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So? I wanted a pony first!

Posted Friday, September 3, 2010, at 5:58 PM

This is a picture of me and my Judy Doll on my cousin Elaine's pony Polly. To my horror, I found this old picture among the junk I was cleaning out of my basement this last weekend.
In cleaning out my basement recently, I ran across a photo that I didn't know was missing. It was taken when I was about five, sitting on my cousin Elaine's pony. When I posted the picture on my Facebook page, my sister said she'd never seen it, and I realized how close I'd come to losing that image anywhere but in my own mind.

Elaine was an omnipresent fact of my life, towering over me and ordering me around like a little mini-dictator when we were small. As far as I was concerned, her authority was absolute and unquestionable, and everything she touched was sacred. When she gave me strict orders not to touch anything in her room, the order might as well have come from God. That's how seriously I took it.

Back in those days, very few kids even had rooms of their own. Most of them had to share a bedroom with a sister, a brother, or even their parents. Not only did Elaine have her own room, it was decorated in frilly white, like something out of a fairy tale. The room gave no doubt of her royal lineage. She was a princess.

Elaine had two possessions which set her apart from every other child living on the planet earth in the 1940's. First, there was her Judy Doll, as beautiful a doll as ever a little girl created in her dreams. Though Elaine had dolls of every persuasion, sitting delicately on shelves around her room, her Judy Doll was her favorite, and so treasured was she that Mom had to buy me one, too. Though my Judy doll looked identical to Elaine's in the eyes of most of the peasantry who lived in Nixa, Missouri, where Elaine and Judy #1 reigned, I knew the difference.

Judy Doll #1 and #2 had cloth bodies, as the dolls did back then, with hard arms, legs, and head. The eyes would close when we lay the dolls down for a nap, and the doll would coo, "MaMa!" most endearingly. Both dolls had short dark brown hair (a wig), glued on and requiring great care not to ever comb or get wet. They wore white organza dresses with matching bonnets.

However, by far the most impressive of Elaine's possessions was her paint pony named Polly. Looking back over the years with the critical eyes of an adult, I can see that Polly must have been a worn-out carnival pony, who had spent her life going round in circles with unruly children on her back. Nothing short of a dynamite explosion could have prompted her to break into a trot. She was absolutely safe for children.

So treasured was Polly in our childish minds that every argument we ever had ended in the same phrase -- "Well, so what? I wanted a PONY first!" There was no answer for this logic. It ended every uprising I ever had. The pony was my cousin's trump card, and she played it with maddening regularity.

One memorable summer, Elaine and I were taken to visit our Uncle Ray, Aunt Marie, and our three rowdy boy cousins in Eureka Springs, where Uncle Ray labored to farm a crop out of a rocky hillside, using a team of mules. This magical realm had all the kittens we could ever ask for, a wonderful creek to play in, and newborn lambs to hold. True, we had to put in some weed-pulling time in the garden, fighting the granddaddy long legs, who loved to dangle in our faces, but it was worth it to spend a week or two in nearly-sheer bliss. Aunt Marie was the most amazing cook, and the meals filled up a long wooden table in the dining room. Fresh corn on the cob at every meal, I think.

We left our Judy Dolls at home, of course, since the farm was a rather dusty place, and we took a couple of older, less important dolls. My life would have taken an entirely different course had we left the dolls at home.

Like most things in life, there was a "fly-in-the-ointment" factor involved with the farm in Arkansas -- there was no indoor plumbing. They had a perfectly lovely bathroom -- but it was a fake -- the plumbing had not yet been installed.

No matter what time of day we might have to go to the bathroom, it involved a trek up the hillside to the outhouse, where an army of Granddaddy Long Leg spiders had taken up residence.

I hated this place and almost always developed all the problems that accompany a child, when she refuses to sit on the hole for more than two seconds. However, the greatest issue came one day, when I accidently knocked Elaine's doll down the outhouse hole. Forget that she was a secondary doll of little importance -- She belonged to ELAINE and was therefore SACRED! I stood there, amid Elaine's screams, looking down the hole, thinking, "Oh, no! How can I get her back??"

There was no way to get the doll our of the hole. My Arkansas relatives were totally unimpressed with our dilemma. My Aunt Marie paused a moment, as she snapped beans, but her answer was a firm "No." The doll stayed where she was, and I had to endure the humiliation of Elaine's tirades every time we went up the hill.

I guess there are lessons to be learned in this story. You'd think my oppression would have resulted in my becoming more tolerant and forgiving of my own brothers and sister, but that doesn't seem to have been the case.

I can tell this story now without fear of reprisal, as my cousin Elaine passed away from lung cancer a few years ago. She was three years older than I, and she still had the Judy Doll, tucked in a trunk in her attic. Judy was a sad-looking sight, after the glory of her former days, but she was still Judy.

I started this story this morning at 3:30, grateful for something to occupy my mind during troubled moments of sleeplessness. Rest in peace, Elaine, Polly, and Judy. Your memory has not dimmed.

From the dark, lonely hills of Tillman, this is your local reporter Madeline, enjoying a cup of hot coffee, seasoned with old memories from the past.

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

Thanks for sharing a truly memorable time in your youth. I suppose everyone had a relative that 'had everything'. Life isn't fair sometimes, but this is all we have, make it or break it, the choice is ours. Cheers.

-- Posted by Dexterite1 on Fri, Sep 3, 2010, at 6:42 AM

All my life I wanted a horse. Then when I got one - a pony, in fact - it bit us and bucked when my children tried to ride it. I shall always remember (not fondly) the unneighborly neighbor who sold the blasted animal to us!

Not all ponies are created equal!

-- Posted by goat lady on Fri, Sep 3, 2010, at 8:36 AM

This is one of the most beautiful tributes to childhood that I have ever read! Thank you for sharing photo and story.

-- Posted by cheers4dhs on Fri, Sep 3, 2010, at 12:55 PM

I was promised a pony when I was a very sick little girl. I got well, never mind that I had no place to keep a pony. When I was twelve, I finally got my pony--a Western Flyer 26 inch bike. Sitting in the showroom, it glittered like stars in the night. My "pony" didn't neigh, but she was mine, a gift from my grandparents. I still have her--whereas a pony with four legs would have been gone for years. I tried for a new Mustang in later years, but the Western Flyer had to do. Ha!

-- Posted by GONENOW on Fri, Sep 3, 2010, at 6:48 PM

Wonderful memories. Isn't it amazing how fresh those memories can be, even after such a long time?

-- Posted by Ducky on Fri, Sep 3, 2010, at 7:20 PM

I probably would have been willing to kill your cousin for that pony. My bicycle was an old, heavy, one speed, wide-tired behemoth I inherited from my older sister. Still, I was glad to have it. Boy, did it build up my thigh muscles.

-- Posted by Ducky on Fri, Sep 3, 2010, at 7:25 PM

These memories are from the era when our parents and grandparents were alive and our dolls were new! We lived each day with joy and innocence, never knowing that all this would one day be taken from us. No wonder we were happy!

-- Posted by goat lady on Sat, Sep 4, 2010, at 6:01 PM

goat lady - I look at my three year old granddaughter and find myself wishing her life could stay this carefree and happy.....You are so right - ignorance really is bliss when we are children.

-- Posted by cheers4dhs on Sat, Sep 4, 2010, at 8:00 PM

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Madeline DeJournett
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at advancensc@sbcglobal.net.
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