Family Ties: Someone’s Favorite

I’ve been decorating my home for Christmas and I keep finding special things that remind me of my Aunt Polly: an engraved ornament, my blue porcelain angels, woodland birds. On Saturday evenings when my husband and I watch movies, I work on my crewel embroidery pillow and remember how she taught me the stitches when I was a senior in high school. Later she gave me the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Needlework and wrote in her artful script, “To Connie Riddle with lots, and lots of Love.”

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Polly in our farmhouse kitchen around 1966

While Polly never told me I was her favorite, as every child hopes they are, I always felt a connection to her because she ‘got me’ and I ‘got her.’ Her attention toward me made me feel special– a great thing when you’re growing up and going through the ups-and-downs of figuring out who you are. How reinforcing to feel that you have someone’s favor.

When I was a girl, Polly told me about visiting the Teton Mountains in Wyoming. I felt like I was there when she described the snow-capped mountains and the open space. I’d seen those vistas in Westerns and imagined myself as one of those cowgirls riding a horse. Years later, as a ‘girl’ of  fifty-six, I took my solo journey to Wyoming chasing that dream that had started with Polly. I rode a huge horse named Tequila on a trail ride in the Grand Teton National Park. How I felt Polly’s spirit with me in that place.

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Remembering Polly’s descripton of the Tetons and feeling her presence

My memories of Polly are strong, especially during the Christmas season. Last year, I was feeling the same way and wrote a post, Polly’s Gift. I’d love for you to read it and get to know more about her.  I’ll end this post early in hopes that you’ll read on about Polly and her painting that hangs on the wall in my kitchen every December.

Polly’s Gift

 

How About You?

Is there a family member or another person who has treated you as if you’re a favorite?

What were things they did that communicated that you had a special bond?

How did their favor on you impact your life?

Do you have that type of relationship with a  niece or nephew or some other person?

 

Childhood Dreams

The dream of riding a horse in the wide-open West had been with me since I was a girl.  Those Saturday morning shows like Roy Rogers spurred my interest, making me want to feel that freedom from a saddle.  When my Aunt Polly told me stories of visiting the Tetons, my dream broadened to riding horseback there.  It was time to make that a reality.

I scheduled my solo journey to Wyoming.  I’d learned from cancer that you should live with intention, not wasting the time you have by postponing your heart’s desires.  Each trip I completed gave me more confidence in boldly stepping forward and trying new things.  I’d hiked a mountain alone and stayed with strangers in hostels.  Surely I could ride a horse again– even though it had been at least thirty years.

I planned my stay at Colter Bay in the Grand Teton National Park.  They offered riding trails led by experienced wranglers.  Their website stated all levels of riders could participate.  I assumed they’d give me a gentle horse, an old gray mare for a middle-aged woman.  But instead, they assigned me to Tequila.

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Great, I thought, a horse that can make you crazy.

“She’s good, but sometimes she wants to lead the pack,” the college-age wrangler told me.  “I’ll ride behind you to help you keep her in line.”

I felt my first flutter of panic, climbing up into the saddle on the very tall horse.  I couldn’t believe how high up it felt once I was seated– my height added to Tequila’s.  We practiced how to use the reigns and heard instructions on going up and downhill.

We followed the lead wrangler, starting out through a forest where the ground was level.  About the time I felt myself relaxing, Tequila jerked to the side to move in front of the horse in front of us.   I clung to the saddle horn for dear life as the wrangler came around from behind and expertly edge Tequila back into position.

The trail started downhill and the lead wrangler turned to face us.  “Remember to sit back and keep your toes facing the sky,” the wrangler told our group of nine.

I did what she said but felt like I was going to go over the top of the horse.  Level ground was much better!

Finally, it was flat again as we entered a grassy meadow with wildflowers: red Indian Paintbrush, yellow Balsamroot, and blue lupines.  We stopped in front of Jenny Lake that was as smooth as glass and the stunning mountains were mirrored in the water, a double beauty to behold.  We sat on our horses and drank in the splendor.

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I felt like I’d arrived to the dream of my childhood.  That place really existed and now as an adult, I was getting to discover it.  Taking a breath of the clean, evergreen-scented air, I felt thankful that I’d made it to the Tetons.  The journey I’d started in my imagination as a child had now been achieved.  This feeling of accomplishment, of completion, was worth all the effort it took to get here, and worth conquering my fear of riding a horse, a very tall horse.

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How about you?

Is there a place you’ve dreamed of but never made it there?

Is there an activity you’ve wanted to do but have been afraid to try?

How could you make your dreams become realities?

 

Chicken Man of Chincoteague

I wanted a picture of the sign by the road, my final snapshot from my journey to Chincoteague Island, Virginia.  It would be a gift for my chicken-loving-friend in Baltimore.  Pulling out my camera, a man came over to me.

“Mind if I take a picture of your sign?”

“It’ll cost you some silver,” he said, and a grin spread across his face.

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the person in my path

We stood there in the noon heat of that July day and he told me about his life on the island.  What an easy manner he had.  His description of living there made me wish I could be a part of that community.  I started each day of my journey praying for the ‘people in my path’ and this man, while his name was Joe, has been set in my memory as the ‘Chicken Man.’  His lighthearted manner brought me joy that day.

From taking thirteen journeys, I’ve met many interesting people.  Our conversations have opened me to new ways of viewing life.  Some have been from other countries and have given me a glimpse of their cultural perspective.  Others have done things that have helped me as a solo traveler.

This was never more true than when I became acutely ill from altitude sickness in Colorado Springs.  I rode the Pike’s Peak Cog Rail train to 11,500 feet, and literally lost it, throwing up and becoming weak with fever and chills.  Embarrassed but relieved, I curled into a fetal position with my coat pulled close until we finished the ride.  Staggering off the train, I took the soda the gift store clerk offered me and rested until I could make it to my rental car.  How I wished my husband was with me to drive back to the guest house.

For the remainder of that day and the next, I barely left my room, sleeping from the extreme tiredness that accompanied my low-grade fever and headache.  Barely awake from my in-and-out sleep, I heard a scraping sound just outside my second-floor window.  I looked out to the snowy parking lot and saw the owner of the guesthouse scraping the ice from my windshield.  He knew I had to leave early the next morning.  What an act of kindness.

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Not only a great cook, a kind man

On another trip, I remember a young college-age girl, Angela, who was working as a wrangler at Colter Bay in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.  She was one of the summer staff who directed the trail rides.  She was quite competent in her horseback riding skills being a competitive barrel racer.  I told her I really wanted to ride, but was afraid since I hadn’t been on a horse in over twenty years.  She told me she would be right there to help me.

When my huge horse, Tequila, tried to push out in front of the others, Angela took control and coaxed Tequila back into the line.  With Angela riding behind me, we were able to talk.  She shared with me about her father’s cancer and feeling guilty that she wasn’t back home with him.  I was able to encourage this concerned daughter, telling her what I wanted for my sons when I had cancer treatment, assuring her that her father wanted her to go on with her life.

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Riding Tequila

Each day people show up in our path.  I’m grateful for the gifts of Joe the Chicken Man, and the owner of the inn, and Angela.  Whether we’re far from home or just down the street, if we’re present to each person, we find ways we inspire and help one another.  It just takes being open with a pilgrim’s heart.

How about you?

How can you go through your day being present to the people in your path?

In what ways have you experienced people as unexpected gifts?

How can you slow down and be that for the stranger you encounter?