Tony Vagneur: Women have held the West together
To put a stop to it, you’d have to say it was in the “old” days, before today’s world – well, you know what Aspen looks like today, roughly, in any event. We used to live in Woody Creek, before that name sounded to anyone other than the ranchers in the valley and maybe a few packing houses in Denver.
It was the West, about as close as anyone else here. We rode our horses to work, we used horses to pull farm implements, we raised cattle, purebred Herefords, had a huge garden, chicken coop, dairy cows, pigsty across the road , a large orchard full of apple and plum trees, with several large slabs of rhubarb (think pies). Deer and elk were in abundance during hunting seasons.
In all of Woody Creek, we had four neighbors who weren’t Wanderers, which really isolated us, but I don’t think anyone used that word or term to think about our existence. In hindsight, I prefer the term idyllic, although I’m sure my mother would argue with me, but not entirely. In any case, it may be exaggerated on my part.
My maternal grandmother, who was born and raised on the ranch that now houses the Aspen airport, was a semi-retired schoolteacher and spent a lot of time with us at Woody Creek.
Depending on the size of the summer crew, she and my mother would plan the day’s menu, which often meant going to the chicken coop (outdoors during the day) to choose two or three birds for the evening meal. Mother would describe the chickens she thought had exceeded prime laying performance, and Grandma and I would go to the chicken coop to round up the unfortunate feathered friends.
Unlike today, where we pull them out of the cooler at the store, Grandma and I started with live chickens, my job being to grab them under my arm and bring them to the chopping block. It was bloody, and Grandma, in her sixties, wielded the ax with an unerring eye – in retrospect, maybe a little unpleasant, but in those days no one was going to do it for you. Then we would clean them, soak them a little in hot water and remove the feathers, preparing them for the pot.
Then it was in the garden, where my mother could be busy weeding rows and rows of vegetables and picking what the women thought was good with the chickens we had just harvested. They both filled their aprons with produce and headed home, where the peas were shelled, the corn shucked, the radishes, carrots and onions washed, whatever. With enthusiasm, I will help. Maybe pick sweet peas for the table – my mother loved those and geraniums.
While all of this was going on, Mom probably had a roast in the oven or in the pressure cooker, maybe some venison or elk, and some potatoes and other veggies for lunchtime ( dinner if you prefer). .
They would fill a bucket with cold water and hang it just outside the back door, along with a long-handled ladle, where each member of the crew would take a long sip of cold water from the stream, then pass the ladle to the next. man online.
We’re talking about the Men of the West, those John Wayne caricatures of men who were actually the models JW used to create his own characters, and they deserve all the accolades they get.
But the women of the West are so often overlooked, the wives and daughters of men who tilled the land, the women who kept the house fires going, who averted disaster before it could overtake the ranch house; women who would go to the neighbor’s to borrow this or that or pass on important information. Some single women owned their ranch, like “Cattle Queen” Kate Lindvig of Snowmass or Nellie Bird, east of Aspen. Many wives went up the range with their husbands.
So when you think you’re cool walking down the sidewalk in your polished boots and designer jeans and your new Stetson, buying drinks at the bar or trotting your horse around the arena in front of your house, do a place in your memory for the women who, without fanfare or complaint, held it all together.
It seems that I always helped women with such chores until I was old enough to ride my own horse and drive tractors pulling farm implements. And in reflection, let me say that having grown up like this, I always laugh at those who advocate “farm-to-table” menu items or events, like it’s a new thing.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and awaits your comments at [email protected].