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Tony Vagneur: Time moves on but the memories last forever

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

Rambling around town one night after the movies, Keith Patterson pulled up and said, “Get in. I want you to meet a couple guys.” That was 1960, March or early April, and things were happening around Aspen that seemed awfully exciting, especially to a young kid.

I was 13, Keith was probably 19 or 20. We’d known each other from the Red Brick School before Keith graduated, one of his sisters was in my grade; we were both ranch kids and he had been my junior high football coach. There was no reason to doubt him and I jumped in.

We pulled up in front of the first iteration of the Limelite Lodge; I was curious, my great-uncle Tom Stapleton used to occasionally take me in there when it was still the Ski & Spur, a nice little bar where some of the old miners and ranchers gathered for “happy hour.” There were a couple of guys onstage, just finishing their act, one with a double bass and the other with a guitar. Musicians, life’s good.



They finished and came over to say hi to Keith as though they were old friends. Judy Collins might have been taking the stage. The Smothers Brothers, who I’d never heard of (but were gathering momentum), were introduced to me and someone says, “Let’s get out of here.” We loaded into Keith’s car, drove up a quiet Durant Street a few blocks to a lonely, small house on the south side of the street, set well back by the alley. It’s all condos there today.

Going in, the perceived glamour of being a stage performer paled. The house was sparsely furnished with what looked like secondhand motel furniture, bare floor and nothing like you might expect to see with a couple of featured entertainers living there. To be honest, I was expecting to witness a party, but it was basically hollow. Take it or leave it — it came with the job. Those kinds of circumstances I learned about later in life. Be glad it’s warm and dry.




We milled around there for a bit, no doubt talking about this or that, those older guys having a shot of whiskey or something and I’m standing around, thinking the life of a stage performer isn’t any big deal after you go home for the night. Get some rest, maybe walk around town tomorrow. Can’t afford to get hurt skiing — no job, no paycheck then. Look around for something to eat, take a leak, they say thanks for the ride, and we’re out of there. Keith drops me off at my grandmother’s house and the night becomes a memory locked away until stirred by a PBS television show the other night. Hosted by Judy Collins and the Smothers Brothers.

Keith was like an older brother, someone I seldom talked to but one who found a way to include me in if the situation was right. He took Terry Seiler and me on a bear hunt up Hannon Creek one spring. His instincts were correct — if you hike Hannon Creek, the sign is obvious year-round if you know what to look for. We had horses, I was still in college, and it had been a winter of exceptionally good snow. We never got to the head of the creek — the snow, in June, was still too deep and we were forced to turn around without seeing an ursine denizen of the deep, dark forest.

He and Seiler talked me into riding a couple of green-broke colts through the Rifle sale barn back when, maybe the early ’70s. Keith paid me 20 bucks and bought me dinner for the job. As we ate, he said, “That’s the first time those horses didn’t cut loose bucking and rearing up.” I should’a charged him more. A few years later, Keith, Johnny Chiodo and I spent a summer racing wild horses in the local rodeos.

It wasn’t all work, horses and stars. He knew some good-looking women, some of whom needed a companion for this or that event. We had some grand times and in my single days, I always made sure Keith knew how to get in touch with me.

Tragically, he died many years ago — his heart was too big, I reckon — a young man who built and lived in several houses in the valley, owned his own business, loved his horses, and like I said, always had a beautiful and intelligent woman on his arm.

And the clock still ticks — the Smothers Brothers are in their 80s. Judy Collins, who was there that night and whom I didn’t meet, is still beautiful and rocks the house.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.net.


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