Vagneur: When less was more
Life is big, it’s all around us, but when we get right down to it, our lives are mostly about the little things, things that might not mean so much to anyone else but that mean the world to us. The way someone smiles at us or raises one eyebrow in a certain familiar manner, or the way our partner laughs or confides in us; the sound of songbirds in the morning.
As we did many summer evenings, my grandfather, Ben Vagneur, and I headed up the banks of Woody Creek on foot, the thought of catching trout on our minds. We remembered where we’d been the last time so we always picked a different fishing hole to try, and our success was generally phenomenal, up to a limit.
The water was crystal clear, we’d had no rain for a while, and as we approached a big hole we knew from before, Gramps whispered, “Stop! If we walk up there, the fish will see us and spook. We need to sneak up on ’em.” And my grandfather, who grunted and groaned a lot when he got on and off his horse, quickly dropped down to his hands and knees, showing me how we were going to do it. And there we were, a kid and his grandfather, scooching along on our knees and elbows, fishing rods thrown over our shoulders, sneaking up on the wild fish we were trying to outsmart, having a hard time keeping our giggles and comments way down low. Whether we caught any fish that day no longer seems to matter.
My dog, Topper, has a loyalty that is unsurpassed, and sometimes I wonder if I deserve it. As a friend once told me, a dog would rather sit in the back of his master’s pickup all day just to be with him than to sit at home with all the comforts such accommodation might afford. Topper stays at home if requested, like he does during the ski season, but when we start farming and ranching, he beats me out the door every time.
If I’m on my horse, Topper (or T-Bone, as he is most generally called, unless we’re speaking two languages, in which case he gets the faux French pronunciation of “bone”) leads the way on full instinct, sniffing out the trail and alerting us to any cattle that might be hiding in the brush. However, if I’m riding the tractor, as in harrowing the fields or swathing the hay, Topper takes up his position under the shade of the truck or Jeep, patiently awaiting my call at the end of my rounds.
Not many things are as satisfying as watching Topper, who at hearing my whistle from as far as half a mile away, bails out from under the vehicle and runs full speed in my direction, so happy to be reunited after a several hour hiatus. The enthusiasm he shows, the sheer joy evident in his bounding sprint, is such that I am humbled deep inside every time it happens. We walk back to the Jeep or truck together, Topper doing an occasional 360 in front of me as we travel along. He’ll be 10 at the end of July. God knows, animals deserve our every consideration.
We sat on the screened-in back porch, a small bench facing Second Street, our refuge from whatever was going on inside. We didn’t talk because, well, we never did. We’d been to The Red Onion for a couple of beers, or should I say he’d had a couple of beers with his buddies and I’d had a Coke with a straw. You could tell the time of day by this ritual of his so it was just around 5 o’clock.
My great-uncle Tom Stapleton pulled out the rolling papers from a shirt pocket, positioning the end of the paper just right around his forefinger, and then tapped out some tobacco from the Prince Albert can. I was 10 or 11 and ventured the question, “Can I have one?” He handed me the fixin’s.
There are big things that have happened in the world since; wars have been fought, bones fractured, hearts broken, money and wives lost, but I reckon there isn’t much I wouldn’t give to be sitting again on that back porch with Uncle Tom, the late-afternoon sun giving our relationship a warmth we seldom felt, sharing roll-your-own smokes, not talking and each silently wondering what the other was thinking.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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