“It’s OK, Dad. I’ll pat your back.”
And, with that Miles Clancy, 2 1/2, departed Saratoga.
Miles leaned over and put his hand on my shoulder, patting my back – son consoling dad, not sure that’s how it is meant to work but that’s how it went Monday morning.
“I had fun in Sackatoga,” Miles said.
I squeezed him one last time and folded him into his carseat, “I sit there, Momma sits there and Francine sits there.”
Dad cried. Son looked for Goldbug in The Things That Go. Mom advised Dad, “Don’t get all emotional, it’ll upset him.”
I bucked up, gave him another kiss on the cheek (I could feel him angling his head to look for Goldbug) and shut the door. Mom, son and nannie turned left and faded down the alley running one street behind Union Avenue, I watched her Audi make a left onto Nelson and wished I was with them, going home, going to lunch, going anywhere with my family.
I-87 seems so far away.
Miles and Mom had their weekend in Saratoga, leaving for Middleburg, back to their life and me back to mine. At least for this crazy, maddening, frustrating, challenging, implausibly draining six weeks when there is no snooze button on your alarm clock, no on/off switch to your phone, no rest for the weary, and sadly – at least in the newspaper business – no time for family.
Saratoga used to be freedom. From 1989 to 2008, pack your car, hit the ATM machine and never look back. Now it has its cost. Missing Miles feels like an IRS audit.
He’s taking it better than I – he came to Saratoga, rode the golfcart in the morning, went to the sales grounds, ran around the backyard, met Dan Pride, Buzz Chace and Julie Cauthen, ate at Scallions three times, played with Chase Lawrence and built some memories for his parents. Watching Miles walk across Union Avenue, hand-in-hand with his mom, eyes searching high and wide, feet scuffling, blonde curls whisping in the breeze, not a care in the world, not a watch on his wrist, not a phone to his ear, is the best postcard I’ll ever see, send or receive from Saratoga.
He wore his cuffed khakis, new saddle shoes, straw hat and his Seersucker sport coat to the races. All came off quickly. He ate french fries and watched the horses from a box at the top of the stairs, asked his mom why she didn’t bring any toys, moved Todd Pletcher to a box in the next row to watch the Vanderbilt. He was awed by the water truck, amazed by the tractor in the paddock, mesmerized by the harrows, the stonedust in the paddock chute, the music from Reggie’s Red Hot Feetwarmers, “I hear music. Where is that music coming from?” and everything Saratoga offered and delivered.
A day later, I stand in the yard on an overcast morning and watch my son, my wife, my family go home and wonder what’s really the point of horses running in circles and newspapers running off presses.
I think about his life, his journey, what lies ahead, his freedom, his innocence, his glee when he says hello to everyone he sees. I wonder about his life, where it will go, who he will become. I think about all the things I never thought I’d think about, never thought I’d worry about, the dad I never thought I’d become.
I think about my nephews, how we’ve watched them grow over the years, how they have helped build The Saratoga Special brand, how the racetrack has become their racetrack, how they’ve become entwined with the essence of Saratoga. They know everybody, everybody knows them. Yes, Jane Motion, I’ll utter it here and now, “These are the good old days.”
Although these old days would feel a lot better if Miles didn’t just go down the Northway.
I think about the days when my family came to Saratoga. We were here in 1973 when Secretariat got beat, I was 3, older than Miles is this year, but certainly not as advanced. Then there’s the photo of the Clancy family, parked on a green park bench, way down the grandstand – probably the same year – Joey with his ticket clenched in his fist, me with Dad’s binoculars turned the wrong way, in my Seersucker jumpsuit, probably hand-me-down saddle shoes too. I never noticed the tension or stress my parents were under back then, but I’m sure it was there. I guess they did that well, hid it well, at least. I hope I hid it from Miles this year.
“It’s OK, Dad. I’ll pat your back.”