It was his first trip to rural Fremont County. My brother-in-law’s brother-in-law Val was about to experience Wyoming in a new way.
Val Galvan hailed from the sunny southwest, read that as blisteringly hot, oven-like Mesa, Arizona where the temperature in December and January was often warmer than a June afternoon here in our little corner of paradise.
Val was riding with my brother-in-law Matt and me from Kinnear to my parent’s farm off Summerhill Road a few miles south of Pavillion.
As we turned right off Shetland Road to head east toward the farm, a black and white shape, close to the ground caught our eye. Matt stopped to investigate.
We both walked to the fence line on the north side of the road and spotted a badger near a freshly dug den, while Val stayed in the cab.
The badger wasn’t happy, bristling and snarling as we approached. Val had the window down and asked, “What is it?”
“Just a badger,” I said.
Knowing a little about badger behavior we knew it would stay close to the ground and not jump, so Matt and I had some fun with it. As fearless, (read that clueless maybe) 20-somethings we got within a few feet and when it charged, we quickly jumped on the hood of the car.
The badger retreated, we jumped down, crept up to it, and it charged again. Both of us were laughing, and having a good time with the badger, but Val didn’t see it that way.
“You guys are nuts,” he started to yell. “That thing will kill you.”
“No, it won’t, it can’t jump,” I said as it charged again.
We left the badger to its own devices and proceeded on to the farm.
“Are all you rednecks this crazy?” Val asked as we drove on.
“Maybe,” Matt said.
It was Val’s first visit to that part of Fremont County after marrying Matt’s youngest sister Rhea just a couple of years before.
He and Rhea made the trip every summer over the next four decades.
Val passed away from a combination of ailments beginning with a vicious fungal infection endemic to the Mesa area, known as “Valley Fever” to locals. The fever turned into pneumonia and Val’s rheumatoid arthritis drugs further compounded his lungs’ ability to fight the disease. After a short battle in the hospital, he was gone.
We had wonderful summers with Val and Rhea. They usually arrived in June and left sometime after the Fourth of July. They brought their children with them in the early years, and later grandchildren to fill my little sister Susie and my brother-in-law Matt’s house with mid-summer laughter each year.
Val brought a little more than that with him.
A proud man of Hispanic heritage, he brought the cuisine of the American Southwest to us.
His trademark was something called “thin meat.” You might have heard of it by its more popular name “carne asada,” but Val’s version cooked on a charcoal grill in the early years, and later on Matt’s Traeger, far surpassed anything you could order off the menu at your local Mexican restaurant.
He kept us at bay with his tongs and spatula each summer as we eagerly tried to get a sample before the dinner was served.
Those were good times.
Val enjoyed teasing us about the “heat of summer” as he often snidely referred to our temperate climate.
Even when it hit triple digits in Riverton or Lander, Val would laughingly remind us that it was 118 or 121 or some other ridiculous temperature that day back home in Mesa.
Val spent much of his adult life working in that heat daily for the City of Mesa. He took his job seriously, as he did raising his children and grandchildren, and was more of a brother to those around him than a friend.
When he took the time to speak about politics or current trends he always viewed things from a slightly insider frame of mind, but never took a position so strong that he’d alienate anyone. He was a master at getting his point across without offending anyone. Yet, his message was strong, and in speaking with him it often took on the tone of a learned man holding court.
We all enjoyed it.
As a kid growing up in the southwest, he wasn’t as interested in hunting and fishing as he was in just relaxing and speaking with new people.
We spent many a lazy summer afternoon beating the Lander heat in the backyard of Matt’s parents Eldon and Norma Conilogue at their home on Cascade on the south side of town.
A master of salsa, and a magician with a knife, a few onions, peppers, and tomatoes, Val could have been a professional chef. In many ways, he was our summer chef with those delicious food combinations.
In short, Val was a friend and a friend to everyone. Those of us in his generation enjoyed him as did our parents and our children, that’s something that not everyone can pull off.
Val’s passing moves the torch of mortality to our generation. We all watched sadly as our fathers and uncles moved on, along with a few misfortunate aunts, but mortality takes special notice when it comes to someone just a few years older than you.
Val and Rhea were married for 42 years.
Rhea is the funny one of three Conilogue kids. Matt was the oldest, Diane second, and Rhea the baby of the family.
Her self-deprecating humor was the perfect addition to Val’s dry comedy. They were a perfectly matched couple who always made a room full of people or an outdoor gathering a more fun place to be.
Val is gone. The Fourth of July artillery barrage that takes place at our house every summer won’t be the same without his dry commentary.
Val always had a lawn chair near the front row on our driveway.
He enjoyed watching our son Brian and nephews Adam and Jake as unbalanced teenagers playing with explosives each year, and often joked to me that Cinco de Mayo was a much better holiday since fewer people lost fingers on the Mexican version of Independence Day.
I’m glad Val crossed our paths and share the grief of his family in his untimely passing, but the man left a legacy we’re all thankful for.