From the Relief Society Magazine, March 1950 –
The Hee-Haw Pony
by Florence Berrett Dunford
Everyone was frowning at Jinny that summer. This was not unusual, except that things seemed reaching some sort of a crisis. Father frowned at her because she couldn’t talk plain. Jinny was seven and big for her age, yet no one but mother could understand a thing she said.
Father said this was just a matter of opinion; that mother couldn’t really understand Jinny, but only got what she said by some sixth sense that only mothers have.
Nevertheless mother wasn’t worried about Jinny because she couldn’t talk plain. When father would make gibes – hoping to make Jinny try harder – or the other children teased her, mother would say calmly, “I had a sister who couldn’t talk plain until she was eight.” And let it go at that.
Mother worried about Jinny for quite a different reason. Jinny had red hair, and red hair was not a thing to be proud of in those days.
Mother did everything she could for Jinny – dressing her in greens and tans, washing and brushing her hair often. Yet all it did was seem to make it brighter. With her eighth birthday only ten months away, and Jinny’s hair getting more fiery every day, added to the fact that she had green eyes and a bridge of freckles across her snug nose – Jinny was quite a problem.
Yet Jinny couldn’t stop even there. She was beginning to make trouble in other ways. Mother was expecting a new baby, and I knew father worried for fear it wouldn’t talk plain. And every little while mother would sigh. And I knew she was being afraid the baby would have red hair.
I frowned on my younger sister, too, yet there was one thing we had in common. That was our adoration for our cousin, Theodore.
Theodore was fourteen, our Uncle Stanley’s oldest boy. Yet it was not his age that made him big in our sight. It was the fact that he had a pony. The pony’s name was Nig.
Once or twice a week that summer Theodore would condescend to visit us – his poorer cousins. He would ride over from their neighboring ranch, sit a while looking down at us from his superior position astride his pinto pony. When the time came to go, he would make some sign. Jinny, standing there on the ground, awe and adoration in her eyes, would say, “Hot’na Hindoo hee-haw pony.” At this the pony would prick up his ears, Theodore would give him a nudge with his heels – and off they’d go down the slope towards home.
This little ceremony had been going on all summer, until at last I had come to recognize the words, even though I could not guess their meaning …
On this day in late summer Theodore had not come solely to visit Jinny and me. He brought a message from his father.
In order to kind of ease the jolt if the baby couldn’t talk plain – and in case it had red hair, father was planning to build mother a new room. Uncle Stanley and Theodore had consented to come over and help him hew the trees.
After Theodore left I went towards the house to deliver his message. But Jinny’s silly phrase kept getting in my way. In the house I said, “Mother, what is it Jinny says when Theodore rides away on his pony?”
Mother was pretty; she had brown hair and eyes like mine. She pondered my question a minute and then said, “It must be, ‘There goes Theodore on his pony.’ Yes, of course,” she went on, smiling, “‘There goes Theodore on his pony.’”
I turned this over in my mind. It satisfied me and seemed to make sense. But when I started to go outside again, mother stopped me. “Why did you ask that?” she said, frowning. “Has Theodore been saying anything about Jinny’s hair?”
I couldn’t remember. “He brought a message,” I said. “Theodore and Uncle Stanley are coming in the morning to help father cut the trees for the extra room.”
Mother’s glance lightened. “That’s wonderful,” she said. But then she added, “Oh, dear, I wonder if that means Homer?”
In his way Homer was as much a problem as was Jinny. Theodore was fourteen, and I, Kathleen, was twelve; Homer was eight, a year older than Jinny.
Homer was one of those fat, helpless boys, who are always pitying themselves and falling. When bad luck came it always came to Homer. Misfortune chased him like a dog. It was our one hope on the day he visited us, that it would not catch up with him.
This was not often, for Homer never rode with Theodore on his pony. but sometimes when Uncle Stanley came over, he would bring Homer along. He would leave him in mother’s charge, and mother would immediately put him in mine. Then everyone would have to be on guard until Uncle Stanley picked him up and took him home again.
The sun was scarcely up the next morning when Uncle Stanley arrived in his wagon. In it were saws and axes – and as though he would exact payment for his work – Homer. Uncle Stanley jumped down from the tall seat and lifted Homer carefully down, set him carefully on his feet. Taking him by the hand, he led him to the house and with some instructions left him with mother.
Theodore rode over on his pony. He took the bridle off, gave Nig a little slap on his flanks, and turned him in the corral. Then he climbed in the back of the wagon, and the three men were off down to the east forty to hew trees.
