Tony Vagneur: Snapshot of a life in a brief moment 60 years prior
I’d just snugged up the cinch on a young, sorrel filly I was breaking, getting her used to the feel of the saddle, when a good friend of mine hollered from the corral gate.
Oh man, it was one of those perfect days, late afternoon, clear blue June skies with temperature so perfect you feel one with the universe. Sixteen years old, I’d finished a day’s work on the ranch and was feeling great, plenty of time to work my filly and a summer ahead of so much I loved. And besides, I was gonna be a senior next fall, football dreams and girlfriends coming up. Life couldn’t get much better, could it?
“Come around the cottonwoods, through that grass over there, where you can be on the outside of the fence,” I yelled back. That little filly was what you might want to call a nasty one, having come from the wild bunch that ran on the mountain above our ranch and hadn’t had a rope or hand laid on her until she was 3. She had learned how to protect herself living up there year-round and I didn’t want to get anyone hurt.
My buddy, who had just graduated from high school, was hand-in-hand with a gal, someone I had never seen before, and man, she was a looker. They were so much in love — how much in love can you be, just out of high school — but none of the three of us asked such questions back then.
They were hanging on to each other, flashing moon eyes, lips brushed against long, flowing blond hair, telling me the tale of how they’d met, and “Listen, we’re going to get married this summer. Found a great piece of land down by the river, you know where, and we’re going to build a little house — it’s gonna be so good. We want you to be the best man.”
Well, hell, all that happiness and romance flowing out into a corral built for horses and cattle, from a whole other mindset, made me a little jealous, mostly because that woman just had a way about her. I’d never seen him like that over a girl before and we’d been on a few foursomes together.
Saturday nights were my turn in town and this was like Tuesday or Wednesday and at that age, you can’t make time go any faster. Smiles, hugs and handshakes and they were off, disappearing into the dust of the road, leaving me wondering about how fast the world could move around us and man! She’s great, but marriage?
We both were on a ride that summer, but we just didn’t know it, and we sure didn’t know where. Did we ever figure it out?
The hired hand came through the corral with a pony horse, and for the first time, I climbed in the saddle on the back of that filly. I’d previously worked with her religiously and as expected, with the exception of a few jumps, she settled right under me without much complaint. “Hell, open the gate, let’s go up the bottom meadow and see how it goes.” If I’d known right then how exciting that first ride on a horse I’d started myself was, I might never have gotten on another one.
Curiously, I never again saw them together. Truth is, to this day I only saw her that one time and didn’t see him again until three or four years later. Summer rolled on — the little filly got ridden almost every day, the hay got put up, and Saturday nights sometimes got a little wild, but that’s what they’re for, isn’t it?
Almost 60 years later, and how fast the world moves around us isn’t just conjecture or idle thought. My buddy eventually married a wonderful woman, had kids and made a living in various ways. He’s had some of the best joys of life and also some heart-wrenching tragedy. We both have.
Looking back, that one afternoon in the corral out in Woody Creek, on a clear, blue-sky day, held so much promise for the future, so much excitement about being us, being young and the coming days ahead.
Now, we’re closer to the horizon of our setting sun. We’ve used up many of those days, how wisely we can never be sure, but it was a ride we took with gusto. We’re well over halfway there, to the final curtain, and when we finally fly away, it’ll be without regret, not knowing whether the ride is over or just beginning.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.