I barely missed those horse and buggy days, but Daddy didn’t. One of our favorite bedtime stories was the one about his first and only horse. We heard it only once.
“I was so proud to have Blue,” he said. “A boy didn’t feel like a man in those days until he got out of knee pants and had his own transportation. I’d ride her into town and everyone knew Blue. I used a bridle, of course, but I always rode bareback. She was smart and knew my commands as well as if she was human. I dare say no one felt prouder of his horse than I did my little filly.”
“What’s a filly? Daddy?” I said.
“A filly is a small female horse. My Blue was the most spritely and beautiful of any animal I’d ever known, even though she was small. And she was mine! I’d saved up the money to buy her with what Pa gave me for doing chores and helping him in the fields.”
Then Daddy got a dreamy look on his face as if he’d left us and was standing there admiring his little horse, not sitting at the foot of our bed.
I had to ask, “Why did you name her Blue, Daddy? Was she really blue? I never saw a blue horse!”
“Well, honey, if you’d ever seen Blue after I gave her a bath and curried her down in the sunlight you’d think she looked blue. I suppose she was actually black but I just had to name her Blue.” Then he went on, “Blue was my best pal on the farm and many’s the time Pa would have to tell me to leave her in the barnyard and get back to work. Well, I knew that Blue could run fast and when I saw they were having a cart race at the county fair that fall, I went to my savings again and bought a small cart and a harness.
I told her one day, “Blue, my girl, we’re going to practice racing this cart and we’re going to the county fair and show the whole world you’re not only beautiful, you’re the fastest little filly on the track! You’ll be famous! I knew she understood something of what I said because she whinnied and shook her head up and down just like she agreed.”
“Did she do it, Pop? Did she win the race?” My little brother Danny was sitting up on the bed then, and he was eager to get to the end of the story.
“Now hold on, son, I’ll get to that. I have to tell you first how we practiced. It took her a while to get used to the harness and cart but soon she was all right with it, though I’m sure she preferred the way I rode her bareback. We’d go to the fair grounds to practice. She’d trot so fast that people would come to watch us. They loved little Blue, but there was a problem. When she was tired she’d slow down and plop on her belly. Now if that’s not tellin’ a person she’s done runnin’ I don’t know what is!”
Daddy went on. “But I never used the whip on Blue and I wasn’t gonna either. I just sweet-talked her and then she’d get up and go again. We got farther every day.
“Well, the day of the cart race came and I was sure my little Blue would win. The starting gun spooked her some but she was off. She wasn’t used to having other horses and carts on the track either but even that seemed to spur her on. She kept right on going faster and faster until I thought the wheels might bounce loose and wreck us both, but Blue had got us way out in front and the crowd was cheering for her.”
“So, she won the race, huh Dad?” Danny bounced on the bed.
“Well sir, I was sure she’d make it ‘cause we were not far from the finish line but then Blue started to slow down. I was not about to use the whip on her, not even then. I called to her from the cart and begged her to get up and go. I called out, ‘You’re doing great, Blue! Just keep it up!’ But by then she was tired and fell onto her belly. When the other carts raced on by she just looked at them curiously as if to say, ‘What’s your hurry?’
“Well, I realized then that she hadn’t ever practiced racing with other horses and carts and she was simply tired. I got out of the cart and whispered in her ear. I said, ‘You did OK, Blue, my girl. Even if you didn’t make it to the finish line and lost the race, everybody here knows you could have beat them all. I’m not going to be embarrassed, I’m still proud of you!' And, you know what? When my little Blue crossed over that line slowly, the last one, the whole crowd clapped and stood up for her. We couldn’t have been more cheered if we’d really been first!”
“But weren’t you disappointed, Daddy?” I asked.
“Of course I’d rather Blue won, but still I was proud of her. She was no dummy. We should all know when it’s time to quit. Later when the vet visited our farm he took a look at Blue and said, 'Sorry to tell you this but your little filly has a heart problem. If you’d have pushed her on in that race she may well have died on the spot.'”
Daddy looked down then to where his hands were folded on his lap. I could see he was trying to hold back the tears when he finally said. “Blue didn’t last long after that. I sold the cart and never tried to win a race again. In fact, Pa had bought a brand new car, a Rio, before long. I was proud to drive that into town but you don’t love a metal animal, and I was smart enough to let the car go on its good looks. I never raced it."
Daddy added, “I wish I hadn’t raced Blue at all, but at least we were best friends and she was smarter than any horse I ever knew.”
Then Danny said. “Well, Pop, aren’t you glad you didn’t whip her?”
Daddy looked up then and smiled at us both. When he hugged us we felt prouder of him than we’d ever have been to see him holding a blue ribbon!