“continuity” tossed into the WordBowl lottery by Erik Munera: photographer. storyteller. philosopher.
Guns, horses, indecipherable cousins thrice removed — visits to my father’s mother’s family farms, lands stretching from Thibodaux to Houma — involved some combination thereof, the family celebrations indistinguishable from the funerals.
Great Aunt Ola’s wake, a heavy Louisiana heat that threatened rain without a cloud in sight, an appalled relative I called “aunt” out of courtesy set her mind to rectify a grievous situation: I, a Toups — by blood, if not by name — had never ridden a horse.
Dispatched to a barn, plopped atop a horse — alright, a Shetland Pony — funeral dress tucked around my pudgy still-little-girl thighs, unsteady rocking as Prissy adjusted to and accepted my weight, then the thrill of Prissy trotting towards full gallop, the soft splat of my carefully coiffed curls against my back. Great Aunt Antoinette howling, my mother less amused, concerns over the potential damage to my fancy hand-smocked dress battling with her own Texan childhood astride a horse, inconceivable a daughter of hers had been equine bereft.
Once I was dressed in appropriate borrowed clothes and almost-fitting boots, I was given free reign, a delicious moment of exhilarating liberty.
One other occasion arose to ride, the summer before I became a teenager, when, after much debate, my parents took us for the first (and last) time to the Toups Family Reunion. We drove across the perilously narrow Huey P. Long Bridge, through the waving fields of sugarcane which would one day be replaced by soybeans, past endless rows of orange trees drooping with fruit, gaping at the vast array of picnic blankets and food and people all related to us.
Our actual cousins — my father’s brother’s brood — greeted us on horseback, Cousin Michael dismounting, scooping me up as though I were still small, me clutching the saddle horn, him holding the reigns, and off we galloped, leaving my younger siblings behind.
It was no Great Aunt Ola Memorial Freedom Ride. I missed my Prissy.
On the ground, I was small in the sea of people, crawfish boil pots, sugarcane, badminton games, accents as thick and redolent as the humidity. Relative strangers called us over as we roamed, individually and in packs, announcing themselves, launching into detailed genealogy digressions, declaring their love for my grandmother, Lord Rest Her Soul, and their relation to one of the remaining fourteen Great Aunts, weaving strands of Toups and Marmons into a cohesive if convoluted narrative. My middle brother consistently mistaken for one of Uncle Johnny’s children, with his jet-black hair and dark eyes, he looked more akin to that Louisiana family than ours, a crucial cultural disparity.
We grew lazy and listless, drunk on rich food and other people’s memories, sticky from oranges peeled and eaten like apples, juice slicking down our chins until finally, mosquito-munched and sun-dazed, we piled into the Plymouth, thighs searing to scorched vinyl seats, semi-sleeping as my father drove, silent, my mother chattering to keep him awake until we arrived home, we, the single strand of Toups to reside in the foreign citified environs of Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
“continuity” handwritten at one of my favorite writing-and-imbibing spots, Buvette (a sliver of Paris nestled in the West Village) and edited at the bustling Midtown outpost (oasis?) of Cafe Grumpy. “Year of the Horse” artwork by Anna Noelle Rockwell (more of her equine prints and cards in her Etsy shop here).
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