As soon as they had gone, mother put Homer in my charge. But even this was not enough to take my mind off Theodore. Only two miles away, I thought yearningly, and I can’t see him. Even the fact that his pony was there didn’t help any. Theodore and his pony belonged together.
I hit on the idea that Jinny and Homer and I should lead the pony the two miles to where the menfolk were cutting down trees. “Then Theodore can ride back on his pony,” I told mother, “and Homer and Jinny and I can ride back on the wagon load of logs.”
At first mother couldn’t see the sense of this. But she wanted to sew on the little things, and since she would never let us see her – and we kept running in and out of the house, and the time was getting short – well, anyway, she finally changed her mind and let us go.
I caught the pony myself and mother put the bridle on. It didn’t even occur to us that any of us should ride him. He was Theodore’s pony.
Mother made sure I knew exactly where the menfolk were cutting down trees. “Down by the river on the east forty,” I said, lifting my chin importantly.
We started out about three o’clock when the sun was still high and hot. But once we were down the slope there was plenty of shade. There were tall trees like me, and short ones like Jinny; and there were slim trees like Theodore and fat ones like Homer. And most of them were covered with moss, and vines hung down like streamers.
I walked in the middle leading the pony, my mind filled with pictures of Theodore’s delight and surprise when he saw what I had brought him. Homer, the fat, unfortunate one, walked on my left, and Jinny, whom I couldn’t understand, on my right.
On the way Homer fell over various things. Once he skinned his nose and it took me a long time to find a stream in order to wipe the trickle of blood off. I could not bear his loud wails, and if I showed up with Homer bawling, I could expect something from my father.
It must have been around five o’clock when we reached the place where the menfolk should have been cutting trees. But they were not there now, and as I walked around the clearing, leading the pinto, I could not imagine which direction they might have taken. The hard grassy ground made it impossible to find any wagon tracks.
We had gotten along fairly well with Homer in spite of his falling and bawling. But now, when things looked black for us in other ways, he really hurt himself.
There were two stumps a short distance apart, over in the center of the clearing. Homer, it seems, had climbed up on one of these – just to get a clearer view, or perhaps to try and see our folks in the distance.
But, being Homer, he could not content himself with standing on one stump. He must try and jump over on the other one.
Suddenly there came a thud and a loud squall. The pony snorted and it was lucky I was even able to hold him. I looked over and saw Homer lying on the ground, writhing as if in agony, reaching for his left ankle. Gasping with excitement and worry, I gave the reins to Jinny and ran over.
For once I really felt sorry for him, though at the same time I could have shaken him for his carelessness. We were in a fix – what with the folks disappearing, and now Homer.
I leaned down and touched the injured ankle. It was curious but under my very eyes I could see it swell. It puffed and puffed right there before our eyes. Even Homer’s frightened and pained yells were quieted some by the phenomenon. When, at last, it was as big as it seemed it was going to get, it was the size of a small watermelon. And Homer could not move.
I looked around me, trying to think of a way out of our predicament. In the few minutes since our arrival, the sun had sunk behind the tall trees. It was already shadowy and cool, even in the clearing. A short distance away was the river; I could hear it rushing and gushing along. I had never heard such a chilling sound. I looked in the other direction. The woods stared back at me. For the first time I was aware there might be something in them besides birds and bees and butterflies. I shivered, and with an effort blinked back the smarting tears of fright and self-pity.
I looked down at Homer and then over at Jinny. There was no use in asking Jinny’s advice, I could not understand her. At the moment I felt only anger and contempt for her, helpless as I was with Homer, the blubberer, on my hands – and my sister, my own sister unable to help or make a single intelligible sound!
I said to Homer, my voice showing my disdain, “Jinny won’t be any help at all. I can’t understand a thing she says. You will just have to be patient and help me all you can.”
Homer nodded. He had ceased crying; the tears were dry on his fat cheeks. He realized now our problem was to get him out of there, and perhaps it occurred to him what might happen if he didn’t help. Being left alone while I went for aid would hurt him more than the pain. It was possible, too, that the swelling had numbed his ankle some.
Jinny was still holding Theodore’s pony. I think the idea must have come to all three of us at once – that here was the answer to our prayers. Homer was trying to sit up and Jinny was leading the pony toward us, jabbering something I could not understand.
“Oh, be quiet, Jinny,” I cried, “and let me think.” My eyes went round the clearing.
They came to rest on the very things that had caused the trouble – the two tree stumps. If we could get Homer up on one of the stumps, I reasoned, surely we could lug him the rest of the way onto the pony.
