As soon as I could crawl, I would clamber up onto the back of the couch, where I would sit with one leg on either side, flapping an imaginary pair of reins and crying “Ya! Ya!”. My father, failing to diagnose a fatal case of the Horse Bug, responded by making me a beautiful rocking horse for Christmas. And when I say beautiful, I mean lightly oiled yellow cedar, perfectly dainty legs, a bountiful mane and tail made from unfurled flaxen fiber rope, and (most importantly), proper reins. Because honestly, how are you supposed to learn how to ride with just handles?
Odger, as I came to call him (like ‘Roger’ without the ‘R’ – don’t ask me), was my first love. I would sit, in all seriousness, off in some wonderland of rolling hills and fields in my mind, cantering determinedly in place. Over the years, his scratchy mane became slightly matted from all the loving stroking. Already a sentimental person, Odger became a best friend and a pet all rolled into one. It didn’t hurt that he was quite handsome, a sturdy little pony who never nipped at me or bucked me off. I would sit for hours drawing him or writing stories about us; a princess and her noble steed off on grand adventures.
One day, my father found me sobbing uncontrollably. When he asked me what was wrong, I hiccuped: “Daddy, Odger is shrinking.” When he gently told me that I would grow bigger while Odger “stayed the same”, I became inconsolable. When I was a teenager, I would use Odger as a perch during endless dramatic phone conversations, my knees practically dragging on the ground. The exact camber of Odger’s lope was like a baby blanket, so soft and familiar.
Through my college and early working years, Odger remained stabled at home in my father’s living room – there was no way he would have fit in the crowded micro-apartments I was living in. Dad, unaware of exactly how stunning and sentimental Odger was to me, started threatening to ‘give him away’ like he was a headless Barbie doll I was mysteriously insisting on keeping. Come Thanksgiving, I stubbornly loaded the poor old chestnut pony into my car, and he lived in cramped quarters for years, wedged in between the couch and a wall, attracting strange looks from boyfriends who came to my place for the first time. There’s crazy horse girl, and then there’s crazy horse girl with a rocking horse in her living room.
I eventually wheedled with my mother to let me keep Odger at her house. I was starting to feel bad for shuttling him around, simply storing him wherever I could. I had already decided that he was to become a family heirloom – passed along to my brother or cousins when they started having kids. But with all of us just starting to develop our careers and various relationships, I had no idea when that would be. When I showed up at my mom’s place for a family reunion, Odger was out on the front porch, his loving wooden eyes staring forlornly off into the distance.
“Why is he outside!” I cried indignantly.
“There’s no room – we need space for everyone to sleep,” my mother replied, “besides, he’s under an awning, and it’s not supposed to rain.”
I squatted down to ruffle Odger’s forelock. “I’m sorry, dear old man,” I said. I got all welly-eyed. If we were in a Pixar movie, it would have been a touching scene. Instead, it was just an overgrown little girl unable to detach herself emotionally from a hunk of cedar.
I hated that Odger was so neglected and unwanted – but the reality was that while trinkets and toys are easy to pack away into a box, Odger was the size of a piece of cumbersome furniture. I fretted – I was renting a bedroom from a friend, and the only way that he would fit would be to share my bed with me. But if I did that, there would definitely be no chance of me ever attracting someone willing to have children with me. And that would just bring us back to square one.
As my cousins arrived, they also petted Odger’s mane affectionately. We all had good memories with him. We packed up a picnic and headed down to the beach. Soon after, my mother called me over to where everyone was eating. “Katie, take a big bite of chicken,” she instructed, and as soon as I had my mouth full, my cousin Cortlyn announced that she was pregnant. I screamed, partially masticated chicken flying everywhere, and pounced on my cousin. When I had swallowed and stopped shrieking, I came upon a fantastic realization:
“You can have Odger!” I squealed. “For your baby!”
We chatted excitedly, and I suggested that we carve the names and birthdates of “all the kids” on Odger’s base. My mother looked over at my new-ish boyfriend, who was meeting the family for the first time. “You’re off the hook, for now, I guess.” She winked at him. Poor guy.
When we got home, I sat on my faithful steed, picking up the rope reins. I patted his poll. “Odger, old man,” I said, “I hope you’re up for more little brats to ride you all over those hills.”