It was always an exciting time for my sisters and me when our St. Louis Cousins came to visit. For though we were the country mice to their city mice, they were savage in a way we admired but could never emulate.
Like the kids we saw on television and in movies, the St. Louis Cousins were smartasses. They spoke any thought that entered their little minds, heedless of the authority held by lame parents. The St. Louis Cousins were disrespectful in a way we found fascinating and frightening.
But, as we would come to understand, self-professed smartasses seldom are anything more than a dumbasses.
I had spent a considerable amount of time getting ready the day of the St. Louis Cousins’ arrival. I stood before the mirror and studied my reflection. My long, dirty-blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail — not too high and not too low — and adorned with a scrunchie I’d made in home ec. It very obviously didn’t come from Claire’s, but I’d used a denim fabric that I hoped would pass as trendy. Perhaps this would make up for the fact that I’d been to a mall exactly four times in my life.
However, I did have on an Old Navy logo T-shirt. It had been a Christmas present from my St. Louis Aunt, who made a point to mention in her card that she knew we didn’t have an Old Navy anywhere near where we lived. At the time I’d been touched by her thoughtfulness and generosity. Only now do I realize it was a dig.
I’d been planning to play it cool, but I abandoned all pretense as soon as I caught sight of my St. Louis Aunt’s sporty SUV — of course she didn’t drive a boring old pickup pickup truck or a frumpy mini-van like our parents did.
Along with the Border Collies, my sisters and I sprinted toward the approaching vehicle and ran alongside it as it slowed and came to a stop in our driveway.
Our St. Louis Cousins oozed out of the car, the very picture of American Eagle-clad disdain. They looked scornfully at my sisters and me.
“Nice scrunchie,” St. Louis Girl Cousin said.
I beamed, proud that my DIY efforts passed inspection. Only now do I realize it was a dig.
After we’d exchanged pleasantries — or, I know now, got hit with missiles disguised as pleasantries — our mom suggested that the St. Louis Cousins might like to ride the horses.
This was too exciting an offer even for the St. Louis Cousins to turn down.
“Oh my god! Really? We can ride the horses?” St. Louis Girl Cousin shrieked.
“I want to ride a black stallion!” St. Louis Boy Cousin announced.
“Me too! Me too! A black stallion!” St. Louis Girl Cousin said.
We didn’t have a black stallion, but we did have Mist and Hank. Mist was a plodding old Morgan mare. Hank was a plotting old grudge mule.
Mist was such a well-behaved animal that anyone who rode her felt like Willie Shoemaker. Hank was well-behaved only so long as it suited him to be, after which all bets were off.
St. Louis Boy Cousin happened to be riding Hank when he decided he was done.
Mist and Hank had been walking laps around corral for about 20 minutes when, out of nowhere, Hank reared up on his short back legs, pivoted 180 degrees and took off.
St. Louis Boy Cousin bounced helplessly on his back, shouting in the cadence of Hank’s choppy gait.
On Hank trotted, making his way toward the barn. The barn was a weathered old building missing a few planks from one of the walls. There was just enough space for Hank to squeeze through. Alas, there was not enough space for Hank and St. Louis Boy Cousin to squeeze through. A low beam scraped St. Louis Boy Cousin off Hank’s back like mold from a cheese rind. St. Louis Boy Cousin somersaulted backward off Hank and into the grime and glop of the corral.
St. Louis Boy Cousin began to cry. St. Louis Girl Cousin, still astride Mist, began to cry, too. I don’t know if it was sympathy for her brother or the realization that she, too, might end up in the muck. What I do know, though, is that for once the St. Louis Cousins had nothing clever to say.
The smartasses had been outwitted by a jackass.