For weeks now I have been blogging and composing essays that are full of doom and gloom, so it is time to tell a story that is filled with love, happy days and a more gentile life.
Back in about 1938 there was a 6 year old boy by the name of Bobby who lived with his parents on the far north-side of Chicago. Occasionally, they would drive all the way down Western Avenue dodging the street-cars and finally emerging in the farmlands enroute to Bobby’s Uncle Harry’s farm. You must remember that there were no expressways or divided highways, so the trip of about 70 miles took over three hours. In the summertime the Pontiac Chieftain was boiling without any air-conditioning and in the winter Bobby bundled up in a heavy lap-robe to keep warm.
The occasional trips were great adventures for Bobby, who was an only child and lived in an apartment building in the city. Uncle Harry’s farm had dogs, cats, chickens, goats, sheep, cattle and a huge assortment of exciting things to do. By the end of the day, Bobby frequently would sleep all the way back to the city, because he just ran out of gas.
Uncle Harry and his wife Mabel were wonderful people and welcomed company to their rural lifestyle. Bobby’s Mother’s parents lived close-by on another farm and Mother’s sisters and their boyfriends gathered at Uncle Harry’s frequently. Harry and Mabel lived a quiet life and Uncle Harry was the first handicapped individual Bobby had ever met. When Harry was a young man, he fell off a horse or wagon and badly broke his leg. With somewhat limited medical facilities on the farm, Uncle Harry’s leg became infected and it became necessary to amputate it entirely. Uncle Harry never complained, but he limped badly on a stiff artificial limb.
With his limited mobility, Uncle Harry leased his farmland, but developed a very successful business of breeding, raising, training and showing Shetland Ponies. As a matter of fact, he had pictures of him driving a hackney rig with his Grand National Champion Pony, Black Patent.
One day, Uncle Harry took Bobby out to the barn and showed him a new young beautiful Shetland pony named Tony. After feeding Tony some carrots and lumps of sugar, Uncle Harry asked Bobby if he would like to have Tony as a gift from him and his wife. Excitedly, Bobby ran across the barn yard to his parents who after some slight period of consideration gave their approval. Bobby was ecstatic with joy and almost wet his pants.
From that day forward, Bobby wanted to go to the farm every weekend, but that was impossible. His Father had responsibilities with his week day job at the steel mill and many weekends were occupied by his position as a Captain of the 122nd Mounted Field Artillery Regiment of the Illinois National Guard’s 33rd Division. Bobby’s Father was an excellent horseman and owned a gorgeous Arabian Thoroughbred horse that was stabled at the Armory just east of the Water Tower on Chicago Avenue.
Shortly after receiving the gift of Tony, Bobby’s Father took him to a wondrous harness shop near Lincoln Park and bought him riding britches, shiny brown leather riding boots and his own riding crop. He was a vision in that little outfit.
One weekend, Bobby’s best friend in the world Buddy Johnson and his parents, Gladys and Don, joined everyone at the farm. Bobby and Buddy spent the entire day riding Tony in the woods exploring for Indian Arrowheads, which were abundant near the last camping site of the Pottawatomie Indians. The boys announced that they would buy a big farm someday, but no girls were welcome, except their Mothers, who would do the cooking. Those were wondrous days in the life of the boys and their families.
Digressing, several years later, Bobby lost his best friend Buddy in a tragic airplane crash. Buddy was a young Marine jet pilot and he experienced a flame-out returning to Pensacola Naval Air Station and crashed short of the runway. From that day forward, Buddy’s great dad, Don, never worked another day and walked through life like a zombie.
Returning to those early visits to the farm, it became necessary to find a new home for Tony, because Uncle Harry was retiring. It was decided that Tony had to be moved to the Grandparent’s farm some two or three miles away. No one had a truck or trailer so Bobby’s Father had to put Tony in the back of the Pontiac Chieftain for the journey. No one can remember just how Bobby’s Father was convinced to attempt this tricky journey.
With Tony positioned standing on the floor of the back seat they took off on the gravel road to Grandparent’s farm. That was the very first time that Bobby heard his Father utter a swear word when he announced to his wife…”If that Dam pony craps in this car I think I might kill him” and Bobby immediately began to hug and pet Tony saying, “Oh Tony, please don’t go pee pee in Daddy’s car.” With wide eyes and his ears forward Tony was clearly scared stiff and Bobby kept pleading throughout the journey. Bobby’s Mother sitting in the front seat pulled down on her hat separating the brim from the crown.
Somehow the transfer was accomplished. Pulling into the yard of Bobby’s Grandparent’s farm they were waiting with expressions of grave concern. Bobby’s Father opened the door of the Pontiac and Tony sprang out and ran like a bat out of hell while exploding both #1 and #2 all over the yard. Everyone became hysterical and Bobby chased down Tony and hugged him excitedly.
Shortly thereafter, world events took priority with Bobby’s Father’s time at work and with the National Guard. The latter was about to be federally activated for World War II, so it was decided that wondrous Tony would have to be sold. Bobby was crushed, because he loved Tony more than anything else in the whole wide world.
By this time, I am sure that you have figured out just who Bobby was…Bobby was me… COMMANDER GRANGER. As I was completing this piece, I closed my eyes and clearly saw my Mother and Father in living color standing in the barn yard laughing as I chased my dear Tony. Now, after more than seventy years, and five major wars, I still remember vividly minute details of my days with Tony and the great love that abounded in the family. It was a different time, a more gentle time, and a way of life that I wish we could all recapture. A tear comes to my eyes when I think about those grand, happy days that can never be recaptured, only remembered and cherished.