Monday, October 19, 2009

Family Reunion

Growing up, there were always cousins around. My father's immediate family lived 60 miles away and most of my mother's family lived on Long Island but always found reasons to visit the Catskills. There were 21 first cousins on my Dad's side (he was the middle of 5 children) and 19 on my mother's side (she was the oldest of 6 children.) On my mother's side it was actually the full second cousins who were closer to my age, and they came up a lot because my mother was very close to a number of her first cousins who looked to my grandfather as the patriarch of his part of the family. We all did a lot of traveling by car for weekends on "the Island" or day trips to Daddy's brothers and sisters.

I think we were closest to Dad's brother Jack's family. They're the ones I recall spending a lot of time with in the summer, when Jack's two daughters would spend part of the summer with us, or we'd go to Binghamton for picnics and trips to the small amusement parks there.

This weekend, I went to Arizona for the wedding of one of Uncle Jack's grand children. Jason is the son of my cousin Tony, and we met for the first time as I was walking down the resort steps to find the place where the ceremony had taken place. Jason found me on-line when he first moved out to Phoenix around 7 or 8 years ago. We've kept in sporadic touch since, and a few months ago he wrote to let me know he was getting married and wanted me to come to the wedding.

It was the first time I had seen Tony or his older brother Jimmy in more years than I care to contemplate. I know they were both at Tony's wedding, which took place when I was still in high school, and they probably were also at their sister Marie's wedding, but I can't remember if either of them attended my first wedding or those of my sister or brothers. When you're young, that 5-8 year age difference is a lot bigger than it is when you have children of your own.

Tony sounds just like his dad and our uncle Tony. My dad's inflections were a bit different. Jason has a nose that reminds me of his grandfather and his aunt. I also got to meet Tony's beautiful daughter Stefany, her husband, and their three kids. Stefany looks a lot like her mother, who passed away from cancer 10 years ago (which I didn't know until recently.) I also spent time at the wedding with two of Tony's brothers-in-law, who were also kids at Tony and Ceil's wedding so many years ago. I guess we must have met or at least seen each other at that party.

The wedding took place at the Wild Horse Pass Spa and Resort in Chandler, Arizona, somewhere to the west of Phoenix. It was lovely. It's on the Pima-Maricopa reservation, has that unmistakable south-west adobe architecture, and I'd definitely consider going back again for a weekend.

Although it was a small wedding, there was a definite family feel to it. Gracie the flower-girl, Stefany's younger daughter, fell asleep at the reception and cushions were found so she could sleep while the party continued. It reminded me of Uncle Tony's wedding and pushing chairs together so my brother Bert could sleep while the festivities continued.

Tony and Jimmy reminisced about my father taking them deer hunting. I remember watching Yankee games and Bobby Kennedy's funeral at their house. The Yankees game on Saturday night was a big deal to the Valada family--Stefany's husband had his Blackberry out to follow things throughout the reception. The Yanks are a family religion in which my cousin Jimmy refused to participate. He's a Giants fan. Heresy.

I also met one of Jason's cousins from his mother's side of the family. He works for the Phoenix Suns. We exchanged information, so I expect we'll meet up when the Suns play out here. He used to play pro ball himself in Europe, so we discussed the beauty and food of Italy. Nice young man named Stefan.

Tony retired from teaching social studies and lives near Stafany in Florida. I hope that I'll see more of him if he decides to visit Jason in Phoenix. It was an easy flight of just over an hour, and definitely worth the trouble to go see such nice relatives. Eventually, I hope to actually meet Stacy, the bride. There was no reception line, so I never actually met her. I did meet her mother, but not her father. Funny how those things can get lost with all of the excitement.

Jason did let me know that Crate & Barrel had delivered my present, so even if they are as bad as I was about thank-you notes, I know the gift arrived. Or at least one of the two items did, and they were supposed to be shipped together.

My legs still hurt from dancing a little bit on Saturday night. Wearing heels is pretty uncomfortable when your usual foot wear is Nike or Ariat.

My relatives all left the hotel very early on Sunday morning. Jason and Stacy were flying to Cancun for their honeymoon and Tony flew back to Florida with Stefany and her family. I didn't get to see them again after I left the reception on Saturday night, unfortunately. I did spend some more time talking with Tony's brothers and sisters-in-law on Sunday morning as I waited for my ride to the equestrian center on the grounds and they had coffee before heading out to a day trip to Sedona and the Grand Canyon. I hope they had a wonderful time.

My shuttle to the horses was a bit late because it also returned the riders from the 7 a.m. ride to the hotel. The driver was Roger, a Pima tribe member, who would also be my trail-ride guide. It turned out I was the only rider for what I thought was a group ride. I guess no one else wanted to be up that early or risk being out in the heat--it hit around 100 on Saturday.

The reservation is huge, and we rode for 90 minutes. I was on a pinto named Desperado. I did express doubt about a horse with that name, but he was fine after he did the usual thing of trying to tell me that he was going to go home right when we got started. We got over that right away and he was a good horse the rest of the trip.

Roger rode a dark brown mustangy looking horse named Jack. Jack was a bit skittish--caution due to the fact he'd been bitten by a rattle snake in the past. This was a good thing, because half-way through the ride, Jack spun when he saw/heard a rattlesnake on the path. Roger called for me to get my horse out of there as well. I never actually saw the snake, but I sure heard it. Desperado never panicked when Jack spun in front of us or otherwise acted nervously. He also just handled breaking through the dirt around gopher holes like it was nothing at all. Good horse, that Desperado.

We saw some lizards and heard the snake, but we didn't see any of the 1500 head of wild horses that live out there. Roger told me about hitting a mountain lion with his car recently, and gave me lots of stories about the Pima and Maricopa tribes. He's Pima, because his mother is Pima, but he's also learned much about his father's tribe, the Maricopa. He's a tribal singer, which is why he says he's almost 48 and not married. It takes a lot of effort to learn the songs. Just fascinating.

I had a mid-afternoon pick-up to go back to the airport, so after I got back to the hotel, I had breakfast, cleaned up, packed up, checked out and hung around the lobby relaxing. It was too hot to sit outside by the pool, as far as I was concerned.

The drive back to Phoenix and the airport went quickly. I did see a great blue heron in the small river on our way off the reservation. But no wild horses. Next time, maybe. I went to the Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa and the only wild horses I saw were on the tee shirt I bought.


Flying Lily said...

I'm so glad you got to ride. What a nice horse you had.

Grey Horse Matters said...

It's nice to reunite with family.
Your ride sounds like a good one. Glad you didn't see the snake. I heard one too once walking in the desert in the Saguaro National Forest in Az. I love it there, especially Sedona, just beautiful. I haven't been back there in years, since my grandparents passed. But I used to spend lots of time there. I've got to go back someday just because I love the desert.

M. C. Valada said...

He was indeed a nice horse. He felt a lot taller than my boy, though.

The desert is so different from New England. When my friend Melinda, who grew up and lives in New Mexico, visited the east for the first time, she felt claustrophobic from the green canopy that seemed to be everywhere. She's a real desert rat.

I am fascinated by the colors and striations of the desert. I love looking down to see the paths of old rivers and streams. At sunset, it is spectacular.

I've never been to Sedona or Saguaro National Forest. I'd like to visit, though.