It's my dad's birthday week and I am afraid that this little tradition I've started for myself will have me running out of memories in a few years. My sister says it's impossible but it does scare me all the same. This year I am thinking of things that trigger off a memory of him - certain food, certain places, a particular fragrance, a phrase, an event, or really anything that reminds me of him. Like a cold, misty morning.
My dad used to love horse riding and rode a lot when he was younger, also playing polo and participating in show jumping, hunts and other horsy pursuits. In idyllic little Wellington, all the kids learned to ride, and though I didn't really enjoy my initial pony rides (a bored looking fellow used to come to the door with a sturdy pony and amble alongside 7 year old me on said pony, making our waycasually through the slopes. At the end I had to hand over a pink coupon from the quota my dad had bought for the "lessons"). One day I tagged along to see the big horses and heard my dad tell the sa'ab to put me on Harsha, just to get a feel for him. Harsha was this beautiful black heap of endless legs and loud snorts and I shrieked in protest. But while sitting shivering atop the back of the beast, towering above everyone else, I calmed down and decided sitting still on a stationary horse was quite easy - I was born to do this! It was decided that I would start lessons with Shaheen and go along with the two of them before school in the morning. And so started our little morning ritual.
It was still dark outside when my dad used to come wake us up and we'd get dressed in shivery sleepiness. We'd go downstairs and pull on our muddy riding boots and grab our hats and tumble into our silver Volkswagen Golf and as the sun rose over the hills, the sleepiness would melt away. The mist would be curling up above the dewy grass and by the time we reached the sun was out and we'd rush to the rest of the kids and the horses lined up for us. While I stayed in the inner "junior" area, Shaheen did spend some time outside doingmore exciting things like cantering, while my dad flew around on his horse Tashkent, coming in once in a while to check on us. I felt quite chuffed when he came to watch us and extra pleased if he said "great posture" and quite deflated if he said "stop shrieking, control your horse"! Feeding our horses lumps of sugar at the end and showing off about how I could lie down on the horse's back with my head touching the tail was all I could talk about on the way home. The first day I forgot to wrap the putty around my calves and came back with painfully chafed skin. He taught me how to carefully wrap the maroon length of thick cloth ankle-to-knee; how to never show the horse you're scared, to sit straight and to respect the rules in the riding ring.
And so it continued for a while - we didn't ride after Wellington, but years later a cold misty morning can bring that time back in sharp definition. When two little girls and their dad would sit at the bottom of the steps, wrapping putty around their legs, pulling on their boots and sitting in a comfortable silence in the car as the silvery mist melted with the rising sun.