There Was A Time

 

I grew up in Suburbia, middle child of a middle class family, living in the middle of nowhere. There were eight of us; my parents, myself, and my five siblings. It was an okay childhood, filled with family events, vacations, and I seem to remember feeling okay. We would take these long, family road trips to relatives spread out across Canada and the Northern Unites States, ranging from Winnipeg and Montreal up here, to New York, Cleveland, Chicago, and Washington. We loaded ourselves into the old man’s Ford Country Squire, the one with the cool wood paneling, and headed off, at dawn, down the road to perdition, and all stops in between.

I spent the first two years of my life in the ice covered tundra of Sault Ste. Marie, nestled on the shores of Lake Superior, after it had eaten the Edmund Fitzgerald, with my ass firmly frozen to the metal rails of a crib. I have no idea what the hell we were doing up there, but I was informed that the old man had taken a job in the vast wilderness of Northern Ontario. According to my mother the family next door were drunken hillbillies, albeit Canadian hillbillies, with little hope for neighborly chit chat. Survival among the wild animals, and somewhat wilder neighbors began to take its toll and after two years, she had enough. We loaded up and high tailed off of the ice floe we had called home, settling in the big city. My mother often told the story of how she was sure that those filthy, drunken, ignorant people next door would, sooner or later, bring us to some kind of horrific end.

I was, as a child, somewhat accident prone and spent a great deal of time at doctor’s offices and hospitals, being treated for a myriad of  injuries that included hazel nut shells in an eye, gashes on my arms and face from running through a closed glass door, a spike protruding through my foot, and broken bones caused by falling off of the roof of the house. To be fair, I did not fall off of the roof. I was flying. I was 6 years old and simply miscalculated wind speed. In any event, I suffered scars to my eye, stitches to my arms, received a wagon load of tetanus shots, and wore a cast for a large part of those formative years. And so, as we traveled, I was under strict orders not to move. As a super hero however, I was bound by an oath to not sit idly by. I was sworn to take action whenever I was needed.

The Ford Country Squire had really cool seats in the back that faced backwards. I sat there a lot, usually with one of my brothers who didn’t really travel well. He would throw up regularly, shortly after complaining of being sick. He kept a stack of paper lunch bags with him in order not to infect the Country Squire. In order to ease his distress, we would regularly stop to allow him to get out of the car and walk around until he was feeling better. These designated puke stops slowed down our progress, and really drove the old man crazy, as they almost doubled our travel time. We would often have to spend the night in a motel, usually a Howard Johnson Motor Lodge with a restaurant attached. The old man liked Howard Johnson. We would eat, get 2 rooms, and settle in for the night, getting up early and departing first thing in the morning. With all of the complaining about how long the trip was taking, and the added expense of motel rooms and meals, I was never really sure why they didn’t leave him at home with my grandparents.

My all time favorite family road trips were the ones we took to Washington, well actually Silver Springs, Maryland, to see my great uncle Nathan and his family. Nathan was my grandfather’s youngest brother, and I looked forward to seeing him with wild abandon.  We would always tour around D.C., as I sat in the front between Nathan and his wife in his Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser with a really cool glass roof about halfway back. My family followed behind in the Country Squire with a couple of his kids. I suppose Nathan was one of my all time favorite relatives. He encouraged the super hero that lived inside of me, and when I was 8, he got me a real cape to replace the towels I had been using. I really felt like a super hero then, standing tall with hands on my hips, cape blowing in the warm breeze, proudly displaying the t shirt I had made, emblazoned with the letter ‘G’, waiting to spring into action.

When I was 9 we took the Country Squire to Winnipeg. it took us three days to get there, as we overcame inordinate amounts of wrong turns and vomit. Uncle Sid, my other favorite relative, and aunt Francis were always fun to be around.  We attended events at the Pan Am games, and I went to my first CFL game, enjoying the blue and gold of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I have no idea who won as I was quite busy, scouting the stadium for crime. It seemed that there was no crime in Winnipeg. This was no place for a super hero crime fighter.

Uncle Sid took us horseback riding one afternoon. I watched as my eldest brother mounted his horse, and disappeared at full gallop through the brush and the trees, screaming for the horse to stop. Finally, someone in need of help! I sprang into action, and tried to ride after him, too afraid to fly after the mishap from my parents’ roof years before. Several other people were able to corral the horse, whose name by the way was Daisy, and save my brother from impending doom. I fell in love with horseback riding that day, and realized that I could be a horseback riding, crime fighting hero. All I needed was a sword, and a black mask, and I could follow in the footsteps of Zorro. My brother has never been near a horse since then, and breaks out in  cold sweats whenever he gets near a bouquet of flowers.

The family road trips stopped by the time I was 12 or 13. We were all getting older, and my parents had taken to leaving us with my grandparents while they went away on their own. The Ford Country Squire was long gone, replaced by a Buick LeSabre.  I suppose that was the end of my super hero crime fighting, although over the years I have continued to visit various emergency rooms across the city for assorted accidents and injuries, most of which required stitches, tetanus shots and xrays. Uncle Nathan passed away when I was still a kid, as did the relatives in Cleveland and Chicago. The cousins in Montreal moved to Houston, Texas, and Uncle Sid, well he has been living here for 50 years or so, and I try to visit with him whenever possible. Many of the details have faded now, but I still have some clear memories of those family vacations. To this day I can’t look at a station wagon without detecting a subtle scent of vomit.

