I spent the day yesterday at what was, I think, my dad’s favorite place on earth, Saratoga Race Track. His father had taken him there from the time he was a kid, and until a few summers ago — when the MS had rendered his mobility so limited that going was more work than fun — he hadn’t missed a racing season there in 50 years. I started going with him when I was 12, and while my brother is his true heir when it comes to passion for the sport, I always had a great time hanging out with him there.
Because Saratoga is only open in the latter part of the summer (until the season was extended into late July a few years back, it was always known as “the August place to be”), this was the first time I had been there since Dad died. As I expected, memories were everywhere. At the teller windows, I recalled how I thought I was big stuff when I placed my first wager, not knowing that my dad was standing behind me, giving the cashier a conspiratory wink, allowing me my underage bet. When we passed the Big Red Spring, I couldn’t help but think of the time Dad convinced me to drink from the spring for good luck, not telling me that the water was disgustingly sulfurous. He found my resulting spit-take to be very, very funny. And when I saw a little girl getting a jockey to autograph her program, it took me back to when Dad would bring me out to the paddock area to do the same thing.
I was pleased (and, honestly, rather relieved) to discover that I am getting to the point where the nostalgia mostly makes me smile, rather than cry. It was bittersweet at its best to be there without Dad, obviously, but it felt good to be in a place that meant so much to him.
There was one rather unexpected turn of events to the day, though — I ran into my brother there. I had thought he might be up for the weekend, but when he hadn’t replied to my call or text message, I had decided that he must not have made it after all. But as I was wandering around, I heard someone say “What the hell are you doing here?” and turned around to see him walking towards me. There were probably 20,000 people there yesterday, and we literally ran into each other, without knowing the other was there. Hm. Wonder how that happened…