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Friday, September 4, 2009

The pony cart tease

When I was very young, somewhere around 5 to 8 years old, we lived in “the country”. Actually, it was a small town in Georgia that , by itself, was “in the country” and we lived about a mile outside of “town”. Our next door neighbor had a couple of kids named Jim and Scott. Both were older than I was and they had an absolutely beautiful pony cart.. and of course, a pony.

Their cart had wicker basket sides, big spoked wheels and a Palomino pony ( I remember because that is what Roy Rogers had). To a 5-8 year old, that was an irresistible rig, hands down.

Now, as I said, we lived in the country so the properties were on the order of 5-10 acres or more.  Our frontage was about 300 feet with them living on our east side next to our driveway. On our west side was the long winding driveway up to my uncle’s house high up on a hill.  The start of his driveway marked the western edge of our property. This is important because I was allowed to play in the yard just about anywhere as long as I did not venture beyond these “boundaries” of the front yard. The yard in front of our house was nearly the size of a football field and mostly flat. Centered on the frontage and out near the road was the world’s oldest and biggest oak tree which just begged to be climbed…just as soon as I grew tall enough to reach those lower branches.

Every so often I would see Scott and Jim hitch up their pony cart for a ride down the road.  They always turned right as they came out of their driveway because they were not allowed to go back towards town, which was the other way.

They would trot down the road in front of our house and I would drool with envy as they slowly traveled that 300 feet to my uncle’s driveway and then disappear around the curve in front of his property.  

I would wait and watch until they eventually came back into view heading back home.  Sometimes, they would go home, turn around and then go back down the road past my uncle’s house and on out of view, again.  Of course, I could do nothing else but watch until they returned home. All the time imagining the great fun and adventures that they surely must be having each time they disappeared around that curve.

I finally figured out about when they would come by and managed to be out at the end of our driveway which was right next to theirs as they would come out of their driveway. As I stood there they would  sometimes wave (in an alpha-kid’s way of silently saying “na-na-na-na-naaaaaa-na” (or “ne-ner---ne-ner” for short) and trot on by.

I would start off at a trot, too, down the grassy edge of the road as they slowed the pony to a walk. I could almost keep up on my short fat legs and not step off of our property as I followed them all the way to my uncle’s driveway. But I could only stand and watch as they continued on down the road, around the curve and on out of sight.

I know this may seem to be boring but you must realize how much I wanted to ride in that pony cart. As soon, they came back, I was waiting there to repeat this tag-a-long trek back the 300 feet to the other edge of our property.

One day, as they turned out onto the road and passed in front of me, I was preparing to follow them back to my uncle’s driveway again, but they stopped the pony and Jim, the older one asked if I would like to ride in the cart!!!!!

“Yes” I said before my mind caught up with my mouth, “But I have to ask my Daddy, first”.  Ok, Jim said and I ran back across the uncut front yard to the house so fast that the tall sparse weeds  stung my legs like a willow switch… but I didn’t care, I was going to get a ride in that coveted pony cart!

When I breathlessly asked for permission to ride, Daddy said that I could ride but not past my uncle’s driveway.

I raced back out the 100 feet to the road from the front porch of the house oblivious that my folks were sitting there in Wicker rockers  watching all of this play out.

In the time it took me to race to the house for permission and then back out to the road Scott and Jim and the mesmerizing pony cart had been slowly walking down the road towards that dreaded edge of my earth, my uncle’s driveway. Even though I was running at Superman speed they were a little over half way there by the time I caught up with them.

I shouted as best as I could with no wind left in my lungs from all the running “Daddy says I can ride!”.

“Ok” said Scott and Jim stopped the cart, “Climb in”.

I ran up behind the cart and reached for the hand rail at its side, but Jim slapped the reins on the pony’s back and it bolted a few feet forward, just out of my reach.

Scott said “Sorry. The pony just spooked. C’mon, Bud, get in” and they both laughed.

I caught up and again, Jim spooked the pony and it snatched the cart just out of my grasp and moved away from me for another 10 feet or so before it stopped with another feigned apology.

Over and over Jim taunted me blaming the horse, the wind and finally me for spooking the pony. Scott finally said that I was just too slow. Each time I missed they laughed and giggled and whispered while I struggled to catch up again.

No matter how many times they cheated me I was not going to give up my dream ride in the pony cart so I kept on trying.

I knew we were getting perilously close to my uncle’s driveway and I ran harder and faster than I ever had before in my life but I was never quite fast enough.  Eventually, my pursuit ended empty at my uncle’s driveway and they continued on down the road.

Apparently, this was great fun for them because they did not disappear out of site but rather turned the pony and cart around only 30 or 40 feet past my stopping point and started back towards their house and me.

They passed me and again, stopped on the road just out of my reach and begged me to get on.  Again I tried to get a grip on the handle and again, it was snatched out of my reach with giggles and laughter.

I was tired, humiliated, bleeding (I had fallen once and had a skinned knee and elbow) and after several more such repetitions I knew they were just being mean to me but I could not stop trying. Tears of frustration, anger, and embarrassment streaked down my face but I would not stop trying and between gasps for air, I was sobbing openly.  I was going to have my pony ride!  It was promised to me and it was “authorized” and one of these times, I was going to get a grip on that handle before they could get it away from me.

We had just about reached the mid point of their trip back to their house when I heard my Father call out to me to come back to the house and stop trying to catch that ride.  I cried harder and I tried harder but still could not get it and would not quit despite the order.

The attempts had taken us to less than 100 feet from their driveway which meant the end of any ride I might have gotten.  Suddenly, from our porch my father’s voice boomed out “Let him get in the cart”.  Scott started to respond with some excuse and Daddy cut him off with “LET HIM RIDE!”.  And then they did let me get in and ride the 20 or 30 feet to the end of our driveway where I had to get out.

I asked when they were going to come back by again and they said “Not today”.  “We have to go, now”.

I longingly watched them disappear down their driveway. Slowly I turned, now crying from the disappointingly short ride and slowly trudged the long walk down our driveway and back to my house.

Daddy was already halfway up the driveway to meet me and when we met he asked me if I was ok.  I said “yes, but I didn’t really get a good ride”. 

He just picked me up, hugged me and said something about my trying so hard and not ever giving up. Years later I realized that he was trying to tell me that sometimes a dogged pursuit of something I wanted could turn into an unreasonable obsession so I should watch out for that and let go before it hurts me.

Years later, when I was in my 20s, he referred to this event and told me that he knew then that I was going to have a very hard life because I could not make a decision to stop doing something that I really wanted to do even though it might not be rational to continue to pursue it.

Through my life I have revisited this scenario and the revelation by my father that I would likely always be prone to struggle obsessively  to solve impossible problems.  I think that his telling me this eventually gave me a point of closure for that episode with the boys next door, but I never liked them, again. 

I finally knew that it was my blind desire to do that singular thing and ride in the pony cart that caused all of my pain, disappointment, humiliation and anger. That was all on me, not on Jim and Scott.  I just laid out the play and they fulfilled their roles with the props that I handed them so I was the architect of my own unhappiness.

It would be another 20 years before I would realize that disappointment can only come from depending too much on the outcome of expectations.  If a person has expectations and does not prepare a way for each of them to close in ways that will not affect them then repeated disappointment will be a predictable part of the rest of their lives.

On the other hand, the work of finding ways to explain possible outcomes will take the emotional content out of the future and replace it with focused acceptance of what IS rather than the disappointment of what isn’t.

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