Fifty-five years plus later, and I still smile when I think about that jingle. Just that tiny little jingle No matter how loud the outdoor noise on top of the indoor noise would be, whether windows opened or windows closed, I could still hear that little jingle. A unique sound. The sleigh bell sound. That jingle.
It’s not like that jingle was heard often in my world. In fact, it might have been at most twice a year. Mid-summer? Early fall? My memory well eludes me in the timing area. From ages 5 to ten, I may have been lucky to hear it a total of ten times. But its sound is still clear to me. The sleigh bell sound. That jingle.
If I heard that jingle after dinner, there was no need for action. At that time of day, I was up against my dad, who had been hard at work, had now arrived at home, and was either engaged in some routine suburban house chore or sitting in his designated chair reading the newspaper and watching television. Either way, he would have a great big do not disturb look all over his face.
If I heard that jingle near breakfast time, I was at battle with my mom who spent each morning, all morning, cleaning, cooking, and tending to me and the rest of the siblings. And I knew that there was no stopping a stay-at-home mom on a mission towards home life perfection. A lost cause.
But, if I heard that jingle in the afternoon, on a calm day, with no over-arching schedule, I was in luck. For with no barriers like church or school or chores, and if the tenor of the house was on the happy positive side rather than the trouble’s brewing side, my chance of answering the jingle’s call was, . . . well . . . probable.
That unique sound, that sleigh bell sound, that jingle was ever-so-connected to what I fondly call . . . the pony man.
From the eyes of a youngster, the pony man was a guy and his horse who trotted down my street every so often. The horse pulled a small cart full of pony props (hats, boots, spurs, bandanas, big buckle belts, chaps, and more) and as the pony man and his steed clopped along, the bells on the pony’s bridle would jingle. Hearing the jingle, I knew that I only had a few moments to convince my mom to pay the pony man enough money so that I could ride that horse.
The pony man didn’t say much to hawk his services. He didn’t have to. If I heard the jingle, ran outside, saw the horse, had the money, I could go for a ride. Simple. And every so often, my mom was agreeable. Horse and cart would stop on my suburban front lawn and pony rides would ensue. What felt like a full afternoon of pony-riding was probably much closer to less than thirty minutes. But what a great thirty minutes.
To any child not yet into double digit ages, pony riding down the street on a summer afternoon was a glorious event. I became a rough and tumble, adventurous horse woman for just a few minutes. It gave me the opportunity to live what I may have only read about in books. I was learning how to live the dream on horseback in my front yard.
Years later, my mother and I spoke fondly about the pony man. And she shared with me more of the realistic side of the pony man, a guy very hard on his luck, who needed a way to earn some money. He used the resources he had available to him to the benefit of all. He may or may not have had a bit of trouble with the law, as my mother would say. A traditional career at that point was a hurdle too difficult to overcome.
So, he made his way up and down nearby streets seeking business much like the ice cream truck, milk truck, and dry cleaner van did. For a small cost, he would entertain and enchant riders and provide parents with a wonderful photo op. His costs – nominal. His customer base – phenomenal. It was a win-win for everyone involved.
Fast forward to today’s world and I am not sure that the pony man would be as welcomed or as revered.
As naive as I like to believe myself to be, I have acquired a level of fear of the unknown that isn’t always healthy or useful. I wonder whether I would openly welcome a strange man walking a horse down my street to stop at my yard. I wonder if I would willingly place my child or my grandchildren on the back of a pony and watch them trot off gleefully.
Would I graciously pay the pony man too much money for his service, knowing that he may have a past that prevents him from obtaining a job elsewhere? Would I step up or shy away?
Something as simple as the pony man memory has given me pause. I have thought dearly about my line of demarcation. How do I make the call to be trustful, to live the good life of a naive yet savvy resident, to be understanding of the hardships and trials of others while maintaining what Robert Frost may have called good fences? I want so badly for there to be a rule book that I can thumb through that gives me an explicit code on situations like the pony man.
But there is not.
Oddly enough, a couple days ago, I saw a man riding a horse at the end of my street – something of an oddity in my neck of the woods, but not totally surprising. I was secretly hoping it was a pony man, but unfortunately, I knew both the owner and the horse. And there was no sleigh bells. No jingle.
But if there had been, I’m pretty sure that I would have an updated pony man photo. At least I hope I would.