In the winter of 2012, I was a ski instructor at a busy mountain in New Mexico. The kids I taught were usually far from home, sometimes scared, and often cold.
As a shy child who had been enrolled in many a ski class, I remember what it was like to be dropped off, lonely and terrified, and suddenly see a smiling, warm adult emerge from a crowd of strangers, sauntering across the carpeted floor with a ski boot swagger.
She would squat next to me, ask my name and where I was from, and promise to look after me. She would tell me that her name was Sheila, or Donna, or Susan, or some other 70’s ski instructor name, and tell me something cool about her dog or travels. I remember the relief I felt upon realizing that this adult was fun and friendly, and most importantly, made me feel like the world was full of interesting people doing interesting things.
I’d go back home and proceed to tell everybody at school about my cool friend Sheila, or Donna, or Susan, her badass dog, and how we loved to talk about traveling while riding the chairlift together. I’d tell my friends of all the places that Sheila, or Donna, or Susan had been to and how I, too, would go to these places someday.
As a ski instructor, I took great joy in getting to know my students in the same way, learning about them while regaling them with grand tales about my life. In the mornings, while other instructors raced around the classroom, affixing masking tape to boots and helmets, my group relaxed in tiny yellow plastic chairs, drinking hot cocoa, telling stories, laughing and talking about what the day would bring.
Having spent the morning getting to know each other, my class exploded onto the snow in a joyful pack, echoing jody calls accounting for our gloves (gloves!), helmets (helmets!), and vests (vests!), while happily skiing past the other classes, who were now collapsed into crying piles of skis and poles.
At the entrance to our classroom, there was a giant dry erase board with names scribbled all over it. My supervisor was like an air traffic controller, quickly assessing the needs of the dozens of wide-eyed kids spilling into the room while directing them to their teachers.
One day, I watched a six year old boy with big brown eyes and fluffy brown hair enter the room. He was yelling at everyone in his pathway, waving his hands wildly. My supervisor scanned the room and locked eyes with me.
The kid shuffled to my table and immediately slumped into a chair.
I welcomed him to our group and asked him where he was from, handing him some hot cocoa.
He informed me, pushing the cocoa away, that he was from a state in the Northeast, a place that I could not possibly have heard of.
He proceeded to explain to me that his enrollment in this plebeian horror show had been a terrible mistake, and as soon as he notified his father, he would be freed from our mangey confines and would immediately set about the task of having us all fired.
I tried a dog story.
He responded by telling me that his father was so powerful that he could have anyone fired on the spot. He told of his father’s employees who had been dismissed for errors less offensive than the ones the staff of the ski school had already committed.
I tried a story about traveling.
He swung his head, glared at me, and said, “Where is your boss? I’m going to need to speak to your boss so that my father can tell him to fire you.”
Grabbing the leg of the tiny yellow chair the kid was lounging in, I swiftly slid it across the floor, so that now the boy and I were face to face. I growled, in a low voice, “Listen, kid, I’m from Texas, and in Texas, the women are in charge. And we ain’t afraid of nobody’s daddy.”
The kid’s eyes grew wide with wonder. I held his gaze, but as the seconds ticked by, I envisioned the police swooping in to the ski school to arrest me for traumatizing a child.
Instead, after the short pause, his mouth spilled open with a stream of questions.
In Texas, do the women tell the men what to do? Yes, they do.
In Texas, do the men do what the women say? You better believe it.
In Texas, is there a woman in charge of the whole state? Yes, there is. Her name is Ann Richards and she rides a motorcycle. (It had been almost 20 years since Ann was Governor and 6 years since she had died, but I thought the omission of these facts was incidental when weighed against the boy’s education.)
The kid was hooked. He couldn’t believe there was a place where women ran the whole show! A place where a woman wouldn’t be afraid of his all-powerful father! A fanciful place! What was this place even LIKE? What did Ann Richards wear while riding a motorcycle? What did the women look like? If a woman wasn’t scared of his daddy, did that mean that he didn’t have to be?
Throughout the day, he interrupted my lessons with random questions about the wondrous land of Texas, wiggling through ski lines to position himself to sit with me on the ski lift so that he could learn even more about this magical place.
My fellow ski instructors hooted and hollered over the story later that night, as we huddled together in my warm living room, wearing our thermals and drinking beer from mugs. They thought it was funny that I stood up to this tiny tyrant and for them, my story ended with the punchline, “Listen, kid, I’m from Texas”, which was repeated over and over, to peals of laughter.
But for me, my story ended when I said goodbye to the kid and sauntered to my truck with a ski boot swagger, imagining him returning home to tell his friends all about his ski instructor and the magical women of the far away land of Texas.
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