 

 

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Tall In The Saddle

I love horseback riding. Always have. In fact, when my wife and I first starting dating, I took her horseback riding. I suppose it was partially to impress her, but also to see what she looked like on a horse. I love cowgirls. All the way back to Dale Evans, and up to Sharon Stone, In ‘The Quick & The Dead’. My wife to be had never been on a horse before, and requested an older, very slow and very sedate horse. With assistance, she climbed aboard, and off we went.

So, there we were, sitting tall in the saddle, as we paraded along the trail, with me riding behind her, watching her back side straddle the horse she was riding. I was certain that it was going to be an exciting ride!

After riding down the trail and across the stream, we stopped to rest the horses. Standing beside our horses, as they grazed on the wild grass, my date turned to me. “I don’t think this horse likes me very much.”, she said.

“Why would you think that?”, I asked, as I watched her horse nuzzle up against her leg.

“He doesn’t listen.”, she informed me. “When I tell him to slow down, he goes faster. And now, he just keeps stepping on my foot.”

“He’s playing.”, I stated.

“No.”, she replied. “He’s an ass. There’s something not right with him.”

“Maybe he’s freaked out by the white jeans you’re wearing.”, I offered.

“What’s wrong with my jeans?”, she asked.

“Well”, I postulated, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone wear white jeans to go horseback riding. It just can’t turn out well.”

As we mounted our rides again, we were informed that we could run them across the field, as fast as we felt comfortable. I was off like a shot, racing through the grass and the bushes as fast as my horse could run. I turned to see that my date was flailing around on her pony, rocking from side to side, with a look of terror on her face. I rode over to her, and settled her horse. She dismounted and stood beside the horse, staring at him, with eyes that I was sure could kill him, right there and then.

“Its okay.”, I told her. “I have the horse.”, as I grabbed on to the reins.

“I am not getting on that messed up animal again.”, she said, as she sat down on the grass.

“You may want to get up.”, I advised. “You’re going to get grass stains all over your ass.”

“I hate horseback riding.”, she informed me. “I’m never doing this again.”

“That’s okay.”, I told her.

“I’m sorry.”, she stated. I reached my hand out to her.

“Come on.”, I said. “You can ride back with me.” I pulled her up onto my horse, and she sat behind me. “Just hold on tight.”  I pulled on the reins of her horse, and led him back to the stables. As we approached the barn, we were greeted by a stable hand.

“Something wrong?”, the young lady asked.

“My horse is an idiot.”, my wife said as I handed her horse’s reins to the hand. “He didn’t listen. He did whatever he wanted to do. He’s an ass.”

“Apparently, he is not as calm and sedate as we were led to believe.”, I added.

“I’m so sorry.”, the woman apologized. “I can give you a pass for a free ride next time you come out.”

“No, thank you.”, my wife responded. “There is not going to be a next time. Not ever.”

“We’ll take the pass.”, I interjected.

“I’m not doing this again.”, my wife said.

“You never know.”, I said. “We’ll take the pass.”

“What’s your name, honey?”, she asked my wife as she began filling out the pass.

“Just put it in my name,”, I said. “I paid for the ride.”

In the car on our return to civilization, she sat in silence. Not a word was spoken.

“That’s cool that we got a free pass.”, I said.

“I don’t know why.”, she stated. “I am not doing that again.”

“That’s fine.”, I told her. “I can use the pass when I go.”

“You’re going to go without me?”, she asked.

I looked at her, surprised that she thought that I wouldn’t, and I saw those eyes looking at me much like the way she looked at that horse. “Are you telling me that I can’t go horseback riding without you, but since you don’t want to go, I can’t go back at all?”

She said nothing. The next 35 minutes were the longest 35 minutes ever. Not a word was spoken, until I got her home. I wasn’t sure if I would ever see her again. I went back to the stables a few days later, and used the free pass. I rode and rode, racing across the field, through the grass and the bushes, across the stream, and up the escarpment. I sat tall in the saddle, looking out over the valley below.

My future wife called me the next day, and we went out for dinner. “I’ve given it some thought.”, she said. “And I think I would like to try horseback riding again. But with a different horse. Maybe we can go on the weekend. I still have that free pass, so even if I hate it again, it didn’t really cost anything.”

“I’m sorry.”, I told her. “I used the pass a couple of days ago.”

“Are you serious?”, she asked.

“Yes.”, I said. “You said that you would never go back. I went after work.”

“Well”, she said. “I guess you had better find something else for us to do.”

“You know.”, I replied, “if you’re going to be so difficult, and make my life so complicated, we may as well be married.”

“Is that a proposal?”, she asked.

“I suppose so.”, I answered.

“Well then”, she said, “I’m ready.”

I looked at her and smiled. Man how I love this women. It has been suggested that her family has been able to place a curse on me so that I fell hopelessly in love with her, but it really doesn’t matter. We have never been horseback riding together since, but we have shared a lifetime of sadness and joy, happiness and despair, and 5 kids, and have managed to stay grounded and together. I suspect that she is very much like that horse, so long ago. Stubborn, feisty, a little dysfunctional, and I love her.