Words unspoken | AspenTimes.com

Words unspoken

Tony Vagneur

Father’s Day is very special to me because of my daughter, Lauren, so it’s odd this year that a black thought keeps washing over me, a remembrance of my father and a life-altering disagreement we had when I was 17.

It wasn’t about who was right or wrong ” it ran much deeper than that ” and as two ice flows in the Arctic seas, we stayed far enough apart to never totally connect again. He wouldn’t discuss it and I’ve been left to decipher his thinking on the matter ever since. By its insistence, the thought must wish to be let go.

My dad and I grew up in the same place, Woody Creek, just like he and my grandfather did. We saw the same sunsets and sunrises, rode our horses over trails once traveled by the Utes; we fed livestock in the same feed bunks that our ancestors before us had built and used. In the cold winter nights, he would take me outside after dinner and point out constellations, stars and other wonders of the galaxies far above, in skies that had hardly changed since he was a kid. But if we really looked at each other, we didn’t see much similarity.

He was an intellectual and could thoroughly discourse on almost any subject under the sun, but he generally kept his explanations short for fear of boring his audience. We didn’t do much together, except work and read. He couldn’t throw a football because it aggravated a bad elbow; we never went on vacations together because a ranch is busiest during the vacation seasons and kids are in school during the winter when getaways might be possible. If we got rained out and it was a quiet day, we would take to the encyclopedias and other reference works in the house, reading up on something I had asked about, rotating the volumes between us until our exhaustive research was complete.

A philosopher about most everything in life, especially when things seemed to go wrong, he was also a tough taskmaster. By 12, I was considered full-grown as far as work was concerned and expected to be as diligent as any of the hired hands. At 14, I was earning as much as any of the help, sometimes more, and generally was doing, if not better work, at least as much. By 15 on, I was left to run the ranch for weeks at a time, due to my dad’s illness, which was never pinned down until many years later. Looking for help, he traveled to the Mayo Clinic, flew to a hospital in Texas, went here and there with a leaking mitral heart valve, the result of having had rheumatic fever as a child. Today, it would take about 10 minutes to diagnose, but back then, such a determination seemed to be as rare as poor people living on Red Mountain.

When I look at myself in the mirror, I also see my father staring back at me with the same crooked smile. He died a fairly young man, at 61, and I wonder, should I be fortunate enough to live longer than he did, will he cease to look back at me, or will I see what I surmise to be an older version of my dad looking back?

He tucked me into bed every night for about eight years and went to all my athletic events. I only told him once that I loved him, on a scary day in the hospital predicted to be his last by overzealous doctors. He didn’t seem particularly impressed by such an admission from me, then in my 30s, but the glisten in his eyes told the story.

I long to hear him pull up out front, emerge from his car in that way I see in my mind’s eye. I’ll meet him on the walk and pull him close, telling him how much he really did mean to me over the years. I’ll hold him and tell him I think I understand how tough it all was for him.