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Warren Gates Warren Gates
Recommendations: 23

Free Pony Rides

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She had a friend.

This is for the exercise to write about your earliest memory.  Anything prior to this anecdote, I do not remember.

This is one of my earliest memories, I think.  I have a dim, very dim and vague recollection of this moment in a long ago time.   Or perhaps I only think so, due to my Dad’s repeated recalling of this incident that was vastly amusing to him.   But, no, I really do remember this. Perhaps it was the first time I felt the sting of public humiliation and left the first tiny footprints on the lonely, as yet un-mapped, anti-social road  that I travers to this day.

The scene was the Allegheny County Fair in South Park in the mid 1950s when I was about 4 years old.    I was a tiny  horse crazy child and my Dad took me to the fair, mainly for the Pony Rides!  *FREE* Pony Rides!  It was just me and Dad.  My Mom never came to the fun things like this.  She was not an outdoor, livestock admiring, funnel cake kind of person.  That day she probably hung the clothes to dry in the summer breeze, or made cookies with my goody two shoes older sister.

In my early years I had a fairly good command of the English language, along with every changing childish dental and mental development and a bit of a lisp, and the words "three" and "free" were one and the same to me, and that was  adorable to the overfawning adults in my world. (Yuck. Go away.  Well, you just wait. I will spend  my teenage years not talking to you or anyone of your ilk).

At the fairgrounds, we watched  a little girl  win a prize for  the star quality of her pig, we  had some cotton candy and lemonade and looked at  antique tractors.   ( I am guessing here, remember I was 4 years old, but having been to many county fairs by now, I have a good idea of what my Dad and I  might  have done. ) After looking at the champion steers, before they went to become  someone’s dinner or the daddy of a future backyard barbeque steak, and the 112 varieties of rabbits and blue ribbon apple pies, I wanted my three, I mean, free,  pony ride(s).  

     So Dad , my pal, escorted me to the pony ride ring where the smell of horses, manure, and cheap leather tack drove me to rapture and beyond.  The tiny equines, placid   ( bored,  tired, old ) and fuzzy,  with their little Western saddles and rope halters  were being led around the dusty track by  a lucky  grown up  person  while a small child,  grinning from ear to ear,  grasped the saddle horn and waved to Mommy, Daddy and Aunt Millie. Some of the children were not impressed with their good fortune to be atop one of these magnificent steeds,  and went white with fear.   After a circuit  the pony dutifully stopped, sighed, cocked a hind leg to rest a tea cup sized hoof while one small child was replaced by another future cowboy, or Olympic Gold medal winner, and around they went for Heaven knows what umpteenth time that day at the fair, swishing away the flies.
Finally it was my turn, and, indeed, a turning point in my life.  At long last,   I was sitting on a horse!!  Alright,  this was a short and stout probably brown and white creature of dubious heritage, but to me he was none other than Man O War and The Black Stallion combined.   I had picture books about both and was quite the 4 year old expert of these legendary icons.  

  I must have been in bliss during that amble around the pony ride circle, the sun warm on my face, my little hands sticky from the cotton candy an hour before.
But suddenly, all too soon, I was being yanked off, right out of the saddle!  I held onto the saddle and the pony’s mane and refused to budge!!  At that tender age, of course I  had no idea of money  or concern about the financial decisions that were made on my behalf by my parents every day, so the word “Free” was not even a part of my vocabulary. (The way I said the word "three" sounded like the word "free", but I did not know this at the time)
    But I sure as heck knew how to count to 3!  My logic told me that if 1 time around the ring= 1 pony ride, then  give me a break people;  in my world where I was taught and believed that everything was fair and square, I was owed 2 more rides.  

I pitched a fit, my Dad was laughing and laughing (laughing at ME???), the bystanders were chuckling, (at ME??? ) , the over worked pony and the  teenager who was leading him rolled their eyes,  wishing the day was finished and this 40 pound temper tantrum would disappear.

Dad recounted this story for the rest of his life to anyone who would listen when the conversation called for it, and sometimes when it did not.  He was still telling it when I was 45 years old.  This was one of his favorite memories of my childhood.  And though I scarcely remember the actual incident, if I truly remember it at all, I was  embarrassed each time I was present at a telling of it.   So one of my earliest recollections is that of people laughing at me.  Well everything starts sometime, somewhere.  I know my father had no malice in this;  he just found many things amusing.  

Embedded in my memory most of all is the sound of my Dad laughing.  He enjoyed a good laugh, never at anyone’s expense;  he was blessed to be able to see the funny side of Life. There were many more factors that turned me into a sulky , uncommunicative teenager besides this infantile misunderstanding of words, but  were I to go through the archives of every slight and humiliation and embarrassment that I suffered, whether self inflicted or not, this would be the one that started it all :)

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Next: 'Sunglasses, Time-Travel, & Iced-Tea' Part 11