“So what do you think?” he asked her as they lay together.
She smiled up at him. “I think it’s a grand idea.”
“It’s settled then.” He hugged her, a hand curved protectively over her swollen belly. “I’ll start it in the morning.”
He put feet to words. The morning found him sanding blocks of wood to a golden sheen. By evening, the carving had begun.
He’d carved small animals before, but this was a monumental undertaking. Slowly, under his knife and chisel, the form of a horse took shape.
When the child was born, the rocking horse was roughly finished. The sanding took another three weeks. So long, because he spent time playing with his son.
Buck arrived with paint just as Chris finished the weight tests. He then lifted a small saddle from the back of his own.
Chris’s face broke into a grin. “Perfect!” He walked into the house. “Sarah, I need your scissors for the pony’s mane and tail!”
It was a chore to get the mare to stay still for Chris to cut enough hairs from her tail for the small mane and tail, but he managed it.
Buck painted the horse as Chris inserted the hairs.
The boy loved the horse so much that his first word wasn’t ‘Mama’, ‘Daddy’ or even ‘no’. Adam’s first word was ‘Horsey!’ As he grew older, the rocking horse became ‘Pony’. The name was somehow transferred to the colt that mare that donated the hairs bore.
The years went by, and Adam loved the wooden horse so much that the right front leg became loose from the rocker. “Chris, that isn’t safe,” Sarah told him bluntly. “Adam nearly fell off today. Can you take it and get it repaired?”
He nodded. “That’s a good idea. I’d fix it myself, but we’re going to Mexico to sell those horses—“
“Right,” Sarah said. “When you come home, you can give him the fixed horse as a surprise!”
“Woman,” he purred, pulling her into his arms. “How did you get so wise?”
“I’m your wife,” she smiled, kissing him passionately.
It was Buck who drove the wagon containing wooden Pony into town, giving Chris time alone with Sarah and Adam before the long trip.
The next morning, Chris and Buck ponied the horses they were taking to Mexico and Chris said goodbye to Sarah and Adam. As they rode off, the blond took one longing look over his shoulder.
Sarah and Adam were both waving at him. Sarah’s other hand was curved over the swell of her stomach, where their second child was growing.
Three weeks later, the horse’s wobbly leg had been repaired. But the little boy that had so loved the wooden pony his father had so lovingly made would never sit on its back again.
In those three weeks, Sarah and Adam Larabee were brutally murdered. Their house and everything in it was destroyed.
Buck remembered the pony, but Chris was adamant. He never wanted to see it again – it would be too painful.
And he never did.
After awhile, the horse was put into storage – and forgotten.
Over a century later, another man named Buck Wilmington did a double-take as he drove down the main street of a tiny backwater town in Arizona on his way from Mexico. He turned the truck around and pulled back up to the sidewalk, frowning in confusion even as the corners of his mouth pulled up in a grin.
He got out of the truck and walked into the small antique store, sending the bell jangling. “May I help you?” the man behind the counter asked.
“Yeah….that horse in the window –“
“Ah, yes, a beauty, isn’t it? Over a hundred years old, made by a father for his son….”
The man blinked. “How…much?”
He nodded. “I got a friend whose wife’s gonna have a baby soon – and that’s perfect. Is it in good shape?”
The man began to smile. “Yes, sir. It’s been kept up very well. Varnished, painted… occasionally ridden by the children in my own family…”
“Wonderful!” Buck smiled as he ran his hand over the real horsehair of the mane. “The hair – original?”
“No, sadly. The original hair attained an odor that we could not get rid of. It had never been around fire, yet it smelled like smoke. We ended up having to replace it about a month ago.”
Buck nodded and stroked the dark hair. “He’s a beauty. I’ll take him.”
Two hundred dollars later, Buck loaded the rocking horse in the back of his truck and secured it for the long ride ahead. He couldn’t resist a childlike hug of the neck. “Chris’s baby’s gonna love you, boy.”
As he pulled back, he was frowning slightly. He could have sworn he smelled smoke….
Dismissing it as his imagination, Buck got in the truck and began the long drive to Denver.
“What in the world….” Sarah laughed as Buck wrestled the large toy from the bed of the truck.
“Isn’t he a beauty? I got him at an antique store in Arizona!” Buck set the wooden burden down and nudged it with his foot, delighted when it began to rock. “It’s in really great shape!”
