Monday, September 5, 2011

Was I Switched at Birth?


Mother tells a story about an amusement park that set along a road our little family traveled quite often. I must have been a big fan because I’m told that I set up a raucous ruckus to ride the pony if my eye caught sight of one so my parents resorted to subterfuge. They distracted me, making me look down, the opposite direction, anywhere but at the pony. This memory made them smile, and I thought surely they made up the whole tale. My earliest memory of horses is not the one they share. I remember horseback riding at summer camp as a trip through a House of Horror.

My memory informs me that the instructor was careless and impatient, especially with novices. Pony rides notwithstanding, I was a novice. I had no idea how to stand near a horse without being kicked. I had no clue about mounting a horse; the stirrup seemed impossibly high. Worst of all, that horse kept rolling its eye in my direction, sizing me up, finding me deficient, it seemed to me. That horse was Menace on four legs.

When it took off with me, it moved from zero to sixty in half a circuit, running at full throttle. My hair band bounced off and my barrettes unclasped to fling themselves into the grass, desperate to survive. They were never found again, and that hardened my heart against the instructor once and for all, especially after she shouted at me--something about pulling the reigns and about my ears being plugged with cotton and my ability to pay attention to the simplest instructions.

Utterly humiliated and astonished that this instructor had so little skill with children, I refused to go to the meadow again. I refused to go near a horse again. Camp officials had to replace Horseback Riding with something else to fill that hour in my day. As I recall, I had to learn the names of trees and vines, identifying them by their leaves. My task was to collect them, then pin them to display boards with neatly written labels. I pretended not to mind this mindless labor in the heat of an Oklahoma summer because I never went near a horse again.

Another tale that Mother and Dad told was about an early birthday gift from Dad, a rarity. I can only remember three that he personally selected and purchased. For one of my pre-school years, he bought a cowboy outfit, complete with chaps, a tin gun, vest and one-gallon hat. After being coaxed into putting on the clothes, I dissolved into tears that escalated into sobs, heartsick to think that Dad wanted me to look like a boy. He had to promise to return the whole set and exchange it for a cowgirl outfit that I did wear--at least once, for a photo in which I am not smiling.

Can you imagine being plopped into the middle of such a family? They deceived me about the proximity of ponies, then pushed me into horseback riding, all the while secretly hoping that I would turn out to be a Tomboy.

You can see, can’t you, why I must have been switched at birth?