Vagneur: Dear grandson

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at
Tony Vagneur/Courtesy photo

Dear Grandson,

Welcome to the year we were nine. No, this isn’t from some old friend of yours, reliving memories and adventures — this is your grandfather talking. Clearly, we weren’t 9 at the same time, but you get my drift.

Where did you find this letter? You read it once many years ago, I’m certain, but no doubt forgot about it as you grew up. Was it tucked into a book I’d written years before, sitting on some lonely bookshelf, found as you cleared away the last of your mother’s things? Oh, your mother was very special, but you know that. You also know how swiftly time moves on.  

Out in Woody Creek, you grew up on a ranch just a couple of miles down the road from where I was raised. We both were there from birth and were crazy about ranch life, eager to learn everything there was, and our dads helped us and taught us in every way they could. At nine, you were already a valued member of the team and your dad planned some endeavors around your availability to help him. At 9, my dad put me on the payroll for the first time – ten dollars a month – big bucks in the 1950s. We learned responsibility early. We both began to fully realize our importance to the ranch.

You had a beautiful, huge pond out your back door, stocked with fish, including an occasional blue heron or bald eagle for decor. Your ability to cast a fly to the exact spot you wanted impressed me. And you were good at reeling in your catch, knowing you eat some, the others you release. We looked forward to spring, when we got out the fishing gear, replenishing what we needed for the summer.  

We didn’t have a pond at our ranch, but Woody Creek was only a few yards down the hill from our house. My grandfather and I went there in the afternoons, after work, throwing worms in the water between the thick willows, catching enough for fun and for dinner.

Many days, I rode the range with my granddad, watching over the cattle in Collins Creek. It gets instilled early, deep in our souls. Almost a lifetime later, I’m still looking after cattle on the range, and just recently, you went with me, learning how we pack cattle salt in the area I take care of. We’ll do more of that next summer. I remember how it was — you in your world, thinking a million things about growing up, wondering when we’d finally get home — I did the same. Our conversations were short, but your comments were always to the point.  

It’s a different world now, and your family range is a long way from mine, so I understand why you work that area with your dad and mom and younger sister. We can’t always ride together like my grandfather and I did, but at nine years old, we both were discovering how to take care of cattle on the open range. And, very important, we were learning how to take care of our horses in the mountains.

It wasn’t all about horses, ranches, and cows. Winter was good to us — Aspen was a special place with four ski areas within a few minutes’ drive of each other. You were such a good skier, coming on fast in your desire to be a big mountain competitor. I watched as you ripped through the heavy, late-winter crud, the snow getting uglier by the minute, competing with different groups from the Aspen Ski & Snowboard Club. Fearless! Following you later, as you ripped those narrow, steep tree runs on Highlands, with the huge moguls, you put a zipper on them in a way that made me smile.

With the latest in bear-trap bindings at 9-years old, I was addicted to schussing (straightlining today) Spar Gulch with my friend, Terry Morse. One fateful day, the unthinkable happened, and I fell. Oops, no safety release, broken leg — how ugly was that? Thankfully, for all of your ski pursuits, you had much better — and safer — equipment. When you were nine and ripping it up, I wondered how many more years it would be before you left me behind.

I wrote this letter to you many years ago, when you were 9, and for a while, I remembered how much I enjoyed being 9. Once, we were nine together, just at different times.

By the time you read this again, you are no doubt much older than nine, perhaps a grandfather yourself, wondering about such things with one of your grandchildren. If so, you’ll realize how special it is for me.  

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comment at  


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