Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Day two hundred and two ... The last big hope. Part two.

"Pop-pa-aa-aa-aaa!!!," cried Langdon McTierny from atop his galloping pony, Calvin, sounding like he was yelling into a rotating window fan as he was bounced and bounced in the air and back down to the saddle.

His father, Joe, was about a quarter mile away and gaining on him atop Paradise, the pony that the handler had let him use.

Without his top hat, Joe's head radiated quite a shine from the area of his scalp that hadn't seen sunlight since before his very first trip to the chapeau shop. He had no riding crop and so, was kicking with his legs and with all his might to keep Paradise up to speed.

"Hold ... on ... Langy!!!," cried Joe, not sure if his diminutive voice was heard by his petrified, only son.

"Stick ... with ... the ... pro-gram!!!," he added, unnecessarily, for little Langdon had no intentions of letting go of the reigns, nor his saddle.

By this time, the ponies' trek had taken a sharp turn away from the Holyoke Range and in the direction of downtown Northampton. It was a Sunday, well past church, but there would still be plenty of residents and tourists shopping, picnicking, and otherwise completely unprepared for a pony race through the center of town. Not to mention, one that involved a world famous ex-jockey and his boy.

In the distance, a train whistle blew. It was the five o'clock--right on time.

The Boston and Maine railroad bridge ran parallel to the Rt. 9 bridge, soon to be wiped out in the flood of 1936. Not long thereafter the auto bridge would be rebuilt, reopened, and dedicated to the recent ex-president whose name was honorably given to one of the galloping ponies who was crossing it now.

There was normally a lot of traffic on the bridge during any given weekday. However, because of the fair, it was not only thicker than usual, but it was mostly tourists. Some had gotten out of their cars to look ahead to see what the hold-up was. Upon the inevitable return to their DeSotos, Roadsters, and Cabriolets, not many among them who had ventured out didn't gasp at the two mounted circus ponies rapidly approaching. They appeared, to the average onlooker, to be racing--not just each other--but the twenty-car passenger train on the bridge running parallel to them.

And as the train whistle blew again, the riders sped right down the center of the road between the two rows of stopped cars filled with shocked cosmopolitans, kicking up so much dust that the policeman who was attempting to direct traffic wasn't even sure if what just whisked loudly by him was what he thought.

Regardless, he blew his whistle in the direction of downtown.

"Po-p-a-aaaa!!!!," Langdon yelled again.

And Joe was so exhausted he could barely utter a word, let alone a reassuring bellow. Instead, he chose to use all his energy to preserve his place atop Paradise who he could feel speeding up as if accepting the dare by the black and maroon locomotive. 

And down the middle of the road they raced, Langdon a steady twenty feet ahead of his father. This fact would later occasionally bother Joe, for there weren't too many races he lost by that much. A nose here, a foot there, but never twenty feet--let alone to a five year old ...

... let alone to his son.

And they passed quickly by the old Shell station, and the cemetery filled with mourners; some aware of the spectacle passing by, others too distraught by the passing of their loved ones to notice or care or both.

But it wasn't until both horses had made it the mile into town, past the Nonotuck Savings Bank; past A. MaCallum & Co. department store; past The Academy of Music Theater; up Elm St.; through the soon-to-be-in-session Smith College campus, and finally, down to Paradise Pond in the center of the school's lush, landscaped lawn that the ride came to an end.

It was there that a thoroughly frantic and screaming five-year-old was relinquished of forward motion as his pony dipped its head in the water and drank like a rescued desert castaway.

In the distance, the Boston and Maine's 5:15 departure whistle blew.

"Langdon ... m'boy ... it's ... okay ... it's okay," his father huffed.

Little Langy's screams soon turned into whimpers and then he fell silent. Exhausted, he just sat there slumping atop Calvin until his father, the famous ex-championship jockey, slowly and awkwardly dismounted from the red and green leather saddle covered in rhinestones, and off of the horse named Paradise.

"I dare say," said a voice to their left, "those pony rides give you quite the bang for your buck."

Joe and Langy turned to see a distinguished looking gentleman buttering a piece of sourdough--slowly. His driver was waiting in a Pierce-Arrow twenty feet away. A car with what appeared to be secret service men sat attentively watching in a limo idling, not far behind.

"Mr. President ... my heavens ... good evening, sir."

And "Silent Cal," the thirtieth president of the United States stood from his blanket where he had been relaxing with a Sunday picnic, and approached the ruffled but otherwise well dressed man and his son.

"I take it you didn't lead these horses to water," he said.

"No sir, Mr. President ... I mean not really." said Joe, as he unsuccessfully attempted to smooth his son's tousled hair. 

Much to the apprehension of his father, little Langdon McTierney spoke up with a voice as clear and annunciated as if he were reciting the alphabet, "Calvin got spooked and ran away from the fair with me on top ... and then my poppa tried to save me."

"Well it looks like your poppa was successful."

"Yes sir," said Langy. And upon receiving a pinch from his father added, "Yes sir, Mr. President."

"Calvin, eh?," he mused, "Did you call him Calvin?

