Some of my earliest memories were on Rocky. I’d sit under his belly, knees to my chest and holding my toes, laughing as my brother or my sister rocked and rocked above me. I’d have my father lift me up and place me in the saddle and I loved the swooping arc and creaking wood as I rocked back and forth. Sometimes I’d sit behind my brother or sister and wrap my arms around their waists, then scream with glee as Rocky rose and dipped deeply. As I grew older, I fell in love with horses of the flesh and blood variety. Day in and day out I’d beg and reason with my parents about why a horse would be a great investment (I remember free lawn maintenance being my favorite argument), and when I wasn’t pleading for a pony, I was pretending my wooden rocking horse was the real thing. With Rocky standing almost six feet tall, I didn’t have to push my imagination too far. I brushed his mane and tail to frizzy oblivion, kissed his nose, and fed him imaginary carrots.
My mother finally signed me up for riding lessons. I learned to walk, trot, and canter on a fat honey colored horse named Hank. I learned to sail over jumps and experienced my first fall off of a pony named Snowbear. Through it all, I’d come home to Rocky. I climbed up, hugged his neck, and buried my face in his wooly mane. Then I sat up and practiced everything I’d learned in my lessons: posting, two-point, picking up the correct lead. I imagined I was jumping over fences or galloping across fields as I rocked back and forth and listened to Rocky creak and groan. I could focus on the correct position of my legs or holding the reins just right because Rocky’s gait was steady and predictable: he wasn’t going anywhere.
It turns out, I was one of the lucky girls who really did get to enjoy her very own real live horse– a bay mare named Missy who, to my joy and my parents’ shock, ended up being pregnant with a gorgeous filly. A baby horse, just my size… it was every little girl’s dream come true. I spent more of my days at the barn with my two horses and I quickly outgrew my steady friend at home. He stood aside quietly for years as my family hustled in and out of the house, and little by little he was mostly forgotten by the children that had grown up climbing all over him… but still no one was willing to let him go. We found other uses for him. Where children used to hang from his neck and back, laundry and blankets rested instead. He sat there quietly and unobtrusively day in and day out while my family experienced incredible joys and the blackest grief. When I entered high school, my family sold our horses (our real ones), and I switched my focus to friends, boys, and getting into college. Even though I’d go years without giving him a second thought, every now and then when I came home from college I’d swing my leg over the little stuffed leather saddle, pull myself up onto Rocky’s back and just sit there remembering when I was a little girl playing with my brother and sister, braiding his tail or fighting over who got to ride up top next. Rocky survived 25 years, three moves, and one tornado. He’s in the background of countless photos and memories.
In two weeks my parents are moving to Bluffton, South Carolina into a little house on a lagoon where alligators swim, twenty minutes away from Hilton Head Island (in short, they’ve lost their minds). Three weeks ago they’d never even been to Hilton Head, that I can recall; yet, in that time frame they’ve visited twice, bought a house, and put our Atlanta home up for sale. They called me home to collect the things I wanted and tomorrow the movers will arrive at my apartment door with the bedroom suite from my old room. Though I’ve lived in this city for the better part of six years now, starting tomorrow Birmingham is truly my home. Everyday my parents call asking do you want this, do want that? When the matter of what to do with Rocky came up, I asked my parents to keep him but couldn’t give them a good reason why. I can’t take Rocky because I have no room or use for him… but for my sister and my parents, it’s the same thing. For the first time in 25 years, no one has a use for a life-sized rocking horse.
We’ve discussed taking him apart and storing him in the attic or letting him sit on my parents’ back porch, but it’s become abundantly clear that Rocky has to go. I can say goodbye to the city I grew up in and the big brick house I’ve lived in the past ten years. I can deal with the knowledge that some of my miscellaneous belongings are now sitting on shelves in a Goodwill store, and I can even accept that I may have said my last goodbye to my faithful 14-year-old barn dog. But somehow all that loss has poured itself into a large wooden horse with two button eyes and one blue marble stuck into one of the boards under his belly. He’s my childhood and I don’t really want to say goodbye.