Tom Mix, my all-time hero, lifted me up and sat me on Tony.
The year was 1932; the country, like most of the world, was in the depths of the Depression. I was seven years old. My brush with history began one day when I heard my dad call my name as he burst through the back door. I thought, What have I done now? But when I saw his face, I knew he was not angry but very excited and even happy. My dad had not been happy in a long time.
We were living then in a big, rundown Victorian house near an old racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky. The track was no longer used for racing but was maintained for training, and its barns were kept for horses from Churchill Downs. My dad had lost his factory job a year before and had finally found a job doing odd jobs at the track. He would clean stalls or walk the horses after their morning workouts.
“Come quick,” he yelled. “I want you to go with me up to the track.” This was surely something special; he never allowed me near the barn area with its rough men and rough talk.
Dad walked so fast I had to run to keep up with him. As we neared one of the old barns, he turned toward me, smiled, and pushed me in front of him. I pushed the door open. The only light in the barn came from a long row of small, bare, dirty light bulbs high in the rafters.
I couldn’t imagine what could be in there that had my dad so excited. As my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I saw at the far end of the runway between the two rows of stalls a big white horse with several men gathered around. One of the men was wearing a large cowboy hat. He turned toward me with a broad smile on his face. My heart stopped beating.
Could this really be happening to me? Would I next hear my mother’s voice calling me to wake up for school? I actually prayed: “If this is a dream, please, God, let me finish it.” The cowboy extended his hand to me, and I actually shook hands with Tom Mix, my all-time hero. He lifted me up and sat me on Tony. This had to be a dream.
When I returned to school on Monday, my excitement had abated only a little. When I told of my great adventure, I was crushed. The kids did not believe me. Some things are just too much to comprehend.