When I was 14 years old, my parents told me of a shocking decision they had made. Not shocking as in frightening or devastating; it was the news I’d been waiting for all my life. I was called into the living room of our modest home in Spanaway, and my father said, “We’ve decided you can have a horse.”
I was dumbfounded. Was this a dream I’d soon wake up from? No more endless longing for something I knew I couldn’t have?
From the time I was tall enough to see over our windowsills and gaze out at the neighbor’s horses, I had been in love. I checked out every horse book in the Tacoma Public Library at least twice. To see a pony waiting for me outside on Christmas Day was always at the top of my wish list, but I knew it was so unlikely that I never even asked. My parents weren’t farmers or ranchers and, even though we had some chickens and a big garden on a few acres, they had no interest in raising horses — a pure pleasure animal.
My father continued, “You’ll have to pay for the horse and everything that goes with it.” I was unfazed. I knew my parents well enough to know that they were sensible and quite frugal at times, especially my father, who graduated from high school in 1930 at the beginning of the Great Depression. My sister, brother and I didn’t want for any necessity, but we weren’t wealthy, either.
For the previous two years, I had a part time job at Turner’s Dairy Farm down the street, which must have influenced my parents’ decision. My starting wage was 25 cents an hour for sitting with Mrs. Turner, who had recently had a heart attack and couldn’t be left alone. I would much rather have been helping with the cows or cleaning out the barn, but I was needed for household chores and soon was washing dishes, vacuuming and preparing meals.
Saving up to buy a horse would mean no longer spending my money on cheap trinkets from mail-order catalogs or 45 rpm records. Not a huge sacrifice. But this would be, by far, the biggest purchase I had ever made. I needed at least $200 dollars. At $5 a week, it would take almost a year.
Many of my duties at the farm were new to me, especially cooking. I can still see myself standing in that old farmhouse kitchen, wondering how I was going to fix my mistakes and serve dinner on time. Either the potatoes had boiled dry and were too scorched to serve, or the meat under the broiler kept catching on fire. Trial and error was all I had to rely on since Mrs. Turner spent little time teaching me the basics. I thought all gray-haired old ladies were expert cooks, but I learned that wasn’t always true.
Mrs. Turner didn’t move much from her chair in the living room, so I was glad she couldn’t see me sweating it out at the stove. Every now and then, she’d shout some frugal tip at me like, “Don’t peel off the eyes of the potato with a peeler — you’ll waste less using a knife.”
Her thriftiness must have been the reason we didn’t eat much chicken, which was more expensive in those days. Ham was always reserved for company. The menu was homegrown beef, potatoes and carrots almost every night.
When dinner was finally on the table, I was surprised to see Mr. and Mrs. Turner eating what I served, and they weren’t complaining! Who knows, maybe my cooking wasn’t so bad.
In June 1969, less than a year after my parent’s decision, I was hanging out at the local livestock auction as I frequently did. Suddenly, the horse of my dreams, a golden palomino, entered the auction ring, and I watched helplessly as it was sold to someone else. I wasn’t planning to buy a horse that day, so I had no money with me.
I quickly hunted down the man that had bought “my” horse and, miraculously, he agreed to sell him to me for the $183 he had just paid. I called my father who drove to the auction with a check that I’d reimburse him for.
Soon I was beaming as I led my dream horse to his new home. There was no saddle, bridle or even a name for him yet, but he was gorgeous, and he was mine.
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