"Why yes sir, Mr. President. That's his name," said Langdon.

"Interesting. And you are? ... .

"I'm Joe McTierney and this is Langdon, my boy. This was his very first ride on a pony. Someday he's going to make his poppa proud and race horses professionally."

"But Poppa ..."


And with that, Langdon received a second pinch.

"I see," said President Coodidge. "Well, you should be very proud as a father, Mr. McTierney, for it would appear your boy won his very first attempt."

And "Jumpin'" Joe turned red as the checks in Calvin Coolidge's blanket.

"I'm not a betting man, Mr. McTierney, but if I were, I would wager that you probably would enjoy a less unpredictable ride back to the fair."

"Yes sir, Mr. President," said Joe, "it would be an honor."

"But what will we do with the ponies?," said Langy.

"I have an idea," said the President. 

And Just as "Jumpin'" Joe had arrived at the fair--right through the center of the crowd creating a cloud of dust--so he did again. Only this time, it wasn't in the driver's seat of his 1931 Brougham. It was in the back of a chauffeur driven Pierce-Arrow touring car, with his son at his side and accompanied by a recent ex-President who was now commanding the attention of the fair patrons.

Joe McTierney wished badly that he had held on to his top hat. It was times like these when he wished the cameras that he posed so proudly in front of through years of gold medal ceremonies had never been invented.

It was a sentiment that the two secret service men shared as they trotted in on Calvin and Paradise, respectively--unceremoniously clutching the reigns with one hand, and their holsters in the other.

"My baby!," cried Gladys as little Langy exited the car.

"Mama! I don't ever want to ride horses again. Please mama. Don't let me have to be a jockey like Papa. Please!"

"No, baby. You can be whatever you want to be," Gladys cooed. "I'm just glad you're alive!"

Joe retrieved his hat from the inside of the Brougham and attempted to restore his dignity, despite his obviously rumpled appearance, by publicly approaching President Coolidge and thrusting out his diminutive hand to the man.

"I'd like to thank the President of these United States for the private motorcade back from a most invigorating ride with my future championship winning son, Langdon."

The President graciously shook his hand. The pops of the the flash bulbs were audible even from inside the freak show tent, twenty feet away.

"Well sir," said the President. "As a believer in the voice of the people, I think your boy ought to have a say in this."

And the crowd turned to Langdon, who was being smoothed and daubed by his attentive mother.

"What do you say, Langdon?" Coolidge asked. "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

And without so much as a pause, Little Langy spoke to the crowd in a voice that was louder and clearer, and more adamant than he had ever sounded in all his five years on earth.

"I want to be the President of the United States of America."

The sounds of applause and cheers could be heard from the top of the ferris wheel, all the way to the Speedway, where a horse race was about to begin, puzzling some worried betters.

"Well son," Coolidge said, "Stay in school, go to church, and eat your peas, and someday you may become as harried a man as I."

He turned to "Jumpin'" Joe who appeared to be attending to a fly that had landed near his eye.

"What say you, Mr. McTierney?"

Joe was visibly moved. He wanted what was best for his son, of course. But he also had wanted to see the dreams that he himself woke up with, and carried with him every day, to be fulfilled by his boy; a boy who could become whatever he wanted. But the key word was whatever he wanted. Joe McTierney would never again win a gold medal. He would never again stand in the winners circle. He had done that five times and gained fame, fortune, and notoriety from it. He had lived his dream, however short it had been cut. He looked at his boy, and for the first time, he wished that he would grow to be taller than himself--six foot four ... as tall as Lincoln. And he knew that someday, when Langdon might become discouraged with public service; with the prospect of the arduous task of ascension to the most powerful position in America, that he would always remember the day when the thirtieth president of these United States asked his father what he thought of the idea of that being his son's future.

Joe took off his top hat, pulled his boy close and put it on his head; it fit almost perfectly. His son would make a fine leader, regardless of whether it were horses or people in his wake.

"My boy Langdon here, will show all of you what it means to be a McTierney. How when the winds of fate aren't blowing your way, that you hunker down and cut a path through the cracks. My boy will be a leader and a champion in whatever path he chooses. But son, just remember, that when life takes you for a ride you hadn't planned on, and all you want to do is jump off ... remember what I've always told you."

At this, "Jumpin'" Joe Mctierney picked his son up and put him on his shoulders. He looked at President Coolidge, then to the race in progress on the nearby speedway. And then, he turned his head and smiled up at his boy. He smiled at little Langdon McTierney who was sitting up straight and tall wearing his father's top hat, making the two of them, from a distance, look even taller than President Lincoln had been.

"Stick to the program m'boy!" he shouted. "Just stick to the program!"

Cheers again rang through the September sky, audible even by the balloon enthusiasts who hovered a few hundred feet away, curious at the crowd that had gathered.

At this, Palomar the famous Gypsy psychic turned to Gladys--who, by now, had bought herself a new box of popcorn--and said, cautiously, "I ... I don't think anybody could have predicted this."

The End.

Thanks for reading.


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