Sunday, February 12, 2012

Count Them on Two Hands

When I was - I dunno - 13-ish, I was in Gunnison at a 4-H event. For some reason, Gunnison seems to be hotter in the summertime than actual hell can ever get. Therefore, they held their annual horse show in early May; they were always the first club to have their show, and we were always grateful for that. Even though it was in early May and we (kids and horses, alike) all looked scraggly and shabby and definitely unready. But the idea of showing any later in the year was incomprehensible.

Anyway, one year, it was blistering hot even though it was only the second weekend of May. Like riding-a-horse-on-the-face-of-the-sun hot. Good night, nurse! The horses were tired, the kids were getting ornery (but still competing), the little kids were whining, everyone was getting sunburned, and there just wasn’t enough room around the water trough!
I tied my horse up to the trailer and went to find my mom. I was actually in a decent mood because I was performing well. (Ok, my horse was awesome. The best horse EVER. SHE was performing better than well.) Mom was hanging with other overheated parents trying to make the best of the situation. Just seconds after I got there to talk to her, someone offered her a beer, and she accepted. She drank that cold brew down in just a few gulps. (Technically, I don’t think that beer is supposed to be at 4-H events, but that rule may be overlooked when you’re face is melting off.) I just stood there and looked at her. I had never, ever, ever seen her drink a beer or any other alcoholic beverage. She just looked at my surprised face and said “that was worth it.”

(It’s probably good for me to note that her role in their marriage was that of ultimate responsibility. It’s hard to be married to an alcoholic….)

Fast forward about ten years. My ex, mom, and I all traveled to San Diego for baby brother’s graduation from the USMC. (What a proud day for our family, by the way.) The three of us had time to go out and have fun while he spent a few days being “processed,” whatever that means…. So, we went to Sea World/Busch Gardens. OK – so it was June in Southern California. Now, it was hot and humid. Because we were at Busch Gardens, there were a couple of acres devoted to Budweiser and its horses. We just HAD to see them. Neither mom nor I had ever had the chance before. The ex could have cared less, but she entertained us and our shared obsession with horses. These creatures are just beautiful. BEAUTIFUL! Mom and I had a great time.

Afterwards, we went through the tasting room which was not so much a room but more of a huge convention area because you can imagine the number of visitors to Sea World who want to sample beers….. Well, I sure did! I love me a good brewski. To my surprise, my mom had a couple of samples, too.

Just like ten-ish years before, I looked at her with surprise, but now I better understood. They were divorced by this time, and I could see how his ways had damaged our family and their relationship. (At that exact time, none of his five kids would even talk to him. Still today, one of them will not associate with him at all, and one approaches the whole thing in a very guarded way.)

As front row observers and participants in this family, none of us asked many questions. We all understood our childhood in different ways, and I’m not sure that we wanted to know more. But, this day in San Diego, I asked about the beer and why I had only ever seen her drink one time before. All she said was “I like beer just fine, but as you know, I had to be the one to take care of things. I can count on my two hands the number of times in my life that I’ve been drunk.” That’s all she had to say about it, and I never asked again.

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