Tony Vagneur: A true friend, Jimmy always had my back |

Tony Vagneur: A true friend, Jimmy always had my back

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

Take the Aspen Skiing Co., the Catholic Church, generations of Aspenites, family friends and put them all together to honor the memory of a native, 60-year employee of the Skico, and you draw a big crowd. James Edmund Gerbaz, 1943-2022.

In that way we have of being fallible, it was the day of Jimmy’s service, and as I readied to go, I was thinking there would be a lot of old-timers there and I’d probably get to see Jimmy. Didn’t see him much anymore. A lot of life gets in the way, you know how it is.

It’s hard to say when Jimmy and I became the best of friends, a couple of local ranch kids, but I was likely somewhere around ten. He would’ve been 13 and lived up there on 7th Street, the house he spent his entire life in, opposed to my grandmother’s house at 233 W. Bleeker, so we did a lot of walking between the two houses. But that’s not to say we walked everywhere, and much of our relationship revolved around automobiles.

One thing about him, he was a helluva skier, no one had to wait on Jimmy, and he loved to blast the powder. One year, as young teens, we skied every weekend with a girl from Canada, a great skier, here for the winter. Jimmy always laughed, somewhat bewildered by her penchant for ending almost every sentence with “Eh?”  Fresh out of college in December, Jimmy introduced me to Summit on Aspen Mountain. “Red Rowland cut this,” he said, “I don’t know what he was thinking.”

Jimmy’s dad let him use the family Jeep, even at 13 or 14, and we relished those days we drove up Aspen Mountain, just for a warm-up, covering every road there was. When we wore that out, we’d head over to the mine tailings where Hunter Creek condos are located — maybe the tennis club is still there. Some of those mine tailings were steep and tall, and Jimmy’s Jeep never quite had enough internal combustion or rubber to reach the top (no one’s did), and there we’d be, ready to stall or spin out on a slope steeper than sin. Jimmy was an excellent driver, and the silence was ominous for a brief second, until he got that bugger slammed into reverse and we’d creep down backwards, laughing our heads off. A screw-up would have meant a certain roll-over and probably disaster. Let’s try it again.

If the truth be told, the word parsimonious might have been invented to describe Jimmy, at least as far as money went. We’d be listening to music in his room, or reading sports mags, and Jimmy would sometimes reach high into his closet and pull down a shoebox, filled with greenbacks. “Pretty soon, I’m gonna buy a car,” he’d say, and I wondered how anyone could save that much money. 

One high school day, he invited me to ride with him and his dad to Glenwood to pick up his new ride — a bright red Austin Healy. This was in the 1960s — where Jimmy got the desire for such a car, probably a magazine, but he had to order it. Man, he was proud of that thing, but in the end, it just wasn’t an Aspen car.

Jimmy had a heart of gold and would do anything to help a friend. The day my granddad died, I was devastated. Jimmy came to my place and picked me up; we went to his house, where we stayed in his room most of the day, playing catch with a small rubber ball, not talking, not laughing, just counting. We’d go hundreds of times without a slip-up, and then start over again, Jimmy helping to provide the mindless activity I desperately needed just to keep myself together. That was the year I was 11.

Billy Hanks, famous Texan, at least locally, used to come to town every year around Christmas, and Jimmy would be especially excited. Hanks brought some of the best-looking women on the planet with him, and Jimmy always included me in. We’d ski with those girls all day, every day, and then mingle around with ‘em at night. I was all of 13, Jimmy 16, and we always managed to get our favorites into his dad’s ’56 Chevy and cruise town and around, Jimmy and his girl in the front, me and a beauty way over my head in the backseat. I learned to like Texas, perfume, and well, the rest of it, too, for the two years we had such adventures. I’m forever indebted to Jimmy for being such a wonderful chauffeur.

We never had the chance to say goodbye, as so often happens, and I’m forever left with the thought that he was a friend who would have my back, no matter what. Rest in peace, good buddy.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at     

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