Friday, April 9, 2010

Ablutions

This morning, while washing a black slip in the cold porcelain sink, my feet bare on the chilly laundry room floor, I remembered my godmother Ginnie. She took me on a trip to Blowing Rock one hot summer in the late 70s. We drove from Southern Pines, NC up to the mountains in a somewhat unwieldy rented RV. I was twelve and Ginnie was in her sixties then. She was a horsewoman of distinction -- Master of Foxhounds of Moore County. She foxhunted on a stallion, not a gelding. And while she was demure in stature, she was grand in her presence. She was raised in Savannah, Georgia, so her voice was probably the sweetest thing on earth—everyone was “Dahhlin“ to her. I was supposed to be named for her, but my mother thought that naming me Virginia Woolfe would be some sort of a curse, so the Virginia was placed in the middle of my name instead of at the beginning. Still, Ginnie called me Wee Gin.

She had promised to take me to Disneyland on several occasions, but instead she took me to the famous annual summer horse show in Blowing Rock. Its a week long affair and the best horses in the South go to Blowing Rock. The horse show was a respite from the heat in the lowlands, the mood was one of relief for the horses and the riders—everyone lingered in the cool mountain air, and competition seemed to be the last thing on everyone's mind.

During the day, Ginnie and I watched the horses go—so many of them to imagine riding for a little girl like me. Ginnie was a great show rider herself and a horse show judge, so sitting in the stands with her was a sublime education. And as we walked around the show grounds, Ginnie was greeted with no less fanfare than a movie star.

But better than the days were the evenings spent in the RV camp on a rocky cliff above the show grounds. Every night was a party with a band of old horse dealers, show riders and me and Ginnie. I was supplied with my own bottle of beer, sometimes two, and as the stars twinkled over the mountain tops and the charcoal grill glowed while magically producing steaks and baked potatoes, stories were told. Horse stories and fox hunting tales and the laughter never seemed to stop . . . do you remember the time Cappy was trying to sell that damn horse to Dicky? And Dicky said Cappy I am not interested in that horse, not in the least, that horse can’t jump. But Cappy insisted the horse was the best jumper in the county! So one night Dicky calls Cappy and says, Linda and I are havin’ a few folks over for drinks, why don’t you swing by? So Cappy gets an idea, and you know it ain’t a good thing when Cappy gets an idea in that big hard head of his. He goes to the barn and tacks up that horse and rides it over to Dicky’s place and the sun is just about to go down and Cappy emerges on the top of the hill on the outside of Dicky’s big post and rail fence—the new fence line he put in round his farm, and he calls down to Dicky and Linda and the guests on the patio, ”Hey Dicky! You watch this now! You watch this horse jump.“ And so everyone watches as Cappy turns that horse back into the woods and disappears to make his approach to that five foot post and rail and they hear him comin’, bada da bada da bada, and out of the woods he comes and he takes three strides and that horse lifts off, hooks his knees under the top rail, and rolls ass over tea kettle down the hill and almost right into Dicky’s livin’ room. Cappy gets up without a scratch on him and says ”Goddammit Dicky, I need a drink.“

And the night would go on and on like that, until finally something reminded us all to go to bed, but me being a little girl, I never wanted to go to bed again. I wanted to live in the RV park and drink beer and tell stories all night for the rest of my life. But bedtime would come despite my wishes and with it, Ginnie’s nightly ablutions. After I brushed my teeth, I would sit on the tiny commode and watch as Ginnie took down her hair and brushed it. Ginnie’s hair was was like white gold and it fell all the way down to the small of her back. She always, always kept it in a long braid and then twisted up and held by pins to reveal the nape of her neck. Until this trip I had never seen Ginnie’s hair down. She carefully untwisted it and then with a silver brush with blonde bristles, she brushed her hair 100 times and then? She braided it up again and let it rest along her spine til morning when she would pin it back up. Once she was done with her hair, she changed into her nightgown and then she washed her face with an amber bar of castile soap. Once she was done putting night cream on her fine featured and small face, she washed her underwear in the sink with the castile soap. She explained to me that she washed her underwear, her bra and her lacy under drawers, in the sink every night. She then hung them on the little towel rack over the commode and turned out the light. I was agog of her beauty and her femininity—I had always thought she was the most elegant woman I had known until that point in my life, her collection of colorful ballet flats in her closet alone were enough to make her a heroine; she was always dressed exquisitely, whether it was to go to the barn and go for a hack, or for an evening of dancing or fox hunting, she was always tidy and elegant. But her ablutions sealed the deal for me, who needed Disneyland when I could witness such a beautiful and zen like habit?

1 comment:

Caitlyn Hentenaar said...

I think I'm falling in love with your whole family.