In order to not think about the things I don’t want to think about at the moment (and how’s that for an ugly beginning to a sentence?), here’s the story of my Christmas horse.
When I was about two years old, my favorite thing in the world was my gray Wonderhorse, a gift from my grandparents. It was a hard plastic horse (gray with pale dapples) suspended on springs so that I could bounce up and down on it. And did I ever bounce. Mom had a difficult time keeping me off of it, and there are some amusing/embarrassing photographs in my baby book that were taken when I couldn’t wait to get dressed after my bath before riding him. And while I’m not positive about this, I’m guessing it’s not every two year old whose father names her Lady Godiva.
My love for Wonderhorse was strong and true, but he was, alas, the kind of toy that children outgrow. However, when I was three years old I had my first pony ride, on a little black pony at some small fair. I didn’t want to get off. I dreamt of ponies. I became, at a very tender age, one of those many horse-obsessed girls.
When I was four, my family moved to the same small farm town in Montana where my Mom’s parents lived, partly so that Mom and Dad could work at the family farm, located about 18 miles out of town. At that time it was a wheat and barley farm but my Mom had grown up there when there were chickens and cows and horses, and there’s still an old barn, an old meadow, an old chicken coop. I, of course, thought we should have a horse. I think I started seriously campaigning for one when I was five, and my mom told me that we’d have a serious talk about it when I was eleven.
Eleven seemed a long time to wait, but I waited. Every birthday brought me a little closer. I read books about horses, found an old saddle in the barn at the farm that I rubbed with saddle soap and hung over the back of an old chair so that I could pretended to ride it. I dreamed about a horse who could live in my bedroom closet. With varying degrees of patience, I waited.
And then came my eleventh birthday, and Mom kept putting off THE TALK, except to say that a horse was a big responsibility and that horses needed a place to live and lots of care. I pointed out that the farm was a perfectly good place for a horse to live and pushed and nudged and waited (a bit less patiently) some more. I didn’t realize until many years later that Mom was really hoping I’d forget about the horse talk long before I turned eleven.
A few weeks before Christmas, my brother and I were talking, in the mercenary way of children, about what we wanted most for Christmas. For me, it was easy and predictable. I wanted a horse. I’d been asking Santa for one for years. My brother wanted an Atari. It may say something about my knowledge of the world then, that I thought an Atari was just as wild a dream as a horse.
And that Christmas something was different. Something was in the air. And on Christmas Eve day, Mom and Dad told us that this year we’d be opening all of our presents on Christmas Eve instead of on Christmas morning, something which had never happened before. I was tingly with anticipation, wondering what was happening, and hoping that Christmas morning would bring me something warm and furry with breath that smelled like hay. I don’t know how I managed to fall asleep, but I did.
Christmas morning dawned, and my brother and I ran out to the family room to find, hooked up to our television, an Atari game station, my little brother’s wildest fantasy fulfilled. And I was overjoyed. It never occurred to me that he might get his biggest, wildest wish and I might not get mine. I ran to the window and looked outside. No horse. But I was used to waiting, I could wait some more. Mom and Dad woke up, came out with us, and enjoyed watching my brother’s glee over the Atari. They probably wondered why I didn’t pay it much attention.
Eventually, while Mom was cooking breakfast, she wondered why I kept peeking out the window. Eventually, she realized why I kept peeking out the window and was faced with telling me that there was no Christmas horse, that we’d opened presents early so that we’d have time to play video games before going to church. My dreams of horse ownership popped like so many soap bubbles, and there was a bit of a melt down.
I got over it, of course (though Mom still feels guilty), but I think this may be why I don’t like video games.
My big wish for the new year is that all of us who want horses get horses instead of Ataris. Metaphorically, that is.