For the last three weekends in a row, I’ve found a way to avoid playing golf with my flag officer at 0730 on Saturday mornings, usually because he hadn’t asked directly. Either his writer or his aide came down, canvassing for players in a general way. Them I could say “no” to. But last week the Man himself asked if I would play, and so of course I said, “Yes! Love to!” Not because I’m trying to be a suck up, but because the traditions of our service do not allow for the direct refusal of a flag officer request on the grounds of personal convenience.
It isn’t that I don’t like and admire the guy, he’s a wonderful person to work for. And it certainly isn’t that I don’t like golf, I do, very much. But it’s a 30 minute drive down the 5 from Carmel Valley to Coronado, the same drive I do five days a week, and one of my chief pleasures on a Saturday morning is not chewing up that same stretch of highway at the early hours on a day off.
(Note: This is yet another boring domestic tale. Read on as you will, forewarned is forearmed.)
So it was with great relief that I learned on Friday morning that the boss wouldn’t be playing on Saturday. It was his last weekend home with his college aged daughter. Not least because I could avoid the workaday commute on my weekend, but also because I was now able to pick the Kat up from her week-long stay at the Rawhide Ranch, a western style horse camp.
I’m so glad I got to see her last day.
I’ve pointed out before that the Kat is horse crazy. The costs of supporting this hobby are non-trivial, but Saturday all that was wiped clear.
She had an equestrian competition at the end of the camp, on parent’s day. The Kat is into English-style riding, hunter/jumper, and there are some significant differences in the different styles. As I watched her ride, I thought she was performing superbly of course, while knowing full well that every other father in the arena was feeling the same way. The final ceremonies dragged on for quite a while, under an increasingly brilliant and hammering sunshine. The last contest was the Kat’s, in the advanced riders class.
When the time came for awarding prizes, I was a little bit nervous. At this camp, everyone gets something (the parents have paid for it), so at least half the kids in the advanced class got “finalist” ribbons. As the names were read off, and the kids came up for their finalist ribbons, I felt as though I was in some crazy game of parental Russian Roulette, and already formulating excuses – how serious were these judges anyway? But excuses would have been small beer for the Kat – she would have been crushed to win a “present” ribbon, and then walk off the arena. So much of her self-image is tied up in all things horses.
The judge read the horse’s name first, followed by the riders. Each time they called a horse that was not hers, I felt my tension relieved a bit, only to tighten up again upon reflecting that the pool of candidates was getting smaller and smaller – when would they eventually come to her?
They started to read off placing ribbons, commencing with 10th place. She would at least get one of those, so now I re-calibrated my hopes – at least let it be one of the top seven or so, I found myself hoping.
Now, I don’t want to make this sound like it’s the Olympic Games, or even about anything lastingly serious. But the moment was important to her, which made it important to me. If you’re a father, you understand. If you’re not, some day, if you’re lucky, you will.
Ultimately we got to the top five, and her name still hadn’t been called. I allowed myself a small smile: The top half would make her happy, I thought. How soon until they called her off? Each name that was read, I looked into her face, seeing her smile a little brighter, being a little more proud.
The kids get a little nervous in the final three or four names. They’ve made it all this way, greatly relieved, but now they dare to hope. Their ranks thinned, they move closer together, exchanging glances. Wondering.
In this competition there was a first place winner, and above that a “Grand Champion.” It was down at last to the Kat one other girl – all of creation trembled in the balance (from my perspective anyway) as they read the name of the horse, and the girl, in first place – all the other times, the kids only knew who had won that particular ribbon. For the last two spots, both will know at the first syllable where they stand. The judge read off the name of the other girl – the Kat, she had won the Grand Championship! I saw her little body move almost as though an electric current had gone through it. She was so very, very happy. Which of course made me, very, very happy.
After a suitable denouement, with many exchanges of IM screen names, email addresses and even snail mail addresses and phone numbers (how quaint), it was finally time to bid farewell to Rawhide Ranch for yet another year. Safe in the car, on the highway heading home, I ask the Kat if she’d had a good time. No answer.