One smile that will never be forgotten


When I sat down at my desk today, I knew I had better be thinking of something to write about. That’s when I noticed a stack of papers that needed to be put where they belong. On top of the stack was one of the articles I had written back in October of 2016. And after noticing the year, I looked at the title and saw the words: “James and His Pretend Horse,” and I immediately sat down and read the entire article. That’s when I decided to use at least parts of this story again.

It’s been a very long time since 2016. His name is James. Not Jim or Jimmy, just James. He was a little 9-year-old boy when we met him back in 1983 while George was racing at the Hilliard fair. We were stabled across the aisle from his dad’s racehorse. James had a smile that went across his entire face. He asked us a lot of questions and ended up going to the grandstand to sit with me to watch the races that whole evening. I never forgot what a delightful little boy he was.

Time went on and soon a year had passed, and we were on our way back to race at Hilliard again. I wondered when we got there if we would see him again. There was no sign of him, but he found me and sat down beside me and had that same big smile on his face. He was now 10 years old. He said he was hungry and hadn’t had anything to eat all day. So I gave him some money, and he got a sandwich and coke. He was cheering for George to win his race, but no such luck. It was then that he told me he lived in one room at a motel with four siblings and his mother and stepfather. He asked me if he could go home with us because he figured out that we would both be back the next evening to race again. So, we asked his dad and he said he could go. When we got the horses loaded, he wanted to sit in the front seat where he could ask George all kinds of questions pertaining to racing.

One had to do with how much it costs for gas to have his truck pull a horse trailer with three horses inside. I saw him carrying a pile of horse blankets that were bigger than he was. When we got to our house, he was amazed that we had so many rooms. He thought that each door led to someone else’s home. He liked sleeping in a room with a big open window and said it was like sleeping in a tree.

As soon as we got back to the racetrack the next day, he told us about his “Pretend Horse.” He said her name was “Annie” and that he had put her in the stall next to our horse. When James brought out his pretend horse, I could almost believe him. He had his arm up high over his head which would be in proportion to the height, he would have to hold it, if it were a real horse. He proceeded to put a blanket on her. He told me that the blanket was blue. We have never forgotten about “Annie.”

Being it was 1984 when all this happened, we found a “computerized picture-taking machine” on the midway. The sign said the pictures would be $1, so I got a picture taken of James. It was all dots, but a wonderful likeness of him. Then we ran for the grandstand for George’s race. This time he won, and we ran down to get in the win picture.

The next summer we brought him home with us from the Hilliard fair to stay for three weeks. All he brought with him was a change of underclothes, a coke and a Bible. A friend of ours gave him some clothes that her son had outgrown that were a lucky fit. During those three weeks, he got to go to the zoo, go fishing, ride horses, drive the tractor all around the farm and helped make hay. He never went to sleep any night until midnight. The only noise we ever heard from his room was the turning of the pages in his Bible.

On the last day before he left, he took my tape recorder upstairs and made a cassette of him singing Christmas songs so that I could listen to them at Christmas when he couldn’t be here.

James is in his 50s now and lives in Florida. He has done very well for himself. He has some of his family living with him because he has his own home and a good job. He has often thanked us for the good time during those summer days with us at our farm. He told us that he wants to help other kids that need some of what he experienced with us when he was a little boy. I will be sending a copy of this to him and when he reads it, I hope it makes him smile!

Kay E. Conklin is a retired Delaware County recorder who served four terms. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a degree in sociology and anthropology.

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