“Yeah, well, let me be the judge of that, huh?” Chris nudged Buck and then grabbed him a hug. “Thanks…”
After a thorough – and it was thorough – checking, the hair was replaced again to eliminate the slight smoke odor. The pony got a new coat of varnish and paint, and was deemed ride-worthy. It was given a prominent place in the nursery of the latter-day Larabee’s home.
When this Adam was born and grew older, he fell in love with the wooden pony as much as his predecessor had. Whenever his parents discovered him missing for any length of time, they were certain to find him on the pony’s back.
The smoky scent had finally disappeared after Adam’s birth, and nobody cared why.
Adam announced one day after he’d begun talking that “Pony” wanted some milk.
“Pony?” Sarah asked. “Who’s Pony?”
“My Pony.” He smiled broadly. Sarah gave him a sippy-cup of milk, and followed him at a distance.
The grin she developed when she saw him ‘feeding’ the old wooden horse the milk stayed with her all day. And it didn’t leave Chris’s face after she told him about it for another day.
Sadly, fate intervened in this happy family’s lives as well. Shortly after Adam turned five, a car bomb meant for Chris took his life as well as his mother’s.
Grief-stricken Chris put all Adam’s toys away. The large horse was covered with a tarp and moved to the storage barn with box after box of precious mementos.
The fact it once again smelled of smoke – strongly this time – was unnoticed through the haze of grief.
Years passed, as they will, and the horse sat alone in the storage barn. Occasionally one of the other members of Chris’s new extended family would come in and rummage around – and one of them, besides Buck, would occasionally rub the tarp-covered nose and vow “Someday I’ll liberate you from this – should I ever be blessed with children of my own.”
But still, it waited patiently. Someday….someday….
Then children’s voices echoed through the barn. Laughter and teasing and good-natured jibes were thrown. “Wow….look at this….all this stuff…”
“We’re not supposed to be in here…”
“Aw, just look!” The tarp was pulled away and both boys froze in awe, just staring at the beautiful horse.
Its paint was faded and dulled with age, the varnish tarnished. The motion of the tarp removing had set it to rocking.
Two pairs of eyes went huge. It was the most beautiful thing they’d ever seen!
Hands pulled at the reins, and with cries of ‘mind the rockers!’ and ‘wow, it’s heavier than it looks!’ they soon had the horse into the open air.
“It’s …” Words failed the boys. The younger one grinned up at the blond older one and whispered, “Who first?”
“You. You’re younger.”
With a nod, he swung up into the seat, burying his face into the dusty mane. He didn’t care that the long dark locks of his hair mingled with the dusty locks. He was up, and he was rocking.
“That thing’s huge,” the other one whispered. “It’s absolutely huge!”
“Big ‘nuff to hold you!” He swung down and gestured at it. “Go on! You’re bigger’n me but it’ll hold you!”
“I…I dunno, JD…”
“Go on!” He coaxed and cajoled until the older one swung a leg over the horse and slid into the saddle. “Wow, Vin! You look like you belong there!”
Vin smiled down at him and rocked gently. “It feels good….I never had one of these before.”
“Ya think Chris an’ Buck’ll let us keep him?”
“I hope so….wonder why it was locked up?”
“Vin? JD?” Chris’s gasp was overly loud in the sudden silence.
Vin instantly scrambled off the wooden horse. “Chris! I-I’m sorry, we didn’t—“
He shook his head and walked over. Looking at the horse, then at the two quivering boys, he closed his eyes and laid a hand on Vin’s shoulder, afraid the boy would bolt if he didn’t.
As it was, he could feel the slender shoulder shaking as if in a wind.
Chris opened his eyes and looked over at the porch. Buck stood there, his face unreadable. The message was clear – this ball was in Chris’s court now. Buck wouldn’t interfere – unless Chris hurt the boys.
Chris looked down at Vin. “That horse … it’s really old.”
“Yeah…kind’a figgered.” His voice was very small.
“But it’s sturdy….. you both are small enough you can still ride him …if you want.”
Vin looked up at Chris, hope warring with shock on his face. “Are… are y’sure?”
“I’m sure. Come on.” He lifted Vin like he weighed nothing. “Buck, bring the horse inside.” He smiled at the taller man. “It’s time we all started livin’ again.”
Once more, the large horse was lifted into Buck’s arms and wrestled into the house.
The boys enjoyed it till they were too big – then they shared it. When they had kids, they enjoyed it.
The horse never smelled like smoke again.
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