Vagneur: Remembering M.J. Elisha and reflecting on our youth |

Vagneur: Remembering M.J. Elisha and reflecting on our youth

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

If you’ve been reading the paper lately, you know there’s a memorial service coming up for M.J. Elisha on Saturday, Oct. 8, at Jehovah’s Hall.  

He was about six years older than me, and we weren’t really ever friends, but we knew each other from growing up together. Maybe most importantly, at least to me, was I bought my first car from him: a black, 1954 Ford coupe.

He was away at school at the time, and I wrote the check to his mother while sitting at the kitchen table in her house. Then, I backed the car out of that marvelous carriage house/garage that was part of their property and drove home to Woody Creek.

Some 50 years later, a passage of time during which he and I probably never spoke a word to each other, we crossed paths at an event somewhere, and he reminded me of our automobile transaction. It was important to him, as well.

During our time together at the Red Brick school, M.J.’s nickname was “Ebwa,” a moniker given him by Gale “Spider” Spence, the ski-team coach. Spence had a proclivity for giving ski-team members nicknames, and, having heard it the first time, I never forgot it. I went diving back through old school yearbooks (1950s), hoping to find some mention of said nicknam but found none. (Tommy Moore’s nickname was “Golf Bag.”)

But, what a journey it was seeing old friends and faces from so many years ago, some I’ve written about in this column, many others gone on into another life on the other side and some still here. All those smiling, cheerful young faces, so integral to the fabric of our school society back then, gone in different directions, like a blast from a shotgun. Today, it takes little more than one hand to count the ones from that era still living here.

The Elisha family has been here since about forever, integrated into the history of Aspen in 1900. During the “quiet years,” M.J.’s dad was a one-man chamber of commerce as the owner of the Hotel Jerome. The name of the hotel, the 10th Mountain Division and Aspen are almost synonymous with one another in the annals of historic Aspen. And, one cannot mention the names of any of them without mentioning the Elisha family. What a great legacy.

It hurts inside to know there are many newcomers in our town who don’t know the history, who wonder what the big deal is about an old-mining-town-turned-ski-area in the face of difficult odds, and, on some level, one recognizes that, not that many years ago, there would have been no need to place a notice in the paper about the upcoming memorial service for M.J. — almost the entire town would have known about it.

In that deep yearbook dive I took into the past, the importance of our history, but more so the importance of our people, has struck an emotional chord deep within, and I’m so thankful to have been a part of some of that history.

Skiing and sledding behind the Elisha house at the top of the rise heading west out of town; walking along the great stone wall demarcating the Elisha’s undulating yard from the sidewalk; those wonderful, amazing play times in the well-kept grass going down the hill toward 2nd Street.

M.J.’s younger sister, Ingrid, was one of my best friends back in our very young years, and we spent a lot of time playing in that yard, doing rolls and somersaults down the hill. And laughing. And laughing. Of course.

M.J. was too old for our childish games, but we knew what he was up to, and, as summer approached, he was well-known as one of the boys responsible for putting up the Music Tent in the spring. His long legs made him a natural at climbing up high, pulling ropes and placing supports. Even though much younger, relatively speaking, I always admired him for doing that job. And, as we knew, he was a helluva skier.  

Although he and I were never were close — and it’s too late to say so — it is comforting to know that he had an unforgettable impact on my life, and, in some way, maybe he knows that. Bon voyage into the great beyond.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at