Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Rocking Horse and the End of the World

As the Mayan doomsday approaches, I thought I would dust off this true story, one of my favorites from the old-format FLIP , from 2007. -Steve

by Nancy Beiman


We were living in a 1900 house that had splendid quartersawn oak floors with the planks laid in a herringbone pattern whose texture I can still feel. I loved to run my hands along the colorful shadow cast on the living room floor by the small stained glass window in the sun room.

There wasn't much of anything else to play with since my father's salary as a music teacher in the local high school was just enough to get us into an apartment in this once-elegant neighbourhood (Dad told me later that "I knew it was going downhill since I could afford to live there.") The elegance did not extend to the heat - there wasn't any. The twisted radiators produced nothing but noise, vibrations, and the rumor of monsters in the basement. We had frost inside the windows. So, at age five, I was an expert at getting dressed under the heavy blankets in the bedroom I shared with my three year old sister, Paula.

Imagine, then, the sensation when Dad brought home a rocking horse - a magnificent creature, molded in finest plastic, mounted on springs that attached to a cruciform metal frame. It had a wild eye and a beautifully sculpted head. The springs made a crinking sound when you rode it. A glorious horse, and purchased amonth before Chanukah! But my sister and I were too small to question why.

Dad and Mom had the television set going night and day, which was unusual. Normally the black- and-white set was only used for a few selected shows. We girls, usually allowed to watch a few shows like the Flintstones, or Bugs Bunny, were not allowed to watch our shows. The news seemed to be on all the time.

I remember a man standing gravely before a screen with a white pointer, indicating round things on a map. I was told this was the President. I vaguely knew who President Kennedy was since I had a small lenticular ring that I got from a gumball machine. It morphed from a picture of him to our flag. Paula was too young to know who he was, and neither of us understood why our parents seemed frightened.

So we rode the rocking horse. I soon discovered that if I pulled up on the wooden handles on either side of the horse's head at the top of the arc, the entire frame would jump forward, and the horse would 'walk' across the living room floor. This was quickly stopped by my father, who angrily told me he could not hear the news, and the floors would also be marked, leading to trouble with the landlady. I toned things down but nothing could be done about the squeaking springs or the cries of my sister that it was now her turn.

The Cuban Missile Crisis did not mushroom into war. We kept the rocking horse until we were too large to ride it any more. Dad told me, years later, that he bought that horse a month before Chanukah for fear that we might not survive until the holiday. He spent half his salary for it.

Years later a friend found the same model--perhaps the same horse-- in a flea market, and bought it. Time had dulled its plastic sheen and it seemed so small and faraway, in more ways than one.

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