She couldn't have been more than nine. Just a little slip of a thing with chocolate braids and scuffed knees. We cannot know for sure if she was sweet but her pictures show her smilingly cute. It is probably safe to assume a certain measure of sugar as all the little bees came buzzing....
Her family loved to camp. Yosemite was the place to be in 1940. Bring the family to the wilds of nature. Lots of families joined in. Campfires and hiking and fishing and swimming. And pony rides. If you had the money. She didn't. Her daddy was a preacher and with the title came nothing. No big salary. If you were a traveling preacher you got your dinner provided after meeting. Maybe a bag of apples to take home. Always there was enough food but not much else.
Poor for the Lord. Nothing extra. Certainly not pony rides.
She never even asked. It was enough for her to watch the ponies. She would lean on the fence and smile and wave as each pony clopped by her. She didn't wave to the riders. Not because she was jealous. No, the riders didn't even matter. All she could see were the ponies. She waved to them and smiled friendship smiles into their beautiful faces. Every so often a pony would toss his head and she felt honored by his acknowledgement of her. His soft eyes would reflect her admiration. Her heart would swell again with every pass. They shared that bond that little girls and ponies share. They understood each other. Friendship and devotion. And that was enough.
Sometimes she would see an empty saddle and there is where she would dream. She'd sigh as she watched that pony trot all the way around the circle. This was her ride. Her time to believe all the little girl longings for freedom. She could imagine the wind in her hair as she floated through the air on her noble steed. She knew without a doubt that life was best when lived atop a pony. She would watch and hardly dare to blink. And she would smile and sigh again.
If given the chance, she would stand this way for hours. Her friends always knew where to find her. They looked for her there when their camp chores were done and it was time to play. They liked playing with her. She was quick to smile and always ready for a laugh. Not too prissy. One of the boys except for the braids. She could climb trees quicker than a squirrel. Probably because she was so little. She could skip rocks and catch bugs. And she could belch. Oh, she was fun.
The boys would gather round her as she stood beside the pony pen. She would grin at them as they ran up with their dust cloud billowing around them. She enjoyed their rowdy camaraderie. A few more minutes, boys. Just a few more minutes. They knew that they could tease her away but they didn't usually have the heart. If they waited just a bit the ride would shut down to give the ponies a rest and then she would wholeheartedly join their camp games. So they did wait. All arms and legs threaded through the bars of the fence. Shoelaces dangling while feet swung back and forth and back and forth. One would inevitably sit on top of the fence and would inevitably, but of course accidentally, get pushed off. They would tussle and they would wait for her. She was worth it.
She had come to expect these gatherings. Wherever she was, she was not alone for long. That pleased her. She liked sharing her happiness with her friends. She knew they liked the ponies. Clapping and whistling, the boys would take turns
standing beside her to point out their favorite pony or to giggle at
some rider. A pleasant daily routine.
It took her by surprise the day that no one came to join her beside her ponies. She wondered where they had gotten to. Oh well. She missed them but was quite content to stay right here.
They weren't far away. Those boys. The thing she didn't know was that they were all gathered without her. Clustered back amongst the trees just out of sight, they whispered as they offered up their grubby paws and clinked their coins together in one happy little pile. They had been planning this all morning long. Nobody knowing or caring who first had thought the thought. They put together what each one had to please their friend. Ten cents. All counted up. Just the right amount for one pony ride. Exactly enough to bring a smile.
It must have been funny to see them trudging up behind her. Not one boisterous group but a bashful line of fellows not quite sure what to do with their grins. A tap on her shoulder startles her. She didn't even know they were there. She turns around a little puzzled but soon enough she sees why they are acting all so strange. They give their gift without a word and silently stand guard as she smiles and steps through the gate.
She remembered that gift for the rest of her life. Each time told reliving the thoughtfulness of her sweet companions. They waved to her from the fence. And hollered. And clapped. Her sweetness rubbing off on them. Their sweetness impacting her, forever.