Vagneur: Upon further reflection …
Lately, through incredibly good fortune, the heart of the old Elkhorn Ranch has been opened up to me, its beating still reminiscent of when my family left it all those many years ago. There’s a catharsis building within me, a coming to terms with unpleasant events of the past, and it all has to start with my father.
In the distance, he’s just topping the rise, astraddle his glistening, light brown horse, Snicker, a small, fast walker, while his cow dog, Tag, darts along behind. With his right hand, he holds an irrigating shovel over his shoulder, and tall rubber boots cover his legs. A vented, straw cowboy hat with a flat, turned-down brim covers his head and shades his eyes. Mountains with names like Daly and Capitol stand tall behind him, impervious to our hopes, dreams and failures.
Snicker’s head bobs up and down with cadence and spirit as he glides along the dirt two-track which is sandwiched between fields of fresh-smelling timothy and alfalfa, dark green with purple blossoms, well-watered and ripe for the beginning of hay season.
If he passed close enough by, you would catch the sweet smell of spearmint on his breath and hear a soft hum of contentment emanating from within. There was a bearing about him that spelled love for his work and a faint smile that originated with the knowledge that he understood well what he did.
If you put us side by side in those days, we might have been hard to tell apart in the distance, mentor and student, each working independently on different parts of the ranch. We kept the place immaculately green, as old-timers still will attest, and preserved our end of the cattle range in good stead. Between us, we were a close-knit team with common ranching goals; we liked what we did, and we were good at it.
But there came a rift, like the rising of tectonic plates across the earth, begun by uncontrollable forces of family and health, and as the ranch sold, a plundering of our relationship occurred, one that seemed as if it might never heal. Intellectually, one could reach an understanding of it all, I suppose, after a space of many years, but emotional reparations are less easy to come by, particularly when one of the players has died.
My dad and I never really had the conversation about it that we should have, because he wouldn’t, and after his death in 1981, it seemed as though the issue was permanently settled, for whatever that was worth. Maybe in the long run it was none of my business, anyway, the struggles he had to face. I let it go.
But last week, with many more years of experience under my belt and walking the same land we both traveled, rambling through the same big ranch house we shared and looking at the same natural views with similar eyes, I see my father in a different light, in ways that I had forgotten about. He’s the young man who rose every morning with a burning enthusiasm to make that day the best he could and to be just a little better for it by the time darkness fell.
Today, as I wander the pastures below the house, it seems sometimes that I can detect his familiar ambiance, riding alongside Woody Creek on his big buckskin mare, and as he rounds a scraggly willow, our eyes light up at the sight of each other.
I’d misplaced some important memories of him, my teacher and helpmate, the father I admired so much when I was young. Maybe it’s about forgiveness, but I don’t think so. It’s more about peeling back the layers of history for a closer look. I’ve changed, and I think we could have that conversation now. I love you, Dad.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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