It was taken in the spring of 1956 when my family lived in Hammond, Ind.
When the bottom fell out of the job market here in Alabama in the mid 1950s, we moved up north so my dad could find a job in one of the factories or foundries near Chicago.
There’s a lot of my childhood that’s as fuzzy as an angora sweater, but I remember the day the pony picture was taken.
The weather was unseasonably warm and as always, I was playing in the side yard that was not much bigger than our dinner table.
I heard a strange sound off in the distance, and when I walked to the edge of the yard to peer down the sidewalk, I saw a man clomping down the street with a pony.
It was all I could do to keep from bolting down the street to greet them, but that would have been unwise, as my mama took a dim view of me leaving the yard without grownup supervision.
But I kept my eye on them as they inched toward our house.
When they finally arrived, I saw that the pony was the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen.
It was brown as a Hershey bar, with a golden mane that flowed down its long neck. It had sad eyes, but he seemed to cheer up noticeably when I walked over to pet his muzzle. The leather and the hair of that pony had an earthy smell that seemed as old as time.
The saddle was a work of art, with braided leather and silver fastenings that sparkled in the sunlight.
The man was carrying an old camera as big as a microwave that was attached to a tripod.
He placed the camera on the ground and reached into his hip pocket, pulling out a handkerchief to wipe sweat from his brow.
He asked if I’d like to have my picture taken on the pony. I was about to try and climb on when he said, “Whoa cowboy, you’ll need to make sure it’s alright with your mama.”
I hustled in the house and dragged my mom outside to see that beautiful creature. I was jabbering so fast that I’m sure she had no idea what to expect when she walked outside.
My mom was not an animal lover, but I could tell by the look on her face she thought the pony was pretty too.
The man stepped over and explained that he was taking pony pictures with local kids, and that for a few dollars, I could have my photo taken too.
It seems that money was always tight when we were growing up, but Mama must have felt that a picture of me on that pony was worth it.
The man reached in his bag and pulled out a cowboy hat and some leather leggings for me to put on, then helped boost me up in the saddle.
I felt like the TV cowboy Roy Rogers sitting on that pony. The man leveled the tripod and then ducked under a black blanket attached to the camera where he loaded the film and clicked a photograph. He repeated the loading and shooting a few times before packing everything up.
A few weeks later he came back without the pony to deliver the photograph. It’s funny how memories are made. I’m not sure how much he charged for that picture, but I’m so thankful he didn’t charge what it was really worth.