The thirst for adventure, the undertaking of wild and crazy activity runs in my family. Some say it’s a genetic trait; some say we’re just plain nuts, which is the same thing, really.
This is my mom! Look closely; her back foot is not touching Mr. Strongman’s left arm. Her point of balance is smack-dab in the middle – 2 tiny points of contact: his right hand, her left foot. The look on her face is relaxed, confident, and focused. This is the spectacular woman who raised me. She is brave, fearless, and confident, yet humble. Well, those of you who know her know that humble isn’t quite the right word; she’s just Micki – one of a kind.
At seventeen years of age, she was being hoisted in the air at Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York while the crowds that lined Steeplechase Pier off 19th Street stared from a distance. If you look closely, to the far right in the background is the world famous Parachute Jump. Micki looks as though she is simply taking a leisurely ride on the Ferris wheel.
“So, Mom, how did you get up there?, I asked the other day while visiting her at El Sueño de Mariana, her palace in Nosara, Costa Rica. “Oh, I just got a running start, stepped on his thigh, he grabbed my hand and just lifted me up. It was easy at the time. I was 105 pounds of solid muscle. I worked out hard every day at the Settlement House studying dance. I spent hours and hours there to avoid going home to the rat-infested tenement we called home. Those were rough days on the Lower East side. And look at me now – living in a mansion in paradise!”
At this point I was ready to launch into my Muppet version of Shirley MacLaine’s “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” from the movie “Sweet Charity.”
Speaking of movies, Grandma, one of the characters in the movie “Parenthood”, said there are two kinds of people: those who prefer the merry-go-round, and those who prefer the roller coaster. Guess which we are.
Four years later Micki gave birth to me, her firstborn, and ten years after that I was a regular on the parachute ride.
Just over ten years after that I was jumping out of Cessna 150s all over the world. I carried my skydiving rig in my official luggage issued by Trans International Airlines where I worked as a flight attendant for eight years. Well, that’s what we’re called today. Honestly, I still think of myself as a “stew” (stewardess). When the males came on board, we changed to flight attendant. Once a stew, always a stew … but that’s just me; old-fashioned!
Twenty years after that my daughter, Chelsea, was doing acrobatics on the back of a galloping horse. Oh my! I was a distracted single mom working as a real estate agent in Santa Cruz, California. One day Chelsea asked me if she could go to horse vaulting with her friend, Kelsey, from first grade. As usual I was on the phone arranging a house showing while she was tugging at my shirt waiting for an answer. “Don’t worry mom, Kelsey’s mom will drive us. Can you pick us up?” It wasn’t until I went to pick them up that I realized what horse vaulting was! I pulled up to the arena to see my six year old daughter doing gymnastics on the back of a moving horse. After I got over my shock, I started laughing at her chutzpah (moxy). I wonder where she got it!
And then there is my son, Tyler, who ran with the bulls in Pamplona on Spring Break from University of Pennsylvania where he was a decathlete, his strongest feature being the pole vault! And there’s more – like jumping off an 80 foot cliff into a river, skydiving, flying an airplane solo after only eight lessons. Those are only the ones I know about.
I tried to get my wild streak out before having children. I tried to protect them from doing risky things, but that didn’t work. It’s genetic, I’m convinced of it.
To my knowledge Grandma Gussie’s most adventurous activity was chicken plucking at the Delancy Street live poultry market. But then I don’t really know, do I?
So, next time you see an old person, imagine them in their youth. No telling what adventures they were into. Maybe they danced the tango on the streets of Buenos Aires, rode a bucking bronco in the rodeo, or flew fighter jets in the war. Maybe they sat quietly and read books.
When you go through boxes of old photographs in the attic, don’t be surprised if you see a picture of some wild and crazy activity grandma or grandpa was into. You may be surprised at what your family tree holds!