Tony Vagneur: Frozen in time
The garden plot was along the creek, an oblong strip of land with a ditch running above it, providing irrigation accessed from the free-flowing wild water. It was the young man’s duty to weed the garden at the end of each day, no matter what else was going on. The patch was well-tended and productive and the 14-year-old kid managing it took a certain pride in his proficient devotion. When finished with the weeding, before heading to the house for dinner, he would put the hoe back in its place, hanging handle down from a small branch sticking out of a young oak tree.
In 1951, my parents took me to Aspen to watch the first auto race through the downtown streets. It was a big deal, especially in a small town that didn’t have much else going on in the summer months. For some reason, we ended up by Dorothy Koch Shaw’s family house on Main Street, a propitious spot, my parents must have thought.
Just inside the wooden picket fence surrounding the house was an old baby carriage, in good shape, its wheels still intact and operable. It was too much for a 5-year-old kid to ignore, and after my dad hoisted it over the fence, I ran it up and down the old, cracked sidewalk, in childish imitation of the race cars careening down Main Street. Mrs. Shaw, in appreciation of my enthusiasm, gave the baby buggy to my mother, their acquaintance having been made years before when my mother briefly dated the Shaw’s only child, Harry Bob.
That childish appurtenance of my race car dreams didn’t last long in my world and I reckon I forgot all about it until around 1995 when I took a ride through our old Woody Creek ranch. Up on what we called the Homestead Mesa, there was a sink hole about 20 feet deep, that in the 1960s served as a dead animal and junked machinery depository. Curiosity led me to ride by there, with no expectations. For whatever reasons, the hole had been filled almost completely with various pieces of ranch junk, including an old car, but there, lying sadly on the top of the pile, its soul asunder, was that baby buggy from 1951. For 44 years, it waited for me to rediscover it and take it home, which I thought about, but didn’t.
The other day, I went down to the Diamond Arrow Ranch for a visit, and there in the yard, between the barn and automatic horse walker, sat Buck’s 1972 blue Chevy pickup. It had not been driven for many years and was forgotten, hidden out of sight in an area no one visited. Incredibly, it fired right up when Buck and his son got the urge to try it out.
We got in and took a turn around the place, recognizing that the resurrection of something that distant, anchored in a past life, is sure to bring forth memories that have been catalogued somewhere deep in the subconscious. We talked about the future, about the past, and laughed a lot. Somewhere there were a few tears.
The 14-year-old gardener, mentioned in the first paragraph, watched as his parents sold the place and moved on to what was hopefully better territory. Like many of us, especially ranch kids it seems, he truly missed his boyhood home but never went back.
What he didn’t know was that the woman who bought the spread was a firm believer in conservation and in fact, changed the place very little. She left the houses and sheds as they were, with the exception of keeping everything in good repair. She liked the place as it was and wanted it to stay that way.
So, after leaving the ranch for the last time, and now 64 years old, the man went back, mostly through happenstance, but also through a desire to visit a place he still held dear in his heart. Truthfully, he was taken aback by how closely everything resembled the day he left. The woman who owned the ranch gave him her blessing to take a stroll around.
As he went down the slight incline toward the creek to see what his old garden spot looked like, there hanging from a stout oak branch, was the hoe he had hung up for the last time, 50 years before. The tree had intricately grown around some of it, but there it was.
The man telling me this story had an unmistakable sparkle in his eye, an effervescence that his other stories didn’t seem to generate.
Is it happenstance that we find these pieces of our past where we left them, or are they gifts from another realm? Keep your eyes open.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at email@example.com.
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