Sunday, January 3, 2010

Scout & The Strawberry Alarm Clock

me and Scout

I had two first ponies. Most kids don't even have one first pony, but as fate would have it, I was granted more than my share of ponies. Scout was the first to arrive and this might confuse you, but just hang with me here and you'll get it. Scout was a lovely mannered paint pony standing eleven or so hands. He was the quintessential perfect child's pony -- his black and white markings were handsome and magical. He resembled the Indian girl's pony in my favorite books, Holling C. Holling's The Book of Cowboys and The Book of Indians. Never mind that I was barely two when Scout arrived in our barn, I knew what I wanted and Scout fit my requirements perfectly. I was the lucky offspring of two professional horse people and so, of course, I would have my own pony as soon as I could walk. I had all the accessories too -- the chaps, the vest, the hat, the boots, and the guns. There is an unconfirmed rumor in my family that my first word was Horse, my second was Cowboy, and my third was Inyo, my version of Indian. Mummy and Daddy were words that came much, much later apparently.

I went everywhere with Scout and Scout went everywhere with me. I ran away occasionally, wearing as much as my nightgown sometimes or as little as nothing but my cowboy hat and boots -- and of course, the dogs accompanied me and Scout down our sandy road in Southern Pines, NC. My mother would let me get just so far, just far enough to let me believe that I had succeeded in running away with my Indian pony and my hounds, and then, then she would catch me and bring me back to the fort.

I tried on several occasions to bring Scout into the house, by way of the kitchen door, but Scout knew better than to step inside the house.

But Scout didn't make it to my third birthday. He was turned out one day in a paddock with a much larger horse who for some reason kicked Scout, deftly and once, and broke the pony's back. Scout was gone in an instant.

And my mother was left with a task -- to find a pony that looked just like Scout, and find him fast. She was going to pull a fast one on me...some parents replace goldfish, some replace hamsters, some might even go so far as to bring in a ringer cat or dog, but my mother is probably the only parent ever to pull the switcheroo of a kid's dead pony.

She got the word out fast among her horse friends and within hours she got a lead on a small carnival pony ride operation that was going out of business in Raleigh. They were selling all their paint ponies. So my mother got in her wonderful gray International Harvester jeep with a small trailer in tow and she made the drive up Route 1 to see the pony man. When she arrived, she found a pen full of lilliputian paint ponies all named after rock bands. There was Lovin' Spoonful, Monkee, Beatle, Beach Boy, Mama, and Papa, Ike, and Tina, Steppenwolf, Pink Floyd, Buffalo Springfield, and even Rolling Stone. But the only pony that looked exactly like Scout except for having a white tail instead of a black tail, was Strawberry Alarm Clock. That's right, my second first pony could have been Rolling Stone or Pink Floyd or hell, Ike, but I got Strawberry Alarm Clock...the pony who brought the world Incense and Peppermints.

My mother loaded Strawberry onto the trailer and rushed him home to Southern Pines in time for me to go for my afternoon ride with the hounds around the barn yard. I had no idea that Scout had been replaced by a rock band.

I suppose for a time I called Strawberry Alarm Clock "Scout", but by the time my parents split and I was moved from Southern Pines to my grandparents farm in Connecticut I was addressing my pony as Strawberry. Who knows where the transition in name took place...children are pliable that way I suppose. And it wasn't until I was seven or eight that I learned of Scout's demise and Strawberry's covert arrival. It was a gradual realization that came from comparing photographs and a few searching questions...I was relieved to know that my memories of Scout weren't just some odd dream, that he was indeed real and Strawberry was his stand-in...albeit a roguish replacement.

Strawberry bucked me off almost every day, he ran under low branches...he would glide under and leave me hanging on the tree limb, he found two trees in our yard in Connecticut that stood just far enough apart that he could fit between them but I would have to bail out of the saddle for fear of breaking both my knees. Strawberry bucked my friends off and my steeplechase jockey father. He was a legendarily bad pony. But first ponies are meant to be bad, because that is how one learns to ride and fall off and get back on again.

I eventually graduated to a much larger and in someways more troublesome pony, one named Friar Tuck. Friar Tuck would carry me to many a horse show and on many adventures far from our barnyard. Strawberry lived on our farm in Connecticut until I went off to college. We gave him to some friends to keep an old polo mare company in a pasture and that is where Strawberry lived out his grand old age...telling stories to the old girl about his years as a ringer. And I suppose the old girl returned the favor with daring stories of her days on the polo field.

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