Vagneur: An indelible memory
I didn’t get a good look at her at first, but she picked me up along the road, and that ought to count for something. I’d pulled over to let a car by, and when, much to my consternation, it stopped, there she was, wondering if maybe I shouldn’t get in and let her take me home. What the hell, might as well and save the argument as to why not.
By then, the neighbors knew better than to ask — they all knew I was Cliff’s crazy son, the one who rode his bicycle back and forth to town before people did that sort of thing. Besides, as a 5-year-old I’d learned that well-meaning ladies from the city didn’t understand how young kids could be out on the road alone without supervision, and they always insisted on taking me home. Now, as a big boy in the seventh grade, it was still going on, what with Woody Creek being almost deserted, it seemed, at least to a city slicker.
Like any concerned person, this stranger wanted to meet my mother to be certain I was telling the truth and not living in some “Deliverance”-type environment. The blond hair I had figured out, but as she got out of the car and unfolded those long, barely covered legs, my pubescent hormones began to rise, and I warmed to the meddling. It was the start of something bigger than any of us could have imagined.
All four of my grandparents were born in or near Aspen — my parents, as well — so we really didn’t have any family that came to visit, no one to rail at us about being ranchers or ski bums. We didn’t have to move over for company, and we didn’t have to be nice. Oh, there was a little out-of-town family, but they’d all grown up here, too, so there wasn’t much to talk about. And now, here was this long, tall, blond woman, suddenly my mom’s best friend.
A single mother fresh off a divorce, she’d moved to Aspen and was looking around, trying to find a prospective mate or at least a little fun, and had happened down our road at a propitious time. My mother went to work, fixing her up with this guy or that, but it never seemed to pan out until that fateful day my mom arranged a meeting with a Capitol Creek rancher, a cowboy with more land than money and a heart as big as all outdoors. It clicked. But that came later. Before the tragedy.
First, she needed a way to make a living and, with a loan from my dad, went to barber school in Denver, becoming a full-fledged, licensed barber in the town of Aspen. Her timing was excellent, as the boys over by the Isis had given it up, Jimmy Moore was selling real estate and Aspen’s male populace needed someone to cut its hair.
The Fireside Barber Shop was born, a one-woman operation housed in the basement under Pacifica, just off Wagner Park. At the time, the upstairs still contained the medical offices of Baxter and Barnard, characters in their own right. Along with the price of a haircut, you could get advice not only about tonsorial issues but also about your love life from a woman’s perspective, fashion tips and sometimes the not-too-subtle hint that your breath could use a touch-up. It was a popular place.
Charlene, the woman I’m talking about, became a certain amount of glue to my family, and in the process we came to know her family intimately, staying with her parents in Lafayette when we went to University of Colorado Boulder football games and hobnobbing with her sister Estelle and family in Grand Junction, who also became great friends. Over the years and at various times, we entertained them all at our house in Woody Creek, a sort of unforgettable free-for-all get-together in the mountains. We filled the place up, and we had our own out-of-town family. Charlene and Bubby, the rancher, were making time.
And then it happened, a small surgery to repair something in her neck, billed as just an overnight stay, and in spite of notice to the surgeon about a propensity for blood clots, which was ignored, the overnight stay turned into a lifetime of debilitating partial paralysis from surgical complications.
At 17 years old, there are some things you remember, like the Denver hospital by the lake, the surgeon’s name and his arrogance about it all. As clear as yesterday, I remember the Capitol Creek rancher and the romantic dream of a lifetime it might have been for the both of them, brought down by the swipe of a scalpel. And so it goes. Charlene still lives, the cowboy is gone, and I’ll never forget it.
Charlene’s grandson Brady Quinn is a well-known NFL quarterback. Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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