Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away…… well, actually in Montevideo, Uruguay, I set out for my normal Saturday at Club Hipico Uruguayo, my mecca – my true home, the place where I spent every waking moment.
Backstory: my parents had gone gallivanting – again – leaving us four kids home alone with some easily fooled caretaker. This time they were in Peru, visiting Machu Picchu, and there they ran into some other Americans from the north shore of Long Island with whom they had – mirabile dictu – good friends in common. Lee and Dick Goldberg - or something like that – and their common friend was one of my mother’s girlhood chums. So naturally my parents invited them home to Montevideo for Christmas, and thus they all arrived together.
My mother found out that Lee liked riding and horses, and so she volunteered me – at 13 years old – to take Lee with me to the Hipico. Lee seemed really old – she was probably in her 30’s – but I sighed and scuffed and agreed. So early Saturday I got her up and we left the house and walked to the highway and I stuck out my thumb in order to hitchhike to the Club. I don’t think my mother actually considered how I got ordinarily got there, or how I was going to get Lee there – she probably believed her hospitality chores completed in arranging for me to take Lee at all. Even though I wasn’t paying much attention, I did notice Lee looking a little nervous about the hitchhiking thing, so I airily assured her that I did this all the time alone and had never had a problem. Really. A truck duly stopped, and we two climbed into the front bench seat and for THE FIRST TIME EVER the driver got grabby and rude. I remonstrated, yelled at him, and demanded to be let off, which he did. Lee was very quiet. I stuck my thumb out again, and the next truck stopped, invited us in to the front seat, and I declined, saying that we would prefer to ride in back. He tried to persuade us differently, but I over-rode him as Lee and I began climbing up the tires and the sides of the truck bed. We hoisted ourselves over, to find a full cargo of offal. If you don’t know the definition of this, picture several large piles of differing cow insides plus a stack of flayed skulls. Lee was now white, as well as quiet, but the helpful truck driver snaked his hand out the window with a roll of paper towels for our hitchhiking convenience which I thought was very nice of him. Lee perched on the side of the truck with her feet drawn up under her as tightly as possible. She did not appear to appreciate the towels.
We duly arrived, and I busied myself getting her mounted on one of my horses. We were finally in the saddle, and a few minutes out of the stable, when I realized that Lee could not ride. At all. Lord knows what she thought she was doing, but she was helpless with this horse. I sighed loudly, and headed back in to get her re-mounted on one of the stables’ hacks – who rejoiced in the name of Viejo (“Old”) and with whom no one, even a corpse, could get into trouble. Off we went for the normal three hour ride through the woods, ending up on the beach where I asked her if she wanted to go swimming, since it was mid-summer (there) and quite warm and we and the horses were sweaty. She said no. I said okay, but I am going swimming so I stripped naked and sprinted into the sea with my horse (the beach was deserted) and cooled off nicely. Came back to an even quieter Lee whose eyes were now very averted from me.
We meandered home, since we had arranged to meet Dick and my parents around lunch time for the traditional Saturday meal at the Club. We finally rounded the corner of the approach, and there the three of them were, looking variously anxious and annoyed. Upon spotting them Lee THREW herself out of the saddle and hobbled at speed to her husband, crying “Dick, Dick, Dick” in a piteous voice. When she reached him she collapsed against him. He clutched her, looking daggers at me, and my parents simultaneously roared at me “What did you DO to her?” I was genuinely bewildered….”Nothing!!”, I said.
In the days afterward Lee and Dick seemed to enjoy their stay a bit better. Mom consciously did not involve me much with them. Lee’s only comment, apparently, was that she thought I might have a hard time fitting in back in the States when the time came. And she was right.