In 2020 we will feature extraordinary works of writing by recent Ranch guests. Each piece focuses on The Ranch and moments of personal insight, observation, or awareness.
By: LD Smartt
It was 1977 and I was 13 years old. I had no business being at “La Puerta,” as my mother called it. But she believed in good habits, the sooner and more firmly instituted the better. It was powerful to be in control. I knew this from observing my mother, and from perusing her “Vest Pocket Calorie Counter,” a small blue booklet whose cardboard wheel insert promised to “Dial Away Your Fat.” Did you know that bakeries and ice cream parlors very deliberately vent the tempting smells of butter and caramel and sugar out onto the street? Veritable storefront serpents, offering evil apples at every turn! Once the Vest Pocket Calorie Counter had educated me to this, any pleasure in those aromas was immediately and permanently banished. No matter, since in any case my mother had also taught me to pretend pastries were plastic, their shiny glazes enamel, their sunny sweet centers tasteless glue. It worked. To this day, I’ve little taste for such confections.
In fact, from a sensual perspective, I have little taste at all.
But back then, at 13, I was still hungry. For everything. I was especially hungry for wisdom, and drawn to humor. There was a woman visiting at the same time my mother and I were at the Ranch, someone from an adjacent social circle back home. It was understood that this woman wasn’t attractive; she did not conform to the conventionally twiggy blonde ideal of the day, and of this day, too, if we’re honest about it. She was very rich, and very bawdy. She was lusty and magnetic. After dinner a small group gravitated out in the Jacuzzi next to what is now the Watsu pool. She held court, asking provocative questions and taking genuine interest in the responses everyone offered, even the 13-year-old girl. When it was time finally to retire for the evening, my mother and I followed the brick path back to our little casita. It was quiet and the moon must have been waxing because the sky, though dark, still illuminated and framed my mother’s face. “You really should have been X’s daughter,” she said, casually. I turned to her, confused. “Why?”
“Because,” she explained, “then you and X could just lie in bed all day together, eating bonbons and philosophizing about life.” Ouch. Message received. I was like X. Too hungry. Too messy. Too much.
The next morning I wanted desperately not to go on the dawn hike. There was no Pilgrim Trail in those days, but there was Phyllis Pilgrim. My mother arose like a perfect disciple. I told her I’d rather skip it. No problem, she said, and sailed off. Rather than roll over and luxuriate in sleep, another thing for which my pubescent self constantly hungered, I stewed in remorse. How could I be so lazy? How could I be so lacking, so sloppy, so indulgent? It was intolerable. I jumped from bed and chased over Mt. Kuchumaa in hot pursuit of the ladies out on the trail. They’d already reached the downslope by the time I finally caught up, charging down the mountain in a swirl of dust and relief.
Did you know that you can never be too rich or too thin? How many of my generation’s mothers shared this adage with their daughters, in all seriousness or perhaps with a touch of disingenuous irony, a nod to the feminist movement burgeoning at that time? An army of eating disorders was dispatched, marching across the nation and still shaping the psychic landscapes of young women today. Don’t taste too much, feel too much, be too much.
On the flight home, we encountered one of those cotton-candy cloud formations that make you feel you’re dancing among Michelangelo’s angels. At 13, I had no idea of the Sistine Chapel, but I could still recognize magnificence. “Look, Mom! Look!” She glanced up from her Vogue magazine, witheringly.
“I know,” she said. “I’ve seen it all before.”
I shrank immediately, embarrassed to have behaved like an over-eager puppy. Yet again, I’d felt too much, revealed and grasped for too much. It would be 25 years before I returned to Rancho La Puerta as a soon-to-be-single mother of three. Right at the cusp of 40, it was my mother’s suggestion that I go. But I visited alone this time, in search of expansiveness and permission to taste, to feel and enjoy.
Love to write?
Anyone who enjoys putting words on paper finds great inspiration at Rancho La Puerta. Join us during Writers’ Retreat Week, August 8, 2020. Celebrated authors Kathleen Flynn, Rita Jacobs, Ph.D, and Les Standiford will be presenting.