This weekend at the grocery store, there was great excitement concerning the penny horse. This is, of course, the mechanical horse at the front of the store that kids can ride for a penny.
Lately, the penny horse hadn’t been looking or running so great. The penny horse had surely lost the use of one leg and the saddle had been lost years before. Its broad nose was worn smooth where once there had been black paint. For a couple weeks, the horse was mostly out of order.
This weekend, there was a new horse at the front of the store. The chestnut coat gleamed, black mane streaming back in the wind as the kids rode and discovered what a smooth and quiet ride was now offered. The saddle was padded and there were reins to flick, and what more does one want for a penny.
I sat near the penny horse while I waited for a friend, and had the chance to talk to the five year old unicorn queen. She wore a silver tulle skirt, with a unicorn sweatshirt, and a plastic pink headband that was shaped into a tiny crown. She was five, she proudly told me, her brother only one, but very capable even so.
“Is this a new horse??” she asked me, because clearly I was the horse authority.
“Oh, I think so,” I said.
Her eyes lit up. “I like this horse,” she said, then showed me the unicorn on her sweatshirt. It was made out of those sequins that you can roll up or down, and they change colors. One way, the unicorn was silver. The other way, the unicorn was pink.
We decided the pink was amazing — pink was her favorite color, and green was her brother’s, and purple is mine, though pink is super close these days because it’s so bright and lovely.
“[Brother] can ride with me, mom,” she kept saying over and over, and when her mom was finally done in line, the brother joined the unicorn queen on the new penny horse. She held him tight, his little legs not yet reaching the metal stirrups. He laughed and flicked the reins and she cuddled him the entire time, insisting it was the best horse ever.
I don’t know why I’m putting this here, other than to keep the memory for myself and share it with whoever may wander by. It made me think of what joy could still be had for a penny; a smooth ride on a new, shiny horse, with someone you love clutched to your chest; a plastic crown balanced on your head, a sequined unicorn waiting to be swept into a new color whenever you wished it.