The Red Pony or My Cluttered Memory
During his solo session David Conrad told the story how he was reading "The Red Pony" when he was a kid, but threw the book away because he - who loves all kind of animals - could not stand the story.
I just sat listening when I felt a little sting of pain in a long hidden place and was wondering myself "Ouch. What is that about?" while I slowly dived into my obviously not very organized mind. After a few moments of sorting out flashing memories I found a very clear picture:
My dad (who died when I was 17) sitting on my bed with a book slightly annoyed because his reading which was supposed to make me sleepy had the opposite effect:
I was awake and hysterically crying over dying horses. I must have been 6 or 7 years old, because I read myself once I had learned it at school only a little later. I have no idea what my dad was thinking when he chose the book because my reaction was absolutely predictable. I guess it was me who begged him to read it for me because I had seen the pony on the cover and talked him into it (I could be very convincing aka annoying and stubborn).
Why this memory was hidden at a so far away place that I stated here on this blog only a few weeks ago very sure about myself that "The Pearl" was the first Steinbeck I ever read?
1) My dad ... I still kind of measure out carefully the dose of memory I can stand at once. Losing him was absolutely horrible and it still hurts.
2) Horses ... wow ... that is some painful childhood memory. I loved horses as long as my memory goes back (the first thing I can recall is my mom being pregnant with my sister, when I was 3). And I was still very little (about 5) when I started telling my parents that I wanted to do horseback riding. I remember that my wonderful grandma supported me with buying me riding boots and helmet. So equipped my dad finally drove with me to a pony farm just outside our small city. These little excursions became very fast our Sunday ritual and the happiest hour of the week. Usually I started being excited about it already on Wednesday.
That pony farm was kind of a wild place. We did not use saddles and only sometimes the round sand course but often also the meadows around the farm for the riding fun. My brown pony was called Alex, the beautiful bigger dapple gray I only got a couple of times Windy.
Once I overheard the old gentleman running the place how he told my dad that I had "a thing with the horses - a special talent and feeling", but my parents should be careful with choosing the riding school later for me because the standard English style would not suit me and I should better go for Western style. I remember this still, because I was soooo proud to hear it. He was right btw - I had a little later one single standard riding lesson and it did not work at all.
A couple of months later my world collapsed. One sunny afternoon I fell off my pony. It was not dramatic I fell slowly and laughed about myself, stood and climbed up again. I was not afraid of the pony or riding for a single second, but a little later my arm was swollen. When we got the x-rays done it turned out that it was broken. Not much of a problem for me ... a couple of weeks with a cast and I would be ready to go back, but I hadn't reckoned with my mom. She hated the whole horse thing anyway. She thought it was too dangerous and now she had her proof.
Up from this day I was strongly forbidden to mount a horse. I was 6.5 years old and had no chance to fight back. I know that is a harsh thing to say and today I understand her fears much better, but ... I hated my mom for doing this to me. She simply broke my heart and it kept being broken for about 10 years. Only when I became a teenager / young adult my interests shifted and I was not so keen on going back to riding anymore, but my whole childhood I stroke every horse I could come close enough to and hung around the riding ring near my home watching always close to crying. And I read every single book (and before I could read myself my poor dad had to read "My friend Flicka" to me ca. 10 times) and every magazine that had horse on the cover.
I still love horses - very much. Last year I spent hours at the traditional part of the Oktoberfest visiting the agricultural fair admiring some beautiful Haflinger horses (some mixed blood with Arabian thoroughbred). And I still consider starting riding again. Maybe I'll do that one day.
And so I learned that my first Steinbeck was not "The Pearl" but "The Red Pony" - and I had just kind of forgot about it before. I bought a copy of "The Red Pony" in the museum store as my souvenir from the festival - it just fit.
To end this blog post on a light note:
Doing an image search on google I found a picture of the Reader's Digest book I used when I first read "The Pearl". Here it is: