Tony Vagneur: As the years roll on, the moments continue to live on

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

We bury them in our subconscious, we think, until all these years later, not having thought about it in the interim, that spent window of time comes rushing across my being like a spring breeze, unsuspected, taking me by surprise, creating a longing to be along the river bank with her once again, but the time has long passed. That’s how it is with regrets.

Alone, we walked the river bank, green grass and brilliant wildflowers outlining the trail in front of us. Behind, at a distance, was the rest of the group, a simple weekend picnic in the wild, away from the noise and hubbub of town.

How clear it rings, some 50 years ago. We hadn’t seen each other in about a year; the communication had stopped when she went back to school. It was a short-lived fling, one of mutual respect, without promises. I could have written, or called, she could have done the same, I suppose, but neither of us made the move.

What can you say? The energy could still be felt, the memories still strong. Like the tension of water droplets on a blade of grass, the opportunity to rekindle might have been there, but more pressing seemed to be the idea that we both knew, however deep our feelings, that it was over. We’d had our beginning and there wouldn’t be another. But we really never got there in our conversation; we danced around it, hugged and commented on how nice it was to see one another. Unfinished, we never talked again.

There were days I rode with my great-uncle, Sullivan Vagneur, farmed out by my dad to fulfill our responsibility on the lower end of our cattle permit. His ranch was about 2 miles down the road from our place, the big, white barn on the right as you travel up Woody Creek Road. It was a gravel road in those days, a dust monger for sure, but some days my horse and I managed to ride the 2 miles without meeting another car, or bicycle.

Uncle Sullivan was my grandfather’s younger brother, and riding the range with him was a lot like being in the mountains with my granddad, who had passed away several years earlier. Some people said they might have been twins, they looked so much alike. But Grandpa still had my fierce allegiance.

We generally rode up Red Canyon and what we talked about exists only in the wind. Maybe there wasn’t much to say. We were probably taking the measure of each other. Similar to Gramps, he liked for us to get a little bit wet before we put on our slickers, and there must have been lunch conversations, what can I say.

One day, being the guide he was, he mentioned that we were in Half-Moon Canyon, and how clearly I can see the pines and other mixed vegetation along the side of the trail. Another time, just as we’d put our slickers on and the rain started to get serious, he said, “We have to hurry and get home. The fishing’s gonna be great.”

Last time I saw him, Harold Hall and I had taken a cutting horse in training up to his ranch to work some yearlings. The corral was just across from the house and Uncle Sullivan came out to watch. Maybe he didn’t recognize me; I hadn’t been by his place or seen him in six or seven years, not since my dad had sold the original Vagneur homestead. Oddly, I felt as though I would be unwelcome, maybe like a traitor to the cause, no longer part of the family, and I was too tongue-tied to tell him who I was. We said “Hi” to each other, like any strangers would, he briefly commented on how good the horse worked, and that’s the last time I saw him. For years, I had refused to use the wallet he and his wife had given me for high school graduation — saving it for posterity, I reckon. It got lost somewhere along the way.

The years roll on, and events from the past come our way, uninvited, sometimes ones we don’t like to think about. In high school, as a running back, I caught a lot of passes. The only one that clearly stands out in my mind is the one I dropped in the end zone just before halftime, which would have given us the lead.

There’s a lifetime of good memories and there isn’t much I’d want to change. Good women, great friends, wonderful daughter, grandchildren I love, horses, skiing and adventures galore. We live with our regrets as they require, it seems. As the novelist Ann Beattie mentioned somewhere, “People forget years and remember moments.”

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at