, and I wonder about the nuances that kept us apart instead of bringing us together. Memorial services remind us of our own mortality with an uneasy bluntness, and maybe that’s why there is such a great display of reverence toward the deceased and his family. We all want to be remembered in a good way, no matter our protestations, recognized for something, no matter how small.

People like me are no more members of Joe’s family than the man in the moon, but at the same time, our destinies are bound in ways that are remarkably similar. Like Joe, we may have buried our ancestors here; certainly we toughed out the bad times and enjoyed the good; earned our keep and raised our children. We’ve appreciated every day we’ve ever had in this small valley, each tomorrow an unopened gift.

It’s the stories that make a place what it is, give it its soul, and that’s one of the things about Aspen that still remains ” you can’t buy your way in and be accepted for long, but you can live it in for a lifetime. And it’s people like Joe who get the lasting accolades, who become our heroes and who still make up the meaningful core of Aspen, guys and girls who go to work every day and tell the stories late into the night.

And Joe, who had been given a key to the back door of heaven somewhere along the way (why does that seem so appropriate?), couldn’t have known, but his oldest son, a priest who serves at the Vatican, brought the full authority of the Catholic church with him to let us know that the clout of Rome was unnecessary, that Joe had carved out his own niche in the land of the gods and had assuredly walked in the front door.