When I was nine, I wanted to go to the Olympics for figure skating. (And swimming. No big deal.) I loved skating and took regular lessons. One day at school, playing football with other fourth graders, I got tackled, and I broke my femur. I spent a month in the hospital in traction, three months in a body cast, and emerged crippled, atrophied and unable to walk. It was November, and I grew up outside Chicago, so swimming as rehab was out.
I attended a friend’s birthday party at a local stable, where I had my first English-style riding lesson. I’d grown up riding western on family vacations, and I thought that English riding was stuffy and stupid, but it was something I could do with my devastated leg, so my mom and I signed up for a package of lessons.
That farm was a tiny place just a few blocks from my house, called Oak Brook Farms. Today I returned there for the first time in a decade and had lunch with one of my first riding instructors, Suzanne.
It was with the OBF team that I went to my first horse show, one of the USDF Youth Team Championships, at a beautiful show facility called Lamplight Equestrian Center. (I got a 39 percent in Intro A. Mad skills.) It was from them my mom and I bought our first horse, a geriatric Quarter Horse-y looking fellow named Cheerio, who deserves a special place in Heaven for tolerating 11-year-old me and my friends. I learned how to put a horse on the bit, to ride without stirrups, to ride on trail, to tack and braid and put polos on and fall off bravely. It was a magical place, an escape from all the trials and tribulations of a child’s world, a place where I wasn’t judged for being fat and geeky with bad skin. And it was a bike ride away.
Eventually we left, moved on to work with upper-level trainers, and then I went to college, and then I graduated from college, and then I moved to the East Coast, and that was that.
The timing of this trip is funny. My 10-year high school reunion was Saturday – I couldn’t figure out how to get out here early enough to go, which I would have really liked to do.
So instead, after lunch with Suzanne at The Jade Dragon, Hinsdale, Ill.’s, only Chinese restaurant (placemats = exactly the same as they were a decade ago), I drove around. I saw the house I grew up in, the library I got my first job in at 15, Fullersburg Woods and the Graue Mill. Zingelman’s, home of the world’s greatest hot dog, is gone, but the (aptly named) Fruit Store is still around, as is Belluomini’s, an ancient (by Illinois standards) bar across the street from my high school that was the only place in town one could get a drink for decades, grandfathered in when the town went dry.
I couldn’t linger, so I drove back, this time getting to see things in the light of day – Fermilab, home to a giant particle accelerator and a herd of bison; Fifth Third Bank Field, home to a plucky minor league baseball team called the Kane County Cougars. With nothing to do but care for Midge and limber him up (he felt great, a little wild, clearly not exhausted from the trip), I allowed myself one day to not be mentally in the present, but instead go back in time.
Today, Wednesday, the jog is at 5. I’m going to work Midge this morning, take the trailer to get new tires, go for a run, and then put my head firmly in the task at hand – riding a horse I trained to Grand Prix and, with any luck, getting better than a 39 percent. But I got my one day of reminiscing, and that was enough.