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I inherited some of my Aunt’s photos a few months ago, and looking through them, I was inspired by this fact — my aunt, who was always glamorous and social, who wore beautiful clothes and surrounded herself with beautiful and glamorous things, was also, a cowgirl.

For the first time, as I looked through the numerous photos of her in ballgowns, costumes, tutus, pearls and neat 60s sheaths, I also saw her riding a horse. A horse!

She grew up on the Agua Linda farm south of Tucson and had ranch in her blood. The “farm” was more about feeding cattle than raising crops, and while my grandpa had sold the old ranch headquarters, he still had the Aros Ranch for a while. I never thought of my aunt as a ranch girl so when I found all the photos of her on horseback, I was surprised. I never saw her on a horse, or near one, for that matter.

But in this old plastic bag of photos that I collected from my brother’s dining room table after he retrieved the remains of her estate, I found a few hints of the cowgirl my aunt once was.

Most of the photos, of course, display her understated glamour — many show dinners with my grandma and grandpa, lady’s lunches and social gatherings.

As a stewardess for American Airlines in the 60s, she had her hair styled by Vidal Sassoon, wore her uniform with pride and lived, no doubt, the high flying life of an elite flight attendant jet-setting around the world. Just look at her expression! Don’t you want to know what she is thinking?

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Before she left home, she wore quite a few ball gowns. Here (see girl on right) decked in satin shoulder-length gloves, her hair golden and shimmering as any movie star, she posed for photos at parties I can only imagine.

auntninacotillion

But here she is on my Grandfather’s  horse Tom Thumb, Nov. 1958 in Prescott. The faded inscription on the back says something about “camp on Plum Creek” and “just before sold” is written below  in purple pen. I can’t even believe she’s wearing jeans and look at her belt buckle! (That saddle looks oddly familiar. I wonder if that’s the one I use today.)

cowgilrauntnina

Standing in her white satin cotillion gown, pearls at her neck and bow encircling her tiny waist, she looks pensive. I love how the  black tree enhances her white gown and flowers. The picture is inscribed Dec. 1963, and I wonder where she is heading after this photo shoot? Did she have to drive 60 miles to town or was she already at her destination? (I called my mother and she told me that my aunt was probably heading to the Tucson Symphony Cotillion.)

auntninacotillion2

In the photo below, she smiles at the camera while riding a “big red horse,” as I like to call them–where? I do not know but it looks like somewhere near Tucson. Tamarask and eucalyptus trees rise to the monsoonal clouds.

cowgirlnina

Then years later,  in her red slicker and equally red nail polish, she grips the reins on a winter day. I know that signet ring on her pinkie — I hope one of my nieces have it.

latercowgirlnina

In her 50s and 60s she moved away from Tucson to live with her husband on a homestead in a log cabin in Mule Creek, New Mexico. She had acreage, fought brush fires, and hung wreaths on all the gates along the highway at Christmas time. She seemed to love that life just as much as her Jr. League days. Whenever she went back to Tucson, she let you know how much she despised the traffic. She was content with her country life.

She said, “you go back to what you know.”

When she passed away, way too soon from breast cancer, my sister and I drove to New Mexico and cleaned out her closets. While she had adapted her wardrobe to her rural life, she still had many of her clothes from her old self: lace, satin, and many brocade shawls. The main thing that struck me was how many outfits she had hanging in her two walls of closets. Probably five hundred different outfits were neatly arranged on tiered hangers — each hanger held two or three different outfits: pants and a shirt with a matching shawl. She had more shoes than we knew what to do with–many of them mail ordered and still in plastic wrappers–unworn.

Something of the old cotillion girl hid there in her closet waiting for the next ranch potluck, or maybe, an invitation to a fancy gala in an exotic location.

We can only wonder what possessed her to keep all those clothes.

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Here I am as a baby in her arms. I am her namesake and I am proud to have been her niece.

 

meandauntnina

Here’s two other photos that I wanted to share–in the first, she’s in some kind of costume that she no doubt invented and she’s holding a cat ( also in costume) and the other is of her and her favorite dog. I’m not sure here it was taken –maybe along the banks of the Santa Cruz.

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