Jinny could understand, even if she could not be understood. She led the pony over between the stumps and held him, while I pulled Homer closer.
It would be, I could see, impossible for me to lift the fat one by myself alone. Taking a serious chance that the pony might break loose, I wrapped the reins around a stump. That left Jinny free to help.
Homer grunted and groaned and once or twice cried out with real pain, but we did not desist and at last we had him up on the stump.
The pony had been good, standing there very quietly and only once tossing his head. With Homer on the stump, and Jinny trying to hold him there. I hurried round to the other side. Climbing up on the stump there, I leaned over the pony’s back. Then, with Jinny boosting him from behind, and me tugging on his arms and shoulders, we at last got Homer astride the pony.
I was so exhausted and relieved that, in spite of being the eldest, I could not contain my emotions any longer and sank down on the stump for a moment. Covering my face with my hands, I cried a few drops. Then, tossing my head and smiling, I hurried round to the other side again.
I was only a matter of seconds untying the reins. “You hold on to Homer’s good ankle,” I told Jinny, in my customary disparaging tone, “and I will lead the pony.” I went to the pony’s head. “Come on, Nig.”
The pony did not move.
Growing excited, I jerked on the reins. “Come on, Nig!” Still, he did not move.
I forgot myself and screamed at Homer, “Kick him! Make him go!” But, though Homer tried to prod him with his good foot, the pony wouldn’t budge.
It was Homer himself who gave the explanation of this. “It’s Theodore’s pony,” he said, the tears making furrows down his cheeks again. “No one ever rides him but Theodore.”
At this expression of what I should have known – at what I did know, had I stopped to give it thought, all my courage left me. I stopped caring about what happened to Homer; I stopped caring about impressing him with my courage. I slumped down on the ground, and my sobs of fright and self-pity blended with those of Homer, then rose above them …
I had forgotten all about Jinny. Had the thought of my sister come into my mind, it would only have been to say – as I had heard my father say with a kind of chagrin and anger in his voice – “Well, now, what good is a girl you can’t understand?”
I was so put out, so frightened and weary after my exertions in getting Homer on the pony, that after my first wild sobs subsided, I just sat there numbly on the ground.
I scarcely paid any attention when I felt Jinny take the reins from my hands. In spite of the fact that she couldn’t talk, Jinny was always talking. This was one of the few times I had seen her silent. I could tell, too, by the excitement in her green eyes – by the way they blinked and danced, that she was going to try something. But, in my deep despair, I was too discouraged to prevent it. I just moved a little to one side and watched her.
Jinny took the reins and, climbing up on the stump, gave them to Homer. Then, climbing down, she took three or four steps and turned around. clasping her hands behind her, in the attitude I had seen her take so many times before, she looked up at Homer and said, awe and adoration in her voice, “Hot’na Hindoo hee-haw pony.”
Nothing happened. But sitting there on the ground I began to get my senses back. I called out, “Jinny, stop that nonsense.” and I scrambled to my feet.
Jinny paid no attention. She was repeating the silly phrase. “Hot’na Hindoo hee-haw pony.” This time she seemed to be speaking directly to the pony.
At this a peculiar thing happened. The pony pricked up his ears. He turned his head and looked at Jinny – exactly as though he understood her!
Homer seemed to be in on it, too. From somewhere he got the sense to nudge the pony with his good foot. Then, before my unbelieving eyes, the pony started up and moved down the trail toward home.
I stood there staring after them, tears of joy in my eyes. Then I turned to Jinny and said brokenly, “Hot’na Hindoo hee-haw pony.”
Realizing the words needed some explanation, I said, “There goes Theodore on his pony.” Then, really realizing, I grabbed Jinny and hugged her.
Back home again, with the folks already there, everything was excitement until Homer was made comfortable with pillows and hot packs. Then the attention turned to what Jinny had done.
Father looked at it the way I did. He pulled Jinny inside the curve of his arm, and said, his voice tender and not teasing. “Well, if it wasn’t my girl did it.” And he added something about if the pony could understand Jinny he guessed it wouldn’t be long before we could.
Mother was not impressed. “Of course,” she said, as though it was no more than she would have expected of Jinny. And I saw that her eyes were still clouded over by her old worry.
Uncle Stanley spoke for the first time. “I was reading the other day,” he said, in his most impressive manner, “where red hair is considered very popular for girls.”
Then everyone smiled at Jinny.
All but Theodore. He smiled at me.