Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Time Traveler--A Horse Wreck, and why I Have Bangs Now

Time for another stroll down memory lane.

Oh my gosh, you guys.  I found more cool pictures, so of course, here's a story to go with them.

We lived in California (coastal Sonoma County, aka "heaven", if you've ever been there) from 1973 to 1977.  We had migrated there from New Jersey after my dad possibly was overcome by a fit of I DON'T WANT TO GO TO YALE AND BE A DOCTOR, THANK YOU, and decided that we needed more of that hippie/natural thang going on in our lives.  Because, you know, money is overrated (but I digress).  

Plus, why would anyone want to look like this:
Dad, around 1966
 ...when you could look like this?
Dad, at left; my favorite aunt, Mom, uncle, and me at my birthday.  Yeah.  Much better.
Fortunately for me (and my mom), my favorite aunt (her sister Dobi) and uncle also lived there. She was absolutely my favorite person on the planet, aside from Mr. Rogers and Big Bird.  She was the most fun grown-up I knew, silly and wonderful and young at heart--even more fun than our 20-something nomads.  She and my uncle lived on what I assume was a 70s-type commune, and I used to spend weekends there with them, listening to sitar music, eating bulgar out of wooden bowls, and (best of ALL), riding horses!  I was obsessed with horses.  I read about horses, dreamed about horses, and constantly wished for horses.  I used to fantasize that I'd go outside and find...a horse, with a tag around its neck, saying, "please keep me", and then we'd be best friends forever and ride off into the sunset.

When I wasn't with her, riding horses, I would pull our long phone cord (remember those?) around to the living room, straddled the back of our couch, and bounce along, pretending I was riding, to a sound track of James Taylor and Crosby, Stills, and Nash (and sometimes Young).  Yeah...good times.

I spent all my artistic time, drawing horses.  Nothing else.
Here I am...practicing--horses.  Left-handed.  My teachers despaired of me.  "WHY can't you use your RIGHT hand??"
The commune where I got to stay with my aunt was on a huge piece of land with a big house, called Mountain Wolf (uh, no...I don't recall wolves there), and it was inhabited by people who came and went often and were probably generally fascinating, in a 70s kind of way, but I don't really remember any of them.  There was a guy named Rainbow (it was the 70s, remember?) and an older girl who I looked up to (who rode English, for those of you who understand how cool that would be to a western kid), whose name was Eurydice. For some reason, I also remember a little girl, maybe 2 years old, named (I kid you not:) Keja-Ho, who ran around in nothing but a diaper, with a quarter taped over her oddly BIG "outie" bellybutton, I suppose, to help it... *not* an outie?  I have no idea why I remember that.

There was also this terrific, super OLD barn, which was in probably scary-dangerous shape, in the sense that the whole building leaned hard to one side.  Like, 45 degrees.  I loved it.
Exactly like this.  Seriously.
We had to yodel (yes, "yodel-LAY-hee HOOOOO") to call the farm's herd of 6-8 horses to come in from their huge grazing pastures, and if you did it loud enough and they heard it, the whole bunch would come thundering up the hill for some oats.  It was exhilarating and scary.

I still remember their names:  Okemo and Mahara were a mother-and-daughter mare and filly, a pair of the most fantasy-inducing palominos you could wish for as a little girl, but too unbroken (and too big) for novices to ride.  Toni was a sleek dark bay who I seem to recall was highly trained and/or high-spirited and temperamental and not to be touched by a small child.  Or maybe she kicked people...I can't remember.  Four Paws was about 400 years old and barely got around...a swaybacked and tired old gelding with white socks. No one rode him that I recall, or maybe I started on him and I don't remember?  Apple Jack was our favorite--well-broke and gentle, not too tall, and super easy to handle.  I have no idea why Festus the donkey was there, but he was fuzzy and white and friendly, so I loved him too.

Dobi would catch Apple Jack, and we'd saddle him, I would scramble up behind her (somehow we both fit inside the saddle!), and we'd take this long, wonderful ride together-- down a hill, across a little stream, up and around through trees and fields, through pasture gates, down old forgotten quiet roads, and back to the property.  I loved those rides as much as you can ever imagine a 5-year-old loving anything on earth.
My Happy Place, c. 1975-6
One day I learned to canter on Apple Jack.  By myself.  HUGE deal.  I was very excited about this, and so, as our ride was coming to an end one day and we were at the upper pasture, heading back for the house, we met my uncle, coming through the gate.  The pasture was wide, and I was so excited to show him my new skill by loping across the top road along the upper fence line.  Unfortunately, 6-year-old me didn't realize that Apple Jack was only thinking of the path we always took, halfway across the pasture, that cut a beeline straight down the hill, through the trees, down a little hairpin turn that took you down the bank to the main gravel road back to the house (and...obviously...the barn.  Where the oats were.)

So.  I was all "Hey, uncle Jerry! Watch me gallop!!"  And Apple Jack was like, "Heck YEAH, time to gallop TO THE BARN."  Wires majorly crossed.  I kicked him to get up to a lope across the pasture, and he immediately wrenched the reins out of my hands and took off at what felt like Seabiscuit speed, straight down the hill towards the house.

