When I was a girl, my favorite things were kept in an old shoe box, mostly filled with assorted plastic, rubber and glass miniature horses. Each one of them had a particular name and personality. “Old Charlie” the rubber plow horse, crippled in a tractor accident, was the peace-maker. “Leona” the white Tennessee Walker with the black flowing mane, was proud and aloof, and so on. I passed many hot, summer days nestled in my father's grapevines digging out cool shelters and building crude twig corrals for the horses. Sometimes the sprinklers would send in devastating floods or a Tonka jeep full of plastic army men would come careening in to make war on the horses. There was no challenge, however, that they could not rise to when they put their heads together. We worked out many conflicts during those long summer days.
It was always a joyous and rare pleasure to introduce a new horse into the family. On the most memorable of such occasions, my mother gave me an antique metal horse with a tiny wire bridle in his mouth. The horses received him with reverence. He was beautiful and unique but what made him extra special were the small initials engraved under his belly. They were my own initials and made it all the more apparent that it was our destiny to be together.
After many years my attention to the horses began to wane. They nobly stepped down for soft-ball games and guitar practice, and later, real horses and boys. Eventually the shoe box lay crushed beneath my bed and the horses scattered to various and distant lands. I only bothered to carefully preserve Silver, my soul-mate of toys, in my box of special things- which still included an old Hebrew pin my fourth-grade “boyfriend” had given me, some old coins and track ribbons, a clay Buddha my mother had made for me, and a few special marbles.
Over the ensuing decades, through countless moves and bouts of homelessness, I never lost that box. Every so many years I would look for it in storage, perhaps to add another thing I found of value and didn't want to lose. I'd take Silver out for a few moments just to make sure he was still more than a toy. I felt an almost greedy pleasure holding the solid metal horse in my hand; stroking the engraved initials. Other than the contents in this battered shoe box, I didn't collect trinkets, and had developed a non-materialistic philosophy befitting my wandering lifestyle. I would have been embarrassed to admit such absurd stirrings of sentimentality for a toy horse. The remaining old special things in the box got moved aside for new special things; a leather medicine bag, an old worn paperback of Siddhartha, and a poem I'd copied from a book by Yeats. Silver remained in spite of all the changes.
I'd managed to hold onto Silver for at least four decades. I finally decided it was time to go through several large boxes left untouched in storage for numerous years; transporting them in stages from an old leaky shed on my mother's property to my small apartment. I found cherished books, a few blankets, photo albums, reams of poetry and papers I'd written in college.
I was surprised as I awoke one early morning to find my daughter sitting on the carpet next to my bed playing with Silver. I'd been going through my boxes all night and hadn't found my special shoe box. I leaned over the bed and picked him up. It was Silver alright. I'd never seen another horse that looked even similar to him. He had my initials under his belly, the wire bridle; he was one of a kind. I was so tired that morning from staying up late the night before that I allowed myself to give in to a few more moments of sleep before getting up to start the day. As I drifted back asleep the last thing I saw was Silver through my daughter's clear plastic backpack. I groggily reminded myself to remove him before she went off to school. By the time I got myself up and settled with a cup of tea, Sarah's father had whisked her off to school. “Uh-oh” I thought with some concern. Sarah had already given away or lost several toys this first year of school.
I eagerly awaited her return that day and when she arrived back home I immediately looked through her backpack. He was gone. I tried to ascertain Silver's whereabouts, but grilling a preschooler on such a thing proved not only frustrating but a little silly. She finally admitted a boy at school had taken Silver home. I reminded myself that this was just a material object, of little value in the grand scheme of things, but I still felt heart-sick.
The next morning when I took Sarah to school I asked her teachers to be on the lookout for Silver. I even mentioned the possible suspect. I felt shallow and petty but I couldn't let go of the deep feelings of loss. As the days passed, and chances of finding Silver diminished, I tried to practice an attitude of non-attachment. It was ridiculous but I was clearly in the process of grieving for a toy horse. I alternately consoled myself with hopes that Silver would at least be treasured by someone else and then tortured myself with images of him lying crushed and buried in some vacant lot.
My obsession with Silver continued. About a month or so later, I finally braved the mold and blackwidow-infested shed to locate the last of my boxes. I had to wait for the sun to set, hoping to escape some of the summer's humid desert heat, but I couldn't wait until it was too dark to see so at last steeled myself to the 115 degrees in the tiny metal shed and proceeded to uncover my last box.
Since it was my mother's shed and I hadn't touched the box for five or six years, I found it crushed in the corner under her sewing machine, a broken end-table and an old ironing board. To get to it, I had to move a wedged ten-speed bicycle, several heavy pieces of a weight set, three stacked chairs and a heavy wooden desk with an old turn-table on top of it. I was dripping sweat and my clothes stunk of dust and mildew by the time I pulled the flaps of the deteriorating cardboard open.
I was mortified to find mice droppings and deep yellow stains smearing the pages of important papers and old poems and documents. My mood didn't improve when I found irreplaceable photographs melded together by streaks of rodent piss and the rusty rain that had found its way in from the occasional torential downpours on the dilapidated roof of the shed. I found my secret box at last and pulled it from under a faded crocheted quilt and some yellowed baby doll clothes. I carefully lifted it from the bottom of the composting cardboard and stared at it for a moment before lifting the lid. You know that silent moment where you afford yourself to believe in miracles; the moment before you check the winning numbers or the mail? I imagined myself holding that cool, solid metal horse in my hand. After all, this was his resting place, and we were destined to be together. I lifted the lid and laughed out loud. There was Silver right where he belonged. The wire bridle was intact, the initials were there under his belly, and there was no mistake this was my beloved toy.
“Mom!” I rushed into my mother's livingroom with Silver in my hand. “Do you remember my favorite toy horse?”
“Of course I remember... Silver... with the wire bridle.” As I placed him in her hand she turned him over and looked at my initials. “I'm glad you never lost this one.”
“There was never another one like him was there?”
“Not that I know of,” she said. “He was very unique; an antique even when I gave him to you.”
“You're not going to believe what happened....” I expected her to laugh at my story and try to devise a logical explanation at least.
“I've heard of that sort of thing,” she nodded thoughtfully as I finished my sequence of events.
We concluded that my intense longing for Silver must have unhinged the door to some hidden power. No one's ever been able to figure out what we use most of our brain for. Maybe that ninety or so percent comes into play disguised as the miraculous every now and then.
The story of Silver will probably go down as family legend, but I have to tell you, after the awe of this experience faded, I started feeling uncomfortable about some of my other obsessive desires. Maybe it's time to read Siddhartha again. Miracles are everywhere. Maybe the best response is that initial laugh... and then a smile.