Vagneur: Our time spent together

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

We were in the kitchen making our lunch and having what I figured to be a man-to-man conversation.

“I’m thinking of getting married,” he said. “Do you think you could get along with that?” I knew the woman well and whether she was suitable didn’t cross my mind. She was already part of the family, sort of, and I replied, “As long as we still get to make our own lunches.”

We’d catch our horses first and then leave them tied up near the water trough in the corral while we went into the kitchen to commiserate over what to have for lunch. Some days it was homemade cheese, other times fried egg sandwiches, and rarely we’d have venison steak sandwiches if there were any leftovers. It was a big deal to us, those lunches.

He was 66, I was 10, and I never considered that there was an age difference. He was my grandfather and his importance to me and my life was never questioned. He was my hero, that’s all. And the significance of his question about his impending marriage never really struck me until a few days ago. Maybe it’s odd but I never realized or considered much about my importance in his life.

A peek at old photos sent my way via my cousin Cherie might have brought some of this home. There’s my grandfather positioned behind a flock of grandchildren, and not even all of them at that, but a fairly impressive crowd, and naturally, being the oldest, I’m standing right beside him in every photo.

My granddad, besides being widowed, was a ruggedly handsome man, serious-looking but mischievous in spirit, and a guy a bit notorious for partying on the weekend. His intended lived in town, and we never saw Gramps much on Saturday afternoons through Sunday unless I ran across him in downtown Aspen having dinner with his girlfriend.

And like so much in life, it all imploded, not all at once, but in bits and pieces. There was his request for me to take a late fall ride with him, on a day that turned out cold; lunch seemed hurried and too early and we both were uneasy with it all. Kind of like with the marriage question, but in a more obtuse way, he let me know that we had to hurry home as he had to check into the hospital that afternoon in preparation for an operation the next morning. That was our last ride together.

In early spring, he died in my parents’ house. He was 67, I was 11 and a part of me has always seemed a bit alone after that. His betrothed, a lovely Aspen widow with a large family of her own, cried profusely over his casket laid out for viewing in Sardy’s Mortuary, and I began to understand heartache. There were so many things I wanted to ask her and I never did.

My grandfather and I were blessed with the season of summer. No school for me, cattle in the hills that needed frequent tending and greenness across the mountainsides that is still unforgettable, even in a summer such as this.

Last week, my partner Margaret and I were off on one of our many jaunts and as the aspen leaves danced and flickered in the cool breeze, there was a closeness we felt, both having spent a portion of our younger years at the Vagneur cow camp, albeit in different timeframes. I had made our usual lunch, top secret, along with a Coke we always split. There was a relaxed air in our back-and-forth banter and a familiarity that comes only through much time spent together.

In this secure association along the trail, my mind would occasionally free-fall into memories, and as we crossed trails that my grandfather and I had traveled many years ago, there was an attachment somewhere in time to my granddad, his memory deep in my sense of the mountains surrounding us. And almost as though without thought, there was a reckoning that I knew but hadn’t acknowledged another lesson from Gramps that was waiting to be found.

He never said it, not in so many words, but I was important in my grandfather’s life, as shown by his actions and patience with me. It’s possible such knowledge may never have come my way, except that having the years on me now that my grandfather had back then, my young grandson has in some ways turned me into my own grandfather. Seeing some of life through Gramps’ eyes is another one of those surprises that no one can explain until it happens to them. Yes, I now know how important I was to my grandfather. Someday my grandson will understand this when he has a grandchild.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at