Tony Vagneur: This version of being ‘home alone’ has way better underscore
Like an old family photo, blurred and tattered around the edges, my memory of that week is at once both clear and shrouded in fog. My parents had left me at home alone, the time of year unclear, but it was cold outside, that I remember, although I don’t believe there was snow on the ground. My brother and sister must have been farmed out to relatives in town, maybe my grandmother.
Being alone wasn’t new to me — the summer before, my parents had left me by myself, in charge of the haying crew and even before that, my dad used to drop me off somewhere around Larkspur Mountain, either to fix fence or to pack salt for the cows. I’d spend days or a week like that, out in the wild, living by my own wits.
But this week was different, as there was no ranch work associated with my lonely sojourn. Perhaps because it was during the school year and it was expected that I would be going to good ol’ Aspen High every day. Oh, there were a few chores, like feeding the dogs and making sure to turn the oil heater off at night just before going to bed.
Football season must have been over and it was likely the year I didn’t play basketball, because other than school, there was really no need to leave the ranch, except maybe to see my girlfriend although to be honest, my memory seems to indicate she was not totally supportive of my hermit-like absence from the daily grind.
Fifteen or sixteen years old, no computers, no phones other than the landline that clung to the hall entrance, snowy one or two channel black-and-white television, what the hell could a kid do to make getting up in the morning worthwhile? The first thing was to quit going to school.
The piano faced out of a living room window, with a view to the river bottom hay ground, where maybe the cattle had been temporarily pastured — they’d get moved to the Big Mesa once it was time to begin feeding them. From this window, I could also see the Woody Creek Road, a spy mechanism that allowed me to know the comings and goings of most everyone who lived up the road from us, which wasn’t many. Who left, who just came back, who’s a stranger. Watch that school bus go by, just keep moving.
I’d beat on that piano, limbering my hands and mind up for the day ahead, after which maybe I’d make notes about some brilliant insight I’d had. Boogie-woogie and blues were big in my musical desires, and I was still a neophyte musician trying to figure it all out. Maybe that was the year we formed a high school jazz band. Popular songs were required as well for impromptu performances at school and private get-togethers.
Read, that’s what, read something out of the many books we had in various locations around the house; poetry and short stories were my thing probably because they didn’t take a large investment of time and could be shelved in a hurry if something came up. Many times, I’d just thumb through an encyclopedia until a topic of interest piqued me. For longer tomes, Henry Miller was a favorite (imagine that) along with Herman Hesse, Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway. And don’t forget Peter Freuchen and Kenneth Patchen. There was enough to read.
Hunger would strike and while sating that beast, I’d put my two favorites on the stereo, pianist Thelonious Monk and Pete Fountain doing his magic on the clarinet. I had two albums each of them, and reckon I came close to wearing them out. Monk was so stylistically unique that I’d gotten hold of some of his sheet music, just to coach me into seeing if I could actually play like that. It took awhile for the realization, but I couldn’t.
After listening to Fountain on one of the 33’s for a while, I’d crank up my own licorice stick with the clear, see-through mouthpiece, just like Pete’s, and wail on that clarinet until the dogs outside began to get nervous, the deer looked in the window with a certain amount of incredulousness and my lips got numb. Oh my God, time for another salami sandwich.
On Friday, after having never left the house, I went back to school, not wanting to totally divorce myself from the outside world, and got by office secretary Maude Twining without much suspicion, saying I’d been sick. When he got home, my dad gave me one of those looks that reflected total unbelievability, and we never talked about it.
My mother was thankful I was alive and hadn’t destroyed her stereo system. She was into Nat King Cole and The Limeliters.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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