Saturday, January 14, 2012

Happy Happy Family Vacay, Chapter 2

You would think visiting my aunt after Disneyland would be a letdown for the kids. Not at all. Horses are her business; other attractions include ducks, chickens, cats, goats, chihuahuas, and birds; all pets - she doesn't even eat the eggs - in peaceful coexistence.

Some of my earliest memories are of visiting my aunt with horses. When I was little, I got to ride her pony bareback and will never forget when it spooked and galloped out of the ring as I clung to its mane for dear life, tears and snot streaming across my face. It was awesome. My aunt purchased English riding lessons at a stable near my home in Long Beach when I turned 13. At the time, I was obsessed with horses, pouring over horse mags, even trying to memorize the products in the ads. She gave me one of those black, velvety English riding helmets with the lessons; I was so psyched, I can still remember like it was yesterday. The downer was I had recently been prescribed a backbrace for scoliosis, and my first lesson was too painful to continue, leaving a ring of purple welts around the bottom of my brace. That was the extent of my breakup with horses.

But my aunt managed to never break up with horses. My girls and I hadn't seen her in years, and Violet told me she was nervous as Grandma drove us up to the barn. Then, a gigantic white horse - unpenned - walked up to say hi, and we knew we had entered a magical animal land of no worries.

I always loved spending time with my mother and her sister when I was a kid and not because of horses. My mother surprised me with the thoughts and stories she shared with her sister . . . wait a sec, I don't remember hearing THAT before.. And when I say hearing, I mean I always listened carefully to those two. You never knew what new interesting adult thing would be discussed, what skeleton in the family closet. I'm sure my brothers were around somewhere, but they never seemed to get the gravity.

My aunt also entered a new phase post-divorce in recent years, and she is stronger than ever. In her fifties, she finds time to trail run and surf in addition to running her business and caring for her various pet herds. My mother, in her sixties and no slouch herself, works full-time in a hospital and takes care of my kids in her "off" time. Having my kids spend time with Grandma and Auntie is a return to a source of my strength. Growing up, I learned by hearing my mother relate her vulnerabilities, make fun of herself, and prepare to take a stand in lively conversations with her sister.

Near the end of our one-day visit, my aunt's daughter joined the rest of us for dinner. Violet, of course, was immediately unreasonable before crashing in my lap. But over dinner, I caught a look of concentration on Daisy's face, and I knew she was listening.

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