A few years ago: Sleek, sweaty, thoroughbreds headed into the final stretch of the Kentucky Derby. The dirt-coated jockeys and horses were tightly clumped in a running pack, and positions were changing faster than women wearing thong underwear at an all day lecture. I bounced on the couch, clapped at the television, and willed my favored horse to go faster. I also seriously wanted the jockey to stop using his whip to force my horse to go faster. (Iâ€™m complex.)
Many years ago: Watching the Kentucky Derby was a tradition. Mom, Dad, me, and perhaps a bored brother or two would gather in front of the television to watch the event. Weâ€™d each select â€œourâ€ horse, and cheered as the mile-long run produced winners and losers. I will never forget watching Secretariat, or his Triple Crown accomplishment. What a horse. What a story. As I grew into adulthood* my parents would phone in the afternoon on the first Saturday in May. They didnâ€™t ask how I was or what the kids were doing. It was a quick, â€œThe Derby is going to start soon. Are you watching?â€ Click.
A few years ago: With mere moments to go before the Kentucky Derby winner crossed the finish line, my son and daughter ceremoniously marched into the room with my Motherâ€™s Day gift on a velvet pillow. They jointly bowed, presented their offering, and smiled with pride and expectation. I glanced at them, back at the television, and then back at them. The horses were. Almost. There! â€œOh, youâ€™re so sweet. Um, could this wait just a few more seconds?â€ I said. Their faces registered shock, and then drooped. How could I choose a television show over their gift and presentation?
â€œThe race is almost finished,â€ I pleaded. â€œLook!â€
They glanced at the TV, maybe noted the race, but the damage was done. I had popped their balloon of happiness as surely as if Iâ€™d knocked the gift on the floor and spat on it. The Derby ended, the crowds roared. I donâ€™t even recall if my horse wonâ€¦ I was too filled with guilt to really cling to the moment.
As it turned out, their gift to me was a gorgeous motherâ€™s ring. A ruby, a diamond, and a peridot stone nestled in two bands of gold. Years earlier I had mentioned that someday, someday, when they were rich and famous and had surplus funds, I would love a ring set with each of our birthstones. Weâ€™d been through a lot together over the years, and a ring like that held a unity and significance hard to explain.
While neither my son nor daughter had reached rich or famous levels by cultural standards, they nonetheless pooled their money and purchased my longed-for ring.
I was enthralled and humbled at the same time. There was no way I could take back the â€œcan you wait a minute?â€ statement. In just a few words I had managed to deny them the pleasure of giving me something incredibly special. Ugh.
This year: My daughter and I were on our annual chick weekend. Our hotel beds made perfect lounges as we hunkered down to watch the Kentucky Derby on television. My daughter picked a horse, and allowed me to select not only the odds on favorite, but the one with an underdog story. Iâ€™m a sucker for an underdog, or, underhorse in this case. My motherâ€™s ring sparkled in the sunlight that eased through the window. Almost unconsciously I found myself touching the stones, tying together the past and the present. The gates opened and the horses bolted. The announcer quipped, â€œAnd theyâ€™re offâ€¦â€ We bounced on our beds and hooted for our favorites.
As the last stretch unfolded I glanced at her, ducked my head, and said, â€œThis is about the place in the race where you and Bryce entered the room with my â€¦â€
She smiled. â€œYeah. I know. When we decided it was time to give you the ring we had no idea you were watching the Kentucky Derby, or that it had such history for you.â€
â€œI love the ring,â€ I said.
She smiled again and nodded. But her eyes were on the race.
*Some still question that accomplishment.