Tony Vagnuer: Saddle Sore
September 18, 2009
Not long ago, a friend made the offhand remark that no one would ever mistake me as being from Aspen. To which I thought, “That’s punk elitism for you. If I’m not from Aspen, I’m not from anywhere,” even though I currently admit to being downvalley, oops, I mean, midvalley trash.You shall soon see where I’m going with this, for last Friday, it was as if the school bus had dropped off the entire high school at the Aspen Historical Society for an afternoon party, and time travel suddenly seemed within my grasp. It was, more or less, a fiftieth class reunion for the years 1956-61, dates when everyone (first through twelfth) went to school in the building now occupied by the Red Brick Center for the Arts. Not everyone lived long enough to make the cut, God bless ’em, and for others, we were born too late, but in a display of true red-and-black school spirit, some of us snuck in the back door and made ourselves at home. “Why do these people mean so much to me?” I asked my younger cohort and fellow alumnus, Posey Crumpacker Nelson. “Come on, Tony, as underclassmen, we emulated them and looked up to them for years,” she replied. Sitting down to talk with some of these Skiers was, to me, what it must be like for a star-struck celebrity chaser to sit down with the Rolling Stones or anyone on the Forbes Celebrity 100 list. They’re a unique group, consisting of track and field record-holders, business people, lawyers and environmental leaders, intellectuals, teachers, mothers, doctors, talented athletes, and generally otherwise substantially engaged people. You’re curious about names, I know, but these aren’t the kinds of folks whose egos need marquee recognition, and besides, it was a high school reunion. Be warned, however, there is a handful of skiers in their midst who can still ruin the day for many a local hotshot. In those years, it seemed easy to keep tabs on the older kids because Aspen was less crowded, not necessarily with fewer people, but the absence of so many buildings made it possible for us to see around corners. We were there to witness this or that girl, running out the front door with sweater in hand, screen door slamming long after she was down the steps and embedded in the front seat of some guy’s car, headed up the pass, or wherever their special spot was.We hung out on the sidelines with the football or basketball players, gauging our own emotions through the looks on the faces of what appeared to be men, feeling their pain as some out-of-town jamokes ran up the score; or sharing the laughter as we put one away for the record books. We skied with guys and gals, Junior National athletes, some of whom later became the elite of America’s U.S. Ski and Olympic teams. And we made lifelong friends in the halls and classrooms of that indelibly important red brick building. It was turning back a page in time, and through the stories, memories and quips of this incredibly alive group, a part of the chronicle of Aspen danced before us, if only for a weekend, and our mountain town was enriched by the experience. There may be those, in a show of meager depth and understanding, who for whatever reasons, didn’t recognize many of them as being from here, but that only underscores the importance of the tremendously diverse and brilliant history of Aspen. These kids, no matter where they live and now past their sixth decade, proudly carry a piece of Aspen’s soul in their hearts, and always will, until they are no more.Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.