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My Destiny

August 29, 2010

This story was shortlisted in the 2009 Creative Keyboards contest sponsored by the Hamilton Arts Council. ©Margo Karolyi, 2009

Old Carousel Horse

My Destiny

My Destiny. I don’t recall knowingly christening him with the name. Yet I know that that is his name, and that I am the one who chose it, all those years ago.  I stare at him now – a rather sad-looking, old wooden carousel horse, his paint faded, his nose split, his tail missing, cracks here and there on his body, and a hole the size of a golf ball in his left rear flank.  Somehow, he simply became My Destiny.

I found him, lonely and neglected, in 1973. I was coming home from a visit to my parents when I spied an “Estate Sale” sign in front of an old farmhouse. I normally wouldn’t have stopped – it was late in the day, and I was tired – but something drew me down that driveway.  The couple conducting the sale – the grandchildren, presumably, of the man who had owned the farm and accumulated the decades of “junk” they were now trying to sell – were obviously drained and ready to call it a day by the time I pulled in. They viewed the few stragglers rummaging through the items on the tables, and wandering between the house and the barn, with a weary look.  But, still, I parked the truck, got out, and strolled toward the barn.

I don’t quite know what drew me into the dilapidated old building, or why I wandered all the way to the back, when it looked like all that was there were some old barn boards and rusty farm implements. But as my eyes adjusted to the dimness inside, a small beam of late afternoon sunlight slivered through the boards on the back wall and illuminated what appeared to be a wooden horse’s head.  I edged past the piles of wood and metal to take a closer look.

I was stunned and thrilled by what I found! Although slightly battered and worn, it appeared to be an authentic antique carousel horse. At least five feet tall at the head, and as long in the body, it had extremely realistic features. It bore no price tag, but the sign out front had said “Everything for Sale”, so I scrambled back out of the barn to inquire about purchasing it. Trying to keep my excitement under control, lest someone notice and decide to investigate the barn’s contents for themselves, I sought out the young couple and asked them to name their price.

“Carousel horse?” The young woman seemed bewildered.  “I have no idea …” Her voice trailed off and she turned to her husband. He looked equally perplexed, but agreed to follow me to the barn to look at the old wooden horse leaning precariously against the back wall.

“I don’t know,” he said to my repeated inquiry about a price. “Fifty dollars?”

I choked back a yelp – it had to be worth at least ten times that!!!! The young man must have mistaken my gasp as an indication that the price he’d quoted was too high, for he quickly offered, “Thirty–five, then?”

I nodded, too stunned at my luck to say or do anything else. I dug the money out of my wallet and handed it to him.  He pocketed the bills and then graciously offered to help me stow my purchase in the back of my pick-up truck. I got the feeling he thought he’d made the sale of the day! Certainly, in the waning light, the old horse looked even less attractive than it had in the darkness of the barn.  But I knew a rare find when I found one – and this was an exceptional discovery!

Soon afterwards, I shifted my thinking from “it” to “him”, and – without consciously being aware of it – started calling him My Destiny.  Perhaps it was destiny that drew me to the sale, destiny that made me wander to the very back of the dank-smelling old barn, destiny that made me squint through the dust and dirt to see what was hidden there in the shadows. In any case, he simply became My Destiny.

I spent the majority of that summer working tirelessly to bring him back to (at least some of) his former glory. I painstakingly cleaned away years of dust and grime and surface mould, and scraped off bits of rubber and old leather that had been glued on to resemble a bridle and harness. I spent hours in the library, searching for information on restoring old carousel horses (of which there was very little; most of what I found referenced methods of restoring antique wood furniture, but at least it was a start), as well as trying to find any pictures of My Destiny,  or other carousel horses of similar design.

The highlight of my summer came in late August, when I found a picture of an almost-identical horse in one of the few books the Library had on the subject.  In all likelihood, My Destiny had been carved by Charles Carmel, one of the famous “Coney Island” carvers of the early 1900s. So rare and valued were his horses that it would have been almost impossible to source and buy an original Carmel carousel animal. And I had quite literally stumbled upon one! It was My Destiny!

By the time I returned to my teaching job in September, I had My Destiny in a fit-enough condition to bring him in from his “recovery home” in the shed out back to the house. A Royal Stander, he took pride of place in my living room – one leg raised, the other three firmly supporting him, his proud head tossing his carved, flowing mane across his broad neck. My husband thought him ugly – with his faded, chipped and peeling paint, his scarred body, and his lolling tongue – but I thought he was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen, or owned.  I planned to continue his restoration the following summer. It was, I considered, My Destiny.

But by the summer of 1974, I was pregnant with my first child, and unwilling to risk working with the paint stripper and other chemicals required for his make-over.  I told myself that his restoration would continue when I had “more time”.

My first son was born in early 1975. A daughter followed in the summer of 1979, and a second boy arrived late in 1982.  I took time off from teaching to stay home with them, and during their early years, My Destiny was often part of their world of imaginative play.  While the children always understood that they couldn’t climb or sit on him, they would sometimes pretend that he was a magic horse with mystical powers, or the valiant steed of a make-believe heroic friend.  He occasionally wore a flowing cape fashioned from an old blanket, protected a small army of plastic soldiers, or stood guard over Barbie and her friends at tea. My husband still called him an ugly beast, but the children accepted and understood that there was something very special about the battered old wooden stallion.

By the time the children reached their teens, My Destiny had been nicknamed “My Dust-a-me”– a play on words related to their responsibility for keeping him dust-free as he languished in the living room. Then, for almost eight months in 1991, he was covered by a heavy wool blanket to keep the newest member of our household – a calico kitten named “Catikins” – from using him as a scratching post.  Fortunately she soon lost interest in him, and the blanket was removed. 

But the old horse in the corner gradually became just another piece of furniture in a house filled with people and activities that demanded my time and drained my energy. I always seemed to have “more important things to do” than complete his restoration.  The years passed, and My Destiny and I both grew a little older, a little more neglected, and a little more tired-looking.

It’s been over thirty years since I discovered My Destiny in that old barn. The children are grown and gone, although they – and my daughter’s son – my grandson – visit regularly. My marriage ended, fairly amicably, seven years ago, after my youngest son left home and my husband and I realized we had nothing in common any more.

I retired from teaching last year, and have since moved to a small house in the country, surrounded by almost two acres of woodlot and several screaming peacocks in an enclosure out back. Life is calmer, and I am more settled than I have ever been.  I now have time on my hands. Time for myself, and time for My Destiny.

I sip my coffee and regard the old wooden horse standing in front of me. His head is tilted slightly, his tongue hanging out of his mouth, his dark eye regarding me earnestly.  It is as if he is saying, “It’s time.” And he is right. It is, after all, My Destiny.

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