I remember hanging on to just the saddle horn, the up and down motion of his neck, and his mane blurring my vision.  I remember seeing, out of the corner of my eye, like a cartoon stick figure, my aunt, running, screaming, behind us.  I remember thinking, "DO NOT LET GO or you will die or at least break your arm in a gopher hole."  For some reason, I was very concerned about breaking my arm in a gopher hole.  It never occurred to me that HE might step in a gopher hole; thank God he didn't.  

I stuck to the saddle like a crazy burr all the way down the field at warp speed, through the trees, right down to the high bank above the gravel road, where I can only assume he made a steeplechase-like leap down onto the gravel road.  It was at this point that my little self could just not hold on any more--the rush of an animal that big jumping off what seemed like a cliff to me, must have loosened my grip.  I tumbled off over his front shoulder as he jumped, breaking my fall nicely on the gravel road with my face.  (Like, "look, no hands").  He managed to jump over me, somehow, without actually stepping on me or falling on me.  

I also found some pictures that show the very field where this happened.  It's a side story, but here it is.  It was known as The Cabin.  As far as I recall, a woman actually lived in this, back then. was her shelter while clearing her head or whatever.  

This would have been the view over my right shoulder as we hurtled past, heading for the barn. ("Wait.  Was that a house?")...
Dad, outside The Cabin.  Yes--I think it WAS homemade...why do you ask?
Want to see the inside?  
Mom--inside.  The field behind her is where I went by, from left to right....aieeeee
The end of the story is that I had indeed landed on my face, cutting my chin, leaving me with a cheek-ful of gravel, and gashing my eyebrow open in several directions, down to the bone.  My aunt swooped me up, put me on the front seat of her car, where I remember vaguely being sorry I was getting blood everywhere, and raced me to the hospital, where my parents met us.  I woke up hours later with 87 stitches in what was left of my left eyebrow and a scab where my left cheek should have been.  I remember walking through my parents' bedroom and turning my head away from the mirror on their wall, because I was afraid to look at myself.  And that scab.  Oh Lord.  I'm so glad I never peeked...  ew

I do remember, right after the accident, saying, "Well.  I guess I'll have to ride Four Paws now," but I don't know if I did, or even if we rode at all any more.  I imagine so, because my life continued to absolutely revolve around horses, right through my 20s and 30s.

Mom was a huge proponent of natural remedies, so she spent a lot of time after the accident, rubbing vitamin E oil on my scars, after pulling the last of my stitches (I remember exactly how that felt, to this day).  Everything healed very well, only I had a pretty scary and somewhat missing eyebrow until I was about 12, and I can't tell you how old it got, explaining what happened, every time I'd meet someone new.  Like a fun conversation starter, only exactly the same...every time.

Them:  Wow! What happened to your eye?

Me:  It's a long story.  I used to go riding with my aunt.  One day I learned to gallop, and I was going across this hill, and blah blah -- (*see the start of this story...which I told word-for-word, each time) 

Eventually I got so tired of telling the whole story every time, that it boiled down to this:

Them:  Wow! What happened to your eye?

Me:  I fell off a horse.

The last time someone noticed it was years later, after it had healed and I had more or less forgotten about it.  I was sitting in speech class in my junior or senior year of high school, with a teacher who scared me to death because he reminded me a giant bird of prey.  I spent that whole semester silently praying, "Don't call on me, don't call on me, please don't call on me!" He was lecturing along or whatever, and I was totally not listening, because hello--gag me with a spoon, speech class?  And suddenly, in mid-sentence, he ended with "....and WHAT HAPPENED TO STEF'S FACE?" The whole class stared at me.  I freaked out for a minute, because I couldn't imagine what he was talking about, and I guessed that possibly a giant zit had emerged, just in time for the weekend, or I had spinach on my chin or something.  But he just said that the light had caught my face just right, and he'd never noticed all those scars.  Well, yeah.  Thanks for pointing that out, Mr. H.  So I got to tell the story.  Again.  

That may have been the last time I told the whole story, come to think of it.

Anyhoo.  I do have an eyebrow now, but it helps that I have bangs, because if you look, you can see the scar that cuts my brow in half and jags down into my eyelid, and several pieced together scars above my brow.  There also *may* or *may not* be some really freaky brow hairs that grow waaaay outside the line of where they belong and are on Tweezer Watch, 24-7.  The way it happened, I guess I'm lucky the surgeon got all the eyebrow hairs to even grow in the same general direction, though, so--for what it's worth--thanks for that, 1976 surgeon dude.

Ready for more pictures? 
Me with Festus.  This may have been left eyebrow appears to have a scar line through it, as well as my cheek and forehead showing some redness.

Probably the only one of my actual face for sure, afterwards, according to my mom's note on the back.  I remember those OshKosh too, with those funny metal clasps, like it was yesterday.  
So.  Long story short:  I have bangs because--I fell off a horse.  

The End

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