The first one we looked at was out back of a sawmill, a little old Albino Shetland with splayed legs and a gait like a dying ewe. Even at $15, it would have been a sorry present for a boy expecting a stallion. Son of Fury or nothing. We passed on the faded Shetland and stepped up the search.
There were a lot of pony inspections in those days. We would get in the car and drive 30 miles, expectant and happy, always to find what looked like a big, mangy, barely breathing dog. "My kids sure had a good time with him," owner after owner would tell me and " 'Course, the kids're all growed up now."
Our best bet, we ultimately were told, would be the livestock auction in Gainesville, 20 miles from our town. My wife met an old man there whose face, she said, could have outlived a dozen bodies. He told her, "Pistol got a pony for sale." The man's full name was Pistol Gaydon. He was tall, rough, grizzled and a marksman at tobacco spitting. My wife made the trip to Pistol's farm and she called to say she had the perfect find, a sturdy Welsh gelding for $25. "He is beautiful," she said.
She fetched him home with the help of a friend and tied him to the porch of a neighbor's house a mile down the road. It was still seven days before it was time to give the boy his pony. Each morning for four days my wife went down and fed him hay, sweet feed and water.
On the fifth day she found that he had chewed through his rope and was loose. She had to search for half an hour before finding him. He was trying to nose into a chicken house. She called me and said she would be coming back down the road with the pony, and I quickly got the boy interested in shooting his slingshot deep in the woods. Meanwhile, she bridled the pony and led him past the house and up to Mac's place. Mac is a large man with a great belly who lives over the ridge back of us. He is my friend. She left him inside Mac's fence for the night. We would have to continue the subterfuge only one more day, then we could unveil the gift. The telephone rang shortly after daylight the next morning. "Hey," Mac said, "has your horse been eating green grass?"
"No," I said. "Not that I know of."
"Has he had anything he's not used to?"
"He might have gotten some chicken feed yesterday," I said.
"You better come quick," Mac shouted into the phone.
My neighbor had gotten up at 6 a.m. and looked out the window to check on the pony. The pony had been down, rolling on his back, and he had worked himself halfway under the bed of Mac's truck. There was a hard frost on the ground but Mac rushed out in his undershorts and got the pony on its feet. He was leading the pony round and round his house when I got there. Mac was blue-lipped and barefooted.